Letters to the editor, December 2005

This article was originally published in December 2005

Organic standards

(PCC received half a dozen letters and emails about a proposed amendment to organic standards. See Saving organic standards. Are they really under “sneak attack?

Thanks for your thoughtful and well-crafted response to the cacophony of misinformation around the organic standards. Your article lends a rational and reasoned voice to a contentious issue. Hopefully, documents like yours will lay the foundation of trust needed to rebuild solidarity within the organic industry.
— John DePaolis, Country Choice Organic, Minnesota

I’m a writer for the online magazine, bainbridgebuzz.com, based on Bainbridge Island. I’m looking for some background on an alert I received from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) about a “stealth” rider on a bill before Congress that would take control over organic standards from the National Organic Standards Board and give it to the USDA. Is this as great a threat to the integrity of organics as OCA suggests? What is your view of this proposal?
— Althea Paulson, Editor, bainbridgebuzz.com

I was very dismayed to learn that PCC was listed as a supporter of a rider inserted into the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that will modify the Organic Foods Production Act. The amendment was opposed by many consumer, retail and growers groups, including National Cooperative Grocers Association, OCA and Consumers Union. Where was PCC? Where was any news of this far-reaching legislation in Sound Consumer or anywhere else in the store? Why in the world did you support this corporate legislation?
— Chris Matera

Goldie Caughlan, PCC’s nutrition education manager and consumer representative on the National Organic Standards Board, replies: The short and direct answer to these questions is no, we absolutely do not consider the amendment a great threat to the integrity of organics. The organic standards are very high, have not been weakened or degraded by the Organic Trade Association going to Congress and asking to have them re-affirmed in the form they’ve been all along. PCC posted our views on this issue on our Web site in mid-October, after deadline for the November Sound Consumer had passed.

The larger perspective is that it’s troubling to see the organic community so at odds. It’s unfortunate that the OCA especially chose a rather hysterical approach to generate attention. In our considered opinion it’s a disservice to consumers as well as to hundreds of organic farmers and organic manufacturers and does nothing to “save organic standards,” but rather serves unfairly and needlessly to erode consumer trust and confidence in high-quality products.

I suggest you balance the misleading hysteria with information on the Organic Trade Association’s Web site at www.ota.com and click on “Just the Facts: Questions and Answers about Restoring Organic Regulations.” You’ll also find insightful statements by Organic Valley and Quality Assurance International, a worldwide organic certifying agency.

Organic dairy: access to pasture

I was reading today’s NY Times and came across a very disturbing article, “What Is Organic? Powerful Players Want a Say.” The article discussed the standards that companies must use to call themselves USDA certified organic. I shop at PCC because I know that the items that you sell are scrutinized and makes for a much easier shopping experience for me. I lament the times that I must go into a QFC or a Safeway to purchase anything. And after reading this article I won’t.

My question to you, PCC and the membership as a whole, is what PCC will do to keep us informed about the food that you buy and the purity of it? I ask this because of the “big guys” trying to get a stronger market share into the organic food movement. While I would like to think that conforming to these standards does indicate a change in behaviors in these companies, I know they’re pushing the envelope. (For instance) Horizon Organic (is) owned by one of the big conglomerates. I don’t want to support that and I want to know how not to.

I rely on PCC Natural Markets to be my source of information and the watchdog group that I want to be a part of, contributing to our community in terms of education and ensuring the long-term needs of our food supply, (and) how we as consumers (can) help make these things better for the greater good.
— Marcus White

I was in the store the other night and noticed the gentleman behind me buying Horizon organic milk. Being involved in the food industry and also continually trying to educate myself in food matters, I was almost tempted to ask him “Why Horizon? (it’s owned by a bigger national food ‘producer’). Why not Organic Valley? It is supporting small and local organic family dairies.”

Either way, being that the demographic of your average shopper probably veers toward the left, and being that it seems part of PCC’s mission is to educate consumers, I thought it would be nice to have a non-biased fact sheet (comparing dairies) or an article such as “An Organic Cash Cow” (see www.nytimes.com/2005/11/09/dining/09milk.html) posted in the dairy section of each store. Just a thought. As a regular customer and loyal customer, I would certainly appreciate information such as this. Many thanks.
— Amy Pennington

Editor replies: PCC has long advocated, and will continue to advocate, the consumer’s right to know what’s in our food and the right to an informed choice. In addition to Sound Consumer, you may find on our Web site under “Issues and Actions” a section called Public Policy statements, where you can read our recent history of public advocacy, including a recent letter about the dairy issues you raise.

Regarding big conglomerates, mergers and takeovers in the organic industry, PCC saw this issue brewing years ago and we addressed it long before the New York Times in a February 2001 Sound Consumer front-page story (see Wake-up call: Mergers and Acquisitions in the Natural Foods Business) It’s germane to a debate involving the organic dairy business about “access to pasture” and central to criticisms being leveled especially at one very large organic dairy producer that supplies Horizon.

Unfortunately, the USDA has refused for years to allow the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to clarify what “access to pasture” means within the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). OFPA does not define what “access” means — does it mean daily access? Weekly? As a calf? When lactating? Throughout a cow’s life?

The USDA recently rejected a unanimous recommendation for clarification by NOSB this past summer. The NOSB is going to try again in November. PCC signed onto a letter asking USDA Secretary Johanns to ensure “access to pasture” is on the November agenda, but results aren’t known at press time.

“Access to pasture” is key, because if pasture is guaranteed on a steady basis, big organic dairies relying on confined feedlots could not continue as they are. It boils down to meeting the letter of OFPA (providing 100 percent organic feed to cows) as well as the spirit (“access to pasture”) of the law.

Cougar Gold cheese

Over 30 years ago, a professor of French at Washington State University first sent me WSU’s Cougar Gold cheese and from that time on, I’ve been sending Cougar Gold at Christmas to those I wish to impress with WSU and to people I’d like to hook on that delicious cheese. This year, however, I shall not be sending any gifts of Cougar Gold since I learned from one of Goldie’s columns a few months ago that rBGH milk is used to make the cheese. I have no alternative but to stop buying and shipping Cougar Gold around the globe.

WSU’s Russ Salvadalena and John McNamara have asserted to me categorically that there’s no difference between the milk of cows injected with rBGH and those not — the same stance Monsanto adopts. But Consumers Union says the milk has not been adequately tested. The Swedish Medical Center here in Seattle concurs and recommends that until the health effects are known, we who want to be on the side of caution should buy organic milk and cheese known not to have come from cows injected with rBGH.

Even if one doesn’t care about the welfare of the cows that suffer some pretty horrific “disorders” from rBGH, one must be concerned with the health consequences of any practice that puts more antibiotics unwittingly into the mouth of the consumer.

To buy and give Cougar Gold to my loved ones is not in their best interests or mine, much as we all love the cheese. I asked WSU to consider whether rBGH is in its best interests and its reputation for excellence.

I asked WSU to let me know if and/or when it ceases using the hormone. When it does, I shall gladly return to the fold. In the meantime, I shall send a copy of this letter to all I’ve given to in the past 30 years.
— Georgia L. Monsen

Editor: Goldie and I will be sure to bring this topic up at our next meeting with WSU.

Organics in the deli

In browsing letters online, I came across a letter from February 2003 and realized my expectations were higher about which organic foods were available from our deli at PCC Kirkland. One of our favorites is the broccoli Waldorf, but we won’t be buying that again since I found out the broccoli is not organic. It seems strange to me that PCC should be selling this and other non-organic deli choices when I can’t even buy non-organic broccoli at the store.

It certainly seems that the prices are expensive enough to be sourced with organic ingredients. I know PCC has a business to run and probably likes the extra profitability that comes from the prepared deli items, but I wish for two things — a clearer commitment from PCC to offer all-organic deli items, and clearer labeling of which deli items contain organic ingredients.

It’d be great to have a seasonal rotation of organic deli offerings. I like the variety I see and rotating seasonally to take advantage of local organic produce at good prices would be fine. I’d rather have organic broccoli Waldorf available in the deli just a few months a year than non-organic versions available year round.
— Marypat Meuli

PCC Deli Merchandiser, Jan Thompson, replies: You’re correct, the produce department has sold only organic broccoli for years, but we do offer non-organic produce as an option, when the cost of organic products becomes considerably higher. We make similar decisions in the deli, trying to keep the price of your favorite recipes as affordable as possible.

Our Waldorf salad will be made with organic broccoli when seasonal pricing allows. We currently use only organic grains, flours, brown rice, milk, potatoes, beans, and carrots in our deli prepared recipes using these ingredients.

Thank you for suggesting seasonal rotations. We agree. Earlier this year we established required deli products, available in all stores, but rotate on a seasonal basis.

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