retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In response to yesterday’s story about the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning Oregon officials that if the state’s voters pass a ballot measure requiring that products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled as such, it would “impermissibly interfere with manufacturers’ ability to market their products on a nationwide basis.”

One MNB user from the Pacific Northwest wrote:

“How dare the FDA even attempt to persuade Oregon's governor to take any sort of stand or make any sorts of statements against what the people of Oregon desire...is our government not "of the people, by the people and for the people", or was President Lincoln just blowin' smoke...and too bad for those manufacturers involved - bunch of crybabies – they shouldn't be making frankenfoods in the first place!”

We agree that the FDA may have miscalculated in sending such a letter; it may be just the move that pushes Oregon voters in the direction of passing the ballot measure.

But the problem, we think, goes back to the “frankenfoods” reference. You can be pro-labeling without thinking that GMOs are horrible for you. But the FDA and manufacturers are justifiably concerned with the “frankenfoods” designation, which doesn’t seem to have any justification in the science we’ve seen. No wonder they’re scared of labeling…

The level of discourse has to be raised, and the result might actually be public policy that makes sense.


On the same subject, another MNB user wrote:

“It seems to me that the solution to this GMO labeling issue is simple. Manufacturers who want to promote and market their product as "GMO Free" can print that on their label, kind of like "Sugar Free" or "Cholesterol Free." Then it can be assumed that a product without that on the label does contain ingredients that have been genetically modified. This is NOT a food safety issue that should require government mandates.”

The problem with this argument, as we understand it, is that the manufacturers who make non-GMO products say (with some justification) that their products always have been GMO-free, and that they haven’t changed anything; therefore, why should they change their labels? (Unlike fat-free products, which have been specifically engineered and changed to earn that designation.)


And MNB user Gene Grabowski, vice president of communications and marketing for the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), wrote:

“I always respect your opinions and often agree with them. But your call on biotech labeling of foods couldn't be more wrong. The FDA has examined this issue three times in the last decade -- seeking input from the virulent critics of the technology -- and each time concluded that no scientific evidence exists to warrant mandatory labeling of biotech foods. We label foods based on science in this country, not political science.

“Furthermore, what would happen if all the food that may contain biotech ingredients were labeled? Because nearly 80 percent of foods now may contain biotech, nearly everything would be labeled that it "may" contain biotech. How is that useful to the consumer? She still won't have any definitive answers. Plus, several studies show that
labeling for biotech would cost families a minimum of $140 a year in their grocery bills (for new labels, tracing, testing, etc.) -- for absolutely no value.

“Kevin, you are wrong.”


Maybe. But let’s be clear about our position…we’re not arguing with the science. We’d have no problem eating products with GMOs, nor with feeding our kids such products. But we think that the political reality is that consumers may demand such labels, and that manufacturers will be ill-served by fighting with the consumer on this issue.

Gene’s line about “science” vs. “political science” is a good one; we wish we’d thought of it. But we’re not sure we’d be so dismissive of the “political” power of giving consumers what they want.




Regarding our story about the improved fortunes of irradiation, now being referred to as “cold pasteurization,” a member of the MNB community wrote:

“I'm sure Louis Pasteur is rolling in his grave! And it appears online dictionaries have already updated their definitions of the word ‘pasteurization’ (which is by origination and definition a HEAT and/or elevated temperature process) to include radiation with gamma rays (which of course where used back in the late 1880's when the ‘pasteurization’ process was invented by the famous French chemist. So if our government is going to simply change the meaning of words, then ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ also mean ‘whatever the U.S. government wants the American people to know and believe’ and the phrase ‘by definition’ means ‘according to the FDA.’”


On the same subject, MNB user Norma Gilliam wrote:

“Having been part of the meat industry for many years has led me to believe that the irradiation process would be brought into retail light eventually.

With so much focus on food safety and food processing production (more productive workers and technology to produce more in a faster way), it was inevitable that this would happen. The major recalls of the past year have caused a lot of consumer skepticism. Then, if you look at all the crazy lawsuits people have filed, why wouldn't a retailer take the approach to offer irradiated meat products?

“People overlook the fact that spices have been irradiated for years, and that our service men have eaten MRE in the field as well. They just have never connected these things. How many times a day does someone "nuke" food in their microwave? The biggest detriment has been the wording and term "irradiated food." This scares people because they know that you can die from irradiation poisoning.

“The government taking the step to allow "other" terminology will help a lot. I believe that fear will be one of the driving forces to get seniors, small children and those with compromised immune systems to purchase irradiated meat products. Any more scares in the produce area will drive this market as well. I would hate to see the day when all our food was treated this way because people do not realize that irradiation will kill E. coli and salmonella, but it also kills off all the good bacteria as well. Even if food is irradiated, you still must practice good food safety or you can get sick. It's not only the processor that has to take responsibility, the consumer will have to as well.”





On the educational front, we got an email from the wonderful Anne O’Broin, a member of the MNB community in Ireland who happens to be one of our favorite people in the world. She wrote regarding yesterday’s story about how shoppers at Wal-Mart’s Asda stores In the Cornwall section of the UK are now able to find signs in both English and Cornish, the local language that appears to be undergoing a revival.

We wrote that Cornish is a member of the Celtic family of languages that includes Irish, Scots, Welsh and Breton.

Anne was more specific and complete:

“There are 7 Celtic languages – Irish, Breton, Welsh, Scottish, Manx, Galician, and Cornish.”

Thanks.




We speculated yesterday that Wal-Mart, being hit with a number of lawsuits charging it with widespread wage abuses, might end up facing Congressional investigations about its behavior.

One MNB user disagreed:

“Won't happen. They shop at Wal-Mart too and realize that what you read is slanted towards achieving a particular point-of-view.

“Besides, as long as Wal-Mart has the strong "Good Citizen" image in the South, Mid-West and Southwest, who's there to believe all that Northern labor propaganda?”


True…but we never would have believed that the Clinton Administration, which had an excellent relationship with the high tech community, would’ve gone after Microsoft.



On the subject of legal judgments against big tobacco, MNB user Kate Baille wrote:

“An interesting wrinkle in the ultimate culpability of the Tobacco companies was reported in the Globe and Mail this morning. An application by a non-smoking waitress with terminal lung cancer due to second-hand smoke to receive Worker's Compensation (a government insurance program for workers disabled on the job) has been approved.

“Toronto already has extremely strict smoking by-laws. Publicly, smoking is only allowed in bars (not restaurants). In anticipation of many more claims in the wake of this one, the government of Ontario may tighten them even further. The fact that second-hand smoke has been identified as a disabling factor in the workplace (and in this case a killer) opens the gates to litigation against the Tobacco companies on much wider grounds.




We made a comment yesterday about our kids only wanting to drink milk from Stew Leonard’s…to which one MNB user responded:

“Your kids are probably right about the taste of their milk. There are two possible reasons for this.

1. Kids taste buds are more sensitive to flavors. They are more likely to note subtle differences than us adults who have used and abused our taste buds for many years.

2. Certain milk companies take different steps in the processing of their milk that makes a taste difference. Ask anyone who has tasted Mayfield milk, the best selling branded milk in the Southeast and a Dean Dairy division. They take an extra step in the processing of their milk; it's called an Arovac, that is basically a vacuum-type process that takes out any unusual tastes (ie: green onions from the pasture) that may be in the milk providing consistent great taste.

“So, if your kids taste a difference in their milk, they could very well be right.”


Go figure.




On the subject of fast food that is healthier and better tasting, one of our recent stories mentioned the Panera Bread Co…which prompted a review from MNB user Bob McMath:

“I have been hearing great things about that new group of fresh made sandwiches and bread, etc., and have been telling my wife that we should visit one. We spotted one the other day on the toll road coming back to Ann Arbor from the NPE-East in Washington. Although we didn't need gas, we pulled off and went in to the rest stop. We ordered a cup of French Onion Soup (covered with cheese) in a bread bowl. Also an Italian Sandwich on their what we used to call a "Torpedo roll." We intended to split the two between us.

“It was late afternoon/early evening. Here is our impression!

“The sandwich was on a relatively short piece of roll, when cut in half. The ends were getting stale, and both of us had the impression it was perhaps on a piece of roll that had not been made fresh that day, or not in that restaurant stop. We didn't note any baking, nor smell any baking as we passed by in the line. Perhaps it was there, but we saw no such activity. The sandwich contained two slices each of various types of deli meat, one slice of roast beef, one slice of cheese and one thin slide of tomato and one piece of lettuce. It was pasted on the bottom half of the roll with a dab of mayonnaise or sauce. Otherwise, completely dry. My wife took her half, and the crust on the roll we found so crispy that we found it a little hard on the soft mouth tissue, as well as flaking all over our table and laps. Jean finally just picked up her meat and contents and ate that, leaving at least 1/4 of her bread on the plate.

“The bowl of onion soup we ordered was not on the tray when we came down the line to picked it up. So we called that to the attention of the person finishing up sandwiches and putting them out to be picked up. When the soup came, it was, to our surprise, in a shallow cardboard bowl. It seems the person from whom we ordered it didn't get the order right, but by then the line behind us was so long, we decided to take what we got. The cheese was a very small quantity of grated cheese on top, and the soup itself was salty indicating that the product had been boiling for quite some time and had boiled away part of the liquid during the long cooking/holding process.

“Obviously we are not going to rush back to another one of the restaurants. But more amazing, I cannot possibly see what all the excitement about the baking/restaurant chain is all about? So this brings up what I would probably say would be the chains reaction. It was a lone poor example of the stores it is rushing to put up all over the place. And the fault would be with the "help" who work there who were not properly trained.

“But that gets us back to a major problem of a great many stores and restaurants that are hiring young people to man their local operations. Even in some places like Wal-Mart! They are not properly trained, supervised and motivated. They frankly "don't give a damn" to quote Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. The people in our local Taco Bell near our office making the stuff in the back change nearly every week. The results of the orders we get as we visit it at least once a week vary with what the new guys put on the plate or in the salads -- some are fat and full, some are just plain skimpy on contents. Sometimes we have to ask the money taker to ask the kids to add something they left out on the salad or taco, or to give us the tomato salsa in the cup which comes separate with each taco salad. Fortunately I love Mexican food and the lunch there is relatively cheap.

“But as many stores and restaurant chains seem to be doing -- they are rushing to build new outlets, without proper supervision, and we are bringing up a generation of kids and future workers who just don't have any pride in what they do, or the place in which they work.”
KC's View: