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    Published on: July 31, 2009

    The US House of Representatives yesterday approved by a vote of 283-142 the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, a measure that would be a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s food safety infrastructure.

    The bill now goes to the Senate, where a similar food safety bill still is in committee. President Barack Obama has pledged to sign food safety legislation into law when it arrives on his desk.

    If it becomes law, the new food safety legislation would enhance the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall and quarantine product, to improve its inspection and traceability functions, and force manufacturers to keep better records. The provisions would be partially funded by a $500 annual fee on food producers.

    Critics say that the bill is likely to increase the cost of food and centers too much power in Washington. But the tides were with supporters of the bill, coming as it did after a rash of contamination scares – spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, pistachios - that roiled the marketplace.

    The bill had failed to pass earlier this week because of procedures in place at the time that required a two-thirds majority.

    Leslie G. Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), released the following statement: “We commend the House for passing legislation that will strengthen food safety in America. Most important, it focuses on systems to prevent breaches in food safety to protect consumers … We urge the Senate to approve companion legislation quickly so the industry and government can take the actions required to enhance our nation’s food safety system.”

    Pamela G. Bailey, president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), chimed in: ““House passage of The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 marks an important milestone. This legislation will strengthen our nation’s food safety net by placing prevention as the cornerstone of our nation’s food safety strategy and providing FDA with the resources and authorities it needs to adequately fulfill its food safety mission … We applaud the House for its vision and leadership in tackling this tough issue and urge the Senate to swiftly follow suit and pass its food safety bill as quickly as possible.”

    And Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said, “United Fresh is gratified by the House passage of this landmark food safety legislation, which contains several important provisions designed to improve our nation’s food safety and help bolster consumer confidence in the food supply. United Fresh is largely supportive of the bill, which has received broad bipartisan support … There are still important issues that we will address with the Senate as it begins its work on food safety legislation later this year. We look forward to continued bipartisan support and industry cooperation to ensure passage of sound, scientific food safety legislation that can benefit all Americans.”
    KC's View:
    It will take some time to make this all work, and we shouldn't expect any sort of dramatic improvement short-term. But hopefully it won’t take too long to have impact on the incidents of negligence and even criminality that have created some of these contamination scares, and will start to rebuild confidence in the food supply.

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    Interesting piece in Slate looking at how Whole Foods has been grappling with the recession. Some excerpts:

    • “If Whole Foods were perishable, it probably would have expired this past year. But instead, it has done surprisingly well, holding its own as a high-end food spot in what's now been a yearlong assault on any store considered expensive. While its most recent earnings report wasn't dazzling – revenue compared to last year’s was flat – it wasn't dismal, either. And many analysts are predicting increased sales to be announced in the earnings report next week.”

    • “So what's kept Whole Foods healthy? ‘We have shown that we can adjust if we have to,’ co-president and COO A.C. Gallo said in May. The ever-expanding grocer has markedly scaled back and is opening only half the stores it had planned for 2009 … Whole Foods is shifting away from the mega-mart model and focusing instead on opening smaller, less labor-intensive stores.”

    • “Instead of hunkering down and holding out for the economy to recover, Whole Foods began to experiment with ways of convincing America that it was, in fact, an affordable place to shop, without actually slashing prices storewide.”
    KC's View:
    One of the real challenges that Whole Foods had to deal with is the fact that cash-strapped mainstream consumers – as opposed to its core shoppers – were choosing to go elsewhere because that was an easy way to save money. And Whole Foods’ growth strategy hinged on an ability to expand its appeal beyond its core.

    That said – and I say this at the risk of being criticized by people who think I am entirely too sympathetic to the company – I see no reason to think that Whole Foods won’t survive the recession and end up being a stronger, leaner company. Sure, it has some problem spots; there may be folks in Austin who wonder what they were thinking when they decided to expand into the UK.

    But if it opens smaller stores with less labor that continue to move the company away from its ‘Whole Paycheck” image…the likelihood is that Whole Foods will do just fine. It may not be the kind of fast-growth company that Wall Street traditionally adores, but it can be a perfectly viable retailing entity.

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    Reuters reports that Walmart is negotiating with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), considering the possibility that H1N1/swine flu vaccination centers could be located in some of its stores.

    “We are in discussions with CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and others in local and state departments to see what role we might play," Dr. John Agwunobi, president of health and wellness for Wal-Mart U.S., said at a public health conference in Orlando. "It might be we are a site. It may be help with logistics and with supply chain."

