Letters to the editor, December 2009

This article was originally published in December 2009

Organic cotton

Thank you for the article on organic cotton in the November issue (Organic cotton: As important as organic food). It confirms what I have read, that cottonseed oil from nonorganic cotton crops is something to avoid in our food.

In a local drugstore (I was not buying food — I buy all my groceries at PCC!) I saw packages of brand-name cookies marked with the logo of a national cancer organization. The cookies were not organic and the ingredients listed cottonseed oil and a relatively new form of oil I’m reading about, “interesterified” oil.

Of course I support raising awareness of cancer but it seems sadly ironic for an organization that’s dedicated to fighting cancer to be promoting sales of cookies with ingredients that none of us should be eating. I guess it’s preaching to the choir for PCC shoppers but maybe we can encourage others to pay attention to food labels, even when a good “cause” has what seems to be a stamp of approval on the product.
— Jane Potter, Ph.D.

PCC movies with a message

Thank you for hosting the film, “The World According to Monsanto,” and following discussion at the Edmonds store. It was an eye opener! Great having you in Edmonds!
— Michael Connolly

Editor: Edmonds PCC and Redmond PCC will host more movies with a message in January and February. Look for details in coming issues.

Gates Foundation

Bill Gates honored Norman Borlaug at the big ag get together [“Gates calls for sowing new green revolution,” The Seattle Times, page one, Oct. 15]. Here’s a comment from his pal, Borlaug: “Farmers need biotech, fertilizers and pesticides not romantic (organic) myths,” (The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2009).

I caution the organic community to be watchful of this NEW Green Revolution, especially since The Gates Foundation science and technology efforts are led by a former Monsanto researcher.

There’s a monopoly in software. Do we really want a monopoly in our food? We only can hope that Bill’s “food” is better than his Vista, Zune and Xbox! Currently, any one of his many security flaws and oversights affect only my computer but a “flaw,” an “oversight” in my FOOD? THAT’S MY HEALTH!

The organic community cannot buy into Bill’s call to “Let’s just all hold hands, sing kumbaya, hug, air-kiss and ‘get over’ past ‘ideological’ divides.” What does he mean “ideological”? We believe in the PURITY of the foods that have nourished us safely over the millennia and THEY BELIEVE in harsh, toxic chemicals and unproven science? That’s not an “ideological divide,” that’s just our good common sense showin’! To your health!
— Dennis L. Weaver, Good Food Guide and founder, Change Your Food – Change Your Life!™

Editor’s note: The Gates Foundation apparently is pushing genetically modified crops on African farmers. It named a 25-year Monsanto veteran, Rob Horsch, to be the senior officer for a program in sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation also reportedly gave $42 million to a project (believed to be Monsanto’s) involving genetically engineered (GE) corn; it awarded only a fractional amount — $1.3 million — to the Worldwatch Institute for studying techniques to improve crop productivity in Africa. This, even though genetic engineering has failed to increase crop yields significantly, despite 20 years of research.

Avoiding genetically engineered food

I’ve read some of Michael Pollan’s books and watched the documentary “The Future of Food.” I am shocked that our food is being genetically engineered and the consumer is unaware.

While shopping at PCC, I noticed organic corn but wasn’t sure if it was genetically engineered (GE) or not. If an item is labeled organic, does that mean it’s not GE? Or can GE crops be grown in such a way that allows them still to be classified organic? Without any required labeling identifying GE foods, how is the consumer supposed to know?
I’m interested in buying food that is natural, non-GE, and free of pesticides and unnatural fertilizers. So thank you for offering this at PCC.
— Latreash Duvall, North Bend

Editor replies: Genetic engineering is a “prohibited method” of production excluded by organic standards, so GE seeds cannot be grown in any way to qualify as organic. That said, the organic seed supply is contaminated to some degree from cross-pollination, storage, shipping and processing. PCC has advocated for 10 years for regulatory solutions — mandatory labels and for the biotech industry to be liable for the cost of contamination — but we aren’t holding our breath waiting for government to act. It’s why PCC is engaged actively in the Non-GMO Project, to rid the organic supply chain of contamination.

GE crops in the United States include soybeans (92 percent), corn (80 percent), sugar (beets), canola, papaya, squash and cotton. Some of these are common substrates in processed foods so if they’re not specifically listed as organic, assume they’re likely to be GE. To avoid GE foods, your best defense is to buy fresh, whole organic foods and cook from scratch.

Stevia safety?

I read some time ago in the Sound Consumer about the European Union (EU) banning stevia. Could you please tell me why? Are there thought to be any harmful effects of consuming stevia leaf sweeteners? I’ve been using it in place of sugar in my tea. Thank you,
— Emily Davenport, Anchorage, AK

Editor: Stevia is not permitted for sale as food or as a food ingredient in the EU because it did not pass EU safety assessments. Data considered by a scientific committee found that stevia plant extract has the potential to produce adverse effects in the male reproductive system that could affect fertility, and also that a metabolite produced by microflora in the human gut is genotoxic (damages DNA).

Here in the United States, the Center for Science in the Public Interest raised concerns about potential cancer-causing properties in stevia and urged more tests before approval. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved stevia as a sweetener in December 2008 after PepsiCo and Coca-Cola reportedly wanted to use it as a sweetener for zero-calorie products. PCC sells it as an alternative choice for people who must restrict sugar.


I recently bought a package of organic frozen mixed mushrooms. I chose frozen so I could use them on a day of my choosing rather than worrying about the shelf life of fresh mushrooms. When I prepared them today with pasta, I read on the package that the mushrooms are from China rather than Woodstock Farms in Connecticut.

I was dismayed to think that I was eating mushrooms shipped all the way from China. With the emphasis on eating locally I was surprised that PCC would sell such a product. Are the fresh mushrooms grown closer to Seattle?
— Jesslyn Howgate

Editor: Yes, the fresh mushrooms are grown much closer! We source them from around the Northwest and Canada. Some are farmed organically; some are wild harvested by mycophiles. FYI, Woodstock Farms is an importer, processor, packager and wholesale distributor; it is a brand name, not a farm.


I was surprised to see the Quorn meat substitute product advertised in one of your sales flyers. I do not consume or purchase meat substitute products so this is not a personal concern. But as a subscriber to a newsletter published by the Center of Science in the Public Interest, I learned there has been controversy over this product for many years, and that a recent class-action lawsuit has been filed against Quorn.

The issue is that a statistically significant proportion of the population is highly allergic to the mold that Quorn is made from and will experience intense, gastrointestinal distress — and there’s no labeling on the product to indicate this, as is done with peanuts, soy, dairy, etc. I don’t think people are asking for the product to be banned but merely have accurate labeling that would conform to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

As a PCC member I expect you would be up to date with product safety issues, so I’d like to know your opinion on this.
— Name withheld on request

Editor replies: PCC merchandisers are aware of the controversies and we have heard from a few shoppers who had reactions. However, many more continue to choose the product, indicating that customers support the offering. We also want Quorn to provide labeling about possible reactions. That is what the lawsuit is arguing for.

Plastic deli containers

I’ve been a PCC member for six years and have an incredible sweet tooth but never have purchased a baked good because of the polystyrene that they’re packaged in. Considering that Cedar Grove Composting offers a variety of compostable food packaging, could you work with it to develop a line that’s organically based? At the very least, could PCC look into collecting the used polystyrene in suburban stores and recycle it in the city?

I’m proud that PCC has taken a stand on so many other things: plastic shopping bags, high-fructose corn syrup, PCC Farmland Trust. But every time I go into a store and see those stacks of baked goods stored inside that hard plastic, it makes me wince. Where will it all go?
— Karin Mellskog

Editor replies: The plastic shells used for baked goods — both the black and clear portions — are #5 resins, polypropylene. Those and all the other plastic containers used at PCC, as well as lids more than 3 inches wide, can be recycled in Seattle at least. Even the produce and bulk bags can be recycled — IF they’re clean and free of food debris.

PCC staff also have had several conversations with Cedar Grove about the lack of packaging that we can use. Some can hold hot or cold but are made from GE corn. Others will hold hot but not wet. Cedar Grove is working on this continually. However, we recently learned of one manufacturer with a product that could work and we’re collaborating to test the products.

Produce bags

May I please know why the produce departments use the plastic bags that have a “gathered” bottom instead of the squared off ones? The gathered ones are very difficult to clean for reuse. Thank you.
— Jan Blumberg, member

Editor replies: After rinsing these bags, just give ’em a good shake over the sink or out a window to remove excess water, then hang to dry. The reason we use these is that no bag with a flat seam is made from recycled material. These gathered bags are from 100 percent recycled material and they’re the only bags not made with virgin resin.

Also in this issue

PCC Farmland Trust celebrates 10 successful years

What a ride it has been! PCC Farmland Trust’s 10th anniversary year has been a time of meeting new people, adding new farmland, expanding the trust’s work, and visiting its farms. Thank you for supporting the trust’s work. We could not do it without you!

Insights by Goldie: Winter: time to shift to crucifers!

Many call them “brassicas” or “cole crops” (hence, “coleslaw”) and they include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and kale and all their kin — including mustard greens and some roots. What unites this nutritious family botanically is their similarly patterned flowers — four petals in the form of a cross; hence, crucifer, a “cross-bearer.”

News bites, December 2009

McEvoy to lead National Organic Program, Organic demand exceeds supply, Organic reduces global warming, and more