Wal*Mart goes "moo"

Posted on March 24, 2008

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I despise Wal*Mart. They’re vehemently anti-union in a company that desperately needs to be unionized (and this from a guy who generally isn’t a fan of unions himself). The quality of nearly all their products is utter crap to match their “you get what you pay for” prices. They’re leaders both in paying people crappy wages and in keeping their employees just below the federal limit on hours worked before they have to start providing health care. They’re arguably one of the reasons that people are so pissed off at free trade and offshoring, even as they keep spending their increasingly hard-earned dollars at Wal*Mart.

In my opinion, Wal*Mart has worked hard at earning the scorn that’s heaped on them by JibJab and South Park.

But by the gods, when Wal*Mart makes a move into a market, they command respect. They upset the status quo on compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) when they decided to prominently display the CFL bulbs and to push for a hundred million bulbs sold in the first year. And now they’re doing it again, this time requiring that their store brand milk be produced by cows that have not been fed growth hormones.

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail story, Wal*Mart is making this move as a result of demand from their customers, and the change will affect store branded milk sold in Wal*Mart and Sam’s Club stores.

“Many Wal-Mart customers have expressed a desire for milk choices,” the company’s release said. The change means Wal-Mart’s Great Value store brand milk will be rBST-free, as will milk offered at the company’s Sam’s Club warehouse locations.

“We’ve listened to customers and are pleased that our suppliers are helping us offer Great Value milk from cows that are not treated with rBST,” said Wal-Mart general merchandise manager Pam Kohn.

Also according to the article, though, is the fact that only 18% of dairy cows in the U.S. are given the hormone rBST to boost their milk production. So I can’t help but wonder how much of this is marketing and how much of it is serious concern about keeping their customers happy.

Unfortunately, if people like Steve Milloy, who is paid to manipulate public perceptions of scientific data on milk via this astro-turf website among others, and Monsanto have any say, Wal*Mart’s moves won’t matter. After all, Monsanto is trying to prevent labeling that will indicate when milk is hormone-free via a front group that was created by Monsanto’s PR firm Osborne & Barr Communications. This same tactic was used by Phillip Morris to try and debunk the dangers of second-hand smoke in the 1990s.

UPDATE: The Missouri state legislature has introduced a “misbranded” food labeling bill that specifically calls out milk labels:

1. A food shall be deemed to be misbranded:
(d) If the label contains the following production statement: “this milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST”, or a substantially equivalent claim; or
(e) If the label makes any claims regarding the composition of milk, as opposed to the manner in which milk is produced, such as “No Hormone”, “Hormone Free”, “rbST Free”, “rbGH Free”, and “bST Free”. The department of agriculture shall not permit such statements on any dairy product labels; or
(f) A statement may be considered false and misleading if it indicates the absence of a compound not permitted by the United States Food and Drug Administration to be present in any dairy product. (paragraph 12, subparagraphs d-f)

In other words, the state legislature of the state where Monsanto is headquartered is considering specifically outlawing as “misbranded” any milk product that claims to be not injected with any artificial hormones, or, for that matter, any USDA-allowed chemical. So, if the USDA allowed dairy farmers to inject their cows with arsenic (a poison), dairies wouldn’t be allowed to say “arsenic-free”, even though arsenic is poison.

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