Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in June 2019
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Bulk bath products
I read the letter in the March Sound Consumer about the shopper concerned about discontinuing bulk shampoo and the packaging associated with buying it in bottles. Our family shifted to bar soap and bar shampoo from the Columbia City PCC and have reduced our shower product packaging to near-zero. Some of the bar soaps are unpackaged and simply have a UPC sticker on them. The added bonus is bar soaps are much more interesting to buy and use than body wash or shampoo and our kids love them. PCC could take this a step further and offer bulk soap, which I’ve found locally in other stores. You just hack off what you want and pay by weight without even a UPC sticker. Take it home in a reusable shopping bag.
— Jeff Flogel
PCC replies: Thank you for sharing your family’s experience with bar soaps and shampoos, and for embracing ways to use less packaging. We are always glad to hear recommendations for new products. At one time PCC did carry bulk soaps like the ones you describe. However, we found that they released essential oils into the aisles when they were cut, which was problematic for our scent-sensitive customers, so we no longer stock them. We have not seen unscented soaps in this format.
Offering organic foods
“Eat Organic, Lower Cancer Risk” (March Sound Consumer) was an interesting article. But in the years that I have shopped at PCC, I noticed that you now offer fewer organic items.
In the past organic apples, peaches and strawberries, foods listed as highly contaminated by various agencies, were used in your scones, pies, crisps, etc. I no longer find those organic versions in your stores.
While some of your multi-ingredient products may contain a couple of organic items, they are usually with ingredients that are not organic (tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, etc.), but should be according to the guidelines.
I am now buying fewer of your products. I wish that you would follow the guidelines on the recommended organic foods that should be used. I am rather fond of PCC and would like to buy the items that I used to get from you.
— Scott Theisen
PCC replies: Thank you for the feedback, for your fondness for PCC, and your support for organic foods. Your primary concerns appear to be with our deli and prepared foods and you will be happy to know that in these departments the number of organic ingredients we use has actually increased over the years, both because more organic ingredients are available and because we are working hard to source them organically. As recently as 2007, most of the deli ingredients were non-organic and now most of them are — but there are exceptions that are dependent on time of year, who makes the food and the type of product. Here is a brief rundown of some key products and ingredients:
- All fresh and canned tomatoes used in the deli are organic. For antipasto items that contain either pickled or roasted tomatoes, these are not organic.
- The apple pies that we currently serve are from an outside provider that is not using an organic apple. We have used organic apples in the past.
- To the best of our knowledge, we have only ever used organic peaches in baked goods during peach season. The frozen peaches used for baked goods outside of peach season are not organic.
- The bell pepper issue is unique. Fresh bell peppers used in the deli are nearly always organic. However, we choose not to list them as organic, because seasonal crop shortages sometimes require that we temporarily substitute conventional peppers, and it is not practical to switch our labels on such short notice. We do use pickled and roasted peppers that are not organic (such as Mama Lil’s peppers) in the deli’s antipasto.
- All of the strawberries that we use in PCC deli and bakery items are organic. However, we do carry some baked goods from outside providers that use non-organic strawberries.
Beyond our deli and prepared foods, 95% of our produce sold is organic. We have also made it one of our five-year goals to add 1,000 new organic grocery products to our shelves, and we are always looking for ways to responsibly add new organic items. We would welcome more information on the particular guidelines you are referencing to make sure we are addressing your concerns on those. Again, we appreciate your feedback and hope that this information has made you feel more confident in our commitment to organic.
I have read some articles that state Kerrygold is being sued because their butter isn’t actually from exclusively grass-fed cows and that some of the supplemental feed is actually GMO soy. Is this true? I thought PCC didn’t sell products from GMO sources. I really look to PCC to filter products like this off their shelves (that’s why I am a co-op member and pay the premium prices to shop with you guys). I know you still sell Kerrygold though.
PCC replies: Thank you for reaching out with your question about Kerrygold butter, and whether their cows are grass-fed or receive GMO feed. There are a few important details to this situation, but the short answer is that yes, the cows may be receiving GMO feed. Only organic production specifically prohibits the feeding of GMO content, so unless a dairy product is certified organic or certified by the Non-GMO Project, it’s possible.
We advocate transparency and avoidance of genetically modified ingredients, as best we can. We have a preference for organic and non-GMO products in our stores, and our process for selecting new items prohibits GMO ingredients.
The lawsuit you mentioned was dismissed in March, and Kerrygold has been the subject of similar lawsuits in the past that have not come to fruition.
An important detail in the claims against Kerrygold and any other product making “grass-fed” claims is the definition of “grass-fed.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revoked its definition for “grass-fed” in 2016 and announced it no longer would verify producers’ grass-fed claims to a uniform USDA standard. Unfortunately, this means grass-fed claims on dairy can reflect dramatically different criteria. For example, a general “grass-fed” claim on yogurt can mean it’s made from the milk of cows that ate only some grass at some point in their lives. We recommend looking for 100% grass-fed claims and more specifically: PCO Certified 100% Grassfed, American Grassfed, Certified Grassfed by AGW, and NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed have all been evaluated by Consumer Reports as having highly meaningful and verified labels. You can also ask particular brands what their “grass-fed” claims mean to them.
We will consider your feedback as we continue to evaluate our products containing any “grass-fed” claims.
Reducing cancer risks
Regarding the February Sound Consumer article from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center about reducing cancer risks: As a retired RN and daughter and granddaughter of cancer victims, I have a few things to say about cancer in America and the printing of this article. Despite the good professionals who likely work at the Hutch, I don’t think it is helpful or even ethical to take advice on cancer prevention from institutions that make their money from cancer. The article was a surface look at cancer. We need to look wider and deeper at our society and how we live to see about reducing our rates of cancer. Let’s dig in and get real about our environment, undue influence from corporations, money in politics, and about the many barriers to health in America.
— Jo Ann Herbert, RN, BSN (retired)
Better packaging options
I really need to comment on your stocking Brussels sprouts and avocados in net bags. We have been members for over 30 years, and I have a great deal of respect for PCC’s policies, but I am appalled at this decision. There is absolutely no reason why you should offer these items in net, unrecyclable bags, which only add to the already overburdened waste stream and could potentially be disastrous for sea creatures and birds. As a community market at the forefront of environmentally responsible advocacy, you should put our planet’s (and our) health at the top of your list of considerations when choosing what to offer and what to reject, no matter what a minority of consumers wants for the sake of “convenience.” If you take a stand, the majority of consumers will respect you for it.
— Kathy Frank
PCC replies: Thank you for writing us regarding the use of mesh produce bags in our stores, and for your ongoing support of the co-op.
In March our customer support team responded to your feedback and noted that single-use plastic is a pressing concern for us. To that end, PCC is transitioning our deli packaging to entirely compostable options to keep waste out of landfills, evaluating compostable and reuseable produce bag options, and working toward a zero-waste goal. We also noted our merchandising team was actively looking into replacements for the plastic produce mesh bags.
As an update, PCC is pleased to report that you should soon see fewer mesh produce bags in our stores. Produce previously packaged in-house by PCC in mesh bags will now be packaged in paper totes instead. We will continue to actively encourage vendors who send us produce pre-packaged in mesh bags to find an alternative.
Thank you again for your feedback. Member input is an important part of our efforts to continually improve our products and sustainability standards.