Clarifying Clean Label Project’s Data Policies by Jaclyn Bowen, MPH, MS Executive Director of Clean Label Project

There has been a lot of excitement about recent releases of studies from the Clean Label Project and also some questions about how we create and distribute the data.  Below are answers to some of the commonly asked questions.  We hope you fine this helpful.

 

  • So what’s the deal with not posting raw data? 

 

Based on the feedback received from consumers, Clean Label Project and Ellipse Analytics, the third partner analytical chemistry testing laboratory that completed the testing, we have released the heavy metal blinded raw data. You can see that here. We have posted the raw data on our website in the same manner that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does as part of their FDA Total Diet study. You can see FDA’s infant formula and baby food blinded raw data here. If you look at the FDA data, you will notice that the Clean Label Project’s overall test results and statistics mirror the FDA Total Diet study results further validating the breadth and depth of the problem of industrial and environmental contaminants, like heavy metals, in infant formula and baby foods.

It’s also important to note that every one of the brands whose products we tested has the ability to have these exact same tests (listed in our methodology)  run on their products from any number of accredited laboratories across the country—to share or attempt to dispute our findings. In fact, we encourage them to run those tests.  Given our results, we see that some brands are doing proactive screening and wonder why more brands don’t do this. At Clean Label Project, we feel that consumers should make that decision for themselves.

 

  • So why a rating system? 

 

Consumers want fewer and less chemically derived ingredients, and they are increasingly focused on transparency and labeling.  We believe these industry trends will continue for many years.

In an ideal world, every company would be thrilled to participate in Clean Label Project’s rating system.  Clean Label Project empowers consumers with choices based on science and data to select the best products on the market for their families. We are gratified by the amount of the 5 star products on the market.  These brands are sourcing high quality, clean, and nutritious ingredients! This transparency based on data (vs. marketing fluff) can be a win for consumers and a win for high quality brands.

We would hope that every company that received a poor rating from Clean Label Project would immediately start working to improve the quality of their products. When companies compete to improve the purity of their products, consumers win.

We understand that we do not live in an ideal world. However, Clean Label Project will not be silenced by the same brands who sell comfort and security in their marketing and have elevated levels of environmental and industrial contaminants in their products, especially when those products are targeted at infants and children. The time has come for brands to step up and take ownership for what is in their products- both good and bad.The best part about Clean Label Project’s benchmarked results, is that we base them on science and data, NOT opinion. Plus, if brands think we got it wrong, we encourage them to reach out to us.

From Clean Label Project’s perspective, it’s what’s NOT on the label that is sometimes the most important.

 

  • Why isn’t your study peer-reviewed?

 

We are in the process of peer review! The process of having scientific studies peer reviewed is a lengthy one. To us at Clean Label Project, it’s about relevance. The products that Clean Label Project sampled and tested are the same products found on grocery store shelves- TODAY! Our mission is to provide consumers with scientific data that allows them to make educated decisions about their purchases—identifying contaminants as they relate to their families’ health. We chose to post our results in real time, specifically so that consumers can make educated decisions today regarding purchases that impact their family’s health. We believe parents of infants have a right to know now—and make their choices armed with science. The longer children are exposed to contaminants, the more negative the impact. The sooner that awareness of this issue starts, the better.

To put it into perspective, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released a report in June 2017 analyzing publicly available data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (USDA) Total Diet Study from 2003-2013—that showed a significant amount of lead and other toxins also present in the Clean Label Project Baby Food Study. Children who ate the baby food products from the EDF report are between 4 and 17 years old now. We feel it is our responsibility—not only as scientists, but as consumer advocates—to provide our results to parents now, when they have the opportunity to act.

Bloggers may have the option to roll the dice for months waiting on peer review confirmation. We believe parents of infants have a right to know now—and make their decisions armed with science.

 

  • Oh come on, Clean Label Project, these heavy metals are naturally occurring, right?

