It’s been quite some time since we talked about Soylent, the awfully-named “meal replacement” created by silicon valley startup engineers, often sold to other silicon valley startup engineers.
We’ve been due for an update to that past, as a couple of our opinions have changed*, but this week’s latest topic is how Soylent’s creators are under threat of lawsuit for violating California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The threats come from a watchdog group named As You Sow, who claim to have found “a concentration of lead that is 12 to 25 times above California’s Safe Harbor level for reproductive health, and a cadmium level that is at least 4 times greater than the Safe Harbor level for cadmium.”
We’ve heard of patent trolling… but “Prop 65 Trolling”? Let’s dig in.
As You Sow have not released their independent lab tests, nor are they even claiming that the Soylent lead and cadmium levels are illegal. They’re merely saying that the levels are higher than the limits established by the California’s Prop 65, and because of that, Soylent must make sure California consumers know about the higher levels.
As You Sow has given Soylent a “60-day notice” to fix their violations before
Soylent penned a response on their blog, which states that they do notify California users of the levels, and also link to their certificate of analysis. They state,
“We are not required to change the product, but we are required to display the Proposition 65 text where we sell our products, which we do.”
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that their lead levels were 0.0434ppm, whereas the FDA’s “aciton level” for the infant formula is a much larger 0.5µg/mL (which easily converts to 0.5ppm). So Soylent is more than 10X less than what would cause concern, even when compared to strictly-enforced infant formulas. California just happens to be more strict about its labels.
This is also nothing new for As You Sow, who’s also sued Hershey, Mars, and See’s Candies over the same things. We’ve seen plenty of patent trolling in this industry, but this here is a new one.
How does California Prop 65 Work?
In order to remain compliant in California, Prop 65 provides a few different ways to warn the consumer of these higher lead levels:
25603.1 Consumer Products Exposure Warnings – Method of Transmission
The warning may be provided by using one or more of the following methods singly or in combination:
- (a) A warning that appears on a product’s label or other labeling.
- (b) Identification of the product at the retail outlet in a manner which provides a warning. Identification may be through shelf labeling, signs, menus, or a combination thereof.
- (c) The warnings provided pursuant to subparagraphs (a) and (b) shall be prominently placed upon a product’s label or other labeling or displayed at the retail outlet with such conspicuousness, as compared with other words, statements, designs, or devices in the label, labeling or display as to render it likely to be read and understood by an ordinary individual under customary conditions of purchase or use.
- (d) A system of signs, public advertising identifying the system and toll-free information services, or any other system that provides clear and reasonable warnings.
Looking at Soylent’s checkout page (which is the only way to buy it), you can see that they do have a link for California residents, which goes to their statement on California Prop 65 on their FAQ server.
The biggest issue is that the warning is below the Order button, so it could be missed. It’s also not discussing the warning on the order page.
We’re not lawyers, and we’re definitely not judges either, but this seems like a case worthy of being thrown out. Soylent is only sold online – not in brick-and-mortar retail stores – so there’s no need to have this warning on the label.
We’re sure Soylent will change this layout so they don’t have to deal with these trolls, but seeing as they’re funded by billionaire venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, who knows what they’ll do. If As You Sow expects them to put a warning on the actual product, however, then get ready for sparks to fly.
Chances are, this is nothing more than a publicity stunt by As You Sow, knowing that thousands of Geeks would be blogging their names and linking to their site. Consider us guilty for falling for it too
Regardless, while Soylent is definitely PricePlow DISapproved due to its marketing message, we frown upon such lawsuit trolling even more and wish them the best in this battle.
Our latest take on Soylent?
*In short, it’s pretty clear that the leading factor to weight loss is caloric restriction,[12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19] which Soylent can/should help with.
However, body composition (ie not looking scrawny or a skinny-fat slob) is mostly determined by your protein intake[16,19,20] (where Soylent is weak, at best), while your overall chances of death by cardiovascular disease are increased every day you don’t eat any fruits or vegetables (which Soylent is basically all about).
So while we’re still negative to the idea of living off of this substance, we do admit that it’s better than the standard diet of much of their [quite unhealthy] demographic, but is still hazardous in the long run compared to a real diet.
So, if you do want to use Soylent, at least add in some meals/snacks with both fruits and vegetables, and grab the best protein powder for you to get that protein number up.
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- As You Sow Files Notice Of Legal Action Against Soylent Super Food; PRNewswire; August 13, 2015; Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/as-you-sow-files-notice-of-legal-action-against-soylent-super-food-300128427.html
- Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; “Proposition 65 No Significant Risk Levels (NSRLs) for Carcinogens and Maximum Allowable Dose Levels (MADLs) for Chemicals Causing Reproductive Toxicity”; August 2013; Retrieved from http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/pdf/safeharbor081513.pdf
- California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; “Proposition 65”; Retrieved from http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html
- “Soylent is Compliant with California Proposition 65”; August 17, 2015; Retrieved from http://blog.soylent.com/post/126888496882/soylent-is-compliant-with-california-proposition
- Covalence Laboratories, Inc; Soylent Certificate of Analysis; June 10, 2015; Retrieved from https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/418649/1253005-0_COA.pdf
- US Center for Disease Control; Agency for Toxicity Substances & Disease Registry; “Lead Toxicity”; August 20, 2012; Retrieved from http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=8
- Fowler, M; Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of Elephants; Appendix 4: Toxicology Terms, Abbreviations, and Equivalents; January 2008; Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470344484.app4/pdf
- Nieburg, O; Hershey, Mars and See’s Candies face heavy metal chocolate lawsuit; ConfectioneryNews.com; February 16, 2015; Retrieved from http://www.confectionerynews.com/Regulation-Safety/Lead-and-cadmium-metals-in-chocolate-Hershey-and-Mars-face-lawsuit/
- California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; Title 27, California Code of Regulations; Article 6. Clear and Reasonable Warnings; Retrieved from http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/law/pdf_zip/RegsArt6.pdf
- Soylent; Soylent & California’s Proposition 65; Retrieved from https://faq.soylent.com/hc/en-us/articles/204197379
- Konrad, A; Forbes Magazine; “Soylent Scores $20 Million From Andreessen Horowitz For Its Drinkable Meals”; January 14, 2015; Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2015/01/14/soylent-scores-20-million-from-andreessen-horowitz-for-its-powdered-meals/
- Swinburn, B; Increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity.; Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Dec;90(6):1453-6; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19828708
- Golay, A; Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets.; Am J Clin Nutr. 1996 Feb;63(2):174-8; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8561057
- Leibel, R; Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition.; Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 Feb;55(2):350-5; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1734671
- Golay, A; Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet?; Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996 Dec;20(12):1067-72; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8968851
- Sargrad, K; Effect of high protein vs high carbohydrate intake on insulin sensitivity, body weight, hemoglobin A1c, and blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.; J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Apr;105(4):573-80; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15800559
- Heilbronn, L; Effect of energy restriction, weight loss, and diet composition on plasma lipids and glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes.; Diabetes Care. 1999 Jun;22(6):889-95; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10372237
- Parker, B; Effect of a high-protein, high-monounsaturated fat weight loss diet on glycemic control and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes.; Diabetes Care. 2002 Mar;25(3):425-30; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11874925
- Noakes, M; Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women.; Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jun;81(6):1298-306; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15941879
- Soenen, S; Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance?; Physiol Behav. 2012 Oct 10;107(3):374-80; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22935440
- Wang, X; Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies; BMJ 2014;349:g4490; June 23, 2014; Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4490