Corporate Baking Giant Sara Lee Hijacks Organics

For Immediate Release

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Charlotte Vallaeys, 978-369-6409
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

Corporate Baking Giant Sara Lee Hijacks Organics

“EcoGrain” Marketing Blitz — Greenwashing New Bread Produced with Toxic Agrochemicals as Something BETTER Than Organic

CORNUCOPIA, Wis. - With the
growing success of organics, and increasing consumer interest in buying foods
that were grown on sustainable farms without toxic chemicals, Sara Lee
Corporation has launched, with much fanfare, a marketing campaign for its Earthgrains bread, chock-full of
environmental-friendly catchphrases. 

Sara
Lee claims that "Eco-GrainTM," an ingredient actually used in
small proportions in its Earthgrains brand breads, is more sustainable than organic grain. 
What has been described as a "crass and exploitive marketing ploy"
has angered many in the organic community. 

"Corporations
like Sara Lee clearly want to profit from consumers' interest in
ecological and healthy food production.  But unlike organic companies,
Sara Lee is doing practically nothing to ensure its ingredients are truly
ecologically produced," said Charlotte Vallaeys, a Food and Farm Policy
Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic industry
watchdog.  "It's a crass example of a corporation trying to
capitalize on the valuable market cachet of organic, while intentionally misleading
consumers-without making any meaningful commitment to protect the
environment or produce safer and more nutritious food."

The
Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, points out that the farmers
who grow Eco-Grain differ very little from most conventional grain producers
who use petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, and have little
in common with certified organic farmers. 

The
one attribute that Sara Lee uses to differentiate Eco-Grain production is that
the farmers, although they use chemical fertilizers, incorporate technology
that has reduced fertilizer usage by 15%.  In contrast, as mandated by
federal law, organic farmers are required by law to reduce their synthetic
fertilizer use by 100%.

Organic
farmers use natural fertilizers, compost and crop rotations to enrich the
long-term health of the soil, without damaging the environment or potentially
contaminating the food produced.

However,
Cornucopia's Vallaeys points out that, "Even if their new fancy wheat were
truly superior, each Earthgrains 24 ounce loaf contains only 20% flour from
Eco-Grain, with the remainder of the bread's wheat coming from regular,
conventional wheat.  The total reduction in chemical fertilizer use in a
loaf of EarthGrains bread therefore amounts to a meager 3%." 

"Even
though they've done a countrywide media rollout, including underwriting spots
on National Public Radio, Sara Lee is, in essence, playing a shell game,"
said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute.  "Even
as they had the audacity to promote a bread with just 20% of their ‘value
added' wheat, the rest of their product line has 0% content of the
Eco-Grain.  If advertising executives could be charged with malpractice,
this would be a major felony," Kastel said.

The
Cornucopia Institute has written to the
CEOs of both Sara Lee and NPR
requesting that the "misleading and
unethical" packaging and advertising campaign, and associated advertising
and underwriting, be immediately suspended while the corporations investigate
their propriety.

In
addition to the organic prohibition against chemical fertilizers, federal
regulations also prohibit organic farmers from using toxic pesticides that are
commonly applied to conventional wheat fields, including those growing
"Eco-Grain." 

One
such pesticide typically used in conventional wheat production is
2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), which EPA researchers have correlated
with numerous birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well
as defects like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits.  Other research
has linked the use of toxic pesticides on wheat fields to increased cancer
mortality rates.

And,
in addition to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, conventional wheat farmers
sometimes use synthetic fungicides and other chemicals to treat their fields.

"For
Sara Lee to claim that their wheat is ecologically grown and sustainable, when
they appear to make no effort to reduce or eliminate their use of toxic
pesticides, that have terrible effects on the environment and public health, is
highly disingenuous," says Nathan Jones, who grows organic wheat in King
Hill, Idaho and chairs the Organic Advisory Board of the Idaho State Department
of Agriculture.

In
addition to shunning toxic agrochemicals, organic farmers are required to
improve the long-term health of their soil, and increase biodiversity on their
farms. 

"Unfortunately,
this is another example of a major agribusiness trying to blur the line between
products labeled ‘organic' and ‘natural'," stated
Kastel, who acts as Cornucopia's Senior Farm Policy Analyst.  "It
seems that some corporations, like Sara Lee, appear more interested in
corporate profit and greenwashing than true environmental stewardship, and are
doing everything they can to take advantage of this confusion among
consumers," Kastel added.

"The
term ‘natural' on products like bread is not regulated by state or
federal government," says Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition at New York University. "Companies that use
the term ‘all natural' essentially come up with their own
definition." 

In
addition, some of Sara Lee's other bread ingredients, such as soy oil and soy lecithin,
are grown and processed using genetic engineering and chemical extraction with
the toxic solvent hexane, both technologies that are banned in organic
production.

In
online marketing materials, Sara Lee even claims that farming methods used to
produce its "100% Natural" bread "have some advantages over
organic farming."  They cite only one ecological advantage, claiming
that organic farmers require more land than conventional growers.

"This
claim does not hold up against recent scientific data," said Alison
Grantham, Research Manager at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania,
an agricultural research, education and outreach group.  "Long-term
trials, such as our nearly 30-year-old Farming Systems Trial, show long-term
average organic farming systems' crop yields match conventional farming
system yields, and that the improvements in soil health achieved by organic
management actually support higher yields during droughts."

"I
just can't believe that Sara Lee would claim to be more sustainable than
organic bakers like me," affirms Daniel Leader, a certified organic bread
baker and owner of Bread Alone Bakery in the Hudson Valley, New York. 
"In deference to my customers, I've made an investment in real
sustainability by going organic, and for Sara Lee to tarnish the good name of
organics, and even claim to be superior to organic bread, is simply
unacceptable."  Bread Alone Bakery is certified by the Northeast
Organic Farmers Association, a certifier accredited by the USDA.

Sara
Lee's longtime ad jingle campaign doesn't seem to be ringing true for
organic farmers, bakers and consumers-"Everybody doesn't like
something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee."  It will remain
to be seen whether spending more money on marketing and advertising than on
Eco-Grain itself will pay off for the agribusiness giant.

###

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.  Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.  

 

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