Letters to the editor, July 2006

This article was originally published in July 2006

Horizon vs. Organic Valley

I’ve shopped at PCC for 10 years and buy only organic food and produce. The article in the June Sound Consumer (Got organic milk?) pointed out a difference between the milk from Horizon and the milk from Organic Valley. I buy Organic Valley milk, but I had been buying Horizon cheese. Since the article I’ve switched to Organic Valley for cheese.

I notice that on the cheese shelves in the West Seattle store, where I go, the Horizon cheese has prominent shelf space on an open shelf with no other shelves above it, so it’s eye-catching. I had to search for the Organic Valley cheese, which was two or three shelves down and not easy to see because another shelf is right above it. Someone not looking for it deliberately might not notice it.

Other than a product placement incentive by the company, I don’t know why Horizon would have such preferred shelf placement. It seems to be inconsistent with the article pointing out that only Organic Valley farmers give all their cows pasture access in the way the cartons depict.

If Organic Valley’s practices are more in line with PCC’s mission, and with the reasons I and many others shop at PCC, it would be nice to see their cheese get at least the same shelf visibility. Thank you, and my comments don’t mean I’m not a great supporter of PCC!
— J. Potter, West Seattle

PCC Deli Merchandiser Jan Thompson: Thank you for a thoughtful, respectful letter. I’ve been eliminating Horizon products that can be replaced by Organic Valley, but meanwhile, the deli is changing where these cheeses are placed. PCC does not accept product placement incentives.

Pasteurized vs. ultra-pasteurized

I’m a long-time PCC shopper and have been impressed with the efforts to advocate for better nutrition. I have a question regarding milk pasteurization.

I notice that PCC carries organic, ultra-pasteurized milk in the refrigerated section and that it’s not possible to buy small cartons of organic milk unless it has been ultra-pasteurized. I’m curious about differences between the two pasteurization processes. I understand the “ultra” process results in longer shelf-life but fewer nutrients. On a recent trip to Japan, I found milk for sale that was pasteurized at lower temperatures for the purpose of retaining more nutrients.

If my understanding is correct, given that organic milk consumers are probably looking for better nutrition rather than improved shelf life, I’m wondering why PCC is carrying ultra-pasteurized, organic milk?
— Susan Drummond

PCC Nutrition Educator Goldie Caughlan replies: Only ultra-pasteurized organic milk is available in sizes smaller than a half-gallon, and yes, in general, the higher the heat and the longer food is heated, the more vitamins are reduced. Pasteurized milk is heated to 161.5 F for 15 seconds. Ultra-High Temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk is heated to 280 F for two seconds.

The natural enzymes that make milk more digestible are destroyed by both processes. Both processes destroy natural enzymes that make milk more digestible. But UHT kills more bacteria — some believe it may kill a bacteria linked to Crohn’s disease — and it allows milk to keep much longer and be shipped further. (Organic Valley half-gallons at PCC are labeled “From Northwest Farms” because they come from local dairies; at other stores, you may not see that Northwest reference.)

PCC offers unhomogenized milk and raw milk from Grade A dairies certified by the state of Washington. Some believe raw milk is healthiest of all.

Plastic lining in cans

I sent a letter to a number of companies represented by canned products available in PCC stores. It was very short and to the point: “I need to know if your canned products have liners using BPA (bisphenol-A) before I commit to purchasing your products.”

After they admitted to using BPA, I followed up, saying their products were a valued part of our diet in the past, but no more. I suggested they need to review the latest findings and news articles, which report rather disturbing links to disease.

Bionature was the most responsive, saying “Yes, we’re concerned with the use of BPA … That’s why we’re looking to change over to all glass.” They also sent an informative attachment. Here are a few links to articles:

This would make for a good article. This also concerns the plastic bottles sold for water purposes at PCC.
— (Name withheld on request), Seattle member

Editor replies: The research, published in the journal Cancer Research, shows BPA causes changes in DNA that promote cancer in adulthood, especially prostate cancer. BPA also is used in Nalgene sports bottles, plastic baby bottles, microwave cookware and dental sealants.


Could you please provide more information on your organic peanuts available for “grind your own?” Apparently where the peanuts are grown, how long they are stored, etc. may determine how much toxic molds have proliferated. Does the mold not exist in almonds?
– Cathy Burhen

Goldie Caughlan replies: The FDA has a zero tolerance for aflatoxin for humans and animal feed. The mold is more prevalent in regions struck by drought and heightened if the soil is not healthy. Some tests show that organically grown peanuts in healthy, well-mulched fields showed no stress-induced aflatoxin, whereas neighboring farms that weren’t mulched and devoid of good soil structure and root systems were heavily stressed and did have aflatoxin.

Our peanut stock comes from Kettle Foods in Oregon. Every batch is tested before sale and Kettle furnishes “none detected” lab results. Aflatoxin also can affect almonds and other tree nuts and crops such as corn.

Buying local, buying small

Tabitha Holmquist’s letter (“Too Much of the Real Thing,” May Sound Consumer) resonated with me, particularly in light of the Cornucopia Institute’s recent report showing that organic dairy products from larger companies often aren’t as truly organic as products from smaller companies. For those of us who prefer buying products from smaller companies or would like to avoid products made by certain mega-companies, it can be hard to remember which brands trace back to companies like Dean, Kellogg’s or Kraft.

Here’s my suggestion for how PCC can help consumers buy small if they’d like to, as well as raise awareness of just who owns which products: Put signs on shelves indicating which products are owned by mega-corporations, saying which company owns them. Shoppers could tell easily that Boca Burger is owned by Kraft, or that Horizon Organics is owned by Dean.

I know I’d appreciate this, plus it would keep consumers in touch with the latest news. Someone who missed the tidbit about Colgate’s purchase of Tom’s of Maine (“Newsbites,” May Sound Consumer), for instance, would get the news when they shopped for toothpaste.
– Jennie Hoffman

Editor replies: PCC’s Web site provides a link to a terrific graphic that keeps abreast of consolidation and buy-outs in the organic industry. See the Issues and Actions section, under “Organics.” The graphic is updated periodically by its creator, so it’s the best way I know to stay current. PCC management is considering how we can better highlight independent, local businesses. There’s a practical reality with shelf signs: we need them to remain uncluttered and easy to read for pricing, unit size and reordering purposes.

I’m writing in response to Tabitha Holmquist’s letter regarding conglomerates taking over the manufacturing of such products as Odwalla Juice, Boca Burger, Morningstar Farms and Kashi. I believe it’s good that they’ve been purchased by large corporations. I base my reasons on two other articles from the very same edition of Sound Consumer.

First, there was the Newsbite about Colgate buying Tom’s of Maine. Tom’s founder, Tom Chappell, states the sale will enable Tom’s of Maine products to move from being the number six toothpaste brand in the USA to the third.

Above that article, there was another about how corporations are paying more attention to the “idealogical consumer,” consumers shopping with morals in mind. Being distributed to a wider market, these products will help expand the organic and healthy lifestyle we PCC shoppers enjoy. If we boycott them, I fear we’ll help these products fail and enable the unhealthy foods to proliferate further.
– Kathy Hennessy, Seattle

Study details?

Your article, “Nutritional declines in produce” (April Sound Consumer) stated that, “A biochemist … says that of 13 major nutrients in fruits and vegetables tracked by the Agriculture Department from 1950 to 1999, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C showed significant declines.”

My question is: how were the nutrient levels measured? For instance, let’s say the biochemist measured the nutrient content by weight (weight of nutrient/weight of fresh vegetable). Furthermore, let’s suppose today’s vegetables contain more water than those of the 1950s. Then it is possible that the entire phenomenon could be explained without any need for alarm.

I’m not saying I think this is what happened. I’m saying that I think your readers would be better served if you included at least some details of the scientific study you quote.
-Ian Langmore, Seattle

Editor replies: You’re right, details matter and I often wish I had room to write up studies more thoroughly. But I always try to include enough details for readers to seek more information, if interested. In “Nutritional Declines in Produce,” I wrote in the University of Texas and Donald Davis as the researcher, and credited the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. That should be enough to Google the research.

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