business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Monte Stowell about Walmart's decision to close its two stores in Portland, Oregon, a decision forced by a broad retail theft issue affecting the area:

It is very sad that Walmart is closing these two stores here in Portland. The amount of theft going on in other Walmart PDX stores is not good. If you ask the employees at Walmart what they can do about theft, the answer is they cannot do anything; however, a law enforcement officer can arrest thieves if they are caught.

Another big name store here in PDX recently closed its doors, NIKE., due to theft. NIKE asked the mayor if he could provide police officers to work at this store. NIKE offered to fund the police officers needed, but  with the financial issues and a shortage of police officers, NIKE’s request was denied. 

Yesterday we took note of a Washington Post report about US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) efforts "to update the current definition of 'healthy' - manufacturers would only be able to use the term "if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the main food groups such as fruit, vegetable or dairy, as recommended by federal dietary guidelines," and would be required to "adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars" - are facing strong resistance from a number of manufacturers.

The opposing argument, the Post writes, is that under the proposed new rules, almost no products currently labeled as "healthy" would be allowed to do so.

The Consumer Brands Association (CBA) is making that argument, as is Conagra, which is concerned about how the shifting guidance could affect its Healthy Choice brand.

I commented, in part:

I struggle with this.  "Healthy" isn't exactly an absolute term.  Some products, even if not perfect, certainly are healthier than others.

And I can understand why Conagra is more than a little concerned, since "Healthy" is the name of the brand.

But the FDA's job isn't to protect brands.  It is to protect consumers/citizens, and that's a good thing.  A tension between business and government, in this case, is a good thing.  "Overly stringent" may be how the CBA and its members would characterize the FDA's approach to added sugars, but if it is a threshold supported by medical science, then that ought to be the bottom line.

I am chagrined that Conagra's reaction to the debate is that if it doesn't get its own way it simply will focus on making less healthy foods, rather than work on figuring out how to make its "healthy" foods healthier.

One MNB reader responded:

A couple thoughts about the “Healthy” revisions. 

“But the FDA's job isn't to protect brands.  It is to protect consumers/citizens,”  Why can’t the burden of proof be on the government?  Where is the proof that products claiming to be heathy are causing harm/death?  And if there is proof, let it be scrutinized before Congress who has oversight in such matters.  This is clearly a controversial and contested new policy.  Shouldn’t Congress be the tie breaker over such a highly contested change?   

And then you stated “but if it is a threshold supported by medical science” – I hate to say it but Government led medical science has completely lost it’s credibility.     It's not that I distrust science, far from it, but I do distrust biased science!

Two thoughts.

First - and we're all guilty of this - "biased science" often means science that conflicts with our own biases.

Second, my problem with the Congress - all parties - is that votes are easily influenced by a lobbyist with a healthy checkbook.  

MNB reader Austin Noll Jr. wrote:

I totally agree with your opinion regarding “healthy” on food labels. The overt use of added sugar and salt is a tragedy that has already manifested itself in obesity, heart issues, diabetes and many other health issues. And of course there is the issue of disguising these ingredients with names that most consumers do not know about or have even heard about. It’s about time the FDA stood up the the manufacturers and started representing the American public.

Responding to my review of the new Fat Tire, which is replacing my favorite Fat Tire amber ale, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

Like you, I am a red and amber fan. Always have been, and that includes Fat Tire. I guess my take is not so much whether the new version is good. I trust your veteran judgment. It's just there are tons and tons of light-colored ales and beers. There are some I like a lot so I am not feeling compelled to add this one to the fridge. What this might make me do is begin a search for another go-to amber to replace Fat Tire. I notice there are several on various shelves around the area. It's going to take a while and it will be a tough challenge, but it is one I am willing to take on…..

If you find one you like, let me know.

And, responding to my FaceTime about jazz, MNB reader Bob D'Amato wrote:

I started listening to jazz in the early 80’s.  Grover Washington Jr’s "Winelight" pulled me in and I never left.

From another MNB reader:

Happy to know you found jazz; it’s a wonderful medium. Many genres fit in to the jazz category so I refer you to a group of New Orleans buskers, “Tuba Skinny” who have captured rave reviews in the traditional jazz genre. Not appreciated by all, but I am a frequent YouTube viewer waiting for their new releases. Simply fun.

You've got me listening to Tuba Skinny, "Jam in the Van," a 2022 live album.  You're right - it is fun.  

And, from another MNB reader:

It is said that if you are a jazz or rock musician, you know you have made it if Steely Dan asks you to play with them. Wayne Shorter's solo on "Aja" only took 35 minutes of studio time but his reputation as a great jazz saxophonist had already preceded him before he walked into the Village Recorder studio with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.