Letters to the editor, September 2018
This article was originally published in September 2018
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A million thanks
I would like to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for the outstanding produce you provide us at PCC. I live very near one of the higher-end grocery stores and yet I make the trek over to Columbia City PCC every week to do my shopping for everything! The avocados always are bigger and less expensive. Over the years I never cut into an onion only to find a rotten interior, and the leafy greens call out to be touched! With everything else, I know I don’t have to worry about the integrity of where things are sourced or any GMO issues at PCC.
I have meant to write this letter for years and am finally getting to it! A million thanks for everything you bring us!
Pesticides: organic and nonorganic
My husband and I have an ongoing debate about research regarding organic practices, pesticides and herbicides and we reach for different sources.
I’d love to hear a response to the concerns raised in an article he sent me (survivorstable.com/2018/06/05/why-is-a-4-decade-old-pesticide-back-in-the-news-the-story-of-glyphosate) about the relative safety of glyphosate — especially regarding the use and dangers of copper sulfate and harmful over-tilling in organic farming.
In this age of battling “truths,” I’m trying to stay open to information that might not support what I already believe. I know that I distrust and resist information coming from the big industrial farming world or makers of pesticides, but the growing organic world also will have its bias, especially as big business gets more involved.
Whose science can we believe when everyone has a stake in making money, including PCC? Thanks!
— A longtime PCC member & supporter
PCC replies: This is a great question, thank you for asking. It’s common among chemical agricultural interests — especially as organic eats into their share of the market — to try to make the very limited tools allowed organic growers sound as bad or worse than what conventional growers use. The facts do not support that.
Glyphosate doesn’t pose the same immediate threats to consumer health as neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides, such as chlorpyrifos, 2,4-D (a hormone disruptor), and atrazine and neonicotinoids (endocrine and reproductive disruptors). But the risks have increased as use has soared. U.S. farmers increased use 300-fold from 1974 to 2014, with two-thirds of that applied in the last 10 years, much of it on GE food crops. It is more “persistent” than once presumed and the U.S. Geological Survey finds it in most surface water and degraded byproducts in more than 80 percent of wastewater treatment samples.
Both human epidemiological studies and animal research find adverse health outcomes associated with glyphosate exposure. A meta-analysis published recently in the academic journal, “Environmental Health, finds that exposure to glyphosate at levels currently considered safe and acceptable by regulatory agencies causes damage to rats’ livers and kidneys by disrupting their mitochondrial metabolism, impacting the ability to absorb micronutrients. Glyphosate also is an endocrine disruptor. Animal studies demonstrate disruption of hormonal systems and gene expression that negatively impacts fertility.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” San Francisco’s Superior Court of California also recently found Monsanto guilty of glyphosphate-related cancer risks, fining the company $289 million in damages.
To compare, copper sulfate can accumulate in soil and stunt roots and plant vigor. It has been used by both conventional and organic farmers for decades. At least organic standards restrict use to prevent accumulation in soil and require applicators to wear protective clothing. Copper’s hazards are associated almost entirely with application, not consumption of any residues on food — unlike chlorpyrifos, 2,4-D, or atrazine.
Any pesticides used in organic agriculture must be proven to cause little or no risk to human health or the environment, while the same is not true of conventional.
Tilling is done by both conventional and organic farmers to incorporate cover crop nutrients. Some organic farmers may till to eliminate weeds instead of using toxic herbicides. In our experience, nonorganic no-till farmers are not readily transparent about their dependence on chemical herbicides. Some have failed to tell consumers or retailers that they rely on glyphosate to “burn down” fields before drilling new seeds into the ground. Some nonorganic wheat, oat, barley and garbanzo farmers also spray glyphosate directly on these crops a day or two before harvesting to cause wilting, enabling the wheat or oats or whatever to be taken up more easily by harvesting machinery.
The truth is, all agriculture has impacts. Transparency, we think, is the key.
Why are gums in yogurt?
I decided to check out your newly branded yogurts coming from the Pure Eire Dairy. I was perplexed to find that most have a gum in their ingredient list. This makes no sense to be branding a product containing what PCC claims to be fighting hard to have removed from the USDA organics program standards. Why are you choosing to do this?
Gums are not needed and, more importantly, they are shown to cause destruction of the gastrointestinal tract’s microvilli. Branding like this certainly contradicts what you claim you stand for. Hope you reconsider your decision so that you are “walking the (your) talk.”
— Teresa M.
PCC replies: Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns about the quality of ingredients. As you noticed the fruit yogurts — the peach, strawberry and lemon flavors — contain small amounts of organic guar gum to keep the fruit purée from becoming too watery. The plain and vanilla flavors do not contain this thickener as it is not in the yogurt base itself.
You’re right that the texturizer, carrageenan, is shown to cause inflammation and harm to the GI tract, and PCC has advocated against its use. We are not aware of any evidence that guar gum (from the guar bean) or tapioca starch (from the cassava root) are harmful to health in any way and they are approved for use in organic foods.
Concerning bee products
Reviewing the April issue of Sound Consumer, “Insects for food security,” I see a conflict in advocating for the health of bees while promoting multiple products from bees for our own personal human health.
I understand that the environment for bees is dire. It seems that this is a time for us all to call a personal boycott on all products from bees until we hear they have recovered fully. We can affirm this is the right thing to do and act.
It’s one thing to advocate and educate as PCC does, which is great, but then another to be the example to your customers, the broader grocery business and the consumer community that you walk all that talk. Could the store put small signs at all products from bees that mention this issue? Can the concerned shopper believe they can live well and be healthy without these products and see that using their integrity muscle could make them happier and thus healthier?
Be healthy, not by stealing the things that bees have made for their own health since the beginning of time, but by being grateful for all that bees do for us every day. Let’s be healthy by standing up in all ways we can to protect and therefore bless the bees, ourselves and our world.
— Jo Ann Herbert
PCC replies: Thank you for your thoughtful question. Dr. Brandon Hopkins, WSU professor and manager of the Apiary Program, explains that harvesting bee products — including honey, wax, pollen and propolis — is not harmful to bees. He says harvesting honey is important for the proper management and cultivation of honey bee colonies. Pollen trapping practiced in proper moderation will not negatively affect the bee colony, and bee’s wax actually is a byproduct of the honey extraction process.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center at UC Davis, adds, “bees, in general, can’t stop working. If we remove honey, pollen or propolis, they will always produce more.” Harris explains that as long as enough honey is left for bees to over-winter, the colony will remain healthy and, in general, bees will produce more honey in summer months than beekeepers can handle.
It is important to be aware of harmful industrial bee farming and destructive methods of wild honey harvesting. This caution is why PCC supports farmers who take good care of their bees and protect bees in the wild. As we explain in the April article, there’s strong evidence that pesticides (particularly neonicotinoids) are a leading or precipitating cause of bees dying off, along with loss of habitat and the impacts of climate change. If we want to help bee populations, we need to address the pressures that are harming them, which do not appear to be the sale of bee products.
In your July issue on page three you told people to put unused drugs in the garbage. In Washington there are many options for disposal of unused drugs.
There is the possibility of drugs leaching out of landfills or being found in the garbage and used by children. Neither the toilet nor garbage is appropriate disposal for unused drugs. Please inform your readers about the Take Back Your Meds website. This is a free service for safe disposal of drugs: takebackyourmeds.org.
— Laurie Foster
The sidebar in the July-August Sound Consumer suggests disposing of unused drugs in garbage. We have better options now! There are quite a few stores that take and dispose of pills, creams, you name it, safely. Here is a link: kingcountysecuremedicinereturn.org.
All the QFCs in the north end of Seattle, for instance, Walgreens, etc. have deposit boxes. This is MUCH better than putting it in the garbage.
— Laura Martin
PCC replies: You are correct — some pharmacies and fire stations will accept unused medications and that is the best choice. While drug disposal in the toilet is harmful to our environment, disposing unused drugs in the garbage also is a public health concern. Thank you for sharing these resources!