Letters to the editor, June 2007

This article was originally published in June 2007

Farmland Trust farm tour

I wanted to let you know how much our family enjoyed the recent Bennington Place farm tour. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the farms (and farmers) supported by the PCC Farmland Trust, a cause that we’ll now be supporting.

Having just read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and reading how grass-fed beef is both healthier and better for the environment, it was great to visit the Thundering Hooves ranch and to meet these Washington farmers dedicated to raising cattle on grass and not grain. We’ve just eaten our first meal of Thundering Hooves meat and it was delicious! Thanks again,
— Marypat Meuli

Perchlorate in water and food

Once again I’m writing to you for some input as you are my fave PCC expert! Question: Do you have any updates re the perchlorate-in-drinking-water issue? I just read a report that made me so angry. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested nearly 3,000 people from all over this country and all were positive for percholorate (the explosive ingredient in rocket fuel) in their systems. Apparently there was just a hearing about the issue in the U.S. Congress. ARRRRGH. This kind of stuff is just so FRUSTRATING to hear about.
— Angela Duane

Editor: Perchlorate contaminates drinking water and soil in at least 35 states with most of the contamination coming from military bases and defense contractors. Tests have found perchlorate in milk, produce and many other foods from coast to coast. Perchlorate is a thyroid toxin and lab studies show that even small amounts can impact normal growth and development in children. The CDC report showed that exposures today can exceed the standard to protect public health.

A House subcommittee on environment and hazardous materials held a hearing on April 25 about the health and environmental impacts of unregulated exposure to perchlorate. A proposed bill would set a protective threshold on percholorate in drinking water. For more, visit ewg.org.

Produce in plastic shells

I love shopping at PCC but am concerned about some packaging I see, including the plastic tubs for organic greens. I admit I’ve bought organic salad mixes in these plastic tubs. I do like that greens packaged this way seem to keep better than loose greens, but I’m troubled that the large tubs are not recyclable.

Are there more environmentally-friendly packaging options? I respectfully suggest that PCC — a leader for sustainability in so many ways — consider not carrying non-recyclable packaging such as these tubs. I will resist buying the plastic tubs in the future. Thanks for considering this issue.
— Polly Freeman

Produce Merchandiser Joe Hardiman: You’re right. Those plastic “clamshell” tubs are not recyclable, nor compostable. They trouble me, too, but so far I haven’t found a source for mixed salad greens that aren’t in clamshells or cello bags. I’m still looking. The most environmentally friendly option is to choose bunched, loose greens — and make your own salad mix. Loose greens are easy to keep fresh. Just rinse and wrap loosely in a clean cotton or linen towel, then place in a plastic bag in the ‘fridge. They’ll keep very nicely this way for days.

Charging for bags, reusing bags

Why doesn’t PCC step forward and be the leader in our community in the use of plastic bags? PCC advertises itself as a food store offering products that are both natural and organic. Plastic bags don’t fit this category; they are neither natural nor organic. To limit the use of these bags either by charging or eliminating them altogether would be more consistent with the core values of PCC.

I have been a member of PCC for more than 20 years and often find I’m the only customer bringing in my own canvas bags for the groceries. If PCC would take a stronger stand against this use of plastic, canvas bags might be the norm rather than the exception. I look forward to some action in this concern.
— Carol Lee Power


Sometimes, I forget my cloth bags — and boy do I regret it — they’re so much nicer! Today was one of those days and I opted for the plastic. I’m wondering what to do with these “oxo-degradable” bags. Sure, I can reuse them, but then what? Do I put them in the trash, in my recycling or in my compost (which I try to keep organic and I’m not sure this would qualify)? I can’t find anything on the Internet that truly answers my question. Thanks.
— Susannah Pryal


I’m a longtime PCC customer here in Fremont and wanted to ask you about the use of plastic bags. I recently shopped at another grocer and they’re using non-GMO corn-based “plastic” bags called the “Biobag.” The bag certainly is as strong as any polyethene bag I’ve used and is compostable within 10 to 45 days, so I see no reason why PCC and other grocers shouldn’t be offering this as a smart alternative to the petroleum-based bags. Can you tell me why PCC hasn’t made a change to this type of bag?
— Yann Buchanan

Director of Merchandising Paul Schmidt replies: We agree, the Bio-bag is more environmentally friendly than the “oxo-degradable” bag we use now, but they would cost us, the membership, about $500,000 more each year. PCC may decide the expense is worth it, but we haven’t made that decision yet. We’re looking for a more cost-effective option that’s environmentally gentle. We know of a potato starch “plastic” bag and are waiting for samples to see how they hold up.

Odwalla ethics

Twice this year I’ve read the following response to Letters to the Editor as justification for PCC carrying products by subsidiaries of unethical corporate owners: “The issue is, should a subsidiary be held accountable for what its owner does?”

Yes, that’s the issue and the answer is “Yes!” Are you prepared to argue that Coca-Cola makes no profit from its subsidiary Odwalla? Since these owners are making a profit from their subsidiaries, the subsidiaries indeed are responsible for financially supporting the unethical actions of its owners. By buying their products, we’re likewise supporting the unethical actions of their owners.

I was very disappointed by Paul Schmidt’s response to Simon and Praisa Saeedi-Mepham’s concern that PCC carries Odwalla juice — that they should “make their opinions known directly to Coca-Cola.” Why should they make an isolated call to a huge corporation when collective action — through our cooperative — would be so much more effective? PCC uses its cooperative clout to support sustainable agriculture, fair trade and other ethical issues. Why not this one?

As a longtime PCC member, I ask PCC to respond actively to these consumer concerns, or put it up for a vote to the membership. Or be prepared to convince PCC members that Coca-Cola makes, or will make, no profit from its subsidiary Odwalla.
— Maureen Jackson, Seattle

Director of Merchandising Paul Schmidt replies: We also are concerned about the human rights abuses by Odwalla’s corporate owner, Coca-Cola, and you’ve convinced me that PCC should write Coca-Cola a letter about these issues. Yet we disagree that Odwalla should be held responsible for behavior unrelated to its own products or process of production. A vote by the PCC membership on this issue would have to be preceded by a member initiative as spelled out by PCC’s bylaws.

Organic flowers?

I’m curious about the supplier for the cut flowers sold in our PCC stores. I do not believe they’re organic, but I do not know for sure. Purchasing organic flowers is beneficial because they’re free of chemicals, benefit local farming communities, and help sustain a healthy and natural lifestyle. Please consider offering organic cut flowers for purchase.
— Christa Hinchcliffe

Grocery Merchandiser Stephanie Steiner replies: Most, if not all, certified organic flowers are grown overseas and are very expensive. But I’m glad to say that many of our flowers are grown without toxic chemicals during our local growing season, and many of the others are VeriFlora certified, which means an independent third party has certified they’re produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. I’ve asked our provider to sticker the VeriFlora choices with the Certified Sustainably Grown logo so you can identify them.

Organic deli and organic pork?

I have two questions. First, is the deli food sold in PCC stores made of organic ingredients? If not, why not? Second, how come PCC does not carry organic pork? Thanks,
— Guanghui Li, Redmond

First, Deli Merchandiser Jan Thompson replies: You’ll be glad to know that all our greens, grains, olive oil, rice, tofu, beans, flour and milk always are organic. Some dishes also are all organic, such as Carrots de la Fez, the Italian Broccoli Salad and Goldie’s Greens. Numerous others are all organic except, at times, for one or two ingredients. In our Black Bean and Corn Salad, for instance, the beans, corn and olive oil are organic, but the red peppers may or may not be, especially in the winter months.

Off-season availability and costs, especially for meat, make it challenging to keep dishes affordable for shoppers. We’re modifying our selections to reflect seasonal and local ingredients as well as organic.

Second, Assistant Meat Merchandiser Roger Wood on why PCC doesn’t sell organic pork: The main difference between PCC’s natural pork and organic pork is the feed. The pork we sell is raised on non-GMO corn and grain with no animal byproducts.

But to be certified organic, the corn has to be not just non-GMO but also organically grown. The cost difference between natural pork and conventional pork already is significant, but the cost of organic corn raises the price of organic pork to a level that most consumers, including our shoppers, would not be willing to pay. (Every organic pork producer would require retails as much as 100 percent higher than our current retails.)

Since pork is only about five percent of our total meat sales, it seems that carrying two pork programs would not succeed. FYI, our current supplier has confirmed that none of its feed is coming from China.

Also in this issue

News bites, June 2007

Legislation for a healthier Washington, Pharma safflower barred by Canada, Bellingham a “Green Power Community”, and more