Letters to the editor, February 2012

This article was originally published in February 2012

Electronic member coupon?

Sometimes my wife and I forget either to bring our member coupon or, amidst a busy checkout, to ask the cashier to redeem it. We were discussing some possible benefits of an electronic coupon and would like to share our thoughts.

The main benefit obviously would be that members wouldn’t need to remember to bring the coupon to the store. A second major benefit would be that members could have a choice of an electronic or printed version of the Sound Consumer.

We wonder if PCC is considering an electronic version of the coupon as you plan upgrades to your computer checkout systems. I understand there are many competing priorities, so I also want to express my gratitude for the work you do for our community. This minor issue does not impact our family’s loyalty and commitment to the store in any way. Thanks for all you do for your members!
— Thomas Nielsen

PCC Director of Information Technology Gary DeBoer replies: PCC is actively looking for a solution to automate our membership benefits, including the coupon members use to receive 10 percent off one shop every month. We hope to roll out an automated coupon in 2012. In the meantime, if you forget your coupon, just bring it with your receipt the next time you visit PCC and we’ll be happy to refund the discount.

“Natural” label claims

The feature article in the October Sound Consumer was “What does ‘Natural’ mean?” Yet, in that entire long article, there was no information on how PCC uses the term for its products so-labeled.

I am referring to PCC brand name products, the main type coming to mind being packaged fresh nuts. PCC certainly doesn’t grow nuts, yet they are labeled “PCC Natural.” Huh? I assume that means no pesticides, no herbicides, no sewage sludge?

Please explain how PCC does use that term. Thank you,
— Kit Marx, Edmonds

Editor replies: PCC used a “PCC Natural” label only on packaged dried fruits, nuts and snacks, but a redesigned label will be seen in stores by the end of the month, without the term “natural.” Your query highlights the key point of the article: do not expect or assume any foods (including nuts and fruits) are produced without pesticides or sewage sludge fertilizer unless they’re certified organic.

Dr. Mercola (mercola.com) recently had an article about the Cornucopia Institute’s investigation of the greenwashing by breakfast cereals that call themselves “natural,” saying, “Beware these brands.”

I don’t know if his info is totally accurate but it might be worth checking into. One company they mentioned is Dean Foods, and I know you carry Kashi GoLean.
— Lee Wallat

Editor replies: Dr. Mercola cites findings by the Cornucopia Institute, which we referenced in October’s article, “What does ‘Natural’ mean?” He points out that many non-organic cereals, such as Kashi GoLean, that market themselves as “natural” are known through testing to contain high levels of genetically engineered corn and soy. Cornucopia reports that certified organic cereals, such as Nature’s Path corn flakes, contain only fractional traces of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), less than 0.5 percent.

These findings demonstrate the importance and value of the certified organic label. We’re glad to say Kashi has enrolled in The Non-GMO Project but understand that enrollment is just a first step and there’s much work to be done before Kashi can claim certification as Non-GMO Project Verified. Verification also does not mean necessarily that products are 100 percent GMO-free but rather that testing and Best Practices are in place to plug the sources of contamination.

Organic melon 

I recently learned about the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists from The Organic Center, based on government data, for guiding shoppers on what produce is most important to buy organically grown. Therefore I was shocked to see reference in “Hot Days, Cool Melons: Why buy organic melon?” (August 2011 Sound Consumer) stating the opposite.

Can you please clarify for me if melons grown non-organically contain a lot of pesticides or not? I appreciate your help! A shorttime PCC member but gaining each day,
— Sarah Peterson, Hansville, Wash.

Editor replies: You’re right that nonorganic melons are on the “Clean 15” list because they contain relatively fewer pesticide residues than other fruits, such as nonorganic apples, peaches and strawberries, which consistently show up on the “Dirty Dozen” list. (Cantaloupe are listed #9 and watermelon #12 on the “Clean 15” list.)

In our article about melons we did not intend to suggest melons are on par with the Dirty Dozen but rather to remind shoppers that many pesticides and other contaminants at whatever level are absorbed into the flesh of the fruit and cannot be washed off. Non-organic food may be grown in sewage sludge and farm workers still are exposed to whatever pesticides are used. We advocate buying all organic, all the time, whenever possible.

Veal market?

I have a question concerning dairy products at PCC. Over the years my diet has changed in response to my health needs and to information I learn about the food industry and how it affects the environment, animal welfare, etc. I’ve tried to eat less dairy, due in part to information I’ve read about the dairy industry, which is, “if you eat dairy you’re supporting the veal industry.”

At one point years ago, I contacted Organic Valley and asked if it had any information about their farms and if male calves were sold to veal farms. They couldn’t answer that question or give me any information to find out on my own. My question is, are there any dairy products at PCC that aren’t tied to veal production, or do you know how I can find out about particular farms? Thanks a lot for your help.
— Leigh Lennox

Editor replies: It’s not uncommon for dairy farms to raise bull calves for veal. We asked several of our dairy suppliers, Pure Eire (organic, grass-fed milk and cream), Grace Harbor (milk and yogurt), and Organic Valley (organic milk, cream and cheese) about their practices.

Pure Eire and Grace Harbor say they are not involved in the veal industry at all. Jill and Richard Smith at Pure Eire raise their bull calves to be breeding bulls, and they’re raised the same way as the heifers — all are kept with their mothers in the herd for 5 to 6 months, so they can nurse and get a good start on life. Grace Harbor’s bull calves are raised as steers for the grass-fed beef market.

Organic Valley says it encourages its farmers to raise male calves for the organic meat market, or sell them to other farmers specializing in beef. We’ve heard of no instances where organic calves are sold into the veal market.

Arsenic in Southern rice

The magazine “Consumer Reports” cites a study that found levels of urinary arsenic rise in proportion to grams of rice consumption. I see also that U.S. rice has high levels of arsenic relative to other sources because much of it is grown in the Southeast, in fields where cotton was raised (helped by arsenic). Rice plants tend toward high uptake of soil minerals anyway.

Does the label “organic” imply any safety with regard to arsenic levels? After all the work to eliminate arsenic in my well water, I’d hate to think I was getting it anyway through all the rice I eat!
— Sandy Prescott

Editor replies: Organic certifiers may order soil testing if they have cause for concern but organic program officials have told us soil testing is rare and results are not consistently reliable. Organic methods do not guarantee low arsenic levels, since any rice or other plant growing in arsenic-laden soil will absorb whatever compounds are in that soil. Rice grown in California, however, is documented to contain much less arsenic than rice from the Southeast and, in at least one study, organic brown rice grown in California had the lowest arsenic levels of any rice tested. PCC sells bulk and packaged rice, organically grown in California by the Lundberg family.

Nutrition Educator Nick Rose, M.S., replies: Also keep in mind that when arsenic is found in rice, the form of the arsenic is “bound” to carbon and much, much less toxic than if it were the “free” arsenic form. Most of the trace amounts of arsenic found in rice is the organic type, which is of less concern, whereas 100 percent of the arsenic in drinking water is inorganic, or the more harmful form.

Researchers in India found we can remove some of the arsenic by rinsing raw rice well and cooking it with extra water. The traditional method on the Indian subcontinent — washing rice until the rinse water is clear, cooking it with six cups water to one cup rice, then discarding the excess water — removed up to 57 percent of the arsenic in rice.

Is microwaved food safe?

I would just as soon do without the microwave and do use my stovetop a lot. Can we have an article in Sound Consumer about this concern? Not everyone is going to take the time to look it up on the Internet and I’m concerned that my grown-up daughters might not listen to me if I bring it up.

If it’s in the Sound Consumer there’s a better chance of them “believing” it. I am VERY concerned about my 4-year-old grandson having a lot of his food prepared by microwave. WHEW! Too bad there is not better research being done.
— Kathryn Lindsay (via Facebook)

Editor replies: There is very little research on the topic, as mentioned in the notes of our only article on microwaves (Sound Consumer January 2006, pccmarkets.com/sc/0601/ sc0601-microwave.html). A Food and Drug Administration spokesman told me at the time FDA decided in 1968 that microwaved food was safe without conducting any studies of its own, never reviewed existing research (which raises some questions and concerns), nor did FDA plan to do any research. We’re not aware of any more recent peer-reviewed research.

The health implications of microwaving food in plastic containers or with plastic coverings is fairly well-known. One of our [former] nutrition educators, Leika Suzumura, points out that microwaving breast milk for infants is not recommended, ever.

Also in this issue

Lambing season

When all appears at its most fallow and most gray, that's when you know, deep in the ground, nature is plotting her riotous greening. Above ground, farmers page through seed catalogs, steaming coffee at hand, planning out their courses of action.

Paleolithic diets: Should we eat like our ancestors?

PCC employee Janice Parker has eaten a whole-foods diet for many years, but 14 months ago she changed it in a way that led her to shed 30 pounds, feel less joint pain, sleep more soundly, have more energy, and, remarkably, control her diabetes without medication.

Your co-op community, February 2012

Kindiependent, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Sweater Drive, Burke Museum presents "Hungry Planet", and more