Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in January 2021
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Tomato importing issues
I recently watched a video on the industrialization of tomato products, titled “The Empire of Red Gold.” One of its messages was that tomato purees are being shipped from the fruits’ origin (Italy) to other places (China), where they are adulterated with soy products, and then shipped back to the country of origin for packaging. The labels on cans and bottles do not include information on the additives or handling in the other country; they simply state “product of Italy.” Several well-known brands that engage in this practice were named. I’m curious how PCC is able to monitor this type of practice in canned and bottled foods since labeling may be inaccurate. Using trusted vendors is important, but how aware are they of this practice?
Thanks very much for your ongoing attention to the origins of our food supply!
PCC replies: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are always interested in learning about potential issues with labeling and fraud in food products. We watched the documentary you mentioned, “Empire of Red Gold,” and it was a fascinating look at the industry. From what we could gather, it appears Chinese companies are not taking tomatoes from Italy for processing; they are growing and processing tomatoes in China, but then using Italian flag colors and phrases like “authentic Italian style” as a marketing strategy to make customers think they’re buying tomato products from Italy. The documentary does note that even Italian companies buy concentrate from China, and then pass the product off as seeming like it is 100% from Italy.
The one Chinese company featured in the documentary that adds soybean fiber to products seems to market primarily to the Middle East, Africa and parts of Europe. In the United States, soy is considered a common and known allergen and its presence must be disclosed on a product’s label under FDA regulations.
We feel very confident that the brands we sell are operating outside of this system—many are certified organic, smaller producers who operate fully within the United States, or are trusted imported brands that have full control and transparency over their product, from farm to shelf. For example, Tutta Bella, a brand built around the authenticity of their tomatoes, travels to Italy to meet their producers.
Thank you again for reaching out with your concerns. Fraud in the food supply is an issue we take seriously and always appreciate customers flagging potential sources of fraud to monitor.
Why doesn’t PCC carry oil-free deli, bread or other prepared food options (other than produce)? Many of us (especially seniors) are now on these very restrictive diets due to cardio concerns. I prefer not shopping elsewhere but have no choice.
— Fred Campbell
(member since 1970)
PCC replies: Thank you, first, for your 50-year membership.
We have looked for answers to your question on oil-free prepared foods. Oil-free prepared foods are rare in part because a small amount of cooking oil is used for many of the processes used when cooking ingredients for deli foods, such as sautéing or grilling. Some recipes contain only a trivial amount of oil—but not zero. (We can provide nutritional information for any deli items on request.) We did attempt to carry a selection of entirely oil-free items a few years ago, such as a “Rockin Raw Kale Salad,” but eventually discontinued them due to lack of sales. Currently, oil-free deli items include the salad bar and packaged salads (if not using the dressings provided) along with the smoothie bars in selected stores.
For grocery items, oil-free products are more common, but we do not track “oil-free” as a category. If you have questions about a specific product line or item, we can check labels and provide more details. For instance, our grocery merchandiser notes that many breads do not contain added oils. On a quick and random spot check of labels, we note that the 14-ounce Macrina baguette, the “21 whole grains and seeds” brand from Dave’s Killer Bread, and Ezekiel 4:9 flourless Sprouted Grain Bread are oil-free.
Please let us know if we can provide more specific information, and, again, thank you.
Chinook salmon policy
PLEASE do not sell Chinook salmon. The whales are on their way to extinction from lack of food, noise pollution, pollution and traffic. The Snoqualmie River below the falls is the Chinook’s last spawning ground. Unfortunately the spawning salmon are few to be found due to overuse by recreational floating.
PCC replies: Thank you for expressing your concern for Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident killer whales (Southern Residents). We too care deeply about the survival of both iconic species, which is why we spent almost two years developing our new place-based Chinook sourcing standard with the support of experts at the National Fisheries Conservation Center (NFCC). Under this standard, we only source Chinook from tightly managed fisheries that can show with enough confidence they do not further weaken already fragile runs or harvest fish that could be prey for the Southern Residents. PCC does not source any Chinook from the Snoqualmie River that you expressed concern over. If you want to learn more about our standard and what fisheries we have evaluated and found to meet the standard, we’d encourage you to visit our Chinook Salmon Standards page on our website.
We respect anyone’s decision not to purchase or eat Chinook. Based on our research, however, we do not believe ending the sale of all Chinook would be the most impactful action for a retailer to take because, unfortunately, human consumption of Chinook salmon is a very small piece of the problem facing both Chinook salmon and Southern Residents. Human impacts, such as destruction of habitat, introduction of pesticides and toxins into the marine environment and climate change are some of the primary drivers of their declines and struggles. While some conservationists support elimination of Chinook as a source of food for humans, many do not because it will have little impact and remove valuable incentives for continued research and conservation efforts.
Given this situation, PCC will be continuing to work with our partners at NFCC to explore what other ways retailers can engage in protecting Chinook and the Southern Residents beyond simply sourcing decisions. We appreciate you taking the time to let us know that this is still an important issue to our members. Thank you again for reaching out and expressing your concerns.
Pesticides in spinach
A recent Consumer Reports magazine indicates that U.S.-grown organic spinach was assessed as “POOR” with respect to pesticides. The organicgirl spinach that I purchased indicates Salinas, CA on the plastic container. What is the assessment by PCC nutritional staff on the pesticides on organicgirl spinach?
PCC replies: Thank you for writing in and asking for information concerning our organicgirl spinach and potential pesticide residues.
We are glad to see that you have reviewed Consumer Reports (CR)’s most recent report concerning pesticide residues on nonorganic and organic produce and fruit (see Sound Consumer’s summary of that report here). As you probably read, Consumer Reports found that “the vast majority of the USDA data show that while pesticides are sometimes found on organic foods, the levels are usually 10% or less of what’s found on nonorganic….” This means that overwhelmingly, organic produce is free or mostly free of some of the harmful pesticides found on conventional fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, you are correct that fresh spinach was one of the types of organic produce that showed more residues and higher levels of pesticides—with 33 pesticides being found on 76% of the samples tested. Because CR’s analysis is based on USDA data, we have no way of knowing what brands or samples contained these levels of pesticides.
We agree with CR that it is concerning when specific categories of produce demonstrate such departures from the organic norm and will be working with CR and many of our organic allies to encourage investigation into any discrepancies.
Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to individually test our produce but will continue to work with organicgirl and other spinach vendors to monitor the issue and ensure the integrity of organic products. In the meantime, we encourage you to wash your spinach before eating or identify one of the alternative leafy greens, such as lettuce or kale, that received very good and excellent ratings from CR.
Thanks again for reaching out with your questions.