Organic consumers, activists and advocates were taken aback by the news last December that Earthbound Farm, the largest grower of organic produce in the United States, was preparing to be sold to WhiteWave Foods, a company whose CEO is the former CEO of the massive pro-GMO food corporation Dean Foods.
The vast majority of them are still not happy with the news, even as Earthbound social media and PR reps began responding to customer concerns with the same response, that WhiteWave “is not a part of Dean Foods anymore.”
But concerns over the Earthbound sale are more than legitimate, especially to those who know the true history of Dean Foods and WhiteWave.
Dean Foods’ Former CEO Now at “Organic” Spin-off Company
Despite its status as an independent company, WhiteWave is owned by Gregg Engles, the former CEO of Dean Foods, who seems to still have a special affinity for and a huge stake in his former company.
In December 2012 it was revealed that he bought 10,000 shares of Dean’s stock at an average price of $17.25 per share. Also, according to Forbes, Mr. Engles still owns a whopping 2,479,156 shares of Dean Foods, significantly more than the 1,684,358 he owns in WhiteWave.
The Cornucopia Institute also notes in this report that many of the other executives running WhiteWave have held similar positions at Dean Foods, meaning that the fundamental decision-makers aren’t much different for this “new company” that also owns the Silk “natural” and formerly organic company as well as Horizon “organic” milk.
So even if WhiteWave is not technically a part of Dean Foods, it’s more than fair to wonder whether WhiteWave, Engles and co. are still part of the massive pro-GMO and pro-factory farming corporation in spirit, considering the way they operate, and what that could mean for the cherished Earthbound Farm organic brand going forward.
WhiteWave’s Alleged Organic Violations
According to the report from The Cornucopia Institute on the WhiteWave company above, there are many other reasons to question their true commitment to organic foods and organic standards.
Horizon has also been accused of running “organic” operations of 10,000+ cows standing around in their own filth by Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute. In addition, Aurora Dairy, an operation supplying to Horizon, was found by USDA investigators in 2007 to have “willfully committed” 14 different violations of organic standards in 2007. Aurora is still facing 19 class action and consumer fraud lawsuits in federal court.
While WhiteWave is said to support GMO labeling according to Earthbound PR reps, it is well worth noting than Dean Foods has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars against GMO labeling in the past, including $253,000 against the California labeling campaign in 2012. And considering that Dean Foods’ reps are now at WhiteWave, it’s hard to trust their commitment to protecting organic standards, isn’t it?
Silk Owner’s Unpleasant Experience in Selling to Dean Foods
When Dean Foods purchased the Silk soymilk brand, its products were 100% organic, which is extremely important in a GMO-dominated U.S. market.
Slowly, the company dropped the number of organic offerings. It eventually switched its organic soybeans from those purchased from U.S. farmers to new suppliers from China.
Then in 2009 they quietly switched their soybeans to “natural” without changing the UPC codes or telling retailers or consumers. A 2009 report on soybean sourcing from The Cornucopia Institute rated suppliers, and Silk refused to participate, leading them to receive the lowest possible ranking for transparency. Many believe they were likely using GMO soybeans at the time, and were most certainly using “conventionally processed” soybeans processed with potentially toxic solvents.
Silk’s standards have been completely eroded by WhiteWave (which started with Dean Foods), which is especially shocking to its founder Steve Demos.
He left his post running company operations not long after selling to Dean Foods along with most of Silk’s green-focused management, saying Silk was now about “green, with the dead presidents on it.”
Demos Double-Crossed by Dean Foods
A documentary airing in Canada called ‘The Green Giants’ detailed what Demos believed was a betrayal by Engles and Dean Foods over his Silk brand, a popular and green company that represented his life’s work and mission.
You can view a segment from the movie at the bottom of this article, in which Demos describes how the company misled him.
“Dean Foods said, Oh, we agree you have a culture, we agree with the principles,” he said. “That’s how I agreed to stay with Dean Foods and to run Silk after its acquisition.”
Things soon changed as Dean pushed for more changes, however. They told Demos that he was doing a “brilliant job” one week and then the next week it was, “You’re not the right person for this job.”
What the Dean Foods/Silk Story Means for Earthbound
Now, with the acquisition of Earthbound Farm pending by Mr. Engles’ spin-off company WhiteWave occurring, many in the holistic and organic health movement on social media are pledging to boycott the company.
It can be hard to screw up organic vegetables, especially since most of the varieties Earthbound grows aren’t GMO yet, but there’s really no telling how the WhiteWave acquisition will affect the company.
One thing’s for sure though: WhiteWave and Mr. Engles have proven time and time again that they are more interested in profits over preserving organic standards, so it’s hard to trust them moving forward.
It’s a shame considering that Earthbound has done such an excellent job of making organics more available to the masses at a fair price and now its employees may be the ones who suffer.
But it’s hard to fault someone for wanting to boycott them now due to the questionable history of their new parent company and its leadership.
No one ever said that being a conscious consumer would be easy, but we have to stick to our principles over blind brand loyalty, because the latter is what got us and our food system into this predicament in the first place. We’ll see what the future holds for Earthbound and WhiteWave, but for now, it’s up to us to use our intuition and make the right choices.
(P.S. Watch to see how Silk switched from organic to “conventional” soybeans without telling their customers…)