Blog: Dean BestNestle, Nooyi and rotten tomatoes

Dean Best | 16 June 2008

There were plenty of rotten tomatoes thrown around the US last week in the wake of the salmonella outbreak sweeping across the sector, and some were being sent in the direction of the country’s food safety officials.

News that the salmonella scare had affected people in 17 states brought to mind similar nationwide recalls over spinach and peanut butter – and reignited the debate over the effectiveness of the US Food and Drug Administration.

There is widespread agreement that the FDA needs more money to boost its policing of the US food supply but the story of tainted tomatoes also served to bolster calls for reform of the agency.

The FDA won praise last week for being more open and providing more information on the types of tomato to avoid and the states not linked to the outbreak. Consumer groups, however, were quick to point to flaws in the FDA’s policy towards the US produce sector. As one leading consumer advocate told just-food, the crux of the whole debate is that the FDA is "reactive not preventative". Reform of the FDA seems certain but the future shape of the agency is sure to be a subject of fierce debate.

Advertising, another often controversial subject, grabbed some headlines last week, with Nestle caught in the cross-fire on both sides of the Atlantic.

First, the UK’s advertising watchdog banned a Nestle ad campaign, arguing the company’s “three-a-day” claim for whole grains was misleading and could be confused with the government-backed five-a-day message on fruit and vegetables. Nestle also came under fire in the US for failing to sign up to an industry-wide effort to limit junk-food advertising to children.

Perhaps wary of a possible PR backlash in the US, Nestle told us that it is mulling over whether to sign up to the scheme. Nevertheless, both stories only served to highlight how food manufacturers can come under pressure in the minefield of nutritional guidelines.

And, finally, one top food industry executive spoke out last week about the pressure all companies are feeling on commodity costs. PepsiCo boss Indra Nooyi controversially called on Washington to take action over rising commodity prices, warning that she sees no end in sight to the trend.

Some may scoff at her call but Nooyi’s comments shed further light on an issue affecting us all in the food industry. As she warned last week: “Food prices have gone up and consumer spending is really getting squeezed. Yes, you can pass the costs on to the consumer, but at what point will they stop buying?”


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