business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB had a story the other day about the move to allow organic products to include some synthetic ingredients, a position supported by the Organic Trade association (OTA). We sort of had a problem with this…and one MNB user addressed our concerns:

Your first reaction is understandable, ie, that "lowering" standards could jeopardize organics. But as someone who has done a lot more reading on this issue recently, my perception is that the legislation that the OTA supported was aimed at continuing the standards the community that has supported organics for a very long time had already evolved under the watchful eye of the National Organic Standards Board (which allowed 95% organic products to qualify for the "organic" sticker). The lawsuit that ruled this 5% accommodation as unauthorized was appropriate for purists, but seemed certain to many of us to have many unintended consequences in the availability of the organic products that have built the industry over the last two decades. If you decide to pursue this issue, please take a look at the OTA website, where a position is posted along with several other points of view supporting this legislation that supports the last several years' status quo rather than causing a deterioration to the standards that have been in place.

MNB user Sue DeRemer wrote:

People who choose to purchase organic foods (usually in alternative retail formats like Whole Foods and local health food stores) are committed label-readers. Supposedly organic products that contain artificial ingredients will be shunned by shoppers in these channels.

Unfortunately, these products will be introduced in mainstream Food stores, and purchased by trusting people who are not label readers.

If I were a mainstream retailer with a "natural foods" section, I would be sure not to include products with artificial ingredients in that section, for fear of alienating the core natural / organic shoppers.

It's sad when laws are passed to cloud consumer knowledge.

On the subject of a judge tossing out much of a lawsuit filed by Wal-Mart asking that the retirement benefits of former chairman Tom Coughlin be voided – Coughlin is accused of defrauding the company for his own personal profit – one MNB user wrote:

I don't think Wal-Mart really has any intention of actually suing one of Bentonville's most beloved citizens.

They are just going through the motions to please the public. Wal-Mart will probably keep losing in court, and losing on purpose.

Expensive motions.

And if Wal-Mart were doing that – spending money on a case it has no intention of winning – wouldn’t it be a kind of fraud?

We don’t think this is the case.

Responding to a story about the “politics of fat,” we ran an email the other day saying that ”being obese is just as unhealthy as smoking. People can control their weight just like they can quit smoking. Why should smokers be penalized for everything and treated as social outcasts. Some may argue that second hand smoke warrants this treatment. Yet we pay higher and higher health care rates due to the increase in obesity-related illnesses.

MNB user Kelly Cox Semple disagreed:

I couldn't let this reader's comments (below) go without noting a few points.

• First, weight does not automatically equate to bad health. It is flat out wrong to say that all fat people are unhealthy, in the same way it's incorrect to say that all thin people are healthy. Replace weight with height, and see how the argument works (all tall people are healthy while all short people are not?). The confusion is caused by two co-existing factors: [1] people can, in fact, make themselves weigh more through inappropriate food consumption and lack of exercise, and [2] some people are, in fact, simply heavier than others (in the same way some people are taller than others, to continue that analogy). Add to the equation the $46 billion spent annually in the United States alone selling products and services to convince all non thin people to get thin now, and Factor #2 gets completely lost. In fact, people stop believing it could possibly be true. Focus on nutrition, portion size, physical activity, and generally healthy living - yes. But don't presume that only thin people understand and live these concepts.

• Second, if it were a simple matter of control, two-thirds of Americans would not be overweight. Does this reader genuinely think that nearly 70% of the people in this country have no control? Moreover, does this reader think that those 70% of people enjoy being repeatedly attacked by the rampant fat-bashing that has become standard in the epidemic-proportion obesity panic of the past few years? If all it took to lose weight was being made to feel ashamed, everyone would be thin. It's simply not that easy.

• Third, the comparison of size to second-hand smoke is a complete non-sequitur. Someone standing next to a fat person cannot "catch" obesity. Smoke, on the other hand, can easily fill up the lungs of everyone in the area. I sense that this (anonymous) reader is a smoker who is sick of being picked on, and is hoping to deflect criticism from him/herself to the ever-increasing number of fat people in the country (who are already a huge target, pardon the pun).

• Fourth, for all the hoopla over health care costs, nobody seems to mention that fat people pay into the system, too. Insurance premiums, co-pays, medical bills, prescriptions, the works. Do they think that the fat people are getting free services while the thin folks fork over the cash for it?

MNB user Mark DiNovo wrote:

I think this whole "fat" thing points to a larger problem in our society. Quite simply, as a nation, we lack self discipline. Instead of working to better ourselves, we just want to lower the bar. Obviously, this isn't true for all of us, however the facts cannot be ignored. Look at the figures for obesity in children. For those of us in our mid to late 30's or older, how many of us can actually remember so many "fat" kids. Why? Quite honestly, we didn't live such a sedentary life style. We didn't have the video games (at least I didn't). Which meant we actually played football, not Madden 2005 for hours a day.

In the final analysis, we have become slaves to our own "convenience" based lifestyle. But, in our defense, as a nation, we live very stressed out lives in order to purchase all the stuff we are told we need in order to be happy. The real solution is to simplify our lives. What we need to understand is that a simple life does not mean an easy life.

In fact, just the opposite is usually true. We need to answer the question to ourselves, do we want convenience or do we want freedom, true freedom?

Martha Stewart told Fortune the other day that she at one point considered buying Kmart, and now thinks that she “really cannot be destroyed.” To which one MNB user responded directly to her:

As every humble business person knows, there is a time to be quiet and count your blessings. I would think a women of your age and stature would understand such a life lesson.

Apparently not, what a shame.
KC's View: