Letters to the editor, April 2014

This article was originally published in April 2014

Shampoo choices

I live in the South End just past Burien. For years I have driven all the way to the West Seattle PCC. Depending on traffic, my weekly shopping trips can take up to two hours. It’s not convenient and I’ve recently switched to something closer and more convenient. 
However, I just read the cover article in February 2014’s Sound Consumer about shampoo choices. PCC has chosen to eliminate Alba, Kiss My Face, Shikai, Jason and other producers because they won’t adhere to certain standards. This is why I am going to support PCC, even if it means driving far away once a week. 
Yes, it might be hard for some people who think their shampoo is okay because it’s “organic” or “natural,” but I want to thank PCC for knowing the difference and doing something about it even if it’s a transition for some customers. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Keep on pushing in the right direction.
— Marie Rule

Antibiotics in agriculture

“Limiting animal antibiotics” (February Sound Consumer) highlights the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy set forth that will address the concerns regarding antibiotic use in factory farms. Although the article does bring attention to the notion that policy changes are beginning to take form, any claim that it will be illegal for ranchers to use antibiotics in food and water to make their livestock “grow larger and plumper” is, unfortunately, not the case.
The guidances issued by FDA are voluntary, so companies are not obligated to follow them. These policies only work to establish FDA’s position on the issue, but there is no indication FDA will issue any rules or regulations, nor do the policies establish that any enforcement will take place.
While FDA’s guidelines are a step in the right direction, there is still a need to force legal action upon ranchers that abuse these life-saving drugs. Eighty percent of United States’ antibiotics currently are being used to compensate for the filthy living conditions of farm animals, resulting in the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Antibiotics are a medical marvel that arose from the 20th century and they should be handled with appreciation and admiration, not carelessly thrown into our delicate ecosystem. The Food & Water Watch Healthy Farms, Healthy Families campaign is calling on a resolution to be passed through the Seattle City Council to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, and we can be the catalyst that starts a nationwide movement.
— Whitney Martin

PCC replies: We agree FDA’s policy does not go far enough and stated it has “a significant loophole” that does “not prohibit the use of antibiotics to prevent disease.” You’re right that factory farms and ranchers may continue to use the same low doses of the same antibiotics by contending the drugs are needed to keep animals from getting sick.
The policy requiring a vet’s prescription to use antibiotics in livestock, however, is not voluntary. FDA is requiring label changes on drugs and is requiring licensed veterinarians to prescribe and supervise antibiotic use for animals. That is a big shift from the current situation, which allows producers to go to the local feed store and buy drugs over-the-counter with no oversight at all. 
You say, “any claim that it will be illegal for ranchers to use antibiotics in food and water to make their livestock ‘grow larger and plumper’ is, unfortunately, not the case.” That’s the concern, for sure, and FDA seems to believe vets will think twice about unnecessary prescriptions because it’s their license on the line. Whether there will be even remotely adequate oversight (enforcement) of vets remains to be seen.
PCC advocates a ban against antibiotics used to prevent disease and limits on use to treat a specific illness diagnosed by a veterinarian, a much narrower category. But that’s clearly a step FDA has not taken so far. It’s a step in the right direction but our work is not done. We’ve been advocating reform on this issue for 14 years (see the Public Policy Statements on our website).

BPA and BPS in receipts

As a member of PCC, I am curious to know if your cash register receipts contain bisphenol A (BPA)? As PCC’s receipts are being printed on (double-sided) thermal paper, there is a high likelihood that they contain BPA.
While customers can choose not to have a cash register receipt printed, the checkers still are handling both receipts and produce, and unknowing customers also are handling these cash register receipts. If PCC is using BPA cash register receipts, this would be something that should be changed as soon as possible as there are concerns in the medical community regarding this endocrine disruptor.
PCC is a wonderful organization that I have been honored to be a member of for many years. I want to be sure to express my gratitude for all the good that PCC does and stands for!
— name withheld on request

PCC replies: We got rid of our old receipt paper with BPA a few years ago, but the substitute tape still contains BPS. We’re looking for a receipt tape with no BP (there’s a whole family of BP chemical compounds, including BPP, BPF, HBP, BPE, BPB and TDP) and we’re considering electronic receipts sent via email. Studies show all BPs possess estrogenic activity, including BPS. New peer-reviewed research published by the National Institutes of Health shows some BPA-free products actually release more potent estrogenic compounds than BPA.

Safe tea

I recently came across a blog post about the dangers of pesticides in tea and hazards related to the packaging and tea bags. The teas cited as having bad ingredients include some of the brands you sell in the store, such as Celestial Seasonings and Tazo. I frequently buy these brands and before I stop, I wondered if you have any information that counters these claims. 
— Jennifer Scott

PCC replies: We’ve also seen reports that some tea bags are made with plastics and that paper tea bags may be treated with epichlorohydrin, considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and also used as a pesticide. It’s also in coffee filters, water filters and sausage casings.
The two tea brands you mention, Tazo and Celestial Seasonings, do not use epichlorohydrin in their teabags. In spring 2013 we contacted all our tea vendors and all confirmed their teabags do not contain epichlorohydrin.  
Celestial Seasonings also posted a response (at celestialseasonings.com/product-safety-facts) claiming the allegations were based on a report issued by an investment firm that would gain financially if Celestial’s stock price declines. Independent lab tests on Celestial teas detected no pesticides.
Certainly, buying organic tea is the safest choice because organic standards prohibit insecticides. PCC offers organic teas from many different brands.

Monsanto’s latest endeavors

I recently received an action alert from the Alliance for Natural Health. Following is an excerpt:
“GMOs aren’t enough — Monsanto wants to monopolize conventional and organic crops, too. Since it purchased the company in 2008, Monsanto has been quietly cultivating its Seminis brand, as well as several other semi-anonymous brands, to breed and sell seeds that aren’t GMO.
“To create these seeds, Monsanto and its minions are claiming to use nothing more than traditional crossbreeding. Don’t be fooled: Monsanto isn’t using your grandparents’ crossbreeding. They’re engaging in a highly technical process that appears to take place in a lab, not a field, and also appears to involve manipulation on the genetic level.
“There is another important question to ask here: If Monsanto truly believes that GMOs are the future, why are they investing in conventional crops?
“Please write to national grocery chains and tell them you don’t want any Monsanto products — not ‘organic,’ not conventional, and certainly not under any other name!”
Please consider this info for a future article. This is very concerning.
— Deanne Truess, PCC customer
for 40 years

PCC replies: According to Monsanto’s website, its Vegetable Seed Brands division — made up of the DeRuiter and Seminis brands — is developing seeds for eggplant, hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, rootstock, cucumbers, pumpkin, squash, melon, watermelon, carrots, leeks, onions, beans, peas, sweet corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel, lettuce and spinach.

Food waste

Something needs to be done about the waste of hot food in the deli. Currently the unsold hot food is put in the compost. I understand this occurs throughout PCC. There are lots of hungry people in Seattle. Yes, there are issues of food safety. Let us put our heads and hearts together to solve this.
— J. Bendor, member

PCC replies: We donate most deli food that has reached its shelf life but is still good to eat to our local food banks. They pick up from every store every day of the week. The food banks won’t, however, take the leftover hot foods from our hot-food bars. We struggle to find charitable organizations that will.
If readers know of any organization willing to take hot food, we would be very happy to store the food properly for pickup. Let us know!

PCC-brand organic milk

How are the cows treated? What happens to male calfs on the farms? Are the mothers separated from their babies? We are mostly vegan, but I love to know good brands for the rare times when we do decide to buy eggs or milk. My goal is to avoid hurting other creatures as much as possible. I do think that PCC is wonderful and I trust you are doing your best, of course! I thank you for being such a wonderful place!
— Heidi Marten, via Facebook

PCC replies: Young bulls, like in all dairy systems, are sold off to beef producers. Young cows are kept with mothers for a period of time but often are put in calf pens to wean them. They’re allowed unrestricted access to food and water. Cows are integrated into the herd when they’re ready because they’re very social animals. All organic cows have year-round access to the outdoors and a minimum pasture time (from spring flush to fall freeze). We’re lucky in the Northwest this time is quite long. Couches (a large hay bed that fits one cow) are required in organic, so the cows can chew cud and relax.

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about record Chinook salmon returns, Oregon's failure to restrict bee-killing pesticides, and thousands of Pacific starfish deaths.

Green Cleaning

From all-purpose tile cleaners to phosphate-free dish detergents, PCC carries cleaning products that are safer for you and the environment.

Label battles

The food industry has a history of resisting transparency through mandatory labels. Label changes often are forged only after years of consumer pressure, industry arguments and legislation.