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    Published on: March 12, 2008

    Content Guy’s Note: In addition to speaking at the annual Meat Conference in Nashville, MorningNewsBeat’s Michael Sansolo also filed this report about what he saw and heard…

    Is the world facing the potential of catastrophic starvation? Incredibly, that prediction was made calmly and clearly at the Annual Meat Conference, which ran this Sunday to Tuesday in Nashville. The meeting was full of significant discussions thanks to the confluence of a number of major issues impacting the meat case, including food safety, health and wellness, animal welfare and consumer trends. But the specter of starvation was raised as part of a powerful session on the growing battle between food and fuel for grain.

    Steve Meyer of Paragon Economics outlined the incredible impact the nation's growing use of grain for ethanol is having on the food industry. The impact, increasingly obvious in the rising costs of meat, poultry, pork and products from animals, is largely caused by the doubling or tripling of various grain costs thanks to competition from the ethanol industry. As Meyer explained, that competition isn't ending anytime soon as even more ethanol plants are being brought on line.

    However, Meyer's most chilling prediction came when he outlined how the need for grain is causing a depletion of stocks and possibly a grain deficit in 2008. And that's if the weather stays optimal for the crops. As Meyer pointed out, there are a number of reasons to fear a drought, which would create a massive grain deficit and the potential for starvation in parts of the globe. Making no secret of his anger on this point, Meyer said it's hard to believe the United States would have ever pushed subsidies for ethanol if corn-rich Iowa didn't have such a significant role in the presidential election process.

    Incredibly, Meyer's talk wasn't the only significant presentation at the conference, which is run jointly by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the American Meat Institute (AMI), and key associations representing chicken, turkey, pork and lamb. Some other key topics addressed during the conference included food safety and the impact of the recent ground beef recall on consumer confidence; the coming uncertainty over country of origin rules that take effect Sept. 30th, even though the specific rules aren't written; and problems finding and managing multi-generational employee teams. Frequently, the grimmer, tougher topics easily outdrew marketing issues for the crowd of retailers and suppliers.

    Of course, not all the news was negative. The retail industry was reminded that the increasingly tough economy could allow supermarkets to grab market share back from restaurant with the application of sharper marketing. And FMI's Anne-Marie Roerink presented "The Power of Meat" an annual study showing increasing interest from shoppers in making nutritional decisions with meat and their continuing support for supermarket meat departments.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    The Washington Post reports that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) plan to hold hearings into a new study saying that a “vast array” of pharmaceuticals have been found in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans in 24 different metropolitan areas – trace amounts to be sure, but enough so that some scientists are concerned about the long-term impact on human health.

    Boxer heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, while Lautenberg chairs the Transportation, Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality Subcommittee.

    At the same time, according to the Post, US Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pennsylvania) has asked the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to investigate the study’s findings.

    The study in question took five months to complete and was commissioned by the Associated Press.

    According to the Time piece MNB quoted yesterday, the pharmaceuticals get into drinking water as follows:

    “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.”

    KC's View:
    Yeah, I’d say that a Senate probe is called for, and that the EPA ought to get on the stick and figure out if this can be prevented and what harm might have been caused to this point.

    Don't want to be alarmist here, but this simply isn’t the kind of story that is going to reassure consumers about food safety in general.

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    Thomson Financial News reports that the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) and C&S Wholesale Grocers have signed a new 10-year supply agreement that merges previous agreements between the wholesaler and A&P, as well as with Pathmark, which has just been acquired by A&P. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    According to the story, “The new deal restructures the terms of the relationship between the companies, aligning distribution operations, procurement practices and warehousing facility goals throughout A&P's retail banners in order to increase efficiency, cut costs and improve service levels.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    The Tennessean features an interview with Dollar General’s new CEO - Richard W. Dreiling, who began his retailing career as a Safeway bagboy and worked his way up to executive positions with Safeway, Vons, Longs Drugs, and Duane Reade. Dreiling has only been with the 8,200-store chain for two months, but he is charged with maintaining growth in a tough economy.


    • “I believe we have opportunities within our core business to serve our current customer better. I can also look at you and say that I believe as we begin to focus on our merchandising strategy, we'll have a chance to broaden our appeal and attract more customers. What we offer is incredibly convenient locations with incredibly good pricing. And that's a win-win situation for a very large spectrum of the population, not just a lower demographic or rural customer only.”

    • “We pride ourselves on everyday low prices, consistent pricing, so the consumer doesn't have to come in and look at (a product) and wonder what he paid for it last time he was in. We are also the fill-in shopper for a Wal-Mart or a Target (customer), and I believe that we have the chance with our convenient locations and consistent pricing to attract more of those consumers.”

    • “I think there's no doubt that there's more economic downturn coming than we've seen already. There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the price of fuel, and that the consumer now is finally reacting to high fuel prices, buying smaller cars, et cetera. A bunch of economists sat around and said: "Why is that?" Well, the consumer is finally recognizing gas is high and it is not going to go down.

    “The fact that there's pressure on food, which is facing inflation right now, and on gasoline, bodes well for (Dollar General). I think people are going to be looking for an inexpensive alternative to the channels that they've historically (shopped) in.

    “Also, when you think about the economy and think about the big-box operators, they're all talking about a smaller-box (store) format now. And that smaller format is where we're keenly positioned already, and a format that we understand greatly as an organization. (The average Dollar General store today is about 7,000 square feet.) We have to see how the economic pressure plays out. But if you think about the channel we play in and the space that we play in, I could make a pretty powerful argument that we are well- positioned with our current and future customers.”

    KC's View:
    This is a good view of where at least some of the competition will be coming from as the economy continues to soften. It is also a piece that provides a good chuckle…as when Dreiling notes that economists couldn’t figure out why people were buying smaller cars that get better mileage. It figures that a retailer would understand this better than an economist…

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Wal-Mart “says it will start asking suppliers to measure the amount of energy used to make a handful of products, though the retailing titan isn't saying whether it will use the information to pick one supplier over another,” a move that is called “the latest attempt in a push by Wal-Mart that the company says should both help the environment and cut costs. Wal-Mart has said it wants to cut packaging waste at its stores by 25% within three years, double the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet within 10 years and eventually operate entirely on renewable energy. Moves such as the packaging cuts involve changes by suppliers.”

    According to the story, “Wal-Mart says it will launch the examination of supplier energy-efficiency with 25 to 30 companies that collectively supply seven products: DVDs, toothpaste, soap, milk, beer, vacuum cleaners and soda.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that Starbucks has struck a deal with PepsiCo that will result in its Ethos bottled water, until now only available in Starbucks stores, being distributed to more than 40,000 stores around the country.

    For each bottle of Ethos sold, five cents is contributed to the Ethos Water Fund, which is sued to benefit water-stressed countries; the brand's goal is a donation of $10 million by 2010.

    • Nash Finch has announced that it is settling a securities fraud lawsuit for $6.75 million, which will be put into a fund used to repay people who bought stock in the company between Feb. 24, 2005 and Oct. 20, 2005.

    The St. Paul Business Journal writes that the suit was filed after Nash Finch “issued revised earnings guidance on October 20, 2005. The lawsuit challenged, among other things, the public statements the company made about its acquisition of certain assets from Roundy's Supermarkets, Inc. The company denies any wrongdoing.”

    • Netherlands-based Schuitema has confirmed its intention to sell 56 stores – and a majority stake in the company – to Ahold. Ahold will pay the equivalent of about $132 million to make the acquisition, according to reports.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    • Kroger announced yesterday that its fourth quarter total sales increased 2.2% to $17.2 billion for the fourth quarter ended February 2, 2008. Adjusting for the extra week in the fourth quarter of the previous year, total sales increased 10.2%. Same-store sales for the 12-week period increased 8.2% with fuel and 5.3% without fuel, based on the same 12-week period in both years.

    Net earnings in the fourth quarter totaled $322.9 million, down from $384.8 million a year ago, when the quarter was a week longer.

    For the just-completed fiscal year, Kroger said that total sales increased 6.2% to $70.2 billion. Adjusting for the extra week in fiscal 2006, total sales increased 8.2%.

    Same-store sales increased 6.9% with fuel and 5.3% without fuel, based on the same 52-week period in both years.

    Net earnings for fiscal 2007 were $1.18 billion, compared to $1.11 billion last year.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2008

    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.”

    And I commented, in part:

    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?

    I’m repeating so much of the story and the commentary for those who may have missed it…and because the context is necessary to understand many of the emails that I received. The criticisms seemed to focus on two issues – that I misunderstood the Vatican position, and that I was indulging in needless and inappropriate Catholic bashing.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, your take on the Vatican's GMO stance was a little disturbing for me. I do not read your website daily for rantings about Catholicism (or any religion). I would appreciate it if you would refrain from such exaggerated discourse moving forward.

    Obviously, religion is the third rail and often a taboo subject because of people's beliefs and feels - religion is very personal, likely one of the most personal things in someone's life (if they choose to be a person of faith - any faith). We could go on and on about the Vatican and beat it down for some perceived "odd" principles or can interpret anything in a million different ways. You chose to interpret it one way and I disagree with that interpretation, which is fine. But do know this about the Catholic Church, they admit that the Church is fallible. Some of their stances have proved to be fallible. Just like any organization or faith they must use time as the measure of certain policies and adjust accordingly.

    With regards to GMO being a mortal sin (like greed, gluttony, et al) I think you are short sighted in your view. My interpretation is that these with "Deadly Sins" we all are likely to be guilty of at some point (or many points) in our lives. They are there for us Catholics to remind us that we should be aware of how we live our lives and make sure that we do not make a habit of using these items (sins) all of the time in our lives to the detriment of ourselves and society. For instance, gluttony. This does not mean you can't pig out at a buffet! This means to me that I should make a habit out of eating enough to satisfy my needs but ensuring those around me have enough to eat, as well. Greed does not mean you can't make money. To me it means that I should be aware of the needs of those around you and be a giving soul. If you let greed consume all of you then you forsake your neighbor and your neighbor's needs.

    When it comes to GMO I do not believe the Vatican says you cannot do GMO foods. The way I interpret it is by stating that we should not always look to science to fix our problems. By going overboard with GMO's we will start manipulating fetus', weather, our bodies, our emotions. Granted good things will/might come out of GMO's but these deadly sins for me symbolize (as a Catholic) items that I should be aware of that don't become all encompassing means of living my life.

    MNB user Mary Mendenhall wrote:

    Your daily dose of wit and insight turned a bit misguided and I daresay ugly this morning with your misleading take on the Vatican’s revisions of the “Seven Deadly Sins” list. The new additions to the list (namely drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia, pollution of the environment, causing social injustice, being obscenely rich and genetic engineering, the last of which drew your attention most) seek to point out the “social resonance” of sins in our society.

    Two points about your piece amazed me: First, for a man that regularly, and with what seems like daily consistency, extols the use of the much-praised reusable bag, you have nothing to say about the “pollution of the environment” now being deemed a serious, grave sin. One of the largest world religious fully condemns the pollution of the environment, and you make no comment? Odd.

    Second—I’m not sure how you inferred that the practice “genetic engineering” was so pointedly related to GMOs. Could the Church maybe have been referring to the genetic manipulation of human embryos for cloning advances? Or the harvesting of human embryos for cloning and embryonic stem cell research? Or any of the offenses against the basic rights of humans through genetic manipulation that the Church recognizes? One would think that the Vatican would have been pointing to these cases of genetic engineering, and not a Mexican farmer’s GM corn, as you strangely infer. Just a guess.

    I’m a practicing Catholic—and if I counted on your analysis as even somewhat correct, I’d have to consider myself one of the remaining believers in a dying, faltering religion, near it’s breaking point. That makes me laugh a little. As a new reader to your editorials, I’m hoping that your daily analysis on other topics is not one-sided as this.

    MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

    As a 'recovering' Catholic, the thing that made me uneasiest about the Vatican's stance is that I agree with them. And sorry, I don't buy the argument that GMOs will feed the world. Perhaps in the short term, but long term ramifications are unknown. We've already winnowed down the diversity of our crops due to selective breeding and planting mono cultures. Now we should do it by 'manufacturing' new plants, planting them as mono-crops and waiting to see what happens? Oh wait, we're already doing that, and guess what? Most of the non-GMO crops are being contaminated by GMOs.

    Truly, when will Americans, yes Americans, wake up and realize that our nations food supply and environment is controlled by chemical companies?

    rBGH is safe and great for cows and feeding the masses, right?

    The personal side effects of the drugs we've been sold by big drug companies aren't bad everyone gets to enjoy them in their drinking water.

    Antibiotics are safe to use on our livestock. Cattle do just fine on a grain based diet. The list goes on.

    Ultimately how we treat our world and food supply including the animals we eat is a pretty good yardstick of our nation's moral health. And what I see isn't pretty.

    Hey, Soylent Green would feed the world too, but that doesn't make it right.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    We have food available for everybody...even without GMOs. GMOs will not fix global apathy to starvation, will not fix delivery problems, will not fix political crap, etc. Please do not use "feeding the starving people of the world" as justification for GMOs.

    For example - we have surplus food in the Pacific Northwest...yet thousands of our children, elderly and fragile citizens are starving...starvation is not about GMOs...its about not caring...and GMOs will not cure apathy.

    MNB user Marty Ramos wrote:

    Simply disappointed about…your diatribe on the Catholic church. You take an article that has obviously twisted the statements of an Archbishop (no, not the Pope) and use it as a vehicle to voice your latent, pent-up feelings about the Church. There’s so much to object to in this article, none of which is pertinent as to the reason I read it...please, don’t use your column as a vehicle to voice your religious (and incorrect) views on your readers.

    Understand also, that the Catholic Church is not shrinking, but actually growing…

    I enjoy your news recap when it focuses on our business issues…I will continue to read but, that said, will not hold you in the same esteem as I once did.

    MNB user Judy A. Riesbeck wrote:

    I hope that Morning News Beat does not become a forum for morality issues and attacking the Catholic Church or any other religion.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    You and much of the press have the interpretation of Monsignor Girotti’s interview with L’Osservatore Romano all wrong.

    Monsignor was giving an interview about the necessity of confession for all Roman Catholics. At the tail end of the interview he mentioned what he believes are new forms of social sin in the modern era. Monsignor is not rewriting the Catholic definition of mortal sins. He does not have the authority to do that. He is not suggesting that GMO’s and pollution are more serious than mortal sins like abortion or sexual abuse. Monsignor was giving a personal opinion of what he perceives as modern sins. Just because the interview appeared in the Vatican newspaper does not mean that the Roman Catholic Church now holds as doctrine what Monsignor said or that the Pope agrees with him or that Catholics have to agree with what he just said. What Monsignor said about modern sin is not suddenly now doctrine. Monsignor did not suggest that it is.

    But, as with many in the press, you seem to take any opportunity you think you can to bash the Roman Catholic Church. I’m disappointed in you.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    I am so very pleased that you covered the possible shortcomings of the Catholic Church in today's article. I never knew your column covered the differences of venial and mortal sins and perhaps what the Church describes them to be. An old wise priest once told me that God figures it all out in the end if we are lucky enough to meet him someday. I would like to think that the Catholic Church may have some other doctrine or practices that may be helpful to mankind and that you would also perhaps focus your attention on those in some future column. It seems I hear potshots coming from those who were at onetime a Catholic who may have been beaten up by a nun or two in their day.

    I'm not sure you were once a member of the Catholic Church or not; but it seems to me that because of their stance on certain things or the "rules" of the doctrine, that they become an easy target. I am sure you have the numbers you mention in your column regarding the Catholic Church as " a shrinking group these days". I didn't hear that but I may be wrong.

    I try not to discuss politics or religion with my friends and siblings because it always ends up with someone being hurt or just pissed off. So I won't get into that today. Jesus said feed the hungry. He didn't say how. Every morning I click on your column and read what you have got for me for that day about this industry I have been a part of for 38 years. Informative; Well written; up to date.

    If I were you Kevin I would stick to your bread and butter. You do a great job at it by the way. Leave Religion out of it, for you never know, it may be committing a mortal sin.

    MNB user Jim Hornecker wrote:

    Kevin, this one is for the Dept of Corrections. The Vatican wasn't formulating a new list of the Seven Deadly Sins. And GMO's weren't one of them.

    Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti was being interviewed by the Vatican's newspaper and was asked about new forms of sin in an era of globalization and the current social context. He did discuss certain ways people sin - and they weren't all denominated "mortal sins". The idea was to give people more food for thought for Confession rather than to do some re-branding of sin.

    But the reference to genetic manipulation had zero to do with agriculture. It referred to ways that some scientists try to modify the genes of human embryos so that they have certain traits and not others. The Vatican has frequently criticized efforts to become the manufacturers of people and trying to determine what physical traits and conditions makes a person "worthy of life". This isn't really a new sin. Adolf Hitler and Margaret Sanger were proponents of eugenics and thought humanity needed to be rid of "lesser" races and people with disabilities, etc. And various peoples throughout history have done the same. And the Church has always condemned this sort of thing. It's just that now scientific advancement has been able to accomplish these things in a less bloody fashion - genetic manipulation. Monsanto wasn't being condemned.

