business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got a number of emails over the weekend about our Friday story that some 200 restaurants, grocers and seafood distributors have promised to oppose genetically engineered seafood, pledging not to buy, serve or sell fish created by biotechnology. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reportedly is considering an application to market Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as salmon raised on "fish farms." Among those signing the pledge were Whole Foods Market, as well as some of the nation’s more influential restaurants, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Citronelle in Washington DC, and the French Laundry in Northern California.

MNB user Don Sutton wrote:

“Once again we see a sort of mass hysteria, based on ignorance of the process.

“Genetically tripping the growth trigger is merely a short cut. If a project were put in place that bred salmon for extra growth (the same way we line breed cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs and cats for desired traits) it would end up eventually with the same growth gene altered in the same way. The only difference here is that scientists did it faster. The second problem with going the lengthy line breeding process is that we don't know what other random natural mutations would also be added to the mix. Some of these might carry a propensity for a variety of weaknesses or susceptibility to various pathogens, etc.

“Line breeding, which none of the genetic critics seem to fear, is probably more prone to problems than genetic alteration in this case. Here we started out with a salmon with the desired traits, longevity, etc, and changed only one trait.

“Remember, line breeding is just a slow process of genetic alteration humans have been using for thousands of years for pets and livestock. Look at the original wild canines and look at a modern "genetically acceptable" bulldog with a pushed in nasal system that causes breathing and bronchial problems and narrow hips that require cesarean births.

“Yes, I am a fisherman, an environmentalist, a serious critic of various pesticides, a believer in saving the rain forest and a believer in the problems created by ozone depletion and global warming. But with a background in farming, science education and hopefully more than a modicum of common sense let me say, simply:

“Bring on the big salmon!! And while you're at it, bring on some big chickens, too.”

We got another email that said:

“Alice Waters is a genius whose culinary expertise is legion. However, what are her scientific credentials? Her end of things is to work magic with the end product of the production process. She knows what she likes, what tastes good and how to make it taste great at the end of the preparation process. Passing judgment on biotechnology, however, seems a little preposterous. Can she and the other critics point to a specific problem, flaw or specific danger in rapid growth fish?

“When I was young there was a big flap over adding fluoride to drinking water. Self-styled experts came out of the bushes in droves, calling it everything from poison to a communist plot. As it turns out, of course, none of this squared with reality.(Thank God Khrushchev never made a speech at the UN about communists believing in good dental health or we would have wasted congressional time debating the outlawing of dentistry.)

“Yes we need to test genetically engineered seafood, if for no other reason than to calm folks worrying about the wrong things. I predict that, not too many years down the road, we'll look back and laugh at all of this.”

We received the following email from MNB user Paul Schlossberg responding to a recent story about Marks & Spencer moving to self-checkout systems:

“M&S and others will shift to self-scan for several reasons:

• It's less expensive to get ROI and payback on machines versus people
(checkers/cashiers in this case).

• There are fewer employees...while those remaining are likely paid at
higher levels and are more skilled.

• There is no value-added when your name is pronounced incorrectly by
the (hopefully well-intentioned) person behind the counter.

• Having a dialogue and friendly interaction at the checkout point is
the very last thing most shoppers are looking for. If you're alone, you're
probably frustrated that it's taking so long - even if the line is moving
at quick pace. If you have a child with you (of any age), you're hoping to
keep them under control and to avoid buying an impulse product.

• Stores need to find ways to deploy help for shoppers who are looking
for the "stuff" they want to buy. That is where the "value-added" can be
established. You need computer-based mapping software to find things in some of these big stores. That "hunting" process (while shopping) is the time waster. We don't think that this is an easy one to solve. But it
brings to mind a point we heard Jack Trout make - that 150 SKU's (in a
supermarket) meet the needs of 80% most shoppers needs. While wandering past the 35,000 (or more) SKU's in the store..."hunting" for what I need, I'm always hoping that checkout experience will be enjoyable. It's not like a relaxed sit-down dining experience - where you are looking to be treated nicely. This is a functional obligation of sorts - it's called shopping. Anything you (the retailer) can do to speed it up and
eliminate unwanted hassles will be greatly appreciated. That appreciation will most likely be in the form of repeat business.”

