Letters to the editor, August 2007

This article was originally published in August 2007

Sausage casings and minor ingredients

Thank you for discussing the rule change for organic labeling (Letters, July Sound Consumer). I want ALL my food that’s labeled organic to be organic.

The rule change raises the question of where PCC gets its sausage casings. Would you please check into this and let me know what you find out? It’s my hope that in the future PCC will voice opposition to including any non-organic ingredient in organic products.

I also wish PCC would encourage producers to eliminate ingredients such as soy lecithin, carrageenan, gums and other additives from prepared organic foods (cookies, broths, etc.). I want food in my organic food, not derivatives of things I wouldn’t normally eat. If I wanted to eat algae (carrageenan), for example, I would buy it.
— Prue Hathaway

Editor replies: Our grocery merchandiser say she has been asking processed food manufacturers for some time to eliminate ingredients such as those you name, but the companies say they cannot achieve the texture or flavor desired without them. Buyers strive to offer the most wholesome choices, but processed foods primarily are chosen for convenience. Purchasing fresh foods and cooking is the best way to avoid the ingredients you name.

The casings for PCC brand sausage are from hogs or sheep that meet our criteria for being raised naturally, without hormones or antibiotics — but notice that PCC brand sausages are not certified organic. We do sell organic sausage with casings in the frozen department, and other frozen sausage in bulk or skinless.

FYI, we understand that some very committed organic players wanted non-organic casings to be added to the so-called National List of acceptable non-organic ingredients — in case the demand for organic casings outstripped supply. They could not be used unless organic casings are unavailable.

Chinese organics

I’m a retired widow in my 70s and when I shop at PCC I expect to get the best produce for my health. I was shocked when I bought Woodstock Farms organic frozen Baby French beans and saw they’re a “Product of China.” I also was shocked that the PCC staff wasn’t aware of this. I feel betrayed and wonder how many PCC customers read the fine print? I don’t think PCC should carry produce from China! I also think we need to see on the bins of dry bulk foods where they come from.
— Marion Herth, Seattle

Editor replies: We share your concerns about Chinese food imports, and PCC is replacing single-ingredient foods from China — some frozen fruits, frozen vegetables and bulk items — with domestically grown versions, wherever possible. One brand you’ll start seeing is Sno-Pac.

Some products may not be available from anywhere but China. In such cases, we’ll continue to offer those to meet customer demand. Multi-ingredient processed foods are problematic; manufacturers are not required to list the country of origin for ingredients, but merchandisers are asking our vendors to provide what they can.


Since there’s still one manufacturer of vitamin C left in the United States, perhaps health-conscious consumers can keep it in business by demanding U.S.-manufactured vitamins. I’d be interested in purchasing vitamins made in the United States or Europe and other people probably will be, too.

The Washington Post did an article about the safety of vitamins from China and an online NPR article questioned the safety of herbal tea from China. I do appreciate PCC’s great products and attention to food safety and the informative articles in the Sound Consumer.
— name withheld on request, Woodinville

Editor replies: A trade association representing the natural supplements industry has confirmed that vitamin C still is produced in one remaining U.S. plant by Takeda Pharmaceuticals, processed for one-step tableting or encapsulating. It’s high-end and very expensive. I also confirmed reports that 80 to 90 percent of ascorbic acid (known as vitamin C) comes from China — as well as many other ingredients, especially B vitamins. Even if a supplement manufacturer sources vitamin C (or another ingredient) from, say, Europe, it’s probably mixed with ingredients from other countries, including China, so country of origin labeling is nigh impossible for multi-ingredient supplements.

Wendy McLain, supplements and body care merchandiser, replies: The trade association also noted that some U.S.-owned plants in China are using good manufacturing processes. Some vitamin C is made of acerola from Brazil, but it’s very pricey and much less potent. Brands such as Natural Factors, Nature’s Way and Vitamer (the manufacturer of PCC’s brand)) do their own testing for integrity. The bottom line: know your manufacturer! The trade association said that if you buy supplements at mainstream grocers, who knows what you’re getting.

Local? Organic?

I read with interest David Lively’s cover story on the local vs. organic debate (June Sound Consumer). While he covers the issues well, I feel that we’re still comparing organic apples to local oranges.

“Locally grown” and “organically grown” are orthogonal concepts (unrelated, or on different axes) and presenting them as opposing choices, as the current national debate seems to do, misses the point completely. Ideally, good produce should be locally grown AND organic. There’s no substitute for educating yourself on where your food comes from and making conscious choices based on facts rather than on trends. Better yet, get some good seed stock and grow your own!
— Nick Dallett, Kirkland


You can’t get more local than your own yard. Replace all or most of your lawn. Plant edible trees and shrubs. Plant a garden in a sunny spot. Raise some hens. Rent a pea patch. Borrow a yard. Guerilla garden.

Share the surplus with friends, neighbors and the food bank. Shop the farmer’s markets. Preserve enough for the winter. Grow a winter garden. Eat what you grow. Put your money behind your beliefs and buy only what you want to support. Ask for help to find what you need. It’s out there.
— Sarah Burkhart, Oakville


I just finished reading “Local? Organic? What’s a Consumer to do?” and especially liked the point about not dumbing down the marketing of food — that good citizenship means we do not run away from complexity and deep understanding. As a consumer, however, it didn’t answer my questions about why the organic garlic doesn’t sprout or many of the potatoes, although some do. I suspect sprouting inhibitors are being used; the garlic (sometimes) turns to dust before it would sprout.

I’m not going to weigh in on local/non-organic vs. global/organic except to say that the further away the farm is, the less likely I am to believe the “organic” label. I have zero confidence in the certification and chain of custody process.
— Margaret Bautey, Seattle

Lynn Coody, Organic Agsystems Consulting replies: The National Organic Program (NOP) rules, Sec. 205.601.K, allow only one plant growth regulator/inhibitor and that’s ethylene gas — for regulation of pineapple flowering and for degreening or ripening citrus and tropical fruit, such as bananas, postharvest. None are allowed for garlic or potatoes. If your garlic turns to dust, could it be that you are storing it in too dry or too warm a place?

David Lively, Organically Grown Company: The organic certifying process is designed so we can trace the origin of a food through a paper trail, so we always could know who the grower is and how the food is produced. Regarding who to trust and why — I’ve never been of the opinion that “local” is essentially more trustworthy than non-local. Plenty of crooks are located locally and will tell lies with a straight face. Unless you’re able to perform a thorough audit of the environment and practices of a local farm, I think you’re at least as secure in trusting qualified third-party certifiers — such as the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Oregon Tilth and California Certified Organic Farmers — as much as “the word” of any farmer asking for your trust based solely on the fact that you have encountered them face-to-face.

Campaign for safer cosmetics

I was so horrified by the information in your article “A campaign for safer bodycare” (May Sound Consumer) that I was cutting it up and making copies for family and friends, but I misplaced one of the pages. How can I obtain another copy?
— Dr. Cynthia Fierstein, MD


I’d like to have another look at the article you did on safer body care. Really, the article opened people’s eyes and is great! I’m glad to be on the winning team! People really have taken to “quoting” it, yet they have differing views when extrapolating. Could we see a recap? I’d like to have it for reference.
— PCC store department coordinator (name withheld)

Editor replies: Sound Consumer articles are archived back to 2001 at pccnaturalmarkets.com. Under the “Resources” tab, click on Sound Consumer and search by the title A campaign for safer bodycare or topic.

Plastic bags

Editor: We’ve received more letters about the ongoing plastic bag debate than we can print. Here are some excerpts. We’ll queue up more for September.

Please add one more YES vote to the debate over charging for plastic bags. A PCC member for over 10 years, I wholeheartedly support charging customers — myself included — for plastic bags. By charging, PCC would demonstrate a serious commitment against the very real effects of global climate change. May I never be asked again by a PCC cashier, “Plastic bag OK?”
— Brenda Biernat, Ballard


One letter in June asked how best to dispose of PCC’s “oxo-biodegradable” bags but I didn’t see an answer. I bag mine and put them in the recycling but since text on the bags gives the impression they’re biodegradable, I also use them to contain my kitchen scraps and put the filled bag into yard waste. Is there any reason not to do this?
— Sandy Matthews

Paul Schmidt, merchandising director, replies: Although the “oxo-biodegradable” bags are labeled as recyclable, we recently were informed by Allied Waste that these bags cannot be recycled in our area, nor can they be composted with yard waste by Cedar Grove. That means they should not go into recycling or yard waste. We’re just as upset about this as you’re likely to be. Our task force is working aggressively to get final specs on a better bag and we are discussing whether to charge. We hope to have good news to report soon.

Also in this issue

Your co-op, August 2007

Board meeting report, The Nominating Committee begins its search for candidates, Next board meeting, and more