Letters to editor
Sound Consumer | October 2012
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Labeling GMO initiative
I've been following Prop 37 in California, which aims to make it mandatory for companies to label foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The outcome of this law would have a great effect on our food supply across the country.
I have two questions: How can we in Washington help ensure this law passes? And two, many of the companies that are against the law own some organic brands. For instance, Coca-Cola owns the Odwalla brand. Kellogg's owns the Kashi and Bear Naked brands.
It seems counterproductive to buy these products and support these companies who are out to destroy our food supply. What is the right way to handle this?
Many thanks for listening. I've looked to PCC for guidance on how to live a healthier and more vibrant life, and I trust the food I buy at PCC and appreciate your stewardship of this trust.
— Vanessa Howell
As you're aware, Prop 37 is on the ballot in California. I helped raise money and campaign for this measure. As a result, we're finding a number of companies that own organic brands donating large amounts of money to stop our right to know what's in our food.
I ask that PCC join our boycott of these companies and remove their products with a small placard in their place explaining why those brands are not on your shelves at this point in time.
We have the right to know what's in our foods. We cannot bow down to bullies like Monsanto and ConAgra. They have the right to do business and people have the right to choose to eat poison. But we should have the right to know if our food is poisonous, genetically engineered and could be extremely unhealthy and dangerous. Just the right to make informed choices, that's all we want.
— David Hobbs
In an effort to assist customers in our right to know and support "informed choices," will PCC publish the parent company next to the product, or somewhere prominent in stores? Otherwise, how are we to know unless we are carrying our iPads with us in the store and cross-checking every company? The parent company is NOT on the label.
It could be a simple sign at the store entrance: "PCC supports your informed choice regarding GMO labeling. The following brands are owned by large food corporations that have invested heavily to fight GMO labeling initiatives, siding with companies such as Monsanto and DuPont. These two companies alone are spending millions to oppose California's GMO labeling initiative, which will be on the ballot November 6. The companies listed here oppose GMO labeling."
I look forward to hear about how PCC will educate shoppers on this very important issue. Until then, I'll be boycotting all these products.
— Jenny Pell
PCC replies: See the companies funding defeat of Prop 37, Opponents of GMO labeling. What makes this issue challenging is that these brands have no independent voice on this initiative, because of who owns and controls them. We aren't removing these brands but instead are working hard for mandatory labeling and continue to give preference to certified organic and verified non-GMO products.
We e-mailed our vendors (more than 450) from all departments asking them to endorse and support I-522 in Washington. The replies were flooding in at press time. It's customers like you who are making this happen.
I'm surprised the cover story on toothpaste (August 2012, Sound Consumer) didn't mention nanoparticles that are put in the "big box-store" type toothpastes. My husband and I went on a marine education tour around Puget Sound and one of the educators told us manufacturers are putting nanoparticles of plastic into toothpastes (and other bodycare products, even meds and foods) as whiteners and brighteners.
The nanoparticles in toothpaste are getting into the sea life/plankton and working their way up the food chain causing big problems. In studies on mice, they're implicated in DNA and chromosomal damage.
I'm grateful I have PCC to shop at and grateful for all the work you do to help us be healthy. Maybe an article on nanoparticles would be a good topic for the Sound Consumer.
— Dawna Fowler
PCC replies: The Sound Consumer first reported concerns about nanotechnology in 2009. Nanoparticles are not labeled, although they've been used since the 1990s in skin moisturizers, sunscreens, mineral makeup and other cosmetics. Nanoparticles more recently are being added to foods and packaging.
The nano ingredient reportedly in toothpaste is titanium dioxide. Almost 40 percent of food-grade titanium dioxide (TiO2) is nano but that means 60 percent is not. Without labeling for nanotechnology, it's hard to know what is, or isn't. Our Standards Committee has identified products with TiO2 as a first step toward asking vendors for assurance that their TiO2 is not nano.
The Food and Drug Administration warned manufacturers in April they cannot assume nano-sized versions of traditional ingredients are safe. Yet it suggested food companies need to determine themselves if their nanoparticles need regulation!
The concern is that ingredients manipulated in laboratories through nanotechnology to artificially small sizes (measured to billionths of a meter) often have novel properties considered dangerous to human and environmental health. Research shows nanoparticles can be very reactive or catalytic. They're smaller than a red blood cell and able to pass through cell membranes into the bloodstream and various organs because of their very small size. This may be one reason why nanoparticles generally are more toxic than larger particles of the same composition. Their interactions with biological systems are largely unknown.We'll plan to address nanotech in a future article. Thank you for suggesting it.
I am concerned about possible harmful effects from the food additive, carrageenan. I've heard it promotes inflammation and has negative effects on the intestines.
Carrageenan is on the ingredient list of many products I enjoy, such as nondairy soy and coconut milks, cottage cheese and even toothpaste. I've read that carrageenan is derived from seawood. Is it safe to eat?
— Kathleeen Fitzsimmons
PCC replies: Carrageenan is an ingredient that took us by surprise. It currently is approved for use in organic products but it seems this approval was based on a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) review years ago that failed to raise any of the concerns for human health and environmental damage before the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The concerns were documented at the time in peer-reviewed scientific studies but not mentioned in the TAP report.
We are dismayed by the majority NOSB vote this past May to allow continued use because every consumer organization and every individual consumer who commented on carrageenan urged NOSB to prohibit it from organic foods. We agreed with the five NOSB members who voted against allowing this ingredient. You may read our comments to the NOSB on our website under the "Learn" tab, Public Policy Statements.
You won't find carrageenan in organic beverages from Eden Foods and Westsoy, or in Straus Family Creamery and Three Twins ice cream and dairy.
Butter-flavored v. real butter
I saw the news that diacetyl, used in artificial butter flavoring, increases risk of Alzheimer's. I already knew to avoid ingredients in artificial flavoring but this just further validates the decision.
As an avid moviegoer, I thought we could give a shout-out to the increasingly rather large number of local movie theaters that actually provide real butter for their popcorn — a big draw for me!
One of my favorite things about the Landmark Theatres chain in Seattle is that its theatres use real butter on their popcorn. These include the Egyptian, Harvard Exit, Varsity, Seven Gables, Guild 45 and the Crest. Other local theatres now using real butter include Central Cinema, SIFF Cinema on Lower Queen Anne, and the Sundance Cinemas occupying what used to be Landmark's old Metro Theatre on 45th in the U District.
Now I have even better reason to stay away from the fake butter crap used on popcorn at other theatres, which would be the Meridian 16, Pacific Place 11 downtown and Cinerama.
This means that of all theatres downtown, on Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, or in the U District and Wallingford, real butter users now outnumber fake butter users! When I first moved to Seattle in 1998, it was the other way around. Progress! In butter use at the movies, anyway.
— Matthew McQuilkin, Assistant Merchandiser, PCC Natural Markets
Sugar in deli foods
Many of your savory deli salads contain agave and/or sugar. Examples include Tempeh of the Sea, Hearty Greens, and Moroccan Eggplant. This seems unnecessary.
As a diabetic, it's very difficult to find any of your salads that work for me and, as a parent, it concerns me that simple sugars are "slipped" into foods that most people think are healthy. I'm sure these dishes would be just as tasty without the sugar (natural or processed).
— Chemine Jackels
PCC replies: Two of the dishes you mention have a very small amount of sugar or agave that's part of an ingredient. For instance, the relish used in Tempeh of the Sea contains some sugar, and sugar is an ingredient in the Worcestershire sauce used in the Hearty Caesar salad. Some recipes use Vegenaise, which contains brown rice syrup. We do not add sugar to these recipes.
Some recipes, such as the Moroccan Eggplant, do have a small amount of sugar added to balance the acid from lemon and vinegar in the dressing. The vast majority of our recipes, however, contain no added sugar. Nutrition facts are available upon request by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I shop at the West Seattle PCC and I am saddened and frustrated with the ingredients in the deli's gelato selection. Given PCC's standards and the fact that deli space is limited, I would expect a higher-quality product.
The ingredients for the strawberry gelato read as follows: Sugar, corn sugar, strawberries ... etc. Others read: milk, cream, nonfat dry milk, sugar, corn sugar...etc. Nothing is organic. All contain sugar and corn sugar (highly likely it's GMO corn, too). Seriously? At PCC? You can do better than that.
— Clay Germano, member since '04
PCC replies: Merchandisers are working on bringing in an organic ice cream, too, so consumers have a choice.