This article was originally published in January 2021
Whatever happened to…these issues from 2020?
Has anything gone as planned lately? When it comes to sustainable food and agriculture, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some delays, some advances and countless course corrections. Here’s an update on several news articles featured in recent issues of the Sound Consumer. Looking to the future, see this story for a preview of what to expect in 2021’s state legislative session.
The issue: As vegetarian and vegan alternates to animal-based products become even more mainstream, new laws across the U.S. sought to bar manufacturers of plant-based products from using terms like “milk” or “meat” on their labels.
Update: While many legal issues are still pending, producers of plant-based products have won some labeling victories. In one notable case, a federal court has blocked the state of Arkansas from enforcing a law restricting the use of “meaty” terms to products derived from slaughtered animals while a legal challenge proceeds through the courts, according to FoodNavigator.com. In another decision with potentially broad ramifications, a district court prevented the state of California from enforcing its demands that vegan cheesemaker Miyoko’s Creamery cease using the terms “butter,” “lactose-free,” and “cruelty-free” on its products.
Refillable container rules
The issue: When the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) began updating its food safety rules last year, PCC and other environmental and consumer advocates pressed for changes that would allow for more use of refillable containers in markets, reducing waste from single-use plastics.
Update: COVID-19 caused temporary restrictions on the use of reusable containers and also delayed the department’s update. The update is still in progress, though, and proposed new rules would allow for some uses of refillable containers, but still stop short of allowing them in many ready-to-eat, self-service situations such as the salad bar. Once finalized, the new food safety rules are expected to go into effect mid-year.
The issue: Development and rising land prices are threatening some of the land now in use as Seattle P-Patches, one of the largest and most honored community gardening initiatives in the country. The 43-year-old Ballard P-Patch, a significant plot of open land within the neighborhood, was in danger of being replaced by a development of single-family homes earlier this year.
Update: The land will almost certainly be preserved as a P-Patch. Instead of being sold to developers, it was purchased by the nonprofit land conservancy GROW Northwest for $1.95 million, with the help of a two-year bridge loan. The loan provided “breathing room” for supporters to continue fundraising and seeking grants to preserve the land as a community garden in perpetuity.
Living Building Challenge
The issue: PCC has been working to achieve the world’s most rigorous green building standard, the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal Certification. The certification prioritizes energy efficiency and resource conservation, with the long list of requirements including building materials that are “non-toxic, ecologically restorative, transparent and socially equitable.”
Update: In October, PCC became the first grocery store in the world to achieve LBC Petal Certification when its Ballard store received the honor. (See full story here.)
Overtime pay for farmworkers
The issue: Washington’s state Supreme Court considered a case arguing that farmworkers should not be excluded from overtime requirements. New York and California have been the only states requiring overtime pay for farmworkers, and those two states established the requirement through legislation, not the courts.
Update: The workers are entitled to overtime pay, the state Supreme Court ruled in November. While the case in question involved the dairy industry, initial reports suggest that the 5-4 ruling will apply to all farmworkers in the state.
The issue: A plan to bring genetically engineered (GE) salmon into U.S. markets appeared likely to become a reality as early as 2020, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Inc. It was the first genetically engineered animal approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption. Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Inc. was to import eggs from its Canadian hatchery to grow GE salmon in Indiana.
Update: A federal judge ruled in November that the FDA did not adequately assess the risk that AquaBounty’s salmon would escape and survive in the wild, endangering populations of wild salmon. The judge did not revoke the previous approvals, though, as the risks of escape in this scenario were considered remote, and the salmon are still likely be sold in the U.S. in the near future. The FDA now must complete its risk analysis so that it will be part of the record for consideration of any future approvals for GE animals intended for human consumption.