retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The year may be new, but the issues and concerns remain the same. One MNB user wrote:

Somehow I don’t think this new Food Safety Bill will yield intended food safety to the level of expectations.  It has lots of gaps.  Wasn’t HACCP supposed to solve all our problems about 10 years ago?  Now we have GFSI…and other initiatives supporting food safety more than ever but it’s still not enough?   I’ve even read that the FDA is using overinflated illness numbers, that have no basis in current events, just to create a sense of urgency to pass this bill during the lame duck congress.

This bill appears to grant more power to the Federal agencies and therefore implies an increased transfer of responsibility to the Federal agencies to make food safe.  Yet the agencies deny assumption of more responsibility.  As a food quality professional, I can tell you that a visit to a high risk facility every 3 years is a real joke.  The frequency of visits must be at least quarterly for high risk….as is practiced in the milk industry.  So the FDA will be coming back to the well for more funds, you can count on that.

I have a question:  Why not hold food production companies…and their executives…personally accountable?  Who should really assume responsibility for food safety?  Washington?  I don’t think so.  I don’t understand why anyone in industry would support such an obvious grab for more control of the private sector by the federal government agencies unless they were willing to shirk responsibility in this way.  Agencies that have a history of irresponsibility.

Everyone should ask themselves if they lost a person very near and dear to them due to a food safety problem….how would it make you feel?  Who would you want to hold responsible?  The government agencies deliberately shirk responsibility and draft regulations to say they cannot be held responsible.  In essence, by passing such bills through Congress, we are making the regulatory agency into judge, jury, and executioner with no real responsibility to do a good job at this.  They don’t have a great track record of technical competence either.  So why do we increase their responsibility?  I say put responsibility where responsibility lies and quit kidding yourself that more regulatory oversight is the answer.      
Until we, the people, hold corporations more directly accountable – in a more personal manner – I don’t see this as anything more than the traditional Washington song and dance backed up by special interest money.   It gives the illusion of progress in food safety when in reality, food safety may be compromised. 

Basically, in a large food corporation, the financial and operational decisions of the president and the board of directors, via the trickle-down theory, have consequences on the level of food safety the company will practice.  If someone dies due to poor or lack of food safety, which is really “people safety”, the top executives (clear down to the plant manager) should be put in prison, with the rest of the murderers, until industry understands that you can’t take chances with food safety and that anything less than the best technology is tantamount to first degree murder.  They get paid the big bucks…it’s past time they earned it and shouldered more responsibility.

People have died due to shoddy food safety practices and inadequate processing.  That’s a fact.  So…why is it that the leaders of these corporations, who hold the purse strings, who decide that it may be too expensive to invest in safe food systems or food safety assurance, are the ones who never get held directly accountable?  At most they get a small fine and a slap on the wrist.  In fact, they get bonuses and perks and a pat on the back for mitigating damages to the company!  There is your root cause for food safety problems in this country and I don’t see what the government agencies can do about that.

Under current regulatory and social doctrine, I don’t think we will ever see total food safety – meaning zero deaths.  What is a tolerable number of food safety deaths?  Are we in an infinite loop of government regulatory authority that won’t stop until the government agencies run every food plant?   Where will food safety be then?  Heck they can’t even run the post office properly!  I say get government out of the food plants but pass laws to hold corporate executives personally accountable and you will see unparalleled food safety in this country.  There has to be an incentive or perhaps in this case, a dis-incentive, to achieve the level of food safety that is being called for.

China had a solution at the other end of the spectrum during the melamine fiasco…these people were taken out and executed!   Most rational people might think that is a bit harsh…..but if you lost someone you love dearly due to a rich executive’s poor or biased decision, you might feel irrational about the whole thing.  The food safety decisions made by food executives are not accidental and I think it’s time we acknowledged that death due to a food safety issue is no longer accidental either.

Sorry my rant is so long but it is a complex problem that I’ve been immersed in for my entire career.    And it just keeps getting worse…..

Yes, I think we can agree that using the Chinese system of “justice” here in the US might not be the best way to go. And I think almost everyone agree that the legislation is not perfect. (Legislation almost never is.)

I get your frustration. And in the end, food companies and their executives have to be held responsible. But I’m reading this a different way - that the government, as an instrument of the people, is requiring a higher level of competence and responsibility from companies ... not actually being responsible itself.

MNB user Tom Murphy wrote, on another issue:

You are right on about the transparency that smartphones bring and the resulting fear of retailers, both grocers and other segments. As consumers really begin to understand how hi-lo pricing works, expect to see more push back and more retailers going to EDLP.

Likewise; the industries practices with discounts and coupons have created a consumer base that will only buy on sale - from any one of 3-4 retailers they shop regularly. This hil-o transparency along with the way we have trained our consumers to seek/wait for discounts is going to create major executive suite anxiety during a very slow recovery.

MNB user Gerry Lopez had a thought about a quote from Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley financier, that was included in the last MNB of the year:

I get the guy likes Steve Jobs. Plenty to like there.

But where does Roger get off making a comment like this about other CEOs?

“What makes him different is that he’s creating jobs and economic activity out of thin air while just about every other CEO in America is working out ways to cut costs and lay people off.”

Whaaaaat?  Just about every other CEO? Really? Mr McNamee must subscribe to the Robert Reich "facts to fit" school of economic thought.

I'm so tired of being a punching bag for every jackass with an opinion, that I just couldn't pass on pointing that one out for you. I know plenty CEOs hiring, or keeping payroll stable even though economic prospects and future costs are unknown. Roger needs to get out and meet some folks.

Illustrating that there can be a huge difference between being a financier and being a leader. They are not necessarily the same thing.

MNB user Jeff Folloder had an opinion about something I wrote before going off on holiday:

"Americans, in general, have no idea what anything costs. They have been so dazzled by promotions and discounts, so confused by budgetary sleight of hand tricks, that they simply cannot connect costs to prices."

It's a very good hypothesis.  And quite valid because it is likely very true.  But there is another part that you left unsaid:  Americans, in general, believe that they know what a "fair" margin is.  And that fair margin almost always is perceived as net profit, when in most cases it is not.  Americans did not like the the perceived greed, via high prices, of the local, the independent, the service oriented retailers.  And so they based most of their decisions on price alone.  That forced a re-alignment of the retail tectonic plates towards high volume, low margin, big box retailing.  And now America is saying that they (the retailers) cannot cover costs with sustainable margins.  Go figure.

And, from another MNB user, on another subject:

Re: your mention of the Dickens classic being staged in klingon, I think you are so right how this series has permanently “infiltrated’ our culture.

I am a serious yoga student, although I practice what is basically a very physical approach to it.  It’s simply how we, in the US, tend to do everything—i.e. we have embraced the physical approach to “enlightenment” via yoga.  Anyway, to get to the point, if/when we hit an extension in a posture that is further than we have attained prior, it’s called a “star trek” moment—i.e. going further than we have ever gone before.

Likewise, re the terminology infiltrating our language, when my daughter was not happy, to put it mildly, w/a decision of mine regarding her, I was likened to a “Vulcan”, as in “that is so Vulcan, Mother”.

The great thing is that your daughter gets the lingo.

Live long and prosper.
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