Letters to the editor, January 2010

This article was originally published in January 2010

Preserving ginger

Aloha! Family and I now live in Seattle, came over from Hawai’i.

Regarding the preservation of fresh ginger from the great article, Just a pinch (November 2009 Sound Consumer), grandma Fong in Hawai’i taught us all a long time ago to place chunked pieces of fresh ginger in a small jar of sherry in the refrigerator. Keeps it much longer than article stated (three weeks in refrigerator). Mahalo,
— Edwyna Fong Spiegel

Living conditions for chickens

I read about the Organic Valley dairy farm cooperative (September 2009 Sound Consumer). Your article corroborates what I believed from my rather unscientific research a few years ago. I telephoned the national headquarters for the two organic milk companies selling milk in the area where I was living and felt the Organic Valley representative was definitely the one who was more concerned about the living conditions of the cows producing the milk. Your September article corroborates my belief.

Now, I am wondering about eggs. Do you have any information about the living conditions of the hens whose eggs you sell? I eat very few eggs but would eat a few more if I liked the way the hens were raised.
— Mary Blackwell, Lynnwood

Editor: All of PCC’s fresh eggs come from Stiebrs Farms in Yelm, Wash. Visit www.stiebrsfarms.com for photos and information on living conditions, humane certification, and feed. None of their hens ever are caged and are Certified Humane.

Stiebrs does not add antibiotics to the hens’ drinking water, even for its non-organic flocks — unlike most poultry producers who use antibiotics regularly to help prevent respiratory illnesses. Other poultry producers also do not ensure the excellent air quality that Stiebrs has — due to state-of-the-art ventilation systems that protect the birds from breathing the urea from their own waste, which promotes respiratory disease. Stiebrs hens are in a very clean environment. FYI, hormones are not used in chicken production anywhere.

Humane labeling?

Does PCC have plans to use the Animal Welfare Approved label or something like it? “Organic,” “grass-fed,” “free-range” and other labels are not regulated and are misleading. A third-party audit would go a long way to ensure PCC meat/dairy is treated humanely. Thanks.
— Melany Vorass

Editor replies: You’ll be happy to know the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) program is similar philosophically and even in detail to the national organic standards (pasturing, ability to engage in “natural behaviors,” no cloning, slaughter methods, keeping records, etc.). Once new recommendations to the organic program take effect, they’ll be even more similar. (Read PCC’s comments to the National Organic Standards Board on the Livestock Committee’s recommendations to strengthen animal welfare standards.

One difference: organic standards prohibit GE feed, while the AWA label does not. Organic certification has statutory weight with provisions to penalize fraud or noncompliance; the AWA label does not. The AWA label, however, addresses transport of animals and euthanasia.

The grass-fed label is well regulated as far as feed is concerned — a very significant aspect of honoring an animal’s behavior and welfare. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s grass-fed label requires “grass, forbs (including brassica and legumes, such as alfalfa), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state shall be the only feed for the lifetime of a ruminant animal, with the exception of milk prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation also may be included.”

We agree that free-range is a relatively weak label, since access to the outdoors, the time spent outdoors, and the quality of the outdoor area isn’t defined, nor are space minimums. Free-range also does not necessarily prohibit genetically engineered feed or antibiotics.

Diet sodas linked to diabetes

Re: the newsbite in October’s issue: aspartame (NutraSweet®) and MSG (processed free glutamic acid) are manufactured neurotoxins affecting and damaging the brain’s hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls the pituitary, which controls the endocrine system by releasing hormones into the blood. These hormones control the endocrine organs.

Aspartame and MSG artificially enhance flavor perception and act on the pancreas as an insulin stimulant, via the hypothalamus. Fifty years of medical research implicates these “flavoring additives” in various adverse reactions and diseases, including diabetes and obesity. The jury is still out on biotech “flavor enhancers” (e.g. Senomyx S2336, an inadequately tested “MSG replacer”).

Animal studies demonstrating that MSG causes brain lesions and subsequent obesity were done, by and large, by the early 1980s. There’s a perception that the human obesity epidemic in the United States may be related to early exposure to food additive neurotoxins, such as MSG and aspartame. Human obesity caused by neurotoxins doesn’t appear to depend on food intake. This may explain why some people don’t lose weight with diets. So we guzzle diet drinks sweetened with NutraSweet®, when aspartame produces the same brain lesions as MSG, causing obesity.

See “Excitotoxins: the taste that kills” by Russell Blaylock, M.D., “In bad taste: the MSG symptom complex,” by George R. Schwartz, M.D., and visit truthinlabeling.org.
— Winfield E. Smith, Kent

BPA in canned food

I recently purchased a large quantity of Angelo Parodi sardines from the Greenlake store. I just read a troubling article about the dangers of bisphenol A (BPA) in canned food liners. Can you tell me if these sardine cans contain BPA? PCC is renowned for its dedication to the health of its members and BPA seems to be at odds with that goal. Thank you,
— Jeff Rische

Editor: BPA — a resin used in the linings of virtually ALL canned foods — absolutely is a concern. We’ve run news briefs, an article and other letters to alert and educate shoppers. We pointed out more than a year ago that, as far as we’ve been able to determine from vendors and based on an investigation by ewg.org, virtually no alternatives are being used. (Unfortunately, even the substitute can lining is questionable!)

We haven’t confirmed more than a few canned foods produced without BPA. These are Eden Foods’ bean products, the Hatch Chile Company’s chiles and sauces, and Nature’s One organic powdered infant formula. Other vendors say, “Yes, we use BPA. It’s approved by the FDA.”

That said, PCC may not be viable without canned and packaged “convenience” foods. We’d have to remove half of what’s in our center aisles if we took a “disallow” position and that could make us unsustainable as a business. A conundrum.

So we educate shoppers in a transparent fashion so you can make informed choices. The best solution, of course, is to cook with fresh, whole foods — period!

You can help us by contacting companies to let them know your concerns. Send us copies of your replies!

GE corn-based plastics?

Staff at the Greenlake PCC tells me that PCC will not use biodegradable plastic produce bags because they are made of GM corn. Many (most?) of the organic vendors at my farmers’ markets use biodegradable bags, both small plastic ones and larger, handled bags.

It’s time for PCC to bite the bullet and use the biodegradable bags that are now available — while continuing to seek and push for non-GM options. It’s better to use what is now available than to continue to use plastic that goes to the landfill.
— Judi Gibbs, member since 1996


I was thinking you’d be a good person to ask about a sustainability question that has come up in our restaurants, one that I’m sure you’ve come across in your markets. I’m struggling with our choice of disposable utensils for our “to-go” foods.

On the surface, the corn-based biodegradable varieties seem to be the good choice. However, what with the GMOs used by the big conglomerates and some of the production of these corn-based plastics being made in China, this easy assumption now seems suspect. Have you folks at PCC come across any clear answers on this subject? Let me know if there is somebody in your company that might shed some light on this for me. Thanks,
— Sean Hartley, Operations manager, Tom Douglas Restaurants

Editor replies: These are wonderful questions. After all, we don’t eat the forks and spoons, or bags. But the question really is about GE crops in general — you’re either for them, or not. Do you eat corn chips, tortillas, tacos or polenta? Do you use cornstarch in recipes, or powdered sugar? Supporting GE corn for packaging or tableware (or ethanol or livestock feed) means we will be eating it, too.

GE corn traits are so “promiscuous” and dominant that GE corn is destroying the ability of farmers to grow uncontaminated corn and threatening the very viability of diverse, native strains of corn, making corn less secure as a food source. That’s what the Irish potato famine was all about — the British forced the Irish to grow only one type of potato, blight set in and potatoes across the country were affected, causing widespread famine.

We had a similar experience with corn blight in the Midwest during the 1970s. U.S. farmers have lost more than $300 million in annual corn exports because of GE contamination and they’ve never recovered those losses.

There also are health concerns from corn that legally is a pesticide. The U.S. media has ignored the research but it’s there and accumulating. The media didn’t report that the only human GE feeding study ever published showed foreign genes inserted into GE food crops can transfer into the DNA of human gut bacteria, meaning that long after we stop eating GE corn chips, for instance, our intestines may continue to manufacture the “Bt” pesticide the GE corn plants are engineered to produce.

Americans also are not aware of the 10,000 sheep that died within five to seven days of grazing on GE cotton plants — designed to produce the Bt-toxin that’s in most GE corn. So, the problem is about much more than a plastic fork or spoon.

Related Reading

Report: GE crops increase pesticide use

Many Americans assume genetically engineered (GE) crops reduce pesticide use, and they did, in the beginning at least — the first three years when GE corn, soybeans and cotton were planted. But since then, the opposite is true.

Salt of the earth and sea

If you think of salt as just the white, granular combination of two simple elements — sodium and chloride — you’re mistaken! Salts from around the world are unique in color and flavor and texture. There are pink salts, black salts, smoked salts and flaked salts.

News bites, January 2010

Organic cattle operation decertified, Coffee before exercise may harm the heart, China approves GE rice and corn, and more