Letters to the editor, December 2011

This article was originally published in December 2011

GMO-Free Seattle

We attended the October rally and lectures supporting a GMO-Free Washington and were excited to participate. The speeches were informative, educational, maddening and optimistic. At a time in history when so many brave, impassioned people are showing up in force by participating in Occupy Seattle (as well as other cities), we felt this was a fantastic opportunity for the Non-GMO Project to gain some coverage. Sadly, there was no noticeable media coverage.

At the core of the health and wellness issues confronting so many is the quiet poisoning of many American foods through the use of Roundup™ on America’s farmlands and backyards! Cheers to all who did show up to rally against the giant!

October was the second annual Non-GMO Month, yet we were surprised not to see more about this at PCC Issaquah, our exclusive food store. It would have been great for cashiers to mention this to every customer, encouraging them to join the rally!

GMOs may not be as present in foods available to us fortunate to have a PCC or local co-op nearby but the masses still are duped. This important concern for the health of the public and America’s farmlands cannot be overlooked! We hope that next October there will be stronger marketing to PCC customers about the importance of standing with signs held high chanting “HELL NO GMO, HELL NO MONSANTO!”
— Kristina Ricotta, Richard Bemm

Editor replies: PCC supported the rally with money, posters in stores, and email alerts from PCC Advocates and Facebook. We called notice to Non-GMO Month on October’s cover and participated in a panel discussion. We’re already planning for next year! Currently, PCC carries 742 individual products that are Non-GMO Project Verified.

Concentration in food industry

I’m a longtime PCC member. I love your stores and products and appreciate your great selection and the information you provide. 

An issue that has received a lot of publicity is that many small companies are being bought by multinational corporations (e.g., Tom’s of Maine is now owned by Colgate-Palmolive). If you go to companies’ websites, they usually say how the change is best for all and try to reassure us the product and the company will retain its integrity and ethical practices. Even if this is the case (can it ever be, really?), some customers balk at the idea of putting money into Colgate-Palmolive’s pocket when they buy Tom’s for no animal testing, environmental issues, etc.

When I looked at Tom’s toothpaste ingredients, I notice they include sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), which I’ve tried to avoid for years. I’m curious if this ingredient always was in its toothpaste, or added after the Colgate switch?

I tried to find another toothpaste not owned by a multinational corporation but it’s confusing. It would be really informative and helpful if you did a cover story to clarify: 1) how to find who owns what companies, 2) the benefits (if any) to the consumer or public when a multinational buys an organic/natural company, and 3) are “organics” diluted when this happens? I’d appreciate it so much if you’d enlighten us! You always point out things that I hadn’t thought of before.
— Leigh Lennox

Editor replies: Concentration is not good for independent producers or consumers. For specifics, see our March 2010 cover article Concentration in agriculture. Also see the chart Who owns what? Organic industry structure.

Regarding SLS, it began as an industrial degreaser and garage floor cleaner but today is pervasive in toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant. Prohibited by the Natural Products Association standard for personal care products, SLS is not in any PCC shampoos or the vast majority of toothpaste brands sold at PCC. Tom’s of Maine toothpastes still contain SLS, except a few labeled Clean & Gentle.

For SLS-free toothpastes not owned by big diversified corporations, try Auromere, Comvita, Coral White, Desert Essence, Ecodent, Essential Oxygen, Heritage, Kiss My Face, Nature’s Answer and Organix. Well-known brands such as Jason, Nature’s Gate and Burt’s Bees are SLS-free but are owned by large, diversified corporations.

Fair labor gelt?

PCC is my favorite grocery store. I always can rely on you to have the best products, and I admire how progressive you are in promoting ethical eating habits. This is why I was surprised last Hanukah when I could not find Fair Trade chocolate Hanukah gelt (the foil-wrapped chocolate coins) at your Fremont store.

This led me to question — if even PCC doesn’t carry Fair Trade gelt then where on Earth would I find it? As I’m sure you already know, much of the chocolate consumed in the United States is grown in the Ivory Coast where child slaves do much of the labor. So, I do not want to perpetuate this horrible system and try to buy only fair labor chocolate.

The local Jewish group I am a part of — the Kavana Cooperative — has taken on an initiative to encourage the local Jewish community to purchase only Fair Trade gelt this Hanukah season. It would be wonderful if you could carry some in your stores. We found two suppliers — Divine and Sweet Earth. To learn more about our Fair Trade gelt campaign, please visit and “like” our Facebook page at facebook.com/fairtradegelt?ref=tn_tinyman. Thank you for your support!
— Kate Koester

Editors replies: You’ll be happy to hear that PCC is selling the Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate gelt made by Divine Chocolate. The cocoa, sugar and vanilla in this gelt is all Fair Trade Certified and the soy lecithin is labeled non-GMO. It will be available for the December 21 Hanukah holiday. Visit the Sound Consumer archives online to read our February [2011] report on fair trade chocolates (Creating change through chocolate. A sidebar lists our brands that have fair labor programs.

Alkalized cocoa

The article What does ‘natural’ mean? (October 2011) said Ben & Jerry’s and Dreyer’s ice cream companies have been sued for using the “natural” label on their ice creams that contain alkalized cocoa. Can you elaborate on why alkalized cocoa could be unnatural?
— name withheld

Editor replies: Cacao beans naturally are acidic and alkalizing them (raising the PH to make them more alkaline) makes cocoa darker, milder in flavor, and easier to disperse in foods. To do this, cacao beans are sprayed with an alkalizing agent, usually potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate suspended in water.

Lawsuits were filed against Ben & Jerry’s and Dreyer’s because both companies use cocoa alkalized with potassium carbonate, which is synthetic. Sodium carbonate is not synthetic. (Ben & Jerry’s has since removed its “natural” claim.)

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “treating cocoa with an alkalizing agent changes the chemical structure, taste and appearance of cocoa and reduces its acidity and flavonol content.” Flavonols are antioxidants found in foods such as kale, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, berries, tea, red wine and cacao beans.

PCC carries both non-alkalized and alkalized (“Dutched”) cocoa. Dagoba, Rapunzel and Terramazon make organic, non-alkalized cocoa powder. The cocoa powders from Equal Exchange (organic) and Ghiradelli (non-organic) are alkalized.

Hexane-extracted soy

I read a 2009 report by Cornucopia Institute (Behind the bean; The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry) about the risks of eating soy treated with hexane, a neurotoxin. What can you tell me about this?

Couldn’t there be an in-store, shelf-point alert indicating a product might have hexane-extracted soy? This seems especially important as the Cornucopia research found hexane-treated soy in baby food, as well as in energy bars and the meat alternatives I’ve been eating.
— Paul Heckel

Editor replies: The Cornucopia report you cite documents that common non-organic soy ingredients (“soy protein isolate,” “soy protein concentrate” and “textured vegetable protein”) may be produced with the use of hexane, a petroleum-based solvent. (Hexane also is used to extract common mass-market culinary oils.) These isolated soy proteins are common in non-organic energy bars and soy veggie burgers.

To make these ingredients, manufacturers immerse whole soybeans in a bath of synthetic, petroleum-based solvents. You’re right: hexane is classified as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.

You should assume that non-organic products with “soy protein isolate” or “soy protein concentrate” are likely to have been made with hexane-extracted soy. If you want to avoid hexane-extracted soy, simply buy organic. Hexane is prohibited by organic standards and the third-party, independent audits required by law give good assurance. “Natural” label claims are meaningless unless they’re supported by specific information, such as “no hexane extraction” — a claim we’ve never seen.

No firewood

I understand some people like the aesthetics of a wood-burning fireplace but most do not realize they put lethal carcinogens into the air. Wood smoke particulate is so small it enters the deepest part of the lungs. It enters homes even with all the doors and windows closed (American Lung Association).

It emits carbon monoxide and other lethal gases and is known to cause cancer. It is 12 times more toxic than a cigarette (EPA, 1991). American Heart Association research in 2010 showed the pollution causes heart disease; the heart and entire body require clean air to operate in a healthy way. Wood smoke is air pollution. 

According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, a neighbor must stop producing smoke from fires when asked: it is illegal under nuisance laws to interfere with a neighbor’s health or enjoyment of property. We have a right to be able to breathe. Asthma is increasing among our children. Smoke is deadly.

Help keep our neighborhood air breathable by not burning wood and by educating neighbors. Seattle decided not to allow smoking in public so why not address wood smoke? Let’s clean up our air.
— Pat Davis

Editor replies: PCC stopped selling cordwood nearly three years ago, at the beginning of 2009. This season, however, PCC will carry two alternatives: 1) Java logs, made from recycled coffee grounds, reportedly emit up to 78 percent less carbon monoxide and up to 66 percent less creosote than cordwood fires. 2) PCC also will sell Tacoma logs, made of 100 percent wood waste from a Tacoma mill. They’re reportedly “carbon neutral” under the Kyoto Accord. Bound by intense pressure, without any waxes or chemical binders, they do not produce any new carbon like other fire logs (with wax-based binders) and natural gas or oil. They release only the carbon absorbed by the tree during growth.

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