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    Published on: March 11, 2008

    The Vatican, home to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest segment of Christianity, went on record yesterday that “genetic manipulation” is one of seven behaviors now classified as mortal sins.

    The seven sins are meant to supplement the old “seven deadly sins” - sloth, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and pride – which the Vatican views as being individualistic as opposed to the new list, which is seen as having social resonance.

    The other six mortal sins on the new list include pollution, drug abuse, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice and poverty, and becoming obscenely wealthy.

    The Church also said that it remains concerned about issues such as abortion and pedophilia, which remain mortal sins.

    In the Catholic Church, a mortal sin is defined as a "grave violation of God's law" that can bring about eternal damnation if the person committing the sin does not repent.

    KC's View:
    It is fascinating that in the view of the Vatican, littering, genetic modification of food ingredients and pedophilia all can result in one going to hell. (Almost as fascinating as the fact that the church feels the need to reaffirm in a press release that pedophilia is a mortal sin, and then use the moment to say that while pedophilia has been a problems for some members of the clergy, the issue has been blown out of proportion by the media.)

    I would make two observations about this story. (I could make about a thousand observations, but I’d probably end up in a ton of trouble…)

    First, the fact that the use of GMOs makes the Vatican’s list means that this debate – which hasn’t been a huge issue in the US, not nearly as big as it has been in Europe – probably is going to get more heated and will move center stage. Does this mean that people who work for Monsanto are going to hell? Or that retailers who sell products created through the use of genetically engineered ingredients are facing eternal damnation? Perhaps…and if one is a practicing and dedicated Catholic (admittedly a shrinking group these days), one will have to at least consider these possibilities.

    Unless, of course, people don't take it seriously and see the Vatican statement as an example of the church being out of touch with modern realities.

    Second, it seems ironic that just yesterday, Reuters had a story (posted before the Vatican comments became public) about how one small Mexican farmer has been harvesting genetically modified corn that has been resistant to pests and requiring less water to keep alive. The crop technically is illegal in Mexico because of concerns that the GM seed will contaminate traditional seeds, but supporters say that the GM corn will both help feed hungry people as well as make Mexico less dependent on imported corn.

    Is trying to feed your family and achieve economic independence a mortal sin? Not where I’m coming from, not if we’re talking about the use of science in responsible ways.

    Now, I concede that this is a complicated issue, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about GM foods. But it seems utterly wrong to dismiss the possibilities that GM technologies might offer to people who are hungry and poor and in desperate need of hope. But the Catholic Church hasn’t just dismissed it…it has labeled genetic modification as being the same as pedophilia.

    Is it any wonder that for a lot of people, organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, have lost much of their moral authority?

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    Please do me a favor. Should I ever disappear for a length of time, hesitate before putting my face on a milk carton or rounding up the usual suspects. Instead, look in my basement and see if I’m in a trance playing Wii.

    I have seen the future and it is amazing.

    Those of you who have played Wii probably think me a latecomer. Chances are, though, that many of you probably haven’t played it either. Either way, we need to consider what this incredible device portends for the shopping experience.

    Wii is a video game console unlike any before it. Instead of using a controller to move your character around, the player in real life is the player on the screen. You move yourself to create action, using a hand held device to bowl, golf, play tennis…and more.

    I got my opportunity to try Wii a week ago while out with my wife, and two other couples. We thought it would be fun to go bowling, even though none of us had done so in years. Entering a nearby bowling alley, we were stunned. Not only was the joint jumping, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Apparently it was “rave bowling” night, which meant almost no lights, loud music and hoards of teen-agers. (By the way, I have to applaud the bowling industry for coming up with a theme like that. Rave bowling is clearly a way to attract young people back into the building, which is pretty creative.)

    But my group of fiftysomethings wasn’t impressed. It was loud, dark and the wait was over an hour. So we jumped at the opportunity when one friend invited us to her house to bowl on the Wii.

    Instead of sitting in a dark, noisy bowling alley, we sat in her family room bowling. It was social, exciting and fun. (By the way, contorting your body after a shot or kicking you legs doesn’t help the ball at all, but you do it all the same.) After bowling two games, we did a quick tour of the Wii system and the host and I completed the evening by playing nine holes of virtual golf.

    It was a blast and I was delighted when our host told me I could come over any time to play against her husband on the Wii. Heck, she even served Girl Scout cookies. As our host explained, the Wii is different from any video game she’s ever allowed in her house. Unlike previous versions, she said, the Wii is social and gets her entire family together for fun time. That’s no tall order, she admitted, for her 18- and 21-year old sons.

