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Perishable Pundit
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The Words That Can't Be Spoken: Who Is Buying Product Not In Compliance With Leafy Greens Metrics? Where Are The Industry Leaders Stepping Up To Solve This Problem? Tightening Water Metrics Is Great — But Not Enough. Eliminating The 1% From Commercial Trade Is A Financial And Moral Obligation The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement announced they would be tightening metrics related to surface water used for overhead irrigation in response to the food safety issues of 2018. Taylor Farms announced it would only source product from growers who perform on-site treatment of water used in overhead irrigation. These are both very positive steps for the industry and real signs of leadership. But in reading the LGMA release, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the missing 1%. It is obvious that even the 1% of non-compliance is a risk too large for the industry to take. 4/9/2019

European Regulators Aim To Help The Little Guy By Following UK Model While, Back In The US, Target, Walmart And Amazon Act Out… Only Better Business Models Can Empower Producers In Europe, there is a proposal afoot to restrict “unfair trade practices” by large retailers in order to protect suppliers. It is one thing to send all vendors a note that they should calculate any future offering prices to include a rebate. Vendors may not like this, as it complicates their business to have to offer customized pricing, and some vendors aren’t sophisticated enough to sustain such a system, so the retailer might buy product at a cheaper price. But to do it on already negotiated contracts is just unethical business. 5/22/2018

A Quarter Century of Progress In A Unique Conversation With The Pundit, Learn How Nitin Agrawal -- The 'George Washington' Of The Indian Grape Industry -- And Euro Fruits Have Built An Industry And Changed The World… Learn The Ethical Basis Of Leadership All At The Amsterdam Produce Show And ConferenceWe received a simple document, titled Euro Fruits Impact Report 2017 that reminded us that it was the 25th anniversary of Nitin Agrawal’s founding of Euro Fruits and thus of the Indian grape export industry. We knew instantly what had to be done and we soon were granted a great honor, as Nitin Agrawal has agreed to come to come to The Amsterdam Produce show and Conference and engage in an exclusive conversation with yours truly, to discuss the incredible story of the development of this industry from nothing to an industry that now regularly exports 187 million metric tons in a year. 11/14/2017

Men At Some Time Are Masters Of Their Fates; The Fault, Dear Brutus, Is Not In Our Stars, But In Ourselves Credit Decisions, Honorable Men And Quaker City Produce  writes that when the Pundit’s family sold its produce company to a large British-based company, an immediate impact was that the industry tightened up on our credit. With the new owners, they just didn’t know who to trust or not to trust. Jimmy Storey, owner of Quaker City Produce Co., passed away on October 13, 2015. The company closed soon after Jimmy’s death, and that was not surprising either. The same people who gave credit out of trust and respect for Jimmy, predictably, would decline to do so when their friend, the gentleman they knew and trusted, was gone. We received a letter that raises many issues about credit, the PACA Trust, how to manage a business and much more. 11/12/2015

UK Apple Industry Under The Gun For Exposé On Mistreatment Of Migrant Farm Workers But Is The Attack Accurate? Is it Representative? Aldi Quits Buying, But Will That Help The Workers? describes how the Los Angeles Times did a big report on the treatment of farm labor in Mexico, and the topic is hot in the UK as well. A TV documentary has prompted the controversy. Is this true? If it is true, to what extend is it representative? And then, finally, how do we make things better? 10/21/2015

Cecil The Lion, Donald Trump And Two Cheers For Capitalism finds the story of the killing of Cecil the lion tells us a lot about our country and the West, but not necessarily what we would like to know. This is not about Cecil the lion, but about people wanting to feel good about themselves, so they can experience this situation as an expression of their moral superiority over the Minneapolis dentist. This has become an all too common trend in society. 8/25/2015

DAMAGING LOS ANGELES TIMES ARTICLE ABOUT MEXICAN LABOR, Though Incomplete And Unbalanced, Puts Retailers And Receivers On Notice: In A Transparent World, Retailers In America Are Now Responsible For Their Supply Chains. A Big Question: Will Improved Conditions For Laborers Lead To Less Employment? reports that, a few months ago, we started getting calls from US produce companies who expected to be criticized in a report in the Los Angeles Times.  Well, now the four-section/photo-montage series is out; and the series is a blockbuster. Everyone in the produce industry should read it and watch the videos in it. It may win the Pulitzer because it is thorough and large, and shows a substantial commitment of resources, and because it fits ideologically with those who judge these sort of things. But in the end, it is a piece that is incomplete and not very well thought out. However, the industry would be very foolish to ignore it for the following reasons. 12/15/2014

Capespan International's Hazel Akehurst Talks About UK Retailing At The Global Trade Symposium mentions how each year we invite a special delegate from outside the US to participate in The New York Produce Show and Conference. For 2013, our distinguished delegate is Hazel Akehurst. Hazel will be on our main panel on Wednesday morning and will be addressing our student program. She will also be giving a presentation to the Global Trade Symposium, so we asked Tommy Leighton, a distinguished British journalist in the produce industry and the man spearheading the launch of New York’s sister event, The London Produce Show and Conference to find out more. 12/10/2013

Making Life Tougher For The Little Guy: USDA Good Delivery Standards Have Not Kept Up With Industry Standards received a bittersweet letter from a longtime colleague and friend, Mike Pflueger, Retired President of High Point Marketing. We think his letter speaks to an important industry problem, though, one different than the one our correspondent identifies. Whatever the merits of this particular case and whatever the truth about bias at PACA, we identify the root problem here in antiquated grade standards that have the effect of biasing the whole system against smaller operators. 9/26/2013

Booth Babes: Al Jolson, The Supreme Court, Self-Promotion And How Context Can Make All The Difference mentions that we’ve run five pieces so far on the subject of “Booth Babes,” and the broader issue of PMA policy, and the subject persists. The question, however, is precisely what will “offend people,” and it is not easy to write out that definition in a way that PMA or anyone else could enforce. There is a time and a place for everything. The challenge is to get them in sync. 1/22/2013

Costco, Sheri Flies, The James Beard Foundation Leadership Award And How Sustainability Differs From Charity extends a hat tip to Andreas Schindler at Pilz Schindler GmbH. He sent us a link to year-old video of Sheri L. Flies, accepting the 2011 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. Costco is a fascinating company and, by all accounts, Sheri is a wonderful person -- not only highly competent but genuinely caring about the fate of people in the whole supply chain. She deserved this award, and Costco deserved the award — mostly because so many who address sustainability choose to ignore the ethical component. 1/22/2013

Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes Issue Rolls On With Discourse About Beauty, PMA Exhibit Policy, Marketing Tactics And Proper Attire mentions that we’ve run four pieces in this conversation so far, and the perspectives proliferate. The issue is what kind of dress is appropriate, and in the end what this conversation is really about is brand-building, and what our correspondents Lorri Koster and Dan’l Mackey Almy are really providing is some free consulting, directly to PMA and more broadly to the whole industry about consistency of presentation. Of course, even though we acknowledge the importance of such matters, turning it into policy is more difficult. 12/2/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — Price Gouging And The Lessons Of Lincoln our piece, Decision To Fight “Price Gouging” Is A Decision To Prolong Misery, brought votes of support. We appreciate the endorsements but, alas, find that all too many people are not so much interested in the actual results of their actions as they are in the aesthetics of the matter. Hurricane Sandy is history now, but who among our leaders is now working to build the public support necessary so that recovery from the next natural disaster is not, once again, hindered by the need to pander to petty prejudices?  11/27/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — United Fresh And Others Weigh In On Booth Babes finds that when there is great interest in seemingly small matters, it is often a sign that something larger is at stake. So it may be with our discussion of “booth babes.” PMA is a private organization, and it can impose any dress standards it would like — requiring a suit and tie or banning bikinis. Somewhere in this contretemps is a societal struggle for how men and women get along and how different classes of women get along. 11/26/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag – “Booth Babes”, Professionalism And Hypocrisy: What Should PMA’s Policy Be? our pieces — Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers and Pundit’s Mailbag — Nothing Wrong With Booth Babes! — have brought many responses. Some are simple endorsements, others, thinking of firms with prominent female buyers, offer pragmatic thoughts, other responses were irate, passionate and earnest. For us, as a business, the issue is simple. We think for the long haul, and everything we do is about reputational enhancement. So we would never think of doing anything that wouldn’t lead in that direction. We would encourage companies throughout the industry to think this way. 11/16/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — Nothing Wrong With Booth Babes! our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag —Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers, brought several responses including this bluntly spoken one from Ward Thomas, Owner of Majestic Produce. We will say that Mr. Thomas makes a subtle but astute point. This is America. This means we bias toward freedom, even when we don’t like it. The real issue is three-fold. 11/14/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers our piece, PMA’s Fresh Summit Triumph And New Commitment To Educating Women, raised the interest of one of the trade’s more prominent women — in fact, the first woman to chair a national produce trade association, Lorri Koster, Chairman/CEO of Mann Packing Co. We’ve been dealing with this issue a long time. We first wrote about it over 20 years ago when we had a cover story in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, titled Women in the Produce Industry, To us the initiative to stop the booth babes should come from three sources. 11/12/2012

Wal-Mart and Payoffs in Mexico: Bribery or Extortion? saw The New York Times came out with a front page article titled, “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top Level Struggle.” The allegation in this case is that ‘gestores’, or paid ‘fixers’, with Wal-Mart’s knowledge, went beyond friendly facilitation and paid bribes to officials to secure the needed permits. In this case, the story goes on to allege that although the Mexican subsidiary tried to keep everything from Bentonville, when an unhappy former employee spoke out and the story reached Bentonville, top Wal-Mart executives did not try to stop the behavior, did not arrange for an independent investigation, and did not report the matter to the authorities — this despite the specific recommendations of Wal-Mart’s internal legal team. 4/24/2012

When Did Internships Become Slave Labor Instead Of Opportunities To Develop Relationships And Knowledge About A Chosen Field? noticed recently in one of The New York Times Magazine’s regular columns, The Ethicist, a piece titled, “The Internship Rip-Off.” This particular column was built around a letter received from a reader who was upset by the less than menial tasks performed by the correspondent at their “slave labor” internship. The piece is interesting for several reasons. 4/24/2012

Reflections On Life And Death; Passover’s Special Meaning; Lessons From An Old Fruit Man finds that as one gets older one becomes more familiar with death, and one learns that death gives rise to different emotions in different circumstances. Now, with the death of my father, Michael Prevor, I find only a deep weariness. The eulogy I gave my father was really a way for me to express how my father still lived, through the teachings I absorbed from him. He left me so much, and I am trying to see the sweetness in what he taught and in how that has allowed me to build such a fortunate life. In this article appears the text of my eulogy remarks for my father. Perhaps you will find some interest in what an old fruit man could teach a son. 4/4/2012

Fraudulent Farmer’s Markets ‘Detrimental To Legitimate Farms, Retailers And To Consumers’ our piece, Fraud At Farmer’s Markets, focused on the issue of fraud committed by vendors at these markets who sell produce that the vendors claim is grown on their own farm, grown locally, grown without the use of any “sprays” etc., etc., but in reality is conventional produce bought at the local wholesale market. We received a number of letters and thought this one particularly thoughtful from David Sasuga, Owner of Fresh Origins. Part of David’s point is that there is a public-policy concern here. In an age of tight municipal budgets — or for that matter in any age — it is obviously not acceptable to have people cheating on the fees due to the municipality. Of course, we would make the point stronger by asking what business any municipality has in giving any particular group of vendors control of municipal property. 2/9/2011

Tips On Chemotherapy announces that Jan Fleming, whose travails we have mentioned herehere, and here, recently let her friends and family know that she was soon to start chemotherapy. We thought it valuable to print this wisdom-filled letter for Jan and her husband, Tim, and the rest of our readers from Virginia (Ginny) Morton of Tallman Family Farms in Tower City, Pennsylvania, who the Pundit has a special connection with. It was a pleasure to get a note from Ginny, and we thought it so helpful we wanted to share it. She also points out the dangers of fresh foods and salad bars to people with compromised immune systems, a caveat to the general rule encouraging fresh produce consumption that the industry, ethically, has an obligation to make clear. 2/9/2011

Fraud At Farmer’s Markets saw that the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles has been doing a series about enormous fraud going on in farmer’s markets. An investigation by NBCLA reporters found that when they went to look at the farms referenced on the permits vendors have to sell at Farmer’s Markets, the farms were abandoned or didn’t grow the cornucopia of items these vendors sold. Undercover NBCLA reporters also followed trucks headed to the Farmer’s Market, and they wound up at big wholesale warehouses in downtown Los Angeles. NBCLA also noted that all kinds of unsubstantiated and often false claims were being made about pesticides. The fact that the operators of the farmer’s markets don’t act aggressively to prevent such a problem and that so little is heard about this from the pro-local community indicates the degree to which ideology has transcended reality. 2/2/2011

Jack Pandol’s Son, Jim Pandol, Reflects On A Life Well Lived our pieces, Remembering Jack Pandol, and Touching Tributes To Jack Pandol, brought these notes of appreciation from Stanton Kaye, Chairman & President of Infratab, and Darrel Fulmer, Owner/Partner of Sun Fresh International. Yet after we ran all the official eulogies and the many kind comments that people sent in, we felt that there was more to tell about this most influential man. So we reached out to Jim Pandol, Jack’s youngest child who worked side by side with Jack for many years. Jim was kind enough to make an extensive contribution to help the industry better understand Jack Pandol and better understand the dynamics of a family business. 9/10/2010

Are Corporate Political Donations Wise Decisions? reports that Target has gotten itself in a fix. It donated $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, whose purpose is to elect Minnesota politicians in favor of low taxes and are focused on private sector job growth. Since Target pays a lot of taxes, it is understandable that it would like to see politicians who favor lower taxes elected. The problem is that politicians take many positions, and it turns out that Republican Representative Tom Emmer, whose gubernatorial campaign was supported by Minnesota Forward, opposes gay marriage. Next thing you know Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights, was asking Target to donate $150,000 to pro gay marriage candidates, and Moveon.org called for a boycott. Is there wisdom in corporate political donations? It depends. 8/30/2010

Lifetime Of Changes came across a piece recently by John Farmer, Jr., Dean of the Rutgers School of Law and a former Attorney General for the State of New Jersey. He also served as Senior Counsel to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission. He also wrote a book titled The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11. John recently wrote a piece for the Star-Ledger titled “Change, Sadly, is Inevitable.” It is a haunting piece that ties together the geologic change that is Yellowstone with the changes human beings experience in a lifetime. Many of us are traveling with family this summer, and we thought the piece especially meaningful as you head off or return. Here is an excerpt. 7/20/2010

Harder To Be Kind considers how when we think about how we raise and ought to raise the Jr. Pundits, aka William, age 8, and Matthew, age 7, we struggle not with how to raise smart kids but with how to raise a child to be, what my grandparents would have called, a mensch. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, recently gave a graduation speech at Princeton. He entitled his remarks “We Are What We Choose.” Jeff was fortunate to have a grandfather who could teach him and a situation that called for teaching, when he was only 10. Here is an excerpt from his Princeton speech. 7/20/2010

Tesco Puts Up “Tens of Millions” And Purchases British Transplants Wild Rocket And 2 Sisters Foods — Was A Secret Promise Made To Make The British Suppliers Whole? Did This Constitute Fraud Against Its Own Shareholders? saw the Financial Times ran a small note indicating Tesco would purchase its two US “transplants”: Wild Rocket Foods and 2 Sisters Foods. The best explanation for the timing? Tesco’s CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, is going to be resigning. Since Sir Terry was in on the moral commitment, he needs to act now or the two companies need to force action now to make sure that this unwritten obligation is carried through. Who is to say the next CEO will care about the moral commitments made by Sir Terry or by Tim Mason with Sir Terry’s permission? Or perhaps it is the incoming CEO who asked Sir Terry to make sure all the moral obligations were “put on the books,” so he doesn’t have to take a hit on his compensation later on. 6/29/2010

Reaction to Agriprocessors Raid Leads to A New Jewish Ethical Trading Initiative For Food: But Is There Really a Jewish Position On The Minimum Wage? describes how the modern sustainability movement was hardly the first to call for such consciousness. Those who “keep kosher” or follow the laws of kashrut are obliged to be conscious of each bite they place in their mouths. After the recent Agriprocessors raid, this led some to object that when consumers buy kosher food, they expect more than simply food prepared in the ritualistic way required to meet standards of kashrut. They expect food that is raised in accordance with Jewish ethical principles. This move to tie morality and ethics to food seemed intriguing, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott to find out more from Rabbi Paul Drazen, with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Kimberly Rubenfeld, with the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission. 6/16/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Ethics Of Employees in Private Enterprise Versus Public Institutions our recent food safety piece questioned whether giving more power to the FDA was, in fact, an effective way of increasing food safety. In questioning the assumption that government is the solution to the problem, we seem to have inadvertently angered some government employees, including Jim Schmidt, Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS), with the Deschutes County Environmental Health Division, who writes us asking for an apology. We never said, and don’t believe, that all government inspectors are crooks, just that crookedness is a failing of both those in the public and private sectors and that recognizing this has profound implications for the choice between various public policy options. 6/16/2010

Marion Nestle, The Perishable Pundit And A Lawyer Named Stearns; We Need Civil Discourse To Advance Effective Public Policy found that recently professor, author and blogger Marion Nestle elected to reference our work on her blog. Several comments were left, including an accusation against the Pundit of being a “tool” for the produce industry by an esteemed attorney. We spend so much space on this matter here because, as much as anything, this is what is preventing progress on public policy in our country. How can we have civil discussions if we can’t view disagreements on public policy as matters on which men of good will can differ? 6/7/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — When Winners Are Declared Losers For Winning Too Much our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — The Ethics Of Abandoning Short Term Profit For Long Term Gain, challenged the thesis that individuals or companies that were declining to raise prices to market levels were behaving more “ethically” than those who made such a decision. Our point of view received an endorsement from Daniel Barth, General Manager with Super King Markets. An awful lot of the achievements of man on earth are motivated by those who want to win and to maximize winnings. So if we make winning or profiting synonymous with unethical, we will retard human progress. 6/7/2010

Pundit Mailbag — Moral Character Carries The Industry In Hard Economic Times our piece, “You’ve Restored Our Faith In Humanity” Award, told a touching story of the role of honor and integrity in business and in life. It brought this nice note from Jim Bartelson, Executive Vice-President of Blue Book Services, who says that our “reference to Moral Responsibility Ratings — in comparison to credit ratings — is ‘spot on.’” We are reminded of the famous exchange between J.P. Morgan and Samuel Untermyer, the counsel for the House Committee On Banking and Currency, at the famous hearings convened by Arsene P. Pujo in which Morgan described ‘character’ as a measurement above all others in lending. 5/13/2010

Another Chapter Closes For The Nolan’s And Ocean Spray While A Scholarship Fund Opens Doors For Others mentions that we have extensively chronicled the legal dispute, the issues of business ethics at stake and the moral courage shown by Jim and Theresa Nolan, as they and their company, The Nolan Network, sought justice in the courts in their dispute with Ocean Spray. For the industry at large, this case has raised many important ethical issues from the value of truth-telling — does one acquire legal and ethical obligations when one issues a price list — to what is a reasonable expectation of an employee. Can one expect an employee to lie? To remain silent in the face of a lie by management? And finally there’s the simple question of how to treat people. For many, the most horrid part of the story is the whiff that certain people really wanted to destroy the Nolan’s, personally and professionally, when they could not control them. 3/5/2010

Weighing In On The Health Care Debate comments that exceptional times create exceptional responsibilities, so we’ve tried to weigh in effectively on the health care debate, and have written pieces appearing in the National Review Online, titled, The Common Carrier Reform and also in The Weekly Standard, titled, Standing up for Liberty. The articles were generally well received. Jennifer Rubin at Commentary wrote a thoughtful piece, and John Stossel, who recently left ABC for Fox, also picked up on the piece in his blog. Obviously many people have different opinions on the matter, we think, though, that in this recessionary environment it is important that businesspeople not retreat into a shell. The policy makers in Washington need debate and input so they can understand how their proposals would really work in the world. 12/18/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — There’s More To Child Labor Than Meets The Eye our piece, When Child Labor Laws Don’t Necessarily Help Children, brought many phone calls from retailers explaining why they could not possibly be associated with child labor in the fields. Yet it also brought some interesting letters backing the Pundit’s position. We approach the issue from a perspective which says that what counts ethically is not our intentions but the results of our actions. So, in this case, we look at the children and what will help them or hurt them. Wiping something from one’s sight is often cheap and easy — ban it, close down the operation, pass a law, but really doing good typically takes more effort and expense. If we are really concerned about this issue, we have to develop beneficial alternatives. 11/13/2009

When Child Labor Laws Don’t Necessarily Help Children saw that when ABC broadcast an expose on child labor in agriculture and specifically focused on the Adkin Blue Ribbon Packing Company, the reaction was both predictable and inevitable. The United Fresh Produce Association sent out a letter to its members, basically saying that everyone has to redouble their efforts to make sure there is no illegal child labor in their operations. Buying organizations, of course, wanted to distance themselves from this illegal activity. Still, it is worth a moment to think about the practical effects of this law and of everyone’s reaction to the expose. We have to guard against a kind of moral obtuseness where if we don’t see the harm, that means it doesn’t exist. When we pass laws banning behavior but without providing alternatives, we are not being ethical. 11/9/2009

Integrity In Produce — How Unique Is Our Industry? recalls how back in 2003 Basil Mills joined with Monterey business consultant, Jim Bracher, to launch the Salinas Valley Agribusiness Integrity-Centered Leadership Program. Its goal was audacious: to make the ag-focused training program in Salinas into a national model. It seemed well worth a follow-up, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from James Bracher, Founder & Chairman of Dimension Five Consultants Inc. We confess to finding in Mr. Bracher’s interview a charming, yet quite disputable, notion that we are all in this together and share with him a warm regard for the people of this industry. 10/30/2009

Troublesome Traceability Letters From PMA Veiled As Being Sent From Buyers our recent piece, Is PTI Too Expensive And ‘Untenable’? A Retailer Speaks Out brought a substantial response. Although part of that piece dealt with substantive issues regarding traceability, the piece also raised questions about the proper role of trade associations in communicating with their members — specifically whether it is appropriate for associations to facilitate communication between select firms, in this case nine specific buying organizations that do not constitute any official board or committee, and their vendors and prospective vendors. From an ethical perspective — and we really shouldn’t pick on PMA as this has become quite a common practice — this business of sending mass mailings out as if they are personal letters from influential people in the industry is questionable. 9/29/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sexism In The Produce Industry received a note from Deidre Smyrnos, Northeast sales representative for CF Fresh who, in advance of this year’s PMA, takes issue with what she believes to be antiquated and chauvinistic practices still seen within the produce industry. On this issue, we have struggled because there are conflicting issues at stake and the answer depends on, to some extent, in what capacity we are being asked the question. Our basic point is that marketing with sex may get people to think of your company or brand, but what, precisely, will they be thinking about you? 9/22/2009

Advice To The Groom writes that this evening Pundit Aide-de-Camp James Matthew Elmer, Jr. will wed Maureen Margaret Gides at what will surely be a ceremony both meaningful and beautiful at the Saint Sebastian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In selecting Labor Day weekend for their nuptials, the couple certainly picked an auspicious time for a wedding — and that comes from personal experience, for it was ten years ago this week that this writer would be wed. I have been thinking of what lessons I could draw from my decade of marriage to pass along to James, and I thought of this selection from the Midrash which helps to illustrate how we might be a partner in perfecting the work of creation. 9/4/2009

Legal Profession Starting To Look Closer At Ocean Spray reports that as Theresa Nolan awaits a possible appeal from Ocean Spray’s attorneys on the latest award of $2 million, an intriguing questions has been whether USDA will elect to start an investigation. We’ve been arguing that there is a prima facie case for a violation of the PACA laws. Now some members of the legal community are starting to pick up on our assessment. Richard Goldfarb, a Harvard attorney with Stoel Rives LLP, wrote a piece entitled “Nolan v. Ocean Spray Verdict: The PACA Angle” in his firm’s Food Liability Law Blog. Mr. Goldfarb zooms in on the legal point precisely: If Ocean Spray received claims for “poor quality” and it knew or should have known that these claims were false; its allowing of the claims to “settle” another unrelated matter could have easily resulted in growers receiving incorrect accountings. 7/7/2009

Nolans Awarded Bonus Damages In Ocean Spray Case our extensive coverage of the dispute between Jim Nolan, Theresa Nolan and their company, The Nolan Network, with Ocean Spray has now reached a new point. As we explained here, a jury had awarded the Nolans damages of one million dollars. Now, Judge Robert C. Rufo has determined that the judgment should be doubled to $2 million. In addition, interest on the judgment must be paid from December 16, 2003, and Ocean Spray must also pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. Although it is likely Ocean Spray will appeal, it is hard to imagine a more sweeping statement as to the justice of the claims presented by the Nolans. That the righteous may prevail is a dream embedded deep in the Judeo/Christian ethic and, indeed, in Western civilization. 7/7/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Setting Policy vs. Setting Incentives explains we’ve run many pieces related to Wal-Mart. Recently, one of the pieces drew on an anecdotal experience whereby a manager, in complete contravention to company policy, demanded that employees work off the clock. The piece brought this note from George Worthy, Proprietor of Worthy Enterprises. Much of our coverage of the struggle between Jim and Theresa Nolan and their company, The Nolan Network with Ocean Spray, has focused on issues of ethics and morality. This letter points to the undeniable point that attitudes are set from the top and that leaders that behave in an ethical way set a tone for the employees and the company. Yet this admonition to be ethical and not take short cuts, though good advice, strikes us as incomplete. 7/1/2009

Moral Lessons From The Nolan/Ocean Spray Trial in response to our coverage of the Ocean Spray vs. Jim and Theresa Nolan and The Nolan Network matter we thought the following letter from Harris Cutler, President of Race-West Company, would be a fitting way to tie together our coverage at this point, in which he mentions that: “Good ethics make good business.” Many thanks to Harris-Cutler and Race-West Company for reminding us all that capitalism and its public acceptance depends crucially on codes of behavior with deep cultural roots. 6/23/2009

Another Juror Weighs In On Nolan Victory Over Ocean Spray shares how, as part of our coverage of the lawsuit between The Nolan Network, and Ocean Spray, we’ve run many pieces. Most recently, they have dealt with the results and feedback after the trial. In the final of these pieces, we had received a note from one of the jurors, whose name we withheld. Today we received a note from a second juror. We think it is interesting that in the world we live in now, we expect jurors to be “Googling” the cases they were on and, sometimes, participating in the public discussion of the case and the issues it represents. It has always seemed to us that Ocean Spray’s decision to wage this battle was an emotional decision more than a rational business assessment. We suspect there is a lesson in this matter for many companies. 6/16/2009

Sharing The Joy Of The Nolan Victory… Plus A Note From One Of The Jurors! our recent pieces on the dispute involving both Jim and Theresa Nolan and their company, The Nolan Network, with Ocean Spray continue to bring forth testimonials and commentary. Here we share notes from Jeff Shilling of RLB Food Distributors and Veronica Kraushaar of VIVA Marketing Strategies, as well as from one of the trial jurors. We find it interesting that this case has attracted so much interest. We wrote recently that the nature of the business has been shifting and, instead of rewarding good work, it was increasingly rewarding a kind of craftiness at manipulation of retail rules. The yeoman farmer, who raises good fruit from the earth, seems not as likely to win as the wheeler-dealer who knows how to work the system. Perhaps the outcry of support for the Nolans is another way of saying we need less cleverness in our industry and in our lives. 6/4/2009

Nolan Triumph Example Of ‘Standing Up For What’s Right In Face Of Overwhelming Might’ mentions we did a SPECIAL ALERT over the weekend to let the industry know that a momentous, some would even say miraculous, event occurred. The title of the piece spoke clearly: Nolans Victorious In Lawsuit vs. Ocean Spray: This One’s For You, Jim. The piece brought forth many short notes. Here is a selection of them, including a note from Theresa herself. In a world where it is easy to bend, Theresa and Jim stood squarSPECIAL ALERT: Nolans Victorious In Lawsuit vs. Ocean Spray: This One’s For You, Jim recalls how we’ve provided analysis of the lawsuit between Jim & Theresa Nolan, their company, The Nolan Network, and Ocean Spray. If you haven’t seen it, do read the original story published in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS which provides an overview of the dispute. After three hours of deliberation a jury found Ocean Spray liable and, as a result of its unfair and deceptive business practices, declared damages equal to $1,000,000. With a court decision rendered, the public finding of a jury that Ocean Spray engaged in such behavior, we can expect the legal departments at Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Safeway and others to spring into action. It is better to win than to lose and when the dispute centers on matters of personal integrity, the victory is sweeter still. Yet this vindication can never be anything but bittersweet. What can it profit a person to win a lawsuit and lose the one they love? 5/30/2009e. In a world where “going along” is the typical way, you and Jim chose to speak clearly. In a world where short-term thinking and situational ethics seem to predominate, you and Jim offered us all a glimpse down a different path. 6/2/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Retailers Should Pay For What They Say They Want our piece Mike Stuart Of FFVA Speaks Out On Ballantine And Buyer/Seller Relations brought this letter from Tom O’Brien, President of C&D Fruit and Vegetable. We understand the frustration he feels, but we would probably pull back before calling any retailer’s pricing “wrong” in an ethical sense. Pricing is a business strategy, and if one retailer wants to be very cheap on meat — and thus charge high margins on produce — we can hardly say he is “unethical”. The issue is not that retailers should always pay more, per se; the issue is that retailers should pay for what they say they want. If Wal-Mart wants to require Global Food Safety Initiative certification, or conformance to the Produce Traceability Initiative or companies deeply dedicated to sustainability — bully for Wal-Mart — but it has to take out of the competitive pool companies that don’t meet these standards so that those who have invested will benefit. 5/21/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Response To Ballantine’s Fall: ‘Just Say No’ received an avalanche of letters related to our piece, Did Wal-Mart Have A Role In Ballantine’s Fall? We thought this one from JC Cook of Riolo Transportation raised an interesting point on dealing with a bad customer: “don’t reward their ethics by accepting them back as a customer. Give that price break they are so hungry for to their competitor. Just say no.” Philosophically we agree with our correspondent. Producers are responsible for the deals they enter into, and they are foolish if they enter into deals that will not be profitable. That being said, this is easier to do in theory than in practice. What we liked best about JC’s letter, though, is his vote for loyalty in business. That is the way the Pundit was brought up and it is the lack of loyalty that seems to grate so much among those really angry at Wal-Mart. 5/19/2009

