Letters to the editor, January 2014

This article was originally published in January 2014

GE labeling

With the outrageous defeat of I-522, is it not time to rethink the food safety strategy of government as protector? We see regularly that the regulated own the regulators, and defeat of initiatives are bought easily. This is so fine-tuned that the genetic engineering (GE) forces purchased a mere victory, not a landslide.

Now, no doubt the fallback position for us will be exactly what the evil empire wants — we to call for campaign finance reform or some sort of corporation reform, a process, as demonstrated, for which they control the outcome.

Is it not time for us to realize that the only certification as to whether something is GE or not, organic or not, is for PCC to define? And then for PCC to oblige its suppliers to comply? And PCC to ally with like-enterprises to this end? I would argue my co-op should take the initiative here — it probably would cost less than we spent on the political initiative.
— John Spiers

PCC replies: Our federal “regulatory” system is not providing the protections we need, indeed. Still, as you note, the opposition’s victory at 51.09 percent vs. 48.91 percent was not a landslide; I-522 won in every age demographic except seniors, and we needed only 19,024 more votes for victory. (For more information, see I-522 final stats)

Our fallback is still a step forward. PCC Natural Markets has pledged to label GE foods in our stores by 2018. We are committed to transparency. It just sure would have been nice for labeling to be across Washington with statutory weight, for everyone to have the information — no matter what store they shop, or what they can afford.

Organic chicken and antibiotics

The New York Times wrote, “Organic chicken is raised without antibiotics — at least from the time the chicks are two days old. But before that, they can be treated with antibiotics, and it is common for chicken breeders to inject eggs with antibiotics to prevent diseases and to administer antibiotics to chicks right after they hatch.”

I had no idea! Can you comment on the chickens sold at PCC? Are they injected with antibiotics as chicks, or in the egg?
— Celia Bowker

PCC replies: It’s true the National Organic Program allows for organic poultry to be raised from stock that is not organic the first day of life. This allows organic producers to buy “day-old” chicks. Medications and feed administered to these chicks during the first day of life or before are not regulated under the organic standards.

PCC’s organic chicken provider, however, hatches eggs in its own hatcheries. This provides assurance that PCC organic chickens never receive antibiotics — not in the egg, or at any point in their lives.

Seafood radiation

I’ve been wondering about the safety of salmon and other fish that come from the Pacific Ocean in relation to radiation that continues to be emitted from Fukushima. This is a huge, unresolved environmental disaster. Are fish truly safe to consume? How is PCC researching and deciding about your own policy?
— Name withheld

PCC replies: It’s true that levels of radiation have been detected in Bluefin tuna caught on the West Coast. But we don’t carry Bluefin because it’s unsustainable. We haven’t heard radiation is a problem in other, smaller fish. According to scientists at the Woods Hole Institute studying the issue, radioactivity is not a threat from seafood.

The Woods Hole website has a good FAQ section addressing some of the most common concerns (FAQ: Radiation from Fukushima »). Some key points:

Fisheries within 100 miles of Fukushima remain closed due to contamination, especially among bottom-feeding fish. But because of the dilution that occurs even a short distance from Fukushima, scientists are not concerned about contamination of fish off the West Coast of the United States.

Some claim that migratory species at the top of the marine food chain might be more risky, but the Woods Hole scientists reject that, saying radioactive elements will be diluted from swimming in less-affected waters.

PCC does not test the seafood we sell. We operate on razor-thin margins and independent testing isn’t within the scope of what we can do. If there are findings of radiation in species of fish we sell, of course we act.

Conditions for farmworkers

We recently attended a presentation by Dr. Seth Holmes, a medical anthropologist from U.C. Berkeley, author of the book “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies,” about migrant farmworkers working in Central California and Skagit Valley, Washington.

Our question is, what does PCC know about the conditions offered the farm workers for all its sources of produce, whether local, state, national or international? We feel this should be an ongoing consumer information campaign as important as GE or organic. Thank you.
— Steven Gary and Elinor Graham

PCC replies: Your question is difficult to answer. As a retailer, we cannot monitor each farm’s practices individually. Standards for farm labor conditions are not part of organic standards.

