Supermarkets Get Healthy or Green Grocers Greenwashing?

A recent story By ANNIE GASPARRO  in the Wall Street Journal pointed out some of the ways mainstream groceries are rushing to copy Whole Foods to stem the shrinking margins against rising food costs.  There’s some skepticism about just how much “healthy” or “organic” food is really in the market. If you don’t believe me, just ask any grocer to point out the food products in their store that have no genetically modified ingredients. Go ahead, . . . . .  I’ll meet you in the produce aisle.

Traditional supermarkets are investing more in the healthy food fad, trying to win back customers from the increasingly popular Whole Foods Markets Inc. and farmers markets. (Healthy food fad?? WTF??  Poor health and absenteeism is costing U.S. companies $564 billion a year. I think we’re past healthy food being a ‘fad’. Maybe a lifeline would be more apt).

Kroger Co., one of the nation’s largest grocery store networks with 2,200 locations, is the latest in rolling out a new natural and organic foods brand it hopes will boost profitability and help it compete more strongly in the segment.

In recent years, mainstream supermarkets have been losing their hold on the grocery business to myriad competitors infringing on the territory. Meanwhile, food cost inflation and budget-minded consumers are making it tougher for them to turn a profit.

Kroger has outpaced competitors, such as Safeway Inc. and Supervalu Inc., by marking down its prices to become value-oriented, even before the recession started, and expanding its store-branded line of products to lure budget shoppers.

Kroger’s first natural foods line, Naturally Preferred, was brought to stores in 2000. The company then launched its Private Selection Organic line in 2006. But the two didn’t generate the loyal following Kroger hoped.

“Our customers told us that having multiple brands was confusing to them,” Mary Ellen Adcock, Kroger’s vice president of natural foods division, said in an interview.

“This way it’s easy for them to find natural and organic products that they know they can trust, and to have more choices of both…. Choice drives incremental sales,” she added.

Kroger’s new brand, Simple Truth, is intended to be less complicated—by rebranding the two existing lines under one umbrella—and to be more affordable than fancy organic brands. Simple Truth reminds me of Clear Skies, No Child Left Behind and all the other attempts to co opt language to obscure meaning.

Even though private-label prices are lower, that business is more profitable for grocery stores than sales of name-brand products. Safeway, which operates regional chains such as Vons and Randalls, has said profit margins on its store-brand products are about four percentage points better than name-brand sales. And on average, store brands generate a 35% gross margin compared with 25.9% for national brands, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Kroger has increased its store-brand business over the past few years to now constitute about 34% of the grocery items it sells, compared with just 19% at rival grocer Supervalu.

Demand for organic food is also on the rise, according to the Organic Trade Association, which claims 78% of U.S. families say they are choosing organic foods as part of their shopping. California is poised to pass the first of it’s kind GMO labeling law in the U.S. (Most foreign countries already have labeling requirements for GMO’s).

The trend has gotten credit for the continuing success of stores like Whole Foods and The Fresh Market Inc., along with the big boost in farmers markets over the past few years. Yet it appears Whole Foods has proven to be less concerned with their principles of whole food, whole people and whole planet by carrying produce from China and labeling it as organic.

“People are still value conscious, but they are even more organic conscious,” said Whole Foods Chief Operating Officer A.C. Gallo. “Supermarkets pulled back their focus on organics during the recession, and are now starting to bring that back. But for us, it isn’t something we get in to or out of based on a fad or which way we think the wind’s blowing,” he added.

As mainstream grocers try to compete with the leading organic players for the best value proposition, they will also be up against Whole Foods’ private line, dubbed 365 Everyday Value, which already has a loyal following and wide range of products. (Apparently, not all certified organic as labeled).

“The mainstream supermarkets are launching private-label organic offerings to show customers that they have natural and organic options, but that is our entire store. So our purpose with 365 is to show our customers that we also can offer a good value.” He said the store’s margins on the products aren’t always better than sales of the national brands, but that Whole Foods is more focused on building sales volume and increasing customer frequency with the line.

Kroger is rolling out nearly 250 new products to the Simple Truth line now, and plans to come out with others, such as cereals and frozen pizzas, over the next few months. The company expects Simple Truth to become a “billion-dollar brand” in terms of sales, like the rest of its private brands. (I wonder what the simple truth about these foods really is. We do know one truth about genetically modified foods — they cause tumors and organ failure when administered to mice in safe doses. That’s a simple truth.)

Other grocery stores, such as Supervalu, have also recently moved to a single private-label line across all their stores, counting on the larger-scale operations to help decrease costs and increase marketing capabilities.

Supervalu, whose brands include Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and more, is also expanding its private-label business this year, including a line of natural and organic foods called Wild Harvest. Safeway introduced its all-natural brand, Open Nature, in late 2010, to complement its existing organic line and health-oriented brand

One way is to patronize merchants willing to be transparent about the food products they carry or their educational outreach about those products.  For example, Earth Fare carries no products containing high fructose corn syrup ( HFCS).  Mother’s Market & Kitchen offers educational information to both customers and staff.  Our food is in peril. How can we be sure that what we buy in a health food store is healthy?

Lewd Food in your supermarket aisles? Rebranding is not a guananteed path to success especially when consumers are playing Russian Roulette with each food purchase.  It’s still a buyer beware marketplace and the savvy food shoppers  know value and what questions to ask their grocers.

Lewd Food Threatens Your Health and What You Can Do About It Now!

Food Safety Starts With You

The first step toward optimal, natural and vibrant health is awareness. We often forget that strength, radiance and power are nature’s birthright. This is something we all want for ourselves, our families . . .for anyone.
Those gifts come from food. Access to food is critical to insure we have access to and enjoy those gifts for long, prosperous and expressive lives.
Until we have mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs), we can’t be sure what we buy and consume is good for us. Our health is in peril.
Our industiralized, chemical dependent agricultural system is destroying our soil’s fertility and ability to pass nutrients into our food. This has led to an explosion of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We are out of balance at a basic level. Food.

 

The Good News

In this case what you don’t know about your food can really hurt you. So when you see signature gatherers at your local supermarket, take a moment to become aware of the food choices you’re about to make. Bon appetit’.

“Big Food” Trying to Control Universities through Rampant Conflicts of Interest

Science for sale! Researchers with ties to industry are paying big money to ensure that scientific independence is a thing of the past. Apparently this is how those dumber and dumber examples  got their start.

In an interview with the journal Academe, food scientist Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, discussed the rampant conflicts of interest between universities, university researchers, and the Big Food industry. “Proponents of sustainable and organic production systems have a difficult time at large, land-grant agricultural universities, but the public rarely hears about their problems,” she says. Land-grant universities were created in 1882 to advance agriculture: universities were granted land so they could study farming technologies. Today, land-grant universities are both public and private.

 

According to a groundbreaking but chilling report, “Public Research, Private Gain: Corporate Influence Over University Agricultural Research” from Food & Water Watch, in the 1980s federal policies encouraged land-grant universities to partner with industry to develop certain products such as seeds, which were then sold to farmers under a patent scheme. By 2010, private donations from the agriculture industry accounted for nearly one-quarter of the funding for agricultural research at these land-grant universities.

“Such incidents,” says Marion Nestle, “have classic chilling effects on critical thinking about conflicts of interest. They make it clear that tenure is a necessary prerequisite for expressing concerns about corporate control of the food supply.”

Here are just a few of the conflict-ridden industry donations to universities:

  • Mars Inc. funded the University of California’s research into the benefits of chocolate.
  • Monsanto gave $2.5 million to Texas A&M to endow a chair for plant breeding, and another $500,000 to Iowa State University to endow a soybean breeding faculty chair.
  • Pioneer Hi-Bred funds five positions at Iowa State, including a chair in maize breeding.
  • Kraft Foods gave $1 million for a professor’s position at the University of Illinois’s school of nutrition.
  • The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois in Champaign–Urbana recently accepted a $250,000 grant from Monsanto to create an endowed chair for the “Agricultural Communications Program” it runs with the College of Communications.
  • Yale School of Medicine teamed up with PepsiCo to create a “research laboratory” in Science Park, which is adjacent to Yale’s campus. This may be an attempt to neutralize the university’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which has advocated less consumption of sugary sodas like those made by PepsiCo.

Washington State University–Pullman offers an MBA degree—but this one is a Masters in Beef Advocacy, an industry-funded program that trains college students to fight back against critics of big agribusiness. The degree is designed to equip beef producers across the country “to tell their story in presentations to schools and church/civic groups, through local media and in the ‘virtual’ world of the Internet.”

Professors who speak out often face a backlash. In 2009 Michael Pollan, noted author and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, was supposed to lecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but Harris Ranch Beef Co. threatened to pull its $150,000 donation from the school if the lecture went forward. Sponsors of Pollan’s lectures have also faced resistance from farm businesses in Washington and Wisconsin.

Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture was the scene of some dramatic pressure tactics: the Center had been a staunch advocate for alternative and sustainable agriculture. Suddenly its director, Fred Kirschenmann, was forced to step down. What happened? We don’t know for sure. But the Leopold Center operates under the authority of Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture, and the USDA, which is largely controlled by GMO interests, gave the university $56.8 million in 2012. On top of that, the state of Iowa gives the university $216.6 million to support its daily operations, so there is undoubted pressure from the state as well—Iowa received $23.6 billion in federal agriculture subsidies between 1995 and 2011, and leads all states in hog production, most of them from CAFOs (confined-animal feeding operations).

The dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis, recently estimated that roughly 20 percent of his college’s annual research budget now comes from industry. And his university is not alone. Here are a few others:

University

Grant

Donors

% of research grant budget

Purdue’s food science department

$1.5 million

Nestlé, BASF, PepsiCo

37.9%

Texas A&M’s soil and crop science department

$12.5 million

Cotton Inc., Monsanto, Chevron Technology Ventures

55.5%

University of Illinois’s crop science department

$18.7 million

Monsanto, Syngenta, SmithBucklin & Associates

44%

Iowa State’s agronomy department

$19.5 million

Dow, Monsanto, Iowa Soybean Association

48%

Many, many more are listed in the stunning report released by Food & Water Watch that we cited above.

Earlier this month we reported about Stanford’s sloppy research in its meta-analysis of the nutritional value of organic foods. Now take a look at the study authors’ conflicts of interest. Even though they stated there were no primary funding sources, the Cornucopia Institute noted that there are clear financial ties between Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, which supports the report’s researchers financially, and the chemical and agribusiness industry. Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural business enterprise, has donated millions to the Institute. In addition, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which strongly promotes GMOs in Third World countries, has also provided support.

It’s not just the agriculture industry that has its hand in muddying the university research waters. Dr. Ingram Olkin, co-author of the Stanford organics study, accepted money from the Council for Tobacco Research, which has been described as using science for “perpetrating fraud on the public.” And many research universities are funded in a big way by pharmaceutical companies. We will return to this issue in a future newsletter article.

Research funding from industry has outpaced government funding for universities, and some university budgets are disproportionately dependent on industry funding. The Food & Water Watch report has some extremely illuminating tables showing university funding from agribusiness, the presence of industry on school boards, and the donation of money for buildings and facilities. For example, we learned from this report that Colorado State University now has a “feed facility for research on the environmental benefits of feedlots.” UC Berkeley received $25 million from Novartis (now owned by GMO giant Syngenta) in exchange for this donation; Novartis was reportedly given two of the five seats on the research committee and the ability to influence research projects and delay research findings. It was also awarded licensing options for 30 percent of university projects. The University of Georgia reportedly offers seats on its board of advisors to industry for $20,000 each.

Does all this funding have a direct influence on researchers? Absolutely. According to the report, more than fifteen percent of university researchers acknowledge having “changed the design, methodology, or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source.” If fifteen percent readily acknowledge it, how many more have been influenced but are reluctant to admit it?

We’ll conclude with the troubling story of South Dakota State University. According to the report, David Chicoine, president of SDSU, joined Monsanto’s board of directors in 2009. That year he received $390,000 from Monsanto, more than his academic salary. Just a few weeks before Chicoine joined the Monsanto board, the company sponsored a $1 million plant breeding fellowship program at SDSU.

Immediately SDSU started suing farmers for patent infringement because they were engaging in the time-honored practice of “saving seed” (farmers have historically saved the seed from their strongest crops for the next year in order to share and sell in future harvests, instead of purchasing an entirely new batch of seeds). SDSU joined Monsanto in identifying farmers who saved seed by using private investigators and toll-free anonymous hotlines.

Several farmers settled the lawsuits for $175,000, and consented to allow SDSU inspect their farms, facilities, business records, and telephone records for up to five years. Ironically, some of the SDSU seeds were developed with farmers’ and taxpayer dollars through funds from the South Dakota Wheat Commission.

Texas A&M, Kansas State University, and Colorado State University have similarly started suing farmers. Such universities don’t simply have conflicts of interest. They are in danger of becoming puppets of Big Farma. If this is allowed to go on unabated, how can anyone believe that their research is in any way independent and reliable?

Long Term Toxicity Of Roundup Herbicide and Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Corn

Rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn or exposed to the company’s popular Roundup herbicide, in amounts considered “safe” in drinking water and GM crops in the U.S., developed tumors and suffered severe kidney and liver damage, according a study released this week in Food and Chemical Toxicology

Gilles-Eric Séralinia, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author,Emilie Claira, Robin Mesnagea, Steeve Gressa, Nicolas Defargea, Manuela Malatestab, Didier Hennequinc, Joël Spiroux de Vendômoisa

  • a University of Caen, Institute of Biology, CRIIGEN and Risk Pole, MRSH-CNRS, EA 2608, Esplanade de la Paix, Caen Cedex 14032, France
  • b University of Verona, Department of Neurological, Neuropsychological, Morphological and Motor Sciences, Verona 37134, Italy
  • c University of Caen, UR ABTE, EA 4651, Bd Maréchal Juin, Caen Cedex 14032, France

Abstract

The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly.

This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments.

In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5 times higher. This pathology was confirmed by optic and transmission electron microscopy. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater.

Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, but also by the overexpression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences.


Highlights

► A Roundup-tolerant maize and Roundup provoked chronic hormone and sex dependent pathologies. ► Female mortality was 2–3 times increased mostly due to large mammary tumors and disabled pituitary. ► Males had liver congestions, necrosis, severe kidney nephropathies and large palpable tumors. ► This may be due to an endocrine disruption linked to Roundup and a new metabolism due to the transgene. ►

GMOs and formulated pesticides must be evaluated by long term studies to measure toxic effects..

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