Letters to the editor, May 2012

This article was originally published in May 2012

Food ties us

Every time I think about leaving the Seattle area (which is frequent because of 300+ days of gray), I pause the thought because I can’t fathom leaving a place that has PCC. I’ve lived quite a few places and never have seen anything like PCC.

I brag to friends across the country that I have a grocery store that sells only food I would and can eat, and also is delicious. Your foods actually taste good and you help create meals with incredible recipes.

I have an autoimmune disorder that takes my energy but I still have a family to feed. Some weeks, I rely on your deli items so we actually have meals, and I have peace of mind my children are eating nutritious foods.

You’ve kept me alive with your food and allow me to support organic agriculture, which is as important to me as my own health and interconnected. But most of all, what you’ve created allows me to feed my family in a way I could do only if I had a private chef and, I assure you, I cannot afford a private chef. This struggling mother is better off because PCC exists. Thank you does not go far enough.
— Susan Lauinger, Issaquah

Sustainable shellfish

Thank you so much for the article, Washington shellfish initiative: Is it sustainable? (April 2012) and a bigger thank you for choosing to NOT support industrial shellfish farming methods as shown at youtube.com/user/MerryTiller833.

We appreciate what you’re doing to help bring our inlets back to their more natural state and allow habitat to come back. Thank you,
— name withheld


Geoduck farming in its present application is not sustainable. When using public resources such as Puget Sound, sustainability means not polluting the environment with plastics or pesticides, or eradicating flora and fauna.

Sustainability does not degrade the marine environment. Sustainability does not mean “we have been operating here 100 years.” Sustainability means you drop parts of the program that are a problem and replace them with something that works better. The geoduck industry does not seem to understand this and does not seem even to try to make better choices. Aquaculture needs regulation to make it sustainable, or at least control the negative consequences of its practices.

Over-harvest of our natural resources nearly always produces environmental degradation and a small group of entrepreneurs screaming that if they had to do anything different it would kill their business and hurt the economy. Nothing is further from the truth if the geoduck industry would find alternatives to plastic pollution, pesticide contamination, and replacing ecosystems with industrial farming.

Unfortunately Washington state has the least amount of protected habitat and protected Puget Sound ecosystems of any maritime state in North America. The aquaculture and geoduck people need to stop drawing lines in the sand fighting anyone who criticizes their work and start developing better methods for doing the job they need to do.
— Norman T. Baker, Sequim

Biosolids hit the fan

(Re: March cover article) There are 600,000 man-made chemical compounds in commerce today, with 1,000 new ones added annually. Many of them — toxic and persistent — end up in the waste water of industrialized areas.

Every month, every entity connected to a sewer in Washington state legally can discharge 33 pounds of hazardous waste into the system.

Treatment consists of removing the pollutants from waste water and transferring them to the resulting sludge. Only a tiny fraction of biosolids contaminants are regulated or monitored. This pollutant-rich waste does not belong on land where we grow food.

Yet federal and state rules permit repeated sludge applications to the same site, until pollutants have accumulated to such a level the land is permanently poisoned. This is what happened at two dairy farms in Augusta, GA. Three human deaths, hundreds of cattle deaths, life-threatening respiratory illnesses, groundwater contamination, all linked to sludge exposure.

On this issue, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Washington Department of Ecology have abandoned their mission to protect human health and the environment by forming a powerful alliance with the industry they’re supposed to regulate. 

Industry funds industry-friendly research and hires consultants to discredit any research that documents problems, while EPA uses tax dollars to fund public acceptance campaigns. For documentation and additional information, visit sludgefacts.org.
— Caroline Snyder, Ph.D.

Editor’s note: Caroline Snyder is Professor Emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology where, for 14 years, she has written about the risks of industrial wastes as fertilizer. Google her peer-reviewed paper, The Dirty Work of Promoting “Recycling” of America’s Sewage Sludge, published in the “International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.”


We heard recently through Snohomish County officials that the applicator may not apply biosolids on land adjacent to our farm this coming season, given our expressed concerns and their interest in avoiding potential problems. We hope this will turn out to be true but remain concerned for all the other farms in the Snohomish Valley floodplain and across the country where sludge applications still are happening.

To clarify, we support recycling nutrients and “wastes” in general and use composted animal manure from our farm on our own fields and crops. We know where it comes from and what’s in it.

We would be less concerned about biosolids applications around our land if there was more critical, open and unbiased analysis. That will happen only if we as a society demand change and allocate more money to work toward a solution that will not further pollute the land that sustains us and future generations.
— Mark and Alice Snyder


Your article on biosolids made me think of growing food, particularly tomatoes, hydroponically. Are there any rules governing this type of gardening?
— Martha Tofferi

Editor replies: The only rules we’re aware of declare soil-less hydroponic systems ineligible for organic certification, largely because they require soluble fertilizers. Highly soluble fertilizers do not “maintain or improve soil organic matter” and contribute to “contamination of groundwater by plant nutrients,” making them incompatible with organic principles.

Arsenic in rice products

I recently became aware of a study by Dartmouth researchers finding high levels of arsenic in foods containing brown rice syrup (even organic) and rice products in general. I’m deeply disturbed by this.

As someone who is gluten-free, I eat a lot of rice and feed it to my child. After doing some research, I’m learning this news about rice and arsenic isn’t new, and I’m disappointed PCC was not aware and/or did not make it a point to inform customers, especially in this age of allergies and more kids eating gluten-free products.

It’s possible I’ve been putting high-arsenic foods in my child’s diet for years and I never would have suspected brown rice could be harmful, especially if you’re eating it all the time. I think there should be a warning regarding rice products for children.

I know the Food and Drug Administration has no standard for arsenic in food. But aren’t you guys supposed to look into these issues regarding food safety, to make sure your products are safe, and communicate with customers?

I know this isn’t your fault but I try really hard to feed my kid healthy items and I feel let down as a consumer, and now my health and my child’s may be affected. I spend a lot of money on organic food at PCC and I thought I could trust the items your store carried to be safe. I’m just writing to shed some light on this and to communicate how bothered and disappointed I am by this.
— Stacey Orm

Editor replies: We first addressed this as a concern in February Letters, before the Dartmouth study came out. But we were just as surprised as you by the findings. See our report, Arsenic in the food supply: Questions and answers in this month’s issue.

Predator-friendly meat?

Are your grass-fed beef and lamb suppliers committed to predator-friendly practices? Do they graze exclusively on private land? We should be careful to support only those who take the extra steps of non-lethal means to deter predators.

We also need to support those who restrict their livestock to private land. Wildlife suffers greatly from subsidized livestock grazing on public lands, including national forests and even wildlife refuges. As we shop at PCC, we are far away from the wolves, bears, bison and big horns, but we can help with what we choose to put in our carts. Please prioritize the beef and lamb suppliers who live in harmony with wildlife.
— Lili Hein, Kirkland

Meat merchandiser Sven White replies: The owner of our certified organic, grass-fed beef, Eel River, says he “has very little interference with predators and doesn’t even really worry about them. We are not setting traps or poisoning predators. Almost all of the brand’s cattle graze on private land.”

Corfini Gourmet, the supplier of the PCC brand of grass-fed beef, says every ranch in the group has its own private, protected land. Cows rarely are attacked by predators and none of the ranchers set traps. If an animal is going to be attacked, it’s likely to be a smaller animal, such as lamb.

Producers for our grass-fed Umpqua Valley Lamb also graze only on private land and have a policy to live in harmony with predators. They use llamas, guard dogs, and sometimes donkeys to discourage predation. They do not haphazardly kill coyotes or cougars. They also say most predators will not attack livestock, preferring to stay in wilder country than pastures.

Country Natural Beef (CNB) is feedlot-finished on grain and doesn’t qualify as “grass-fed” but we thought you’d want to know. CNB says some ranchers run entirely on private land while many run a combination of public and private land.

Purely by acres, CNB ranchers run on more public acres than private because private acres typically are more productive. For example, one ranch runs a cow-calf pair to 140 acres on public land, but on private land a pair grazes about 25 acres. CNB follows Global Animal Partnership standards, minimizing risks first by trying to keep predators away from livestock, and “Methods of control and/or elimination of predators must be swift and efficient and must not cause suffering.”

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Organic banana and skipjack tuna pricing is up, and so is the quota for Alaskan Sablefish (black cod). Read about demand for U.S. wine in Asia, supply of fruit tree saplings from Washington, and why Honeycrisp apples are expensive to grow.

Our favorite body care products

What face wash will work for your skin type? What shampoo is good for dry hair? What hand cream will be the most soothing, and what scent do you prefer? See favorites from PCC staff who have tried the brands we carry.

News bites, May 2012

Eat chocolate, Caramel color, Sustainable eggs?, and more