Letters to the editor, May 2003

This article was originally published in May 2003

Hemp foods ban?

I am writing to see what the position of PCC is in regard to the proposed ban on all hemp food products by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), set to go into effect on the 21st of April. This ruling to deprive the people of the USA of an important nutritional food source is unconstitutional and will do damage to the businesses that depend on hemp to sell their foods (not to mention the people that enjoy hemp products).

I urge you to resist this arbitrary ruling and keep all hemp products that you are currently selling, from waffles to Dr. Bronner’s Soap (my favorite soap), available for sale in spite of the ban. Our family has been members of PCC since 1990 and shop at the Fremont store often. Please help to stop the police state from encroaching on our lives further. I will do my part.
— Peter R. Guerzenich Small

Editor: Our buyers report that PCC never has sold a great quantity of hemp products such as breads, cereals, waffles and snack bars. Sales have been very poor.

As for Bronner’s soap, it looks safe. Soap is not affected by the latest DEA ruling; it exempts soap products because they’re not intended for human consumption. See the DEA’s Web site, www.dea.gov/pubs/pressrel/pr032103a.html, for the latest news release on this matter dated March 21. The ruling doesn’t outlaw hemp per se: it says “Some examples of these exempted industrial products are paper, rope and clothing (which contain fiber made from the cannabis plant), animal feed mixtures, soaps and shampoos (which contain sterilized cannabis seeds or oils extracted from the seeds).

DEA is exempting these types of industrial cannabis products from control because they are not intended for human consumption and do not cause THC to enter the human body … When it comes to cannabis products that are intended or used for human consumption (foods and beverages), however, today’s rules make clear that if such a product contains THC, it remains prohibited. This approach is consistent with the long-standing rule under federal law disallowing human consumption of Schedule I controlled substances outside of FDA-approved research.”

So, if it’s soap or a food product that doesn’t contain THC, it won’t be removed from our shelves. The responsibility of proving “no THC” content falls to the product manufacturer.

No oil for food

Thank you so much for your column in the April Sound Consumer (“Earth to Humans: No Oil for Food”). You pointed out EXACTLY the kinds of connections we all need to be making. Especially now (and forevermore). Wishing you all the best,
— Elizabeth Alexander

Banana workers and human rights

I am a PCC member and am writing to you concerning Bonita bananas. I recently read a news article in Co-op America Quarterly (No. 58; Fall 2002) regarding human rights abuses by the owner of the company and an international campaign that has been started to help unionized workers in this industry.

Alvaro Noboa, owner of the Noboa banana company, marketed in the U.S. under the Bonita brand, is the richest man in Ecuador. The article stated, “Noboa, who is also a presidential candidate, has refused to negotiate with union workers who went on strike in May at the company’s Alamos plantations. The workers went on strike when management fired union leaders shortly after the Ecuadorian Labor Ministry approved legal recognition for three unions representing about 1,000 banana workers. On May 16, hundreds of thugs brutally attacked the striking workers.”

Until recently, I have bought Bonita bananas from PCC. I am writing to ask if you were aware of these terrible abuses against its workers. While I believe it is important to support organic farmers, I am concerned about what my money is supporting. Can you tell me what measures PCC has in place to monitor the conditions that its products are grown, picked or made under?
— Adam Schofield

Joe Hardiman, Produce Merchandiser: PCC supports fair labor practices at all times and we have instructed our suppliers not to ship this label to our stores. PCC will not intentionally support the Bonita label (Chiquita), even though it’s certified organic. The Quinta brand is our preferred brand because of its commitment not only to organic growing methods, but also because of its fair labor practices.

Bananas, however, are seasonal like other crops and since consumers demand bananas year round, it’s very tough to find a year-round organic supply from conscientious operations. We’ve managed to source organic bananas year round, an enormous accomplishment, but we struggle from time to time to find product.

Sometimes we’ve been forced to “buy off the street” to “fill” between slack periods from preferred providers. We have no control over the choice of labels when we are buying “any available inventory.” Sometimes it becomes Bonita, sometimes it’s Dole, sometimes it’s conventional. They’re not our choice, but sometimes we have no choice except not to sell organic bananas, and to sell conventional instead. Again, I wish to emphasize that PCC is not intentionally supporting this label.

Salmon and pesticides

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents show there is significant harm to salmon from many herbicides. The herbicides get into our streams, impacting endangered salmon and other aquatic species. Herbicides used by the Washington State Department of Transportation are known to kill salmon directly or cause decreased survival rates by reducing their ability to avoid predators, fend off disease, or spawn.

Studies by the U. S. Geological Survey found pesticides contaminating every single watershed tested in Washington. Especially concerning are 2,4-D and dichlobenil, two herbicides used by the WSDOT that are found in 100 percent of USGS tested streams and have known impacts to endangered salmon. The chemical companies themselves advise that berries sprayed with 2,4-D and Dicamba are unsafe to eat.

The DOT is currently studying the risks and benefits of maintaining roadsides without pesticides. It spends $21 million yearly on roadside chemicals. Now is the time to let the DOT know citizens want it to honor local no spray policies and stop spraying our roadsides. Please contact:

Doug MacDonald, Secretary of Transportation
phone: 360-705-7054
P.O. Box 47300, Olympia, WA 98504

— Nancy Schaaf, No Spray Coalition

Editor: This is a statewide issue. Five counties (Island, Snohomish, Jefferson, Clallam, and Thurston) have passed no-spray policies for county roads. King County does not spray county roads on Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island, Maury Island, or in the Snoqualmie Valley. The DOT, however, continues to spray in all these areas.

Odwalla vs. Columbia Gorge

I often shop at PCC because of the co-op’s support of community and its commitment to offering produce and products from local and organic farmers. However, I have recently observed a conflict between PCC’s beliefs and its actions.

PCC’s decision to offer the juice company Odwalla a large refrigerator unit near the front of the store while keeping Columbia Gorge Organics in a more discreet location is a violation. Odwalla is owned by one of the largest corporations in the world, Coca-Cola. Odwalla has also just recently offered a line of organic beverages. Columbia Gorge Organics, on the other hand, is owned and operated by the Stewart brothers, a small totally organic enterprise located in Hood River, Oregon.

What is the reasoning behind PCC’s decision to offer Odwalla a prime location? Why does Columbia Gorge Organics, a company that is a perfect fit for PCC’s beliefs, not receive the same publicity? While I will continue to shop at PCC despite a resolution to this conflict, my respect for the co-op may decrease. Please practice what you preach.
— Michael Doig

Stephanie Steiner, Grocery Merchandiser: Yes, Odwalla was purchased by Coca Cola, but Odwalla was once a small company, too, and began supporting PCC members as soon as it entered the greater Seattle marketplace. PCC is, in fact, supporting Columbia Gorge Organics by selling the products in our stores. Small companies such as Columbia Gorge, however, can’t always handle the demand for product and large inventories that primary display space requires. Massive demands to increase production bring massive increases to overhead, too — that shouldn’t be taken lightly. PCC supports Columbia Gorge to the extent it can handle the business.

If we re-merchandised every time a small company sold to a larger one, we’d never finish. The expense of such a strategy also would undermine PCC’s fiscal health. PCC supports Northwest items throughout the total store and we encourage small producers to grow their business with us at a healthy, sustainable pace.

Odwalla also has been a tremendously supportive partner in PCC’s community outreach programs, donating tens of thousands of bottles of juice to members and the community at large at PCC-sponsored events.

PCC members chose to purchase Columbia Gorge Organic juices 37,581 times last year. PCC members chose to purchase Odwalla juices 223,330 times last year. That volume gives Odwalla the ability to handle large displays.

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