PCC Natural Markets is prohibiting suppliers from using cloned animal products in their food. It also wants them to disclose where ingredients are from and what they mean by terms such as “natural flavors.”
These moves come months after the Seattle chain eliminated high-fructose corn syrup from its eight stores and began identifying the countries of origin for its meat, seafood, peanuts and fresh and frozen produce.
Although the 2002 Farm Bill called for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for those products, the law has not been implemented and is being reworked as part of the 2007 Farm Bill still being considered in Congress.
“The failure of our regulatory agencies to mandate full disclosure of food ingredients makes it incumbent on leaders in the natural-foods industry to step forward and provide what our consumers want,” PCC Chief Executive Tracy Wolpert said in a news release Tuesday.
PCC will continue selling food from China, unlike Trader Joe’s, which said last year it would phase out single-ingredient food items from mainland China by April 1 because of customer concerns.
Much food that is certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes from other countries, including China.
At PCC, frozen vegetables including edamame in the shell and asparagus are from China, as are some bulk beans and buckwheat.
“Organic producers in the U.S. cannot meet all the demands for organic produce. There has been a question in the industry as to whether organic standards are being applied diligently in China. Our position is that if it’s certified organic, we accept that the certification requirements have been met,” said PCC spokeswoman Diana Crane.
It is difficult to estimate how much organic food comes from other countries. The U.S. does not track that data, said Organic Trade Association spokeswoman Barbara Haumann.
PCC sent letters to suppliers this week asking them to sign an agreement verifying that no products sold to the chain contain ingredients from cloned animals or their offspring.
The Food and Drug Administration ruled last month that such products are safe for consumption. PCC disagrees with the decision, saying the technology behind animal cloning remains controversial.
PCC also wants suppliers to disclose more information on food labels, it said in another letter.
With no deadlines or penalties, the company suggested that manufacturers add country-of-origin information to ingredient panels, stop using terms such as “natural flavors” and “proprietary blend” on those panels and identify genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on labels.
The chain also asked that expiration dates be clearly printed on packages and that packaging be made from sustainable materials.
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