Organic Consumers Association

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Organic Consumers Association Response to Bigelow Statement Regarding Our Lawsuit Alleging Bigelow’s ‘All Natural’ Labeling Deceives Consumers

On December 15, 2017, we filed suit against R.C. Bigelow, Inc., makers of Bigelow brand tea products, after tests revealed the presence of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup® weedkiller in Bigelow tea products.

The lawsuit, filed in Washington D.C. under the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act, alleges that Bigelow miseleads consumers by labeling its tea product "All Natural" and marketing its brand as "socially responsible" when the products contain glyphosate.

In response, Bigelow posted a statement on its website. Here is our response to that statement.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) stands by our claim that Bigelow tea products contain glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® weedkiller, and that any product labeled “All Natural” should be free of all pesticide and herbicide residues, as this is what consumers expect.

To Bigelow’s claim that “Every test conducted on our teas has consistently shown we have zero of this herbicide in our cup of tea,” our response is:

1. Bigelow does not state the methodology used in its third-party testing, therefore we do not know at what level of sensitivity Bigelow tests its tea. The tests OCA relied on use the most sophisticated testing methodology currently available, High-Pressure Liquid Spectroscopy (LC-MS/MS), designed to detect levels of glyphosate and AMPA (a metabolite of glyphosate) at levels lower than those set by government agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Using this methodology, an independent lab detected 0.38 ppm of glyphosate in Bigelow tea products.

2. While the EPA establishes what it has determines to be “safe allowable levels” of glyphosate, emerging science suggests that the levels set by the EPA, an agency that relies heavily on industry’s claims rather than independent science, are unsafe.
For example, this report published January 2017 reveals that low doses of glyphosate have been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, suggesting that there is no “safe” level of glyphosate. Also, a 2015 study published in the journal Environmental Health links chronic, ultra-low dose exposure to glyphosate in drinking water to adverse impacts on the health of liver and kidneys. Glyphosate has also been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, infertility and, even in very low doses, to hormone disruption

The EPA "safe" levels also don't take into account the cumulative effect of exposure to glyphosate, which we know is found widely in both food and drinking water. Studies have shown that glyphosate bioaccumlates in the human body. Nor does the EPA differentiate between "safe" levels for adults vs. children. More background on glyphosate and human illness can be found here.
 3. Bigelow states that there is “zero” glyphosate in “our cup of tea.” Bigelow does not state how its lab tests for glyphosate in a cup of tea, where tea and any other chemicals included with it are diluted by water. 

4. As our lawsuit states, only Bigelow and its suppliers know the exact source of glyphosate in its products.

5. OCA does not seek to “scare” consumers, but rather to inform consumers and to advocate on their behalf for truthful labeling and marketing of products. A 2014 Consumer Reports poll  found that 66 percent of consumers believe a product labeled “natural” has no artificial ingredients, pesticides or genetically modified organisms, and 86 percent believe that it should mean those things.

OCA, along with Beyond Pesticides and Moms Across America filed a similar lawsuit, in August 2016, against General Mills, the maker of Nature Valley granola bars. Although General Mills asked the courts to dismiss the lawsuit, the courts ruled against General Mills motion to dismiss in Julyy 2017. That lawsuit is now proceeding through the courts.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. For updates on this and other OCA campaigns, sign up here for our online newsletter.

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