Local, organic farmers such as Mark LaPierre say they have good reason to treat workers well. He says that by paying and treating workers well, he has a team of skilled workers that returns year after year. This approach is shared by PCC’s main produce supplier, Organically Grown Company (OGC), which sources organic produce from across the western United States and Mexico. OGC knows its growers personally and staff visits the farms. So, while we don’t have proof all workers are treated well, direct relationships with farms makes missing abuse less likely.

We’re optimistic about a new program called the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), designed to improve food safety, farm labor working conditions, and pesticide management. The United Farm Workers Union is supporting EFI as a model to promote fair labor standards for domestically grown food.

GMOs in PCC bakery?

I’m new to the area and wonder about PCC-brand foods. Do they have genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in them? I found on your website that you’ll label genetically engineered products in your stores by 2018 and I know organic is non-GMO, but do foods made in the deli/bakery have GMOs in them?
— Name withheld upon request

PCC replies: PCC delis are nearly GE-free. The bakery avoids GMOs by using only organic or non-GMO verified soy, corn and canola ingredients, and only cane sugar. All bakery flours also are organic.

Butter and eggs for PCC bakery are not organic but there are no genetically engineered cows or chickens in the supply chain (not yet) so there’s no GE butter or eggs. Non-organic butter and eggs, however, come from cows and chickens raised on GE feed.

I-522 defeat

Reading the news, I see Pepsi put $2.352 million, Nestlé $1.528 million, Coca-Cola $1.52 million, General Mills $598,819, and J.M. Smucker up to $349,977 into the “No” campaign against I-522 for labeling genetically engineered foods. So I went to each of their websites to write them letters. I was shocked to see so many of the products I buy at PCC are listed as their brands including Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm (General Mills), Adams peanut butter (J.M. Smuckers), and Odwalla (Coca-Cola).

I wrote each of them letters, telling them what I buy and explaining, “Because of your support for the No on 522 campaign, as of today, my family officially is boycotting all your products until you proudly display the non-GMO label with or without a law.”

Since I-522 failed, what will happen with these products? Will you carry Cascadian Farm frozen corn if it is GMO? What if you do not know, for sure, if it is or not?

For the convenience of other PCC members, below are the brands and links to send complaints:

  • PepsiCo:
    Brands: pepsico.com/Brands
    Feedback: pepsico.com/Home/Contact
  • Coca-Cola:
    Brands: coca-colacompany.com/brands
    Feedback: www.coca-colacompany.com/contact-us/ (scroll to bottom, “Talk to Us”)
  • General Mills:
    Brands: generalmills.com/en/Brands
    Feedback: generalmills.com/ContactUs
  • Nestlé:
    Brands: nestle.com/brands
    Feedback: nestle.com/info/contactus
  • J.M. Smuckers:
    Brands: smuckers.com/products
    Feedback: smuckers.com/smuckers-phone-number-contact-us

— Jennifer Harrison

PCC replies: PCC is discussing how we might help provide transparency about what companies own what brands. We have heard many requests for this information over the past 18 months. We realize that providing such product information should be part of a larger discussion about product attributes, which ones are the most important to track, and how we might coordinate them in a package we can manage and update over time.

At the moment, it’s easy to download a chart of “Who owns organic?” from our website for use while shopping: pccmarkets.com/issues/organic/ (see teal box on right).

One point of clarification: Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm are not GE as long as they remain certified organic.

Great service

Erin and Andrew at the Seward Park PCC were very generous with their time and assistance when my car battery died and I needed a jump. Andrew lent us the jumper cables and Erin supplied the car and friendly conversation. Though the battery didn’t take a charge, they helped me push the car down the street to attempt to pop the clutch and force start the motor. Still no dice with the battery. Erin went so far as to give me a lift home, in the opposite direction from hers. All of this, by the way, was while she was off the clock!

I can’t thank Andrew and Erin enough for going above and beyond. This is why I love PCC.
— Dan Boxer

Also in this issue

Synthetic biology

An extreme form of genetic engineering known as synthetic biology is being used to create novel new food products, from vanilla flavoring to coconut oil to saffron.

Soil & sea: Reports from our producers

Learn about how a PCC coffee vendor is a leader in fair trade, U.S. organic acreage is rebounding post-recession, a virus is threatening the country's citrus trees, and why the price of walnuts is on the rise.

News bites, January 2014

FDA to ban trans fats?, Inflammatory foods and depression, Argentina's pesticides and cancer clusters, and more