Just after we reminded ourselves of the one-year mark since the Spinach Crisis began — noted in Spinach Crisis, One Year Later — we get a knot in the stomach and a sense of déjà vu when we learned about a problem with a Dole brand blend of romaine, green leaf and butter lettuces in Canada.
We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc.:
Q: When and how did you learn of the problem in Canada? At what retailer was the affected product discovered?
A: We got a call from CFIA about a presumptive positive on Friday night. The customer involved was Loblaws. 88 cartons were affected. They pulled whatever product they had left in case there was any more that could present a problem.
Q: Has the presumptive positive been confirmed?
A: Yes. We got a call on Sunday night that it was positive. Even though that was Canadian product, when we did the traceback on the whole batch, that product also went to customers in the Northeast U.S.Product in question expires Wednesday the 19th of September. We haven’t had any customers that said they still have product. No illnesses have been reported. We are all reacting to a random sample.
Q: Do you have more information on the testing procedures?
A: We have a consulting group Environmental Services that specializes in microbiology and has a meeting set up with the Canadian Health Department tomorrow to learn more information on the testing methods, how many bags were involved, etc.
Q: Have you done further testing? Have you been able to test any retention samples from the batch in question?
A: We did have retention samples left from that batch that we sent out for testing and will have results on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Q: I understand this product was a blend. Could you delineate the raw ingredients, and where they were grown and processed?
A: There were three raw ingredients. The primary ingredient was Romaine. Most Romaine came from California. A little bit of the Romaine from Colorado. Butter Lettuce came from Ohio and the green leaf came from California.
Q: In what plant was the product processed?
A: All product was produced in our Ohio plant.
Q: How does the product blend impact trace back efforts?
A: When we did our trace back three states were involved. We had all the information lined up for the FDA regulators. We had traced back down to the harvest day and farms. We’ve released all those farm records to the regulators. We’ve been asked by reporters for those records but we think it’s better to let the regulators do there investigation first without all the press converging on the farms and possibly hindering the process.
Q: How have your dealings with the FDA progressed?
A: We got them our proposed release early [Monday morning]. They didn’t approve it till five in the evening. There are a lot of people you go through as a courtesy to get approval. We let after hours emergency folks at FDA know [Sunday night] that we would be doing a recall. We had already notified our customers [Sunday night]. When we got the presumptive positive on Friday night, it only involved one customer.
Q: As the investigation gets underway, will your newly implemented RFID systems play a role?
A: In California, RFID worked, but it is not implemented in Colorado or Ohio yet, but those systems will be operating by the end of December. For obvious reasons, we got RFID up and running in California first.
As far as what caused the problem, if I had this answer I’d solve a much bigger problem for the entire industry.
Q: After the spinach crisis, you made the point that Dole was moving toward becoming more autonomous in salad production to have better control over the process.I understand that separately Dole is looking to do fresh cut bagged vegetables and partner with River Ranch for the packaging. Is this the case?
A: On cut vegetables, it’s a very small market and River Ranch has a large established business in this category. Those kinds of vegetables, such as broccoli stems two to three feet off the ground, also have a very different risk profile than bagged lettuce. All bagged salads at Dole will be done in house.
We spoke with Eric Schwartz late in the evening Monday night. That conversation followed a long line of events. First, we received not a recall notice but a “Health Hazard Alert” from Canada:
HEALTH HAZARD ALERT
Dole brand Hearts Delight lettuce salad
may contain E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria
OTTAWA, September 16, 2007 — The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is warning the public not to consume Dole brand Hearts Delight lettuce salad (Ready to eat blend of romaine, green leaf & butter lettuce hearts) described below because this product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.
The affected product, Dole brand Hearts Delight lettuce salad (Ready to eat blend of romaine, green leaf & butter lettuce hearts), produce of USA, is sold in 227 g packages bearing UPC 0 71430 01038 9, BIUB (Best If Used By) date 07SE19 and lot code A24924B. This product may have been distributed nationally.
There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.
Food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled. Consumption of food contaminated with this bacteria may cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Some people may have seizures or strokes and some may need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others may live with permanent kidney damage. In severe cases of illness, people may die.
The CFIA is working with the importers to have the affected product removed from the marketplace. The CFIA will be monitoring the effectiveness of the recall.
For more information, consumers and industry can call the CFIA at 1-800-442-2342 / TTY 1-800-465-7735.
For information on E. coli O157:H7, visit the Food Facts web page at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/concen/
Then Dole issued a voluntary recall:
DOLE FRESH VEGETABLES ANNOUNCES VOLUNTARY RECALL OF “DOLE HEARTS DELIGHT” PACKAGED SALADS
MONTEREY, California — SEPTEMBER 17, 2007
Dole Fresh Vegetables, a division of Dole Food Company, Inc., today announced that it is voluntarily recalling all salad bearing the label “Dole Hearts Delight” sold in the U.S. and Canada with a “best if used by (BIUB)” date of September 19, 2007, and a production code of “A24924A” or “A24924B” stamped on the package.The “best if use by (BIUB)” code date can be located in the upper right hand corner of the front of the bag.The salad was sold in plastic bags of 227 grams in Canada and one-half pound in the U.S., with UPC code 071430-01038.
Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 exposure could include stomach cramps and diarrhea. Bloody diarrhea may develop. E. coli disease sometimes leads to a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). If you exhibited any of these symptoms within 3 to 5 days of consuming any of the products specified above, seek medical attention.
To date, Dole has received no reports that anyone has become sick from eating these products. The recall is occurring because a sample in a grocery store in Canada was found through random screening to contain E. coli O157:H7.No other Dole salad products are involved.
Eric Schwartz, President, Dole Fresh Vegetables, stated:“Our overriding concern is for consumer safety. We are working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and several U.S. state health departments.”
Consumers who may still have any of the “Dole Hearts Delight” salads with a “best if used by date” of September 19 and a production code of “A24924A” or “A24924B” should dispose of the product. This product was sold in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces in Canada and in Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and neighboring states in the U.S.Consumers can call the Dole Consumer Center toll-free at 800-356-3111. Consumers are reminded that products should not be consumed after the “best if used by” date.
It wasn’t much later when California State Senator Florez put himself back in the news by sending a letter to California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Kawamura:
Dear Secretary Kawamura:
I am writing to express my continued concern regarding the safety of leafy green produce grown in California.Less than three weeks have passed since the recent salmonella contamination incident, which the Department has yet to provide adequate response to the Committee’s inquiry.Today, the Canadian Government has issued a nationwide recall of Dole Brand ready to eat salad mix due to possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. It is my understanding that the recalled produce was grown in the United States.
I am concerned because the Canadian Government recently announced that it would only allow the import of California leafy green produce that is subject to the LGMA.The issuance of a nationwide recall by the Canadian Government is also significant because during the last E. coli 0157:H7 spinach outbreak, the Canadian Government closed their market to foreign leafy green produce.This caused a significant negative impact on California growers. As we move forward it is clear that there is a serious question of confidence in California’s leafy green produce industry.
Accordingly, please identify whether the produce subject to the Canadian Government’s national recall was grown in California.This should be easy to determine quickly given the LGMA requires the use of a “trace-back system.”This information should be provided to the Committee immediately upon determination.
If the contaminated produce was produced in California, please provide the Committee with the following information:
Whether the processor was a signatory to the LGMA.
Whether the processor had any testing program in place, and if so why the testing program failed to prevent the contaminated produce from reaching the marketplace, foreign or otherwise.
Whether the packaging containing the contaminated spinach bears the official seal of the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement.In the event that the packaging does not bear the seal, please provide an explanation as to why, given that the seal is the only manner for consumers to identify whether a grower is a signatory to the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement and was touted as a cornerstone of the agreement.
Whether the processing plant and the fields that grew the contaminated lettuce have been inspected pursuant to the LGMA.If so, please provide the date of the inspection and the results of the investigation, detailing any violations or shortcomings identified.Please provide any documents generated during the inspection process.
Whether the grower and/or handler will be subject to punitive action under the LGMA, and what those penalties may entail.
What specific actions will be taken by the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Board in light of this incident.
Given the seriousness of the situation, as demonstrated by a foreign government issuing a nationwide recall on specified U.S. produce, please provide a response no later than 1pm on Thursday, September 20, 2007.
Chair, Senate Select Committee on Food-Borne Illness
The media then filled with press reports, including this one from The Associated Press that included this additional information:
The romaine, green leaf and butter lettuce hearts that went into the blend were grown in California, Colorado and Ohio, then processed at Dole’s plant in Springfield, Ohio on Sept. 6…
Eighty-eight cases were distributed in Canada and 755 cases in the U.S., he said.
The company’s move came a day after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned consumers not to eat Hearts Delight.
It is too early to say too much for certain. Some initial observations:
This is very bad in a lot of ways. With the Dole name involved and the closeness to the one-year anniversary of last year’s crisis, it will all be very negative in terms of consumer confidence. Last year, Dole could avoid some responsibility by pointing to a co-packer; this year, it is a Dole plant.
It hurts the credibility of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Bottom line, E.coli 0157:H7 got out to the public, which means someone could have gotten very sick or worse. The board will have to explore tougher metrics, metrics for processors and testing initiatives. If we continue to have such incidents, we can expect some drop-outs — maybe even a big one — companies that just don’t want to be associated with anyone else’s food safety problems.
These blends are big problems. We now have to investigate producers in three states to identify a source.
Trade communication is still not where it should be. Several customers told us that they could not get clear answers on where the product was grown as quickly as they thought they should be able to. We received conflicting information from different sources. For example, Dole’s web site advises that “the recall is occurring because a sample in a grocery store in Canada was found through random screening to contain E. coli O157:H7.” Yet the Canadian Food Inspection Agency assures us that the test was done by the CFIA in a warehouse — not a store. FDA just punts everything to the company. They seem unwilling to take an active role in protecting consumers. They should approve a press release in eight minutes — not eight hours.
Traceability is better but it is not clear why things take so long — even on a product with a bag and a bar code. One would expect a three-minute lapse between a Health Advisory in Canada and a recall of the rest of the batch in the U.S.A. — there seems to have been a day delay.
The recall seems very small. According to the AP, only 88 cases in Canada and 755 in the U.S. were distributed — how is that possible? What is the criteria being used to segment a recall? Surely they can’t resanitize the plant every thousand cases?
We once again have the situation, as we had in the Metz Fresh recall, of a company waiting until a presumptive positive test is confirmed before it announces a recall. This is a change from the Nunes and True Leaf standard of recall at once. Although Loblaws was able to pull any unsold product, the U.S. customers may have sold some to consumers between the presumptive positive and the confirmation. Other consumers both in Canada and the U.S. may have eaten product that they already had purchased. It will only take one occasion on which a person dies or gets seriously injured during the period between the presumptive and final tests to bring about a disaster on this industry. We need to establish, as an industry, what our expectations are for action when there is a presumptive positive and product is out for sale to consumers.
Some in the industry say they would rather not test because the test results could require recalls that would not otherwise be necessary. With Canada doing its OWN finished product testing and, in all probability, other governmental units to follow, the argument against shippers doing finished product testing gets weaker.
We have to suspect that Fresh Express is not happy to be associated in any way with a food safety program that Dole is utilizing. The industry though is probably better off that Fresh Express is signed on to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, otherwise the temptation to use food safety as a marketing tool might be irresistible.
One incontestably good… no, make that a great thing: To the best of our knowledge, nobody has gotten hurt. That is the most important thing and indicates that in some way, some confluence of increased government vigilance, increased private efforts… together these things are working to reduce the chances of illness or death.
