DEAR ORGANIC PRODUCE RETAILER ~ ISSUE 212 ~ JUNE 28, 2016
By Diane Gold
Dear Organic Produce Retailer,
I wanted to ask if you could be of service to me and to do me, 5,000,000 vegans and anyone who has a food allergy to beeswax, propolis or lac beetle.
When I come in to your store, which is very often daily; my main buy is organic produce. Sometimes, when I am lazy, I will buy a non-GMO food item in a package with organic ingredients. It is never a great idea to buy things in packages, so I am not promoting this action.
So, back to the produce aisle. I go to the organic fruit or veggies. When I see something I wish to eat, I need to find out what kind of wax coating is on it. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a very biased and inferior regulation about how wax coating has to be labeled. It is not adequate or useful for me. Here, in Title 21 of the Code of Food Regulations 101.4, it says,
“(22) Wax and resin ingredients on fresh produce when such produce is held for retail sale, or when held for other than retail sale by packers or repackers shall be declared collectively by the phrase “coated with food-grade animal-based wax, to maintain freshness” or the phrase “coated with food-grade vegetable-, petroleum-, beeswax-, and/or shellac-based wax or resin, to maintain freshness” as appropriate. The terms “food-grade” and “to maintain freshness” are optional. The term lac-resin may be substituted for the term shellac.”
We, the consumer, rarely see these signs. They are required to be on the produce boxes which may not be on display. Or, if they are on display, many times, because of exemption or display configuration or some nebulous reason I don’t know, the information is missing or hidden. So, that is not helpful and, often times, breaks a regulation, and may put the consumer in danger.
WAX FROM TWO SOURCES
That is not the worst for me, though. As you can read above, food grade vegetable wax is grouped together with petroleum wax, beeswax, and lac beetle resin. If I can consume products with food grade vegetable wax, I ¬am OK. I might even opt for petroleum wax even though it’s not good for me, but it’s not put on organic produce. To consume beeswax or lac beetle resin would not be good for me. I could become terribly sick.
My real focus is killing less, so, if it is not necessary, I do not choose to use product that uses bees or beetles.
HOW TO TELL WHAT’S ON THE PRODUCE
So, here’s the issue with every organic produce retailer I have ever seen: the retailer doesn’t list the FDA’s basic, useless verbiage quoted above from Title 21. This is because only the finisher (packer) has to put it on the box – sometimes. What this means is that when I go into my organic produce retailer and want to buy food, I have to look at the name of the farm that supplied the particular produce (many times by having to ask rather than by seeing it on display) and contact the farm before making a purchase. I have to ask whether the farm uses beeswax or lac beetle in the wax.
Sometimes, these companies say,
“We don’t know. You have to call the product distributor/finisher/packer;”
sometimes they say,
“We don’t know at all; you will have to call back when so-and-so is here;”
sometimes they say,
“We have someone who knows that, but s/he is not here now;”
and rarely they say,
“Yes, we know that,”
and give me an answer on the spot.
Of course, in order to make the original phone call, I have to look up the phone number of the farm. This means internet searching while shopping or asking the store manager to look it up. Then, the farm has to be open for business at the time I want to call, and the person who knows answers has to be available.
What is so complicated about this, and doesn’t have to be, is that the organic produce retailer changes the product it buys on an almost daily basis, based on season, price, availability and demand. So, after calling a farm about a particular type of produce that is available at retailer 123, the next day when I visit retailer 123; I will probably have to call a new farm for the same type of produce, since one order of produce lasts only so long. And the retailer buys only as much as it can sell without its going bad. And if I move on to organic produce retailer 456, a different crop from a different farm may be available.
Growers only grow so much, so retailers may buy from one farm one day and another farm the next day. This complication causes me to have to make phone calls every day in order to find out which organic produce has vegetable wax only on it. If the retailer has enough of this product, I might be able to buy the same type of produce supplied by the same farm for a week. With repeat buys of produce from a farm I have called, I am in luck. I don’t have to call again for a good 6 months – to see whether the farm has changed its waxing policy.
But, so often I have to call, at least, one company per visit to a store. And, 9 out of 10 times, I will have to leave the produce and wait for a call back from the farm or the finishing company. When I finally get the call a day or two later (or not at all as is common), it will be too late to buy the particular farm’s produce because the retailer will be sold out.
What if my dear organic produce retailer had a list, a list of all the ingredients in every wax that was on every piece of produce? It would be easy to get for the big retailer. As part of the buying arrangement with the farm and/or a finisher:
1) the retailer could require the farm and finisher to disclose the type of wax IN WRITING WITH DATE that is on each type of produce from that particular farm or finisher, including, and most importantly, the source of the ingredients that make up the wax, before the retailer makes a buy.
How much easier would it be for the retailer to add that stipulation into a purchase agreement than it would be for lots of individual consumers to have to, on a daily basis, or as long as retailers change farms, take the following steps:
0) find the phone number of the farm that grew the produce I want
1) call the new farm of the day (since retailers change farms so often)
2) wait on hold
3) find out that the farm is not the finisher (packer)
4) have to look up the number of the finisher
5) call the finisher
6) wait on hold
7) find that the finisher does not know the source of the item being used because it is manufactured by another company
8) get a company name that actually makes the wax
9) look up the number of the actual manufacturer
10) call the company that makes the wax
11) wait on hold and have to be called back
12) wonder when a call back will come
13) then have to call again when no call back comes
14) explain what I want again
15) wait on hold and have to be called back
16) wonder when a call back will come
17) get a call back
18) find out the person who called doesn’t know the source information because their company buys some of the ingredients from separate suppliers
19) get the names of all the external suppliers
20) look up the numbers of these externals
21) call the external suppliers, one by one
Etc., Etc. Etc.
Dear Organic Produce Retailer,
Please hear me and arrange to carry a source list of wax. You are large and powerful, so your farms and finishers will want your business and will do what you ask. I would help you if you asked. What if I am allergic to lac beetle and don’t see the sign that says the word “shellac,” made from lac beetle because it is on the box in the back, out of sight?
Or what if I don’t know that shellac is lac beetle? It could become catastrophic. Or what if the beeswax contains propolis (bee glue, which it usually does) and I stopped breathing from an allergic reaction?
The FDA will only change regulations if I can prove that thousands of people are allergic to something. Much easier for you to help by making a list.
And what about my peace of mind? The FDA does not base its decisions on philosophy, only medical study. So, the psychological wellness of 5,000,000 actual vegans is not the FDA’s criteria. Nor is it the FDA’s way to change regulations for the allergy of one individual person. But why? Isn’t it my FDA? Doesn’t it serve me?
Dear Organic Produce Retailer, since you have at your fingertips the ability to make the quality of all of our lives considerably more excellent, please do it. We will love you more for it. Thanks.
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DIANE GOLD, PUBLISHER AND AUTHOR
Diane Gold, Founder of Warriors of Weight, Turning Habits Into Health, has been a mentor in tai chi, kung fu and meditation, has been a music, fitness and stress expert, dedicated mom, studying peaceful conflict resolution, habit replacement and has been certified in plant-based nutrition.
She believes retailers have a responsibility to provide us with knowledge as well as food. She says,
“Please ask your organic produce retailer to start compiling a list of wax and sources of wax on organic produce. We might be able to motivate our retailer because the “other” organic produce retailer already has a list.
“Most people in produce departments were raised in the era where they are not teachers. Let’s help them become teachers by asking them to get the information for us. Then they can teach future generations to supply this information and give us what we deserve.
“As always, let’s take overall good care of each other and ourselves – including loving ourselves and our fellow beings at all costs – because we are all always worth it.”
EXERCISE OF THE WEEK:
ASK YOUR ORGANIC PRODUCE RETAILER TO GET A LIST OF THE SOURCE OF WAX OF ONE PIECE OF PRODUCE. THE FOLLOWING WEEK, YOU CAN ASK FOR ANOTHER. ETC., ETC., ETC.