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Forum Post: Complex problems, Simple Smart Solution?

Posted 11 years ago on Jan. 4, 2012, 7:17 p.m. EST by halfwayopposite (2)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Complex Problems, Simple Solution? We are facing a complex set of problems, but I think there may be a solution that could cut across all of them.
First, I want to tell you why I think it’s possible that it could work. In the early 1990’s a Cornell university study focused on fat content of salad dressings before and after nutrition labeling was rolled out. This study gives us a hint about the motivating power of informed consumer behavior. Some of us still remember that, not too long ago, companies didn’t have to give the consumer any nutritional information for their products. We just had to eat what they sold us. The Cornell study found that within 6 months of the first nutritional labeling, every supermarket salad dressing brand changed their formula, at least slightly altered the actual physical product they were making, in response to new customer behavior, which was based on the newly available nutritional information. People that had been buying the same blue cheese dressing for 20 years took a look at the new label and said “Holy smokes! A serving of this has 75% of your fat for the day? Hmm, maybe I’ll try this other blue cheese dressing that only has 35% .” We don’t need to destroy the profit motive, or change selfish human nature, or even smash capitalism. Maybe we can actually use the single-minded profit motive to shape industries in pro-social ways. In the case of labeling food, we didn’t need to pass laws banning high fat dressings or high sodium foods or even something patently unhealthy like transfats, we only had to pass laws that said that everything sold as food had to be nutrition labeled. The job wasn’t done then, the tasks remain of educating people, to read and understand the labels, to understand what’s actually going on in their bodies, of enforcing the laws against mislabeling, and of resisting industrial attempts to challenge or loosen labeling laws. Despite these and other health hurdles, anyone who can remember back before, in the old pre-labeling days, can see how awareness about nutrition and availability of healthier options has spread, and continues to spread. Things like fast food salads and vegetarian specialty foods were once unthinkable business moves; there was no market for it, therefore no money in it, now those healthier choices are becoming ubiquitous.

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5 Comments


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[-] 2 points by halfwayopposite (2) 11 years ago

What does this supermarket salad dressing study have to do with the demands of the 99%? I believe we need strong new labeling laws telling consumers in a quick, easy-to-read format what the real costs and the global effects are of the products that they are considering purchasing. These scores would be cumulative across the entire production chain from raw materials to disposal. I propose two separate scores, one that is a rating relative to the norms of that specific industry, and one that is an objective measure that’s the same across all industries. This label should have scores for labor relations, human rights, environmental impact, political involvement, pollution from industrial processes, pollution from transportation, what of the product and related services are based in what country, and my favorite, the ratio of the highest to lowest salaries in the entire production line. For long-term contracts or financial products there may be additional catagories informing the consumer about the character and financial record of the entity that they are entering into an agreement with.

  Who would decide on these scores?  Who would enforce the requirements?   What I am actually proposing is the creation of a federal agency that is independent from congress, well-funded, and, critically, has very strict rules about agent turnover in and out of industries.  This agency will be responsible for deciding on and publishing the formulas that determine label score.  This agency will also have the power to suspend or shut down any business that operates with false labels.  The purpose of the scores are to give the customer accurate, objective, overall-big-picture assesments of the behavior and effects of the manufacture of a product, in order to inform consumer purchases.  This agency must not be in the business of promoting or attacking any industry or company, rather, they shall enforce intelligent, objective and transparent collection and communication of important data.  The purpose of the data is to give customers the power to reward or punish industry behavior through their choices.  The market will decide what ethics it wants.
  The regulations could be rolled out slowly, in stages, the same way nutrition labeling was.  We could even put a ten year timetable for the final full label, long enough for an entire industry to spring up to help companies green their processes and improve their scores.  These helper industries will necessarily be comprised of scientists, engineers, ecologists, mediators and other specialists.  The consumer pressures may be different in different industries and at different times.  Each consumer would decide for themselves what they care about, some might make choices based on labor relations scores but ignore political activity scores, other customers may be highly aware of environmental impact scores but not be concerned with other parts of corporate behavior summarized on the label.  We will let the people decide what is acceptable business-as-usual around here.
[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 11 years ago

This is a great idea.

[-] 1 points by ithink (761) from York, PA 11 years ago

"strong new labeling laws telling consumers in a quick, easy-to-read format what the real costs and the global effects are of the products that they are considering purchasing" I love this idea. Just like we have estimates on how many calories we should consume to stay healthy.. we need to figure out how many natural resources we can consume that will keep the planet healthy and leave plenty for everyone.

[-] 1 points by ithink (761) from York, PA 11 years ago

Yes! I have been saying this as well. We damn near bankrupted the pasta industry because of a fad diet. We can make millionaires out of people and corporations who do the right thing. They will bend over backwards for us. Maybe we need something like 'consumer reports'. But instead of focusing on the durability of the product, we focus on the overall company.