A Conversation with The Honest Company's Co-Founder: The Organic Baby Formula Lawsuit

Earlier this year I wrote about The Organic Consumers Association's (OCA) lawsuit against organic baby formula producers, Earth's Best and The Honest Company. I discussed my own concerns I had prior to the lawsuit about synthetic ingredients in their baby formula and offered a few alternatives. The Honest Company reached out shortly thereafter asking to speak with me regarding my concerns. 

I was connected with The Honest Company's co-founder, Christopher Gavigan, and had a spirited conversation about the lawsuit, government regulations, misconceptions and ingredients. I say spirited because that's what happens when you get people together who are passionate about ingredient integrity, human safety and overall transparency. In fact, Honest's baby formula was created out of a need for Christopher's family, which you'll hear about in a moment.

So, was The OCA's lawsuit well-founded? Is The Honest Co. using synthetics out compliance with the FDA's regulations for Organic Formula? Will the lawsuit stick or be thrown out? Come see what he had to say about it all!

Q&A With The Honest Company's co-founder, Christopher Gavigan

The Honest Co. has been growing rapidly due to consumer demand. What do you say to those who think you grew too big too fast and may have lost some ingredient integrity and oversight during your growth?

Growing the brand has always been our goal, but never t the detriment of our products, integrity, health & safety standards, or our mission. We are fiercely passionate about making an impact, and in this case, that requires us to be a market player that commands attention - from our valued customers, to legislators in D.C., to fellow brands. We focus on our efforts to continually provide safe, effective, health-conscious products, and our growth has allowed us to invest even MORE in quality/regulatory compliance, supply chain management, raw material science, formulation/R&D/clean chemistry excellence, and efforts to continually optimize and improve. Growing and creating a movement and change takes passion, commitment, and some relative size - and we are proud that the demand for the Honest lifestyle and philosophy has been so strong and widely expected. 

What is The Honest Co. doing that you are most proud of?

See above....and also I'm very proud of our brand purpose and deep passion for our mission. We are a brand that operates with passion of an NGO - to create a positive, healthy world for our children's future - and our Social Goodness (CSR) platform is one of the great representations and expressions of this mission, as we have impacted families around the globe (donated over 5M products and over 11,000 hours of employee time since our inception). 

In what areas do you think The Honest Co. can improve? 

I feel that it's critical for us to do even more educational campaigning.  At our heart and core, we believe it's our duty to empower people with the most accurate, up-to-date, credible science.  The integrity of this science and information is what we are all about.  No fear.  No scare-tactics. No hype.  Just highly researched from legitimate 3rd-party sources.  Just take a look at our efforts on Suncare this season to see what I mean - it's an area of need and area of opportunity to give great information...because it's the right thing to do.  

The development of the Organic Infant Formula came from a personal need in your life, as your wife experienced difficulty producing enough milk for your children. Can you explain for my readers how this came about and how you took the allegations about the formula?

Christopher did a video via Facebook LIVE to discuss just this:

Can you opt to use natural ingredients over synthetic ones in your Organic Infant Formula and still be in compliance with the current regulations? If so, how do you go about choosing to use a synthetic ingredient over a natural one? 

Our formula is certified organic and contains at least 95% organic ingredients as required by USDA.  Any ingredients, including the 11 ingredients alleged in the suit as non-organic, are ingredients that occur naturally in breast milk, are important for infant growth and development, and are all either permitted or required by the FDA (in these formats) to be present in infant formula. Whenever and where ever possible, we work to source naturally-derived ingredients from trusted sources for this product, and all our Honest products.

Ingredient Specific Questions

  • Taurine: Have you explored sourcing taurine from goat's milk instead of using a synthetic? There are studies (source 1 and source 2) indicating taurine levels in goats milk is near 20 times higher than cow's milk. 

Yes, but it's not an approved source as approved by HealthCanada or FDA.

  • Ascorbyl palmitate: Why would you opt for this over a natural L-ascorbic acid? I believe the lawsuit is concerned this is being used as a preservative over nutrient purpose of vitamin C. 

Again, it's not an approved source.

  • Dl-alpha tocopherol/tocopherayl acetate: Why would a synthetic be used over a natural form of vitamin E?

There are preservative issues as found by clinical studies for natural vitamin E.  An unstable product is very scary and could be potentially harmful.

  • Same question for Phytonadione: Why not use phyiloquinone?

Same answer.

  • Looking at The Honest Co.’s vitamins I notice Methylfolate used in prenatal vitamins (which I appreciate as a recipient of two mutated MTHFR genes) but when I look at the children's multi-vitamins and baby formula, folic acid is used instead of even folate, much less Methylfolate. Why is that?

{For readers who may not know, Methylfolate is an activated form of folate, needed by 50%+ of the population who have a difficulty activating Folate on their own. Folic Acid is a synthetic version of Folate}

We started including methylfolate in our line of premium supplements about a year ago based on the most recent research and science and we are actively looking into converting to the methylfolate format for our Kids Gummy Multi-Vitamin as well. We will keep you posted!

With regards to infant formula, the FDA mandates the nutrients that are required for inclusion for infant formula and folic acid is one of those nutrients. Folate and methylfolate are not considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for inclusion in infant formula at this time. At the heart of The Honest Company is an intense passion for healthy, happy kids, so we’ve taken great care to develop an infant formula that is scientifically researched and nutritionally complete, as recommended by the FDA.   

What can consumers do, specifically, to help urge the government to tighten regulations and oversight?

Voting with your dollars here is so critical - I feel this is most important, as it sends a clear signal of values, intent, and preference - our political leaders are fair well-tuned in with the brands that are trending.

You mentioned working with the gov't to improve regulations - can you be more specific about what you're trying to change and how this will affect your current formulation?

You can read about the ongoing work here

For now, the lawsuit has not yet been dropped or thrown out. We'll see what happens in the coming months. 

Does this post help clarify anything for you? Did you lose trust in the Honest Co? Are they gaining it back? Let me know your thoughts below!