Letters to the editor, May 2001

This article was originally published in May 2001

Mad cow and calcium supplements


Thank you for Kathy Blackman’s article about Mad Cow Disease. It was a good summary of the information I’ve heard from various sources. I also appreciated her use of credible sources although I wish she had footnoted their specific contributions. I have heard the caution about bone meal before and was pleased to have safe sources identified. But I wonder how much animal bone meal is in the calcium supplements in the vitamin section. I have not been able to get any clarification from manufacturers except Caltrate, who did confirm that animal bone meal was in their product. I would like a run-down of the products PCC sells.
— Helen Palisin

Eva Vinson, Health and Bodycare Merchandiser replies: Most calcium does NOT come from the bones of cows. If customers wants to avoid calcium supplements with bovine ingredients, they should avoid products that list the following:
– hydroxyapatite: source is freeze-dried bone
– bone meal: source is ground bovine bone
– gelatin: not a source of calcium, but some calcium comes in gelatin softgel capsules

Most of the calcium products on our shelves are individual minerals or combinations of the following:
– calcium hydroxide: source: earth mineral
– calcium carbonate: sources: oyster shell, egg shell, earth mineral
– calcium chloride: source: earth mineral
– calcium citrate: source: calcium carbonate bound with citric acid
– calcium phosphate: source: earth mineral
– calcium lactate: source: calcium carbonate bound with lactic acid (not derived from lactose)
– calcium gluconate: calcium hydroxide bound with gluconic acid (derived from corn glucose)

We do have some products with hydroxyapatite or bone meal as ingredients, so customers should read labels. Visiting a store and speaking with a staff person is the best way to find a bovine-free calcium.

Farmland vs. “soccer”

soccer ball

Thank you for printing Stealth Sports in the Food for Thought section of the March issue of the Sound Consumer. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Tanksley’s comments. I’ve been an eastsider my whole life. I can barely remember when the Kent Valley as the farming community that it once was when I was a small child. I’ve lived in the Sammamish Valley for the past 23 years and have seen “progress” whittle away at what is touted to be one of the ten most fertile farming areas in this country. When I moved to the valley, there were still two dairies operating here. They are now closed.

I have a daughter who plays soccer. I believe that recreational opportunities are important for everyone, especially children. However, the use of good fertile farmland for this purpose is not appropriate. Fertile farmland is getting more and more scarce. It is a precious resource not to be taken lightly. We need food to survive. It is very simple. Without it none of us would be around for very long. The Farmland Preservation Program must be preserved and upheld to protect this precious resource. The ability to have fresh local produce is priceless.
— Karen Baker

On local product signage

An idea for [the stores] would be to post a sign “From Local Farms” on the produce items that you do get, as that is compelling to me when I see that what I may choose for dinner supports a local farm. I’m sure I’d do a lot of “spontaneous” buying (and menu changing!) depending upon what is local that week just for the good feelings of support. One of the reasons I’m at your store several times a week is that I feel better with my family’s health, but another reason is that your store gives me the feeling of doing something healthy for the community as well.
— Trish Heinonen

Joe Hardiman, Produce Merchandiser replies: All produce is noted with state of origin or country. Produce from local farms is always identified.

Natural food company information

PCC was founded and many people are members because we want an alternative to corporate-owned food production and retailing. I thank you for beginning to address this issue and especially for including the list of natural foods companies that are owned by conglomerates and investors. However, I would like to request that PCC do more to help its members on this issue.

A list of natural food companies you carry that are small, locally owned businesses would be helpful. I’d appreciate seeing that information on the shelf. Second, does PCC have a policy that states where PCC can choose between a small local company and one owned by a large corporation for the same (or similar) product, that you would select the former?
—Bronwyn Mauldin

Elin Smith, Assistant Grocery Merchandiser replies: It’s one of PCC’s goals to support and encourage local producers. We bring in products from small, local companies assuming all else is equal. All vendors must have solid business practices in place and must meet our product criteria.

On GMO signage

broccoli illustration

PCC is about choice. Give us the signage to make all the shoppers aware who wish to choose what is [not] GMO. I have seen people in PCC look at organic products and choose the cheaper non-organic ones that I wouldn’t consider giving my family. The more information you give shoppers, the more you ensure their loyalty because that service is not available anywhere else. My children are now teenagers. They will also be loyal to PCC because they can taste and feel the difference when they eat with friends’ families. Please continue to give them the wonderful education we have received. Knowledge is power. Give us the signage to empower us to make wise choices.
—Shannongail Chernoff

Plastic bags

plastic bag

I understand your point on introducing plastic shopping bags. But I don’t agree. You seem to be missing some very important points. My arguments on that issue are as follows:

  1. Yes, they’re 100 percent recyclable. But how many of them are actually recycled? Very few indeed. Majority of them end up in local landfills. To make things worse is that there is no closed loop recycling system in place. In other words, plastic bags don’t go back to plastic bags. It only keeps changing forms, and eventually it all goes to landfill.
  2. Paper is also 100 percent recyclable. It’s not only recyclable but also 100 percent biodegradable. They break down in landfill therefore take less space at the end.
  3. Plastic bags release volatile organic chemical compounds which are far more toxic and harmful to environment than waterborne wastes you are talking about, into soil and ground water. Just imagine what’s going to happen around landfills in 50 or 100 years from now. The devastations are already happening in some Asian countries. Endocrine disrupter pollution is a very serious problem.
  4. Majority of plastic bags are reused as trash bags. What does that mean? More plastic trash going to landfill.
  5. Regarding the emission aspect of recycling, there’s a technology now available abroad to recycle and process paper with much fewer emissions. All we have to do is demand the commercialization of the technology in this country. Also, they often require less energy than conventional methods.
  6. Even if paper requires more energy, the difference can be easily offset by building more renewable distributed micro generations such as wind, solar and fuel cells. Believe me, I do that for a living. Also, energy efficiency of the factory can be easily increased by making a few modifications to factory’s electrical system. A lot of energy saving technologies are available in abroad.
  7. Plastics are cheap. No doubt there. But the cheap labor is also inferior. In the long run, cheap plastic bags will take a bigger environmental toll than renewable and recyclable paper bags. I am sure that your customers are happy to pay for that difference on cost. At least I don’t. 10 cents per bag, that’s nothing.

But Better yet, we must now take this debate beyond “plastic or paper.” We (all businesses) must promote the use of “permanent carrying bags.” This is the ultimate answer to the problem.

My suggestion is to set a penalty system in place. Instead of rewarding customers who brings his/her own bags, you charge penalty to all customers who don’t. If you let them know about new system through posted in-store signage and on their printed receipts, they will be not only noticed but encouraged to change their habits.

Disposable mentality and disposable economy are the legacy from the past century. As we all live in the 21st century, we must start thinking seriously about sustainability.
—Shinya Asami

Re-use plastic bags

In the January Sound Consumer (it maybe have been the December or February edution, but I’m quite sure it was Jan) “A member question” column included a question regarding why PCC is now using plastic grocery bags. I thought the information provided was very useful. (I believe that this same information was provided at the time that the plastic bags were introduced – thanks for the replay!) One addition should be made to the information that was provided: the last sentence of the column should read “Please Recycle them!” Better yet would have been to say, “Please RE-USE them until almost in shreds and THEN recycle them!”

If at all possible, please pass this message on to members. Recycling is GREAT and always a better choice than disposal; however, reuse is ALWAYS the best choice, whenever it is an option, as it certainly is with the pastic bags. I’m AMAZED at how many times the average plastic bag can be re-used. Thanks.
—Carol Stuckey

The Once and Future PCC (Ravenna follow-up)

Should the Ravenna store be re-opened? It’s a deceptively simple question with some exceedingly profound implications.

But let’s back up for a minute. The more immediate question is “Should PCC hang on to the Ravenna property to keep the option of re-opening the Ravenna store?” a group of neighborhood activists going by the name of “Keep the Co-op,” would answer a resounding “yes.”

We are asking PCC to not sell the property or enter into any long-term lease arrangements until we have had a chance to explore options. If a Walgreen’s or a Tully’s were to purchase it, both of whom are reported to have inquired about the property, the disposition of the property would be out of member, and to some extent community, control. We want to explore strategies for reopening the store, or if that is not ultimately feasible, of attracting a small family-run grocery-deli such as you find in other Seattle neighborhoods.

We feel that time to explore these possibilities is the least PCC can give the community.

The Ravenna store was closed with two weeks notice at the beginning of the year. We found out when we picked up a copy of a press release stacked on a table at the front door. No meetings, no mailings, no posted notices of impending difficulty. PCC sponsored a small sustainability committee for a few months last summer to work in secret to keep the store open, but the membership at large was not given the chance to attack the problem and develop alternatives, let alone consider options for the future.

Keep the Co-op is working under the belief that the Ravenna store was either not actually losing money or that it was losing money unnecessarily. We’re wondering if the Ravenna store’s payments to PCC headquarters rose over the past few years as the Issaquah store was opened. It’s possible that factors such as this unfairly pushed Ravenna into the red.

We believe that all this implies a deeper problem, however. It indicates that PCC’s operating philosophy has shifted to a corporate, rather than community-based model. A corporate model of business shuts down lower profit locations to maximize the overall corporate profit. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just that we should consciously choose to set PCC on that path if we desire it.

The alternative is to redirect PCC into being a community-base business as it was originally conceived. In this model, the Ravenna store may be profitable. the property is fully paid for, (part of the Ravenna payments to corporate is to cover mortgages at other stores) and high-density development is coming within walking distance of the site. In a community-based business model, that’s an enviable situation.

“Keep the Co-op” believes that the Ravenna store could be profitable given the chance — the chance to operate as a community-based business, the chance to strategize and pursue business development opportunities, the chance to perhaps shift the entire focus to a deli/convenience store operation rather than a full-service one. Given the alternative, those are very appealing options that we wish to explore. If PCC gives us the chance.

Keep the Co-op has placed a petition candidate, John Brennan, on the Board of Trustees ballot in this spring’s election. We are also mounting a campaign to defeat the proposed changes to the PCC bylaws; changes that we feel are undemocratic. The closing of the Ravenna store has opened our eyes to the extent that PCC has drifted from its founding principles. We hope to return PCC to an organization that fosters community, elicits a sense of responsibility from its members and trusts those members in return.

We will work to reopen the Ravenna store. But the fact that it was closed, and the manner in which it was closed, should be cause for alarm in every community. We hope that you will consider the direction you wish PCC to develop as this spring’s election approaches, and then make yourself heard at the ballot box. The store you save may be your own.
—Paul Birkeland

Randy Lee and Tracy Wolpert, Acting Co-CEOs reply:
PCC management has met with Ravenna members to review financials and will meet again to talk about PCC sale or lease of the building.

Letter from Governor Locke

Dear PCC:

Thank you for the letter you and several other organizations sent me outlining some of the problems and opportunities for Washington’s agricultural industry. As you point out, Washington farmers are struggling to achieve profitability within today’s changing food marketing system. I appreciate your comments and apologize for the delay in my response.

For several years there has been a need to promote small farm economic sustainability. Washington State University (WSU) is in the process of establishing a new research and extension program to focus on the needs of small farms and urban agriculture. WSU is supporting research and education in organic agriculture through activities supported by the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR); they have appointed Christopher Feise as CSANR director.

The Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration is providing funds for organic research projects. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has also taken steps to assist small farms, focusing its efforts in increasing direct marketing opportunities and addressing marketing barriers.

As a result of planning efforts that have included your organization and others, WSU and WSDA have worked to develop complementary programs focused on increasing small farm viability. In fact, WSDA is one of WSU’s four partners in a four-year $1.28 million federally funded project to study the potential for direct marketing to help small farms be sustainable.

I recognize that WSDA’s current part-time, grant-funded program is very limited in its ability to provide aid to small farms. My recommended budget for the 2001-03 biennium provides $100,000 in state general funds and anticipates $100,000 in grants to support 1.5 FTE. In light of other pressing priorities, WSU has not requested funding for an organic program or the CSANR. But I recognize the Department of Health’s WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program will continue under my recommended budget.

The success of small farms is vital to the economic and ecological health of rural Washington. I appreciate your efforts in helping shape and carry out programs and initiatives that assist Washington’s farmers to be economically successful and thrive under the current competitive agricultural market conditions. I look forward to continuing to work with you and your organizations on strategies that benefit Washington agriculture and our rural communities.
Gary Locke, Governor

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