The Food Rights Network asked people to join in calling on the Environmental Media Association (EMA) to stop greenwashing sewage sludge, and Joan Dye Gussow, best-selling author of This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, signed her name. But it doesn't take one of the nation's most famous organic gardening experts to know that using toxic sewage sludge to grow food is a bad idea: 12,000 people signed in agreement!
Last week, we hand-delivered the petition to EMA at their office in Los Angeles. We hope that this is the push they need to drop their relationship with Kellogg Garden Products, a company that gave yards and yards of sewage sludge products to L.A. school kids' gardens and sells its sewage sludge products in garden stores as "quality organics." We also asked EMA to clean up the school gardens that were contaminated with Kellogg's sludge.
This spring, we alerted EMA that Kellogg uses sewage sludge in several of their products -- none of which warn gardeners that they are made from sewage sludge on their labels-- and asking them to clean up their act. While several of EMA's celebrity board members have shared our concerns about sewage sludge, EMA's President Debbie Levin responded to us with a stubborn commitment to continue promoting her donor, Kellogg.
Since then, Kellogg's Chief Sustainability Officer, Kathy Kellogg Johnson, has doubled down, using her relationship with EMA to gain a speaking opportunity at a sustainable food conference and lying about her company's products. To set the record straight, here are a few of the stories she's been telling:
- Claim: Kellogg does not sludge from Los Angeles. Yes it does. More specifically, sludge from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties both go to a joint facility called the Inland Empire Regional Composting Authority (IERCA). This is where Kellogg gets its sludge.
- Claim: Kellogg does not use sludge in 70 percent of its fertilizers. This is sleight of hand. First, we have never claimed that they use sludge in their fertilizers. We noted that sewage sludge is in their widely distributed soil "amendments," like the bags of "Amend" in pictures with EMA celebrities. According to an industry site that has mysteriously disappeared since we began citing it, "About 70% of Kelloggs total annual sales are of composted biosolids products. This represents about 250,000 cubic yards per year." This screenshot of the Internet Wayback Machine's May 13, 2008 capture of the website shows that exact quote.
- Kellogg cites the low amounts of heavy metals in their products, even saying "To make this point even plainer, there are more heavy metals in your toothpaste than there are in our products." A few heavy metals are one of the ONLY things actually regulated in sewage sludge. Specifically, the EPA regulates 10 heavy metals plus two pathogens (salmonella and fecal coliform) in sewage sludge used on food crops for human consumption. But you can see for yourself the long list of contaminants that the EPA found in sludge (including -- ahem -- several heavy metals that are NOT regulated in sewage sludge)! Furthermore, we have not only relied on peer-reviewed studies documenting sludge's toxicity: we have also cited a 2010 test of Kellogg's Amend that found high levels of cancer-causing dioxins.
It's easy to understand why Kathy Kellogg Johnson is eager to insist that sewage sludge is safe, as her family has profited from that tall tale since using the stuff on orange grove soil decades ago. But why is EMA so eager to help them out, while putting innocent school children at risk at the same time? And why would green celebs let themselves be used by a corporation that hides the truth about the sewage sludge in products it is hawking to consumers?
We hope that the thousands who have joined together in calling for EMA to end its relationship with Kellogg will convince Hollywood to do the right thing. Helping children grow organic fruits and vegetables in their schoolyards is a beautiful thing to do, so long as you are not exposing them to dioxins and other toxins at the same time. We look forward to watching school gardens continue to grow and flourish -- but definitely without the human and industrial sewage sludge!