Originally published June 4 2012
Rawesome bombshell: Lab test evidence against Sharon Palmer (Healthy Family Farms) found invalid; allegations unsupportable
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor
(NaturalNews) Following our coverage of Sharon Palmer, owner of Healthy Family Farms, and James Stewart, the "raw milk man" and founder of Rawesome Foods in California, I received a tip from an anonymous source. The tip said that I was defending the wrong parties. The source stated that Sharon Palmer was a fraud who had been knowingly selling chicken contaminated with arsenic and eggs contaminated with mercury; that James Stewart was an accomplice who knowingly resold Sharon's contaminated chicken through Rawesome; and that all this was proven and documented on a website called "Unhealthy Family Farm" run by a nutritionist with a Ph.D. known as "Aajonus Vonderplanitz."
When I started asking around, I was also told another side of the story. Aajonus Vonderplanitz was a fake name used by a man who had a fake Ph.D., some people claimed. They said he advocated the consumption of raw, rotten meat and moldy animal organs, and that he was a key informant to Ventura and LA Counties prosecutors who were charging Sharon Palmer and James Stewart with crimes.
Whew! That's a lot to sort out. Is any of it true?
Here, in our first article revealing some of the evidence we have collected, we explore three questions:
1) Did laboratory tests really show Sharon Palmer's chickens to be contaminated?
2) Why did Larry Otting not honor his mediation agreement to remove the Unhealthy Family Farms website? (And who is Larry Otting?)
3) Is the Ph.D. (doctorate in nutrition) of Aajonus Vonderplanitz legitimate?
As you'll see below, some of the answers we uncovered are rather shocking. For the record, I have approached this from a 100% factual basis and have decided only to publish what is documented beyond any reasonable doubt. I have no vendetta against any individual involved in this case and seek only to discover the truth behind the accusations. Also for the record, I have no financial ties with anyone involved in this story, and I have nothing to gain from the publication of this story other than the honor of serving the public interest in a matter that has become one of national importance. I am committed to protecting my many sources for this story and will aggressively defend their anonymity and privacy.
Allegation: Sharon Palmer's chickens contained toxic levels of arsenicThis allegation was made by Aajonus Vonderplanitz and Larry Otting, both of whom at various times operated the Unhealthy Family Farm website which publicized the lab test results shown below. Larry Otting is the title holder of the farm land on which Healthy Family Farms operates.
The allegations that Sharon Palmer's chickens were contaminated with high levels of sodium, arsenic and mercury were central to harming the reputations and revenues of both Sharon Palmer and James Stewart. The current financial crimes charges leveled against both of them stem largely from Sharon's inability to repay investors, and that in turn was caused by a drastic loss in sales revenues following the Unhealthy Family Farm (UFF) website claiming her chickens were contaminated.
Here is the document in question, showing laboratory test results from "Doctor's Data, Inc." as circulated on the Unhealthy Family Farm website, claiming to show Sharon's chickens at .023 ppm of Arsenic (23 parts per billion). (See page 9 of this document.)
• Quote from Aajonus Vonderplanitz - "The above tests prove that the feed Sharon Palmer was feeding her chickens up to October 6th, if they were HFF chickens, is not organic or healthy but is commercial. Considering the outright fraud committed by Sharon Palmer and James Stewart at HFF for about the last 2 years, no tests initiated by them should be considered valid."
A NaturalNews investigation into the test results publicized by Aajonus Vonderplanitz and Larry Otting resulted in what I consider to be "bombshell" findings. They are listed below. Sharon Palmer has also issued a statement to NaturalNews denouncing the test results as utterly invalid, and her full statement is printed below. NaturalNews welcomes an evidence-based response from Aajonus Vonderplanitz on this issue, as well as statements from James Stewart and Larry Otting if they wish to participate in a follow-up story.
Bombshell findings of our investigation about the lab tests claiming to show Sharon Palmer's chickens had high levels of contaminantsFinding #1) Aajonus Vonderplanitz never tested Sharon Palmer's chickens. Instead, he relied on tests that were undertaken by a woman named Tamara Hanson.
Finding #2) Tamara Hanson is not a doctor. Doctor's Data, Inc., the lab that we are told conducted these lab tests, told me on the record during an investigative interview that "We only conduct tests for doctors or physicians." They do not allow members of the general public to even order tests. This brings up the question of how Tamara Hanson was able to order a test on raw chicken without the intervention of a doctor or physician.
Finding #3) The Doctor's Data lab tests publicized by Aajonus Vonderplanitz and Larry Otting do not state anywhere on the test that the chicken came from Healthy Family Farms or Sharon Palmer! The origin of the chicken that was tested is a complete mystery. The test only says "raw chicken," which could mean any raw chicken sourced from anywhere. There is no reliable evidence linking the published tests to Healthy Family Farms.
In a court of law, a test lacking a meaningful description of the origins of the substance being tested would be immediately thrown out as inadmissible. It is customary in laboratory testing to indicate the source of the chicken, and many labs even include a description of how it was received, via which carrier, what brand name it was, how it was packaged or wrapped, or where it was sourced. None of this information was provided in these documents. They utterly lack any information tying the lab tests to Healthy Family Farms. By any rational reasoning, these lab tests cannot be convincingly linked to Sharon Palmer's chicken.
Finding #4) The Doctor's Data lab tests do not indicate which part of the chicken was tested. Because levels of contaminants are highly concentrated in the livers of chickens, if this test were done on the liver, the interpretation of the test would be radically different than if it were conducted on chicken breasts or thighs. That this information is missing is a red flag about the reliability of both the test itself and any interpretation stemming from it. You simply cannot compare arsenic levels in a "chicken" sample against anything if you don't know what part of the chicken was tested.
Finding #5) Tamara Hanson, the person we are told conducted the tests, told LA County investigator Ken Ward in a recorded interview that the test results she received back showed no detectable level of mercury and she was therefore convinced that the chicken in no way contributed to the health challenge she was experiencing at the time. Based on these test results, Tamara then dismissed any link between the chicken and her health condition.
This is revealed in the testimony document:
As this document explains:
Hanson began her own research as to the source of the possible mercury poisoning [she was suffering from]... however, she was not suspicious of the source coming from any Rawesome product [at first]. She was only concerned about Rawesome's products because of the email-she received stating there was reason to believe there may have been mercury and arsenic contamination in the chicken and eggs that were being provided from Sharon Palmer's farm. Hanson believed the email regarding the mercury and arsenic contamination came from Dr. Vonderplanitz.
...The lab results revealed "less than detection limit" for mercury in both the egg and chicken samples.
Tamara's lab tests, in other words, showed conclusively to her that Sharon Palmer's chickens were not the source of mercury that had been found in her body, but that she was told by Aajonus Vonderplanitz that Sharon Palmer's products were contaminated with mercury and causing her sickness.
Finding #6) Only one sample of chicken was apparently tested in order to arrive at the conclusion that all of Sharon Palmer's chicken was contaminated with arsenic. This is scientifically and logically invalid. As all food safety labs well know, multiple samples must be tested and the results averaged to arrive at a reliable figure. A "single shot test" is inadmissible in court because it is entirely unreliable and could have been caused by a fluke in the testing procedure or equipment. Reliable reports on arsenic or mercury in chicken are typically done using three to five samples, with the final number being calculated from the average of the test results.
Finding #7) There was no recorded chain of custody regarding the chicken sample. No documentation has been provided showing where the chicken was purchased, how it was labeled, how it was handled, how it was shipped, etc. There is no evidence to suggest that Tamara Hanson has any training whatsoever in laboratory handling procedures. She was a customer, not a doctor and not a lab technician.
