Letters to the editor, September 2014

This article was originally published in September 2014

Seedless watermelon

Can you explain the difference between hybrids and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? My husband and I are having a debate as to whether seedless watermelons are GMO or not.

— Monica Abel

PCC replies: Seedless watermelons are not the result of genetic engineering as commonly understood.

But they are — at least sometimes — result of mutagenesis, which is controversial.

Mutagenesis is a method of plant breeding that involves exposing plants, usually to a specific chemical, to produce new traits. (In watermelons, it seems often that the induced mutation is brought about by exposure to Colchicine, an alkaloid prepared from the dried corns and seeds of Colchicum autumnale, the autumn crocus or meadow saffron). Mutagenesis does not involve transferring the genes of one species into another, but it is an imprecise process, like genetic engineering.

In 2013 the National Organic Program issued a memorandum interpreting reference to “traditional breeding” in the organic regulations to include mutagenesis. So seedless watermelons produced through mutagenesis are considered not GE and certifiably organic.

Hybrids are not the result of genetic engineering. Hybrids occur in nature, the result of naturally breeding two animal (or plant) species. For instance, hybrids occur between different species within the same genus (such as between lions and tigers, producing ligers) or between different genera (such as between sheep and goats). No hybrids between different orders are known.

Genetic engineering mixes animal, plant, and bacteria genes in a laboratory to create a novel organism not possible in nature.

Safe produce protocol

I was reading about Listeria and the peach recall and saw this in a Forbes article: “In 2011, 33 people died from Listeria-contaminated cantaloupes grown on a farm in Colorado. They had just installed a new washing and processing line. One component that normally sprays a dilute bleach solution on the outside of the fruit wasn’t yet operating.”

Do all commercial farms spray dilute bleach solution on their fruit and/or veggies?

— Mary Beutjer

PCC replies: Melons and other high-risk foods, such as salad greens packaged in plastic bags or clamshells, are rinsed in a weak chlorine bleach solution to help control pathogens.

Organic rules allow for chlorine rinses as a safety precaution, since plastic bags and clamshells are an enclosed environment and, like a greenhouse, can encourage growth of pathogens. Organic bunched greens (tied with a twisty, not in bags or clamshells) are not subjected to the chlorine rinse.

Drought and bottled water

Considering the articles you published regarding the intense drought in California, I wish you would consider no longer carrying Crystal Geyser water. The bottling facility is in the high desert, an area that is wretchedly dry most of the year even when there isn’t a severe drought.

Why are we importing water when we have plenty here in western Washington? Can you not find a more sustainable local source?

— name withheld

PCC replies: We have the perfect local water for you, sold in bulk at all PCC stores. You can purchase Custom Pure filtered tap water in any amount you like and at a better price than individually bottled waters.

PCC deliberately and intentionally eliminated single-serving plain bottled waters a few years ago to encourage more sustainable choices. We now sell only a few larger sizes.

FYI, Crystal Geyser procures its water from many springs and aquifers all across the country and sells it in the regions it’s drawn from.

Customer service

The other day I walked into the Seward Park PCC and was really disappointed when I heard that my favorite sandwich (the Vegan Hero) wasn’t being offered at that time.

PCC employee Blake first double-checked the refrigerated case and then didn’t skip a beat and offered me his Vegan Hero that he had purchased the day before! Not only did I get my favorite sandwich, but I got it for free. I have never experienced this kind of service and it is people like Blake that keep me coming back to PCC!

— Reid Raykovich

Petitioners outside stores

I’m protesting the new policy at Issaquah where petition signature-gatherers and Real Change folks can connect with customers. I’ve been an active member of PCC since 1990. So when I was asked to collect signatures for Initiative 1329 to help get big money out of politics and notified management of my intentions, they informed me that such activity now was banished to the bike racks at the ends of the store, far away from the entrance where everyone passed. Relatively few people pass near the racks. This has devastated business for the homeless vendors who depend for survival upon selling newspapers at the store entrance.

