Jaclyn is Executive Director of the nonprofit Clean Label Project, a national nonprofit with the mission to bring truth and transparency to consumer product labeling. Through data, science, and benchmarking, Clean Label Project uses retail sampling and testing to examine levels of contaminants in America’s best-selling food and consumer products. Clean Label Project acknowledges high-performing progressive brands with the coveted evidence-based “Clean Label Project Purity Award” to reward voluntary proactive commitment to ingredient quality and purity.
1. What led you to the Clean Label Project?
I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan, and pursued an undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology from Michigan State University. My first environmental job was in a chemistry lab at NSF International, a World Health Organization partnering centre for food safety and water quality. For 15 years, I worked at NSF in a variety of technical and leadership capacities including standards development, food safety, label claims substantiation around certified organic, Non-GMO Project, gluten-free, and others. During this time, I also completed my two master’s degrees in Public Health and Quality Engineering. This experience set me up for my current position at the Clean Label Project. Our mission is to change the definition of food and consumer product safety with a long-term view on environmental and public health. I see my role as a street-fighter in the war for truth and transparency in food and consumer products and I’m having a great time.
2. How does your involvement with the Clean Label Project affect your purchase decisions?
I like data and facts, and sometimes data flies in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, when eating rice, before being exposed to all the Clean Label Project research I would always reach for brown rice. Brown rice is definitely superior when it comes to having more fiber content, but did you know that research shows brown rice has more arsenic than white rice? Arsenic has a tendency to bioaccumulate in the hull (the outer layer) of brown rice. So I don’t feel so bad reaching for white rice anymore.
How does that happen? Whether you are talking about pet food, baby food, CBD, snacks, or cooking oils, the more vertically integrated a brand is, the higher likelihood of superior finished product quality. In other words, the concept of “know your farmer, know your food” is true. The closer a brand is to its ingredient supplier, the better the finished product. Over 80 percent of foods and consumer products are co-manufactured. This means that a brand outsources the ingredient purchasing, quality control, quality assurance, and product manufacturing onto a third party. In some cases, the product quality can suffer.
3. Are you a healthier eater because of this? Do you avoid meat or any non-organic products?
For over 25 years I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegan. When buying eggs and dairy, I am militant in supporting certified organic and free or pasture-raised. Clean Label Project partners with a few consumer advocacy organizations including the Organic Consumers Association about bringing awareness to the problems associated with Confined Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs). I try to be the change that I want to see in the world. I view my dollars as a vote for the food systems I believe in. But, we all have our vices. I don’t think I’ve ever met a tortilla chip that I didn’t like. =)
4. What’s the thing that surprised you most when you started to learn about products containing things deemed scientifically unsafe, such as metals?
One study in particular surprised me and quite frankly made me upset: Infant formula. The World Health Organization says that the first 1,000 days of life are critically important to long-term health and wellness. It is the window of opportunity when optimum brain and immune system development form. When it comes to lead, the World Health Organization, Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Centers of Disease Control, American Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics all say there is no safe level of lead. When it comes to lead exposure for children, it contributes to a decrease in IQ and an increase in hyperactivity. Infant formula is arguably the most regulated food in America when it comes to nutrition. For many babies, it is the exclusive form of nourishment during this vulnerable and critical period of development. The maximum lead tolerance in drinking water under the Environmental Protection agency is 15 ppb, the average amount of lead found during the Flint, Michigan, drinking water crisis was 27 ppb.
Clean Label Project tested the top 91 formulas in America. The mean/median (average) of the category was non-detect down to 4 parts per billion (the instrument sensitivity). Which is great. What’s interesting is that when you test a data set of 91, you see the average as well as the standard deviations and the statistical outliers. We actually identified two formulas that exceeded 30 ppb. Keep in mind that with formula, it’s the cumulative effect because you mix water with the formula. These two products were ultimately recalled in the State of California. If a parent was empowered with that type of information, they would undoubtedly make different choices. It’s this type of information that gets me up in the morning to make sure Clean Label Project continues to bring this message of truth to consumers.
5. How do you maintain balance in life?
I always aspire for ‘balance’ between work, family, health and being present. I know that I am a better Executive Director when I am being a mindful and present daughter and partner. I know that I am a better daughter and partner, when I am actively involved in changing the food supply for the better. I know that I can only be a great daughter, partner, and Executive Director by staying committed to my health.
6. What achievement are you most proud of?
This past January, I was fortunate enough to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest elevation in Africa of 19, 341 feet. From the training, to the perseverance, when I finally reached the top it was such a sense of accomplishment. It was also very humbling. I tried to stay mindful on the climb by focusing on my breathing and being grateful for my strong body, mind, and lungs, for allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
7. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
How funny! Hmmm… I absolutely adore Basset Hounds. I was a foster family for Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California and now volunteer for the High Country Basset Rescue here in Colorado. I have a rescue Basset Hound, Lulu, who is sitting at my feet as I write this. An avid gardener, I have raised garden beds in my backyard and I am eagerly awaiting the taste of this year’s summer tomatoes. This year I am growing Roma and cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and spaghetti squash.
To learn more about Jacyln, visit her at the CleanLabelProject.org or read her story Clean Label Project Sets a Higher Bar for Product Safety.