Finding #8) No evidence has been provided to NaturalNews that any sodium tests were ever conducted on Sharon Palmer's chickens. NaturalNews asked Aajonus for documentation showing these tests, and he explained that another individual named "Nathan" had the tests. We asked Nathan for a copy of the tests, and he told us that Larry Otting had them. We asked Larry Otting for the test results and he said he did not know why other people were saying he had them, because he didn't. Based on our investigation, the sodium test documents appear to have been lost. We find this strange for such a seemingly important document that has been cited numerous times by Aajonus and others in condemning the safety of Health Family Farms chickens. It seems logical that if you're going to shout to the world that someone else's food products are highly contaminated with something -- and that the producer of that food is committing fraud -- it would make a great deal of sense to keep a copy of those lab results on file and readily available to reporters and investigators.
Finding #9) The Doctor's Data tests did not distinguish between "organic arsenic" (naturally bound to organic molecules of food) and "inorganic arsenic" (highly toxic element not bound to food molecules and thereby highly bioavailable, which is bad).
Finding #10) In 2010, the manager of the Santa Monica farmer's market, Laura Avery, tested two separate samples of Sharon Palmer's chicken: one picked up directly from the slaughterhouse and one from the Healthy Family Farms booth at the farmer's market. The tests were conducted by the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System in San Bernardino. Both tests found levels of arsenic and mercury to be below detection limits. A copy of this test result is shown here:
As you can see in this lab test, all the following information is recorded:
• Exactly where the sample was taken: "Sample A was taken at Healthy Family Farm booth at the Sunday Santa Monica Farmers Market on 11/13/10." And "Sample(s) B were taken at the slaughter facility in Sun Valley, LA County on Fri 11/19/10."
• The dates the samples were taken.
• The shipping method by which the samples arrived at the lab (FedEx).
• The part of the chicken that was tested (livers).
• The laboratory toxicology conclusion: "The detected liver mineral results are within acceptable or non-diagnostic ranges for this species."
• The name of the case coordinator at the lab.
Importantly, none of this information is provided in the Doctor's Data lab tests that were widely publicized by Aajonus Vonderplanitz in order to accuse Sharon Palmer of selling contaminated chicken.
These tests were conducted by the lab using a lower limit of 1 ppm, which is standard procedure for food safety tests in California. They therefore cannot show ppb. Thus, there is no way to know whether this chicken sample contained 0 ppb or something higher in the parts per billion range. Even though these test already showed her chicken to contain no detectable level of arsenic or mercury, Sharon Palmer has publicly committed to testing her chickens twice each year using the more precise ppb tests -- and then publishing those results on her website (see Sharon's public statement below).
Conclusions of the laboratory tests of Sharon's ChickensScientifically speaking, the single-shot lab test of a "mystery chicken," whose origin and brand name is not identified on the Doctor's Data lab test, and which was apparently acquired and sent to the lab by a regular consumer who has no "chain of custody" records, renders the entire laboratory test scientifically and logically invalid. The test could have very well been conducted on frozen chicken purchased at Ralph's. It could have been chicken that Tamara confused with some other chicken she had purchased. Above all, there is absolutely no meaningful evidence that the highly publicized Doctor's Data test results apply to Sharon Palmer's chickens at all.
Importantly, this does not mean Sharon Palmer's chickens contained no arsenic. The lack of scientifically validity of the DD tests, in other words, does not prove that Sharon Palmer's chickens were entirely free from arsenic. At best we can say that we are certain they contained less than 1 ppm of arsenic for the two samples tested at the San Bernardino lab, for which accurate recordkeeping was conducted.
So the logical conclusion is that the allegation that Sharon Palmer's chickens contained arsenic is UNSUPPORTABLE. There is no reliable proof of it, and those who accused Sharon Palmer of fraud based on these lab tests were clearly unjustified in leveling such accusations based on flimsy evidence.
Did critics of Sharon Palmer seize upon this unreliable, unscientific laboratory test to announce, over and over again spanning several years, that all of Sharon Palmer's chicken was contaminated? If so, such a leap of logic seems to exist entirely outside the bounds of reason.
Statement from Sharon PalmerWhat follows is a statement from Sharon Palmer regarding the Doctor's Data tests. We reprint it here because it is supported by facts that we have confirmed and documented through our own research. We welcome a rebuttal from Aajonus Vonderplanitz if it is similarly supported by documented and supportable facts.
To my knowledge, this is the first official public response Sharon Palmer has ever made to the allegations that have been used to destroy her business over the last three years:
Since 2009 I and my farm have been under ongoing attack from the government. I have been raided, arrested, or both every year for the last five years. Adding to the burden have been slanderous attacks from within the raw community, initiated by Aajonus Vonderplanitz and Larry Otting.
When Aajonus made the claim in 2009 about high levels of sodium in my chicken, which was being distributed to Rawesome members, I reacted as any conscientious farmer would. I researched the claim by calling the lab that had performed the test. They told me that they informed Aajonus that the sodium levels in the samples tested were BELOW typical levels. However, Aajonus refused to retract his erroneous statements to the raw food community, and Nathan Donahoe, who had assisted with the tests, actually apologized to me for having facilitated the spread of inaccurate information to the community. To this day, Aajonus has never retracted his claim, and continues to send this information out in e mails to the community.
Several months later, I was approached by other farmers, as well as farmer's market managers and my customers about an email circulating from Aajonus, saying that the chicken and eggs I sent to Rawesome were dangerously high in mercury and arsenic. He, along with Larry Otting, conducted a smear campaign on me and my farm, proclaiming that my food was making people sick. This campaign sent the community into a panic. I immediately conducted my own test on my chicken (both meat and liver), as well as my well water, feed, and eggs, at one of the California state agricultural labs. This test and all the samples were verified with a proper chain of custody from a third party, and sent to the lab as directed by the lab's protocol. The tests showed that there were no detectable levels of arsenic or mercury in any of the samples; in fact, my well water tested far below EPA water standards.
My conscience was cleared, and I was convinced this was simply another of Aajonus's misrepresentations. But because of the hysteria at the farmers markets -- the farm's main source of income -- the manager at the Santa Monica market (who is an employee of the Santa Monica city government) showed up as I arrived from the farm at the processing facility I used for my chicken, and said that she needed to independently test the poultry for mercury to satisfy Santa Monica that my poultry was safe to sell. She randomly chose a chicken from the trailer I use to bring my chickens to the facility, and the employee at the slaughterhouse followed her specific instructions. She also purchased chicken for testing from my booth at the Santa Monica farmer's market. She walked the poultry through the processing and kept a secure chain of custody to ensure the proper procedures. She sent the liver and the chicken to the state lab, where it was once again confirmed that my chicken showed no detectable levels of mercury or other heavy metals.
The Rawesome community was informed of the two independent lab tests. However, the defamation and misrepresentation of my food and my farm -- and me -- from Aajonus and Otting continued. This is what prompted me to research his testing methods, as well as the information about my poisoning the community that he took to the District Attorney.
I was shocked to once again find that he deliberately analyzed results improperly, and that even the tests he had performed showed there was no mercury in my chicken! In addition a woman named Tamara Hanson sent some chicken to a lab in the Midwest for testing, also showing no detectable mercury. But what is astonishing to me is that someone with Aajonus's education misinterpreted test results, not once but TWICE. It further amazed me that while conducting interviews with the lab technician, I determined that the tests to which Aajonus referred were severely flawed. These were the problems: 1) There was no documented chain of custody, not even something simple such as a statement sent to the lab that the chicken tested was from Healthy Family Farms; 2) There was no indication of what part of the unidentified chicken was sent to the lab, or what was tested by the lab (because it makes a big difference, apparently, whether you test the liver or the breast); and 3) There were no duplicate samples provided for comparison. These tests didn't hold a candle to the tests I requested and that the Santa Monica farmer's market manager requested, but were being used to discredit me with my community!
Mercury levels were undetectable in the mystery chicken, and there were minute levels of arsenic. But the lab could not differentiate between organic from inorganic arsenic (organic is not toxic, while inorganic is). Furthermore, there does not seem to be a guideline for the level of acceptable arsenic, because free-range chickens like mine can so easily pick up small amounts of organic arsenic from the groundwater and air. The mercury levels from these test were once again falsified. But what a shame that so many false statements were spread throughout the farmer's markets and the community, and even more significantly, given to the District Attorney's office so they could go after me.
As a small family farmer, I will always try to produce the healthiest foods for my family and my community. As we all evolve throughout life we will always learn about more toxins in our environment. This farm and my family will continue to provide regular biannual testing to ensure we are always on the right path to producing the food we provide to our customers – and which we ourselves eat. And we will continue to fight false accusations and insinuations from people like Aajonus and Otting. Since the start of these nasty rumors, the farm has given full transparency to its customers by regularly opening the farm to visitors. But the persistence of these inaccurate, malicious statements, which have been repeated as fact far and wide, have pushed my family and this small family farm to the verge of bankruptcy, risking the loss of everything we have worked so hard for.
My children have watched this farm raided and me arrested and thrown in jail, every year for five years. But what has really broken our hearts and nearly broken our spirits has been to watch the community for which we have worked so hard be manipulated by two nasty people with a hidden agenda and slanderous statements. I am hopeful we can get through this and continue to support our customers with good, clean food, and to regain the full support of our community.
Healthy Family Farms
Allegation: In a mediation session, Larry Otting agreed to remove the Unhealthy Family Farm website, but instead handed it over to Aajonus Vonderplanitz who continued running itRelevance: These agreements speak to the actions of Larry Otting, who agreed to take down the website that was publicizing the arsenic and mercury scare about Sharon Palmer's chickens, but who then handed it over to Aajonus instead, who continued to post the same information (and still does).
Larry Otting is the title owner of the farm land on which HFF operates. It seems odd that he would take actions that would result in the financial failure of the farm operation that was paying the lease on his bank loan for the farm land. During mediation, Larry also agreed to stop interfering with investors and to urge Aajonus to drop the matter of Sharon Palmer's chickens. Why didn't Larry abide by his terms of the meditation? We don't know for sure, but we welcome his input if he would like to contribute to a future follow-up story on this subject. (We have tried to contact Otting for a phone interview but have so far been unable to secure an interview with him.)
• Document #1 - A hand-written mediation agreement between Larry Otting and Sharon Palmer, stating that Larry agrees to take down the UFF website:
• Document #2 - A "Stipulation Settlement" document, prepared by the mediation attorneys, laying out the terms of the agreement by Larry Otting to stop interfering with investors and take down the UFF website:
On March 31, 2011, a mediation was held in Ventura, California in the case of Larry Otting vs. Sharon Palmer, Healthy Family Farms, LLC. After mediation before Hon. Wm. Peck (mediation officer), the parties reached a full agreement for settlement of this action.
After mediation, the parties agreed to the following terms and conditions:
a) Web-site removal. Otting will sign all documents necessary to remove the web-site known as "Unhealthy Family Farms" and any other website which may address the same subject as that covered under "Unhealthy Family Farms."
c) Investors: Otting is to dissociate himself from Palmer/HFF investors and/or consumers of Palmer's/HFF's products and will undertake no further communication with them on any level.
d) Aajonus Vonderplanitz: Otting will write a letter to Aajonus Vonderplanitz and direct him to cease and desist from sending third parties any information concerning Palmer and or HFF.
• Document #3 - The WHOIS screen capture of the Unhealthy Family Farm website, taken on June 1, 2012, showing Aajonus Vonderplanitz as the new owner and operator of the website:
Allegation: Aajonus Vonderplanitz Ph.D. acquired his academic credentials from a diploma millWhy is this relevant? Aajonus is a central character to everything here. He authored and published the write-up that interpreted the lab test results of Sharon Palmer's chickens; he gave information to the DA's office in Ventura; he publicly condemned Sharon Palmer and James Stewart as being frauds (and thereby directly impacted their revenues and reputations); and he took these actions under the apparent academic authority of having a Ph.D. in nutrition.
During my interview with Aajonus, I found him to be conversational and quite convincing on many issues. The very idea that his Ph.D. might not be real seemed unlikely to me. I was confident that fact-checking his academic credentials would be a short, simple and routine matter.
That's why I asked him about his academic credentials during a polite phone conversation we shared -- an on-the-record interview about Rawesome, his food philosophies, Sharon Palmer's chickens and other topics. What I heard him say during this interview was that his Ph.D. was an "honorary degree from Richmond University in the UK."
To fact check this claim, I went to Richmond University's website, located their alumni contact email and sent them an email:
From Mike Adams, editor of NaturalNews.com, to the alumni department of Richmond University:
We are fact-checking a story in the USA which centers around an individual who claims to have a Ph.D. in nutrition from your university. Upon further questioning, he explained it was an "honorary Ph.D." that was granted to him.
We are fact-checking this claim with you. Are you able to confirm or deny whether this individual has been awarded an honorary PhD from your university?
Within a day and a half, they replied to me as follows:
Dear Mr Adams,
Our records do not show an Honorary Doctorate for the person in question. I hope this information is helpful to you.
This gave me pause, as I had expected my request to be confirmed and I was prepared to move on. So I asked one of my staffers here at NaturalNews to email Aajonus and ask him which department his degree was issued from and whether he had a contact number we could call to confirm his academic credentials. We told him that we were having trouble confirming them.
At this point, Aajonus became a bit upset with us, but he did reply with photographs of his diploma. These photographs show that Aajonus' diploma is from "Richmonds University" (with an "S") and not "Richmond University," the well-known university in the UK. The email was received on May 22, 2012.
See these pictures of Aajonus' diploma here:
The diploma reads:
On the nomination of the council of the graduate division
Have conferred upon
Having demonstrated ability
By original research Magna Cum Laude - with great distinction in
Doctor of Philosophy
With all the rights and privileges pertaining
Given this twenty-sixth day of August in the year
Two thousand and five
(Four signatures including Anne Wallace, "Dean of the Graduate Division")
Aajonus also replied with an email address and fax number where he encouraged us to verify his academic credentials. The email address Aajonus gave us was firstname.lastname@example.org and the fax number was: (208) 977-0385. We were unsuccessful in receiving a reply from either one.
Your help needed in confirming Aajonus Vonderplanitz' diplomaWe are currently asking for help from the NaturalNews reader community in determining the legitimacy of Aajonus' diploma. If this diploma is legitimate, we need to confirm it and help clear Aajonus' name from those who have been spreading (false?) rumors about his diploma not being legitimate.
If it is illegitimate, however, that would have huge implications in the District Attorney's offices of both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, as well as in the courtroom. It would serve the public interest to know the factual basis of Aajonus' academic credentials.
If you have a tip that can help us either confirm or further question this diploma, please contact us at www.naturalnews.com/feedback.html
In our investigations, we could not locate a "Richmonds University" website. Most search engine searches tend to either bring up "Richmond University" in the UK, or the "University of Richmond, Virginia." What needs to be found is "Richmonds University" with an "S."
Thank you for your assistance in this effort. This is a community-wide issue impacting the entire raw food community, and NaturalNews has worked hard to fact check this story, and we suspect this story has not yet been fully told. If we can gather and confirm more information, we expect to publish our findings later this week here on NaturalNews.com.
This story has been updated:Update #1 - It has now been confirmed that Aajonus Vonderplanitz acquired his phony PhD through a diploma mill. Full details and documentation have been published at:
Update #2 - A secret audio recordings has emerged that shows Aajonus Vonderplanitz demanding $500,000 from Sharon Palmer and all assets from Rawesome Foods (James Stewart), further supporting his financial motive behind his actions. Full report at:
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