Letters to the editor, October 2013

This article was originally published in October 2013

What ingredients are safe?

As part of a leadership program, I have been looking into the issue of food additive safety. I have read many reports from Pew Charitable Trusts and others about the problems with our current system, but little has been written about solutions to the problem. I am very appreciative of all the work PCC does to keep unsafe products out of our households, but I am worried about the people that do not have a PCC where they can do their shopping.

Public education is certainly one avenue for change, but ultimately I think the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to be part of the solution. Do you know of any effort to get the FDA to update the screening of food additives?
— Chip Nevins

PCC replies: We are not aware of any effort by the FDA to update screening of food additives. In fact, it seems to be going the other way. Food manufacturers largely determine what ingredients are safe. We recommend reading our June 2013 cover story, Food ingredients: How do we know what’s safe?.

Pew’s Food Additives Project is working with toxicology experts from academia to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the FDA’s regulatory oversight of chemicals added to food. It’s publishing a series of peer-reviewed articles and reports on key issues. It’s also disseminating recommendations for improving the FDA’s review process. Read more about the project »

Food waste

I’m glad Sound Consumer is covering waste management and reduction (Americans waste 40 percent of food, February [2013]). King County has embarked on reassessing its solid waste management system, with plans to embody international best practices in its future handling of those cast-off materials we mistakenly call “waste.”

Presently, even with two of America’s most active waste reduction programs, Seattle and King County still landfill more than 60 percent of their “waste” materials a year — 500,000 tons from Seattle, 800,000 tons from King County. Germany, in contrast, landfills about 1 percent of its solid waste, and only after treatment. Everything else is “recoverable resources.” 

Organic materials make up nearly 46 percent of King County’s and Seattle’s municipal solid waste (food, wood, crop and forestry residues, yard trimmings, manure, textiles, tires/rubber products, leather, carpet, etc.).

Depending on their condition — after source reduction, reuse, recycling and composting are completed — they get recycled, anaerobically processed or composted, incinerated or landfilled. Global “best practice” options include anaerobic digestion-biogas capture, and enclosed composting, which control leachates, greenhouse gas emissions (including methane) and noxious odors.
— Martin Westerman, PCC member since 1976

Pesticide residues

I was surprised to read More pesticide residues in the August [2013] Sound Consumer right after I had purchased sunflower butter and safflower oil at PCC a couple of days ago. I wasn’t able to find the organic versions I normally buy at the Redmond store and I bought the conventional ones.

I am wondering if PCC conducts separate testing for the conventional products it offers in order to make sure the pesticide residue for oil seeds is lower than the 40 parts per million required by the Environmental Protection Agency. What are the requirements for conventional products sold at PCC stores? How are they verified and enforced?
— Flor Lozano-Byrne

PCC replies: We understand the desire for testing and wish we could do it, but no grocer could afford constant, routine food testing. The profit margin in grocery is 1 cent on the dollar (1 percent, razor-thin), so as a retailer with thousands of SKUs and tests running $80 or so per sample, we just do not have capacity to test.

Our non-organic foods still must meet all the ingredient standards of the company. Ingredient standards can be found here and the standards for minor ingredients can be found here. Merchandisers scrutinize and ask many questions if there’s doubt about meeting those standards.

Debunking GE lies

I remember reading an article in the Sound Consumer that talked about drought-tolerant/resistant seeds and said they didn’t really do what they were marketed to do. It said there were more alternative, sustainable practices that when put into practice were very successful. Can you direct me to that story?

In light of the upcoming I-522 debate — where there will be a lot of rhetoric from the opposition to get people to think that the altering of seeds is necessary for food to grow in other countries — I would love to have this article on hand for support of non-GE.
— Heather S.

PCC replies: You may be thinking of this excellent article from 2008, Why genetically modified crops won’t feed the world. It’s a great article to revisit if you want to win a debate about why it’s important we pass I-522.

Despite the hype, there is not a single commercial GE seed with traits for increased yield, drought-tolerance, enhanced nutrition or other attractive-sounding traits touted by the industry. Virtually all are “pesticide sponges” or produce their own pesticide.

In 2011 The New York Times reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined traditional corn seeds are just as drought-resistant as a GE seed from Monsanto touted for drought resistance. USDA also noted many corn seed varieties already on the market are as water-efficient as Monsanto’s GE seed.

GE-free bacon

Do you know if Hempler’s feeds its pigs genetically engineered (GE) corn?
—Janelle Bartow

PCC replies: We called Hempler’s for any updates but no, it gives no assurance the feed is non-GE. If you want assurance your meat is produced without any GE feed, your two options are to buy certified organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.

We do carry a Non-GMO Project Verified bacon produced by Pure Country Pork, which does not feed its hogs any corn or soy. We also carry organic bacon by Applegate.

Healthy bakery items

I’m a PCC member and love shopping at PCC. I appreciate the nutrition facts database on the website and use it to look up nutrition facts for the deli and bakery food items. I am a little shocked to see the vegan brownie contains 500 calories. As an avid baker I know you could lower the calorie and fat content of a vegan brownie quite easily.

So my question is, why does PCC think it’s okay to sell brownies with such a high calorie content? As a health-food store, shouldn’t PCC strive for making delicious food healthy as well?
— Myra Sarikaya

PCC replies: The high calorie and fat content in some of our foods has presented a conundrum because the “healthiest” baked goods we make just don’t sell as well as the more “traditional” baked goods, such as this brownie. So, we always are striving to find the right balance between promoting wholesome foods while making sure they are tasty enough to be enjoyed by the majority of our shoppers.

We always are looking for ways to make our bakery items less caloric. We already are making some progress in improving the nutrition profiles of some. We recently updated our muffins, so most now contain 10-20 percent fewer calories. We always use organic flour and sugar, fairly traded chocolate and non-hydrogenated fats.

Elimination diet

I am planning to start an “elimination diet” and am wondering if you can provide guidance on PCC products that meet the criteria of being free of the main culprits — soy, corn, eggs, dairy, gluten and sugar. I am guessing many soups fit this and perhaps other items in the deli counter.
— Ed

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: We do prepare many dishes in our delis that are free of these common allergens, but everything is made in a kitchen that handles dairy, nuts, etc. You might want to ask your health practitioner if that is going to be a concern for your elimination diet, or not.

You can view all the ingredients in our PCC deli foods. The majority of our soups and salads very likely will be appropriate for you, but not all, so be sure to read the ingredients list.

Many people eliminate wheat, dairy, soy, eggs and corn, but others also avoid yeast and sugar, and some even avoid citrus and vegetables in the nightshade family. An elimination diet is a challenge, but an effective way to get to the root cause of some dietary problems.

If you cook yourself, we have a great recipe database on our website, where you can use our “special diets” filter to limit your recipe search to “dairy-free,” “peanut-free,” “vegetarian,” etc. You also can search gluten-free products in our online database.

Boycott GMA foods?

Is PCC going to stop carrying Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) members’ products? I sure hope so. 

I know I am not supporting them consciously because of their contributions to anti-GE labeling campaigns, but I also know it has a much larger impact when bigger organizations take a stand. 

What is PCC doing in regards to GMA products?
— Alisha Leviten

PCC replies: Some of these companies are foundational organic brands and reducing choices by removing them is not likely to serve shoppers’ interests well.

We’ve noticed GMA removed the names of member companies on its website in August, apparently to “give cover” to various brands during the I-522 campaign. The Cornucopia Institute has created a graphic of who’s donating, for and against.

We aren’t removing these brands but instead are giving it our best to win mandatory labeling on November 5. We always give preference to certified organic and verified non-GMO products.

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about a juicy new apple variety coming soon, why avocado size is smaller this year, and updates on growing local quinoa and Oregon hazelnuts.

Save the bee

Join PCC and GloryBee Foods in saving the honeybee. Bees not only provide us with honey, but they also pollinate more than one-third of our food crops.

News bites, October 2013

Breakfast for heart health, New gluten-free regulations, WSU organic farm, and more