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Sustainable Sourcing™ Sues Himalayan Salt Seller Alleging Fraudulent Quality Seals
Melissa Kushi, owner of Sustainable Sourcing llc, manufacturer of the premier brand of Himalayan Salt, HimalaSalt™, has filed a federal lawsuit against the proprietors of WBM International, makers of Salt 84.
By: Melissa Kushi
Salt 84, a competing brand of Himalayan salt, sold nationally by Walmart, Target and Sam's Club, claims to be organic, kosher, and hilal by nearly a dozen third-party certifiers, yet many of these certifiers deny having authorized WBM to use their quality seals, according to the lawsuit.
“Labeling fraud and green-washing are widespread today, yet this is an extreme case in my opinion,” said Kushi, who’s Certified Organic, Kosher, Green-e manufacturing plant is located in Great Barrington, MA. “I believe these guys are trying to steal the goodwill, trust, transparency, and authenticity of my company, which I've spent years building,” Kushi added. They’re trying to piggy-back on her green production facility by inferring they are located in Great Barrington, MA where her facility just also happens to be.
“The truth is, WBM doesn’t have a production facility in the US. WBM packs their salt in Pakistan, which is true with the majority of Himalayan salt vendors – I suspect they never see, touch, or test the quality of the products that then go straight to the consumer. Kushi continues, “They’re either extremely ignorant or believe they are above the law. WBM claims their salt is 100% Organic, which is not the case under the USDA NOP laws. Salt has never been certified as organic in the US, and anyone involved in organic foods production knows that. My facility is certified organic because I have over twenty products that are legitimately 100% certified organic by QAI.”
Kushi’s indignance goes deeper than just trying to protect her brand. Her family, headed by world-renown natural foods pioneers Michio and Aveline Kushi, introduced macrobiotics in the 60’s and opened Erewhon, the first natural food store in the USA. Trained under the strictest of Kushi guidelines, she taught and lectured worldwide on organic natural foods, its philosophy, and personal health for twenty years before starting her own company.
“I've been an advocate and teacher for the organic industry since the 80's,” Kushi explains. “It’s my way of life. What WBM is doing is not only damaging to my company, but to the industry as a whole, and especially to consumers who rely on companies to be truthful and transparent about quality.” She adds, “We’ve worked hard for decades – educating consumers on how to distinguish wholesome, truly healthful foods from those that are not. There’
Salt 84 didn't stop at allegedly false labeling statements and piggy-backing on her facility location. As Sustainable Sourcing spells out in its federal suit, Salt 84 has co-opted Kushi's trademarked tag line, “ The Purest Salt on Earth – Ethically Sourced, Artisan Made, Powered by 100% Wind Power.” Since Sustainable Sourcing’s inception, it has donated 5 percent of its proceeds to a variety of environmental causes. Salt 84, not to be outdone, claims alternately to donate all of its profits to a “foundation for plastic bags ban [sic]” and 5 percent of its profits to a foundation to aid “disabled people.” Besides their numbers not adding up, Kushi said the company is improperly using the FDA’s logo in its marketing materials.
HimalaSalt™, Kushi’s brand, has been featured on Martha Stuart Live and on the Today Show. Salt 84, seizing on Kushi's good reputation in the natural-foods industry, claimed these endorsements as their own. Kushi caught wind of Salt 84's marketing practices at the Fancy Food Show in New York City, when the company's owners came by Kushi's booth to taunt her. “You're going to be hearing a lot about us,” they told her as they dropped off some business cards. Kushi was at a loss for words after the encounter. It was then that she looked at their website, only to find her trademarked material and location being used.
That was the beginning of arduous research that lead to the federal suit filed on August 27, 2010, by Kushi’s company, Sustainable Sourcing, llc, which employs 11 people in Great Barrington. To date, Salt 84 hasn't responded to any of the charges against it.
Sustainable Sourcing’s products carry legitimate third-party quality seals by Quality Assurance International (QAI), Organized Kashrush, and the Green-e. Here facility is chemical and gluten free, using only Dr. Bronner’s certified organic soap and Eden’s certified organic vinegar for washing her equipment, in line with her Organic Compliance Plan. In 2006, HimalaSalt became the first Himalayan sea salt to be made with 100 percent renewable energy. In partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Kushi offsets not just her electricity, but 100% of her entire carbon footprint – equivalent to planting 38 acres of trees annually and keeping 258,000 lbs of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
HimalaSalt™ is sold by Whole Foods Market, Wegman’s, The Fresh Markets, Lunds & Byerly’s, and other reputable natural/specialty grocers. Kushi has turned down Walmart’s request to carry her line on multiple occasions, adding that, “Unprincipled plus a poor track record – Walmart is not for me.”
“Distributors like Salt 84 are popping up in the market place daily,” Kushi said. “If people are not scrutinizing what they're buying, then they don’t have a clue: 1) what they’re feeding their families, 2) whose pockets they’re lining, and 3) the third world labor standards they’re unwittingly supporting.”
Asked how Kushi would advise consumers and she responded, “Read labels, if you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it. If it says “organic” look for the USDA Organic Seal. Educate your family about GMO and processed foods vs. eating organic when possible, and read company’s websites to find brands you can truly trust. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”
To find out more about her green mission and products, go to http://www.himalasalt.com.