Tag Archives: Ethics

Wal-Mart Accused of Organic Food Fraud


The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group which promotes sustainable farming, claims Wal-Mart (Charts) is defrauding its customers by mislabeling non-organic products as organic.

The policy group said it conducted checks of Wal-Mart stores in five states and discovered labeling violations in virtually all of the “dozens of stores” it visited.

Wal-Mart, which uses green signs to identify organic selections at its stores, said any shelf labeling mistakes are isolated events and that it often mixes organic and conventional products on its shelves to make it easer for customers to find organic options.

“Although Wal-Mart has more than 2,000 locations that may offer up to 200 organic selections in addition to thousands of non-organic offerings, we believe it to be an isolated incident should a green organic identifying tag be inadvertently placed by or accidentally shift in front of the wrong item,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Although it’s not an isolated incident if a problem is found at several locations, it does sound less like a concerted effort of fraud and more like ignorance and laziness at the various stores and by Wal-Mart’s retail food management.

Organic Food requires a fair amount of diligence, not only in the production but in the retailing. If Wal-Mart doesn’t wish to provide the consumer with the necessary level of management and work needed, then they need to stop selling and promoting organic foods.

Technorati Tags: Organic Food, Wal-Mart

Bias Is Found in Food Studies Sponsored by Food Industry

This latest article from the New York Times should surprise absolutely no one who even pays half attention to the food industry. To paraphrase Captain Renault, I am shocked, SHOCKED that there is bias going on in Food Industry studies. From the article:

Of 24 studies of soft drinks, milk and juices financed by the industry, 21 had results favorable or neutral to the industry, and 3 were unfavorable, according to the research led by Dr. David S. Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston and an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School.

Of 52 studies with no industry financing, 32 were favorable or neutral to the industry and 20 were unfavorable. The biases are similar to findings for pharmaceuticals.

Bias in nutrition studies, Dr. Ludwig said, may be more damaging than bias in drug studies because food affects everyone.

“These conflicts could produce a very large bias in the scientific literature, influence the government’s dietary guidelines which are science based,ˮ he said in an interview. “They also influence the advice health care providers give their patients and F.D.A. regulations of food claims. That’s a top-order threat to public health.ˮ

But the funniest quote comes from in the following paragraphs.

The American Beverage Association, which sponsored at least one study in the article, said the authors had their own biases.

“This is yet another attack on the industry by activists who demonstrate their own biases in their review by looking only at the funding sources and not judging the research on its merits,ˮ the president of the trade group, Susan K. Neely, said in a statement.

It seems that Ms. Neely either doesn’t understand the basis of the Scientific Method, or wishes to spin the negative press her industry just received by saying, in essence, “Yeah, but this report has bias too!” What’s missing from her assertion of bias? Oh yeah, a simple thing called evidence.

What we’re seeing here is the age-old battle between scientists and public relations. Let’s see how this battle plays out.

Step One: Scientists create a hypothesis. For example “Food studies sponsored by food companies are biased”.

Step Two: Scientists seek evidence that will either prove or disprove their hypothesis. In this example, scientists used statistical analysis that found that Food Industry sponsored studies have a 12% chance of being unfavorable to the food industry.

Step Three: Scientists then compare this data against a control group. In this example – Food studies not sponsored by the Food Industry, where it is found that it is likely that such a study will have a 38% chance of being unfavorable to the food industry.

Step Four: As a 26% deviation between the study and control group is noteworthy, the scientists then note said deviation by writing up a study.

Step Five: News organizations also believe that the deviation is noteworthy, and create a news article based on the aforementioned study. In order to give the appearance that the story is also free of bias, the writer of the article searches for contrary opinions.

Step Six: Instead of contacting a scientist (or anyone else who uses an approximation of the scientific method), the journalist contacts a president of a food industry trade group. This president is unlikely to advocate against the food industry because their job is specifically designed to advocate for the food industry. It should be noted that having a job that entails advocating for the good of an industry is very nearly the definition of bias.

Step Seven: The very biased president of the food industry trade group calls “Bias” against the scientist who used the unbiased scientific method.

The evidence provided by the president? Bias exists in the scientist’s report because…wait for it…the president of the trade group said so.

Step Eight: I repeatedly slam my forehead against my desk.

See also Derrick’s post yesterday for a more in depth look at Cordelia’s Dilemma, something which may be pervasive in food-industry sponsored studies.

Technorati Tags: Food Politics, Bias, Food Studies

Cheating Chefs?

Found in the Times UK – Cheating chefs leave bad taste with fake food:

The table is laid, the waiter has taken the order and the diners are looking forward to an outstanding French meal.

But in the kitchen, the chefs are spraying an omelette with a truffle-flavoured chemical and injecting fake wild-mushroom drops into a duck filet.

Science fiction? No, this is the reality in many French restaurants, which are “cheatingˮ their customers with a growing range of artificial products, according to gastronomic purists. They say that the use of flavourings to enhance the taste of otherwise ordinary dishes is misleading because they are rarely mentioned on the menu.

A couple of points:

  1. Fake Food? I’m not sure that’t literally correct. But that’s a fine point, to be sure.
  2. In my opinion, it’s not the fact that the chefs use the chemical sprays and ingredients, it’s the fact that they’re pretending the dishes are something they are are not. The customer does have a right to know what they are getting on their plate.

via eGullet

Technorati Tags: Restaurants, Paris, Artificial+Flavors

ORATB v. 5: Doctor has Soda ties

Ross writes in with a bit of news on the Doctor I quoted in my last Benzene/Soda post. This was Dr. Ruth Kava, who said of benzene in soda:

” But the director of the British Food Safety Agency has noted that people would need to drink more than twenty quarts of a beverage with ten ppb of benzene to equal the amount one would breathe from city air in one day.”

It seems that our good doctor gets paid, in part, by Coca-Cola and Pepsico.

Nutritionist Ruth Kava, PhD RD, who works for the industry-funded American Council on Science and Health (ACHS), once explained: “If you consume something that’s a big hazard, such as benzene, but have small exposure, say 1 part per billion of benzene in your food every three months, there’s not a very big risk.” (The ACHS Executive Director, an MD, Gilbert Ross, has actively opposed soda bans at school after ACHS took funds from the soda industry.) The ACHS head Elizabeth Whelan dismissed the vomiting and nausea of dozens of schoolchildren at the time as due to hysteria. But isn’t the level set for water a reasonable standard for determining whether there should be a trade recall as the soda industry and large retailers have previously claimed? The British Soft Drink Association agreed that anything over 10 ppb would automatically be recalled with no exceptions.

These people at ACHS defending benzene in soda and soda in schools are paid by Coca-Cola and the soft drink association.

“Page 120 Q. Have you received money from the National Soft Drink Association? A. Yes. Q. Coca-Cola ~ Yes.

Page 121. A. We received $10,000 from the soft drink association, 5,000 from the sugar foundation and then 5,000 from Coca-Cola…”

Q. Are you personally involved in soliciting funding from those companies?

A. Yes, unfortunately I am.

Q. Is that a big part of your job?

A. Unfortunately, it is.”
Martha Sergei v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Deposition of Elizabeth M. Whelan, M.D [ACHS Director]., pp. 120-121 (Feb 18 1998)

Good catch Ross. Thanks for the heads up.

Technorati Tags: Soda, Drink, Benzene

Comps and Compromised: Reviewers and “Power”

We’ve talked about comps and how reviewers can abuse the system for their own benefit before. I believe thise NYPost Page six item illustrates this point rather well (login: login@accidentalhedonist.com password:hedonist)

After the wine-y critic was seated, Morfogen visited his table to confirm that everything was satisfactory. Given another opportunity to vent, Passmore obliged.

“The food is great, however, I didn’t like my treatment at the door,” he said.

Morfogen said he was dumbfounded. “Food writers come in unidentified,” he said. “You never know they’re in the room. This guy did everything the opposite. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was surreal.”

Things only got worse when Passmore was presented with a check at the end of the meal.

According to Morfogen, Passmore growled, “I do not pay when reviewing a restaurant. If I pay this check, I will write an unfavorable review about Philippe.”

“I’m not going to pay for a review,” Morfogen said he replied. “My policy is that I don’t comp for reviews.”

For better or worse, comps are part of the food industry. The ethics for taking comps is a matter that certainly lends itself for interesting discussions, but it doesn’t change the fact that comps exist.

However, some people have forgotten that comps are short for “complimentary”. They are a bonus, an addition, nothing more. Anyone who requires a comp to do their job has missed the point of food writing. Anyone who demands a comp is abusing their position and the privilege of that position.

However (and I’m only putting this out here to not convict Mr. Passmore outright), if I had a new restaurant in New York city and wanted to get noticed, what better way to get publicity than to manufacture an episode that paints their location as a victim while putting any review of the place by a specific critic under the category of “compromised and biased”?

It’s a cynical thought to be sure, but one that should at least be acknowledged, even if only to dismiss it as “too contrived”. Personally I tend to believe the restaurant’s story, if only because it’s the one more likely to happen. As Occams Razor states: Given two equally predictive theories, choose the simpler. A critic acting like many humans act when they have presumed “power” is far more likely than my own conspiracy theories. But innocent until proven guilty, I suppose.

If you want to read the entire article, I’m posting it below the jump, as I have no idea on how long the link above will work.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Food Writing, Ethics


Monsanto Strategies

Some of you may already know this, but for others, this may be a bit of a shock…

What’s one way for Monsanto to affect public discourse?

Why, pay the reporters of course.

In his Jan. 5 (Scripps-Howard News Service) column, (Michael) Fumento wrote that the St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers “but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land.”

What Fumento didn’t say in that column is that conservative Hudson Institute — recieved a $60,000 grant from Monsanto back in 1999. Why does this matter? Well it seems Mr. Fumento is a senior partner at the aforementioned think tank.


One might think that this is an important piece of information that the reader just might like to know.

Luckily, so did Scripps-Howard who fired Mr. Fumento today. Score one for ethics.

Technorati Tags: Food, Monsanto, Food Politics

DC Foodies vs. Carole Greenwood

Now this here is a bit o’ interestingness…

It seems as if Jason at DC Foodies has had a run in with Buck’s Camping and Fishing chef and owner Carole Greenwood. While eating dinner, he took some pictures of the food (as food bloggers are wont to do), which caused the chef to come out during dessert and discuss the legalities of picture taking. Aside from that, it appears as if Jason enjoyed the meal.

That is, until Carole Greenwood’s Lawyer sent a cease and desist letter. From the letter:

Dear Sir:

Please be advised that my client, Buck’s Camping and Fishing, has requested that I contact you with a demand that you cease and desist from showing any pictures that you may have taken of the food and facilities of the said restaurant.

Carole Greenwood can be a pain in the tuckus to her customers, or at least so says Washington Post writer Tom Sietsema, so this outburst should not be that big of a surprise.

But it does beg the question, should a restaurant patron be able to take pictures of the food in a restaurant? Or is the mere look of the food proprietary, as Chef Greenwood would claim?
Of course, the folks at eGullet are all over it, with the best answer so far coming from writer cdh:

Copyright law is pretty clear that the pictures you take are yours and only yours. If the chef has any copyrightable subject matter that you took a picture of, then you might need rights, but I really doubt that the composition of a dish on a plate is copyrightable subject matter… (probably too utilitarian, though it might be artistic enough, and consequently a potentially very expensive issue to litigate… if she can afford the fight herself…)

So, you, as an invitee on the restaurant’s property are licensed to be there subject to their conditions, one of which might be that you don’t use a camera. If your license to be on the property expires because you use your camera, you might be liable to the owner of the property for trespassing on their land (damages are usually minimal)… but the pictures are still yours. You definitely own the copyright to the pictures, and unless you agreed to a nondisclosure agreement you can probably do with them as you please.

Personally, I have no issue with taking pictures at a restaurant, as long as I don’t ruin other people’s eating experience (I no longer use flashes on my camera at a restaurant). But I’m also biased, because word on the street is that I’m a food blogger.

Can anyone provide better information on this?

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Food Blogs, Ethics, Carole Greenwood