If Men Were Angels received this thoughtful letter just in time for this holiday edition of the Pundit from John Shelford of Shelford Consulting in response to our piece: So Much For Regulation: SEC Misses A Big One…Why Think FDA Will Do Better? John asks, “Would it not be reasonable to consider an underlying issue to be the diminishing of moral values demonstrated by Jesus, whose birth is being celebrated this week?” We admire a man who has the courage of his convictions and John’s letter provokes four questions on morality, behavior and religion. These are grand questions and indeed, at Christmas time, a religious holiday that has been adopted as a secular one as well, these questions are apropos. Let us try and wrestle with them here. 12/25/2008

Perishable Thoughts — The Supremacy Of Character comments that we’ve run several pieces lately focusing on character. The other day we wrote a piece focusing on PMA’s new PMA Foundation for Industry Talent, and we wound up focusing on the personal integrity involved in not going along with the crowds and the great difficulty in regulating good behavior in the absence of personal ethics. We pointed to the University of Pennsylvania and its motto Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, which translates as “Laws without morals are useless.” Although some folks are just evil, there are many who do things they would rather not do under the exigencies of circumstance. It is in declining markets that receivers may become scrupulous about product meeting all specifications. So during tough times, people take tougher attitudes. This strikes us as a good reason to go to an event such as PMA. It gives one an unequaled chance to take the measure of a man. 10/23/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Building The Future Of Our Industry credits Tim York, President of the Markon Cooperative and who also serves on the board of directors of what was known as the PMA Education Foundation and has now been christened the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent for sending along this quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt. Tim is a strong example for the youth the industry is trying to attract. We wonder if Tim knows that the motto of the University of Pennsylvania, drawn from Horace’s III.24 (Book 3, Ode 24) is Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, or Laws Without Morals are Useless. Perhaps what President Roosevelt was implying is that whatever the future might bring, it is our responsibility and our opportunity to give the next generation the tools necessary to make a constructive contribution. 10/21/2008

Welcome To The Age Of Preposterous Reasoning: Defending The Dignity Of Plants thanks Lorri Koster at Mann Packing who passed along this incredible piece from The Wall Street Journal describing a group of Swiss geneticists who, based on a constitutional amendment, published a 22-page treatise on “the moral consideration of plants for their own sake.” It stated that vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants. We find people thinking as this Swiss law reflects. Not so much because sensible people actually believe that plants have rights, but because these sophisticated people would feel ridiculous saying that God ordained something else, they would think themselves brutish if they said that humans get to rule because humans can... in effect they’ve lost the ability to defend their own civilization. The irony is that these exquisitely sensitive and morally aware people will one day be crushed by barbarians who will care not a whit for these values. 10/17/2008

Laws Encourage Imprudent Behavior On Wall Street as we read a recent New York Times piece on Lehman’s failure, we realized that our current laws may be combining with compensation practices to put the interests of executives and board members out of alignment with the public interest. It strikes us that it is just recently that bankruptcy came to be seen as a legitimate business strategy and that in the not-very-distant past the moral injunction against not paying one’s debts functioned as a restraint on the use of leverage and other high-flying tactics. One wonders if a part of the answer to preventing such collapses in the future is using the law and compensation programs to compensate for the loss of moral opprobrium that one found in years past. 10/14/2008

AIG Bailout Gives Short-term Relief Many Dangers Long-term reports the Fed’s decision to lend $85 billion to AIG in exchange for an ownership stake just under 80% is a bad idea as it will create enormous risks for the future. Moral hazard is what it is called when doing something creates the incentive for the thing you would like to prevent. The classic example is fire insurance. It is the very existence of fire insurance that creates the crime of arson for profit. Although the bailout is structured to reduce moral hazard for owners — it increases the likelihood of reckless behavior by lenders and investors in the future and is fundamentally immoral. 9/18/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — USDA Opposes Current ANSI Effort To Define Sustainability extends a hat tip to Tom Redick of Global Environmental Ethics Counsel for passing along this most crucial document describing the USDA’s keen interest in the development of a draft standard for sustainable agriculture. For reasons both pragmatic — the Scientific Certification Systems vision basically sees organic as defining sustainability — and moral — SCS has tried to control this process and has attempted to give a Hobson’s Choice to industry members — either participate in a process SCS dominates or don’t participate at all — the industry has overwhelmingly opposed the effort by SCS. This letter is very significant because it throws the weight of the US government against the process. Since the ANSI process requires consensus, it is difficult to perceive that ANSI would endorse a standard for sustainable agriculture that is actively opposed by the USDA. 7/25/2008

Ethics And The FDA argues that although the FDA has had any number of experts present at the various conference calls it has conducted, it has yet to include an ethicist. This is a significant problem. Today every major medical center has a committee devoted to ethics. Even if we posit that by blocking borders, bankrupting farmers, hurting distributors, putting laborers out of work and having consumers dispose of their food, FDA was doing enormous good in alleviating human suffering and reducing the spread of illness, it is not clear that FDA is acting ethically. People have independent rights and the FDA simply has no right to treat them as collateral damage. We need an ethics-based reform to introduce these concepts into the decision-making process at FDA. 7/17/2008

If The Industry Doesn’t Hang Together... Surely We Will All Hang Separately declares the industry can no longer allow the FDA to cause industry-wide dislocations — as it did in the spinach crisis and is now happening with the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, where now the FDA is marching through the “salsa bowl” crushing additional industries. We need to take a principled approach. What is happening with tomatoes or on the Mexican border is not wrong just because people and industries are being damaged. It is wrong because it violates import principles. On a moral basis, it is wrong because in America we don’t use people as merely a means to an end. We do not follow some kind of utilitarian morality where it is OK to harm one person (or company) if it benefits two people. Individuals have to be individually punished for their individual transgressions in accordance with due process of law. 7/10/2008

Four Talking Points For Dr. Acheson To Consider watched as Dr. David Acheson, FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Foods, devoted part his press conference to looking to the future and ways to do things better. It was truly thin gruel, and in many ways highly insulting to the produce trade. Dr. Acheson gave this pointless oration on the “legal and ethical” obligations of the industry. Who does Dr. Acheson think he is? On what basis does he assume he has the special competency to dictate ethics to industry members? He frankly owes the trade an apology for his presumptiveness. Why doesn’t he give a speech reflecting on his own ethical obligations and discuss how bankrupting tomato farmers, depriving migrant workers of their source of sustenance and urging poor people living on food stamps to throw out perfectly good food comport with his own ethical obligations? 7/3/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Prices And Free Markets our piece Food Shortages? Blame Governments brought this note from Bob Sanderson, of Jonathan’s Sprouts whose point about the stomachs of poor people vs. the gas tanks of rich people we think sets up a false dichotomy. The world does not have a fixed amount of food to be divvied up according to a system of justice. In this debate over food policy, it is easy to adopt a stilted view of man as a drain on resources. This is impoverishing to the dignity of humanity. Although we consume resources, people create them as well. Perhaps the prospect of a life rich in so much drives the creativity that creates resources each day. So if we put moral opprobrium on those who produce by the prospect of providing an easier life for their loved ones, we may turn off the spigots of innovation that fuel the future condemning countless people to poorer lives. The “Food Shortages” story was telling us of how easily and inadvertently public policy can lead to outcomes no one intended. If this is not precisely an argument for capitalism, it is surely an argument for humility in interfering with the operations of markets. 6/3/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sustainability Needs To Be Embraced By Industry our focus on Sustainability and Social Responsibility lately brought this thoughtful response from Blair R. Richardson of FreshSense, LLC. A lot of our work with consumers has indicated that although consumers are quick to punish producers and retailers for ethical or environmental lapses, they are slow to reward companies for doing what consumers think they should be doing anyway. There are a lot of people who would like to push the industry into their own parochial definition of sustainability. We would argue for a more inclusive vision, one built on continuous improvement. For at its heart, sustainability is supposed to ensure that an organization or an industry can sustain itself into the future. 5/23/2008

Sainsbury’s Bribery Probe And US Buyer’s Bad Behavior Point To Need For Discussion reveals the talk of the produce trade in the UK for the past two months has revolved around a very large and public corruption investigation whirling around Britain’s second largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s. The bribery allegations are striking. We have no knowledge at all as to whether any of this is true, but we can say that we found few people in the British produce industry even feigning surprise. In fact, most told us that bribery was endemic. Although many characterized it as extortion rather than bribery in the sense that vendors felt they had no alternative but to acquiesce to the demands of powerful buyers. One senses in Britain a feeling of unease as if everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop and if this investigation will lead to others. 5/14/2008

Tale Of Tesco’s Disrespectful Dinner Guest as we have analyzed Tesco’s operation in America, we have often commented on the arrogance that seems to be holding back Tesco from reaching its potential in the USA. Recently a bunch of leading vendors held an industry dinner at an industry event — probably about 70 or 80 people total. Attending were a number of buyers, including one who worked for one of the Tesco transplants. The Pundit wasn’t there, but we’ve heard the story from enough people to know that many were aghast at the behavior of this fellow who would be nothing in the business if Tesco didn’t make him important. This kind of arrogance and simple disrespect won’t bode well for success in this business. 4/11/2008

An Abuse Of Power: A Portrait Of The FDA As Bully illustrates how it is increasingly evident that the saga of the cantaloupes from Honduras that we addressed in our piece, FDA Fumbles Again On Cantaloupe ‘Alert’, has little to do with food safety and a lot to do with an FDA anxious to be seen as “doing something” in regard to food safety and “being tough” on imported food. So anxious that it is prepared to bend the law to garner the “tough cop” reputation it covets. It is also clear that the arrogance of the FDA — a feeling that it has no obligation to explain itself or to provide evidence for its decisions or to articulate consistent policies — is undercutting the moral basis of the case for increased funding for the FDA and will eventually undermine consumer faith in the agency and its edicts. 3/28/2008The Produce Industry Strikes Back (Part 3) received a statement on the sustainability draft standard from Bob Martin of Rio Farms who has identified the key problem. ANSI will wind up accepting some standard called “sustainable” — buyers, wanting the label, will demand “sustainable” product and the whole industry will collapse. Consumers and the consumer media will then want “sustainable” product, and they will pressure retailers to offer it. Yet none of these people will have any real idea what it means to endorse them. This proposed standard leaves enormous ethical, economic and environmental questions on the table: If all production adopted this standard, what would the yields be? Would we feed the world? Or would people starve? Or would we expand production and destroy the rain forest to grow sufficient crops to feed everyone? 3/6/2008

Friday The 13th, March 1989… Important Date In Produce History shares a note from Richard A. Eastes, Director of Special Projects Ballantine Produce Co., Inc. who reminds us of an important date in produce history. We also yearn for a day when decisions are based on reality. Yet it seems unlikely to come very soon. We are in the midst of the biggest meat recall of all time and most companies simply hopped on the recall-and-destroy band wagon, afraid to be seen in the least bit soft on food safety. Craig Wilson, the Assistant Vice President of Food Safety and Quality Assurance for Costco was almost the only one to tell the truth: “The food’s safe,” says Craig Wilson, assistant vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Costco. “We’re going to recall all this food and destroy it. This is morally and ethically wrong.” 3/14/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Is Part Of Being Socially Responsible received a most thoughtful missive from an importer of Israeli and Dutch produce, Nissa Pierson, Managing Member of Ger-nis International, LLC. We find especially disturbing Nissa’s claim that “…If one has been down in Baja or Central Mexico, it is easy to spot the hundreds of farms growing basil in substandard conditions that are nothing close to what we (the importers) are representing the standards to be.” Although everyone has ethical responsibility for their actions — and so any importer who knows or should have known that something is “unsafe” and still markets it is unethical — that is a standard without much bite. The issue we would have with Nissa’s letter is that in the American context, especially vis a vis Mexico, the power in the marketing relationship lies not with the importer, who in many cases is really just a commissioned sales agent for the basil farmer, but with the buying end of the industry. 3/4/2008

Jim Nolan, A Man Of Honor And Integrity, Passes Away announced the passing of Jim Nolan, a man iconic to the fresh cranberry industry, now denied his day in court in his lawsuit against Ocean Spray. Jim spent a lifetime working with Ocean Spray and built a righteous reputation. Lawsuits are always about many things but, at base, this one was about Jim Nolan wanting to be honest and up front with all his customers. 3/4/2008

Redlands Christian Migrant Association Is An Organization Worth Replicating Nationwide after our article, Florida Tomato Growers Reject Penny-A-Pound Initiative At The Industry’s Peril, we heard from industry members about various organizations that they felt reflected positively on the industry. One is a charity that is supported by many of the growers, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Barbara Mainster, Executive Director of the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. It is terrific — and smart — for Florida growers to support the organization. From a moral standpoint, it is often difficult to make the world what we might like it to be, but we can do what we can, and supporting groups such as the Redlands Christian Migrant Association is a practical way to do the right thing. 1/17/2008

Misperceptions Of Food Miles Affect Countries Like Kenya Hardest in the United Kingdom, where many of these issues have been prominently percolating, Africa is a source for substantial amounts of fresh produce and floral products. Kenya, of course, has long historical links to the United Kingdom, and its ambassador in London has been outspoken on both the food miles and air freight issues. We thought that to learn more we would want to speak to the Kenyans directly. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to see what we could learn from Abraham Barno, Agricultural Attache, and Michael Mandu, Trade Officer, both with the Kenya High Commission, and ask for their response to the Soil Association’s new caveat that air-freighted organic produce must adhere to stricter “ethical” policies in order to be accredited and sold in the UK. 11/21/2007

Shifting Sands Of Nutritional Science suggests that, to be fair, the science of nutrition suffers from three things: First, laymen pay attention to it, which means that it gets covered in the media. Second, the stakes are so high — billions in medical costs, billions in food sales — that there is a strong impulse to act on very imperfect and incomplete information. Third, it is difficult to do legitimate experiments on humans because of our ethical standards. For example, if there is a consensus that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is required for optimal health, we can’t do a test with a group restricted to less than that level for ethical reasons. 11/9/2007

Organic Definition Under Attack By Group Opposed To Air Freighting describes how in the UK, there is an indication that the organic standard will morph into something considerably different than its original meaning as the Guardian is reporting: “Air-Freight Food Must Pass Fair Trade Test To Retain Organic Label In Future”. Many believe that the world would be better if synthetic fertilizers are not used. That does not mean that on all moral judgments people want elite committees to make these decisions. The truth is that produce that is grown organically is not altered by whether it is transported in a plane, a boat, a train, a truck, or on the top of a person’s head. So this issue simply doesn’t belong in a definition of organic. This is an attempt to shove down the throat of consumers a particular economic and moral philosophy. 10/26/2007

Tesco May Face Opposition Not Only From Unions But Also Animal Rights Activists reports that as Tesco prepares to open in the USA., it can expect vigorous competition from US competitors. Opposition may also rise from an unexpected corner: animal rights activists and normal Americans horrified by practices that are acceptable in other countries. Just this week in the UK, Care for the Wild International, handed out leaflets outside a lecture theater where Tesco’s CEO Sir Terry Leahy gave a speech. They were protesting the sales of live turtles in Tesco stores in China. To us the whole matter demonstrates the problematic nature of operating a global company. These companies will, almost inevitably, come to be seen as evil because their ethics, inevitably, will be situational. 10/26/2007

Going Green Only When It’s Convenient finds everyone is into “green” the big question we are wrestling with is what will it all boil down to? Although some people trumpet being “green” is good business, we can’t accept that doing things simply because they provide a good return on investment deserves some special praise. An interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal chronicles how General Electric is dealing with CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s push to make GE a leader in addressing climate change. To Immelt, this is not a moral crusade as the Journal piece found: “Mr. Immelt says global warming isn’t a moral issue for him. ‘I never put it in right versus wrong,’ he says. Rather, he believes that making changes to address potential climate change is a political necessity.” 9/20/2007

Pundit Mailbag — Honor ‘Green’ Attempts our piece, Consumers Not So Fast To Go Green, brought this observation from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts who points to something absolutely true: If over a third of people have become much more concerned about anything in a year, that is a sea change. That Yankelovich didn’t treat it that way — they didn’t make the headline “A Third Of Consumers Much More Concerned About The Environment Than Last Year” — is probably because the nature of the question is tricky. Yankelovich didn’t do a comparison survey of one year’s results over the next. The problem with this methodology is that the question was not morally neutral. So while we agree with Bob, we have to put this whole matter into the category of “interesting, if true” until we get some more data, perhaps in next year’s follow-up study. 8/21/2007

Whole Foods Suffers From CEO’s Bizarre Behavior believes it is very possible that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has now killed the merger the company has been seeking with Wild Oats. For seven years, John Mackey, the head of a publicly held company with a fiduciary responsibility to his shareholders and a legal obligation to disclose information to all investors at the same time, maintained a secret chatroom identity as “Rahodeb,” In which he trash-talked the CEO of Wild Oats. A former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman said: “at a minimum, it’s bizarre and ill-advised, even if it isn’t illegal.” This will give the FTC an opportunity to kill the deal because it makes Whole Foods seem obsessive about Wild Oats. He didn’t post secretly about Kroger or Safeway — it was Wild Oats. 7/13/2007

China Executes Food And Drug Safety Regulator confesses we thought it was a joke… surely they weren’t really going to execute the guy when we mentioned that China’s chief food and drug safety regulator had been sentenced to death, but he was. He had been sentenced just as China began feeling an urgent need to show the world toughness on food safety. Yet as an article in The Wall Street Journal points out, there is a cultural loophole that seems to limit prosecutions to the officials who are recipients of bribes but exempts people who offer or pay bribes from prosecution. One is not quite sure what to make of this. On the one hand, it is obviously difficult to enforce an ethical standard on one side of an activity but not the other. On the other hand, in a society in which bribery is so common, the line between bribery and extortion is muddy indeed. 7/11/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Immigration As An Economic Issue Rick Eastes of Rixx International Marketing alerts us to an article on immigration in the Economist which strikes us as avoiding the issue as Americans would see it. Sure, one consideration is economics, and whether, financially, immigration increases or decreases the income of Americans that are here today. A blog referenced in the Economist article says that, morally, we ought to allow immigration because the economic benefit to the immigrant is so much greater than the cost to existing citizens. Even assuming the economics are correct, it is complicated. It revolves around what ethicists call “the relevant moral community”, in other words, what group should we be concerned about? 6/14/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Protecting Ocean Spray’s Attorney/Client Privileges our piece: Ocean Spray May Have More To Lose Than Lawsuit, suggested that it might behoove Ocean Spray to release a report it commissioned to investigate the dispute. Craig Stokes of Santos Stokes, LLP advises against it. Craig is, of course, correct, and there are risks for Ocean Spray in releasing it. Yet we would contend that Ocean Spray’s primary risk in this litigation is not to the plaintiffs. We see far bigger liabilities, one being the longer this trial gets dragged out, the more likely some consumer publication will highlight the human interest angle: The story, fair to Ocean Spray or not, will likely be portrayed as a lifetime employee and his wife, widely liked and respected, tossed aside when their presence became inconvenient. The consumer media will pluck out the allegations of improper conduct against Ocean Spray and ask what protections employees have against businesses that want their employees to do disreputable things. 6/12/2007

Ocean Spray May Have More To Lose Than Lawsuit points out an interesting thing about the lawsuit between the Nolans and Ocean Spray is that it really speaks to different issues. Chris Phillips, a spokesman for Ocean Spray was correct when he stated that the proximate cause of the lawsuit is a disappointed former employee and contractor to Ocean Spray electing to file the lawsuit. This true and obvious. This is also why it is a good idea to do all you can to have employees who leave your organization leave on good terms. The bigger issue is if the allegations made by the Nolans are true, we can’t imagine one person or organization that Ocean Spray does business with that would care less if the Robinson-Patman Act was violated or not. More important questions like — Did Ocean Spray treat its growers unfairly and violate the PACA? Did Ocean Spray expect employees to lie or to fail to disclose to customers that competitors were receiving special treatment? — will demand answers. 6/8/2007

Ocean Spray Headache Continues reports the trial over the lawsuit between Jim and Theresa Nolan, their company, The Nolan Network and Ocean Spray is expected to commence shortly. Legal cases often settle, and it is hard to believe that it is in Ocean Spray’s interests to continue airing its dirty laundry in public. This is going to be a big headache no matter what. Sam’s Club will have its thoughts, supermarket chains that competed with H.E. Butt will have their thoughts, and the USDA will surely investigate the possibility of PACA violations. Is Ocean Spray really going to want the additional headache of a public lawsuit? One wonders who at Ocean Spray let the situation get this far? 6/7/2007

Ocean Spray’s Special Treatment of HEB sees a great deal of focus on the dispute between Jim and Theresa Nolan, their company The Nolan Network and Ocean Spray has regarded warehouse club stores and the claim that Ocean Spray provided Costco with preferential pricing. The case also mentions preferential pricing for H.E. Butt. One of the claims is that Ocean Spray provided preferential treatment to H.E. Butt by charging it full truckload freight rates, even though it only took less-than-trailer load delivery of cranberries. The H.E. Butt situation was odd. Although The Nolan Network was representing Ocean Spray nationally, somebody at Ocean Spray retained Acosta to represent Ocean Spray with H.E. Butt. The Nolans claim that hiring Acosta was because Ocean Spray wanted to offer H.E. Butt special deals, and either they knew the Nolans wouldn’t do it or knew the Nolans wouldn’t lie to other customers about it and so wanted to keep them in the dark. 6/6/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Robinson-Patman Attorney Weighs In On Ocean Spray received a letter from Robinson-Patman Act attorney Carl E. Person who sees no evidence in that deposition from Costco’s employee that Ocean Spray was responding to a competitive offer and who points out the general difficulty of Robinson-Patman litigation. The shame of this situation is that it is playing out as a legal matter, when it is really a matter of ethics and good business practices. The smartest thing for Ocean Spray would be to settle fast with the Nolans, then go to all the retailers and settle with them. Ocean Spray needs to double check its grower payments and make it up to any grower who was cheated. The questions here are really not technical issues of law. They are questions of right and wrong and Ocean Spray owes the industry an explanation. 6/5/2007

Ocean Spray Case Delves Into Robinson-Patman and PACA Violations feels there is not much controversy over the fact that Ocean Spray offered lower prices to Costco and HEB than it did to other warehouse clubs and supermarkets. Our point has been, forget the legalities, every supermarket and club store is going to be lined up at Ocean Spray’s door demanding recompense. However, one of the main legal issues though is whether, in fact, Ocean Spray’s offering of a lower price to Costco than it did to Sam’s, BJs or other clubs was a violation of the Robinson-Patman Act. A law that, generally speaking, requires that vendors offer identical prices to those in an identical class of trade. We also wonder about violations of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act and other laws protecting growers. 6/1/2007

