A Cod Liver Oil Debacle


The blog posts and facebook threads have been running rampant with conversation over the study recently released by Dr. Kaayla Daniel, (former) Vice President of the Weston A Price Foundation. For those of you who may not know, the controversy surrounding cod liver oil has been brewing for a few years now, and I have kept my ear to the ground but my mouth relatively shut. (I know, hard to believe. And I did say relatively.) I really didn’t want to participate in the ensuing media frenzy, but in some topics I have a harder time keeping silent. And after being asked a few or more times what my thoughts were…I caved. Here is how this veteran educator and food allergy mama is dissecting the drama, and recommending that you do, too.


Green Pastures is a company that is highly recommended by the Weston A Price Foundation, a nutrition focused non-profit organization who maintains a list of recommended companies and foods. Green Pastures is also recommended as a reliable source for Fermented Cod Liver Oil by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride. And also recommended in Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagel.

The current scuttlebutt surrounding cod liver oil started several years back with rumors that Green Pastures was having some supply issues, and that they had supposedly changed the way they were making their oil. A blogger in 2013 posted about why her family was no longer buying Green Pastures. (I was still relatively new on the scene at this point, and there was no way Ellie was tolerating FCLO, so I tucked it away in the back of my brain and trudged forward. We still had it on the shelf for other family members.)

Then Corganic, also a Weston A Price devoted company, brought Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil to the market as another option. Their Ratfish oil, and then their EVCLO, did not go unnoticed and began to stir conversation over ‘which was better’ and ‘what was the correct color…smell…taste…harvesting method….’ etc. etc. This continued to escalate until the WAPF officially rated the Corganic product as ‘good’, while maintaining that Green Pastures was ‘best’. Or something of the sort. To be frank….I didn’t really keep up.

I just know that things slowly began to explode, with questions of quality and hidden ingredients and money and loyalty and then whammy – the WAPF VP releases a ‘super secret’ expose’ about how Green Pastures is junk, valiantly setting her career to the side for the sake of saving us all from the rancid, nutrient void…. cod liver oil. Or so it seemed. Until even more events unfolded.

To be frank, the whole thing has been really sad. People have been hurt, companies have been damaged, and questions of integrity have been raised on all fronts with all people involved. BOTH sides of the issue. Enough already.








I can personally say that I have had conversations and encounters with a large portion of these people, companies, product owners, etc, and repeatedly find stories of healing, hope, and wanting to change the world. This has ALL been a muddied mess, and launched into the dramatic blog.o.sphere by foodies on all sides of the issue.

So drum roll please…

I am not going to tell you which product I think you should buy, and I am not going to slander a person or company. 

I won’t name names. I won’t delve into the politics of non-profit organizations, new or old. And I won’t let any of it clutter what is the important piece of all:

The goal is to help people heal. And to provide information.

So instead, here are a few reminders on how to properly source food through the lens of what is best for your family. From a FOOD ALLERGY perspective. From a GAPS perspective. From a HOLISTIC, real food family perspective.

Reminder 1 – Do your own research. You. YOU!

Don’t make a judgement based on the sole recommendation of one organization, one person, or one blog.

The WAPF issues recommendations of foods and products with a Best-Good-Avoid rating. While this can be incredibly helpful, it’s also an organization that receives monetary donations from these companies. And it is someone else’s opinion. YOUR opinion for your family is the best one. For example: The 2014 WAPF Shopping guide gives a list of eggs with a ‘best’ rating on page 13. While a helpful place to start, I am not going to run out and buy whatever eggs are on this list because they rated them as ‘best’. I am going to call the farm myself and ask the questions relative to my family needs.

In addition, don’t buy something just because a blogger says to. Come on people. Do you know that a top complaint I hear from those attempting to start GAPS or make healthy improvements in their home is that they were given bunk advice from a blog post? Go to the source. Yourself. While other moms, and forums, and groups, and blogs can help to sift through the mess and maybe figure out a direction to run in, the reality is you can’t just start serving your child a product based on the recommendation of someone else. As a food allergy mom that would be the most ridiculous thing on the planet. Companies change products all.the.freakin.time. It would be silly for me to not do my own investigating. Do your research, and don’t blame someone else.

Reminder 2 – Remember what your purpose is for buying.

In this situation, cod liver oil is not a food staple, nor should it be. Healing and health do not come from the extra things we add in, but from an overall lifestyle reflecting nutrients that the body needs and can use. Another word for this would be food. Cod liver oil is taken for it’s high levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D, both which need the other to be used effectively by the body. Other sources include liver, eggs, fish, and sunlight.

Cod liver oil is a highly recommended supplement included in the GAPS diet. On page 285 of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride reminds us that “we supplement cod liver oil only to remove the tip of the deficiency iceberg; diet and lifestyle are the most important changes to make.”

Cod liver oil is a supplement. Supplements are purchased when you can not source or eat enough of a specific nutrient needed for healing or healthy body maintenance. Unless we are billionaires with a few thousand dollars to toss around for supplements each year for fun, we should be using food first. Do you need vitamin A and D supplementation? Do you never include liver, eggs, or fish in your diet? Are your teeth falling out? Do you have cavities? Poor eyesight? Leaky gut? Or are you taking it for preventative measures? Keep it in perspective.

Reminder 3 – It’s food. Don’t expect a completely accurate list of nutrient quality.

If I had a quarter for every time I tried to figure out the vitamin, mineral, and complete nutrient make-up of broth when we first switched Ellie to GAPS, I would be a millionaire. I thought if I could just calculate the broth correctly I would know if she was getting what she needed. Uh…no.

While you can get a ball park figure on the nutritional value of foods or real food supplements, you can not get it 100% accurate. It’s not possible. There are waaaaaayyyyyy too many factors. We haven’t even discovered them all yet. You have to trust your body and go from there. On page 284 of her GAPS book, Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride says: “It is difficult to assess exact amounts of Vitamin A and D in natural fermented cod liver oil, as these vitamins exist in many different forms in nature.” We must listen to our bodies, and evaluate how a supplement is affecting our healing journey. We are all different, with individual needs.

I have a friend who is working hard to heal some major health issues. In addition to eating GAPS, every morning she gets up and goes to the cupboard full of her recommended supplements, and takes what her body tells her it needs. Every day is different. She has found it to be pivotal to her healing.


A Final Note

First…There are more than 2 brands of cod liver oil. Surprise! There are. Google it. This alone is very important. It is so frustrating, and often quite hopeless, when there is only one source for a healing food or supplement that your child requires. We have been there on more than one occasion. I am happy that the world knows there are multiple options for cod liver oil…should they decide that they actually need it.

A personal note regarding Green Pastures: 

I do believe Green Pastures has put their heart and soul into a product because they believe in it. I have used it in my family, bought it for my 80 year old grandma, and even fed it to my chickens. I have heard many stories of healing that involve the use of GP Fermented Cod Liver Oil.

Still, one issue alone really bothered me regarding Dr. Daniel’s report. After waiting for much of the dust to settle, I contacted Green Pastures directly regarding the accusation that they sometimes used Pollock livers rather than Cod livers without changing their labels. The response I received said that yes, in the past they have used Pollock when they were unable to source Cod; yet, they will make sure the label is updated to reflect any changes in the future. I have also done extensive research on Pollock and Cod, and can say that it is a muddy realm of naming a fish. It was hard to get to the bottom of the fish labeling issue. In short, Pollock is in the Cod family, but Cod is a different fish. I know. Clear as mud. If you really want to do some digging check this site: NOAA.

Now, as a food allergy mom, this is a large problem. While an argument can be made that Pollock is incredibly close to Cod, it is NOT Cod. And any food allergy mom knows that you truly can be allergic to one kind of fish, and not another. This has concerned me. I am no stranger to calling companies and attempting to root out hidden ingredients, but I was under the impression that GP FCLO was entirely cod livers.

Here is the thing: Green Pasture’s was not doing anything wrong. Their labeling was within FDA parameters, and it is not common for fish oil companies to be so detailed on their labels. Technically Pollock = a cod. But from a food allergy perspective and an FPIES mom, I really really have to know what is inside a supplement bottle down to the last detail.

Green Pasture’s is also updating their allergen labeling to now read: ‘”this product is processed in facilities that also handle and store shellfish, other species of fish, milk, and soy.” I have no idea if they are just including the label to be more transparent, or if there has also been a potential cross-contamination issue. I know for a fact that if their product contained that label I would have been asked much different questions prior to trying the product with Ellie. And the whole thing just makes me really uncomfortable.

That being said, Green Pastures admitted to using Pollock, and committed to doing better in the future. While they are not required to change their labels, they are. And are doing what appears to be more complete labeling than anyone else in the fish oil business. That is something I can get behind. When we know better, we do better. My life is certainly one big testimony to that, and continues to evolve every day.

A personal note regarding Corganic:

I have found Corganic to be a reputable, transparent, and well researched company, with a staff that is more than willing to answer questions. They have freely answered my corn-contamination questions, along with any other question or concern I might send their way. The cod liver oil and ratfish oil they sell is not their own product, but one they have taken great pains to source. I have used their high vitamin butter oil, but not the EVCLO yet. And it’s no secret that I am a fan of Gutpro. I even have a review posted on their site. 🙂

Honestly, I think Dan of Corganic is pretty awesome. I have been pestering him with all things probiotic since 2011, and trying to keep up with their new products as they have come out. When Ellie struggled tremendously to get going on the GAPS diet and healing, Gutpro was pivotal. Biokult gave her seizures. Other probiotic companies would not answer my questions. Gutpro got her on the path to healing with detox we could manage. Now she can take Biokult without issue at all, and we have transitioned off of a probiotic and onto fermented foods alone. Corganic, and specifically Dan, were a large part of that success. I know MANY mamas with GAPS Kids like Ellie who started off using Gutpro as their gentle probiotic support. I was SUPER excited with they announced their expansion and other products because I knew this was a company I could trust and whose products already worked for Ellie.

Comparing the two:

This is going to be individual. If you are looking for the science, there is no shortage of other articles on the web for you to read regarding Green Pasture’s products in order to make your decision. I don’t have a lab, and can’t provide an independent evaluation. What I can provide you with are stories of healing and benefit from both companies. Right now I literally have both cod liver oil’s in my fridge. As for butter oils, I have used both, and given both to Ellie without issue. My future purchases will be from Corganic, because our individual family needs require no risk of cross-contamination or variation in ingredients. We desperately need the consistency. This may not be the case for you. And I do not believe that Green Pastures is a bad product.

And by the way, I am not financially connected with EITHER company. I am not an affiliate, nor do I intend to be. With all of the recommendations and coaching I provide, I would never want motives to be questioned or to get in the way of someone’s healing.

In all things, transparency is key.

As for me. Well. I have done enough reading. I believe competing products is fantastic for options, and one product will never fit everyone. And in my house we are putting the CLO debacle behind us.

Did you find this article helpful? Is cod liver helping with healing in your home?

Hope is contagious. Pass it on!

~ Nichole

  1. I was shocked and disappointed after searching every label to avoid seafood not sourced in a place that might be contaminated from the Fukushima disaster to discover that we were spending our extra hard earned dollars (that could be going to our farmer for food) on Pollock livers sourced in the Pacific. It’s something we would NEVER buy, let alone give to our kids. I was very happy that they sold it in high quality bottles and I had a spray spout that fit it so I could put some of my essential oil concoctions in my used GP bottle after pouring it down the drain and thoroughly cleaning it. Good riddance. Wish I could get my $70 back, though, ey?!

    • Hi Karen! I was bummed to find out about the Pollock, too. I’m sorry you had to toss the bottle! What a bummer for the food budget.

  2. Thanks for a very fair and open-minded post. I also do not have any connection to any of these companies. I will just say, though, that I think the general discussion about cod (not your post in particular) has really made a ridiculous fuss over the cod vs pollack debate. According to Wikipedia, just what is and isn’t a cod isn’t precisely cut and dried, and I’m not sure DNA sequencing has been done on all the species in question. For one thing, “cod” is not the scientific name of any fish species, it is the common or culinary name of quite a few species, not all of which are closely related. Green Pasture has released reports by scientific experts on the classification of Gadus species, and based on the recommendations of one of those reports, decided to go into more detail on their labels. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of nutritional differences in the liver oil between Atlantic cod, Pacific cod, Alaskan Pollock, and the other main cod species, whose name escapes me at the moment, Greenland cod? Atlantic cod stocks have been severely overfished for a long time, and continuing to do so is risky.

    It is extremely common in food processing (and acceptable under FDA regulations) to substitute very similar species back and forth depending on market supply. Labels often reflect this (“Contains canola and/or soybean oil” is very common on mayonnaise jars, for example), and GP probably should have made this clearer long ago. Now, I guess they are. Of course, my example of “canola and/or soybean oil” is one where the differences nutritionally may be unacceptable (either of those oils is unacceptable to *me*), but that isn’t necessarily always the case. There are far worse and more egregious (downright fraudent) cases of mislabeling of fish species rampant in fish markets and supermarkets worldwide. I don’t think there is a case to be made that GP’s somewhat opaque labeling has been fraudulent or deceptive, but I think they’ve learned a painful and expensive lesson about just how demanding their market is.

    From the Cod page on Wikipedia:
    “Cod is the common name for the genus Gadus of demersal fishes, belonging to the family Gadidae. Cod is also used as part of the common name for a number of other fish species, and there are species suggested to belong to genus Gadus that are not called cod (the Alaska pollock).
    The two most important species of cod are the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), which lives in the colder waters and deeper sea regions throughout the North Atlantic, and the Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), found in both eastern and western regions of the northern Pacific. … Cod is popular as a food with a mild flavour and a dense, flaky white flesh. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Young Atlantic cod or haddock prepared in strips for cooking is called scrod. In the United Kingdom, Atlantic cod is one of the most common ingredients in fish and chips, along with haddock and plaice.”

    And from the Gadidae page on Wikipedia:
    “The Gadidae are a family of marine fish, included in the order Gadiformes, known as the cods, codfishes or true cods.[2] It contains several commercially important fishes, including the cod, haddock, whiting, and pollock.
    Most gadid species are found in temperate waters of the Northern Hemisphere, but several range into subtropical, Subarctic and Arctic oceans, and a single (southern blue whiting) is found in the Southern Hemisphere. …
    Concepts differ about the contents of the family Gadidae. The system followed by FishBase includes a dozen genera.[1] Alternatively, also fishes in the current Lotidae (with burbot, cusk) and Phycidae (hakes) have been included in Gadidae, as its subfamilies Lotinae and Phycidae.[4][2]”

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