At the time
I wrote that article (September of 2001) and when I spoke to Cohen
before publishing it, he told me he was making it his personal mission
to try to "destroy" White Wave. He said the company had
not been personally respectful to him. When I pointed out that he
had made a number of unfair and untrue statements in his articles
on White Wave, he told me he didn't care whether his criticisms
of the company were accurate or not, because any attack was justified
because they were a "bad company."
At the time
Cohen was making these attacks on White Wave, I also spoke with
James Terman and Steve Demos, the marketing director and Founder/President
of the company, respectively -- and they were bewildered. They were
particularly shocked that someone who claimed to be from their own
community would attack them so viciously and unfairly. I assured
them that Cohen was an anomaly, and that the majority of vegetarians
I know do not engage in this type of conduct. They said Cohen had
been belligerent and threatening in his communications with White
Wave, and that they found him to be completely irrational. (At one
point, Cohen was apparently begging White Wave to sue him, asserting
that it would be a PR bonanza for Cohen which would make him "bigger
than Howard Lyman" -- a reference to the lawsuit against Howard
and Oprah by the Texas cattlemen, which was widely covered in the
"Part of the Child Slavery Problem?"
many of Cohen's charges to be baseless in my September 2001 article,
Cohen has focused on the issue of child slavery in the production
of chocolate in the Ivory Coast, asserting that White Wave is somehow
supporting it. John Robbins has written an excellent article on
the disturbing and complex topic called "Is
There Slavery In Your Chocolate?"
rants to his audience that they should boycott White Wave,the current
reason being because White Wave refuses to put a statement on their
website which Cohen dictated. The statement Cohen demands they make
at SILK will not knowingly purchase our chocolate beans from nations
like Ivory Coast in which kidnapped children are living in slavery."
sold throughout the world is usually blended together from many
different sources, it's very difficult to make a statement like
this -- unless a company simply plans to buy no chocolate ever again.
I interpret Cohen's demand to White Wave as his basically telling
them to get out of the chocolate soymilk business, or face Cohen's
a stance is not supported by the Ivory Coast anti-slavery NGOs,
who are looking to solve the problem without harming the thousands
of Ivory Coast family farms which use no such slave labor.
Attack White Wave?
White Wave is a tiny, tiny producer of chocolate products. Their
chocolate soymilk is the only one of some 48 products they produce
which uses chocolate. They are a very very small player in the chocolate
world. So you have to wonder why Cohen has decided to go after them
repeatedly and in his sloppy, simplistic, hysterical, shoot-from-the-hip
style on the chocolate issue -- when there are so many other companies
out there using much much more chocolate that Cohen doesn't seem
to care enough about to pay much attention.
What about Safeway?
What about Whole Foods? What about Clif Bar? What about Imagine
Foods? Why isn't Cohen going after and writing columns about them,
or Nestle, or Hershey, or Mars, or Kraft Foods? They all buy and
sell chocolate in orders of magnitude many many times higher than
White Wave. Why isn't he going after the big cocoa suppliers, like
Cargill and ADM? Why isn't he asking his readers to write their
congressional representative, or the ambassador from the Ivory Coast?
Why has Cohen, who is so stridently anti-dairy, decided to use this
as another pretext to attack a tofu/tempeh/soy milk company?
Though in the
larger scheme of things White Wave is a very small user of chocolate,
the company has responded to learning about the child slavery problem
by committing to a proactive approach. They joined the World Cocoa
Foundation (normally open only to chocolate manufacturers) at a
level high enough to allow White Wave participation in their bi-annual
board meetings. Though a tiny company by comparison to the other
members, White Wave sent a representative to the Foundation's board
meeting this month.
For anyone who
knows White Wave's history, their approach has always been to work
toward solutions in areas where they can have influence -- organic
practices, non-GMO issues, and vegetarianism. Consistent with that,
I expect that as they learn more about this Ivory Coast situation
they will do everything they can to effect change.
To date, the
Child Labor Protocol which has been adopted to combat child slavery
issues -- and which Cohen pooh-poohs -- has been received enthusiastically
by child welfare and antislavery advocates who are far more knowledgeable
about this complex topic than Cohen. These are people who are trying
to help the victimized children, not merely selling a soymilk maker.
For example, Kevin Bales, the Executive Director of Free The Slaves,
a nonprofit advocacy group on the chocolate/slavery issue, said
is a breakthrough in the global fight against slavery. The partnership
between industry, governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders is
unique and will stand as a model for other products and countries.
If other industries acted with such social and moral responsibility,
we would be much nearer to freedom for the 27 million in bondage
For more examples
of how many familiar with this issue view the protocol, see: http://www.chocolateandcocoa.org/News/cl_quotes.htm
If you're interested
to see how the slavery/chocolate issue is being dealt with generally
by the industry, here are two websites for further background:
These days the
"Notmilk Man" seems to be very concerned with hawking
his soymilk machine (except when he's harassing well respected vegetarian
activists -- despite requests from such activists not to use their
copyrighted photo on Cohen's NotMilk.com website, which Cohen has
no problem taking and then refusing to remove). And Cohen's chosen
manner to promote his soymilk machine appears to be bashing what
he sees as the "competition."
White Wave apparently
fits that category as far as Cohen is concerned -- though personally
I think it's slightly hallucinatory for Cohen to think that he's
remotely competitive with them.
Cohen is also
trying to promote his soymilk maker machine by going after another
soymilk maker, the Soyajoy. Cohen used to sell the Soyajoy Soymilk
Maker quite successfully from his notmilk website. He hyped the
machine and sang its praises -- one such article can still be found
on Cohen's website. (Update: After this article appeared, Cohen
removed the article and replaced it with nonsense promoting his
soymilk machine. Here is a copy of the original article: Cohen
Sanlinx Inc, the owners of the Soyajoy Soymilk Maker, when Cohen
was selling the Soyajoy he attempted to convince them to lower the
price he could pay Sanlinx for their machines by 50%. When they
could not give him such a discount, Cohen found another soymilk
maker to sell, and suddenly changed his tune on the Soyajoy and
began bashing it.
On his new soymilk
selling site, Cohen has a page in which he compares his new soymilk
maker with the Soyajoy. In his comparison he now calls the high
quality stainless steel used in SoyaJoy as inexpensive "rolled
steel," and makes other disparaging comments. James Wang, the
very nice owner of Sanlinx which produces the Soyajoy, is hurt that
Cohen has turned on them and is, according to Wang, now making false
statements about the Soyajoy.
Evidence it's Personal
If there were
any question whether Cohen is simply on his personal mission to
try to smear Silk, there can be little doubt today. Cohen's notmilk
yahoogroups column today is about an article by Andrew Weil, MD,
in which Weil points to animal studies and raises questions about
the safety of carrageenan -- a food thickener derived from red seaweed.
While carrageenan may be used in pudding, ice cream, yogurt, soups
or cottage cheese, you wouldn't know that from reading Cohen's blast,
-- The Deadly Poison." That's most likely because as usual
Cohen sees the world as a struggle between peddling his soymilk
maker and sales of Silk, and grasps at whatever he can to try to
discredit Silk. Out of the thousands of vegan products which contain
carrageenam, Cohen focuses only on one product and one company in
his rant -- White Wave.
In this, his
current pathetic attempt to go after Silk, Cohen glorifies an animal
researcher, a woman who earns money from the death of animals. Cohen,
who very recently publicly proclaimed proudly his complete abhorrence
at even mentioning animal studies, spends his entire column today
promoting the work of Joanne Tobacman, M.D., University of Iowa
assistant professor of clinical internal medicine. Cohen cites no
studies pointing to carrageenan as hazardous for humans, instead
presenting a love letter to Dr. Tobacman and her work -- which is
based on vivisection.
You can read
more about Dr. Tobacman's work here: http://www.enn.com/news/enn-stories/2001/10/10172001/s_45265.asp
This is not a new topic; Dr. Tobacman has been looking at the effect
of carrageenan on various animals for years. You can also read her
full study which details the hundreds of animals tested: Tobacman
study (requires free Adobe Acrobat pdf reader)
For those who
want to weigh Tobacman's data against reports from other bodies
which have looked into it, here are some additional materials which
detail various researchers' position on carrageenan:
I present these
documents not because I have any interest in entering the debate
about which animal study, if any, is most persuasive, or whether
the levels of carrageenan fed to rats and monkeys in some way models
how humans consume the substance, etc. I have no interest in that
discussion, and in fact believe it's appalling that anyone is doing
experiments like this.
I only present
Dr. Tobacman's work and the work of others to show how Robert Cohen
will use experiments on hundreds of rats, gineau pigs, mice, hamsters,
rhesus monkeys, pigs, squirrels, rabbits, squirrel monkeys and other
animals -- the work of Dr. Tobacman on carrageenan -- as a scare
tactic to try to sell his soymilk maker.
Not About Animal Studies!" Cohen Cries
Of course, in
his piece today Cohen refers to evidence other than animal studies
and claims to discount the animal studies. Let's look at whether
this claim stands up. Cohen writes:
from Dr. Tobacman that carrageenan is highly sulferated. Forty
percent of carrageenan, by molecular weight, is sulfur. You may
recall from previous notmilk columns that amino acids containing
sulfur create an acid condition in the bloodstream, and that the
human body neutralizes the acid by leeching calcium from bones.
Methionine is one such amino, and methionine converts to homocysteine,
an amino acid that Dr. William Castelli calls a key to heart disease.
Castelli is the lead researcher in the Framingham heart study,
the largest heart study in the history of mankind.
of soymilk (containing carrageenan) might be onto something. There
is a definite cancer risk.
Tobacman explained to me that mammary epithelial cells are absent
in invasive mammary cancers. Her critically important work reveals
that carrageenan destroys these healthy breast cells in culture.
She suggests that carrageenan plays a role in breast cancer."
In terms of
culture studies that Cohen promotes, the evidence is contradictory
and does not on balance support a carcinogenic effect:
inclusions in mammary myoepithelial cells
Tobacman JK, Walters KS
CANCER DETECTION AND PREVENTION
25 (6): 520-526 2001
The purpose of this investigation was to characterize the ultrastructural
changes that occur in mammary myoepithelial cells (MMEC) following
exposure in tissue culture to low concentrations of lambda -carrageenan,
a sulfated polysaccharide commonly used as a food additive. MMEC
were obtained from reduction mammoplast, grown in tissue culture,
exposed for varying durations to low concentrations (0.0014%-0.0001%)
of X-carrageenan, and examined by transmission electron microscopy,
following staining for acid phosphatase and for aryl sulfatase.
Carrageenan appeared to enter the cells by membrane-associated endocytic
vesicles and accumulate in endosomes and lysosomes. Unusual lamellar
inclusions were identified within lysosomes of the MMEC, and lysosomal
vacuolation arose in association with the inclusions. The observed
changes appeared to lead to destruction of the MMEC by release of
proteolytic enzymes from the distorted lysosomes, similar to the
process observed in lysosomal storage diseases.
This is at best
indirect evidence of an adverse effect of carrageenan, no direct
of the in vitro inhibition of mammary adenocarcinoma cell adhesion
by sulphated polysaccharides
Liu JM, Haroun-Bouhedja F, Boisson-Vidal C
20 (5A): 3265-3271 SEP-OCT 2000
Evidence is mounting that changes in the ability of cancer cells
to adhere to extracellular matrices (ECM) play a decisive role in
metastasis spread. We have investigated the effect of different
sulphated polysaccharides on the adhesion of MCF7 and MDA-MB231
adenocarcinoma breast cells to different substrata: a reconstituted
basement membrane (Matrigel) and various adhesion-mediating proteins
(fibronectin, laminin, type IV collagen). Most of them inhibited
cell adhesion and the most active component is a galactose rich
units polysaccharide, carrageenan iota. Taken together, the results
suggest that this inhibitory activity depends on the charge density
related to sulphate groups, the molecular weight and also the carbohydrate
structure. These products very likely unstabilize the interaction
between the glucosaminoglycan portion of proteoglycans and the ECM
proteins and then block the ability of these adhesive proteins to
bind to cells.
But wait --
the above is indirect evidence of a beneficial effect!
