Letters to the editor, July 2011

This article was originally published in July 2011

Non-GMO label claims

I have noticed lately that more and more labels on food in my favorite stores are touting “Non-GMO” or “GMO-free” wording, along with a host of other nice little phrases that I want to see. Good for them … maybe. My question is: Do you know of or have you heard of any outright deception when it comes to saying that on the label of a product that really is not GMO-free?

Is it possible that some see the benefit of labeling “non-GMO” on their container but are not going to the effort actually to be producing legitimate non-GMO foods? My contention is that unless it is tested in a “vertically integrated” manner, how can I be sure? I have come to love several producers, such as Lundberg, and trust their products because I have corresponded with them and they have many products certified by the Non-GMO Project. Their philosophy is “Not now, not ever.” I love that.

But I’m beginning to suspect that a lot of what I see is not on that level, or at least isn’t tested and certified to be so. I will be contacting these makers and urging them to get in touch with the Non-GMO Project. If they really are non-GMO, great! Because that phrase is popping up more and more. I just want to see more butterflies (the logo of the Non-GMO Project) as well.
— Mark Roden, Houston, TX

Editor replies: There have been and always may be scattered cases of intentional deception. But the bigger problem, as you point out, is that most non-GMO claims are not backed up by Best Practices or testing throughout the supply chain. In talking with manufacturers, I’ve learned that many of them assume erroneously that testing a finished product (such as crackers or cooking oil) for GM traits is a valid protocol. It’s not and it’s why we advocate the Non-GMO Project as the first independent, third-party certifier for non-GMO claims.

Non-GMO labeling claims also are used to market the product as an alternative to high-risk options. Some milk alternatives, for instance, market themselves as an alternative to soy, to highlight that they contain no at-risk ingredients.

Natural beef

I am a proud member of the Country Natural Beef co-op in Oregon and would like to add some comments to your reply about what “natural” means (April 2011).

We are certified by the Global Animal Partnership, which has a protocol for ensuring humane animal treatment. We also are certified by Temple Grandin, the animal handling expert. All cattle in the co-op are raised from birth on the farms (a “closed herd” system). We use no animal products in our feed, including oils such as lard, to eliminate the possibility of any BSE crossing over into our cattle.

We use a special feedlot dedicated to our co-op cattle, where they’re fed short-term only to develop a uniform taste and maturity to ensure that each time you buy our beef, you get the same enjoyable taste experience. The cattle are out on pasture as much of their lives as we can manage, plus their feedlot diet is not high in corn.

Our philosophy includes being sustainable, which means we raise cattle with hopes that our kids and grandkids will be able to take over our operations, enjoying the lifestyle, the animals, and the great outdoors, with the same integrity in caring for the land and animals as we do. I hope this makes your readers more aware of our mission in producing Country Natural Beef.
— Jim and Connie Dunham, Dunham Ranch, Enterprise, OR

Radioactive food?

I’m concerned about the quality of Japanese foods since the nuclear plant accident there. It has been discovered that there are radioactive substances in some automobiles sent over from Japan. Seaweed is now determined to be radioactive for the first 40 miles off the coast in Japan. Originally I heard the U.S. government would screen Japanese seafoods, but apparently it has decided not to screen for radioactivity.

Since I am macrobiotic I use a lot of sea vegetables and other products. Some come from the Pacific, but not all. The stuff that’s in stores now probably is just fine since it was harvested last year, but after a while problems may arise.

I know of one person who was finding radioactive food in the grocery stores in Germany the week after Chernobyl. What do we have here already? If we cannot trust the governments to do their jobs, then someone somewhere needs to have a Geiger counter on hand to be checking what we eat. So who has the Geiger counter?
— Michael A. Lorden

Editor replies: Our primary vendor for sea vegetables, Eden Foods, has an excellent article online (Eden Traditional Japanese Foods
Nuclear Radiation Food Safety and Related Concerns
) explaining its testing and inspection protocol. It has mapped out all its sources relative to the Fukushima accident site, studied air and water currents, and, for some items, is finding new sources. I encourage you to read the details.

Plastic contact with organic

I buy mostly organic food and am concerned about the safety of the plastic packaging that has direct contact with organic food. For example, wrappings for meats, cheese, and tofu; containers for yogurt, milk, frozen foods; and packaging for dried food such as crackers, chips, cereals, pastas, lentils and coffee. It would seem that the plastics would contaminate the food and contradict the rationale for buying organics. Has there been any research or initiative to address this issue?
— Elinor Kriegsmann, Seattle

Quality Standards Specialist Goldie Caughlan replies: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and acceptability of all such “direct contact substances” in packaging. The fact is, it typically accepts industry’s perspective on such substances (e.g., bisphenol A and pthalates) used widely in containers, wraps and other packaging.

Packaging materials are not addressed generally by the National Organic Program. But growing concern may bring about eventual oversight. Buying whole foods and cooking is the surest way to avoid plastic.

Foam trays, plastic in sushi

Regarding the styrofoam tray letter in the May 2011 issue, I would like to inform PCC shoppers in Redmond that styrofoam trays can be recycled now in the twice-a-year “Redmond Recycle” event.

Regarding the plastic in sushi letter in the same issue, I support Michele Peltonen’s suggestion to remove the green plastic grass in sushi dishes. Thank you,
— Guanghui Li

Deli Merchandiser Leon Bloom replies: We talked to AFC Sushi and we have eliminated the plastic. Thank you for suggesting it!

Organic honey, local honey

Last night I was reading the Sound Consumer and saw the column about new products at the store. It featured a new honey, “Imported from Brazil.”

I just don’t understand why you would carry and promote honey imported from Brazil when we have tons of wonderful honey producers right here. How can that possibly be consistent with “go local?”
— Cindy Thomas, Greenlake

Editor replies: PCC carries numerous local honeys. Our High Country honeys are from Washington, and we have GloryBee honey from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The reason we offer GloryBee’s honey from Brazil is that it’s certified organic honey (as well as fairly traded and truly raw) from two cooperatives. Brazil is one of the few countries with areas that are certifiable.

Honey bees forage for miles around and for that reason, there’s no certifiably organic honey from any source in Washington state or any other “local” source in the continental United States that we know of.

Washington raw almonds

My family and I would love to have raw almonds but I realized that, due to decisions made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that raw almonds grown in the United States are no longer possible. I want to verify the “pasteurization” process used on the almonds at PCC and to make sure we feel comfortable about purchasing them, due to USDA’s decision.

Could you tell me how steam pasteurization affects the food value of almonds? I think that revisiting this question every so often is important to inform those who may not know the issues, or may have forgotten.
— Meghan Peterka

Editor replies: PCC shoppers are very fortunate that our buyer found a source of Washington-grown almonds that we can sell authentically raw. All other U.S. almonds that we know of are grown in California, and California almonds no longer can be sold raw at retail stores.

USDA in 2007 began requiring all California raw almonds to be “sanitized” using a fumigant (propylene oxide, recognized as a carcinogen by EPA!), or steam heat, the method used for organic California almonds. Steam-pasteurized almonds still are able to sprout, indicating that the nutritional value should be similar — but we’ve seen no studies to verify this.

Solar roofs?

As a PCC View Ridge member and an architect interested in solar energy I’d like to know if PCC has considered installing roof-mounted solar collectors, for water heating and/or electricity?

Currently the federal government offers a 30 percent rebate on solar installations and the state will pay the owner for the electricity generated. This means that the payback time on a solar installation is about 10 years. Considering that solar panels have a typical performance guarantee of 25 years, the panels would pay off.

I’d bet that if members were given the choice of keeping the 5-percent member discount on the 15th and 16th, or eliminating it and putting the savings toward solar installations, the members would opt for solar. This reduces the costs further and shows that PCC is interested in helping lead the way to a better world. Fred Meyer will be installing electric car charging stations and received a lot of favorable press for it.
— Don Syverson

Director of Sustainability Diana Crane replies: PCC actually was the first business in Seattle to install a photovoltaic panel (still in place at Fremont) and we are the only business member of the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative. But solar has not proved to be as cost effective as other initiatives we’ve taken.

Also in this issue

News bites, July 2011

Homemade direct sales, Organic chickens cleaner, Farming vs. foraging, and more

The shopper’s guide to pesticides

Read how chemical farming interests are trying to restrict the public’s access to information about pesticides in fruits and vegetables in the July 2011 issue of PCC's Sound Consumer.

PCC Farmland Trust saves ninth farm

PCC Farmland Trust is saving another farm. But this latest project is different than some of our past work. This is a tale of continuity, on a larger scale, and with timely regional and political relevance.