That is a very, very good thing.
You have to wonder if some mornings the folks who work for Wal-Mart must ask themselves what they are doing wrong. Here they are, a great company that has provided millions of jobs and helped a lot of people on tight budgets, and every time they go to open a store, there are protesters and political opposition.
On the other hand, Wegmans goes to open a store — at 132,000-square-feet, not all that much smaller than a Wal-Mart Supercenter — and The Patriot-News runs an article entitled, Disney World of Supermarkets.
|What the new Wegmans |
may look like to an overly
On the newspaper’s web site, the editors actually run a photo of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland with a caption stating that this photo is “What the new Wegmans may look like to an overly excited shopper.” The web site piece is run in the “Entertainment” section and goes on to note:
Every year, Wegmans receives about 5,000 “love letters” from shoppers pleading for one to open in their town. For five years running, Harrisburg was at the top of the request list.
Sunday at 7 a.m. to dream becomes reality when the newest Wegmans opens at at 6416 Carlisle Pike in the Silver Spring Square.
While you count the hours until the doors swing open, Sue Gleiter has been inside the magic kingdom perusing the 400 types of cheese, the 700 produce items, the Market Cafe, the Patisserie, the seafood bar and the Nature’s Marketplace for her scouting report in today’s Life section of The Patriot-News.
Big crowds are expected for the grand opening and, we’re not kidding, tailgating in the parking lot.
“Some people have described it as being like a rock concert,” said Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale. “We don’t know what to expect. It’s not unusual to have more than 1,000 people lined up at 7 a.m.,”
The actual article is even more glowing:
Consider: Fresh seafood delivered daily with selections such as little neck clams from Virginia and seafood from Maryland, stone crab claws from Key West, Fla., and diver scallops from Maine.
At least 400 types of cheese, many imported from around the world with an emphasis on Italian cheeses.
More than 700 produce items including about 100 organic items.
It’s a long time coming for those who have traveled to the closest megasupermarkets in Downingtown near Philadelphia or Hunt Valley in Maryland.
“It just might be the catalyst that will make me cross that river regularly. I am like a kid on Christmas Eve — I cannot wait,” said Gretchen Yarnall of Harrisburg.
Wegmans has been called the Disney World of supermarkets. It’s certainly large enough — 132,000 square feet.
Others have said it’s like the Nordstrom of food shopping for the large number of specialty items and attention to customer service.
Shoppers, some on bus trips, have been known to drive hours, with coolers in tow, just to shop at the stores. It’s a destination as much as a place for people to buy groceries.
No matter whether groceries mean rare European cheeses, $499-a pound truffles (under lock and key) and wild salmon from British Columbia or Oreos, Wheaties and Jif peanut butter.
You’ll find the usual supermarket departments at Wegmans — bakery, meat and seafood, deli, health foods, pharmacy, digital photo center, floral department, magazines, books and greeting cards. That’s where the similarities end. Take, for instance, these signature Wegman’s offering:
- Market Cafe — European-style marketplace with soups, gourmet sandwiches, salads, ready-to-heat entrees and sides, sushi, subs, specialty coffees, Asian wokery and pizza with seating for 300 guests in a garden-theme cafe with patio.
- Patisserie — A French pastry shop developed with Chef Pierre Hermes, known as France’s top pastry chef. Wegmans also has created its own line of chocolates including truffles.
- Produce — The chain builds partnerships with local farmers such as Oak Grove Farms in Monroe Twp. and Paulus Farm Market in Upper Allen Twp. to bring in homegrown vegetables and fruits.
- Seafood Bar — A new concept for Wegmans. A 12-seat bar where customers place an order and watch their meal prepared. Includes oysters on the half shell, shrimp, scallops and various fresh fish cooked and served with sauces such as citrus soy and horseradish cream.
- Nature’s Marketplace — Natural foods, supplements, herbal remedies, cleaning products, cosmetics and foods for special dietary needs.
- Compliments: The housewares section carries Kitchen Aid, All Clad, Good Grips, Le Creuset and Reidel Crystal.
Wegman’s pricing strategy is accepted pretty uncritically:
Wegmans follows a “consistent low price” strategy. It does not issue weekly sales circulars or buy-one-get-one-free promotions.
Yet it was not just one mesmerized reporter. The same newspaper ran another article on the same store opening even more exuberant than the first:
Kim Reimels stood out among the more than 8,000 people who had poured into the new Wegmans store by 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Hampden Twp. woman didn’t just walk into the 132,000-square-foot store in Silver Spring Twp. She exuberantly danced in.
She didn’t just talk sedately. She squealed with delight upon finding golden raspberries, Sahlen’s hot dogs, Weber’s mustard and Reeses Klondike bars.
And Reimels didn’t just wander around aimlessly, bewildered by 70,000 items. She had memorized the layout after visiting the store Web site.
“I have Wegmanmania,” she admitted. “I’m at home here.”
The store manager reports that the community was showing great enthusiasm:
“People stayed in our parking lot overnight,” said Kevin Lang, store manager. “We had 2,000 people at the doors when we opened at 7 a.m. We did the “Wegman’s Cheer.’ Then we let the people in to shop.” And shop they did.
The produce department also inspired this shopper:
When she saw light-green cactus leaves, light-orange horn melons and brown lycee nuts in the produce section, she swooned.
Although even this shopper has limits:
But she resisted buying what might be the most expensive food item in the store, Burgundy truffles for $299 a pound.
The newspaper also posted a short slideshow of opening day photos that you can see here.
Wegmans is a terrific operator and a beautiful concept. When Pundit friends visit from around the world, we never fail to include Wegmans on the list of “must see” stores.
Just the other day we were praising Wegmans Organic Research Farm: A Model For Homegrown And Organic. Dave Corsi, Vice President of Produce, is class act, on the Board of PMA, co-Founder of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, and he is certainly pushing the envelope to achieve things for his company and the industry.
Yet some of its success, as with all retailers, is a function of choosing locations wisely. In the first article, there is a comment that… It’s a long time coming for those who have traveled to the closest megasupermarkets in Downingtown near Philadelphia or Hunt Valley in Maryland. In the second some shoppers are quoted: Orin and Jean Long of Mechanicsburg, who had just bought a cedar-wrapped pork tenderloin, saw “stuff we never saw before…. Put another way, it is like an oasis in a desert.
We know plenty of people who report they often go out to eat dinner at Wegmans, saying it is the best restaurant in town. But these are typically residents of more rural areas where a Wegmans really adds something exciting to the area.
Still, all this talk about customers who have “exuberantly danced” into the store, who “squeal with delight” and who “swoon” over the produce tells us less about the quality of Wegmans than about the cultural predisposition of the media.
They have no interest in doing a story on how the arrival of a Wal-Mart supercenter lowers the prices in a community so that a poor family can buy new shoes for school this year. They don’t know or care what it means for a 15-year-old boy whose mom squeezes out only enough to buy some decent athletic shoes at Wal-Mart. They don’t have interest in a story about how much better a poor kid can feel about going to school because he has an extra change of clothes and doesn’t get made fun of for wearing the same things every day.
The Pundit is proud to have a brother who, after a stint in the family’s produce company, has devoted his life to building a company that makes it easier for families to afford decent clothes and a decent life.
We appreciate Wegmans and enjoy every visit we can make to the stores. To stand in a Wegmans is to know a pinnacle of our civilization, a system that can gather the best from the smallest borough on the earth and bring it to one place. But we appreciate Wal-Mart too. When we stand in a Wal-Mart, we stand amidst another pinnacle of human achievement. To supply so many with so much, so inexpensively is a magnificent thing to behold.
The media truly does a horrible disservice to the country when it gets carried away with one kind of achievement and neglects the other.
