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    Published on: March 22, 2006

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    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    Calling it the “crack of sweeteners,” two Florida lawmakers are looking to ban products made using high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from being sold or distributed by the state’s school districts.

    The Miami Herald reports that a bill – introduced by a bipartisan team consisting of Republican Rep. Juan Zapata and Democrat Sen. Gwen Margolis – is currently beginning to make its way through the state legislature. The premise of the bill is that high fructose corn syrup helps to cause childhood obesity and can lead to juvenile diabetes, it has no place in the public schools.

    According to the paper, studies conducted at the University of California/Davis and the University of Michigan “have shown that fructose is more readily converted to fat by the liver, and increased the fat in the bloodstream in the form of triglycerides.”

    However, Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, tells the paper that “passing this legislation would create a significant hardship for no health gain. There is no scientific evidence that supports the statement that high-fructose corn syrup is a contributor to diabetes or obesity.”

    She isn’t alone in this assertion – and, in fact, she gets support from an unexpected quarter. Tuesdi Fenter, a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association, tells the Herald, “We don't think that high-fructose corn syrup is the enemy. People can have anything they want as long as it's in moderation.”
    KC's View:
    We would have expected this position from the Corn Refiners Association, which probably also would be in favor of moonshine. (Just kidding.) But we never would have expected such a comment from the American Diabetes Association, which in 2002 actually recommended that people with type 2 diabetes avoid fructose (other than fructose occurring naturally in food.

    The problem with the ban is explained by the Herald - HFCS is in so many products than a ban simply may not be practical.

    Maybe what is really needed is education – of the kids, the cafeteria staff, of the parents – so that the facts and fiction about HFCS can really be understood. Kids respond to this kind of education; based on conversations we’ve had around the dinner table and that she’s heard in school, our 11-year-old daughter has become a demon about avoiding foods with trans fats. She checks everything!

    Still, it is an interesting effort by the Florida legislators, and can only help to draw more attention to America’s nutritional missteps.

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe, said this week that his government has informed US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that no US beef will be allowed into that country until American regulators have eliminated all concerns about the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease.

    "Unless safety is firmly secured, imports cannot resume," Abe told a news conference.

    KC's View:
    No surprise here. The shocker would have been if the Japanese government had agreed to open its doors to American beef, after the seemingly cavalier attitude displayed by US regulators.

    It was just last week that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that a cow in Alabama tested positive for BSE, the third cow in the US confirmed to have had the disease. The new BSE discovery came while the Bush administration was trying to convince the Japanese government to reopen its borders to US been imports. Those borders were closed when the first case of mad cow was found in the US in December 2003, and then reopened late last year, only to be closed again early this year when beef containing spinal matter – specifically banned by the agreement reopening the border – was found in a Japan-bound shipment.

    Then, despite the new discovery, USDA announced that it plans to scale back the expanded BSE surveillance program that was begun after the first case of mad cow was found in Washington State in December 2003.

    It’s enough to make you turn vegetarian.

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    The New York Times reports that while “poultry producers and restaurants doubt that their chickens will be infected by avian flu or that people would catch the virus even if there were contamination…they are concerned that if the virus gets to the United States, people will eat less chicken, simply out of fear. And they are revving up big plans to be prepared.”

    The need to be prepared was driven home, the Times notes, when Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told the US Senate that it was "just a matter of time" before birds infected with the virus found their way to the United States.

    While chicken sales have increased 22 percent over the last decade, the European and Asian experience suggests that any discovery of avian flu in the US could have an enormous impact on poultry sales. The Times writes that “in February, after avian flu was discovered in wild swans, poultry consumption declined 70 percent in Italy. In France, sales are down 30 percent since avian flu hit a turkey farm last month. In some areas of India, sales are down 40 percent since last month's discovery of avian flu in chickens.” And, the Times notes, “these declines came even though none of the 175 human cases of avian flu confirmed by the World Health Organization since 2003 resulted from eating poultry.”

    Which is why chicken producers and retailers are beginning to formulate plans to educate people about the realities of avian flu, and create advertising campaigns that are designed to counteract any bad publicity.
    KC's View:
    We have to admit it.

    Even though we’d presumably know better, if avian flu came to the US, at the very least we’d think twice about the amount of chicken we eat, and might well eliminate it from our diet in the short term.

    It wouldn’t necessarily be an informed decision. But it would feel like the smart decision, and we suspect that a lot of other people would feel the same way.

    It would have to be one helluva ad campaign to convince otherwise.

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    PepsiCo’s Gatorade division has filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola’s PowerAde division, looking to halt Coke’s use of an ad campaign that it says is deceptive.

    The campaign in question shows two Amish farmers drag racing their horses and buggies, one with 10 bales of hay and the other with 50. The horse with the heavier load wins, and the ad suggests that it is because that horse drank PowerAde Option, even though that drink has fewer calories.

    "In other words, Coca-Cola is telling consumers that PowerAde Option's fewer calories literally make you go faster. However, Coca-Cola cannot possibly substantiate this overall superiority claim," the suit says.

    Coke says that since Pepsi cannot prove the ad inaccurate, it has no intention of pulling the spot.
    KC's View:
    Our first witness would be the horse.

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    The Change To Win federation, a seven-union coalition that was created last year when a number of groups decided to leave the AFL-CIO, has unveiled a new organizing campaign entitled “Make Work Pay!” This new campaign will be rolled out late next month as the coalition looks to target major industries in 35 different US cities.

    “The Make Work Pay! campaign is about ensuring that millions of taxpayers who are working harder and longer with less to show for it are able to be part of the American middle class," said Anna Burger, chairperson of Change to Win. “We are fighting so that individuals who work hard can earn paychecks that actually support families; receive affordable health care, have the chance to give their children a better life and count on a secure retirement.

    "We are going to reach out to those workers who are not yet organized and to the members of the public that understand and support the notion that this country can't exist without a vibrant middle class. This campaign will empower the millions of workers to help them effect real change to make work pay.”

    The seven unions that are part of Change To Win include: UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers' International Union of North America, Service Employees International Union, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and United Farm Workers of America.
    KC's View:
    Maybe we’re hopelessly optimistic, but it would be nice if just once organized labor would say that it would like to do all these things for members while still assuring that the companies for which they work will not only remain competitive, but also will thrive in a highly competitive environment.

    Just a cockeyed optimist, we guess.

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), described as a “union with a long, feisty history and a counter-cultural aura,” is targeting Starbucks’ baristas for potential organization.

    According to the WSJ, Starbucks has long avoided union problems by “offering what it considers generous pay and benefits. Part-time workers in its stores are eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits and Starbucks covers eligible same-sex domestic partners. The company's medical plan helps pay for treatments like acupuncture and store workers can get stock options, known as ‘bean stock,’ and tuition reimbursement.”

    Still, the IWW is not impressed, and is pressing an aggressive organization approach. “At Starbucks, the IWW's demands include wage increases and providing workers with guaranteed hours and lower eligibility requirements and out-of-pocket expenses for health-care benefits,” the Journal reports. “The union's tactics have included publicly confronting Starbucks managers with lists of demands and disrupting store operations by getting supporters to pay for drinks with pennies.

    “To make its case, the union pushes a comparison between the health care coverage of workers at Starbucks and Wal-Mart, arguing that about 42% of Starbucks employees get coverage through the company, less than the roughly 46% of Wal-Mart workers who receive employer sponsored coverage.”

    Starbucks doesn’t dispute the 42 percent figure, but says that since a large number of its employees and young people who either are in school or still living at home, it isn’t a fair comparison.

    While the IWW may be making some noise – enough so that its efforts garner attention from the Wall Street Journal - it also has to be noted that the union, which has roots in early 20th century socialism, is a tiny entity with just 2,500 members. But if it has its way, that number could be growing…and the coffee they’ll be serving at union meetings will be primo.
    KC's View:
    We have to admit to being conflicted on this one.

    On the one hand, we’ve been consistently critical of Wal-Mart’s health care policies, so it is hard for us to ignore the health care percentages admitted to by Starbucks. It may be like comparing apples to oranges, but then again, it may not be; we’d love to see a comparison of how many people working for Starbucks are doing so to support themselves and/or a family, versus the number of people working for Wal-Mart in the same position. It’s just a guess, but we’d expect the number to be a lot lower at Starbucks. (That’s just based on the amount of time we spend in Starbucks, which is considerable.)

    Ultimately, we suppose, all nonunion retailers – whether they be Wal-Mart or Starbucks or some other entity – have to have strong enough relationships with their employees/associates that these folks don’t want to become organized. They can’t depend on intimidation, which often is alleged in Wal-Mart’s case but is not mentioned in the Starbucks scenario.

    We’d actually be surprised if the IWW gains much traction with this effort. By and large, when we go into virtually any Starbucks, people just seem so happy and pleasant and ready to please – an attitude we don’t often find at other retailers. The company has been effective at maintaining that kind of culture as it grows, which is extremely difficult to do.

    And here’s how we really judge a place like Starbucks. It is the kind of place where we’d be thrilled if one of our kids worked there, because it’d be our expectation that they’d learn more about life and business than just how to make coffee. And if this Internet thing doesn’t work out…well, we’d be willing to learn how to make venti skim lattes in exchange for the kind of benefits they offer.

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    The Sacramento Bee reports that “the union representing supermarket workers in greater Sacramento plans to merge with its Fresno counterpart.
    The tentative agreement between Roseville Local 588 and Fresno Local 1288 of the United Food and Commercial Workers is an effort to increase bargaining power in an era of contract concessions.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    • The New York Times reports that “in six weeks, Pepsi plans to begin an advertising and promotional campaign that will offer consumers customized ring tones for cellphones, which can be downloaded from the Internet with codes found under soft drink bottle caps.” The goal of this program is to focus on what is now called “engagement” by those in the ad game – trying to craft an extended and deep brand experience as opposed to a quick commercial message that may or may not be ignored.

    • Published reports say that Coca-Cola is testing its soft drinks for evidence of benzene, a known carcinogen. The decision to test comes a month after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that some Coke beverages exceeded the legal limit for benzene. Coke has sought to reassure consumers, saying, “We are working in conjunction with the industry and regulatory authorities to provide data and background and to lower even further the already safe amounts of benzene in certain products.”

    • Colgate-Palmolive Co. reportedly is spending $100 million to acquire Tom's of Maine, the leading maker of natural toothpaste. However, founder Tom Chappell said that the company's quirky business philosophy would not change as a result of the sale, but that the new capital would allow the company to grow to its potential.

    Tom’s of Maine currently does about $50 million a year in sales.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    • Dollar General reported fourth quarter earnings of $145.3 million, in the fourth quarter ended February 3, up from $133.9 million a year earlier. Quarterly revenue rose 12 percent to $2.48 billion, but same-store sales were off 1.6 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2006

    …will return. We promise. (We’re on the road and time is tight…)
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2006

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    KC's View: