Letters to the editor, September 2009
This article was originally published in September 2009
Cows and climate change
I can’t thank you enough for your article by Joel Huesby on cattle as a natural and integral part of the environment.
As a person who has attempted to become a vegetarian and finds meat a necessary part of my diet, it is such a relief finally to read what I have intuitively sensed all along. Cattle can be raised in a manner that is healthy for the earth and for us.
— Carol Friends, Mercer Island
Editor replies: Look for Thundering Hooves’ frozen ground beef, now available in the frozen meat section.
The article Harvesting Sunlight (Sound Consumer, August 2009) does not really address the issues in its headlines. Cows produce huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide. According to HowStuffWorks.com, one cow can produce as much global warming pollution as one automobile.
To be sure, feeding corn to cows causes their methane production to be far higher than if they ate a natural, wild grass mix. But even with an ideal diet, cows still produce a lot of methane.
They certainly are NOT “a vital and necessary part of the solution to climate change and carbon sequestration.” That’s the cattle industry talking.
— Josiah M. Erickson, Jr., Seattle
Washington State University, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Interim Director Chad Kruger replies: The article you cite is based on a news release for a 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” The release did a disservice to the actual report, which you can read at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/A0701E/A0701E00.pdf.
Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas on a molecule per molecule basis. But all greenhouse gas inventories already account for methane on a CO2 equivalent basis so it’s redundant to multiply by 23 again. It’s a common mistake.
The FAO report did not conclude cow methane emissions contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than cars but that the “animal agriculture sector” worldwide contributes more total emissions than the transportation sector worldwide.
However, the U.S. numbers are quite different: we’re FAR WORSE in transportation emissions than agriculture (or cow) emissions. To say methane from cows is worse than driving a car misrepresents the facts. We need to change our entire behavioral system and use appropriate management systems to get where we need to go.
The FAO articulates strategies for sustainable animal agriculture and that seems to be the driving purpose behind the report. These include many of the practices exemplified in the Beefing Up the Palouse project (Sound Consumer, August 2009), explained in the sidebar to the cover story.
Rancher Joel Huesby replies: Yes, cows give off methane and grain-fed cattle give off even more but the methane is offset big time by the sequestering of carbon in the soil from planned animal grazing. Understand that agriculture in general “burns” soil carbon through tillage and artificial fertilizers while minimum/no-till, organic soil amendments (manure), and Managed Intensive Grazing pasture systems build soil carbon.
Vegetable farming, too — often even organic — burns a lot of soil carbon because it takes so much from the soil and relies on more mechanical weed control passes. It’s why vegetables should be rotated with grains or pasture and the straw/green manure plowed back in to rebuild the removed organic matter.
How much carbon can be sequestered by changing from dominant livestock and farming practices? A LOT! Assuming soil carbon in pre-industrial days averaged 4.5 percent, today it’s 2.5 percent. That’s a 2 percent difference that our ancestors and we farmed and grazed out.
So, if all arable land were to increase organic matter by 2 percent — by rebuilding organic matter — the carbon sequestered would be way more beneficial than methane is potent as a greenhouse gas. This is the kind of impact that agricultural practices can have on global warming and properly managed livestock play an integral part.
As usual, thanks for the ongoing inquiry into food quality and nutrition. The Sound Consumer has contributed greatly to my food education over the last 22 years. The glycemic index article (Sound Consumer, July 2009), however, contained a few serious gaps.
The author correctly cites differences in how quickly different foods digest but has little wisdom about the role fat plays in obstructing the natural course of nutrients from food to blood to cell. An excess of fat in the bloodstream hinders the transmission of sugar to cells, taxing the pancreas and adrenals and leading to all manner of maladies, including diabetes. Diabetes is not so much an issue of too much sugar; it’s really about the fat.
I certainly support the article’s conclusion to eat whole and unrefined food but looking at glycemic load without a full consideration of fat in the equation is incomplete.
— Daniel Sackett, PCC member since 1987
Author Barb Schlitz, R.N., M.S., C.N., replies: You’re right that diabetes has much to do with fat as well as sugar but my article was about the Glycemic Index (GI). It noted that combining carbs with fat and protein slows digestion.
It also cautions against overeating some fruits — banana, papaya, dates, raisins — and advises eating them with a protein, such as nuts, plain yogurt, or an egg. There are hundreds of articles backing up the GI approach; the Nurse’s study alone had more than 65,000 participants.
Agave syrup, corn syrup
When researching agave syrup (I thought I might have had an adverse reaction to it), I found that it’s a high fructose agave syrup (HFAS). This would seem to make it similar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), other than the plant source and that the agave syrup has more fructose.
I note that PCC no longer carries any products with HFCS but does have products with HFAS. Is there some established reason to carry one and exclude the other? From my reading it appears that the metabolic effects of the two syrups would be the same but with HFAS being even worse due to the higher percentage of fructose. Would appreciate your opinion.
— Robert Hunter
Editor: For insights on agave see Goldie’s September 2009 column: Bitter and sweet: agave syrup.
Last night I was happily munching on Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food that I purchased at PCC earlier in the day. It was delicious … too delicious … suspiciously delicious. I looked at the ingredient label and to my horror, the ingredients are: cream, liquid sugar, water, corn syrup, skim milk, sugar, cocoa, etc.
Do you know why I shop at PCC? Because PCC has convinced me that you guys weed through the worst, egregious examples of “anti-food” products of the food industry (such as HFCS) and sell quality stuff. I trust you guys and believe what I read. I write good reviews for you on Yelp. I spend my grocery money at only PCC and nowhere else.
So why the heck is there corn syrup in my ice cream? Do you allow “corn syrup” but not “high fructose corn syrup?” Inquiring minds want to know.
— Julia Adams
Nutrition educator, Goldie Caughlan, replies: PCC eliminated only high fructose corn syrup and took no action against corn syrup in general, nor against its by-products, such as invert sugar, dextrose or glucose. Will that happen in the future? It’s not currently under discussion.
GM sugar beets
In reference to a letter published in the August Sound Consumer (GM Sugar Beets), you answered a question about whether a particular “organic” fertilizer was okay for use in organic gardens.
The answer is technically correct (that if a substance is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), then it’s permissible to certify the crop grown using that substance as organic). However, OMRI listing does not mean that the products have no ingredients derived from GM crops
The sugar beets used in Miracle-Gro Organic Choice could be genetically modified (GM), but the refining process removes most or all of the GM proteins from the product. Using this fertilizer still could promote GM crops unless Scotts, the manufacturer, states that no raw materials from GMOs were used in its fabrication, which it does not.
— Claude Ginsburg, No Spray Zone, Seattle
Editor’s note: For a new story involving GM sugar beets and garden soil mix, see Newsbites, Sound Consumer, September 2009.
My friends and I are very dedicated PCC shoppers. I get my lunch for work frequently from the deli and love the variety you offer. However, recently I was informed I can no longer reuse the plastic containers from the deli section (even though I clean them myself and take full responsibility).
We were very upset and disappointed to hear this since we try to be environmentally friendly and reduce waste. We understand it wasn’t PCC’s decision but the regulatory authorities.
As a result, we’re forced now either to produce massive waste by accepting a new container or not to buy from the deli anymore. Neither solution makes us happy.
We discussed this and would like to propose a solution: Using glass or porcelain containers that require a refund. Like the bottle deposit charged for glass-bottled milk, the customer would receive a refund when the container is returned. PCC can clean those containers to health department standards and reuse them.
— Valeska Kantzer
Having been a compulsive recycler for much of my adult life, I was chagrined to see the sign at the Greenlake PCC deli saying I no longer can reuse my own containers. It was expected for members to bring their own containers when I first shopped the Ravenna store in the ’70s.
The reason for the new rule was a vague reference to “current events.” The irony is that the “current events” that I think are referred to are rampant food illnesses caused by agribusiness practices, factory farms, and all the ills PCC has crusaded against since its inception.
For years, I’ve been dismayed by shoppers who twirl the plastic bag holders to snatch five or more bags. Do they need a plastic bag for one onion, one avocado? Has it occurred to them to rinse out other plastic bags and bring them to the store? What’s next? Are you going to tell me I can’t bring my own bulk item and produce bags?
We read of all the plastic ending up in the ocean and killing sea life, great floating islands of man-made garbage. Environmentalists beg people to “do their part” to help our increasingly garbage-covered Earth. Well, I try.
— Roberta McDavis Long
Human Resources Director Nancy Taylor replies: We agree, the environmental toll is very disturbing. However, a review of our practices and consulting with state inspectors led to this change, meant to ensure the consumer’s health is our top priority.