On Friday, Steven Miles, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota who we've previously written about because of his work on U.S. abuses in Iraqi prisons (among other issues), sent us correspondence he recently had with the the Seward Co-op regarding its decision to continue selling products from Eden Foods, a company with Catholic ownership that won't provide birth control to its employees in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling.
In an email to the co-op, Miles wrote, "Eden Organic Foods (with Hobby Lobby) is not providing insurance for contraceptives to women employees. I do not believe they should be stocked by any co-op and that they should be told of this decision."
In her reply, Allison Meyer, advocacy and governance specialist for the Seward Co-op, writes that while the co-op officials "share your concerns about Eden Foods' position" and "unconditionally [support] women's access to health care" -- they even communicated their concerns directly to Eden Foods' president, Michael Potter, last year -- "several other aspects of Eden Foods' practices align very well with Seward Co-op values."
"Many of our customers appreciate the fact that Eden Foods is an independent company rather than one owned by a large corporation," Meyer writes. "Eden Foods consistently supports strict organic standards, and their products were free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and packaging free of Bisphenol A (BPA) long before most other producers began to consider these issues. As often as possible, Eden Foods also sources crops locally to their business, keeping hundreds of small-scale, organic family farms in business."
"At this time, we believe that retaining Eden Foods products best serves our Ends Statement and our owners' needs," she concludes. "We provide alternatives to Eden Foods products whenever possible. We respect your purchasing decisions in this regard, and we strongly encourage you to vote with your dollars by making product choices that align with your values."
Miles, in reply, writes, "I respectfully disagree."
"Denying their women employees access to contraception is a basic denial of human rights which takes precedence over the use of organic substances," he adds. "It is as if the co-op would support serf farming just because it was organic or antibiotic free. I deeply disagree with the stand of the co-op and ask that it be reviewed by the Board."
After receiving Miles's correspondence, we called Seward Co-op officials and asked whether they've ever pulled a product from the shelves because of a company's stance on an issue.
Tom Vogel, marketing manager, tells us, "First of all, we don't have a boycott policy... nor do many other co-ops around the Twin Cities."
(For more, click to page two.)
"We are very concerned about the quality of food and how it's produced. That's how we do our vetting," Vogel says. "But we certainly are concerned with human rights and issues like fair trade, so I don't want to give you that idea. But when it comes to political viewpoints it's really very difficult to vet a product on something like that because there's such a myriad on either side."
But the co-op is "tracking sales very closely" in order to gauge the "customer response regarding how they vote with their dollars," Vogel adds.
We also touched base with Miles to see if he's corresponded with any other area co-ops about his objections to Eden Foods. He says he hasn't.
"It's three blocks from my house. I'm a member of the Seward Co-op," he says, but adds that his beef applies to other co-ops as well.
"It's interesting the co-ops have a policy on protecting workers' rights -- for example, fair trade coffee -- and to suggest that somehow a company gets a free pass on discriminating against its non-Catholic women workers is just incredible to me," he continues. "Just because they use organic tomatoes, [that] they can treat their women like that is simply crazy."
As the Huffington Post reports in a piece entitled, "Eden Foods' Hobby Lobby-esque Birth Control Fight Sparks Boycott," the controversy playing out at the Seward Co-op is also playing out at co-ops throughout the country. And as you can see in the photo at the top of this post, other local co-ops and groceries are taking heat for selling Eden Foods products too.
In a statement sent to HuffPo, Erin Mersino, Eden's lawyer from the conservative Thomas More Law Center, explained what's behind CEO Michael Potter's anti-birth control views.
"In accordance with his Catholic faith, Potter believes that any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or means -- including abortifacients and contraception -- is wrong," Mersino says.
That stance means Eden is even more hostile to birth control than Hobby Lobby, which only takes issue with certain types of contraception.
We contacted Eden ourselves and asked if they've already stopped offering employees contraception in the wake of SCOTUS's Hobby Lobby ruling.
(For more, click to page three.)
According to Erin Mersino, senior trial counsel for the Thomas More Law Center -- the group handling legal matters and media communications for Eden -- Eden didn't used to offer contraception, but that changed after Blue Cross Blue Shield, "Without Michael Potter's authorization or consent, changed the coverage to be ACA and therefore Mandate compliant."
"We did file for an emergency temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction... to allow Mr. Potter to resume providing health coverage which does not include contraceptives," Mersino continued. "Mr. Potter and Eden Foods are currently awaiting an order from the 6th Circuit."
A further inquiry seeking a more direct response about the insurance Eden currently offers employees and what it covers wasn't returned.