Letters to the editor, July 2014

This article was originally published in July 2014

Choose organic to avoid pesticides

The cover article Choose organic to avoid pesticides,” (May) was interesting, but it reminded me about an important point, which is that certified organic foods may also contain pesticides. I feel that the article is incomplete without addressing this important fact that many people may not even know.

What I’ve recently discovered and what is most concerning is that the use of so-called “natural pesticides” may be even more harmful than synthetic pesticides, especially if farmers have to use a much larger dosage on certain crops to achieve the same result. Several pesticides approved under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification also were labeled as “slightly toxic” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It would be helpful if PCC could provide some insight into this issue.
— Jonathan Lanis

PCC replies: You may be referring to web chatter generated by a controversial post on Scientific American’s website in 2011. A series of blog post exchanges followed, with calls for a retraction of the original post and numerous rebuttals. Essentially, the post tried to make an exposé out of the commonly known fact that organic farmers use (naturally occurring) pesticides and that some carry some risks. The post suggested erroneously that naturally occurring pesticides pose worse risks than synthetic ones. To read the arguments, see Myths: Busted—Clearing Up the Misunderstandings about Organic Farming and A Response to The Wall Street Journal article: “Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable”.

To put things in perspective, USDA data shows a non-organic apple may contain residues of as many as 42 different pesticides. Most prohibited residues found in organic produce are detected at levels far below — 10-times to 1,000-times lower — than the residues typically found in food grown with synthetic pesticides.

Conventional agriculture relies on routine use of synthetic chemicals because it’s cheaper than practicing disease prevention. Organic farmers are required to use ecological pest controls, including crop rotation, nutrient management, and mechanical weeding before using any sprays, and only then as a tool of last resort. All the organic farmers we know rarely use any sprays. Growers must demonstrate to their organic certifying agency that they have exhausted every other means at their disposal.

Organic farmers don’t use any herbicides and use of insecticides and fungicides is rare. Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) is the most powerful insecticide allowed in organic systems. It’s a bacterium naturally found in soils and when used as a spray by organic farmers, natural Bt degrades rapidly, well before entering the food supply. But when genetically engineered into a plant, the Bt is full strength all the time and doesn’t degrade.

The use of copper sprays on organic grape and fruit orchards as an antimicrobial is a growing concern. As an element, copper does not degrade and use over the decades is causing it to build up in the soil. Europe is facing this challenge and we aren’t far behind.

Vendor goes non-GE

PCC would not begin selling our brand, Golazo All Natural Beverages, until we reformulated our energy product to use only non-genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

Our initial conversations with PCC Natural Markets around non-GE was the catalyst for us to become non-GE! We have reformulated two times and both times we used your standards to help us get things right.
— Matthew Moses, Sales Manager Golazo All Natural Beverages

PCC comments: Congratulations to Golazo! You’ll find its drinks in the refrigerated beverage case. We appreciate working with vendors who deliver what customers want. Several other vendors also have changed their ingredients to meet consumer demand.

Organic calf care

I’m a big fan of PCC, but I was disappointed by the PCC response to a letter to the editor in the April 2014 Sound Consumer, PCC-brand organic milk.

The letter writer, a mostly vegan trying to avoid harm to animals, asked if baby cows are allowed to stay with their mothers on the dairy farms that produce PCC’s organic milk. While PCC acknowledged male offspring are sold to become beef (or veal), the female offspring you say are allowed to stay with their mothers for “a period.” What exactly is “a period?”

The truth is that to remain profitable a dairy cannot leave baby cows with their mothers for long. Cows, as you pointed out, are very social animals and, as such, it is often traumatic to have babies taken away shortly after birth. Dairy cows live a constant cycle of pregnancy, losing their babies, lactating and being re-impregnated to start all over again. Their productive years are far less than what their normal lifespan would otherwise be and, at a relatively young age, they are sent to the slaughterhouse, destined to become processed meat.  

If a mostly vegan person wants to avoid harm to animals, they should look to the many non-dairy alternatives.
— Name withheld upon request

PCC replies: A veterinarian at Organic Valley, Guy Jodarski, affirms that there are no specific rules for how long organic calves must nurse before weaning. The vet says the typical Organic Valley calf gets mother’s milk for at least four to five days. Colostrum naturally runs that long, so the idea is to make sure the calves get mother’s colostrum. Calves then are raised on organic milk from the herd’s mothers collectively. Only about 5 to 10 percent of Organic Valley calves nurse for more than a few weeks on their own mothers.

Naturally, calves might nurse for up to six months, depending on the calf. But, by then (from three months after birth), the lactating mother cow already would be cycling and likely pregnant again. FYI, many organic farmers keep bulls in the herd and don’t use artificial insemination. Cows, like elk, deer and other wild ruminants, naturally have a baby every year and are nursing a calf when they’re pregnant again. Whether they’re in nature or on a farm, that’s nature’s cycle. They have babies every year. Organic Valley encourages farmers to let their cows “rest” several months each year.

Organic Valley encourages farmers not to put calves alone in hutches during weaning, but rather in groups together because cattle are very social animals. In the Pacific Northwest, most farmers use hutches for the first three to four weeks, then put them in a group. The isolation hutches supposedly were meant to keep respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, from spreading among young calves, as with children in a nursery.

Conventional cows are raised on “milk replacer.” Organic standards prohibit milk replacer, which typically includes rendered animal fats. Some livestock experts report young animals don’t thrive well on milk replacer like they do on natural milk for their species.

Organic cows live much longer than conventional cows, which have an average lifespan of about 4 years. Organic cows live twice as long and sometimes to the age of 20.  

Boycotting GMA foods

I just learned about how the 300+ members of Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are the main financial thrust behind the nationwide campaign to outlaw labeling of GMOs. 

Will PCC put more bite to their bark by removing all GMA products from their shelves (for instance, all the Cascadian Farm products owned by GMA member General Mills), and consult with members and customers about this boycott of all GMA products?
— Kathleen Murphy

PCC replies: It’s undeniable that PCC sells quite a few organic or natural brands owned by companies that have funded campaigns against GE labeling, including the narrow defeat of I-522 here in Washington. We were aware of that during the I-522 campaign and many conscientious shoppers told us this mattered to them, too. Like you, we prefer to do business with companies that support our values!

Instead of removing foundational organic brands, such as Muir Glen or Cascadian Farm (both owned by General Mills), we’re trying to respect individual choice and values by enabling shoppers like you to decide what brands you wish to support yourself. We’re creating a new handout that will make it easy to know what brands are owned by what companies. Shoppers will be able to carry around a copy of the handout while shopping, for easy reference.

PCC merchandisers have been screening products for at-risk GE ingredients (sugar, corn, soy, etc.) for some time. If a vendor can’t specify what kind of “sugar” is used in their product, the product is not authorized. It’s an official moratorium. 

Merchandisers will continue to scrutinize products within a category (e.g., crackers, soup, cereal, etc.) to check for “at-risk” ingredients in GE foods, flag those items and look for replacements. This process, over time, will move us in the direction of being a non-GMO retailer, but we can’t say it will eliminate all products owned by members of the GMA.

Shoppers meanwhile will have the handout and will be casting their “votes” for or against products with every purchase at checkout. Dwindling sales of a product are the fastest way to see it disappear from shelves.


I am feeling very thankful today — thankful to all those who report the science as it truly is regarding fluoride and water fluoridation, rather than the industry propaganda that we normally hear. The April 2014 Sound Consumer news bite reporting on a recent issue of Lancet Neurology, saying fluoride has been reclassified as a developmental neurotoxin, for example, gives me all the more faith in PCC.

PCC consistently has reported the truth on many topics over the years and doesn’t shy away from those that are unpopular (well, to some). I know that you will continue to do so, as I will continue shopping at your stores in confidence. I also very much appreciate PCC’s bulk fluoride-free water and that PCC uses filtered, fluoride-free water throughout your stores.

Thanks for “having our back” and providing some of the fluoride truths in your newspaper. It is PCC’s unwavering commitment to healthy food and healthy living that keeps your aisles filled with trusting customers who feel the same.
— Audrey Adams, Washington Action for Safe Water (WASW.org)

Also in this issue

Organic controversy

PCC has sent a letter of protest to the Secretary of Agriculture about significant changes to the voting process for the "sunset" of synthetics in the National Organic Program (NOP).

Your co-op community, July 2014

Puget Sound Blood Center drives, PCC Cooks, Bicycle Sunday, and more

Producer spotlights: organic cherries

Read and watch a video about LaPierre Farms organic Rainier cherries and River Valley Organics Lapin Cherries. Only in stores for a few weeks!