Letters to the editor, April 2012

This article was originally published in April 2012

Biosolids as “fertilizer”

A very interesting and comprehensive article (Biosolids hit the fan, March 2012). I worked for the state Department of Ecology (1991-2003) as a water quality inspector and after years of trying to keep animal manure out of creeks and rivers, I was appalled to find biosolid applications were occurring year-round on forest land.

I raised the issue to my supervisors in the Solid Waste and Water Quality programs, that surface water and groundwater quality were being impacted, since these biosolids were being spread on forest land just as a way to get rid of them, not necessarily at agronomic rates for plants/trees to make use of as fertilizer. There was obvious runoff into the upper Snoqualmie River watershed.

I previously had worked hard to figure out where the fecal contamination was coming from — dairy farms, other animal operations, or home septic systems. After I raised this issue about the forest site applications with supervisors, I basically was told to leave the issue alone and soon was eliminated from the Solid Waste Program and moved back to the Water Quality Program.

As far as I know, this situation still exists and is a pollutant for watersheds where biosolids are applied to forest land or ag fields, especially those that flood. It runs off to rivers or seeps into groundwater if over-applied at rates more than plants can uptake as a “fertilizer.” This issue continues to concern me today, mainly for water pollution but also for all the other issues the article mentions.
— Belinda Hovde


I came away with a sense of the author having missed the mark in “Biosolids hit the fan.” I don’t agree that the beleaguered EPA is the weak link. To me, the real outrage is why the “developed” world dumps human and chemical wastes into water and sends it to waste treatment plants to then clean up. Why are we, as a culture, continuing on such a feeble course when we know the outcome?

I believe your readership is more likely than most to stop before using the household drain as a garbage dump, to set up composting, worm boxes, rain gardens, etc. But the household waste we make and can’t clean up ourselves is (knowingly, I mean, come on!) sent along to the municipality to try to deal with. Obviously hospitals and industries are joining in. The enemy isn’t EPA, which races to keep up with regulating treatments of waste we produce.

I was hoping to see the article conclude with opinions of experts in lessening our community waste, separating it more effectively, or discussing cost/benefit concerns of using better alternatives, such as composting our municipal sludge (instead of drying it) before applying it to area farmlands.
— Sue Bauer, Edmonds

Arsenic in rice products

According to ConsumerReports.org, “Arsenic has been found in some foods that use organic brown rice syrup as a sweetener.” The statement is based on a study in the peer-reviewed journal, “Environmental Health Perspectives.”

I don’t believe rice syrup is in any products I buy at PCC but thought I’d call it to your attention.
— Shelly Hawkins, Issaquah

Editor replies: We’re following up aggressively on findings of controversial levels of arsenic in brown rice syrup (used as a sweetener) and some other rice-based products. Media coverage failed to point out arsenic is a concern in all food production — non-organic and organic.

Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and groundwater (used for drinking and irrigation) but levels vary according to geography and soil type. It’s more troublesome in areas where arsenical herbicides were used on non-organic fruit and nut trees, vineyards and citrus until 2009. Residues remain. Arsenic herbicides still are allowed on golf courses, highway rights-of-way, sod farms, and cotton fields. Rice is 10 times more efficient than any other crop at taking arsenic up from soil, and much of the U.S. rice crop is grown on land formerly used to grow cotton.


It sounds like further testing is warranted to ensure Nature’s One and other rice products are safe, yet I’m concerned with PCC’s decision to remove Baby’s Only formulas from your stores so quickly, replacing them with Earth’s Best formula — a product you removed previously because it contains the controversial synthetic DHA/ARA supplement made by Martek. There are more than 100 reported cases of severe illness in infants caused by Martek’s DHA/ARA.

As an adoptive mother of a 9-week-old baby who consumes infant formula exclusively, I’m left in a terrible position. I’m concerned about the safety of Nature’s One products but am appalled I have no other choice but formula with the Martek synthetic DHA/ARA. There currently are no infant formulas on the market other than Nature’s One without the Martek DHA/ARA, and there’s no reason to believe those other formulas are safer. There’s no way of knowing which formula poses a greater risk. Earth’s Best may be the best alternative, but it warrants a cautionary notice.

The choices aren’t great. It’s disheartening to know I have no choice but to expose my baby to one toxin or another. I at least would like to have the option of deciding for myself what risks I’m willing to take. As long as there is no clear “best” choice, I think PCC should offer both products and allow parents to make their own decision about what risks they’re willing to take with their child.
— Laura Gilbert, long-time PCC member

Editor replies: We’ve liked Nature’s One formula because it’s the only formula that does not contain the controversial DHA and ARA additives and because it has not used the sweetener lactose, found in 2009 to be contaminated with perchlorate (a rocket fuel chemical). We’ve spent hours studying information from Nature’s One and numerous other studies on arsenic in rice foods, and it’s likely to be weeks before we determine our course of action.

We’re consulting with independent scientists, such as those at Consumers Union. Its senior scientist, Dr. Urvashi Rangan, says, “If you’re consuming foods with a lot of brown rice syrup — whether organic or not — and you have kids consuming a lot of those on a daily basis, you really want to take note. You may want to consider moderating the amounts of those foods that you eat for now until the government sets a standard, which it needs to do.”

There is no U.S. standard for arsenic in food and experts say the drinking water standard is not a comparable reference. The World Health Organization is tackling this issue now but in the meantime it’s difficult to assess data. We’re part of an organic industry task force to examine the issues and make recommendations, and we’ve asked our congressional representatives to support a proposed bill for a federal standard.

Paleolithic diets

Re: Paleolithic diets (Feb. 2012), we’re not living like our Paleolithic ancestors, so I question whether their diet is appropriate for us. What about long-term bone health? I can’t imagine a person could get enough calcium without dairy products and beans. Yes, there’s calcium in some vegetables and nuts, but not enough.

Paleolithic people rarely lived to an age when osteoporosis would strike. They also got lots of weight-bearing exercise, such as running after game, toting water and firewood, and gathering nuts and seeds. Weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and prevents bone deterioration.

In the modern age, it’s rare for anyone to have that level of physical activity. There are calcium supplements but it seems that popping calcium pills strays from the Paleolithic diet as much as consuming 2 to 4 servings of nonfat milk or yogurt.
— Orna Edgar

Nutrition Educator Nick Rose, M.S., replies: It’s a misconception that we need dairy to get adequate calcium. One cup of cooked collards offers 266 mg, compared to 8 ounces of whole milk (292 mg). A serving of tofu (397 mg), sesame seeds (351 mg), spinach (245 mg), turnip greens (197 mg), mustard greens (103 mg), and scallops (130 mg) are other excellent sources.

Many cultures consume much less calcium than we do in the United States and have lower rates of osteoporosis. Nutritionists believe this is because Americans typically eat much more protein, and excess protein can increase the risk of bone mineral loss.

One benefit of Paleo diets is that eliminating grains removes dietary phytates, which can reduce calcium absorption. Most grains are acid forming, causing calcium to be “pulled” from our bones to alkalize the bloodstream.

Encouraging junk food?

I’ve been a PCC member for 22 years and shop the Edmonds store. I’m shocked at the poor arrangements and choices of foods. When we walk into the store, we’re barraged with candy, gelato, pastries and other things we should eat only in small amounts — basically junk food. I’m sure it’s done to promote impulse sales.

Second, virtually all soy and canola products are genetically modified (GMO) unless organic [or Non-GMO Project Verified]. These contain embedded toxins and are destructive to the organic food business. PCC is running a double standard in supporting organic farmers and agribiz. I have to read labels carefully to avoid them and it would be appropriate not having them in the store in the first place.

Third, our skin absorbs what is placed on it and most of the skin and hair products should not be in the store. Skin products should be the same quality as organic, wild and grass-fed foods. Only a handful match the food quality requirements and the others shouldn’t be in the store, period.

I just want to make the point that PCC has an image of being a place to buy “wholesome” products but that image causes people to buy all the other products in the store without knowing what they’re buying and they’re not all good for us. My honest feedback is meant for the overall health and well-being of PCC shoppers and the integrity of the store.
— Conrad Fiederer

Tilapia in milk

I’ve noticed something very interesting. Some brands of organic milk contain fish, identifying tilapia on the list of ingredients. I was very surprised. The “fish gelatin” is not organic. What’s the deal with this?
— Sharon Steinbis

Editor replies: Yes, some organic milk contains added omega-3s from fish oil (sardine, anchovy) or fish gelatin (tilapia). They’re not organic because there are no U.S. standards for organic seafood.

Also in this issue

Bread alone

"How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?" wondered the famous chef Julia Child. We couldn't agree more and, judging from our bread aisle, we've got nothing to worry about in our little corner of the country. Read about PCC staff favorites — all organic — from hearty whole-grain to classic sourdough.

Cracks in egg deal?

A deal between the commercial egg industry and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is facing resistance in Congress. The chair of the House Agriculture Committee says he won't allow a hearing for a bill that would double the living space required for egg-laying hens.

Farm tour in the Walla Walla Valley

Join us on Saturday, May 12 for an educational tour of two Walla Walla farms and meet three farmers who have decided to modify their business practices and make a commitment to farming their land sustainably.