Letters to the editor, June 2009

This article was originally published in June 2009

PCC stories

I enjoyed reading about Thinley Gyatso’s participation in a delegation to Washington, D.C. to lobby in support of Tibet. I think his work was included in the Sound Consumer because he’s PCC staff. Please include more features of other PCC workers who are involved in a variety of social justice efforts. Very interesting!
— Sarah Luthens

Organic White House

As a long-time PCC member, I thought you might be interested in this alert I received regarding Michelle Obama’s organic garden. It said “The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has a bone to pick with Michelle Obama. MACA represents chemical companies that produce pesticides, and they are angry that Michelle Obama isn’t using chemicals in her organic garden at the White House …”

In an email forwarded to supporters, a MACA spokesman (reportedly) wrote, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” MACA went on to publish a letter it had sent to the First Lady asking her to consider using chemicals — or what they call “crop protection products” — in her garden.

Michelle Obama has done America a great service by publicizing the importance of nutritious food for kids, as well as locally grown produce as an important, environmentally sustainable food source.

My husband and I just signed a petition from CREDO (the environmentally responsible telephone company) and thought other PCC members might want to participate. You can sign on at Credo Action.
— Elizabeth and Robert Willis

Egg scramble is a member benefit

I just wanted to express my thanks and appreciation to PCC for the annual Easter Egg Hunt. I’ve been a member of PCC for nine years now and I absolutely love being a member. Besides all of the other benefits, every year, my children and I go to the Easter Egg Hunt in Redmond.

My children have so much fun; it’s definitely one of the highlights of their Easter. The staff is so friendly, the prizes are wonderful and fun, and the Easter Bunny is so sweet. Thank you for putting on such a fun event that means a lot to the community.
— Alanna Taylor, Redmond

Organic honey

As a long-time member of PCC, I’ve been pleased generally with how the co-op has offered natural and organic foods. As a beekeeper, I think there’s something PCC should attend to.

“Organic” honey: currently so-called organic honey from South America is the only one I can find on PCC’s shelves. Organic or not, the significant carbon footprint of schlepping honey thousands of miles makes a mockery of PCC’s support of “green” and sustainable methods.

Reputable beekeepers describe the near-impossibility of certifying organic status of this uncontrolled-forage animal product. The best local beekeepers can do is avoid using toxic chemicals and exotic substances in-hive, and to place hives in forage regions that are substantially organic and unsprayed.

PCC should make a greater effort to procure honey from local, organic beekeepers. Organic per se is passé; locally produced by sustainable methods and with low expended energy is something that cannot be corporatized and subverted like “USDA Organic” has been.
— Alexander S. Templeton, Seattle

Editor replies: The professional journal Environmental Science and Technology reports that while “food miles” get a lot of attention, greenhouse gas (GHG) “emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household’s … footprint for food consumption.”

It says, “Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%.” So food miles alone are a very poor measure of sustainability. (Read the report, Food Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States.)

Organic also is the only “sustainable” standard with statutory weight. One organization that provides certification of “sustainable” foods allows synthetic pesticides that never would be allowed in organic systems so organic truly is the gold standard. Yes, corporate organic stakeholders are common now but that was the goal — to make organic mainstream. Big isn’t necessarily bad; concentration and consolidation can be.

We source plenty of regional honey. Four of our six brands include honey from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana). Three honeys are certified organic, which is special, since bees do forage for miles around.

Genetically modified?

I was wondering whether the produce you carry is genetically modified? I saw on your Web site an agreement for meat suppliers to ensure that animal products are not genetically modified; however, I want to know whether this is true also for produce that you carry?
— Jasleen Tiwana

Editor replies: None of our produce in its whole, natural state is genetically modified (GM), although we unfortunately have to assume that some GM ingredients are in non-organic, multi-ingredient grocery and deli products.

If these non-organic processed foods are not labeled non-GMO, they could be GM — especially corn and soy ingredients, since 92 percent of the soy crop and 80 percent of the U.S. corn crop are genetically modified. Other GM crops approved for market are sugar beets, canola and papaya. (There’s some GM zucchini and yellow crook-neck squash, but very little.) You may be pleased to know PCC has pledged support for the Non-GMO Project, which aims to rid natural foods of GM ingredients.

The cost of food

I don’t understand part of the reply to a letter to the editor (The cost of food) in the May Sound Consumer. You said the CEO confirmed that PCC hadn’t raised its margins since 2000, even though the wholesale costs of the products you buy are higher.

You make it appear as though somehow that’s favorable to the consumer — by you holding some line. But how is it? Are you not making as much as before you increased prices? Why should you increase your margins? I don’t get it.
— Buck McCrone, Issaquah 

PCC Chief Financial Officer Randy Lee replies: Our reply last month was not well-phrased, our apologies. While it’s certainly true that we have not increased our overall margin (a percentage of sales) over the last 10 years, we did not mean to imply that prices have not increased.

As costs have gone up, our retail prices (what the shopper pays) have increased, keeping the proportion between PCC’s cost and selling price virtually intact. PCC has sought continually to improve what it has offered members in the last 10 years with that same proportional share of the retail dollar.

Last year we returned $2.6 million to members from the member discount program; this year we’ll return more than $3 million. We’ve also been able to open three new stores since 2003, strengthening our financial base while avoiding the significant burdens of bank debt. 

Zero waste

I once worked at a grocery store and it concerned me to see all the spoiled food go to the trash, let alone the recyclable containers they were packaged in. As a leader in the sustainable lifestyle, I hope PCC makes it a top priority to strive for zero waste, and compost (or possibly donate) all spoiled food, and recycle all recyclables.
— Debbie Yu, Seattle

PCC Director of Sustainability, Diana Crane, replies: Both waste reduction and waste management are very much top priorities. We’re working toward zero waste but as you might imagine, that goal is challenging for a grocery operation that offers more than 26,000 fresh and packaged products.

We’re working successfully with our suppliers to reduce unnecessary or non-recyclable/compostable packaging. We partner with community organizations that take food that’s passed the sell-by date, and we recycle and compost in all nine stores.

Between 2007 and 2008 the volume of compostables that we diverted from landfills increased almost 14 percent. Over the past five years we’ve reduced the amount of cardboard leaving our stores by 17 percent — even with two new stores — and we’ve kept 3.2 million plastic checkout bags out of circulation each year since eliminating them in 2007. We’re trying to source new compostable items, particularly meat trays, though few options exist that aren’t made of GM corn. We share your concern and are working to reduce waste in all our operations.

Quorn is cultured, not a mushroom

My wife and I enjoyed Quorn several times since PCC started carrying it a number of years ago. This year, we ate it twice. Within two and a half hours of each occasion this year, my wife became drowsy and developed a headache. Within three hours of the meals, she vomited and had diarrhea for almost an hour.

The only common ingredient in each meal was Quorn. My wife enjoys a wide variety of edible fungi without any reactions. Apparently, one can gradually become sensitive to Fusarium venenatum, the mold grown to produce Quorn.

A quick Web search brought me to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI’s) Quorn Complaints page, where you can read numerous consumer accounts and summaries of a few medical studies on the adverse effects of Quorn. Considering that Quorn’s packaging is not labeled with allergen information, please inform your shoppers of the potential for a severe allergic reaction to Quorn.
— Name withheld on request

Editor: PCC merchandisers are aware of the controversies surrounding Quorn, including CSPI’s views, but they say they’ve received only a couple of complaints and many customers continue to demand it. I’ve passed your report to merchandisers, since they’re working on a database of allergenic food and signage.

Country of origin labeling

The packaged herbs at PCC can be deceiving! I bought the packaged thyme from Herbco and the sticker states that the company is from Duvall, Wash. On another part of the package, fairly well hidden, it said Product of Mexico. A store like PCC should have this labeled more clearly.
— Jill Zimmerman, Kirkland

Editor replies: As you’ve discovered, a company can be local but the ingredients used are not necessarily local. Single-ingredient fresh produce, such as the thyme, must identify the country of origin as required by U.S. law. (Labeling is a vendor’s responsibility.)

Herbco farms 225 acres in the Snoqualmie Valley but in the off-season it imports herbs from Israel and Mexico mostly, and a little from Hawaii, Texas and Michigan. Ted and Dave at Herbco invite you to visit the Duvall farm anytime and suggest you bring your weeding tools!

Also in this issue

The economic value of farmland

Until now, the costs of pollution and exploitation of finite resources haven’t been factored into the price of food. Profits are privatized while the cost to the environment is externalized to the public. It doesn’t have to be this way. Farmland needs to have its value recognized as more than just a source of food. In some places, that is being done.

News bites, June 2009

Economic impact of cooperatives, Washington legislative update, USDA surveys organic agriculture, and more

Genetically modified coffee confrontation brewing in Hawaii

Our morning coffee is brewed from beans grown by 25 million producers in the tropics, primarily in hand-tended backyard plots. On the island of Oahu, Hawaii, biotechnologists from Integrated Coffee Technology Inc. (ICTI) want to change all that.