Letters to the editor, February 2010

This article was originally published in February 2010

Holidays for staff

I went to the Edmonds PCC store on New Year’s Day and was surprised to find it closed. You probably won’t get many letters like this but I was glad to see that PCC gave its employees the day off. In this world of 24/7 customer service, it is nice to give the people who work in the stores a break. Holidays should be … well … a holiday for the employees.
– Brian Zick, Mountlake Terrace

Plastic, GE corn, listening

I read the January Sound Consumer letters last night, including the one about genetically engineered (GE) corn-based plastics and the Bt pesticide. Yikes! I’d eaten a bag of Fritos from the vending machine at work that afternoon — but never again.

My husband and I joined PCC in 1991 when we moved to Seattle and every year I’m more grateful for the work you all do on behalf of not only the members but also the greater community and our regional ecosys-tem. You are modeling the ideal of respecting the earth with a lifestyle that can inspire others and I recognize that it’s often a daunting task since there are few perfect choices.

I’m thinking of plastics. Recently I decided to think every day about how I’m using plastic and to forgo its use whenever possible. This has proved harder than I first imagined. The letter about using GE-corn plastic bags is a good example of this conundrum. I appreciate so much that PCC researches these issues and gives us valuable information. I also appreciate that you must deal with the passionate beliefs of various members.

But it seems to me we express our views strongly to you because you are there to listen. What would be the point of any of us writing a letter to, say, QFC, about plastic bags? We’d just get a bland, canned corporate brush-off. So thanks for absorbing the heat and giving off light to help us make decisions.

If you print any of this letter, please include this link (youtube.com/watch?v=gbqJ6FLfaJc) to the recent photos of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan. His heartbreaking images from the Midway gyre in the Pacific Ocean are what moved me, a bird lover, to campaign against plastic.
Gratefully, – Ramona Gault

GE crops increase pesticide use

The Organic Center’s technical report (Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use: the first thirteen years) cited in the January Sound Consumer makes no mention of having been peer-reviewed prior to publication. Anyone trained in science habitually looks for such indication.

A Google of the report turned up a post-publication review by a consultancy specializing in agricultural biotechnology. It suggests that the report misses the mark in several respects, is “disappointingly inaccurate, misleading and fails to acknowledge several of the benefits U.S. farmers and citizens have derived from use of the (GE) technology.” (see www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/OCreportcritiqueNov2009.pdf)

There is broad concern with the excessive use of pesticides that could lead to environmental damage and impacts on human health. But there obviously is a range of opinion as to the level of risk. More clarity is needed. Above all, the numbers and the analyses need to be as accurate as possible and a peer review can help ensure this result.

PCC would provide an essential service if it simply referenced new studies and other GE information, and let its members and the public decide whether they meet a reasonable standard of objectivity.
– Dick Nelson, Sc.D.

Scientist/author Dr. Charles Benbrook replies: I agree that more clarity is needed in evaluating the performance of GE crops. At present, there is too much unverified and inflated industry PR gaining credence and not nearly enough independent analysis. I also agree that greater confidence can be placed in peer-reviewed studies. I have submitted my methodology and major findings to a top-notch weed research journal and am hopeful it will make it through the process.

I also invite you to read my critique of the May 2009 PG Economics report that appears on pages 50-52 of the “First Thirteen Years” report (www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_ id=159). PG Economics carries out studies for the chemical and biotech industry, among other clients.

In its “analysis” of the impact of herbicide-tolerant soybeans on pesticide use, it cites an industry-funded, proprietary survey done by a company called Kynetec. This survey covered 19982006 and found that in all years more herbicide was applied on GE soybean acres than acres planted to conventional varieties — agreeing with my finding. But then the PG Economics folks say they don’t trust the Kynetec results and feel they are not representative. So they ignore this industry-funded source of hard data and instead adopt the equally flawed projections done by another organization, the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.

It’s also worth pointing out that in all the industry-backed “critiques” of my study that I’ve seen to date, including the one by PG Economics, objections are raised about various assumptions and methods but never any specific assumption or aspect of the methodology, and there never is any data or justification offered to support the contention that my assumptions or model are biased or faulty.

Whey for rye sourdough

Having always had problems with wheat, I often try different whole grains that PCC offers, to grind and use in breads. Rye is one with healing qualities, useful for cold, damp body types prone to Candida.

Learning that sourdough is better because it makes food more digestible, I tried rye sourdough but had no luck — until I discovered the missing ingredient: whey. This is the whey that results from raw milk in a sealed glass jar at room temperature until it separates. The top part is the curd and the clear, weepy part below is whey, which is the invaluable ingredient for my rye story.

Whey will give any flour a light, bubbly consistency. Starting with my flour still warm from the grinder, say 2 cups to 1/4 cup of whey plus water for moisture, I let it work from 8 hours to 3 days as I add more flour and water, waiting for the bubbles to appear each time. If I’m in a hurry, I just add a lot more whey.

At this point I remove some dough to save for later, just like sourdough. I then add salt, cardamom, honey or molasses, and instead of kneading it I pour it into glass bread pans to rise for 4 to 8 hours (metal retards the fermentation). Treating the dough like cake batter cuts out quite a bit of work.

The resulting bread is moist, holds together nicely, and tastes best toasted. So there you go, rye makes a comeback in my kitchen.
– Arriba Stature, North Bend

Gates Foundation on agriculture

I’m writing to clarify information in an editor’s note on the letters page (Gates Foundation, December [2009] Sound Consumer) that narrowly described the investments the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is making in agriculture.

The foundation invests in a range of efforts — from seeds and soil, to farm management, market access, and policy — to help poor farmers increase their yields. In developing our strategy, we consulted extensively with experts from different regions, sectors and perspectives to address farmers’ needs.

We work with a wide range of partners to implement the strategy, paying special attention to the needs of small farm-ers — most of whom are women — and environmental and economic sustainability.

Quality seeds are key to a good harvest. However, many existing crops don’t grow well in the often harsh environments of the developing world, where drought, diseases and pests plague crops, and crops are grown on marginal land and offer little nutritional value.

Most of our grants to improve seed quality use conventional breeding. We include biotechnology when there is potential to help farmers confront drought and disease, or to increase the nutritional content of food, faster or more effectively than con-ventional breeding alone. Our grantees are required to work within the regulations and laws of the countries where they operate to meet standards of safety and effectiveness.

Hunger is a complex challenge with no single solution and our grantmaking reflects that reality. Ultimately farmers must decide what approaches are right for them, so they can feed themselves and their families, and lead healthy, productive lives.
— Mark Suzman, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Organic vs. non-organic seeds?

I had a question about seeds. It’s that
time of the year to order seeds for the coming
gardening season and I want your take
on non-organic seeds versus organic seeds.
Do the seeds make that much of a difference
if I grow an organic garden myself?
— Emmy Hager

Editor replies: Are you growing corn
or yellow squash or zucchini, which have
been genetically engineered? If so, choose
organic seeds because organic standards
prohibit genetic engineering.

Beyond that,
the vigor and attributes of any plant starts
with good, healthy seed, so if you’re going
to be eating your produce, why not start
with the best possible seeds — from plants
grown without synthetic pesticides and
toxic sludge in fertilizers?

Meat packaging

As a family, we’re very satisfied members
who really value the time and effort that PCC
puts into the food it sells. We also appreciate
your highly informed and friendly staff!

We were wondering about meat packaging
— especially the plastics used, given
all the data about plastics bleeding chemicals
into the foods. Would it be possible to
eliminate this type of packaging? Perhaps
have a butcher and use butcher paper to
serve people as they come, thereby eliminating
the need for plastic wrapping?

I also was wondering about this type
of packaging on the bacon and sausages
that you stock. Many thanks!
— David Hahn, Seattle

Editor replies: You’re right that meats,
cheeses and other foods sold in delis and
grocery stores typically are wrapped in PVC
(polyvinylchloride) #3 plastic. To make
PVC soft, pliable and clingy, manufacturers
add various chemicals during production.

Traces of these chemicals, known as
adipates and phthalates, reportedly can
leak out of PVC when in contact with foods.
As a consumer-owned retailer, we
understand and share the concern but
there’s also no debate that shoppers
want to see what they’re buying and
that’s why transparent PVC wrapping is

There’s no see-through alternative.
Full-service meat counters, where
a butcher selects and wraps individual
selections, would add significant costs to
your grocery bill. We recently trimmed
pricing to make our organic, grass-fed
and other meats more affordable.

Also in this issue

Your co-op, February 2010

Election coming soon, Board report, Former trustee in Obama administration, and more

Homemade yogurt

Are you hesitant to try plain yogurt because it might taste bitter? Try homemade yogurt. It is sweet even when unflavored, although you can add any flavor you like. Sweeten it with agave or pure maple syrup, or add organic berries, nuts or raisins. A squeeze of lemon is tasty, too.