Letters to the editor, May 2011

This article was originally published in May 2011

DHA and ARA added to organics?

Is the issue of synthetic nutrient additives in organics one that PCC is following and have any policy decisions been made? You sell Earth’s Best infant formula, which has the “novel” additives DHA and ARA, and I keep wondering if it is safe for my grandson.

Is this something the PCC community should be aware of? I do trust the information I get from PCC and confirmation (or not) that this is something to take action on would be greatly appreciated.
— Stephanie Wilson, PCC member

Editor replies: Yes, we’re submitting public comment to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on synthetic nutrient additives, and yes, it is something we believe shoppers absolutely should be aware of.

See Goldie’s column Synthetic DHA and ARA in organics?, for a report.

Understanding organic

I had a recent conversation with my grandpa about the term “organic.” He believes it is just a catch phrase or fad that businesses are using to get people to spend more on food. He states there is no proof that something non-organic is different than something labeled organic. 

His main question is, if one were to test a strawberry from one source and a strawberry from another source, what would be the difference? His argument is that there are a number of things that can’t be controlled that could contaminate the organic food as well (cross-contamination from bees, birds, wind, etc.).

I tried to explain that certification is a strict process and that there are numerous benefits to organics including sustainable and humane practices. I’m wondering if you have a more detailed convincing argument for organics that I could share with him?
— Vanessa Penski, Seattle

Editor replies: I understand. (My mom agrees with your grandpa and I know how difficult it is to try to pry someone’s mind open to new information!) Two great resources for peer-reviewed science on the differences are ewg.org (look under Health/Toxics) and organic-center.org.

Label GMO and CAFO products

As a citizen concerned about the health, environmental, ethical, and socio-economic hazards of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and industrial-scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where animals routinely are fed GM grains, I feel strongly that consumers have a right to know whether the food we’re purchasing contains GM ingredients or comes from animals fed GMOs.

Labels or advertising designating foods as “natural” are misleading. Unless a processed food item is certified organic or Non-GMO Project Verified, it needs to bear a sticker that says “May Contain GMOs.” Unless your meat, dairy and eggs are certified organic or come from a pastured operation, they need to bear a sticker that says “CAFO.”

I’d like a written pledge that you’ll join other ethical retailers and voluntarily adopt these truth-in-labeling practices. I want you to inform so-called “natural” food vendors that they must remove GMO ingredients from their processed food products and replace these ingredients with organic or verified non-GMO ingredients. I also want you to inform your meat, dairy and egg suppliers that non-organic products derived from animals reared on GMO grains or raised in intensive confinement will bear stickers that say “CAFO.”

Retailers who claim to support mandatory labeling for GMO foods and yet refuse to label likely GMO-tainted products in their own stores soon will lose credibility as well as market share and customers. Please join the nation’s organic consumers in our pledge to “clean up our own act” and drive GMOs and CAFO foods out of the marketplace.
— Sonja Spinarski


I’m writing as a follow-up to your answer to a customer about Country Natural Beef (April [2011] Letters to the editor). You state that CNB is “feedlot-finished on a diet of cooked potatoes, corn, hay … CNB ranchers do not add antibiotics or hormones to the feed, ever.”

To my knowledge, natural cows do not eat potatoes or corn. At least they’re vegetables but is the corn free of GMOs? GMOs aren’t natural either. I much appreciate that PCC provides strong leadership in sourcing the most natural foods but can you do more? Can you persuade the CNB cooperative to eliminate GMOs from their cows’ feed?
— Hilary Turner

Editor replies: I talked with CNB last year about sourcing non-GMO corn but they say they’re unable to segregate feed at the Beef NW feedlot. There’s only one silo supplying rations for all the beef from all sources (not just CNB); they can’t separate out non-GMO feed. To avoid GMOs, you must choose certified organic, grass-fed, or Non-GMO Project Verified meat, such as Pure Country Pork.

An interesting study at Cornell University some years ago revealed that when given a choice between GMO and non-GMO corn, cows refused to eat the GMO corn. They obviously know something that science today is not able to discern — although there’s plenty of other evidence raising consumer health concerns.

Chinese imports

My question is based on concern that processed foods increasingly are manufactured in “third world” countries for export to the United States. Examples include energy bars made by Kellogg in Mexico, similar products produced for Costco in China, and chewing gum produced in China. As far as I can make out, there are minimal restrictions (or more relaxed restrictions) on the quality of ingredients and standards of manufacture for processed foods imported into the United States.

One chewing gum manufacturer I spoke with stated that since there are no domestic producers of chewing gum anymore, they were forced to look to China for manufacture of their product. Pakistan was an option but the standards were even lower. The company was so concerned about the quality of ingredients in China that it chose to import xylitol from Finland to China for use in production of the product. (By the way, the xylitol-containing chewing gum sold at PCC is a brand that uses Chinese synthesized xylitol, a product apparently inferior, or of dubious origin, compared to the Finnish product.)

There are numerous reports of health and safety issues with Chinese exports, from cavalier disregard of lead contamination in products that contact foodstuffs, to pet foods contaminated with solvents.

So, my question is, does PCC have a policy about standards on imported foodstuffs? Given the multiple and nefarious infractions attributable to China, are any sanctions anticipated? Your friend in the gum business,
— Dr. Bradley D. Johnson, D.D.S., M.S.D.

Editor: You’re right. Only about 2 percent of the food imported into the United States ever is inspected and as far as I can tell, there isn’t much of a screen for the quality of ingredients in these imports. The aphorism, “Buyer beware” certainly applies, which is why PCC has a policy to give preference always to local organic and imported organic, since there’s stringent oversight from seed to retail, with a paper trail and independent third-party inspections.

Styrofoam trays

I recently purchased some chicken at the Fremont store labeled “PCC Certified Organic Chicken.” When I opened the package, I saw that the container was not compostable; the chicken was in a styrofoam tray, labeled #6 plastic.

I’m concerned on two counts. First, I thought that we were no longer using styrofoam, and that compostable packaging would be used for meat products. Second, since plastic #6 has been identified to leach styrene, thought to be a possible human carcinogen, and a possible hormone disruptor, its use would seem to result in its contents no longer being “organic.”

What is the PCC policy regarding use of styrofoam and polystyrene for food containers?
— Charles Reinsch, member since 1972

Editor replies: Such trays and other packaging are exempt from review under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. As “food contact substances,” however, they remain very controversial.

Category Manager, Scott Owen replies: The chicken you bought was packed outside Seattle’s city limits so it’s not subject to the city’s foam ban. This particular vendor intends to change packaging (at our request) but it takes months to run stock down and test new material in the automated machinery used.

To further complicate matters, the compostable packaging we switched to may be discontinued by the manufacturer, and there is no other to replace it as of yet, so their efforts to change are uncertain, as are ours to maintain the compostable packaging.

I can assure you of one thing: we test about every alternative we find and would love to see foam disappear.

Plastic in sushi?

I used to think the plastic “grass” that comes with sushi was kind of cute and decorative. Now it is a reminder of all the wasteful plastic in our world. I should think that PCC would be trying to reduce plastic use wherever possible. Ditching the plastic “grass” is a no brainer.

I hope your readers will back me up. I don’t think PCC shoppers will miss the “grass” and they might even thank you for leaving it out.
— Michele Peltonen, Issaquah

Plastic produce bags

Maybe you’re an environmentalist who believes that drilling for oil is too risky an operation. Maybe you’re an American patriot who wants to see our country rely less on Middle Eastern and Canadian oil. Maybe your philosophy or religion places a high value on modesty and you see our use of energy and packaging as extravagances we need to moderate.

Could we PCC shoppers use “Letters to the Editor” to share ideas about how to reduce our use of oil? Now is the time to make changes. Mother Nature needs us to.

Here’s the beginning of a list of ways to reduce our use of oil-based products. I hope others will write in to share more ideas:

  1. Stop using plastic bags for produce. Load produce loose into your shopping cart and store it without plastic bags in your refrigerator drawers.
  2. Store leftovers in ceramic or glass. A bowl with a plate on top of it is a great storage container.
  3. Leave the car behind. Embrace the “inconvenience” of buses and light rail to get places, even the grocery store. Check out “Park and Ride” lots. Use “Trip Planner” at metro.kingcounty.gov.

— Mary Paterson, Seattle

Wheat-free, Low-fat muffins

In the March [2011] issue’s Letters to the editor, a reader wanted a recipe for wheat-free muffins with only 3 grams each of sugar and fat. Many readers wrote in with recipes they thought may fit these requirements. We can’t publish them due to copyright issues for recipes from cookbooks but we’ll be happy to send anyone a copy of the submitted recipes by mail or email.

Also in this issue

Sno-Valley Tilth nurtures new farmers

We can increase the supply of local, organic produce by increasing the number of local farms. The organization of organic farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley — Sno-Valley Tilth (SVT) — is doing this through its Mentoring Program.

Healthy Kids initiative

PCC has launched a new initiative, PCC Healthy Kids, to reach out to kids, parents, schools and our community through a variety of programs and partnerships that focus on nutrition and fitness.

News bites, May 2011

Apple growers oppose GE, GE alfalfa back in court, Waxed apple ban, and more