OF CELL-PROLIFERATION AND DNA-SYNTHESIS BY THE POLYSULFATED CARBOHYDRATE
HOFFMAN R, BURNS WW, PAPER DH
CANCER CHEMOTHERAPY AND PHARMACOLOGY
36 (4): 325-334 AUG 1995
iota-Carrageenan is a polysulphated carbohydrate that antagonises
some heparin-binding growth factors. We assessed the effect of iota-carrageenan
on the proliferation of a panel of cell lines, some of which require
heparin-binding growth factors for mitogenesis. The importance of
growth factor antagonism for the antiproliferative activity was
also determined. Cell proliferation was determined by cell counts
and a tetrazolium dye (MTT) assay, and DNA synthesis was determined
by thymidine incorporation. The proliferation of the basic fibroblast
growth factor (bFGF)-dependent endothelial cell line FBHE was inhibited
by daily administration of iota-carrageenan in a dose-dependent
manner [concentration inhibiting cell growth by 50% (IC50 value),
approx. 0.5 mu g/ml]. However, excess bFGF did not reverse the inhibitory
effect. DNA synthesis was completely inhibited by concentrations
of l-carrageenan that nonetheless allowed significant protein synthesis
to occur. The proliferation of the androgen-dependent prostate-carcinoma
cell line LNCaP was also inhibited by iota-carrageenan (IC50 value,
5.5 mu g/ml) and the cells were arrested at the G1/S boundary. iota-Carrageenan
inhibited DNA synthesis in MCF-7 cells stimulated by bFGF and transforming
growth factor alpha (TGF alpha) but not in those stimulated by insulinlike
growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Blocking IGF-1-mediated DNA synthesis with
anti-IGF-1 receptor antibody alpha IR3 enhanced the inhibitory activity
of iota-carrageenan against MCF-7 cells grown in serum. A number
of other transformed and non-transformed cell lines were either
partially inhibited or not inhibited by iota-carrageenan. iota-Carrageenan
had low anti-coagulant activity. iota-Carrageenan is a selective
anti-proliferative agent and warrants further investigation for
anti-angiogenic therapy (in view of its activity against endothelial
cells) and for the treatment of androgen-dependent prostate cancer.
evidence of a beneficial effect.
of carrageenan and other water-soluble polymers used as food additives
and incidence of mammary carcinoma
Tobacman JK, Wallace RB, Zimmerman MB
56 (5): 589-598 MAY 2001
This study examined the hypothesis that the increasing incidence
of mammary carcinoma in the USA in the twentieth century may be
related to the consumption of carrageenan and possibly other water-soluble
polymers. Widely used as food additives in the Western diet, the
water-soluble polymers, also known as gums, are generally regarded
as inert. However, the gum carrageenan which is comprised of linked,
sulfated galactose residues has potent biological activity and undergoes
acid hydrolysis to poligeenan, an acknowledged carcinogen. A time-trend
analysis using age-adjusted incidence data and consumption data
from established sources tested the hypothesis that increased consumption
of the gums may be associated with increased incidence of mammary
carcinoma. Correlations were determined using Pearson and Spearman
correlation coefficients, incorporating lag intervals of 10 to 35
years. This analysis demonstrated that increasing consumption of
several gums correlates positively with increased incidence of breast
The above study
by Dr. Tobacman is a meaningless correlation study: breast cancer
also correlates with the increase of BMWs in a given country or
the number of television sets or the amount of a given food in our
diets; anything increasing in developed countries would show
similar correlations with breast cancer as the study above.
Cohen advances that carageenan contains sulphur and that sulphur
containing amino acids are associated with calcium loss and (modestly)
with increased homocysteine is utterly irrelevant -- because carrageenan
is a carbohydrate not a protein: it contains no amino acids. The
breathtaking irrelevance of Cohen's argument shows a man struggling
for any excuse to use an argument based on animal experimentation.
It is clear
(from the links provided above) that Joanne Tobacman's view of carrageenan
is universally rejected in scientific reviews of this topic.
As far as digestion
to galactose goes, carrageenan is a mucilage which is a form of
non-starch polysaccharide, i.e. it is indigestible fibre until fermented
in the colon, so this is not an issue. Unsurprisingly, the animal
experiments refer to gut cancer not breast or prostate cancer: the
relevance of culture studies on breast and prostate cancer is to
drug treatment not nutrition.
is a non-digestible polysaccharide, Cohen's fear-mongering about
increased homocysteine levels and calcium loss is total nonsense.
(and not other sulphur containing amino acids) increases homocysteine
measurably at normal dietary intakes and its effect is about 5th
in order of importance after folate, B12, B6 and coffee. Carrageenan
is completely irrelevant to homocysteine.
methionine both increase calcium loss as both are absorbed and metabolised
to produce sulphuric acid: carrageenan is not absorbed and metabolised
in this way.
In short, the
culture evidence Cohen points to does not support an adverse effect
of carrageenan. There is no meaningful human epidemiological evidence
and the theoretical argument made by Cohen is nonsense (as usual).
What we're left with are animal studies: the true foundation of
Tobacman's position and an inappropriate basis for recommendations
for human health. Cohen's attempt to distance himself from the true
basis of Tobacman's suspicion of carrageenan while citing her as
an authority is pathetic.
didn't realize when he tried to rip at carrageenan that it contains
galactose -- oops! As discussed on IVU-SCI (a mailing list where
actual scientific discussions relating to vegetarianism take place,
and one where Cohen's "science" would likely be laughed off the
list), there is only weak evidence for an effect of galactose on
ovarian cancer and no evidence related to other cancers, so even
if carrageenan were degraded to galactose there is no reason for
concern about carrageenan.
take on the carrageenan issue, here's how Dr. Tobacman's work was
all the bad news [about carrageenan] comes from rat studies, and
one experiment suggests the bacteria that live in the rat intestine
may contribute to the effects while bacteria from humans do not
result in the same problems.
Note that the
tone of all the articles I've linked is not the screeching hysteria
of a Cohen bash on Silk (asserting that Silk is "a deadly poison!!"),
but are far more balanced. By the way, a "deadly poison"
is something which, when you drink it, you die. An example would
be arsenic. Calling Silk "a deadly poison," as Cohen does,
is merely another fabrication.
His True Colors
It seems completely
lacking in conscience for Cohen to be throwing mud, as he so regularly
does. A few weeks ago Cohen launched a vicious attack on John Robbins
on his yahoogroup, asserting Robbins "promoted vivisection"
because Robbins alluded in his book "Food Revolution"
to one study of GMO potatoes where the government fired the researcher
whose animal study showed GMO potatoes were potentially harmful.
Robbins disavowed the study when he mentioned it.
is actively promoting studies on hundreds or perhaps thousands of
animals, in his latest desperate attempt to attack Silk. In order
to try to suggest that Silk causes cancer, Cohen ends his piece
today quoting Dr. Weil's reaction to the animal studies, citing
these animal studies as a reason to avoid Silk. What does that make
Cohen? At a minimum, it makes him a hypocrite.
I believe it's poor salesmanship to try to promote yourself or sell
your own product by attacking and smearing someone else, whether
you're smearing Soyajoy or White Wave or beloved vegetarian leaders.
And when it
comes to smearing White Wave, I have to say it really disgusts me,
especially when I know that the people at that company have such
high ethical standards personally and professionally. Steve Demos,
vegetarian and founder of White Wave, "got" the message
many years ago, long before Cohen or most of us. He put his "activism"
into something practical -- a big vegetarian company, which is now
one of the biggest, most successful vegan companies, one which has
played a major role in getting soy products into the consciousness
We all have
to make a living, and in the best of
all possible worlds we get to do it by offering a product or service
that is consistent with our social values. I have no problem with
someone enthusiastically promoting his product. I just feel it's
wrong -- and unnecessarily divisive -- to do it with bashing, nonsense
and innuendo directed against a couple of companies that have served
the veg community well.
And for the record lest anyone think we're trying to sell something
ourselves, I want to say that neither VegSource nor Sabrina or me
personally receive or have ever received any advertising income
or any other consideration from White Wave. We like and respect
this company and the people who run it, which is our complete motivation
for standing up for them.