Also got a number of emails about the practice of “sanitizing” movies, or re-editing films without studio or director permission so that they are more acceptable to wider audiences. (We were, to say the least, outraged by the practice and said so in our commentary.)

MNB user Ronald Cook wrote:

“I whole heartedly agree that a sanitized movie does not accurately
depict he Directors/Producers view of what their movie should look and sound like. I do not think the studios should throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. My first thought was that a sanitized version of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ could be shown to younger children (10-16) and the sanitized version could accurately depict the savagery of war and show the extreme sacrifice that so many brave men and women made during WWII. This could be done without some of the language or more graphic scenes. While the story line in’ Saving Private Ryan’ was not entirely historic, a sanitized version would certainly make that U.S. History class in 7th grade year more interesting and educational for a day or two. (What studio would not want the chance at the revenue from showing a film to every 7th grader in the USA?)

“I do not have a great plan as to who would do the editing but those
same producers/directors may have an opportunity to capture additional
audiences buy releasing the same movie in PG and R ratings. The cost may be inhibitive but the test markets are obviously there. Market share could
increase enough to offset the cost.”

MNB user Bob Gleeson added:

“I have to admit that I think you are right about copyright violations,
although I don't go along with your censorship concept. I have heard of
this practice but have not seen the product. I assumed that all approvals
had been obtained. I am very much in favor of having an alternative to the sex and violence that is sometimes put into a movie to attain a certain rating and thereby attract a viewing audience. Oftentimes little "artistic value" is added to the film. I suggest that a wider viewing audience could be realized by authorizing the sanitation of these movies. Don't tell me that the studios/artists would walk away from a potentially significant revenue source because of ‘artistic integrity’!”

A couple of points in response:

•Approvals are not being obtained. Companies are just doing this on their own, according to reports we’ve seen.

•The film companies apparently are willing to walk away from the extra revenue, in part because if they don’t, directors like Steven Spielberg won’t want to work for those studios anymore. (The real issue is about films like “Saving Private Ryan,” not garbage movies that are hardly seen. But you have to protect the artistic integrity of all the films, even the ones without artistic integrity.)

•While we certainly appreciate the notion that a seventh-grade-appropriate version of “Private Ryan” might seem appealing, we suspect that Steven Spielberg’s response would be that if you take out the language and the graphic scenes, the film no longer would “accurately depict the savagery of war.”

•Finally, we should note that studios already make “sanitized versions” of major films – for the airlines. But they do it because they need to be sensitive about the fact that passengers often don’t have a choice about seeing what’s on screen, even if they don’t choose to watch the movie. The thing about videos is, we have a choice about buying or renting them…and from our perspective, we are certainly more comfortable with Steven Spielberg’s version that we are with the notion of some reactionary yahoo with a video editing machine making decisions about what is and what is not acceptable.

But that’s just us.

On the subject of childhood obesity and the need for education, MNB user Cynthia Hollinsworth wrote:

“I endorse all endeavors to improve children's health and nutrition.

“I practice good habits at home, but the schools do not exhibit good habits. Children follow by example.

“There has to be more emphasis on better nutrition - cut out the sugar and the sodas and more exercise.

“I organized a seminar on children's nutrition for my son's preschool in Florida - a number of interested parents attended, but the school made no changes in their habits of offering candy etc. etc. and unhealthy snacks. The theory has to be taught and put into practice. Unfortunately like everything else it is often down to money and convenience. It is easier and cheaper for schools to buy giant jars of animal crackers and cookies than cut up fruit and vegetables.

“Kids lack exercise - it is no wonder - they are taken by car everywhere.

“The junk food and fast food habits and lack of exercise on the increase in the United States - as is obesity amongst children - obvious connection - but someone has to do something about it.

“Children look up to teachers and their school - the school MUST set the example.”

And MNB user Dick Lowe asked:

“How many schools have 30 mins. of exercise daily and offer nutritious lunch selections?”

Not enough.
KC's View: