Response to Sludge Proponent Sally Brown’s False and Defamatory Charge Calling Food Rights Network “Ecoterrorists”

April 11, 2011 at 10:00 pm 36 comments

The Food Rights Network
A Project of the Center for Media and Democracy
520 University Avenue, Suite 260
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
(608) 260-9713

Organic Consumers Association
6771 South Silver Hill Drive
Finland, Minnesota 55603

April 11, 2011 (by certified mail and hand delivery in San Diego, CA)

Dr. Sally L. Brown, Research Associate Professor
School of Forest Resources, University of Washington
Bloedel Hall, Room 203/ 4000 15th Avenue NE
Seattle, Washington 98195
(206) 616-1299

Ms. Nora Goldstein, Executive Editor
BioCycle Magazine/JG Press, Inc.
419 State Avenue
Emmaus, Pennsylvania 18049
(610) 967-4135

Re: Demand to Retract “Ecoterrorists” Libel and to Cease and Desist

Dear Dr. Brown and Ms. Goldstein:

Dr. Brown’s column in the March 2011 edition of BioCycle magazine makes a false and defamatory charge calling us  “ecoterrorists.”  We are the individuals who initiated and led the successful effort that on March 4, 2010 stopped the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC) from giving away sewage sludge as “organic biosolids compost” for home and school gardens.

Specifically, Dr. Brown wrote:

“Here, six ecoterrorists have the City of San Francisco quaking in its boots, leading officials to stop a compost giveaway program that was making hundreds happy.”

Your libelous description of those of us who organized the opposition to the City’s “organic compost” scam is defamatory.  Labeling us “ecoterrorists” injures our reputations and it smears all who challenged the SFPUC’s fraudulent and deceptive sludge giveaway program.

The Organic Consumers Association and the Food Rights Network are proud to have led the coalition that successfully put this sewage waste disposal scam on apparently permanent hold in San Francisco.  Indeed, we are expanding our efforts to warn the public at large that so-called “biosolids” and “biosolids compost” are actually sewage sludge and thus contaminated with toxic and hazardous substances.

Your smear of us as “ecoterrorists” recklessly disregards the truth.  We are the proponents of genuine organic food and farming practices and federal law forbids putting sewage sludge on organic farms and gardens.  We are working lawfully, democratically, and non-violently to raise public awareness of this sewage sludge “compost” scam promoted by the SFPUC, BioCycle magazine, Rodale Institute, the US Composting Council, the Water Environment Federation, Synagro and others comprising the public and private sewage sludge lobby.

It is a fraud upon the public to promote sewage sludge products containing hazardous substances—such as pathogens, pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, flame-retardants, endocrine disruptors, metals, and thousands of other contaminants—as “organic compost.”   The success of our coalition in exposing and stopping this fraudulent practice bears absolutely no resemblance to the felony crime of “ecoterrorism.” Your libelous assertion is utterly false and baseless.

Such vilification is particularly pernicious in the post-9/11 environment, with the expanded powers of the federal government to investigate charges of ecoterrorism.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has focused an increased amount of its new anti-terrorism powers on U.S. groups and individuals using violence as a means to change environmental policies and practices. See for instance the testimony of James F. Jarboe, Domestic Terrorism Section Chief of the FBI Counterterrorism Division, regarding “The Threat of Eco-Terrorism,” before the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health  (Feb. 12, 2002).   The FBI uses a variety of secret techniques in response to allegations of ecoterrorism, including national security letters and other surreptitious surveillance, which results in government files on subjects of such preliminary inquiries and may even result in watch-listing.

Hence, your published suggestion that we — Ronnie Cummins, the leader of the Organic Consumers Association, and John Stauber, the senior advisor to the Food Rights Network — engaged in terrorist activities portrays us in a false light and subjects us to serious potential harms.

That BioCycle magazine would call us “ecoterrorists” is also quite possibly malicious, given your financial interests in promoting sewage sludge-derived products.

We expect a written apology from both of you for your libel against us, and we demand that a written retraction and apology be printed in the next issue of BioCycle magazine.  Given our prominent role in the successful effort to stop the SFPUC “organic compost” scam, it is highly likely that the your calumnious statement will be imputed to us, and so we insist that you specifically name us and the others to whom you were referring when you retract your “ecoterrorists” smear.

Additionally, we demand that the online version of the March 2011 edition of your magazine prominently disavow and strike the reference to “ecoterrorists” in connection with our lawful, non-violent action against the SFPUC sewage sludge giveaway scam.

Finally, we also demand that this retraction and apology be publicly announced from the podium at the national BioCycle conference April 12th in San Diego, where John Stauber is personally delivering this letter.


John Stauber, Senior Advisor, Food Rights Network

Ronnie Cummins, Director, Organic Consumers Association

cc Phyllis M. Wise, Interim President of the University of Washington; Tom Hinckley, Interim Director of the School of Forest Resources; and Dan Sullivan, Managing Editor of BioCycle Magazine


Entry filed under: Blog, News, Press. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Independent Scientific Testing Finds Toxic Contaminants in San Francisco’s Free ‘Organic Biosolids Compost’ RELEASE: 

Sally Brown and BioCycle Magazine, Supporters of Growing Food in Sewage Sludge, Call Organic Food Advocates “Ecoterrorists”


  • 1. Patty  |  April 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Stop your smear campaign.

  • 2. Pat Sullivan  |  April 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    First, the term “ecoterrorism” is defined by our own FBI as follows: “the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”

    If you’re going to sling ‘sludge’ (as it were), at least know the meaning of the word(s) you are using. You, Sally, made yourself look ridiculous by not only misusing the term (and hopefully bringing libelous action against you), but also by using an “Attack” method defined as “Fear-mongering.”
    Stop it.
    Don’t EVER do it again!

  • 3. Jerome the Gnome  |  April 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    To marginalize as as “ecoterrorists” those of us in the trenches who fight valiantly on behalf of all citizens to preserve our food freedom is deceptive, outrageous, and intolerable. We are with you in this battle until the last man is standing.

    Your Friend,
    Jerome the Gnome

  • 4. Lori Patotzka  |  April 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Yes, a retraction of the branding of “eco terrorists” must happen. People concerned about sewage sludge being put in our gardens or anything that needs to be organic for our food safety are NOT eco terrorists. STOP using these stupid words!!

  • 5. heather lehman  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I graduated from UW, and I will be making a point of contacting the department directly. I am certainly an advocate of free speech, but I am also an advocate of generally not being an idiot. That I have to hear the term “ecoterrorist” lobbed about in this manner is an affront in an of itself. When it is lobbed at some of the most dedicated advocates I know is even more ridiculous. It is fairly startling that an academic from the Forestry Dept. of a major University even thought to use the term with such impunity. Are they stupid? Do they know what it means? Do they have a basic grasp of framing, discourse? Perhaps they should go back to the U and take a few more courses in another department before stepping out of the tower into the real world.

    Pushing industrial pseudo food and toxic biosolids as a happy panacea is more deserving of the label “terrorism” than the work done by this alliance.

  • 6. John Easterday  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Human waste or sewage sludge or whatever name you wish to give it, contains a great deal of harmful heavy metals and other dangerous compounds. Advocating for it to be applied to food crops is irresponsible and dangerous and puts many people at risk.

  • 7. Brenda Michaels  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    We have reported on “sewage sludge” on our radio show, Conscious Talk ,and know the dangers of this practice. We stand with Food Right Network and others that support organic farming the use of organic materials over “sewage sludge”.

  • 8. Mario Accaoui  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Ronnie Cummins and Mr. Stauber are not Eco Terrorists since the FBI investigates any of these charges seriously. Sewage Sludge has toxins harmful
    to humans and animals and should never be promoted as ecofriendly and organic!

