Published on: September 24, 2012
Two perspectives on the prop 37/GMO labeling debate.
First up, MNB user Kevin Davis:The problem with Prop 37 isn’t the “right to know” language as it pertains to GMO’s or any ingredients for that matter, most retailers support this as a service to our customers. The problem is that this law burdens the grocery retailer (just like prop 65) to be the watchdog on every label on every product from every manufacturer in our stores. If a label is legal and accurate to FDA or USDA standards and a supplier sells it in 49 other states based on Federal guidelines, how are we as retailers in California going to screen these products for accuracy on ingredients labeling, and keep them out of our stores.
Much of the time the sales force or brokers don’t even know if a product is clean, or has GMO’s in an ingredient, or is gluten free, or is natural, or is organic from a scientific standpoint; they just read the label like anyone else; trusting the national standards to do this job. If the label is accurate and legal on a national level, but now not legal in California, why is the retailer the guilty party? Why are we in court defending ourselves and calling manufacturers and suppliers for support? It seems to me organic farmers want to use our state’s proposition system to hold the rest of the country to a higher standard on product labeling for their benefit, at our cost. If there is a label violation, retailers are to be held accountable by ambulance chasing attorneys with millions of dollars in added cost to the system.
Our consumers in California will ultimately pay the price in the form of higher costs for grocery’s simply to benefit a few overzealous organic product manufacturers and growers. Doesn’t seem right at his time, in this economy to allow this to happen instead of the industry seeking a preemptive national guideline that can become a real long term and better thought out solution to this issue.
And from MNB user Stacy Bergmann:I just wanted to chime in on the Prop 37 debate. I am in favor of labeling GMO items, as people do have the right to know. If that was all that Prop 37 was setting out to do, well, then I would be in favor of it (I work for a manufacturer, and the costs would be great but not unworthy). My issue with Prop 37 is that it takes it a step further. It would prevent food from being labeled all natural if it contained a GMO. Does the average consumer know that 94% of all soy, 90%+ of sugar beet and Canola, and 88% of corn grown in the US use GM seeds? That would eliminate vast classes of food from being all natural, when in reality the seeds are hybrids, bred from two original seeds and creating a newer, stronger version. I don’t see them as being unnatural at all, still a seed – could be labeled as such (GMO), but give the consumer the option of choosing what they think is best for them. Then they take it a step further and say that Food cannot be labeled natural if it is a processed food (never mind the GMO portion, this is a broad statement defining the entire food chain), which is then defined as ‘any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to process, such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling’. So if you put those all natural apples in to a pot to cook them to make apple sauce, they are now not natural. If you put them into a can to sell they are not natural. You get the picture. Now you have eliminated almost the entire class of food deemed currently to be ‘all natural’. The worst part is the enforcement can come from ANYONE, so I could go into a store, look at a label, question its validity and then sue the company, farmer, and grocer for carrying the item. Without cause, proof of harm, or any basis to stand on other than my opinion. Almost forgot, for imported food items all they need is a letter from the company stating that there are no GMO’s in their food. That is it. So a benefit for the imported goods over domestically produced.
They muddied the waters on this one, what is being sold to the average consumer as a benefit for them (GMO labeling) is taken to an entirely different level to benefit the trial lawyer who penned the proposition.
I continue to believe that GMO labeling is a good idea, and that ultimately, consumers want to know or at least ought to have access to information about what is in their foods.
I do believe that there probably is a better way to achieve it than the California bill. I don't think retailers ought to bear the burden of providing accurate information, because most of them don't actually make most of the stuff they sell. They are dependent on others to provide them with accurate information. I also believe that there ought to be provisions in the California rules that prevent attorneys from becoming the big winners ... maybe a two-year moratorium on any GMO labeling-related lawsuits, just to allow manufacturers some time to get things right.
I also would agree with the suggestion that this ought to be a national effort, not a local effort. As a part of that, I'd like to see a major industry proposal that supports a comprehensive GMO labeling program that makes sense for consumers as well as the industry.
The problem is that a lot of folks probably don;t expect the industry to support such a thing. And so they are left with the California proposal, which seems to them like it is better than nothing. And so they support it.
