Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Those wacky foodies...

Of all the burning issues to take a stand on, our (yes, you're responsible for it) government is pushing back against the the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger.
The background: We're in the midst of a merger mania, and the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department's antitrust division—the agencies tasked with assuring that mergers don't harm consumers by reducing competition—have approved almost every deal. If the nation's largest hog producer buys the second-largest hog producer? OK. Telecommunications giants SBC and AT&T want to merge? No problem. Giant supermarket company Albertson's and giant supermarket company SuperValu get together? You got it.

But when Whole Foods, the extremely successful, bobo-friendly, high-end, blue-state organic grocery chain and Wild Oats, the less successful, bobo-friendly, high-end, blue-state organic grocery chain, say they want to merge, the answer is no. This week, the FTC sued to stop this puny ($670 million) merger, saying the planned deal would "eliminate[e] the substantial competition between these two uniquely close competitors in numerous markets nationwide in the operation of premium natural and organic supermarkets" and result in higher prices and less consumer choice. [More]

Color me surprised. I didn't think any merger would rouse this administration to anti-trust action. This is a pretty small beachhead to take a stand on and have any legal/historical impact, IMHO. Organic consumption is still a tiny fraction of food sales, regardless of the press it receives.

Meanwhile, the organic soothsayers are parsing the morality of various forms of preservation for apples.
Currently, organic apples that go into storage are refrigerated at 0 °C (32 °F) under low oxygen conditions. The reduced oxygen content is maintained by a constant flow of low-grade nitrogen, the researchers explained in the paper. (The use of nitrogen and the manipulation of oxygen levels are not considered violations of organic growing principles because the storage environment, rather than the produce itself, is affected.) The refrigeration process is so expensive to maintain that most organic orchards have their fruit turned into apple butter, juice, and sauce rather than put into cold storage. As a result, few organic apples are available past the harvest months, driving up the price of the fruit. [More]

I don't know. Smells like science to me. This type of deep pondering over whether a specific technology is appropriate or not - similar to Amish rule making - is difficult for an engineer like me to embrace.

The war against technology and science may never end. But in the meantime, we progress.

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