    Mario A.

  • 9. Virginia Gail Vonderweidt  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you for taking the initiative to write this letter to Dr. Brown confronting her with defamation and calling anyone who believes in organic growing and grass fed livestock at a source of protein, “ecoterrorists”. I resent that claim as I am living proof that changing one’s diet to what I’ve mentioned here is the way to improve one’s health. Please demand a retraction from Dr. Brown. In addition, demand that she submit for broad publication well founded, long term research that proves growing food in sewage sludge contaminated with toxic and hazardous substances, claiming it is “organic biosolids compost” and that it is safe for home and school gardens.

  • 10. george craciun  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Yes, sewage sludge (waste) will grow food crops, but creates a highly toxic medium for growth and production of the crops. Therefore, such activity is clearly contrary to the public interest and constitutes a danger to health of the public. Therefore, common sense would dictate the absolute avoidance of the application of sewage waste for any sort of food production.

  • 11. Sandra Stanfield  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Proponents of using Sewage Sludge for organic gardening should reap what they sow, and eat it!

  • 12. george craciun  |  April 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    A thoughtful common sense scientifically based position cannot be construed as “eco-terrorism”.

  • 13. Kathryn PhD  |  April 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    What about all the medications, hormones, etc. that we KNOW do not break down? Many of us suspect that Americans suffer everything from autism to male boobs because of our wanton use of everything Rx.

  • 14. David Wick  |  April 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    On behalf of Food Rights Network…a small question!

    Is it that Dr. Sally L. Brown, research assoc. prof. at the School of Forest Resources, U of Washington, at “B L O E D E L” Hall, is complaining about ecoterrorism?

    Is it not that MacMillan-Bloedel and their forest resource persons have destroyed many Canadian and American forests by strip-forestration, leaving animals and fish that require these same forests to continue their species and hence feed many in the human chain? That by destroying such forests, that nature is so depleted that these forest-stands are incapable of producing a similar forest in this or many lifetimes? That is true ecoterrorism!

    This calling the Food Rights Network down for revealing the truth about food additives is so bizarre in light of the wanton destruction of our most precious forest, nature and its varying species that depend on those forests for their existence just shows how out of balance our world truly is. This is “Koyanisqatsi” …”A world gone madly out of balance”

  • 15. Carol McCreary  |  April 12, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Good work, Food Rights Network, on shedding light on the growing misinformation on sewage sludge and pushing back on this libelous slur from an academic at a major university.

    Isn’t it time, however, to correct misperceptions about our waterborne sanitation? Flush-and-forget is such a deeply-rooted mindset that few Americans can see alternatives. As population puts pressure on crumbling sanitation infrastructure world wide, we must cease putting feces and urine in our drinking water and mixing it up with industrial chemicals and heavy metals in our treatment plants. Our food security depends on the rapid adoption of ecological sanitation. PHLUSH is a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance, which makes available good resources on responsibly-managed decentralized ecosan systems.

  • 16. Carolyn Scarr  |  April 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Anyone who has done composting knows that you compost onion skins, potato peels, dry leaves, etc.
    You do not compost what you put in the toilet, from urine, feces, and old medicines, and the water you scrubbed the floor with, not to speak of whatever you cleaned the toilet with.
    Sewage is not fertilizer. Shame on Dr. Brown

  • 17. myraschafer  |  April 12, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    You’ve been caught un green handed. Stop now! explain your intent

  • 18. Jacki Wunderlin  |  April 12, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Too many assume that if they haphazardly attach the word ‘terrorist’ to anything it will automatically cause people to denounce that organization or persons involved with it. Unfortunately, the willing and/or the ignorant are more than happy to jump on board the ‘garbage’ bandwagon. Common sense, alone, should dictate that trying to grow anything through sewage sludge is in NO ONE’s best interests! Too bad for all of us there’s no ‘Common Sense’ class required alongside the rest of the basics. Politics has become both a figurative, and now a quite literal toxic brew.

  • 19. GLORIA J HOWARD  |  April 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm


    DITTO! AND –


  • 20. Sylvia Haven  |  April 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Why should anyone be surprised. Forestry Schools have long cooperated with corporate timber companies to the detriment of the environment including our U. of W. School. I am highly suspicious of pronouncements from sources that receive grants and funds from private sources. Who is funding Sally Brown’s research?

  • 21. Alex Benjamin  |  April 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I concur that apologies and retractions are in order from Ms. Brown for her reckless comments. I’m in complete supprt of the six individuals and others like them who have worked so hard for the benefit of people in the Bay area, and to inform the rest of us about environmental and health risks carried in municipal sludge. Libelous attacks such as Ms. Brown’s are an affront to me as I have a right to be informed by people who speak and advocate openly for what they believe. Their actions have nothing to do with terrorism or subversion because they conduct thorough research, present the data in plain view, and make their demands in a legal manner. I don’t think that is true in the case of the sludge peddlers, who would give out half-truths and obfuscations of facts about their “product”, and even resort to giving it away for free in order to convince people to accept it.

  • 22. Carey  |  April 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    I will be boycotting all advertisers in this magazine until an apology is made and a retraction is issued.

  • 23. Patty Langford  |  April 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    omg … anyone with any sense know you cannot use the poop of omnivores nor carnivores. That is why we use cattle manure and poultry litter – ideally these animals are only suppose to eat grains and grasses. what kind of education does this woman have?

    We already know she is skilled in the Swift Boating method of fear-mongering. This Sally is nothing more than a shill.

  • 24. R  |  April 12, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Perhaps it was an oversight ‘reaction’ Sally.
    Please research & investigate before you say something so publicly. There is much information from credible sources available to the contrary of you ‘public’ statement. Please retract PUBLICLY when you have thoroughly investigated ‘what is truth’. We all make mistakes, this was a big one! Thank you

  • 25. That Guy  |  April 12, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    What are you talking about?!? The toxins in question are heavy metals and PCBs – you don’t find more of those in one kind of poop vs another. Those toxins come from folks putting stuff into the sewer that they shouldn’t. Please read more carefully next time.

  • 26. freefall  |  April 13, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Sally Brown, BioCycle magazine, and possibly U of W School of Forestry Resources need to be held publicly accountable for these irresponsible, intentional, malicious remarks not only on behalf of the target organizations being slandered, but also for the sake of the public who are being defrauded by the likes of supposedly educated “experts” who have credentials from supposed centers of higher education. It is quite clear to whom the label “eco-terrorist” should be affixed to.
    It is not enough that an apology be made by the Dr. and the pitiful magazine that would print such effluent. Not by a long shot! A lawsuit should be filed for an amount equal to the damage the claimants were intended to have suffered as well as the costs in health problems that would likely be visited upon the deceived public.
    The p.r. that would result from such action could well be a defining point in the education of the public as well as an opportunity to reveal the identities of the real eco-terrorist organizations such as Monsanto. Don’t settle for an apology from the true enemy, it wouldn’t be sincere anyway!

  • 27. Gloria Morotti  |  April 13, 2011 at 2:18 am

    This wordsmith is speechless. Using the word “ecoterrorist” in conjunction with people who are working to maintain clean food is downright insane.

  • 28. Gary Brown  |  April 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Oh. The good guys may have hit a nerve of inconvenient truth for someone to start parroting the language of BigCorpAmerica. It is a slippery, sludge-strewn slope when an academic hits their stride and rubs elbows with large corporations and institutions invested by them. It may be time for some introspection and assessing the motivations of one’s friends. In the case of MDs, most claim to be immune to Big PhRMA’s perks and PR, but statistically most of them buy into the thought and action club prescribed to them. Are there conflicts and relationships here which influenced Dr. Brown’s outburst? Certainly UW does not fall outside the ubiquitous domination of corporations. Take, for instance, Peter Roy-Byrne and Wayne Katon of their Psychiatry Dept. Lucrative shilling for Big PhRMA has its rewards but even “membership” in the inner circle has it’s comfortable benefits and knee-jerk defense of one’s “friends'” position.

  • […] are attending the national BioCycle magazine conference Tuesday, April 12, 2011 in San Diego to demand an apology and retraction from Sally Brown, a columnist and editorial board member of BioCycle magazine, and from Nora […]

  • 30. Joe Sadlowski  |  April 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    This is insane. No, make that beyond insane. This sewage sludge has all the toxic chemicals people flush down the toilet or sink and medications that have passed thru their body. Only an IDIOT would promote or go along with such insanity as using such toxic sewage to grow crops and produce poisonous food.

  • 31. Sylvia Haven  |  April 13, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Why should anyone be surprised! The U. of W. Forestry Department has been in the pockets of industrial corporate interests for years. Much of their research is funded by private industry – witness all the clear cutting we have undergone in Washington State since the 30’s. Who is funding Dr. Brown’s efforts?

  • 32. me  |  April 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    If you don’t like it, DON’T Use it. That’s Your Choice. But You are not a Hero when you Eliminating Others’ RIGHTS TO RECYCLED PRODUCTS (ie., killing San Fran’s compost give away)!!! Share your MISinformation if you want, but let people Chose for Themselves!!! We have a Beautiful Garden using compost from biosolids. We can Chose Beyond the YUCK factor that y’all can’t get over. It is soooooo easy to be a Hater, but we are Enjoying a Wonderful Garden!!!

  • 33. the_kcar  |  April 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Eco-terrorists? Really?
    Something to note: water treatment facilities are designed to clear the water of metals, Dioxins, BPA, flame retardants, metals…and countless other toxic materials. The sludge left behind…is concentrated toxic material. The object of these plants is to provide cleared water – NOT cleared sludge.

    The proposed use of the potentially toxic sludge for children’s learning [and eating] gardens, home and school gardens…

    I have to ask: do you feel comfortable allowing unchecked amounts of lead to be in the foods your children, grandchildren, relatives, and family may consume?

    “Eco-terrorist”…tell the world At Large…which group is more likely to be performing ecoterrorism, as defined by a political terrorism intended to damage an enemy’s natural environment?

    Those who would seek to promote toxic sludge as “free compost”, or those who would seek to promote safe, healthy gardening and educate others in edible landscaping?

  • 34. Gary Brown  |  April 14, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Well “me,” I think it is time for a showdown. Not a hating rant showdown (excuse you). These good folks here apparently have actual evidence of hazardous contaminants. Are you are challenging the validity of their data? If so, where’s your data? If their data is valid, then have you disclosed to your neighbors that, due to the presence of (at this point you present the list of) contaminants, any of their children playing in your garden should wash carefully before sticking their fingers in their mouths? If I was your neighbor, I’d consider that a requirement of a good neighbor.

  • 35. Paul H  |  April 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I bet if someone investigated Sally Brown’s background they would find dirt, and it wouldn’t be organic. Her kind of vitriol is totally unprofessional which makes me question her actual academic credentials. The real scientists I know do not resort to defamation to argue a point. Furthermore it should be obvious to any scientist that the ramdom nature of chemicals being dumped in our sewers makes it impossible to assure the safety of sewage sludge products. One bag of treated sludge relabelled as “compost” might be clean but another may have toxic chemicals that were legally or illegally dumped down the sewers. Unless you test every bag of sludge for an extremely wide range of possible contamination (which is prohibitively expensive), it can’t be considered safe in my opinion.

  • 36. Sam Cook  |  April 15, 2011 at 2:13 am

    eco-terrorist: those who kill and maim innocents with the aim of protecting natural resources — the use of the same methods with the opposite aim as US armed forces and affiliated death squads. To date there have been no actual instances of this theoretical classification.

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