    According to the story, “U.S. health advisers have said about half the U.S. population should be vaccinated against H1N1 influenza. Up to 160 million doses of flu vaccine will be available for the start of the campaign in mid-October.”
    KC's View:
    It is through moves like this, and by being the go-to company when disasters like Hurricane Katrina happen, that Walmart smartly moves beyond being just a retailer and establishes its credentials and role in public policy and discourse.

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    Weis Markets yesterday announced it has implemented a third 90-day price freeze on 2,600 of its staple items – including includes private label and brand name products in center store, frozen, dairy, produce, meat, deli and bakery - effective Thursday, July 30 through October 28.

    "Given the current economic environment, our Price Freeze program continues to make sense for our customers. In many of the markets we serve, the unemployment rate continues to increase," said David J. Hepfinger, Weis Markets' president/CEO. "Our Price Freeze program has produced tangible savings for our customers over the past seven months. Since its initial roll-out in January, it has helped our customers save more than $11 million."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    As the one-dollar-per-night Redbox DVD rental kiosks gain in popularity around the US, Publix announced that it is installing another version of a DVD rental kiosk in its central Florida stores – branded with the Blockbuster name.

    Drug Store News reports that some 2,000 of the kiosks have been installed in stores around the country, but that the Blockbuster branding is new.
    KC's View:
    Which makes sense, since in a world where it was getting squeezed on one side by Netflix and the other by Redbox, Blockbuster had to do something. For NCR, the company that makes the kiosks, the Blockbuster branding also gives it an entity with some equity…even if that brand equity has been eroding over the past few years.

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    The Detroit News reports that Michigan farmers have developed a significant business delivering fresh products to local homes over the past few years, which allowed them to build sales and a connection between shoppers and growers.

    One example: a farmer who had 24 home delivery clients in 2002 and has 300 today.

    The only limit on how this business can grow is the reality that it has more appeal to high income consumers than to middle income or poor shoppers, and Michigan has been having more than its share of economic issues.
    KC's View:
    Seems like a natural extension of the “eat local” movement. It may not be the best economic environment in which to grow, but this won’t last forever…can it?

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    • The Dayton Daily News reports that Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have reached a tentative accord on a new contract covering more than 4,000 employees working in 30 Dayton-area stores.

    Details of the pact were not disclosed. A union vote is scheduled for mid-August.

    Brand Week reports that Atkins Nutritionals “is updating its image with a new campaign urging consumers to think beyond the diet's ‘bacon, eggs and cheese’ stereotype ,” emphasizing “the variety of meals-as opposed to individual foods-dieters can eat under the program, including ham and Swiss cheese frittata for breakfast, a luncheon special of French bistro salad with shrimp and grilled turkey cutlets with thyme for dinner.” The goal of the campaign is to make the low-carb Atkins diet more accessible to consumers, who seemed to need greater flexibility than they believed the diet would give them.

    • The New Haven Register reports that Stew Leonard’s, which for years has owned 41 acres of property in Orange, Connecticut, on which the company planned to build a store, only to face continuing resistance from some community members, has put the property up for sale.

    According to the story, Stew Leonard Jr. says he is being courted by numerous real estate interests in New York and New Jersey that would like him to build new stores, and so he thought he’d put the property on the market to see what would happen. Apparently he’s not hugely optimistic about a sale going through, since the recession doesn’t make such deals easy. But he says he wants to focus his attention on places that actually want a Stew Leonard’s.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    • Rodale announced that its CEO, Steven Pleshette Murphy, has decided not to renew his contract, and will be succeeded by Maria Rodale, the 47-year-old granddaughter of the company's founder and the daughter of prior chairmen Robert and Ardath Rodale. She followed her mother, Ardath Rodale, as chairman of the company two years ago.

    Murphy said in a statement that he wanted to take some time off to pursue his own creative interests.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    Got the following email about the much-speculated-about fat tax:

    Your comments on the fat tax, and those of many people, are based on the assumption that fat is bad. Ancel Keys heart lipid hypothesis has never been proven and has many skeptics but it has acquired the status of dogma. If we go back to preagricultural times (10-13000 years ago depending on local and in some areas only 2000 years ago)and look at the diet of hunter gatherers the diet contained a lot of animal fat as the fat sections were consumed first. Obviously a lot of protein cam along with it. What was not in the diet was a lot of carbohydrates as only that which volunteered along their route of travel could be consumed.

    I would argue that the diseases of modern civilization (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, Alzheimer’s) have a common cause and that is the tremendous increase in sugar consumption, the use of processed white flour, increase in carb consumption in general, and the change in fat consumption. The fat that was consumed was largely saturated (lard, tallow and coconut oil). The only oils used were olive and coconut. The use of supposedly heart healthy oils (such has corn, cottonseed, and the two deadliest of all - soybean oil and trans fats) has changed the composition of cell walls and hence cell permeability and has wrecked havoc on our health.

    I would argue that we have been engaged in a huge experiment on the American populace and that the results are deadly. I prefer that people be allowed to eat what they want and taxes ought not to be used to try to modify our behavior in this regard. If *I* were to be forced to make a law taxing food items to try to make the populace healthier I would tax everything white and all manufactured oils. The tax on sugars, including high fructose corn syrup would be large; large enough to drive consumption down to civil war levels of 5# per person per year (from current levels of 150#). Every oil but olive, coconut and palm would be taxed heavily. Soy and flax (or rapeseed as it was formerly called) could go back to being paint stock oils (because they oxidize) as they were prior to the late 40's.

    This is not the consensus opinion but before we sign on to a massive taxation scheme to try to force improvements in our health we'd better step back and look at the whole picture. The scheme may push us further aware from our ancestral evolutionary diet and cause a loss of health and a concurrent increase in health care costs.

    MNB took note yesterday of a BBC report on a new study by the UK Food Standards Agency concluding that organic food is no healthier than so-called “ordinary food.”

    According to the story, “Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at all the evidence on nutrition and health benefits from the past 50 years. Among the 55 of 162 studies that were included in the final analysis, there were a small number of differences in nutrition between organic and conventionally produced food but not large enough to be of any public health relevance, said study leader Dr Alan Dangour.

    “Overall the report, which is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no differences in most nutrients in organically or conventionally grown crops, including in vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The same was true for studies looking at meat, dairy and eggs.”

    My view:

    It seems to me that we’ve seen this movie before, and that it doesn’t make any more sense this time around.

    I’m not arguing the nutrient issue. But it is hard to fathom how products made without additives, preservatives, pesticides, insecticides or antibiotics can be said to have no health advantages over those that cannot make that claim.

    I will say this. I’ve seen this report publicized in a bunch of places this morning, and so it may be necessary for organic retailers and manufacturers to address it, to get aggressive about defining what they see as their differential advantages.

    MNB user Annika Forester wrote:

    It’s one thing for the ‘mommy-bloggers’ and TV news people to get it wrong all the time, but if I hear one more, otherwise knowledgeable and educated food-industry person espouse the notion that organic = no pesticides I’m going to POP! Please, do us all a favor and get this straight. You can start by reviewing EPA’s definition of the word “pesticide” - “A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for: preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.”

    ORGANIC FARMERS DO USE PESTICIDES, and quite often. Get over it. We can’t grow food and make a living without making some effort to protect it from pests. What organic farmers don’t use are chemicals that are synthetic, that is, man-made. I know this is hard for folks to get their heads around (thanks to decades of misinformation spun by Natural ’n’ Organic’ marketeers), but, in fact, there are many toxic and dangerous substances found in naturally-occurring forms, and some of these are used in organic farming – a plenty. The notion that no pesticides are used in organic farming is simplistic, naïve, and just plain Pollyanna.

    MNB user Steve Lutz added:

    Your comment “it is hard to fathom how products made without additives, preservatives, pesticides, insecticides or antibiotics can be said to have no health advantages” underscores the fundamental misconception that most consumers have regarding organics. Organic has never meant additive, pesticide or insecticide free.

    Organic foods get plenty of pesticides and insecticides…sometimes more frequent applications than the conventional alternatives. Organic means free of synthetic chemicals/products. A toxic pesticide that is “organic” doesn’t make it any more or less “safe” than a synthetic alternative.

    What the science may be underscoring is the actuarial reality that the people who eat the most fruits and vegetables (97% of which are conventional, non organic) also live the longest. In my opinion, the debate of “which is better organic or conventional” detracts from the more important message that consumers should get which is, “regardless of your choice, just eat more fruits and vegetables.”

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I support organic farmers because I believe their growing practices are better for the planet, not because the nutritional value of organic foods necessarily justifies the cost. I agree with you that the benefit of not eating pesticides etc. is common sense, but it seems like the primary issue of sustainability is lost in the recent reports about health impact and vitamin content of organic vs. conventional.

    MNB user Cheryl Lewis wrote:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Plus, keeping pesticides off our food not only helps the food, it helps the soil, the air that we breath and all the critters and birds that breath that air with us. There have been articles in the National Wildlife Magazine urging people to only buy organic from certain countries because the pesticide usage is killing off the birds that nest there. So buying organic helps our health and the health of the Earth.

    MNB user Amelia Kirchoff wrote:

    Another example of a misleading study. They tested only for common nutrients. They did not test the level of antibiotics and pesticides. In general, nutrient levels in foodstuffs have been decreasing over the last fifty years. Nutrient rich food comes from healthy soil, full of organic matter and animal protein. The quality of our soil has steadily decreased as a result of erosion and bad farming techniques and with it the nutrient level of both organic and non-organic food.

    Much of the food that is certified organic today comes from huge conglomerates. What needs to be compared is the level of nutrients of food grown on small farms using traditional techniques of maintaining soil fertility with that of agri-business. Plants cultivated in good soil are disease-resistant and animals feeding upon those plants are not as susceptible to infectious diseases. They do not need a daily dose of antibiotics. We need to restore our soils and recreate biodiversity. The loss has hurt ecosystems throughout the world and the nutrient level of our food.

    We need to take more of an interest in where our food comes from, rather than it's organic certification.

    Yet another MNB user chimed in:

    I’ve been buying organic for over 20 years, I’m with you – I’m not fanatical, but I’ve done taste tests with family and friends, with organic vegetables and fruits – and it’s been consistent that the organic simply has more flavor as a rule.

    Is it the lack of sprays? Chemicals used in growing? They can claim all they want about nutrient value, I just don’t want “the added ingredients”!

    And with eggs- the organic high omega eggs have much darker yolks and better flavor! Just a fact. However, I don’t buy the ones that are fed fish, that is not their natural diet. Chickens eat seeds so that makes sense.

    Milk, dairy products – I will not buy those that sourced from cows fed hormones if I can possibly avoid it! Not all are marked, which forever astounds me! I’ve called companies to ask this.

    And I am a strong proponent of transparency about food irradiation. Simply mark the stuff and let the consumers decide what they want to buy.

    I’m not arguing the nutrient issue. But it is hard to fathom how products made without additives, preservatives, pesticides, insecticides or antibiotics can be said to have no health advantages over those that cannot make that claim.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2009

    Remember last weekend’s controversy when, faced with a copyright violation issue, deleted the electronic copies of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” that people had downloaded to their Kindles? While Amazon refunded the purchase price, it also faced enormous criticism for technology that allowed the company to control data that people thought they’d bought and owned. (The Orwellian nature of the scenario was a delicious irony.)

    Now, however, Amazon is facing a lawsuit – from a 17-year-old high school student who had been reading “1984” on his Kindle and keeping electronic notes for a summer reading assignment. When Amazon deleted the book it also deleted his notes, the suit charges, and the student deserves some sort of compensation. Not surprisingly, the lawyers for the student are seeking other plaintiffs with similar stories so they can turn the thing into a class action suit.

    If this were my kid, I’d have a simple message to him:

    Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.

    I mean, I understand that this is an annoying turn of events. But things happen, and you have to adjust. People don’t get to sue computer manufacturers when their laptops crash and they lose all their work…though if it were up to some lawyers, they’d probably try.

    When you think about it, while these events may be inconvenient, they actually give him a much better essay to turn in when school starts up again. (Never look a good lead in the mouth.)

    I’d tell my kid, think of this as a life lesson. Three of them, in fact.

    1. Companies sometimes behave unethically and betray their core values.
    2. When things don't go according to plan, you have to be self-sufficient enough to create your own solutions, not blame other people.
    3. Always keep a back-up.

    I suspect that this kid’s parents aren’t teaching him these lessons. Rather, they seem to teaching him about greed and litigiousness.

    Sometimes, it seems as if we live in parallel universes. (Like in ‘Fringe.”)

    There’s the world in which we’re all grappling with the recession.

    And then, there’s the world described by the New York Times this morning, where a Brooklyn pizzeria is charging $5 a slice.