I tried to gather signatures by the racks but practically had to give up. I feel disappointed and angry. To me, my PCC is a community as well as a market. Our initiative that says corporations are not people, and money is not free speech, would benefit the co-op in many ways, e.g., in the GMO battle. I felt as though I were collecting signatures in part for PCC.

A functioning government, rather than one bought and paid for by multinational corporations and billionaires,
is worth a little congestion!

— Judy Dunsire

PCC replies: PCC store directors decide what’s best for their stores. The Issaquah store director has received a great deal of feedback from customers regarding this issue. Some are happy about the presence of these groups, others aren’t.

Real Change vendors and signature gatherers now can be stationed on the sidewalk where they don’t directly block the store’s entrance. Issaquah’s store director consulted with the field coordinator for Real Change to resolve the situation. He agreed the new locations are a good compromise.

Smart meters

In a few months, the Seattle City Council will decide whether to approve City Light’s “Advanced Metering Initiative” (AMI), a key component of the “smart” grid upgrade that’s sweeping the globe. This push by big centralized power producers, manufacturers like GE and Itron, and governments under the influence of lobbyists, will have profound implications for the health and welfare of our planet, its inhabitants, and the security of the food supply.

Under City Light’s plan, each house, apartment building and business in Seattle will be refitted with one or several “smart” meters, a radiofrequency (RF) utility device with two-way wireless send and receive capability. A growing body of independent research such as that found in the BioInitiative 2012 Report, and the award-winning documentary film, “Take Back Your Power,” reveals evidence of biological harm due to RF fields in general, and “smart” meters in particular. There are also serious concerns regarding privacy and economic costs being passed on to ratepayers.

In May 2009 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urged Congress to investigate the relationship between RF and bee Colony Collapse Disorder. Congress has failed to follow up. In early 2013 Renton residents noted a connection between installation of “smart” meters and declining bird populations. People interested in learning more, visit our website at www.takebackyourpower.net/seattle.

— Jordan Van Voast, Safe Utility Meters Alliance (SUMA), NW

PCC replies: Seattle Town Hall will screen the film “Take Back Your Power” with a discussion to follow on Saturday, September 6, at 7 p.m. $5 on Brown Paper Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/810909.

Sewage sludge

Does PCC have a policy against purchasing food grown in sewage sludge?

I’ve been giving presentations around the Puget Sound with toxicologist Dr. Richard Honour. He tracks the impacts of sewage sludge land-spreading in forests.

Two state reps said separately they would introduce bills about labeling foods grown in sewage sludge, but so far have not. The effort to get such a bill will persist.

I have been meeting with decision-makers in different cities and counties. A lot of the info is new to them. They hadn’t a clue about where the sludge was being transported, all the toxins in the sludge, the impacts from the wastewater treatment plant effluents on our marine life, the lack of transparency in labeling packaged “treated” sludge as “compost,” and that there are alternative methods to handle the waste. Funding to do research and development is what cities and counties need, so this is another legislative avenue to pursue.

— Darlene Schanfald

PCC replies: PCC does not have a specific policy prohibiting foods grown with sewage sludge and questions whether such a policy is practicable or even possible for a grocery store. Food grown with sewage sludge as a fertilizer is not required to be identified in any way, and no growers declare their food as grown in sewage sludge. So unless you buy 100-percent organic food, there’s no way to know what food is or isn’t grown with sludge, short of getting sworn statements from every provider of each ingredient for every food.

Since organic standards prohibit sewage sludge and, since 95 percent of the produce we sell is organic, PCC’s produce department is likely to be the “cleanest” (sludge-free) in the region.

Also in this issue

Changes in milk choices

PCC has replaced Smith Brothers and Liberty brands of milk with local, organic milk after learning Smith and Liberty are produced using ionophores, a class of antibiotics.

Congress urged to reject 2,4-D herbicide

Fifty members of Congress sent a letter to the USDA and EPA opposing new varieties of genetically engineered corn and soy and the Dow Chemical herbicide, Enlist Duo™, a new mix of 2,4-D and glyphosate.

Save the Bee

Purchase GloryBee honey — available in jars and bulk — on sale this month at PCC. A portion of sales go to research aimed at solving Colony Collapse Disorder.