Letters to the Editor
This article was originally published in May 2020
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Organic milk accountability
I love you guys and appreciate all that you do in the advocacy department! You go above and beyond in the “policing” department to make sure that the products that are marked organic are indeed organic.
I just read a report done by an undercover investigator for Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) and watched a sickening video of the cruel treatment of the cows at Donald DeJong’s Natural Prairie Dairy. What he is doing is making a mockery of organic standards. I am a consumer and supporter of organic dairy products. I believe that there are sustainable, humane ways to raise animals for meat and dairy. These ways may cost more (and reflect the true cost of doing sustainable business) and I am willing to pay for it.
My questions for you are:
How often and what types of accountability “policing” does PCC do for our dairy products, especially the milk and butter?
Do any of our products come from DeJong’s Natural Prairie Dairy?
Do any of our dairies let the calves stay with their mothers?
What about accountability for Kerrygold and other import butters?
— Annie De Santis, Happy member since 1995
PCC replies: We agree with you that the video report of Natural Prairie Dairy, located in Texas, was disturbing. PCC fresh milk is all sourced from Washington and Oregon, so we can assure you that our fresh milk supply does not contain milk from this dairy.
For other dairy products, such as butter, yogurt and cheese, the supply chain tracking, even for organic, is more complicated because of milk pooling. Whenever possible for these dairy items, we do place a priority on locally sourced and organic producers that go above and beyond on animal welfare standards. For example, our PCC Private Label Yogurt, produced by Pure Eire Dairy out of Othello, Washington, is from 100% grass fed and organically raised cows that allow calves to remain with their mothers. Other very conscious and sustainable producers that we carry, such as Straus Family Creamery, however, do not believe in keeping calf and mother together—yet follow very high animal welfare and pasture standards as a whole. Because there is disagreement between even the best producers on some of these practices, we maintain open communications with our producers, collect information on current and best practices, and continually assess whether our internal standards need to be improved.
As for “policing”—PCC does ensure that where we have existing standards for products, such as fresh milk, that producers provide information on how they are meeting those standards through assessment checklists. We do not, however, have the capacity to act as an individual certifier and inspector for all of the products we carry. (This is one of the many reasons we place a high amount of value on strong third-party certified labels and claims, such as USDA Organic and also identify brands and suppliers that have a strong track record of transparency and integrity, such as Organic Valley.) Whenever possible with local vendors, we do conduct farm visits, but this is not a requirement.
We agree with you that organic, especially in the category of dairy, has some gaps both in the regulations themselves and how they are enforced. We have been very active and vocal, along with many of our organic allies, in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture for strengthened rules and enforcement on organic transition and animal welfare. (Check out our past comments to the National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board.) That being said, we do firmly believe that most organic dairy producers are significantly better in their animal welfare practices as compared to conventional and would caution you from dismissing the certification as a whole because of the headlines surrounding egregious violators.
Concerning Kerrygold Butter and other products lacking third-party certifications, we do rely on producer claims and statements made to the public as well as to our merchandisers to assess whether these products meet our standards. Should concerns arise with a product we carry, we monitor information and developments and evaluate appropriate steps to address any validated concerns through our Quality Standards Committee.
Thank you for sharing your questions and concerns. It is always helpful for us to know what our members care about as we continue to improve our animal welfare standards.
What is allulose?
Tell us more about allulose (mentioned in the January-February Sound Consumer). I pay attention to all issues “sugar,” but I haven’t heard of this one.
— Trane Levington
PCC replies: Thank you for your question about allulose. Allulose is a naturally occurring monosaccharide sugar that contains fewer calories than traditional table sugar (sucrose) and is approximately 70% as sweet. Its texture, taste and browning properties are similar to those of traditional sugar, and it occurs naturally in a small number of foods, including figs, raisins, dried jackfruit, wheat and molasses. Commercially manufactured allulose is produced from fructose through enzymatic reaction. Allulose does not increase blood glucose levels, which is another reason it’s being viewed with such interest and is being studied for possible medical uses. It is a relatively new ingredient; commercial production began in the mid-1990s, and there have not been comprehensive long-term studies on its effects on human health. It has not received approval in Canada or the European Union and is still under discussion by international food standard-setting organizations. PCC does not currently allow allulose in foods on our shelves given the dearth of long-term safety data and the lack of approval in Canada and the European Union but will monitor and reevaluate once these data and determinations are available.
Allulose and labeling
Is allulose allowed in food that is certified organic? Allulose would still need to be included in the food’s list of ingredients, correct?
— Suzannah, Burien PCC Member
PCC replies: Thank you for reaching out with your questions about allulose. Any allulose used in certified organic foods would have to be certified as well. It is a relatively new ingredient, though, and we are currently unaware of any allulose on the market that meets that requirement. It is theoretically possible, since allulose is a naturally occurring sugar and its production method (enzymatic reaction) is allowed under organic regulations. Recently, Non-GMO Project Verified allulose has appeared on the market, which could suggest that an organic certified allulose is not far behind. Regardless, as we noted above, PCC does not currently allow allulose in foods on our shelves given the dearth of long-term safety data and the lack of approval in Canada and the European Union.
In regard to your second question—you are correct that allulose would need to be included on the food’s list of ingredients, even though it would not be included on the “added sugars” section of the nutritional facts label. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s decision to exempt allulose from being counted towards added sugars is because it has different physiological interactions in the body than other sugars. Allulose appears to not raise blood glucose or insulin levels, which are concerns for people with diabetes. All ingredients in a food must be included in the ingredient panel, unless they fall under the category of “incidental additives” that are present at insignificant levels, are not allergens, and serve no true function in a food. A sweetener would not meet the definition of an incidental additive and would, therefore, be required on the ingredient panel under FDA regulations.
Almonds and bees
I don’t buy almond milk because of a food sensitivity, but I’ve seen it in PCC stores. I’d like PCC to consider taking almond milk off the shelves because of the damage the crop does to honeybees. Perhaps whole almonds need to go, too. At the same time that PCC is expanding its presence in the Puget Sound region, as a member since 1991 I want PCC to remain responsible to environmental concerns. Honeybees are so important!
— Ramona Gault
PCC replies: Thank you for writing in and sharing your concerns over pollinator health!
We agree with you that the continuing decline of bees (and other pollinators) is a significant threat facing our food system. It has been an issue on which PCC has educated consumers through the Sound Consumer (honeybees) and advocated on behalf of solutions for nearly a decade. Some of this advocacy has taken the form of supporting legislations and policy, such as the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (PCC Supports Saving America’s Pollinators Act), while other forms are demonstrated in the support and encouragement of organic producers and nonprofits dedicated to implementing pollinator-friendly practices (Local Bee-Lovers Protect Pollinators).
Pollinator issues are not unique to almond production. Intensive pesticide use and elimination of plant biodiversity are some of the main culprits in conventional agriculture. Beekeepers face these kinds of honeybee declines in supporting many different crops. Because of this, we could not take the approach of removing entire crops or categories of food that share in these issues. Instead, we choose to focus on supporting, growing and providing organic options. Organic methods of growing prohibit pesticide use (especially chemicals such as neonicotinoids) and encourage diverse planting practices as an important part of the solution.
While many of the almond products we carry are organic, some are not, so we appreciate you bringing your views on this issue to our attention.