Letters to the editor, October 2008

This article was originally published in October 2008

Grocery receipts

It caught me by surprise today when I received only half of my PCC purchase receipt and then quickly realized it was double-sided. What a great way to use paper efficiently. Although possibly not simple to execute, the idea itself seems obvious and simple. Well done! What’s next?
— Scott Embree, Sammamish

Editor: NCR, which manufactures our receipt printers, estimates that by switching to this new technology, PCC will reduce our use of receipt paper by 35 percent (1,200 miles of receipt tape) and CO2 emissions by 9.29 tons, and will save 75 trees, 601 gallons of diesel fuel, eight cubic yards of landfill space, 84,856 gallons of waste water, and 10,370 KW in energy per year.

Vegan diets

Forty-six years ago we began eating organics. Finding “health food” stores a desert for organics, we patronized a dedicated Seattle woman’s basement store until PCC saved us. So we appreciate PCC, a lot. But not completely.

PCC insufficiently emphasizes plant-based diets, despite formidable science that plant-based diets significantly extend life and reduce chronic degenerative diseases (e.g., heart, cancer, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction, cataracts, macular degeneration and obesity), reduce world hunger, and greatly enhance planetary health.

Historically, infections most threatened human survival. Nowadays, due to sanitation advances and antibiotics, etc., infections present a small threat compared with chronic degenerative diseases. Unfortunately, PCC hasn’t kept up with the science and inadequately promotes/emphasizes the great benefits of plant-based eating.

T. Colin Campbell, Cornell professor emeritus of nutrition, published “The China Study” in 1995. Dean Ornish, M.D., the pioneering heart disease researcher, writes “Everyone in the field of nutritional science stands on the shoulders of Dr. Campbell who is one of the giants in the field. This is one of the most important books about nutrition ever written — reading it may save your life.”

Each vegan, compared with eaters of the Standard American Diet (with the wonderfully appropriate acronym SAD), annually saves two tons of atmospheric CO2, twice the reduction of driving a Prius.

PCC, lead more horses to water. Some will drink [adopt vegan eating] to everybody’s benefit.
— Sidney Stock, D.C.

Editor replies: Our nutrition educators always emphasize that a plant-based diet (but not necessarily all-plant diet) is the healthiest choice. They teach that half the food on our plates always should be vegetables.

Soy foods

I’ve shopped at PCC for 30 years and appreciate the variety of healthful foods and natural products in the store. I’m grateful the stores exist and that the Sound Consumer does such a good job of informing its readers.

I’m disappointed though that PCC still promotes the consumption of soy, has not done much to warn consumers of its potential hazards, and even encourages its consumption with colorful pamphlets in the stores.

I understand you have a lot of shoppers who may want to eat soy.

They may not be aware of the harm it does or they may have made a decision to include it in their diets despite the growing number of studies showing soy consumption lowers sperm count precipitously in men; that consumption of even moderate amounts of tofu (one serving a week) contributes to Alzheimers; that children who consume soy are more prone to illness and poor health; that females of both bird and animal species experience early sexual maturity when fed diets based on soy products (which is alarming to so many parents); and that animals in general are unable to thrive or even reproduce after consuming it.

If people still want to consume it after learning about these issues, that’s their prerogative. But I find it troubling that PCC has pamphlets on display describing the benefits of soy and none warning consumers about the profound number of studies showing the problems it causes.

Vegetarians in particular, who are looking for alternatives to eating meat, deserve better. Please consider warning people of the issues related to soy and removing the materials promoting it from the stores.
— Nils Osmar

Editor: We’re aware soy is controversial with passionately divergent views either demonizing it or revering it as a solution for health issues. We have run articles and News Bites reporting, for instance, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has linked some isoflavones in soy to thyroid disorders, and that health officials in France and Israel have concluded high soy consumption may pose a breast cancer risk, issuing public guidelines or requiring warning labels.

We also modify our brochures as research emerges. They note that the American Heart Association withdrew its endorsement of soy, declaring it has little effect on cholesterol and isn’t likely to prevent heart disease. They emphasize that “quality and quantity matter” and that all soy foods are not equivalent — that fermented soy products (miso, soy sauce/tamari, tempeh) and tofu in small amounts are the preferred choices, in part because they don’t inhibit mineral or protein absorption.

They also point out that highly processed soy foods, such as burgers or meat/cheese analogs made with isolated soy protein, are best consumed only occasionally as “treats.”

Microwaved food safety?

