Letters to the editor, July 2009

This article was originally published in July 2009

Corn sensitivity

My son has a sensitivity to corn and it’s really hard to find foods that I can be sure are corn-free. Corn is hidden in many natural flavors, making it difficult to find food we feel safe in trying without contacting each company (which is very time consuming).

I would love to see similar labeling for corn-free items the way gluten-free is currently labeled! Any chance of that in the future? Thank you for your consideration.
— Amanda Cohn, Seattle

Editor replies: You’re right. Corn is very problematic since it appears in many processed foods in different forms. Corn flour, corn meal or corn syrup are easy to identify but other ingredients that indicate the presence of corn include fructose, sorbitol, malt, malt syrup, malt extract, dextrin, maltodextrin, mono and diglycerides, some baking powders (cornstarch often is added as a filler), starch, food starch, modified food starch, confectioners sugar, monosodium glutamate and supplements that do not state “corn free.” 

Merchandisers are working now on a food sensitivity database and I have flagged them that corn should be included. For now, the best option for you and your son is to choose whole, fresh foods and cook — instead of processed / frozen foods that may include some of the above ingredients.

Genetically modified foods

Not sure if PCC is a partner in the program but many co-ops across the country are identifying and labeling (or removing) all products with GM stuff in them.
Read about it at organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18100.cfm. Are we a part of this? Thanks,
— Mark Dodds, Kirkland PCC Member

Editor replies: PCC registered some time ago at seedsofdeception.com and we sent letters to vendors last year, saying that full disclosure of product ingredients is a standard they are expected to meet. We requested that they verify non-organic ingredients as non-GMO and identify GMO ingredients on product labels. Many vendors have not yet voluntarily complied, however, since labeling GM ingredients is not required by law. As consumers, the best we can do is continue to pressure companies to source non-GMO ingredients and push for tighter regulations and labeling.

Deli packaging

This evening my dear wife brought home for me a great slice of Mocha Chocolate Cake from PCC. Love the cake but now I’m stuck with a non-recyclable deadly pile of polystyrene.
I can sort of understand PCC’s avoidance of Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) corn-based industrial grade compostable packaging under the rather lame excuse that it might be GMO-based corn that was used to produce it (worse than polystyrene?).

But just the other night I was in a local market in Issaquah and was able to get some takeout in totally compostable packaging, paper or potato-based. So why can’t PCC offer the same option (granted you can’t see through it) when buying your excellent slices of cake? Come on PCC, get with 21st century packaging! Otherwise you folks are doing okay.
— Bob Whitbeck, Issaquah

Editor replies: With all respect, we don’t agree that avoiding PLA corn-based packaging because it’s made from GMO corn is “a lame excuse.” Thinking that way is exactly what the GM corn industry wants you to believe, since it encourages more pesticide-intensive GM corn on the landscape, more genetic pollution of natural corn seed stock, and more GM contamination in your corn-based food products.

Ask an organic farmer or corn chip manufacturer their view on PLA GM-corn-based packaging and you’re likely to hear how short-sighted that is as a “solution” — that the expansion of GM corn (for whatever purpose) is one of the greatest threats to organic integrity and organic farm viability. Just because we don’t eat GM-corn-based plastic doesn’t mean that planting and expanding the spread of GM corn is no big deal. Also, paper and potato starch packaging typically has a plastic liner as a moisture barrier, which doesn’t compost.

Food supply in a crisis

Greetings from Whidbey Island. Several times, when talking with other Island dwellers about our own local version of “food security,” someone asserts: “You know, those supermarkets only have three days of food.” The conversational context generally is about the desirability of supporting local growers, knowing where your food comes from, and other good food/good agriculture ideas.

Then the line about the limitations of supermarkets comes in after a speaker has outlined the possibility of an event that will collapse the Deception Pass bridge, cancel ferry service, and abruptly end life as we have known it — leaving Islanders to fend for themselves.

The remark about supermarkets is intended to reinforce the notion that it’s good to know how to can your own green beans and keep a few chickens. Those are fine ideas but — aside from the catastrophe part — can that be right? Three days?

The literal interpretation implies that a modern supermarket turns over its [entire] food inventory every three days. I doubt this is how things work in the grocery department but I’m not sure about dairy, produce and pizzas, to say nothing about meats. Do you have anything in the way of “facts” that might provide a better context for these conversations about local resilience and sustainability?
— John Lee, Whidbey Island

Editor replies: As you suggest, highly perishable foods, such as milk, are received on a daily basis to ensure they’re fresh, so these items would be the first that grocery stores would run out of during an emergency. Produce, meat, seafood and fresh deli salads also would be likely to run out within a few days.

Dry grocery and bulk foods have a very long shelf life so they’d be likely to remain in stock much longer — unless there’s a huge run on the stores from panicked shoppers. Think of it like your home pantry and refrigerator — what items disappear first and which ones last the longest. The number of days’ supply depends on the volume of shoppers and the size of the store.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide

The nanotechnology sidebar to your article on Defining natural: a new standard for bodycare products (May Sound Consumer) mentions, “The European Union’s Drug Administration … recently banned … zinc oxide as a sunblock. Zinc oxide is not on the list of approved UV filters for skin protection, irrespective of particle size …”

Large-particle zinc oxide long has been used for sunblock and also commonly is used, for instance, in treating diaper rash on babies. I had thought large-particle zinc oxide would be safe and effective, have used it as a sunblock, and safecosmetics.org (the site mentioned) has articles as recent as 2007 encouraging zinc oxide. Can you tell me where to find out more about the safety and efficacy of large-particle zinc oxide? Thanks.
— David Keppel, Seattle


Your article, “Defining Natural”, was very informative but left me frustrated regarding the “safe sunscreen” issue. With the current debate about safety of nanoparticle technology and use of both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, one is left thinking the only solution for sun safety is hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and gloves! Even my well-researched purchase, California Baby SPF30+ Sunscreen, contains micronized titanium dioxide. As the old TV ad asked, “What’s a mother to do?”
— Jillon Dupree, Seattle

Author Samia McCully, N.D., replies: There are many opinions on the safety of sunscreens. Those held in the EU are much more stringent than in the United States. Both micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide generally are considered safe sunscreens in the United States. The safety of large-particle zinc is not in question.

Most commercial sunscreens contain micronized or nanoparticles. Dr. Hauschka recently discontinued its sunscreen line because titanium dioxide no longer is approved for UVA protection in Europe (only UVB). Micronized zinc oxide is no longer approved as a sunscreen in Europe because it was found to cause DNA and other cellular damage. Choosing a sunscreen is a personal choice. We need to decide for ourselves what we feel comfortable with until there is greater consensus worldwide. There has not been a full safety assessment of these ingredients; in the United States this only seems to happen after a problem arises.


Maybe you’ve seen this form letter from Muir Glen about Bisphenol-A (BPA). It says, “Bisphenol-A is a critical component of protective coatings used with metal food packaging and provides important quality and safety features to canned foods.

“Scientific and government bodies worldwide have examined the scientific evidence and consistently have reached the conclusion that BPA is not a risk to human health. Recent examples include comprehensive risk assessments in Japan and Europe, and a review by an independent panel of experts organized by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.

“The can coatings used in Muir Glen packaging comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements for use in food contact applications. These coatings have long played an essential part in food preservation, helping to maintain wholesomeness, nutritional value, and product quality.”

I’m disappointed that Muir Glen is towing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) line (and sinker). Additionally, it’s ceding responsibility for food safety to the underfunded, poorly-led FDA — an agency certainly not in the vanguard on the world stage.

Hasn’t PCC already presented in the Letters section that there’s no real debate about BPA’s toxicity issues? Obviously more pressure needs to be applied on PCC’s largest canned food providers.
— Jonathan Cameron P., Seattle

Editor: There’s no argument from industry that BPA, an estrogen-like substance, migrates into food. The argument is whether it’s safe or not. Most food safety organizations at this time are saying it’s safe, while scientists are finding evidence that it is not.

Some peer-reviewed studies suggest BPA may be harmful even at extremely low doses, increasing the risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Studies also have implicated BPA in reproductive, memory and learning disorders; cancer; obesity; and hyperactivity.

The FDA maintains that the levels detected in canned products are safe. The debate has prompted proposed legislation at both the state and federal level but none have passed. The best thing to do is keep writing and calling manufacturers and legislators.

Also in this issue

News bites, July 2009

Reusable shopping bags need to be washed, Doctors say “avoid GM food”, GM wheat survey, and more

PCC vendors and shoppers support the PCC Farmland Trust

PCC Natural Markets founded the PCC Farmland Trust in 1999 as a way to preserve threatened farmland in Washington and move it into organic production. While the Farmland Trust is an independent, community supported nonprofit organization, over the past decade, PCC Natural Markets — and its vendors and shoppers — have supported the trust in many important ways, allowing both the trust and the co-op to flourish as a result of the partnership.

Insights by Goldie: Knowledge is power: We hold the key to sustainable food

The Cornucopia Institute recently released a new report: Behind the Bean: The heroes and charlatans of the natural and organic soy foods industry. It aims to address the “social, environmental and health impacts of soy,” and to “lift the veil on the widespread importation of soybeans from China and the processing of soy foods labeled as ‘natural’ with toxic chemicals.”