Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in April 2019
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“Natural flavors” in butter?
I have some questions regarding so-called “natural flavors.” First, why would products not simply list what particular flavors they include? Are they hiding something, or is it somehow too complicated to list obscure ingredients? I like to know what I’m eating, as do most PCC consumers.
Second, does PCC have any rules or approach regarding these flavors? I wish products would either not include them, or list specifically what is added.
Finally, I have a specific question on these mystery flavors in butter. I have noticed that “natural flavoring” increasingly is added to butters, to the point where I can’t get butter without it, unless I buy European style, which is not marked with measurements and is therefore inconvenient for baking. This was not true a few months ago, but now seems to apply to every brand I can find.
Why on earth would companies add mystery flavors to butter? Isn’t the whole point of butter that it’s delicious? Why monkey with that?
— Amanda Fulmer
PCC replies: We agree and have asked these same questions of manufacturers and government regulators! Regarding butter, many unsalted butters that we’ve seen lately list “natural flavors” as an ingredient. One brand told us its flavoring contains lactic acid and is meant to lend a more intense butter flavor. Organic Valley’s unsalted butter, however, does not add “natural flavors” and we sell that brand in all stores.
The fact is, the Food and Drug Administration allows food manufacturers to conceal production of flavors as Confidential Business Information. Companies can keep their formulas secret and hide that they’re produced in ways or with substances they don’t wish to disclose. It’s the very reason we have written and testified on this topic to regulators, including the National Organic Program. We’ve argued that organic shoppers want transparency, find organic foods implicitly flavorful, and do not want “mysterious flavors” added — or at least that any flavors must be certified organic.
We encourage you to testify before the NOSB about this in April and ask it to set a deadline to end the allowance for “natural flavors” in organic foods. For information on how to comment, see the cover story.
Saving Chinook salmon for orcas
THANK YOU. I just read that you no longer will be selling chinook (king) salmon caught in Washington, Oregon and B.C. Thank you so much for being a leader. I wish more businesses and private individuals had your vision and commitment.
I live in Oakville, Washington and so do not have access to your stores. But I am letting all my friends know about the action you are taking. Hopefully more will follow in your footsteps.
I was disappointed/angered to return to the Kirkland PCC store today and find Alaska king (aka chinook) salmon still for sale. As a longtime PCC member, it’s incomprehensible to me that, given the co-op’s stated values, including commitment to the environment, it is still selling the essential and primary food source for our Southern Resident killer whale population, which is starving into extinction for lack of chinook salmon.
This is completely unacceptable to me and should be to all PCC customers who subscribe to the co-op’s stated, but apparently not observed, values. I implore you to end this practice.
— Bill Daugaard
PCC replies: Thank you for sharing our commitment to the welfare of the SRKW orca population. Lack of availability of chinook salmon is indeed one of the biggest challenges these orca face. That’s why, last summer, PCC made the decision to stop carrying any chinook salmon caught from the waters of Washington, Oregon, or British Columbia — these orca’s feeding grounds. We did not include Alaskan chinook in that moratorium at that time, and are still carrying it in our stores. We continue to research this topic in further detail to determine what more PCC can do to support our SRKW orcas. The Alaska chinook fishery has been one topic in that ongoing research, and we are continuing to learn more about the migratory patterns of chinook. Like all of our product standards, our seafood standards are always evolving and we are further evaluating all our seafood standards this year.
Amending gardens with biochar
I enjoyed your recent article on biochar and I love that farming practices that promote soil life and carbon storage are becoming more mainstream. I’m a former city kid who moved to the country 10 years ago and currently grow much of my family’s food on a 1/8-acre garden and a 2.5 acre pasture. I’ve used charcoal or “biochar” directly on my beds and in our animal bedding/compost.
To use charcoal in your garden it must be loaded with nutrients first. I put wood stove ash and additional purchased charcoal in our animal’s winter bedding and our compost pile. After a year plus of composting, it’s added to the garden or pasture in the compost where it will continue to store nutrients and provide habitat for soil life for centuries.
— Josh Hanson, Snohomish
I have a question concerning the article about biochar. It sounds like something I would like to do in my home veggie garden.
At the end, the author mentions adding some fertilizer to the biochar before adding it to the soil. What kind of fertilizer would be best?
— Sue Dixon, Edmonds
Kai Hoffman-Krull, author of the article in February’s Sound Consumer, responds: The ideal fertilizer addition for biochar would be a combination of liquid kelp and fish emulsion. Kelp has some very fast-acting proteins that serve as a biological catalyst and jump-starts the biological influence of the biochar in your soil. Fish emulsion provides a wide array of trace minerals and nitrogen to provide a nutrient bank to be stored in the biochar.
The application rate of biochar is 2.5 gallons per 1 square meter, although I would add as much fertilizer to the biochar as you would for that same area of garden soil, in essence doubling your fertilizer application for the first year. After that first addition you need to add only as much fertilizer to your soil as you normally would. It’s nice that biochar is really a one-time application! You can forget about it and the char will continue to provide benefits for a long period of time.
One of the companies I believe is doing a great job at large-scale char production is Char Direct. A more expensive company, but still providing a quality and standardized product, is Biochar Supreme based in Bellingham. The largest company on the West Coast is Pacific Biochar in Northern California.
PCC member benefits
I thought I was one of a rare number who couldn’t buy very much at a time at my PCC Fremont store. It’s interesting to hear I’m not at all a trendsetter.
The reason I cannot buy a lot — usually under $20 per shop — is that I am 76 years old, walk from Queen Anne and back with my groceries, and very much would buy a whole lot more at a time but for the fact I no longer drive. I can get a bus up the hill for one dollar, which I do half the time, but heavy loads I just can’t handle otherwise.
It saddens me that I only get one of those 10% reductions per month. I’d like to get the kind where I’d buy $150 per month in groceries and have a more meaningful benefit.
I was of the opinion that the current member benefit was made for people with vehicles. I’m looking forward to getting financial benefit without dusting off the little red, noisy wagon in the basement. Thank you,
— Carol Isaac
PCC replies: We are so pleased to see your feedback on the February member benefit update. We want to ensure all our members have a meaningful path to economic participation in the co-op. We are glad to hear that, as we suspected, there are members who will benefit far more from a dividend. Of course, whichever path we take for the new member benefit, it will have other perks beyond financial and, when we announce them, we hope you’re equally excited about them.
GE food labeling
My letter regards the February article, “Most GE foods exempt from national labeling.” I really don’t understand the issue, to be honest.
PCC shouldn’t be carrying any GMO or GE products. What’s the easiest way to do this? Buy only Non-GMO Verified products (at minimum).
Ideally every product in the store would be organic but, at the very least, everything should be Non-GMO. Problem solved. GE labeling issue completely bypassed. The end. You’re welcome. Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard. Peace and love.
— Kyle H. Klingman
PCC replies: Thank you for your very strong support of organic and non-GMO verified choices. PCC has had a process in place since 2012 to reduce the number of products that potentially contain genetically engineered ingredients. When we declared this goal, we also shared that working with the Non-GMO Project helps us move in the direction of becoming a Non-GMO retailer. It has been a very effective strategy, reducing our GE exposure significantly over the past seven years. Last year, we also pledged to add 1,000 new organic products over the next five years. We’re exceeding our benchmarks.
There remain problematic categories in the food supply chain concerning GE transparency. Multi-ingredient foods in the grocery aisles especially are not transparent about the sourcing. Other categories, such as dairy, rely on “pooled” milk sourced from any number of suppliers. We continue to work with our producers and vendors to identify alternatives to GE-risk products, but we also believe consumers have a right to know what is in their food. GE labeling is the additional component of GE transparency that will drive consumer awareness and enable manufacturers and retailers to make informed decisions about sourcing.