Letters to the editor, July 2008

This article was originally published in July 2008

Farm worker justice

Your partnership demonstrates what amazing things can be accomplished when like-minded individuals work together to advance a worthy cause. We cannot thank you enough for your extraordinary help advocating for farm worker justice through your stewardship of the front page article, The Hands that Feed Us (April 2008, Sound Consumer).

We are as yet a small organization, but our goals are ambitious. We are able to make a significant impact on the lives of farm workers throughout Washington state by teaming with engaged and caring community members like you. The impact of the Sound Consumer cover story on the awareness of the plight of farm workers is immeasurable. We already are getting tremendous feedback about the piece.

This summer, we’re sponsoring five law student interns who will be working to advance the rights of Washington farm workers. Thanks to PCC’s generous gift, we already have funded one internship for 2009, and the attention we’re receiving from the Sound Consumer bodes well for the prospects of even greater support for the project going forward.

We look forward to having opportunities to work with PCC in the future to help train more farm worker advocates and continue our efforts to make access to justice a reality for farm workers who have nowhere else to turn.
— Matt, Rudolfo, Sue, Karen, Joan, Omar, Sean
The Laurel Rubin Farm Worker Justice Project

Support for EWG

Through the generous gift of $2,000 from PCC Natural Markets, we were able to share the “fruits” of our agriculture and toxics work with so many friends, colleagues and supporters. Your support will help us achieve our ambitious plans in 2008 within our three programs: toxics and human health, sustainable agriculture, and natural resources.

As discussed, we need to make changes in how Americans’ tax dollars and consumer choices support the organic industry. In addition to executing our plans for the coming year, EWG experts also will continue to be called upon to weigh in on scientific, legal and political developments that we couldn’t have predicted. Your support helps make this type of unexpected but important work possible.
— Kenneth Cook, President, Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Editor: Several of us at PCC rely on EWG for credible research and information. Visit www.ewg.org to see what is being worked on. Also, look for a Sound Consumer cover story from EWG in September on agricultural pesticides and a recent USDA decision (see Tracking pesticides, factory farming, July 2008 Sound Consumer).

GM soy

Regarding GMO soy products, I was alarmed by a recent television news story that reported that 90 percent of soy produced and sold in the United States is genetically modified (GM).

For years I have bought Panos brand Soya Kaas (soy cheese) at your store — two packages per week. I contacted the company through its online site (panosbrands.com), asking whether it uses GM soybeans and they have refused to answer my inquiries.

In researching other online sources, there seems to be a consensus that the use of GM soy in this country may be no more than 50 percent (I am hardly relieved). Will you please find out if Panos brand Soya Kaas contains GM soy?
— William Peters, Bothell

Editor: The Panos brand Soya Kaas soy-based “cheese” analogs are not labeled organic, nor are they labeled as made from non-GM soy. Toss in the company’s apparent resistance to answering your queries and I’d say you have to assume that Soya Kaas is made from GM soy. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (2007), the portion of GM soybeans planted in the United States increased from 85 percent in 2004 to 91 percent in 2007.

To avoid GM soy (or GM corn or canola), choose products labeled certified organic or at least “made from non-GM ingredients.” Some studies have found GM soy to contain significantly less protein and beneficial nutrients, such as phenylalanine and choline, and more allergenic properties. GM soy also has been found to produce different fat, carbohydrate and ash levels.


In her May [2008] column (Diacetyl and bisphenol A: Peeling the onion), Goldie sounded as though Earth Balance butter-flavored spreads were related to the diacetyl problem. I cannot find anything on the Earth Balance label that seems related to that issue. Would you ask her to clarify? Thank you.
— Helen Palisin, Ph.D.

PCC Nutrition Educator Goldie Caughlan replies: The Earth Balance company says it’s trying to reformulate its spreads — both organic and non-organic — to eliminate diacetyl, although it apparently is present in very small amounts. Earth Balance indicates it did not know there was diacetyl in the butter flavoring.

Keep in mind that there have been no studies on the safety — or lack of safety — in eating the particular butter flavoring that contains diacetyl. The concern comes with heating it, as in sautéing or baking. The fumes emitted are linked to lung damage but the studies are not good regarding how much exposure, etc.

We suggest you write the company, saying how much you’ve liked the product and asking when they’ll reformulate. Meanwhile, PCC continues to offer Earth Balance because of the demand by vegans.

The case for supplements

Re: Is Diet Enough? (May 2008 Sound Consumer), animal studies support the practice of calorie restriction with optimum nutrition as the most certain path to healthy longevity for microbes to monkeys — a “pillar of health” that modern medicine apparently has yet to adopt.

The idea is that maintaining homeostasis at the cellular level is key to the health and longevity of the cell. Calorie restriction maintains this process by ensuring better hygiene within the cell, helping to balance the ingestion of nutrients with the excretion of metabolic wastes, free-radicals and foreign toxins. Thus, it remains alive longer and doesn’t need to replace itself as often.

The theory is that cells have only a finite number of divisions, so slowing down this process promotes longevity of the organism as a whole and is within the grasp of the individual person who takes the necessary actions.

Anyone who has dieted knows that what’s good for you seldom “satisfies” hunger, as hunger goes beyond meeting dietary requirements. “Satiety” is the key to compliance with a therapeutic dietary change.

To this end, I believe a fine tool recently has entered PCC stores — the Natural Factor’s PGX fiber supplement. It promotes satisfaction with smaller portions and essentially, by slowing down digestion of carbohydrates, can make them seem to the body as though they had a lower glycemic value. This principle supports the argument for supplementation and consuming organic foods.

I encourage readers to research glycemic index and calorie restriction to live long, healthy lives.
— M. Dean Neukirchen

Bottled water

I’m a longtime PCC member and shopper and in recent years have become more and more concerned about the impact that the marketing and sale of bottled water has on communities and ecosystems where water is extracted, the millions of plastic bottles that end up in landfills and the whole idea of water commodification in general. The bottled water habit is a costly one in so many ways.

Restaurants, city governments and organizations across the country are showing leadership in kicking the bottled water habit and I believe our co-op should be as well. As the largest consumer-owned co-op in the United States, we need to be leaders on this issue. Selling bottled water does not align with our commitment to operating in an environmentally friendly way and supporting earth-friendly production practices.

If the City of Seattle can reverse its practices around bottled water with an executive order to phase out the purchase of bottled water for city-owned facilities and city-sponsored events by the end of this year (See May Sound Consumer Newsbites), surely we, as a co-op of concerned consumers focused on sustainability, should be doing more.
— Karen Uffelman, Seward Park PCC customer

Grocery merchandiser Stephanie Steiner replies: Six of our ten top, best-selling grocery items are bottled waters — even though we’ve encouraged shoppers for years to consider 1) installing a home water filtration system, and 2) choosing a refillable, stainless steel water bottle to carry around, such as the one we sell from New Wave Enviro. We’re posting in-store signs now encouraging shoppers to change their habits!

Fluoridated drinking water

I’m a loyal PCC member and promote PCC as a store and organization to whomever will listen to me, at every opportunity. This being said, I’m disappointed by the articles and opinions published in the Sound Consumer regarding fluoride. My background and training is in research-based science and I have a DDS degree and work as a dentist. Countless scientific studies time and again have proven the extreme effectiveness of fluoride as a lead prevention tool for tooth decay.

I’m so disappointed by the positive pressyour newspaper continues to give the anti-fluoride activists. This movement’s claims are not founded on well-conducted scientific case-controlled studies published in peer review journals. Please base your published opinions on true science and facts, not on anecdotal claims.
— Rebecca Bockow, DDS

Editor: The articles we published were not based on anecdotal claims but rather the progress and findings of a long-awaited, three-year review commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and conducted by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences.

After reviewing the collective evidence since the early 1990s, the committee concluded unanimously that the current amount of fluoride that the EPA says can be present in drinking water (4 parts fluoride per million parts water) is too high to protect people from the adverse effects of excess fluoride ingestion — including discoloration and pitting of tooth enamel, weakening of bones, and increased risk of bone fractures.

No one disputes that fluoride may be an effective anti-caries preventive when applied topically but the benefits come from bathing the teeth in fluoride, not swallowing it — a commonly ignored distinction. The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology has concluded that fluoride added to the public water supply delivers no discernible health benefit and causes a higher incidence of adverse health effects. The Food and Drug Administration requires a warning label on fluoridated toothpastes saying parents should call Poison Control immediately if a child swallows toothpaste.

When fluoride is applied at a dentist’s office, precautions are taken to avoid ingestion. The National Kidney Foundation also just rescinded its longtime endorsement of water fluoridation, saying people with chronic kidney disease should be notified of the potential risks.

Related Reading

The gifts of local growers

For those who create their shopping list based on the availability of local organic produce, July is most notable for its steadiness and abundance. Four farm and the farmers who own them are profiled: Rent's Due Ranch, Nash’s Organic Produce, Full Circle Farm and River Valley Organics.

Local farms, local restaurants

Patronizing certain local restaurants as well as local grocers is a great way to benefit local farmers. One of these restaurants, The Grange Café, deserves special notice because of its strong commitment to sourcing local organic foods from several PCC Farmland Trust farms.

Tracking pesticides, factory farming

Two significant developments involving our food system warrant a heads up this month. They involve 1) the U.S. government’s decision to stop tracking pesticide use on food crops, and 2) a surprising report on the industrial treatment of livestock.