    It should make us all think too. The golf industry is already voicing concerns about falling levels of play because people can’t spend five hours on the course. The bowling industry, though showing creativity with Rave night, no longer has the connection to the mass population. And the retail industry better look at Wii and realize we aren’t far away from virtual shopping that might completely alter our connection and hold on the shopper.

    After all, if Wii can figure out how to make a virtual wind alter a golf shot, I’m pretty sure they can create one compelling shopping trip. A game that lets you line up your feet and angle any way you want in a bowling alley can certainly figure out how to give us the ability to walk a supermarket and select products.

    I’d think about it some more, except I’m still contemplating why I can’t quite hit the pocket correctly, which means I keep leaving the 10-pin standing. Clearly, I need time to practice.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that in Europe, some major food retailers have gone beyond the food safety standards established by the governments there and developed their own guidelines – and inspection procedures - for companies that want to sell them meat, fruit and vegetables.

    It is an approach that seems to be gaining favor. The Journal notes that Wal-Mart has announced that “it would buy produce, meat and seafood only from suppliers accredited by private-inspection offices.

    “The biggest such private regulator, GlobalGap, now counts 81,000 farms and plants in 76 countries as members, up from 18,000 in 2004. The Cologne, Germany-based group expects to reach 100,000 this year, says director Kristian Möller. The group, whose annual budget is €2.8 million ($4.3 million), has only 11 employees.

    “The list of retailers who use GlobalGap is growing, too. In addition to Wal-Mart, McDonald’s Corp. and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. are members. American farmers eager to sell to Europe's lucrative market are also getting in step with the old world.”

    There are some negatives attached to the GlobalGap approach; one that is prominently mentioned in the piece is the fact that big suppliers are better able to quickly meet the demands, which sometimes can leave smaller suppliers at a disadvantage. But the general feeling seems to be that a private approach to food safety standards can help retailers move beyond some of the issues that seem to have become more commonplace in the food business.

    KC's View:
    I have no idea whether the GlobalGap approach is specifically the best one, but it seems pretty obvious that smart companies understand that they need to be ahead of the wave when it comes to food safety, that they cannot depend on governmental oversight and enforcement for their own viability and credibility in this area.

    This has been a consistent argument here on MNB - Sansolo and I have been making it with a good deal of frequency. Retailers need to take the lead here, advocating for the consumer and pushing for heightened standards, total transparency, and a system that both enlightens and informs the shopper.

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    As if consumer concerns about the safety of the food supply weren't enough, now comes news that the nation’s tap water isn’t everything that we thought it was.

    In the words of Time, “A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans … To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

    But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.”

    Time goes on:

    “How do the drugs get into the water?

    “People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

    “And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.”

    KC's View:
    I’m beginning to wonder when consumers are going to start becoming numb to all this stuff.

    Of course, it now seems entirely possible that if we’re numb, it’s because stuff in the water is making us that way.

    Either way, bottled spring water is beginning to look a lot better. And one can imagine that retailers can start promoting it with large signs that say things like, “No Pharmaceuticals Added!”

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    USA Today reports this morning that last year’s pet food contamination case, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds and maybe even thousands of dogs and cats, was actually the second time such an incident has occurred.

    According to the story, “An outbreak in 2004 that also involved pet foods contaminated with industrial chemicals sickened more than 6,000 dogs and a smaller number of cats across Asia. Kidney failure in the animals was linked to Pedigree dog foods and Whiskas cat foods manufactured in Thailand by Mars Inc. Thousands of pets died, according to Asian media reports at the time.

    “The Asian outbreak was little-known in the USA until it was reported last week by the blog Pet Connection. In the American public's view, the U.S. outbreak several years later appeared to be the first of its kind.”

    The 2007 contamination was specifically linked to grain from China that had been spiked with the industrial chemical melamine, which was contaminated with cyanuric acid, to make it appear higher in protein and therefore able to fetch a higher price.

    KC's View:
    Here’s my question: When will it happen a third time?

    Because nothing that has happened in the area of food safety has convinced me that the system is any better today than it was last year. And it would be my guess that a lot of US consumers probably feel the same way…not entirely trusting the food supply or the systems that are supposed to ensure its safety, but not quite sure what to do about it.

    But maybe I’m just overly cynical.

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    Business Week reports that the Whole Foods board of directors has rejected a proposal that would have separated the jobs of CEO and chairman at the retailer, thus preserving the role of John Mackey, who holds both jobs.

    Mackey has been a lightning rod for criticism since it was revealed last year that he was using a false name to post comments on Internet message boards that hyped his own company and criticized rival Wild Oats – a company that Whole Foods eventually acquired.

    KC's View:
    Mackey has said that he won’t make such postings anymore, and the Wild Oats acquisition – opposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – has gone through. So it seems to me that Mackey not only has survived the minor scandal, but also is growing the company in ways that make sense … which means that diluting his role at Whole Foods would be a real mistake. After all, how often does any retailer have someone at the helm with real vision and the ability to implement it?

    By the way, speaking of vision, Whole Foods announced yesterday that its new store in Glastonbury, Connecticut, “will be the first supermarket to generate most of its power on-site with an ultra- clean fuel cell from UTC Power.” I have no idea what an ultra-clean fuel cell is, but it sounds pretty cool…and consistent with the broader Whole Foods mission and strategy.

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that “Procter & Gamble, Clorox, Del Monte, General Mills and Kimberly-Clark are teaming with retail giant Kroger for what will almost certainly be the biggest test of wireless coupons to date and perhaps even one of the most significant ventures into mobile marketing in the U.S. The aim is to reach the generation between 25 and 34 who are likely to have growing families in need of baby, home-cleaning and household products, but who don't read a lot of newspapers.”

    According to the story, “Under the test, consumers download Cellfire, a mobile marketing application similar to a ringtone or mobile game, to their cellphones. That allows them to peruse Cellfire's mobile shopping mall to see which discounts are being offered. If the shopper finds one of interest, he or she ‘checks it off’ on the phone, creating a mobile shopping list.

    “The choices are automatically sent to the computers at Kroger, which identifies the consumer by his or her loyalty-card number at checkout, and the discount is automatically applied there.”

    KC's View:
    It was just last week that we reported on a new Nielsen survey showing that “about 23 percent of US mobile phone users have seen advertising on their cell phones in the last 30 days and about half of them responded to the ads.”

    In addition, the study said that “the number of phone users who recalled seeing mobile ads rose by 38 percent to 58 million in the fourth quarter compared with 42 million in the second quarter.”

    The new Kroger test will be an important test of whether mobile phone marketing can move the needle significantly in terms of sales, and can measure whether the young people who use their cell phones incessantly will also use the technology to facilitate the shopping trip. No reason why they wouldn’t…but it needs to be proven.

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that “breakfast is getting a lot more expensive. Coffee is now up there with other increasingly expensive essentials such as milk, bread and eggs. Overall, the cost of groceries is rising at the fastest rate since 1990, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    “The increase for coffee started with Starbucks raising drink prices in July. Other coffee chains followed suit. The big supermarket brands, including Folgers, Maxwell House and Chock full o'Nuts raised prices twice in the last two months, including last week. World coffee prices have risen 23% over the last six months … Coffee prices have risen so fast that even some traders are starting to get nervous. Last week the cost of a pound of coffee eased a bit on the world commodities markets. That was the first significant drop in months and reflected investor fear that the U.S. might be headed for a recession that could slow demand for coffee and other goods.”

    KC's View:
    The drumbeat of bad financial news continues. And I would make this point yet again – that while investors may be fearful that the nation is headed toward recession, most consumers are pretty well working on the premise that we’re already there.

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    • The Cox News Service reports that “PepsiCo Inc. will make a strong pitch this year for its Diet Pepsi Max and SoBe Life Water beverages to counter moves by Coca Cola, which is aiming to win consumers with its Coke Zero no-calorie soda and Glaceau line of enhanced waters.”

    Bloomberg reports that Cadbury Schweppes plans to spinoff - or “demerge” - its Dr. Pepper/Snapple US soft drinks unit on May 7. It had been speculated that the company might delay the move because of weakness in the debt markets.

    • In the UK, Retail Bulletin reports that Ocado, the online food shopping service partly owned by Waitrose, plan to launch a price war against Tesco’s Internet food shopping service, guaranteeing that Ocado’s prices on 3,500 CPG items will be lower than Tesco’s.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Marks & Spencer CEO Stuart Rose will become the company’s executive chairman, succeeding the current chairman, Terry Burns, who retires June 1.

    However, Rose will remain as CEO for the time being. Ian Dyson, the company’s group finance director, is said to be taking on more responsibility in a new role as group finance and operations director, and is seen as a potential successor to Rose, who has committed to stay with the company until 2011.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    Last week, MNB featured a radio commentary about so-called “vigilante consumers” – people who take the law into their own hands and express their customer service frustrations by using sledgehammers and email campaigns to harass companies that they perceive as lacking.

    Well, the trend continues….

    In Richland, Washington, there are reports about a man who went into an Albertsons, picked up a burrito and then went to the self-checkout lane…and got so frustrated by the experience that he punched the computer screen, inflicting more than $40,000 worth of damage on the equipment.

    The man was arrested and charged with malicious mischief.

    KC's View:
    Must have a helluva left hook. He’ll probably be played by Sylvester Stallone in the movie.

    Published on: March 11, 2008

    On the subject of whether we are in a recession or a transformational economy, and the impact of the rising cost of food, one MNB user wrote:

    Those of us on the procurement side have seen this coming for quite some time and there does not appear to be much relief in sight. Factors such as “fuel for food” are driving up the cost of all crops. Hit especially hard are soybeans and wheat. Other crops are feeling the pinch as farmers switch to higher revenue corn. Of course the corn debate will drive much more conversation after the election as the candidates do not want to risk upsetting middle America by pointing out (rightly so) the folly of using corn for fuel. Then add the burgeoning economies in China, Russia and India whose imports of agriculture are unprecedented. While China is rapidly adding new farmland they are having trouble meeting demand. All this being said the US still has among the lowest food prices in the world. You can argue all you want that much of this is supported through various government subsidies and that these will not be supportable going forward.

    Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to make food a bit less affordable. There might be a pleasant unintended consequence and could be the single best chance we have to reduce obesity.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Over the past few months the projection that we're in a recession or we're heading into one is everywhere. All the mediaspeak, conjecture and speculation is tiresome. It taints the public's understanding and often instills fear unnecessarily. This weekend a financial educator who's been on the radio for the past 20 years, commented that few are using the term recession correctly: a recession is classically defined by economists and financial educators as two quarters in a row where there is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So far, it looks like the 1st quarter of 2008 may be a decline.

    However December although weak was still on the plus side and the end of the 2nd quarter is a long ways away with economic initiatives being taken to stimulate the economy. Granted, we'll have to wait and see, but we're not there yet!

    Actually, the point made consistently here on MNB has been that while we are not in a recession in terms of how an economist might define it, consumers perceive that we are in a recessionary environment – and they don't need the media to alarm them…they only need to pay close to four dollars for a gallon of gasoline.

    The bigger discussion is whether “recession” is a word that is not appropriate to what is happening, and if perhaps there is a broader transformation taking place. This doesn’t strike me as fear-mongering, but rather talking about something that needs to be addressed.

    MNB user Bev Bennett wrote:

    Thank you for bringing the Boston Globe piece on rising food prices to my attention in your recent column. As a food and nutrition writer and consumer I've been concerned with this issue.

    While I hope that shoppers will make healthier choices to compensate for increased costs, I'm not sure this will be the case. I also hope manufacturers will strip their products of some unnecessary and expensive flourishes, such as the reusable plastic packages for lunchmeat.

    The article in the Friday (3/07) Wall Street Journal on how food companies are dealing with rising prices also piqued my interest. According to the Journal, General Mills, Inc. reduced the number of Hamburger Helper varieties to about 40 from 75. That's astonishing. Why do consumers need even 40 packaged, boxed ways to enhance ground beef?

    MNB user Greg Seminara had a thought:

    Wall Street evaluates retailers based upon “same store sales” trends. If retailers can pass along price increases while maintaining unit sales, price increases can help a retailer’s same-store sales numbers. Commodity price increases and transportation costs are driving manufacturer’s price increases. I can’t help but wonder, if retailers are more open to price increases now than in the past partly to boost their own sales numbers?

    MNB user Gary Wagner wrote:

    The leaders of our country need to take notice of how this reality is affecting the families in our country. If this continues, and there's every indication that it will to at least the end of the year, there could be a lot more hungry and homeless people in this country.

    MNB user Michael F. Parker offered:

    Few people in retail have been through a significant downturn. I have and so have many people, my age. We are not valued and yet we can help. It is a sad reflection on the American economy when we can help and no own cares. I believe all the young turks will fail. No experience, only ego.

    Michael makes an excellent point…and if you want to talk to him about how he can help you, shoot me an email and I’ll forward it to him.

    MNB had a story yesterday about a New York Times piece saying that an advocacy group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology, which in fact is closely affiliated with Monsanto, “has started a counteroffensive to stop the proliferation of milk that comes from cows that aren’t treated with synthetic bovine growth hormone. According to the story, the group “says it is a grass-roots organization that came together to defend members’ right to use recombinant bovine somatotropin, also known as rBST or rBGH, an artificial hormone that stimulates milk production. It is sold by Monsanto under the brand name Posilac. ”

    My comment: Shame on this group for pushing for laws that would, in essence, prevent transparency on the part of retailers and suppliers,

    I understand the business case. But I do not understand, for the life of me, why a company or organization would hit the bricks with a campaign that is designed to prevent disclosure about ingredients. It doesn’t make sense, It doesn’t even make business sense, not in the long term, because it undermines the credibility of the people and organizations that promote such efforts.

    MNB user Bill Bodine disagreed with me:

    These labels don’t inform the consumer about the ingredients in the milk, because the composition of milk with the same fat content is the same. There is absolutely no distinguishable difference between milk from cows given rbST and cows not given rbST. The “ingredients” are actually the same, only the production practices on the farm are different.

    What these labels do is confuse the consumer. I have had the opportunity to view some consumer research done for AFACT. In it, one mother in a group of consumers is visibly upset that she can’t afford to purchase organic or non-rbST milk for her children. She feels that providing conventional milk might somehow harm her children because of what it might “contain”. When she is told that conventional milk and organic or non-rbST milk products only differ in the farm practices used and are compositionally the same, she was greatly relieved. I doubt she is the only consumer to share this concern or to misunderstand the labels.

    This demonstrated to me the power of these labels and their ability to mislead consumers. The labels don’t provide more transparency for the consumer, but often more confusion.

    So we’re trusting as objective research done by the very group that wants to prevent transparency?

    MNB user Tom Kroupa wrote:

    Of course the reason that Monsanto doesn't want labels to disclose rGBH in milk is because they stand to lose a lot of money. If consumers don't want Posilac in their milk their bottom line is affected greatly! But they are the ones who got the government to approve rGBH (and GMO foods too) without listening to the science behind it! Is Monsanto using the same tactics that tobacco companies used when they denied their product impacted health in a negative manner? As you said so well, "shame on them".

    MNB user Jerome Schindler wrote:

    The answer is "desperation". Monsanto's rbST business is going down the tubes. Not so much because that many consumers actually care, but because the retailers think they care and therefore these retailers are insisting that the milk sold in their stores be from cows not treated with rbST. The mainstream milk collection system, largely run by the farmer owned cooperatives, cannot accommodate two different milk supplies, one from cows not treated with rbST and another from cow's that may have been treated with rbST. For that reason many/most of these cooperatives have announced they will only handle milk from dairy farmers that have agreed not to treat their cows with rbST. That leaves dairy farmers using rbST no place to market their milk. These dairy farmers are forced to discontinue the use of rbST.

    As a lawyer-pharmacist involved in dairy economics and regulation for over 35 years I have read about and listened to all of the pros and cons of rbST and am 100% convinced that there is absolutely no human safety issue associated with consumption of milk from cows treated with rbST. No country has denied approval to rbST based on safety. They have declined to approve rbST for economic reasons - essentially to protect their dairy farmers from price depressing excess milk production. No country has refused imports of U.S. dairy products because of the use of rbST. Faced with two containers of milk at the same price, one labeled "rbST Free" and the other not, I would buy the one with the longest expiration date. Nevertheless, no matter how much money Monsanto spends on lobbying, they are never going to be successful in this labeling ban. Politicians are not going to deny the right of consumers to information with which to make decisions, even if those decisions are flawed and irrational.

    While economics is a less certain science than determining the safety of rbST, the prevailing opinion is that without the ability to use rbST milk prices will be higher over the long run. That will affect the price of any food using a dairy ingredient, not just fluid milk, and this increased cost will have an adverse impact on our dairy product exports.

    By the way, this is not about ingredient disclosure, but rather about production practices. In theory there is rbST in milk from rbST treated cows but all milk contains bST and there is no way to distinguish between the bST made by the cow and the bST (called rbST) that is made via recombinant technology. Mainstream science is overwhelmingly in agreement that there is essentially no difference in naturally produced bST and rbST. The total bST (bST and rbST) content of milk from cows treated with rbST is no higher than the milk from many cow's not treated with rbST.

    Then explain that to consumers and let them make the choice.

    I object not to the use of rbST, but to the inclination on the part of some folks to hide its use.

    KC's View: