Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in September 2019
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Supporting regenerative farming
I’ve been reading lately about the significant role regenerative farming can play in lessening our climate crisis by helping sink carbon in the soil. I’m very excited to do what I can as an eater to help support regenerative agriculture. My questions for PCC are:
1) Do you consider regenerative farming practices as a criteria when choosing which producers to carry? If not, can you start?
2) Are there any indicators I can look for as a consumer to help me choose producers who are farming in a carbon sequestering way?
3) Any PCC producers who you feel are leading the way?
Food is such an integral part of human life, and with our daily food choices we can do so much to support healthy people, healthy culture—and, it turns out, a healthy planet. How awesome is that?
Thanks as always for being such a great resource for healthy food and food politics education.
— Becca Hall, Fall City
PCC replies: Thank you for your questions and excitement about regenerative farming. Scientists and world leaders have called for immediate and dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and regenerative agriculture is listed by Project Drawdown—a coalition of researchers, scientists, graduate students, PhDs, post-docs, policy makers, business leaders and activists assembled to present the best available information on climate—as one of the top 15 ways that we can achieve the necessary reductions.
Two regenerative agriculture certifications are in their pilot stages of entering the marketplace, the Real Organic Project and Regenerative Organic Certification (see our Sound Consumer article on p. 8). We are supporting both of these standards in an effort to improve our food system.
Until those certifications are finalized and more mainstream, the easiest way for consumers to identify regenerative practices is to find the certified organic seal. Most certified organic producers already use many regenerative agricultural practices, because they actively manage their soil to keep it healthy. A byproduct of healthy soil is the sequestration of more carbon than soil on farms that use conventional, chemical-based practices. (The exception to this rule is hydroponically grown organic, which does not require active soil management.)
PCC doesn’t currently include regenerative agriculture as a criterion to select vendors. PCC’s stores, however, feature quite a few vendors who are leading the way through organic production and additional efforts. In fact, many of PCC’s private label producers, like Pure Eire Dairy (PCC yogurt), Wilcox Farms (PCC eggs) and Tony’s Coffee (PCC coffee), demonstrate strong commitments to regenerative practices and sourcing. In the grocery aisles, you can also look for members of the Climate Collaborative, a group focused on reducing the climate impacts of natural foods. In the supplement aisle, MegaFoods is leading the charge to incorporate regenerative agriculture into its supply chain.
As we continuously strive to improve our standards, customer input is important. Thank you again for your passion and commitment to creating a more climate-conscious food system.
Trimming food prices?
I continue to be dismayed by the high prices for most fresh fruit, produce, and other grocery products at PCC, adding to exclusivity of healthy organic food available to low income families. I’ve been told by PCC staff in the past that it’s because PCC does not have the purchasing power that other larger grocery outlets have in the Northwest. However, reading the recent Co-op Purposes Report (June 2019), PCC does do a lot for the community, such as meal donations, Farmland Trust, cutting energy etc., but what is it doing for the affordability of good and healthy food for low-income families? At the same time, PCC reports continued gross profits over 39% as a percent of sales. How about helping lower-income families by trimming food prices a bit?
— Peter Steinbrueck, Seattle
PCC replies: Thank you writing. Food access is a complex issue that we spend a lot of time thinking about. One in nine families in King County is food insecure, many of which are the working poor. As you point out, our grocery rescue and bulk food donation programs help to provide needed nutrition for our neighbors in need. We work with 14 partner food banks, 28 grocery rescue partners, Food Lifeline and Solid Ground to address food insecurity across our region. We recently hired a community nutrition program manager (see page 6) to dive deeper into the issue of food access, and we believe we are one of very few grocers of our size to dedicate such resources to the issue.
We share your concern about ensuring that our pricing is fair and spend considerable time working to ensure that it is. Our retail prices are set to ensure our ability to offer our 1,500 staff members competitive wages and benefits; to pay the small and mid-sized farmers, ranchers and producers we work with a fair price for their goods; and, unique to us as a co-op, to return a portion of our profits back to our nearly 70,000 members. Our decision to prioritize organic and non-GMO items as part of our commitment to an environmental bottom line also means we mostly don’t carry lower-priced conventional food grown with pesticides.
Additionally, of the grocers in Seattle, we are one of a very small handful of food markets not owned by private equity, another larger company or Wall Street investors. We don’t have the benefit of being part of a global corporation that may be willing to sustain losses to subsidize lower prices, nor do we have thousands of stores to ease the cost of goods.
Wherever possible, we are working to find opportunities to offer goods at a lower price point. For example, we consolidate our “center store” buying power with other co-ops nationwide. This is how we can offer affordable pantry staples, like canned beans, peanut butter, cereal and other goods through the Field Day brand. We’ve also expanded our PCC Values offerings, another program where we combine purchasing power with other co-ops nationwide to offer branded grocery staples like Wallaby Yogurt and Bionaturae Pasta at lower prices. We continue to invest in our bulk department, which is a tried-and-true way our members have saved on food prices for decades.
We also regularly review the prices of “commodity” items, like organic milk, chicken breasts and fair trade organic bananas, to keep them as affordable as possible. In our discussions about pricing, we are constantly balancing our ability to pay our own staff and our farmers and producers fairly while meeting our other social and environmental responsibilities.
You mention PCC’s gross profit, which is a figure that is before our largest expense—the wages and benefits we pay our staff—are factored in. We are continually balancing the prices we charge with the other things that our shoppers tell us time and time again that they value, including fair wages and generous benefits for our employees.
Thank you for reading our Co-op Purposes Report, which captures the important work we’re doing across our social and environmental bottom lines. As a triple bottom line co-op, we are committed to making a positive social, environmental and financial impact on our community. This work has many different elements that we strive to balance thoughtfully against our mission to create a cooperative, sustainable environment in which the natural and organic supply chains thrive.
Food access, competitive wages, supporting local producers and caring for the environment are all important topics that our co-op will continue to find ways to creatively address. We appreciate your question and your interest in PCC.
Chickens and chlorine
I am so thankful I have a trusted source of health information in PCC! I read recently that 97% of U.S.-raised chickens are bathed in chlorine! The EU has banned chicken from the U.S. What is PCC’s policy on this? I am hoping the chicken I buy at PCC is part of the 3%?
PCC replies: Thank you for your kind words and for your question on chlorine washes on chicken. PCC’s suppliers do not use chlorine washes on their chicken.
One reason our suppliers don’t use this practice is because their chickens are air chilled after slaughter, rather than submerged in cold water that would contain the chlorinated substances. (This article on air chilling’s benefits compared with chlorine washing may be of interest: If You’re Not Cooking With Air-Chilled Chicken, You’re Doing It Wrong”)
The intention of the chlorine washes, which are used after slaughter and before packaging, is to remove contaminants that can cause food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and listeria. Some recent studies do question their effectiveness, among other concerns, but for now they remain a common practice in the U.S.
You are correct that the European Union does not allow imports of U.S. chicken. According to various media reports, the ban is chiefly due to fears that the chlorine washes would encourage farmers to cut corners on other sanitation measures and would lower animal welfare standards. The EU enacted this ban in 1997, though the United Kingdom is debating lifting it as part of the Brexit process.
PCC’s current poultry standard doesn’t specifically address chlorine washes, but our standards continue to evolve.