Will Retailers Wait For A Trial To Act On Ocean Spray Controversy? explains how it seemed to us that if Ocean Spray, or any company, is going to publish an official price announcement, telling everyone what the price will be, it ought to stick to that price or, at least, change it for everyone. now that this is public, it is highly unlikely that retailers, who may feel they were wronged by Ocean Spray’s pricing policies, will wait for lawsuits to be resolved in order to press their claims. Does Ocean Spray have enough money to pay what would be due if these kinds of damages were to be substantiated? 5/25/2007

Ocean Spray Trial Will Shed Light On Business Practices our sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS ran: Special Report: Ocean Spray Sued By Longtime Associates, which told an important and fascinating story about Jim and Theresa Nolan and how they were treated by Ocean Spray. This will wind up being a big story. Much of it turns on legalities such as the exact circumstances under which the Robinson-Patman Act are deemed violated and the legal status of Ocean Spray’s own antitrust Policy Compliance Guide. If this goes to trial, the lawyers will duke it out on these grounds. For the industry, though, the bigger issues have to do with right-dealing and with what one should expect from one’s employees. 5/22/2007

Wal-Mart’s Latest ‘Green’ Move Gives Pause To Explore Sustainability Rationale Wal-Mart has announced that it will have installed solar power panels on 22 locations in California and Hawaii. There is nothing wrong with solar power, but clear thinking on sustainability initiatives can be achieved by dividing them into three categories: Initiatives that produce a positive ROI, initiatives that produce a sufficient “reputational dividend” and initiatives that lose money for a company’s shareholders. The hard issue is whether companies should lose money to enhance the environment. It is morally problematic, at least in a publicly held company, because it is not the executive’s money to give away. After all, if a corporation has extra money that it can afford to lose, why not pay it out as dividends to shareholders and let them decide if and to what they might like to donate it? 5/10/2007

Fairtrade’s Unfairness explains that Jamaica used to receive special preference on market entry to the UK and preferential access to European markets in general. US and Latin American producers challenged this before the World Trade Organization and have won several times. Europe has continued to come up with new schemes but, ultimately, all of them are illegal under the WTO and, presumably, will come to an end. An article in The Jamaica Observer details how Fairtrade works and urges the Jamaica banana industry to reposition itself as a niche, premium, Fairtrade product as it has been successful in other eastern Caribbean island nations. But even if it could be done, and accepting that the Jamaicans, St. Lucians and the Dominicans are perfectly in the right to look out for themselves, the moral implications of this for Europeans are rather striking. 4/25/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Dole’s Schwartz Comments On Silent Buyers our piece Tim York Points Out Buyer Commitment To Food Safety brought this trenchant commentary from Eric Schwartz of Dole Fresh Vegetables whose words resonate: “The one thing we did not count on was the majority of the same buying leadership that asked for this step to go silent now that it is here.” The reality is that when the speeches are done, and without questioning anyone’s hearts or morals, the overwhelming majority of buyers are unwilling to risk having to pay more for produce in order to achieve food safety. Period. A refusal to restrict one’s supply chain is a declaration that one would rather be “competitive” on price than offer one’s customers the safest possible product. 3/28/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Chiquita’s Motivations our piece Chiquita’s Shame — And Our Ineffective Anti-Terrorism Policy brought this response from an executive who asked to remain anonymous. This note reaches across many areas to the nature of corporate responsibility. We don’t think the focus on “motivations” — Chiquita paid protection money because it valued the lives of its employees or it paid because it wanted to stay in business — really makes sense. With terrorists or corruption, the core problem is that our authorities can’t change the culture of the world and can’t protect Americans in body (terrorism) or business (corruption) if they refuse to play along. Yet if Americans don’t play, we cede the field to others who don’t function under any of these laws. This is an ethical dilemma beyond whether companies care more for profits or employees. 3/26/2007

Chiquita’s Shame — And Our Ineffective Anti-Terrorism Policy heard Chiquita has agreed to a plea bargain with the US Department of Justice in which it has agreed to plead guilty and pay a fine of $25 million in five equal annual installments focusing attention on issues of corporate morality. Chiquita pled guilty to paying “protection” money to the AUC, a Colombian based terrorist group. The most significant thing to understand is that when this situation came to light, Chiquita quickly sold the subsidiary. This is because there are areas around the world in which terrorist groups are the de facto governments. If the US wants to be serious about choking off the flow of money to terrorist organizations, it needs to either protect US corporations operating in these environments or ban product from areas that terrorists control. 3/22/2007

National Restaurant Association Soon To Unveil Its Own Food Safety Plan feels it was inevitable that the National Restaurant Association would want a place at the table for its views on food safety to be expressed. As we detail here, NRA is ready to unveil its plan this March at a special Food Safety Conference it is hosting. NRA has the right to make any recommendations it thinks wise to its members, but the way NRA is handling this matter is not right. NRA has refused to make these proposed standards available to the produce industry associations working on developing the Good Agricultural Practices standards for leafy greens. This makes us feel that more industry politics than food safety sincerity is involved here. It would be morally grotesque to hold back this valuable information. 3/1/2007

US Buyers Should Follow British Lead In Food Safety Standards explains that in Europe, the most notable substantive difference in the offer that produce vendors make to buyers is that each vendor flaunts its multiple certifications. The base line is EurepGap. If you are a grower in Uruguay looking to sell to large European chains the very first thing you have to do is get EurepGap-certified. The Gold Standard is probably the Marks & Spencer program known as “Field-to-Fork,” which incorporates EurepGap standards and also goes beyond food safety to include all kinds of environmental and ethical standards. The interesting thing is that none of these standards are government requirements. They are driven by the British retailers. 2/13/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — A European Provides Food For Thought In 2007 as we prepare to make our visit to Fruit Logistica in Berlin, it seems fitting to share a letter from Marc De Naeyer, Managing Partner of TROFI in The Netherlands who wrote to us once before and always has something interesting to say. Many food industry advocates find issues such as food safety, organics and fair trade difficult to discuss because it seems not to matter what they say. That is because what often matters is the Zeitgeist, the general feeling as to what is right and what is wrong with the world. This is difficult to fight with particulars; it involves engaging in the great intellectual battles of our time which are fought on a field between academics and journalists. 2/6/2007

The Cultural Contradictions Of Food Safety retells the tale of a farmer who, midway through harvest, was visited by an errant herd of cows and the harvesting company refused what was left. Several days later he was presented with a different buyer. It is easy to be morally righteous and note that there was a risk of contamination and that the farmer was morally obligated to disc the crop. Yet that is easy for anyone else to say. For a farmer, that crop is his livelihood. It seems that it is expecting too much virtue from people to depend on them abandoning their money in the field on the basis of a hypothetical risk. One answer is that if nobody will buy a crop leftover inexplicably in a field, then the moral hazard is moot. Resolving perverse financial incentives to take food safety risks is where we find real long term improvements in food safety. 12/20/2006

Lieberman And Lobbying finds the defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary tells us a number of things. The bottom line is he is not that influential. As a religious man, he was portrayed as the great moral conscious of the party during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. But he punted and gave him cover. When he ran for Vice President with Al Gore, he had no moral qualms about abandoning inconveniently conservative thoughts on issues such as affirmative action and educational vouchers to conform to the wishes of interest groups important to the party. American politics, which were always driven by regional and parochial concerns, are becoming more like European politics with ideologically more consistent parties. There is really no place for conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans. 8/10/2006

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