Microwaved food: Is it healthy? You wrote on this subject a couple of years ago (January 2006). Do you have anything more recent?
— Buck McCrone

Editor replies: I’ve not seen any more recent research on the health or safety of microwaved food. At the time of that article, a radiation expert at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition told me that the FDA decided in 1968 that microwaved food was safe. When questioned, he admitted the FDA never conducted any research of its own and that the FDA wasn’t aware of and had no intention of reviewing any of the studies, including research at Stanford University and research published by the Lancet, Pediatrics, and the Journal of Natural Sciences. He said it wasn’t on the agenda to review the literature, period. From a consumer’s perspective, we feel the “don’t look, don’t find” stance highlights the need for more research.

Spraying for the apple moth and organic status

Please follow the aerial spraying for the light brown apple moth (LBAM) problem in California. If they spray, they’ll be spraying organic crops and then they’ll no longer be organic, no matter what the USDA and other organizations claim.

Please label all produce with the state of origin so we can choose to avoid the poisons and be aware of other aerially sprayed organic crops in other countries. PCC should not risk the health of consumers by selling organic produce that’s poisoned by toxic sprays containing carcinogenic chemicals, endocrine disruptors, and untested chemicals.

The whole LBAM spray plan is misguided. I hope to be able to continue buying organic produce at PCC in the future but will not buy any grown in California if they spray.
— Name withheld on request

Tom Hutcheson, regulatory and policy manager, Organic Trade Association, replies: If this shopper’s idea of what “organic” means varies substantially from the rule, he or she may be asking something that the organic system, or any system, simply cannot deliver in this contaminated world — residue-free product. Nonetheless, be reassured that organic rules say that while a farm operation is not penalized with decertification for having been contaminated by a federal or state emergency pest or disease program, the crop itself may not be sold, labeled or represented as organic. For details, google Sec. 205.672 of the national organic rules, “Emergency pest or disease treatment.”

Editor’s comment: Federal officials say the light brown apple moth threatens 2,000 varieties of California plants and crops. They began spraying the pheromone-based pesticide CheckMate in the fall of 2007 over Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Many people reported physical reactions (itchy eyes, breathing problems), prompting demonstrations and a lawsuit.

California stopped spraying in urban areas this past June, but says spraying may proceed on farmland in rural areas. Undisclosed “inert” ingredients in pesticides are a serious concern, which is one reason organic standards prohibit synthetic pesticides and why 93 percent of PCC’s fresh produce is organic. All our produce already is signed with the state or country of origin to help shoppers make purchasing decisions.

Bottled water

I very much agree with the writer who commented on the selling of bottled water as a costly and environmentally undesirable practice. Selling privatized water, when Seattle has some of the best tap water in the country, makes no sense considering the plastic bottles themselves require 10 times as much water to produce and many end up in the ocean — killing turtles, harming whales and other threatened species — and public water is cheaper!

It seems to me that PCC is maintaining a position not too different from the tobacco companies: continue an undesirable and unhealthy practice knowing full well it’s a bad one, while on the other hand “educating” the public not to make the purchase. PCC is passing the entire responsibility of doing the right thing on to the consumer. Since six of PCC’s 10 top-selling products are bottled water, is the education process really working?

We consumers need to do better. But I also believe PCC can take a stronger stand by changing some of its habits — by taking bottled water off the shelves and thinking creatively about the sustainable products that we’d all be better off purchasing and eating.
— Caroline Sayre, Seattle

PCC Grocery Merchandiser Stephanie Steiner replies: Yes, there is too much plastic but singling out water bottles won’t solve the problem. Consider plastic milk jugs and juice bottles, plastic cottage cheese and yogurt containers, and the plastics used to wrap cheese and frozen foods?

In February, PCC sent a letter to our vendors challenging them to consider the plastic epidemic and asking them to shift to sustainable options. We reminded them that consumers want to know that the packaging of the products they buy should not further degrade our environment and that plastic is a problem extending far beyond the bottled water category. Our letter also stated that “alternative” packaging that relies on genetically modified crops for raw materials is not a solution since they threaten organic farmers and sustainable agriculture.

Also in this issue

News bites, October 2008

Small is more efficient, Pesticide residues shopper’s card, EPA bans carbofuran residue on food, and more

Insights by Goldie: Food irradiation: two words that should never connect

The Final Rule, published on August 22, a Friday in late summer, was easily overlooked by a nation on vacation. The 30-day comment period has expired. The FDA’s action was unexpected, but a petition from 2000 still seeks irradiation of many foods. We’ve learned it was at the FDA’s suggestion that the National Food Processors joined with the irradiation industry ...

Why genetically modified crops will not feed the world

Rising food prices reached a flash point this spring, sparking food riots in more than a dozen countries. And for the world’s poor, high prices mean hunger. The global food crisis has many causes, but according to the biotechnology industry, there’s a simple solution — genetically modified (aka biotech) crops ... Not everyone is convinced.