 

This is one of my favorite questions. In short, yep, these heavy metals are naturally occurring, but so are ricin and cyanide but that doesn’t mean that you should EAT THEM! Ask yourself this question, if contaminants are so ubiquitous across nature, then why is it that only 36% of infant formulas and baby foods had measurable levels of lead? This means that magically, 64% of brands have been able to 1) source or 2) formulate a product that doesn’t have measurable levels of lead. This means that sourcing cleaner ingredients is possible, and many brands are successfully doing it, but 36% of infant formula and baby food brands need to up their ingredient quality game.

Our position at Clean Label Project is that exposure to LESS industrial and environmental contaminants is better.

 

  • Even if there are some environmental and industrial contaminants in the product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s enough to do harm, right?

 

Well…that depends. Clean Label Project did a survey of 200 moms and asked them, “How much lead do you want in your baby food?” The unanimous answer: “None.” Leading pediatricians call for a ‘No Lead’ tolerance. What’s especially interesting to us at Clean Label Project is that the knowledge on the long-term effects of exposure to these contaminants is concerning and still developing. Many studies have been done on the isolated effects of childhood exposure to lead, cadmium, acrylamide, etc. However, NO studies have been done on the cumulative effects of multiple contaminants on the developing body. Clean Label Project isn’t talking about just lead. We are talking about lead and cadmium and arsenic and residual antibiotics and residual pesticides and BPA/BPS and acrylamide.

The World Health Organization says that the first 1000 days of life  is the brain’s window of opportunity – the period of time when the foundation of optimal health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the entire lifespan is established.

For us at Clean Label Project, it’s about minimizing exposure wherever possible, especially for America’s most vulnerable populations.

 

  • How does Clean Label Project make money? Who funds the projects?

Clean Label Project makes money through four (soon to be five) different ways 1) through donations from concerned consumers 2) through grants 3) we are an Amazon Smiles and Amazon Affiliate- this means that if consumers happen to buy something from Amazon.com after clicking from our website, Amazon donates 4% of the transaction back to Clean Label Project to support our mission 4) our new Certification Program and 5) we are in process of assembling a crowdfunding campaign to expand the breadth and depth of the products we test- stay tuned for more information!

 

  • Did Clean Label Project’s Executive Director, Jackie Bowen, previously work at Ellipse Analytics, the analytical chemistry testing laboratory?

Yes, in fact I did. I spent the first 15 years of my career working at the non-profit World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre, NSF International, a non-profit public health and safety company working on important & progressive food safety and quality standards and movements including USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project, Certified Gluten-free, and the good work associated with the Global Food Safety Initiative. A few years ago, I was given an opportunity to head up Ellipse Analytics – the analytical chemistry testing and data analytics company – which was amazing. When I saw the wealth of capabilities and the type of information that was being generated out of the laboratory, I felt that I could contribute so much more by focusing my efforts on the consumer advocacy side – which is my passion. While Clean Label Project had been in existence, it was essentially rudderless without an Executive Director at the helm. With the encouragement of Ellipse Analytics, I, yet again, made the career jump over to the Clean Label Project earlier this year and set the lofty goal of changing the definition of food and consumer product safety in America. Ellipse Analytics remains an important partner of our small, but mighty, disruptive non-profit, Clean Label Project.

 

  • A final plea to you the consumer…

 

Consumers can ultimately drive positive change in the quality of baby food produced and sold to our most vulnerable population. Here are some important action items that you can take:

 

  1. Talk about the Clean Label Project Baby Food Study with other parents, grandparents, and beyond. Caregivers are the best advocates for infants and toddlers—speak up!
  2. Ask questions—and get the answers! Call the manufacturers of the products you purchase and ask them about their ratings. Commend & congratulate the brands that did well, for those that didn’t- Ask if they screen their products for heavy metals, BPA/BPS, antibiotics, and the other environmental & industrial contaminants listed here. Demand real answers, not empty reassurances.
  3. Join us in asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect our most vulnerable population, and ask them to set stricter toxins levels in baby food and to enforce the safety standards already on the books. Sign the petition here!
  4. Help support Clean Label Project- Clean Label Project averages 2500 visitors to our website per minute. If every person that came to the website, donated $1, Clean Label Project would be able to test and report on, 5 times as many foods and consumer products used by families across America. Help us change the status quo. You can donate here. Our crowdfunding campaign will be starting later this month. Stay tuned for more details.

 

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