    The Times writes, “Di Fara, one of the most acclaimed and sought-after pizza shops in New York City, now sells one of the most expensive — and still-sought-after — slices in New York City, on a no-frills Brooklyn block next door to, of all places, a 99-cent store. The price of a slice increased to $5 on July 1, up from $4, the cost for the past year and a half. Just about everything else went up as well: Plain round pies are $25 and specialty square pies are $35.”

    My first reaction was that this is nuts. But I have to admit that I like the take by NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “The real question, relative to the local economy, is whether people are trading up from a $2.75 slice or down from a $25 entrée. And from what I hear in the subways and on the streets, it’s probably a mixture of both. But if you’ve ever had a really great slice of pizza, you know there are worse deals.”

    And then, there’s the reaction by one patron: “It’s like they dug up my grandma and she made the pie.”

    So now, much as I hate to admit it, I have to try to figure out how to get from Connecticut to Avenue J in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.

    Hope springs eternal, especially in baseball.

    The Los Angeles Times reported this week that sportscaster Vin Scully, currently broadcasting his 60th season of Dodger baseball games, has decided to likely put off his planned retirement at the end of the year and come back for one more season.

    This is good news for Dodger fans, because, as the Times put it, “we now have 15 months to hang on to every syllable, cherish every story, embrace his hellos as we prepare to say goodbye.”

    Sixty seasons. It is such an extraordinary record of achievement and excellence, and Dodger fans – originally in Brooklyn, now in Los Angeles – have been blessed to have had Scully for all these years. He is the prototypical gentleman broadcaster, a reminder of an age when baseball was far more innocent.

    It may be unfair to ask, but I hope he hangs around forever. The baseball world will be poorer and a little less civilized when he steps out from behind the microphone.

    On the other hand, if hope springs eternal, sometimes faith is dashed.

    David Ortiz. Manny Ramirez. The 2004 World Championship Boston Red Sox.

    Need I say more?

    I understand the Hollywood impulse to do remakes, but I have to say that the announcement this week that there may be a new version of “The Rockford Files” caught me by surprise. It is almost impossible to imagine anyone other than James Garner in the role, or that the new producers will be able to capture the series’ insouciant charm.

    On the other hand, the guy behind the remake is the same guy who created “House,” which is one of the best shows on TV. So you never know…

    (Wonder if they’ll try to get Garner out of retirement to play Rocky, Jim Rockford’s dad, played memorably by Noah Beery Jr. in the original?)

    Excellent news from Washington, DC, where it is reported that Tony Kornheiser will return to the radio airwaves with a two-hour daily program that will be broadcast on WTEM and, hopefully, carried on iTunes.

    It has been too long since Mr. Tony abandoned daily radio for “Pardon The Interruption” and “Monday Night Football.” He is good on “PTI,” but is constantly scintillating on the radio…and I cannot wait until the day after Labor Day.

    Four wines from the Tenuta Rapitala vineyards in Sicily…all wonderful, each distinct…

    • The 2007 Piano Maltese Bianco, a fresh and bright white wine that is perfect with seafood. ($11)

    • The 2007 Campo Reale, which is like a Zinfandel, a young red that is great with pretty much any kind of poultry. ( $11)

    • The 2006 Nadir Syrah, a delicious fill-bodied wine that was Mrs. Content Guy’s favorite of the four. We had it with grilled lamb chops, and it was great. ($15)

    • The 2002 Hugonis, which is a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and Nero d’Avola, which is ripe and thick and bold…and was my favorite. ($35).

    I have no idea if you’ll be able to get these from your local wine merchant…but if you can’t, feel free to contact mine: Ask for Pete at Nicholas Roberts Ltd. (203-656-9463) or email him at

    (Blogger’s full disclosure. I am paid absolutely nothing for my endorsement of these wines, nor on any sales made by Nicholas Roberts. However, if you live close enough to the store to have your wine delivered in the next three weeks or so, feel free to give a generous tip to the handsome young man making the delivery. It’s my son, Brian.)

    And while I’m plugging my kids…

    There’s a very cool chain that has started up in Chicago called Argo Tea where my son David – a young actor/writer – is working. I’m very impressed with the chain, and look forward to visiting their newest store, where David works, in the building formerly called the Sears Tower, now referred to as the “Big Willie.” If you stop in, say hello to David.

    That’s it for this week. Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: