Letters to the editor, September 2013

This article was originally published in September 2013

Donating to I-522

Thank you, PCC, for sending out the member mailer that allows us to send funds to require GMO labeling in Washington, via I-522. It’s terrific that PCC will be matching up to $100,000 of member contributions for this cause. What a great move on the leadership’s part and just one more reason to buy at PCC and not at other corporate retailers!
— Charles New, via Facebook

PCC replies: To learn more about how to engage on I-522, the Washington state initiative to label genetically engineered foods, visit yeson522.com.

Biodynamic wines

Thanks for spreading the word on biodynamic in the Sound Consumer! See the photo of our biodynamic educational garden being plowed at Seattle Waldorf School.
— Seattle Waldorf School, via Facebook


I am a longtime PCC member and a good friend of biodynamic wine grower/maker Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards near Yakima. Your stores carry his wines. 

Phil was the instrumental person in establishing the all-organic Naches Heights appellation and was the person who researched and planted all the organic/biodynamic grapes in that region, including those at Wilridge winery (owned by Paul Beveridge).

I just received the latest PCC newsletter highlighting biodynamics in general. It included an article drawing attention to the biodynamic offerings that PCC carries. It included several wines and a comment by Paul Beveridge at Wilridge, but there was no mention of Phil’s Naches Heights wines, all grown with biodynamic or organic methods. Four of these wines were Gold and Double Gold winners in the recent Washington state wine awards.

I am sorry Phil was not mentioned in the newsletter, since he was the pioneer, has excellent offerings, and deserves to have equal visibility with your other biodynamic wine offerings.
— Sandra Dean, Longtime PCC member, Seattle

PCC wine merchandiser Jeff Cox replies: We have great respect for Phil and his Naches Heights wines are a highlight of our biodynamic offering. We regret omitting them from the Sound Consumer profile of biodynamic products at PCC.

Sustainable shrimp

Thanks for the timely article about the problems of imported shrimp (What shrimp is sustainable?, June 2013), including mangrove loss, wild fisheries declines, worsening climate change and human rights abuses. I want to alert you and your readers to the Question Your Shrimp Consumer/Markets Campaign initiated two years ago by Mangrove Action Project.

Please view our new video about the perils of imported shrimp.

Also, please help us gather more signatures on our Avaaz petition that supports our campaign. Take the pledge and sign our Question Your Shrimp petition ».
— Alfredo Quarto, executive director, Mangrove Action Project

Canola oil

I believe PCC is the best source of natural and organic foods in the city. My family approves of your commitment to natural food, local food sources, non-GMO and organics.

I am concerned, however, that PCC carries products with canola oil. In your mission statement you want to use the highest-quality natural products; however, you surely are aware that canola oil is not a natural product. It’s a manipulation of rapeseed oil to produce an oil that is lower in erucic acid — a substance that is not fit for human or animal consumption.

You don’t know the effect of these trace levels of erucic oil in a healthy human being. The fact that this oil can cause damage to the heart in a population highly at risk for heart disease is shocking. You don’t know and, therefore, you cannot in good conscience support the use of this product.

Canola oil is advertised as healthy based solely on the fact that it has omega-3 oils. This type of thinking is a perversion of health because it arbitrarily assumes all omega-3s are healthy for all humans regardless of other features.

I read labels and refuse to buy any product with canola oil. That includes the chips that say they “may” include canola oil. That’s not good enough for me. It’s particularly hard to find a mayonnaise that does not use canola oil. I would like you to include more sources of organic oils using natural, whole ingredients.

Please continue to make changes to improve our food sources. It is greatly appreciated.
— name withheld upon request

PCC replies: We’ve been asked about canola oil for more than a decade. These concerns and questions tend to be sparked by “chain letter” emails or blog posts about canola’s supposed dangers.

Rapeseed oil (a common cooking oil until 1970s) contained approximately 30-50 percent of its fats as erucic acid, which was said to be toxic to the heart, liver and kidneys when consumed in large quantities. Widely accepted studies since show even the original high levels likely are not a hazard to health as once believed.

Canadian farmers hybridized rapeseed in the late 1960s and ’70s to contain very low levels of erucic acid and renamed it canola oil (after “Canadian Oil”). So yes, canola has some erucic acid but less than 2 percent, by law, and reportedly often is much lower.

About 93 percent of U.S. canola is genetically engineered. All the canola oil we sell at PCC either is certified organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified. We cannot provide this assurance for the many multi-ingredient processed foods with canola oil (soups, chips, frozen foods, etc.).

We sell several canola-free mayos, including Hain’s safflower oil mayo and Follow Your Heart’s grapeseed Vegenaise.

GE corn

I understand all corn is genetically engineered now. I really love fresh corn on the cob in the summer but am going without because I don’t want GE corn. Is there a way for me to buy corn on the cob that is not GE?
— Mark Clayton, via Facebook

PCC replies: None of PCC’s produce is genetically engineered, including our non-organic corn, which fills in the season when organic is not available. You’re right, however, that without labeling, shoppers can’t know what sweet corn is or isn’t genetically engineered at other markets or farmers markets.

The Bt sweet corn is registered as a pesticide. When sprayed on organic crops as a tool of last resort, Bt degrades rapidly. The difference is that when it’s engineered into corn, into every cell, it doesn’t degrade but is expressed full strength all the time. At least some Washington farmers who grow GE sweet corn say they won’t eat it, and advocate labeling. Visit Prepare for a ‘GMO War’ in Washington to read more.

Healthier baked goods?

Your store is my main food source. I am dismayed that you do not offer more variety in whole-grain, alternative-sugar baked goods. Vegan and gluten-free are everywhere but so is unbleached white flour and evaporated cane juice. Your own newsletter stated that evaporated cane juice is just another way of saying sugar.

I agree these two definitely are good choices over bleached flour and bleached sugar. I am healthy and height-weight-proportionate. However, I’m aware of the epidemic of diabetes. Where are the alternatives for those people in our stores?

Whole-wheat pastry flour and concentrated pear and apple juice are what I’m hoping you will consider when producing bakery goods. You might be surprised if you started making products with sugar analysis on it and whole-wheat pastry flour on the labels. You only have one muffin of that kind that I regularly buy. Yes, the others are “treats” but, you’d be surprised by how many “treats” people buy as part of their daily food group.

I feel PCC has strayed from its mission to provide healthy alternatives to the mainstream diet. An invigorating advertising campaign addressing true health food would go a long way in continuing your true mission. Thank you for considering this issue.
— Janna Wachter

PCC replies: You raise some good points, which we’re already discussing internally.

While most of our bakery options are not 100-percent whole-grain, the vast majority do contain some whole-grain ingredients. Our scones, muffins, and even many of the cookies use whole spelt flour, whole-wheat pastry flour or rolled oats.

It’s true our current selection of bakery items made with 100-percent whole grains and no refined sugars is limited, but we’re going more in that direction with the new bakery items. We no longer offer the Morning Glory muffin, but instead offer the Whole-Grain Goodness muffin, which is 100-percent whole-grain with kamut, spelt, amaranth, flax and buckwheat, and sweetened with honey, dates and applesauce. We also are planning to offer more desserts that are grain-free and raw (see “What’s In Store,” page 6).

You will find Nutrition Facts Panels for all of our bakery items, available on our website. For now, in the database, we’ll only be marking items that are 100-percent whole-grain.

It’s a conundrum for our business because the whole-grain items do not sell well. We continue to offer them for the minority of shoppers like you who prefer them.

Thanks for noticing that we always use organic cane sugar and organic flour.

Low-fat deli foods?

Couldn’t you label your low-fat offerings in the deli with a sign that says “low-fat?

The illness that requires me to eat a low-fat diet is different but my experience at PCC delis is the same as name withheld in the August issue: low-fat food is difficult to come by and requests for help are met with some variant of “I don’t know.” In my case I’ll be sick within a couple of hours if I eat more than a small amount of fat at a time — “good” or “bad” fat makes no difference.
— J.P.

PCC deli merchandiser Leon Bloom replies: The nutrition information for all our deli items is available online. We’re also talking about how to identify attributes such as low-fat, low-sodium, vegan and more on our signs. It involves programming and multiple departments so it may take some time to implement. We appreciate your patience!

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Northwest blueberry supply outstrips demand, and Wash. apple farmers may have a hard time finding export markets for millions of boxes of apples. Also: the farm worker shortage continues on Wash. farms, and strong demand from overseas has bumped the value of Northwest pink shrimp.

GE seed monopoly

The introduction of genetically engineered (GE) crops has corresponded with increasing monopolization of seed by biotechnology companies and higher seed costs. This has led to tragedies in some countries, while pushing out conventional, non-GE seeds and reducing farmer seed choices.

News bites, September 2013

Bumblebee species returns, Monsanto drops GE plans in Europe, Breakfast for healthy heart?, and more