The New York Times ran a fascinating piece on global warming. It is based on an interview with Bjorn Lomborg, who the Times describes as “…the Danish political scientist and scourge of environmentalist orthodoxy.”
The interview took place at New York’s Bridge Cafe. The most interesting thing about the Bridge Cafe — aside from its claim to be “New York’s Oldest Drinking Establishment” — is that it is located at 279 Water Street in Manhattan. The street was so named because it was built right flush on the water.
It happens to be that New York has been experiencing its own problems related to weather:
Since record-keeping began in the 19th century, the sea level in New York has been rising about a foot per century, which happens to be about the same increase estimated to occur over the next century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The temperature has also risen as New York has been covered with asphalt and concrete, creating an “urban heat island” that’s estimated to have raised nighttime temperatures by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. The warming that has already occurred locally is on the same scale as what’s expected globally in the next century.
So since the interview was right on Water Street and sea level is up a foot in the last century — we ought to be able to see from the restaurant window something similar to what global warming is projected to do to the world during the next hundred years.
And in that there is a story:
The effect of these changes on Lower Manhattan isn’t quite as striking as the computer graphics. We couldn’t see any evidence of the higher sea level near the Bridge Cafe, mainly because Water Street isn’t next to the water anymore. Dr. Lomborg and I had to walk over two-and-a-half blocks of landfill to reach the current shoreline.
The effect of the rising temperatures is more complicated to gauge. Hotter summer weather can indeed be fatal, as Al Gore likes us to remind audiences by citing the 35,000 deaths attributed to the 2003 heat wave in Europe. But there are a couple of confounding factors explained in Dr. Lomborg’s new book, “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.”
The first is that winter can be deadlier than summer. About seven times more deaths in Europe are attributed annually to cold weather (which aggravates circulatory and respiratory illness) than to hot weather, Dr. Lomborg notes, pointing to studies showing that a warmer planet would mean fewer temperature-related deaths in Europe and worldwide.
The second factor is that the weather matters a lot less than how people respond to it. Just because there are hotter summers in New York doesn’t mean that more people die — in fact, just the reverse has occurred. Researchers led by Robert Davis, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, concluded that the number of heat-related deaths in New York in the 1990s was only a third as high as in the 1960s. The main reason is simple, and evident as you as walk into the Bridge Cafe on a warm afternoon: air-conditioning.
The lesson from our expedition is not that global warming is a trivial problem. Although Dr. Lomborg believes its dangers have been hyped, he agrees that global warming is real and will do more harm than good. He advocates a carbon tax and a treaty forcing nations to budget hefty increases for research into low-carbon energy technologies.
But the best strategy, he says, is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, so that people elsewhere can afford to do things like shore up their coastlines and buy air conditioners. He calls Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions a mistake because they cost too much and do too little too late. Even if the United States were to join in the Kyoto treaty, he notes, the cuts in emissions would merely postpone the projected rise in sea level by four years: from 2100 to 2104.
“We could spend all that money to cut emissions and end up with more land flooded next century because people would be poorer,” Dr. Lomborg said as we surveyed Manhattan’s expanded shoreline. “Wealth is a more important factor than sea-level rise in protecting you from the sea. You can draw maps showing 100 million people flooded out of their homes from global warming, but look at what’s happened here in New York. It’s the same story in Denmark and Holland — we’ve been gaining land as the sea rises.”
So often, our public debate is based on a non sequitur. So someone points to global warming and then leaps to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to pass the Kyoto Protocol.
Dr. Lomborg is interesting because, although he believes in global warming, he argues that the way we are discussing the issue is preventing us from coming to the optimal conclusion. On its Web site, The Times gives this excerpt from the preface of Dr. Lomborg’s new book, “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming”, as a summary of Dr. Lomborg’s argument:
That humanity has caused a substantial rise in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels over the past centuries, thereby contributing to global warming, is beyond debate. What is debatable, however, is whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response. Such a course is especially debatable in a world where billions of people live in poverty, where millions die of curable diseases, and where these lives could be saved, societies strengthened, and environments improved at a fraction of the cost.
Global warming is a complex subject. No one — not Al Gore, not the world’s leading scientists, and most of all not myself — claims to have all the knowledge and all the solutions. But we have to act on the best available data from both the natural and the social sciences. The title of this book has two meanings: the first and obvious one is that we have to set our minds and resources toward the most effective way to tackle long-term global warming. But the second refers to the current nature of the debate. At present, anyone who does not support the most radical solutions to global warming is deemed an outcast and is called irresponsible and is seen as possibly an evil puppet of the oil lobby. It is my contention that this is not the best way to frame a debate on so crucial an issue. I believe most participants in the debate have good and honorable intentions–we all want to work toward a better world. But to do so, we need to cool the rhetoric, allowing us to have a measured discussion about the best ways forward. Being smart about our future is the reason we have done so well in the past. We should not abandon our smarts now.
If we manage to stay cool, we will likely leave the twenty-first century with societies much stronger, without rampant death, suffering, and loss, and with nations much richer, with unimaginable opportunity in a cleaner, healthy environment.
The gist of the argument is that any change in carbon emissions is likely to have a very small effect on global warming. Even the most ambitious plan is likely to simply postpone certain effects by a few years. So, although Dr. Lomborg agrees with imposing a carbon tax to offset some of the costs carbon emissions can impose on the world — what economists call externalities — he says that the most important thing is to do what is necessary to increase economic growth.
It turns out that wealth is what gives people the ability to deal with all kinds of problems. As The Times article explains:
If you’re worried about stronger hurricanes flooding coasts, he says, concentrate on limiting coastal development and expanding wetlands right now rather than trying to slightly delay warming decades from now. To give urbanites a break from hotter summers, concentrate on reducing the urban-heat-island effect. If cities planted more greenery and painted roofs and streets white, he says, they could more than offset the impact of global warming.
Of course, some people will argue that a true catastrophe is coming and we better assume a worst-case scenario and prepare for it. But Dr. Lomborg has a different view:
…preparing for the worst in future climate is expensive, which means less money for the most serious threats today — and later this century. You can imagine plenty of worst-case projections that have nothing to do with climate change, as Dr. Lomborg reminded me at the end of our expedition.
“No historian would look back at the last two centuries and rank the rising sea level here as one of the city’s major problems,” he said, sitting safely dry and cool inside the Bridge Cafe. “I don’t think our descendants will thank us for leaving them poorer and less healthy just so we could do a little bit to slow global warming. I’d rather we were remembered for solving the other problems first.”
The article is a great piece, entitled ‘Feel Good’ vs. ‘Do Good’, on Climate, written by John Tierney, and you can read it here.
The title derives from Dr. Lomborg’s concern that much of what we are doing on global warming is designed to make people “feel good” rather than to actually “do good” — an agenda he prefers.
Agree or disagree on global warming, the lesson for all of us, all the time, is that we can’t assume the “solution” is obvious from the identification of a “problem” and allow an orthodoxy to stop us from thinking.
At United’s Washington Public Policy Conference, the annual Produce Advocate of the Year award was given to the New York Apple Association:
United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel (at right) presents the 2007 Produce Advocate of the Year Award to the New York Apple Association. Jim Allen, president of the association accepts the award on behalf of the apple growers of New York State.
The New York Apple Association (NYAA) was recognized for its outstanding work in supporting the produce industry’s policy agenda with the 2007 Produce Advocate of the Year Award. Jim Allen accepted the award on behalf of the association, which was a major ally of the industry on the government affairs front last year.
The association’s work included numerous visits to the Washington, D.C., actively advocating their state and federal congressional delegations on behalf of key United Fresh policy priorities; and organizing grassroots advocacy efforts among New York apple farms.
“The New York Apple Association has championed many of our top issues,” said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. “Jim Allen in particular has been relentless in his passion about immigration reform, and we can always depend on his help to talk to Members of Congress about nutrition policy.”
The Pundit was happy to be an instrument in Jim Allen’s efforts to spread the word about AgJOBS. Jim’s contributions appeared in pieces such as AgJOBS vs. Lou Dobbs and AgJOBS Bill Needs More Support.
When it became clear that the bill wasn’t going to pass despite many initial successes, we ran Immigration Bill Doomed, and explained Jim’s role this way:
Jim Allen at New York Apple Association was a magnificent advocate for his growers. He wrote guest columns everywhere that would have them — we did a few at the Pundit including here and here. Jim even got Myra Gordon, Executive Administrative Director at the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association, to put on her best St. John’s knit and go door to door scoring signatures on a petition….
In the end, it must be noted, the produce industry succeeded, its interests agreed to without any real controversy. Alas, the bird on whose wings this industry hoped to fly, was simply too heavy to get airborne. It turns out that though immigration reform may be important to agriculture, it is not an issue that Congress perceives as primarily agricultural in nature…
…let us tip our hat to the people who really tried to make something happen for this industry. We are very lucky to have them.
So we are. Congratulations to the apple growers of New York and to Jim Allen. Thanks to United Fresh for giving them their due.
Our piece, C.H. Robinson Launches Our World Organics Line, brought a number of questions, less about the line than about this phrase in our comments:
Although we wish C.H. Robinson would drop the “Food Miles” language as that has now been clearly demonstrated to have no relationship to anything important and is just a marketing term, we are enormously impressed at the scope of C.H. Robinson’s ambition and its willingness to undertake a great deal to assist its customers.
This letter from a vendor is fairly typical:
I enjoyed the informative article on C. H. Robinson and organics.
I have a question as to one section in the article. Why does “Food Miles” not matter in regards to anything important? If a product is grown locally and shipped locally (or at least grown closer rather than further away), wouldn’t that be a positive thing in regards to the environment?
The answer is a decided “maybe,” and that points to why promoting “Food Miles” is not a good idea.
“Food Miles” is very simplistic because it takes one variable — the distance traveled — and uses it as a proxy for “good for the environment,” although this may not be so.
To use an extreme example: If I build a greenhouse outside of Minneapolis to raise bananas, it is true that I will have great “food miles” compared to imported bananas. Yet the energy used to heat the greenhouse will likely be much more than is used in transportation. So buying low “Food Miles” will hurt the environment.
Less dramatic, but just as true… They did a study in the U.K. on lamb and found that New Zealand lamb, which feeds on ample pasture land, gives off less carbon in its production and transport to the U.K. than British lamb, which is fed on feed raised by farmers who use tractors, etc. The point is that the difference in production efficiency can offset any savings in transport.
The bottom line is that “Food Miles” is too simple to tell us anything. This is why the British are now big on “Carbon Footprint” and “Life Cycle” studies. These are attempts to study the total impact on the environment from production through distribution and consumption.
This certainly is an improvement, at least theoretically. Done properly, these terms would at least mean something — as opposed to “Food Miles,” which means nothing.
Unfortunately, nobody has yet figured out any way to calculate these terms that A) is standardized — so they can be compared to one another; B) is non-arbitrary — so they are not subject to subjective whims of those doing the study; C) is variable — to take account of changes in CO2 output caused by different conditions — from weather to electricity source; and D) is accurate — if you did one for everyone and everything, it would add up to the right total.
Even if we got all this right, we still have the burden of conflicting values. In the U.K., the big issue is whether they should stop importing from Africa in pursuit of reducing carbon output and thus hurt some of the world’s most impoverished people and countries.
For a company such as C.H. Robinson in particular, preaching “Food Miles” is dangerous. This is one tiny label of the produce division of the company. Most of C.H. Robinson is devoted to helping people transport goods across the globe. The company should point out the environmental benefits that can be derived by efficiently transporting products from the place where they can be produced with least damage to the environment.
Many thanks to all those who asked about this line of thought.