Food Policy

Big Food Confronts High-Tech Challengers

Innovative food startups trying to curb soaring meat production can expect legal and political obstacles

Growing more and more animals for food is unsustainable. The World Health Organization predicts that global annual meat production will increase from 218 million tons in 1998 to 376 million tons by 2030. That uptick will bring with it numerous negative consequences, including deforestation, animal manure contamination of air and water and excessive use of water supplies and harmful energy sources, not to mention contributions to climate change.

Recognizing this problem, food startups backed by significant venture capital are hoping to create food products without using animals. The goal: provide a viable alternative to the existing animal foods production model that is wreaking havoc on the environment, public health and animal welfare. As a new wave of products aiming to mimic meat, eggs and dairy comes to mainstream supermarkets, Big Food’s pushback will only mount — and what started in the lab will soon make its way to the political arena.  Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Mayogate: Unilever Doctoring Customer Reviews

Big Mayo scrubbing Hellmann’s website to cover up deception after filing lawsuit against Hampton Creek

Hellmann's Page

Screen shots of Hellmann’s promotion showing altered customer reviews. (Click for larger resolution.)

Last week I wrote about the negative PR backlash against global giant Unilever for its desperate lawsuit against Hampton Creek over Just Mayo, a new product made without eggs that is quickly stealing market share from twin brands Hellmann’s and Best Foods, the market leaders. Most corporations shy away from filing these sorts of competitor lawsuits and Unilever is about to find out why.

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Big Mayo Files Frivolous Lawsuit Against Eggless Competitor

Food Giant Unilever suing Hampton Creek for daring to offer a cruelty-free and sustainable alternative, whining that: “Just Mayo already is stealing market share from Hellmann’s”

Just Mayo

Business school pop quiz: What’s a $60 billion global behemoth to do when a San Francisco start-up cuts into their profits? If answers like “innovate your products” or “hire a better marketing team” come to mind, you must not work at Unilever. That company’s response to competition is to take them to court. Unilever owns many top food brands such as Best Foods (and is also the largest deodorant maker in the world). The company is suing Hampton Creek for unfair business practices and false advertising, claiming their plant-based product called Just Mayo is deceptive to consumers because it doesn’t contain eggs. Actually that’s the whole point: to not use eggs.

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Big Food Uses Dirty Tricks in Ballot Fights over GMO Labeling and Soda Taxes

Voter initiatives in California, Oregon and Colorado illustrate what’s at stake in the food wars

On Nov. 4, voters in three Western states will decide four food-related ballot measures that seem to have little in common: The two state-level measures (in Oregon and Colorado) would require genetically engineered (aka GMO) foods to be labeled as such, and two local initiatives in California (in San Francisco and Berkeley) would place a small tax on sugary soft drinks. But they do have something in common. A large portion of the opposition for all four measures is being funded by two megacorporations: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Moreover, the opposition is using many of the same tactics. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Protein Politics: Vegetarian Meat Company Field Roast Gets Booted From Canada

As a lawyer who has called out plenty of transgressions by unethical food companies, it’s frustrating when the law gets it wrong. That’s exactly what happened to the alternative meat company Field Roast, based in Seattle, but also selling products to our neighbors to the north. That is, until the Canadian government informed Field Roast that the company’s products were mislabeled. Not only that, the products also had to be tested — wait for it — on live animals.

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Who Should Define ‘Natural’ Food?

The natural products business is booming. By some industry estimates, retail sales topped an eye-popping $100 billion last year, with nearly 60 percent coming from food. No wonder more food marketers are labeling their products — from Pepsi to Cheetos — natural. But what does the term actually mean?

Despite the term’s popularity — or because of it — there is no official definition of “natural.” With the potential to deceive consumers, the issue is now reaching a breaking point. The proposed solutions from trade groups, lawyers and government agencies range from defining the term to suing over it to ignoring it. Some consumer-advocacy organizations are even calling for a complete ban on the use of “natural” in labeling. But such disparate approaches won’t help shoppers become any less confused and may even make the problem worse.

Read rest at Al Jazeera America ….

Making Sense of Seals of Approval

These days health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking out food products not only with fewer ingredients and a “clean label”, but also foods produced in a manner that minimizes harm to the environment, among other ethical business practices. And it’s not enough to claim your product is healthy or sustainable with just words; to get that much-needed boost in a highly competitive marketplace, many food companies are spending the extra money to obtain third-party certification for various claims.

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Why Food Companies Should Fear Competitors More Than the Feds

With far too much to regulate and too few resources, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has to be selective in enforcing deceptive marketing laws. Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees all advertising, can’t police everybody. But while the feds have better things to do than troll the supermarket aisles looking for the latest dubious health claim, that doesn’t mean food marketers can get sloppy.

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Food companies should obtain legal protection to look beyond profit

By becoming benefit corporations, they can pursue social responsibility, not just the bottom line

In a marketplace full of greenwashing, I often scoff at the various certification programs that allow for-profit businesses to promote themselves as being sustainable or otherwise socially responsible. But a closer look at a certification dubbed B Corp suggests real promise. Companies with B Corp certification meet certain public benefit standards. The private certification is offered by a nonprofit called B Lab, which uses a point system to assess companies in the areas of governance, workers, community and the environment. Businesses that gain the certification can place the B Corp logo on its marketing materials — like the Fair Trade label for coffee. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Offering new legal services with The Food Law Firm

Food and Beverage Marketing: Beyond Compliance

Over the past 18 years as a lawyer and public health advocate, I have scrutinized the ways that food companies use misleading or illegal marketing to unfairly influence consumers. I will continue to call out these deceptive practices as long as the industry continues to use them.

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Contact Michele Simon: michele@eatdrinkpolitics.com

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