Letters to the editor, November 2014

This article was originally published in November 2014

Valuing Sound Consumer

Just the other day I was in my driveway talking to a remarkable 95-year-old friend and we were discussing genetic engineering. I shared with my friend the concise definition of genetic engineering that was in the September Sound Consumer letters section (“Genetic engineering mixes animal, plant and bacteria genes in a laboratory to create a novel organism not possible in nature.”) 

As we were talking, we happened to notice at our feet the Colchicum autumnale (autumn crocus) from which colchicine is extracted. I learned, also in the September Sound Consumer, that this chemical is used to treat watermelon seeds to produce seedless watermelons (mutagenesis) and that this process is not the same as genetic engineering.

Two days later I was at an annual neighborhood picnic and met some new neighbors who are big fans of PCC. Next thing you know, we all were discussing the article “The assault against organics” in the same issue. People out here are talking about what is in the Sound Consumer and it is helping us form and defend our values.
Thank you!

&#8212 Carolyn Boatsman

The assault against organics

Thank you for the article “The assault against organics” (September) on the media hype that “organic” is flatly fiction. There may be those that try to pass off non-organic as the real thing, but at 5 and 6 years of age, my then uninitiated, inexperienced palate knew the difference, and so did my eyes. The color and taste of the real thing, from my relatives’ farm in Rossville, Kansas, was evident.

One can only wonder how underestimated is the public’s intelligence!

Thank you PCC, both for this article and for your 2012 comments to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

An appreciative customer,

&#8212 Janette Brown

PCC note: PCC’s 2012 comments to the NOSB advocated better living conditions for organic poultry and against allowing the additive carrageenan in organic foods. You can read other comments to the NOSB and public policy statements here: pccmarkets.com/issues/statements.

I’m grateful for your story, “The assault against organics.” I wonder, however, if reframing the issue might be more helpful than lining up still more studies that argue the effects of pesticides on human health.

Such anthrocentric concerns, while important, distract from the urgent issue of pesticide effects on the non-human world. “No bees, no food, no humans,” for example, seems to me a more compelling conversation than discussing whether or not organic foods are better for human health.

&#8212 Scott Kramer

Antibiotics in apples and pears

“No antibiotics for apples and pears” (September) was cogent and thought-provoking in its implications for those who want to continue to eat “organic” based on the NOSB original vote to “end the allowance for oxytetracycline,” especially in light of the new rules recently announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

I’m sharing your article with friends. What else can concerned citizens do? Write to our legislators? USDA?
You are appreciated.

&#8212 Karen Shoaf-Mitchell, Tulalip, Wash.

PCC replies: Writing handwritten letters to your Congressional representatives would help, especially Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Suzan DelBene, who are members of the Congressional Organic Caucus. Currently, more than 70 grocers and businesses have joined a letter protesting USDA’s unilateral changes to the voting process for the “Sunset Provision.”

Non-organic ciders

I read the recent PCC Taste magazine about hard ciders and I checked out the various products listed. I checked the description of the apple cider carefully, looking for some indication that the product was made from organic apples. I was surprised to find no such information.

If non-organic apples are the number-one carrier of pesticides I would expect any cider made with non-organic apples to contain those same pesticides. Correct?

&#8212 Mary Burki, PCC member

PCC replies: In looking at Clif Bar ingredients, the one synthetic vitamin listed on most of them is ascorbic acid, the chemical name for vitamin C. We know most vitamin C is synthetic, and most of it comes from China. You certainly will see ascorbic acid listed on the ingredient panels of many foods at PCC.

The naturopaths who advise against synthetic vitamins most likely are encouraging you to avoid synthetic vitamins because food-based vitamins always are better absorbed by the body. Synthetic vitamin E, for instance, is absorbed poorly and most research linking vitamin E supplements to poor health outcomes used a synthetic version (dl-alpha-tocopherol) because it’s less expensive. Clif Bar uses natural vitamin E as an ingredient.

PCC replies: Your assumption is correct. According to the Northwest Cider Association, the vast majority of apples used for commercially produced ciders is not certified organic and is grown using non-organic methods. That means synthetic fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and antibiotics may be used to produce the fruit. We do sell organic ciders from Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Alpenfire Cider, and J.K.’s Scrumpy. But in general, cider apples are “processor” grade and can’t be sold fresh at market.

Fair labor on farms

Where on your website is there information about the standards your produce vendors comply with for farmworker/picker/migrant worker safety, fair pay, housing, healthcare, English-as-a-Second Language, etc.? How does PCC verify compliance?

&#8212 Cindy Davis

PCC replies: We share your concerns about farmworker/picker safety, pay, housing, healthcare and language. These are systemic problems, historically ingrained, and although we have no fair labor standard for produce vendors, we’re working to see what’s possible.

We rely greatly on the personal relationships developed with regional farmers and our primary wholesalers. PCC has long given preference to imported foods with fair labor certifications (such as coffee, tea, rice and sugar). We also recognize that certified organic and non-GMO (or local) label claims do not ensure much for the working or living conditions of the men, women and children who harvest the foods that grace our tables.

There are considerable obstacles to setting any standard that we, as a single retailer, could ensure compliance to by growers we don’t know or visit. We’re learning about two emerging certifications for fair labor practices on U.S. farms: the Agricultural Justice Project and the Equitable Food Initiative, but their reach is extremely limited. They pose significant challenges for diversified, small organic producers already struggling at capacity.

Lead in cocoa?

Is it true that chocolate and cocoa, whether organic or not, may be contaminated with lead (e.g., in countries that still use leaded gasoline) and cadmium? I had hoped that organic standards would protect us from such heavy metal contamination, but if it’s in the air from leaded gasoline and gets to the cocoa beans while being dried or transported, then “organic” controls don’t help? No one tests the finished product? Are the products from some countries safer than others?

PCC replies: We don’t know of any domestic chocolate or cocoa companies testing their final products. But we have no reason to think imports would be better than domestic. Trace amounts of cadmium, a natural element, are absorbed into food through the soil. Organic standards don’t require testing for contaminants, such as lead, on a routine basis. Certifiers have the authority to order soil testing but it’s not required and rarely done because results can vary.

Any good farmer, however, tests his or her soil. Responsible farmers amend their soils, as needed, for balance.

The European Union recently adopted new measures to limit cadmium in baby formula and chocolate but they don’t take effect until 2015 and 2019, respectively.


I love shopping at PCC more than any other store and especially appreciate that I can go zero-waste (package-free) using the bulk sections.
Going package-free is important to me. It saves an inordinate amount of plastic from entering the waste stream. I’m surprised how easy it has been to transition with just a few adjustments to my shopping. I owe a lot of that to PCC’s large offering of bulk products. Not just of food but also body care products, herbs, salts, oils and more.

Dishwashing liquid and laundry powder in bulk are the last of my packaging items before I’m essentially package-free (except butter, but I don’t know of any place that offers butter open like in Europe).

I would really like to see PCC promote the bulk offerings more. I think more people would find it just as easy.
Thanks again for all you do.

&#8212 Tricia Wells

PCC replies: Thank you for buying bulk! Just know not all our stores carry the same bulk items, especially small stores where space is an issue.
We offer several resources for bulk customers, including a searchable database of bulk items: www.pccnaturalmarkets.com/bulk. You’ll find links to videos with tips.

We also offer free Walk, Talk & Taste tours, which include a focus on the bulk section. Sign up by calling 206-545-7112 or at PccCooks.com.

Natural Flavors

Why does PCC carry products with “natural flavoring”? The PCC newsletter states the lack of regulation about the word “natural” yet some products such as Newman’s Own Popcorn has natural flavoring that is a chemical that makes a small but important minority quite ill. Why does PCC carry these products?

&#8212 Karin

PCC replies: We agree the term “natural flavoring” is problematic, for all the reasons explained by one of our favorite Sound Consumer articles, “The flavor industry” (August 2010). “Natural” and “artificial” flavors actually are distinguished more by how the flavor is made than by what it actually contains. Natural and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different processes. 

Unfortunately, “natural flavorings” currently is used so pervasively and covers so many different ingredients that we are not able to avoid carrying products with such ingredients. Natural flavors can hide many different ingredients, and there are also legally proprietary seasoning blends. It’s not easy to know what is actually in all flavorings; we do our best to screen what we can.

Global warming and agriculture

Thanks very much for your excellent article, “Climate change and Northwest agriculture” (October).
I would like to encourage your readers to go beyond “hoping we never have to find out” what our state would be like without the wonderful, wholesome food our farmers grow. And beyond simply recognizing “the need to create and enforce legislation requiring carbon emission reductions” that you expressed in your reply to Lynn Fitz-Hughes’ letter in the same issue. We need immediate, massive, committed activism on all fronts to keep our atmospheric and oceanic greenhouse gas levels at a sustainable level.

Our farmers can’t do this alone. Our elected leaders won’t do it until a large number of us demand it. Our future needs all of us to take this threat seriously and personally and work with each other to implement the most effective carbon reduction measures available to us as soon as possible.

&#8212 Laura Rivendell, Citizens Climate Lobby, Bellevue Chapter

Also in this issue

Grass-fed goodness

Animals grazing on their natural diet of grass produce foods that are high in both nutrition and flavor. Try PCC’s grass-fed meats, dairy and eggs and protein powders.

Supporting non-GMO choices

More than 2,200 brands making more than 20,000 products now are verified by the non-GMO Project.

Sustainable West Coast seafood

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has upgraded the sustainability rating of several West Coast fish.