The Bronner family history is undoubtedly significant, but it is their future that appears to be even more extraordinary. David Bronner, 38, grandson of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps founder, Emil, is CEO of the number one selling organic soap brand in the U.S. But perhaps even more impressive than his ability to move the company forward into record profits and further cementing the brand as one of the most widely recognized and beloved products, is his commitment to do it with unrivaled integrity and innovation.
Founded in 1948, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps became synonymous with the counterculture revolution of the 1960s and helped to fuel a movement that has turned into the $30+ billion a year organic industry. While his grandfather pushed for world unity—using the now iconic soap bottles to convey a message of love, respect and helping our fellow earthlings—David has used the business to add to that message the need for the legalization of multi-purpose industrial hemp (one of their soap's key ingredients), developing Fair Trade relationships with growers around the world (all of their oils, alcohol and major essential oils are Fair Trade certified), and the family has legally forced major bodycare manufacturers that misrepresented their products as organic to change labeling. (While the Bronners were not directly involved, it's likely that the recently enacted Whole Foods bodycare guidelines were inspired by Dr. Bronner's staunch position on truthful labeling and clean ingredients.)
Now, the Bronner family is helping lead the fight against genetically modified ingredients—an industry that barely affects their soap making—but that doesn't make it any less of a worthy fight, according to Bronner.
Organic Authority caught up with David Bronner just days after he returned from the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore (the 2nd largest industry trade show) and days before he took off for the Right2Know March, where he was joining hundreds of concerned citizens on a two-week 313-mile walk from New York City to Washington D.C. to demand the labeling of genetically modified foods.
[This interview is edited for length and clarity.]
OA: You just returned from Expo East. What was trending in the organic products community?
DB: Definitely GMOs. It's on everyone's mind right now.
OA: Why do you think it's happening now?
DB: A lot of people have activated over GMOs in the last twelve months, mainly because of Obama's decision on the [GM] alfalfa. More than ever before, people are energized around the issue and non-GMO certified is the fastest growing market segment now.
From the Organic Authority Files
OA: How did Dr. Bronner's get involved in the Right2Know March?
DB: We've been working on a Fair Trade palm oil project in Ghana with Joseph Wilhelm, founder of Rapunzel, and he had organized two successful anti-GMO marches in Europe with a lot of awareness and mobilization, and had the idea to do the same over here. So we took it to a bunch of people and brands and it just took off. Everyone thinks it's time.
OA: And the Right2Know March is going to include some activities along the way, yes?
DB: Definitely. We're bringing the Dr. Bronner's All One Arc and a greenhouse, and making stops all along the route with events at natural food stores and co-ops to help bring awareness to the issues.
OA: The Right2Know March ends in Washington D.C. on World Food Day; can you explain what that is?
DB: October 16th is World Food Day, an international day designed around food justice issues and how sustainable agriculture can feed the world versus chemical intense, GMO agriculture. Despite what the biotech industry says, that's not what the developing world needs; they need more agroecological development.
OA: One of the goals of the Right2Know March is to bring attention to the campaign to get the FDA to label GMOs. Do you think that will protect consumers?
DB: People aren't going to want to eat something labeled 'genetically engineered'. The primary concern is the way Monsanto spins its products. They didn't magically produce pest-resistant corn; they're expressing a foreign compound in every cell of the plant that has not been proven safe. It's a big experiment. We know that food allergies are surging along with asthma and other conditions; certainly it's connected with what we eat and people have a right to know what's in their food.
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Image: David Bronner with the shovel used to plant hemp seeds at the DEA offices in 2009 by Jill Ettinger