Today, the nation's major sustainable food writers and bloggers will converge on Monterey, California for an incredible, invitation-only sustainable food conference. The event, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Cooking for Solutions, which those who attend say is spectacular, has a new sponsor this year: Kellogg Garden Products. Yes, that Kellogg Garden Products. The very same company that has contaminated "organic" school gardens in Los Angeles with sewage sludge. The company's Chief Sustainability Officer, Kathy Kellogg Johnson, has a knack for befriending "green" organizations and using them to promote her toxic, misleadingly-labeled products to unsuspecting gardeners. In this case, she's listed as a "Silver Sponsor." How much did her company pay to give her such a nice platform, sitting on a panel with Grist's sustainable food writer, Tom Philpott, and telling an all-media audience about the sustainability of Kellogg Garden Products?
Last week, I wrote to Monterey Bay Aquarium, informing them that Kellogg Garden Products sells compost made with sewage sludge, with the slogan "Quality organics since 1925″ on the label. After a few brief replies and a little prodding, here is the reply I received from Alison Barratt on Friday, May 13:
We were not actually aware of these allegations until you raised them. We met Kellogg at the EMA awards last year, and know that EMA vets all of its associates very carefully. They were independently invited to be a sponsor and speaker at the event. We do not offer a place on our panels to sponsors; we look for speakers with an interesting story to tell, and we believe this is an interesting story.
Having spoken at length with Kellogg yesterday regarding your allegations, we are perfectly comfortable with our decision to invite Kathy Kellogg Johnson to the event, and to have them as a sponsor.
Our event is about highlighting good work that companies and individuals are doing and no company will ever claim to be perfect, or totally sustainable, but that doesn't mean they don't have something unique to share, or valuable to our audience. This event is not about marketing companies or products, it's about education and taking us towards solutions.
I am afraid on this issue we will have to agree to disagree and respectfully decline your request to attend.
It's a good thing I was not drinking anything when I read this, because I would have certainly spit it out. She checked the facts by asking Kathy Kellogg Johnson? Why not also go ask BP if it is safe for them to drill in the Gulf? This shows the value of Kellogg's sponsorship of the Environmental Media Association (EMA), as even a champion of sustainability like the Monterey Bay Aquarium did not question whether EMA's sponsors were truly sustainable or not.
Here is my reply:
It's interesting you bring up the EMA and how they vet their associates carefully. Actually, unfortunately, that is not the case. Please see this signed, notarized affidavit from the L.A. school district's garden advisor who worked with the EMA on their garden program, which Kellogg sponsored, exposing the lies of Debbie Levin, EMA President, about Kellogg and sewage sludge. You can find the whole story here.
I am attaching test results (pdf) that show findings of 65.97 toxicity equivalents (TEQ) of dioxins and furans in Kellogg's product Amend. Unfortunately, this is legal. Despite urging from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the EPA has declined to regulate dioxins in sewage sludge. (More info here). Kellogg Amend identifies its ingredients as "Blended and screened forest products, composted rice hulls, compost, poultry manure, gypsum." It does not identify its contents as sewage sludge. Yet it is well documented that the product DOES contain sewage sludge. Several gardeners I know personally have purchased and used Amend and other Kellogg products made with sludge, thinking they were organic. When they found out they had in fact used sewage sludge, which is NOT organic, in their gardens, and quite possibly exposed themselves to dioxins in the process, they were extremely upset. This is very deceptive on the part of Kellogg, to sell a toxic product that so misrepresents itself to consumers.
I've received no reply from Alison, or from anyone else at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Now, I understand why Kellogg wants to hoodwink us all into buying their products. And boy howdy, do they try! Check out this video about Kellogg's Amend from Kellogg's website, and compare it to this video, in which activist John Stauber tells the truth about Kellogg's Amend. But why is the Monterey Bay Aquarium letting them?
In my years as a sustainable food advocate, I've always relied on Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program for sound science and unwavering dedication to saving our oceans. It is precisely because Monterey Bay Aquarium is so good that its inclusion of Kellogg in its program is so dangerous. There are plenty of sold-out environmental organizations out there who partner with all kinds of unethical corporations, but who would think to question the Monterey Bay Aquarium? With their long and wonderful history of providing trustworthy sustainable seafood recommendations, why would anyone expect them to feature anyone but the best at their sustainable food event?
I expect and hope that the journalists present will be more on top of things than the aquarium, and I plan to follow the conference via Twitter (#CFS11). I'll be tweeting at @FoodRightsNtwrk, and I look forward to seeing what those in attendance have to say, including: Paula Crossfield (@civileater), Clare Leschin-Hoar (@c_leschin), Tom Laskawy (@tlaskawy), Bonnie Powell (@ethicurean), Tom Philpott (@tomphilpott), and Barry Estabrook (@Barry_Estabrook). And you can follow the aquarium as well: Seafood Watch (@SeafoodWatch), Monterey Bay Aquarium (MontereyAq), and Communications Director Ken Peterson (@aquaken).
Update: Kathy Kellogg Johnson will be speaking live at 2:45 p.m., PDT on May 20, 2011 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Cooking for Solutions conference, but at the by-invitation-only, all-media portion of the conference that's not open to the public. However, her session will be live-tweeted, so people can follow on Twitter using the hashtag #cfs11. Jill plans to be there and ask plenty of questions!