business news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of the USDA decision not to approve private testing for mad cow disease by a slaughterhouse, one MNB user wrote:

The USDA's response to deny the testing request for Mad Cow is easily explainable. The USDA has two conflicting responsibilities - agriculture promotion and safety of those same products. This is a perfect example of why we need one governing body for food safety as FMI has advocated. To me, the testing does not imply that other beef is contaminated as the USDA purports. This is an ostrich with its head in the sand approach - if we don't test for it, we won't find it. From a food safety standpoint, I am surprised that more testing of all types is not going on. It's all about the microbes stupid! Rather than all the onerous regulations on the food industry (many which have little, if any, impact on food safety), let manufacturers test their products for key contaminants.

We’ve always felt that one food safety agency makes more sense than the current set up.

Regarding pressure from the beef industry to loosen restrictions on the use of “downer” cattle, one MNB user wrote:

Sooner or later common sense must rule the day. Simply tag these as "downer beef" animals, so that none of the "at risk" meat is used. You'll lose the organ meat etc., but you'll still have the steak, roasts and other cuts.

We’ve been writing and reporting about the importance of wireless access in places like Starbucks and McDonald’s, which led one member of the MNB community to write:

The most important place to have wireless access are those places we have nothing to do but be unproductive and wait.

Airplanes, airports, trains, and buses would be my choices. Let me relax while I eat. Even if it is a McDonalds. I am sure they are doing it with the thought of increasing their food fare as is Starbucks.

On the subject of reimportation of drugs from Canada, one MNB user wrote:

In Canada the government sets the price of drugs (aka price controls) and tightly controls the entire health care system (and boy do you wait and wait to get treated).

Has anybody thought that selling these drugs at lower prices will likely mean no new drug R&D? The U.S. is the leader in producing new drugs. The prices do not all go into the “greedy” pockets of shareholders. A substantial portion of the price goes to new drug R&D. Canada is living off of the R&D we pay for here in the U.S. as is a lot of the world. Do you want new drugs or lower prices? The drug companies have an obligation to shareholders to earn a profit. If the prices are lowered it cannot be at the elimination of profit or shareholder value disappears.

The same people who want lower prices probably own drug stocks directly or indirectly as do the state pension plans. Do they really understand what they are calling for?

We posted an email from an MNB user yesterday that said:

"I know someone who works at Wal-Mart. She said she was very happy working there because they regularly let her have extra hours. Her manager told her she just couldn't go over forty. She thought this was because then she'd be full-time. She always works between thirty and forty hours. Do you think she gets health care? She's technically a full-time employee, but they don't treat her like one. I had to explain to her that they don't want her to go over forty hours because then she could get overtime. She doesn't care, though. She only has a high school education and has few opportunities available to her. She's grateful to have the hours and won't complain because her family needs the money."

MNB user Dan Jones responded:

Just so I understand, we have low price, high quality products, greater shopping selection, satisfied workers, and satisfied management. Why are we supposed to be outraged by Wal-Mart again? Would this friend (and her family) really better served if she were destitute and out of work?

Wal-Mart is not unbeatable, but they should be able to compete in these new markets. Here is a parallel - for a generation Maxwell House was the leading coffee. It tasted like dirt, but so did the competition. At least the price was reasonable (nobody talked about taste, all coffees competed on price). That is just the way coffee was. All of a sudden Starbucks hit the scene, delivered great taste, ambiance, selection, and redefined the market. Now people pay $4 for a cup of coffee. Wal-Mart is a lot like Maxwell House - highly efficient, pretty low on charm.

Right now all the competition is fighting Wal-Mart on price. The paradigm will break. Somebody will actually create a satisfying shopping experience - and Wal-Mart won't seem so unbeatable.


On the subject of the Inglewood vote against Wal-Mart, one MNB user wrote:

Societal trends often get started in California. Legislating how competitive environments should be structured might be a dangerous precedent and a really slippery slope for our economy and our country.

Is all of this opposition a "tipping point" for Wal-Mart? Will they simply shift their resources to the small store (neighborhood market) format? There is some finite number and limit of super store locations for future development. There are far more potential locations for smaller, low-priced supermarkets.

How come you rarely mention Target in this sort of dialogue? Are they following a different development path? Is there something for Wal-Mart to learn from what Target is doing?

Target certainly keeps a lower profile…and we’re not sure that Wal-Mart looks to Target for inspiration.

We referred yesterday to Los Angeles as the biggest city in the country…but were wrong. As one MNB user wrote, New York has twice the population of LA with more than eight million people as compared to about 3.6 million.

Sorry, New York.
KC's View: