Letters to the editor, February 2007

This article was originally published in February 2007

Shopping around food sensitivities

As a naturopathic physician, I send patients to PCC on a daily basis for organic, gluten-free and other specialty foods that may be needed on an allergy-free diet. Recently, I sent a very skeptical patient to PCC, to find these foods. When she returned to the office later, she had found all the foods and was feeling much better. She was a complete “convert” to this new diet.

She explained that she had been very frustrated and overwhelmed with the diet, but when she went to PCC a staff member walked her around the store and helped her find the food items on her list. She was so grateful and shocked by the wonderful service she received at PCC that she shops there exclusively now. Thank you to your staff for helping our patients and providing a special quality of care to our natural community.
— Trina Seligman, N.D., Bellevue

Who owns organic?

Great article (Who owns organic? January Sound Consumer). I have a copy of the author’s chart in my bag. I also have copies of the wallet-sized Seafood Watch chart (available in PCC stores in the seafood department) and like to give them to those who are interested.

It’s hard, however, to pull them out and shop at the same time. No one can remember everything, and it’s disheartening to buy something and then find out later it’s owned by some mega-conglomerate such as Dean Foods. I really put effort into keeping up on all the information but would like to see PCC take this a step further.

I suggest you add manufacturer’s information to each item on your shelves (e.g., on Santa Cruz Juice products: “Manufacturer, R.W. Knudsen”). If large corporations aren’t willing to tell us at the time we buy something, why can’t you? Those who care will read. Those who don’t won’t, but at least that would better help us vote with our dollars.
— Carrie Akerstrom, long-time PCC member, Seattle

Standing for values

This is a long-overdue acknowledgement for PCC’s decision to remove Horizon products from the store. When I learned of this shift in stocking practices, I was filled with relief and gratitude that I can rely on PCC to keep track of such issues and to stand up to its values. While I realize that this change occurred many months ago, my appreciation continues.
— Amanda Quaid, life-long PCC member

Chinese organic

I want to add my voice to others that express concern about PCC selling “organic” food from China and point out a discrepancy in the January Sound Consumer. The front page sidebar by Will Fantle is about Wal-Mart being accused of selling non-organic food as organic. Mr. Fantle is the Cornucopia Institute’s research director. I went to his organization’s Web site and read its letter to Wal-Mart. The following paragraph is copied directly from that letter:

“Not only is there strong reason to believe that the integrity of certification oversight in China is below that provided by domestic organizations, along with reports of outright fraud and corruption regarding organic standards, as well as pervasive pollution concerns, but importing products from around the world does not comport with one of the prime reasons consumers are willing to pay a higher price for organic food: the chance to participate in the marketplace to support sound environmental stewardship.”

Now turn to page 3 of the Sound Consumer and see the editor’s reply to a writer’s concern about organic food in China “… be aware that certified organic farms in China are certified by a USDA-accredited organic certification agent.” Since when does PCC trust a federal agent over the folks over at Cornucopia? Come on folks, we know better here. Pull the Chinese “organics.”
— Christina Drakos, Kirkland

The dirt on bodycare products

This is in response to letters regarding parabens in body care products. As a practitioner who treats primarily cancer patients, I see prevention worth the many pounds of cure it takes to treat a cancer patient. Washington state has the highest rate in the United States of several cancer types, including breast cancer.

The issue regarding parabens is well taken but the number of other carcinogenic contaminants in body care products is huge: Pthalates, toluene, lead acetate, petroleum distillates, ethylacrylate and so on are ubiquitous in body care products, sometimes even in the best and cleanest products. I looked up my favorite, Shikai Body Lotion, which I’ve been using for 10 years and buy at PCC. I found that it contains three different contaminants implicated in breast cancer causation.

We have to educate ourselves about the things we come into contact with on a daily basis. The body care product industry is unregulated. It is only we who can make it change its products.

It’s my opinion that PCC act as an information center regarding body care product contamination as it does in many other realms. I’m not requesting that products be taken off the shelf but that information be readily available, drawing the consumer’s attention to this problem area so informed choices are made.

In the meantime, there are excellent sites that provide extensive information about the specific problems in body care products. Visit www.ewg.org and go to “Skin Deep” or visit www.safecosmetics.org.
— Tai Lahans, DAOM


I’ve sent a letter to Avalon cosmetics that should be of interest to you. You sell several products from different sources that contain lavender and tea tree oils. The attached article from “The New York Times” (see “Preschool puberty and a search for the causes,” by Darshak Sanghavi, Oct. 17, 2006) links these ingredients to breast enlargement in boys, apparently because of the similarity of the cellular response to these oils and that of estrogen.

In view of the great potential for harm to our children, I urge you either to place conspicuous warning signs on your shelves where these products are offered for sale or, better yet, take them off your shelves until the offending ingredients are removed.
— Martin Afromowitz, Mercer Island


Supplements and bodycare merchandiser Wendy McLain replies: Like both of you, we’ve been caught by surprise to some degree. Body care products, including cosmetics, are not regulated stringently as food is and that makes them exceptionally difficult to judge for health and safety. For that reason, it’s a very challenging category. Look for a Sound Consumer cover story on this very topic in May. In the meantime, visit the “Skin Deep” web site; you can type in any body care product by name to learn what ingredients are of concern.

Also, the lead researcher cited by The New York Times acknowledges his findings are speculative and not conclusive since cells in a test tube are a far cry from humans. Nonetheless, we’re talking to vendors of products with lavender and tea tree oils to encourage labeling that might recommend use by adults only.

Petaluma Poultry

I recently read Michael Pollan’s latest book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and wonder if your merchandisers are familiar with it. This is a book that consumers concerned about humane animal treatment and organic food will read or soon hear about.

Anyone who has read this book, even if already educated about the ills of our industrialized food systems, has been moved to support more local farmers and especially grass-fed meat and poultry. This book also sheds light on the fact that some products are not as organic or humane as we are led to believe. Because of this book, I recently have made an effort to research better where my food comes from.

For this reason, I was so sad and disappointed to see that PCC sells Rosie chicken from Petaluma Poultry. If your consumer-owned business really did “consistently seek out meat providers who treat animals humanely,” you would not purchase Rosie or any chicken from Petaluma.

If your merchandisers really did visit feedlots and processing plants of each provider to ensure humane practices are honored, you would know that Rosie chickens are treated to an inhumane life and the words “free range” are warped and cruel. I recommend your merchandisers read Pollan’s book and reconsider what you’re selling to your customers. You’re selling a lie and when customers become wise to this they’ll no longer shop in your store. Thank you for listening,
— Katie Wilson, Snoqualmie

Merchandising Director Paul Schmidt replies: We’re aware of the realities described by Pollan’s book and have discussed it with more consideration to come. You’re right and we agree. There are some unhappy aspects to the lack of clarity about what “free range” means. It’s been a problem for years.

We need the USDA to allow clarification and improvements on animal husbandry. But that hasn’t happened yet, just as the USDA hasn’t allowed the National Organic Standards Board to clarify what “access to pasture” means for ruminants.

What’s really bothersome is that there are providers who market “free-range” chicken and shoppers mistakenly think it’s equivalent to Rosie; Rosie, however, provides more space than the usual “free-range” rancher and organic feed.

The good news is that we have been working for some time to source a truly pastured, local organic chicken. The birds exist. We know who’s raising them. We want them. The trouble is that supply is limited and there’s no certified slaughter facility that can process them for market. So, for the moment, there’s a problem in infrastructure that’s preventing us from being able to sell them at scale. We’re working on it.

It’s not for lack of wanting to encourage better practices. We advocate what we want loudly and clearly. Unfortunately, change isn’t happening as fast as we would like.

Save the Xmas trees

I’m a little puzzled why in a place like the environmentally conscious Pacific Northwest that folks feel it is okay to cut down a living, non-diseased tree not for firewood or to build a house but for self-gratification and to turn into a fire hazard. I’d like to thank PCC for not selling freshly murdered trees in the co-op’s parking lots.

For those of you who bought a tree last year, I’d encourage you this year to consider alternatives such as using a tree in a planter that can be moved back outside when you’re done, joining a giving-type-circle where folks use the money they would spend on a tree for presents for needy families, or supporting the PCC Farmland Trust with an extra donation.

— Keith Gormezano, Seattle

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