Interesting email from MNB user Mike Slattery:If technology is going to be the business driver going forward that we all believe it will be, I think you will be reporting a lot more stories of Walgreens acquisitions. I recently had the good fortune of my local Rite Aid closing and my account being transferred to Walgreens. Wow!
Welcome to the 21st century. Putting aside that the store is bright and clean with friendly employees, the apps loaded onto my smart phone make doing business with them easy and fun. Hands down, it is the best technology of any business I deal with. I can scan my prescription refills, check my prescription records, my doctor writes new prescriptions as I’m sitting at his desk…and I get an email saying it’s ready before I get to the parking lot! I can check my Rewards Balance, print photos and comments from Facebook posts. But the absolute best app is the in store Map that instantly locates items I used to waste time trying to find. For me, the whole Walgreens experience has been an eye opener!
Full disclosure: I have absolutely no connection to Walgreens and don’t know a soul that works there.
And on another subject:I’ve been reading on your pages what seems like forever that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy concept is an abject failure, including today’s survey results.
Such has not been the experience of myself and fellow co-workers at the California Raisin Marketing Board in downtown Fresno, California. While we have several restaurant choices around us, we’re drawn to Fresh & Easy a couple of blocks away, where we can purchase very good fresh salads at quite reasonable prices, as well as a fairly wide variety pre-packaged microwavable entrées, also at very reasonable prices. Drink and snack selections are judged to be comprehensive for a mid-sized store.
The self-checkout is simple to operate, and staff is very helpful.
And maybe it’s because we’re in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, the source of 25% of all U.S. produce, but Fresh & Easy’s produce selection is just that –fresh & easy. Yes it is pre-packaged, but that’s what we expect.
Of course we cannot say if the stores in our area are profitable or not, but they are well-placed to serve under-stored neighborhoods here, especially in the downtown Fresno area.
So before the U.S. retailing industry write’s them off, perhaps you should visit our favorite lunchtime retailer – Fresh & Easy in Fresno.
Another MNB user took a different approach:A few observations:
Tesco sent an advance team to learn about American shoppers- Instead, cloned their European model.
Promised new, fresh, different- Delivered self-check outs, no coupons except their own, no loyalty card benefits, bland interiors.
Locations were former drug stores, electronic stores, etc. that didn’t make it- Little thought given to locations.
No flexibility regarding location’s ethnicity- many stores in heavy Hispanic neighborhoods; no unique products or bi-lingual signage.
Never established their identity.
With a distribution center of over 800,000sf, what else might they have in mind?
I remain conflicted about Fresh & Easy. Every time the negative opinions wear me down and I start to think that maybe the whole thing will never come together, I talk to someone who loves their Fresh & Easy store.
I'm sure I am being the height of inconsistency on this. But that's sort of how I feel.
We had a piece the other day about the fact that USA Today
has redesigned the newspaper for the first time since it upended the newspaper publishing business 30 years ago. (Color? Graphics? Gasp!)
One MNB user responded:Did you see the new format for USA Today? I'm not THAT old, but had to go searching around the house to find a pair of "cheaters" strong enough to read it. The font is difficult to read, it's really small, and the layout is confusing.
As my daughter would say, it's a "fail."
I didn't have to look for my glasses, but that's because I wear them all the time.
I can't say that I love the new design. Somehow, while it was meant to modernize the newspaper, it somehow looks sort of retro to me. And there actually seems to be a smaller news hole than it used to have, though that is just an impression and may not be accurate.
On the subject of the iPhone 5, one MNB user wrote:I find the criticism of your failure to babble on about the iPhone humorous. The thing that I keep wondering is how the heck anyone is going to move forward with these devices with any significant improvements. Yes, you can always fiddle with the form factor, making the things bigger or smaller. And sure you can make some software improvements, but those don't sell a new phone. Besides Siri has become one of Apple's sore spots. Nobody makes much use of the danged thing and they've quietly stopped talking about it. I suppose a better camera might be an incremental improvement. I'm sure I'm probably wrong here, but it's a good thought exercise to try to imagine something so revolutionary as to put the current iPhone to shame. Such a revolution in technology surely hasn't happened with the iPod.
I wrote recently, in response to a posting, that I think "there is an enormous difference between telling people what is their food and telling them what they can and can't eat. And I think when people suggest that one will inevitably lead to another, it strains credulity....”
Which promoted one reader to suggest:You wrote that the day after NYC put a ban on large sugary sodas. If one of the largest cities in our nation can get away with it do you seriously think that it’s such a large leap in logic to think that the federal government can’t get away with it?
I really don’t feel like I’m wearing a tin-foil hat here when there is an actual example of it happening already.
I actually do. Besides, you may think it is just semantics, but NYC is not telling anyone they can't drink sugary sodas. Just that they can't drink them in really big cups. (As I've written here, I disagree with the NYC approach, preferring education to bans.)
On the same subject, one MNB user wrote:I would agree that the best method of prevention is education. But I wonder how much more information can people receive. One cannot possibly think that drinking a 36 oz. Mountain Dew could be healthy for them. With the rate of obesity, and many of the health problems connected to an unhealthy diet, something drastic needs to occur. Many of the those who are used to drinking jumbo size soda will have to get used to the 12 oz.
The one thing I disagree with is the fine. A possible alternative could possibly be making them run or a another form of punishment.
Sure. Because physical punishment will be less controversial than financial punishment.
Regarding how far the ban extends, one MNB user - who would know, because he is potentially affected by this ban - wrote:If the establishment in question has self-serve, the ban is on cup size not drink type. Devil's in the details, not the headline. The thing is an execution mess, sure to raise operating costs that will undoubtedly get passed on to the consumer....
We had a piece recently about a study saying that US kids eat way too much salt. One MNB user responded:I recently interviewed with a salt producer and the very subject came up because I asked. I was curious if demand had declined because of my uneducated perception that manufacturers are creating healthier products. His response was eye opening. A soup manufacturer had reduced the sodium content in their soups and when sales declined quickly reversed course and put the salt back in.
In business, sometimes it’s about giving the customer what they want, not what’s good for them. Plus I hang this one on the parents. Kids eat what they are given. I regularly see Reduced Sodium and Low Sodium alternatives on the shelf. If Mom picks up the regular variety and feeds it to her kid, who’s fault is that?
Even a well-oiled Nanny state can’t prevent bad parenting. But it looks like we have just the study here that will fuel the desire of some for more regulations when none are warranted. And they will argue that it’s about the poor defenseless kids. I guess Ice Cream companies should be put on notice given the obesity crisis too.
And, also on the subject of the obesity crisis, one reader chimed in:In my view, the public would be healthier if they learned how to cook, and then took the time to cook. Today’s instant gratification society is so unhealthy on so many levels. Just remember it’s a choice and all choices have consequences. And just because they don’t like the consequences doesn’t mean they get to sue Big Food like they did Big Tobacco. What’s worse the pressure is only going to increase as the public picks up the tab on all of healthcare and poor choices are no longer in check by the individual paying the bill. By my reasoning national health care could make us less healthy as a nation simply because the consequence of being unhealthy is taken away. I don’t even need a crystal ball for this prediction.
I commented the other day that the wheels of bureaucracy at the FDA seem to be grinding slowly when it comes to dealing with arsenic levels in rice - after Consumer Reports
published a story on the subject - but one MNB user wrote:I have to disagree with you on this one. The wheels do move slow, but I believe Consumer Reports jumped the gun and released their findings before the FDA could, or at least I find it suspicious that I received a report from the FDA today on this very subject ... The part that I liked, and I quote “FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in rice for more than 20 years. Its analysis thus far does not show any evidence of a change in total arsenic levels. The change is that researchers are better able to measure whether those levels represent more or less toxic forms of arsenic.” So, no change in how much arsenic is in there, just a change on what type of arsenic. The FDA offered the advice of eating a balanced diet with a variety of grains, which is what you should do anyways.
I don't know. I'm not always ready to believe the FDA on this stuff, and I have a instinctive bias in favor of the fourth estate...
MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:Grow organic rice in a natural bed of organic nutrients and nourished with natural water and you get rice…grow rice in nutrient depleted soil, add chemicals to make it grow and you get cancer! I’ll take organic, please. (Stanford University…please pay attention!)
A number of emails came in about the decision by the actor who plays the Most Interesting Man in the World to throw a fundraiser for Barack Obama, which led to some people going on the internet to say that they would no longer drink Dos Equis because of his stated political affiliation.
One MNB user wrote:What a sad world we now live in when we cannot separate what is acting and what is real. He has every right to support whom he pleases, doesn’t mean his character does. I for one can tell the difference, and still will have a frosty cold Dos Equis.
From another reader:I love those spots. In my opinion, they are quite memorable, especially the tag line and unlike some cool commercials, still etch the product name in ones mind.
The reaction to Mr. Goldsmith's personal hosting of a political event can cut both ways. While I don't often drink beer, in the future I may switch from Modelo Especial to Dos Equis.
And another reader wrote:So GOP Dos Equis consumers will switch brands because a fictional character conveys his political affiliation? That’s like conservative loyal Costco Members changing their minds to shop at Costco because Jim Senegal is so supportive of the democratic movement! How ridiculous. Carta Blanca is better beer anyway.
BTW...the other day, someone wrote in to criticize Fresh & Easy,, saying that they will generally choose Trader Joe's, Aldi, Costco or Sam's Club. Which led one MNB user to ask:In which market does F&E, TJ’s, Costco and Sam’s go up against Aldi?
Good question. I can't find one, though I'm willing to be corrected.
But your point, I think, is that maybe this was a case of piling on as opposed to a genuine criticism.
On another subject, one MNB user wrote:I was surprised that you confessed to a greater experience at a large chain theater vs the art house (it would seem that the art house would be so much more authentic/romantic/old school); but at the end of the day, you are there to sit on your behind and watch a movie in a dark room for 2 hours, so better is better. And home increasingly is better yet.
Steve Rushin had a similar observation in a recent Sports Illustrated as it relates to the NFL game. Sure, the full 'experience' might be at the park, but 'real' will only take you so far.
We continue to get email prompted by the changes to the Starbucks rewards program:Interesting furor over the changes in the Starbucks program. Personally, I’m happy; it works for me. On the whole Loyalty Programs issue, there are many programs that have flaws, restrictions, etc. From credit card rewards that have blackout periods for travel to the current Starbucks kerfuffle, no program is perfect.
It is quite clear that Loyalty Programs are here to stay. However, as with everything else that you advocate via MNB, we were rather surprised recently to learn of restrictions in the Marriott Rewards program. We travelled recently with our six children, two daughters-in-law and a girlfriend in tow. We had pre-booked into a Marriott property with five hotel rooms and identified ourselves, on-line, as Marriott Rewards members. Imagine our surprise upon reviewing our account afterward to learn that only three rooms would qualify for points; it turns out that is their maximum. We paid for a total of 14 room nights but only got credit for some of them. We enjoyed our stay but it was slightly tainted by that revelation. I know that you generally do not speak to this particular industry but since you have referenced the Starbucks program, I thought I would add my two cents on the Marriott one. Perhaps Marriott needs to review how it rewards its loyal clients.
And MNB user Debbie Romero wrote:This is how the new Starbucks “Rewards” program now will affect me because I am a soy milk user out of necessity … Even at the lower 12 star threshold for the “Free” drink, that ”Free” drink “Reward” will now cost me $6.00. Does that really sound like an improvement to you???
And finally, one of my favorite kinds of email:I am a faithful reader and happened to be in Seattle yesterday. Have heard so much about Morgan, 'your' bartender at Etta's that we had to go and visit him. Had a chardonnay and shared a crab cake sandwich with my coworkers before dinner (had reservations at Wild Ginger). He was great and I can see how you enjoy talking to him. We told him why we were there and he had a good chuckle about it.
Etta's is wonderful. Morgan is the best. The crab cake sandwiches are to die for. And it thrills me no end when people go in there, ask for Morgan and tell him that Kevin sent them.