    I hope you issue a correction despite your obviously low opinion of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    Let me be clear about one thing up front as I formulate a response to some passionate and entirely reasonable criticisms…

    When I started MNB more than six years ago, the entire point was that I was going to talk about issues and topics that most people in my position would be reluctant or afraid to address. Sometimes they would be about business issues, sometimes on cultural issues, and, I was going to take positions, even if they made me unpopular and even, on occasion, resulted in lost readership.

    So I have staked out positions on issues ranging from the Plan B birth control pill to the use of screw tops on wine bottles, from the need for greater transparency in the industry to my favorite restaurants in places like Seattle and San Francisco. The point is to be appropriately provocative, and to be willing to take the heat – and be public about it – when people disagree with me. And, quite frankly, I’m willing to rant about almost anything…and while a connection to business is important, it isn’t always necessary.

    Sure, religion is always risky to talk about. (And this hardly is the first time that it has come up … though it may seem that way to new readers.) But there are times when religious beliefs and questions of morality do play a role in how business is transacted, and it is worth talking about. Such a case was yesterday.

    My reading of the news stories, which suggested that any genetic manipulation is a sin, was confirmed by other people who read the same and other stories. And while the correspondents above are right that a line was being drawn between genetic manipulation and human experimentation, I remain unconvinced that the Vatican is pro-science and would support GMOs.

    By the way, that’s the Vatican’s right. What I was questioning – and probably in a way that transcended the GMO issue – was the definition of sin. (This will probably open up a whole other can of worms, but what the hell.)

    I’m not sure that it is fair to say that people who try to figure out cloning – even human cloning – are sinners. Their motivations are not necessarily nefarious…these may be people who are compelled to figure out what is possible from a scientific point of view, to actually use (in a phrase my mother used to utter with regularity, if in a different context) “the brains God gave them.”

    Cloning and genetic manipulation may be good for the planet, or may be bad. It may be smart, it could ultimately be a mistake. But a sin? I have trouble with that.

    Nevertheless, I will say that the emails above, and plenty of others that I received criticizing me (some of them in less than elegant language suggesting that I could be facing an unpleasant eternity of considerable warmth), did make me think. About the GMO issue and cloning. About the role of religion in public and private life. And even about my own beliefs. I’m not sure my mind has been changed, nor my cynicism leavened. But I’m thinking. And maybe, now, some other people are as well.

    As far as being anti-Catholic, I will admit to three things. First, as a former altar boy, I have some familiarity with Catholicism. Second, I bear my share of scars from that familiarity (and while these scars certainly shape my opinions, they do not make my opinions unjustified nor inappropriate). Third – and this is most important – I am no more skeptical about the Catholic Church than I am about any other organized institution…whether religious, governmental, social, or otherwise. I suspect that this abiding skepticism seeps through much of what I write…and hopefully, more often than not, it will at least create a climate for discussion and debate.

    One final point to address another criticism. The Washington Post> recently carried a story that read, in part:

    “America has always been a competitive religious marketplace, but a major survey released yesterday shows a country increasingly exploring different faith identities and ways of worship. More than 40 percent of respondents told pollsters that they had changed their religious affiliation since childhood … Conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the survey confirms on a grand scale trends that demographers have noted for years: the slipping percentage of Protestants, now down to 51, and the rise of people who call themselves unaffiliated, now at 16 percent, up from similar surveys.

    “The survey also lays out, just weeks before Pope Benedict XVI's first papal visit to the United States, the Catholic Church's challenge here: no American faith group has lost more adherents. Among U.S. adults, about the same percentage -- 24 -- call themselves Catholic as in the past, but that statistic masks significant turnover. The percentage has held up primarily because of the huge number of recent Latino immigrants, who are largely Catholic, the survey found. Sixty-eight percent of people raised Catholic still identify with their childhood denomination, compared with 80 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of Jews.”

    This doesn’t sound to me like the church is growing…but we can agree to disagree.

    As long as we keep talking. And, perhaps more important, listening.

    KC's View: