Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Letter to food industry researcher

Dr Alison Henderson
Senior Lecturer
Department of Management Communication
University of Waikato
Private Bag 3105
New Zealand
Phone: 0064 (7) 838 4466 ext 6111
>>> Winston Riley <> Monday, 12 October 2009 4:57 AM >>>

Dear Dr. Henderson:
Congratulations on receiving the Mardsen Fund Research Grant.

My research has helped me to agree with Marion Nestle that food companies will produce anything which is profitable, whether it is healthy or not.
Still, I think that what we are mostly dealing with is culture...specifically corporate culture. It is inherited. It is a legacy.

Slowly we are learning to break the chain of irresponsible and destructive corporate behavior. Unfortunately when we are dealing with food issues, the bad corporate behavior can result in catastrophic results in terms of human health and suffering, and environmental crimes.

The problem is even more tragic around the world, where the issue isn't obesity but starvation. I'm sure if someone will continue to tunnel to the bottom of the root problem, they'll grasp the connection to obese Americans and starving world citizens.

I find the solution to be to educate the employees and executives in the corporations. Gradually this is occurring. But naturally, employees will defend their employer. The pay and benefits which they receive is how their children are clothed, fed and educated. It is a threat, as understandably it should be, to suggest that their employer is causing havoc to health and the envirnoment.

But if they came to see that their employer could still provide all the security which they've come to rely on, AND become a better global steward--and especially if they were to grasp the danger to children which their own employer is risking, in the name of profit--they would want to know the truth.

We feel that foods should be first--SAFE. Next, they should be nutritious. And finally, their value should be assessed by the ecological and ethical ramifications related to their production. We hope that a standard will be developed by a third party, organized and supported by the industry, which are the food wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers.

If we can be of service to you, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely yours,
--Winston RileyChief Executive OfficerEcological Food Manufacturers Association417-581-0738www.ecofma.comPlease follow on Twitter: ecofma

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where, Oh Where, Has our Healthy Food Gone?

Where, Oh Where, Has our Healthy Food Gone?
by Winston Riley

Food production, processing, distribution and retailing has never been under more scrutiny by consumers, and regulators than it is today. To chart a course for a reformed food industry, the first step is to understand the problems. Does government and industry support a safe and nutritious food supply? Sadly, no. What can be done?

Food Activists Wanted
People have the power to change the system. It can be as basic as ABC.

A. Lifestyle. Before people take outside action, they must first accept responsibility for themselves. Developing a healthy lifestyle requires we eat a sensible diet, with an abundance of fresh, natural foods, especially vegetables, fruits and whole grains. When eating processed foods, seek those with as few ingredients as possible and avoid those with potentially harmful ingredients and chemicals. By adopting this lifestyle, you become an activist for Food Industry Reform, because you are "voting" with your food dollars.

B. RAISE YOUR FORK FOR REFORM ( The process of democracy works but requires action. We recommend that all people become activists in the fight to reform the industrial food system. There are two ways to "vote with your fork."

  1. Tell food companies you want more alternatives of safe, nutritious, ecological foods (foods which are good for the planet and good for people).
  2. Tell elected officials to support legislation for sustainable agriculture and a reformed food system. These are the critical things to address, regarding policy:
  • Change policies which support prices for corn, soy, wheat and rice (especially corn and soy). Huge subsidies and other incentives are offered to large industrial style farmers, making it difficult for the small farmer, who uses ecological farming methods to compete. These policies make corn and soy products very inexpensive as ingredients for the large food corporations. The result are thousands of foods which contain "cheap calories." The problem is, even though the foods seem inexpensive at the check-out counter, the system puts the true expense on consumers and the environment. Nearly 2/3 of our healthcare costs are to treat diabetes, obesity and heart disease, which are all related to diet. Industrial farming uses extreme petro-chemical inputs in the form of fuel, pesticides and fertilizers, which transfers the expense to an ailing environment, plagued by polluted water, vanishing top soil and a depleted ozone layer. In turn, because of market forces, created by this system, organic and other healthy foods are expensive and much less available.
  • Require federal and state standards and oversight of CAFOs (block industry-determined standards). Confined animal feeding operations increase potentials for disease transfer, the irresponsible use of antibiotics and other chemicals, and tragedic environmental degradation.
  • Reward farmers for using less chemical pesticides and fertilizers (especially petro based chemicals).
  • Change labeling laws to require warnings about GM (genetically modified) foods.
  • Provide policy support for the production of safe, nutritious, ecological foods, including at the manufacturing level.

C. Changing Corporate DNA. Businesses always respond to consumers. Therefore as consumers, we need to inform businesses that we want to buy products and services from companies we trust. The reform of the food industry is as much about sustainable corporate culture as sustainable agriculture. Food companies need to adopt a corporate culture driven by a genuine concern for all life and ecosystems. This will require that they constantly challenge their own corporate behavior to rise to higher and higher standards in three areas, known as CR, TBL and RT.

  1. CR or CSR. CR (Corporate Responsibility or Corporate Social Responsibility) is a self-regulating mechanism in which businesses monitor and ensure adherence to law and ethical standards. More precisely, it is a framework to ensure that businesses embrace responsibility for the impact of their activities on the environment, ecosystems, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all global citizens.
  2. TBL. TBL (Triple Bottom Line) is the modern way to spell success. Instead of the corporate model based on one driving goal--financial profit, TBL requires that the management and employees of an organization measure their success by mastering all three areas of People, Planet and Profit. In other words, build the business around the idea of creating products and services which protect the environment and contribute to the well being of people, while still producing reasonable profit for the business.
  3. RT. RT (Radical Transparency) is a management approach which requires that all decisions, all behavior, all marketing efforts, and all reporting are totally transparent. In other words, information should not be suppressed or reserved for "upper management," but should be visible and readily accessible to the public.

By practicing the tenets of CR, TBL and RT, food companies will become more profitable by doing the right thing. As a natural outcome of practicing CR, TBL and RT, retail and wholesale grocers, manufacturers and foodservice operators will continue to improve at "walking the talk." By being truly ECOLOGICAL, a new symbionic relationship will develop between consumers and food businesses, and the ultimate benefit will be renewed health and vigor of humans and ecosystems.

This Isn't About Turning Over the Apple Cart
The food industry is important and should not be vilified. Without the food industry we wouldn't be able to function. Period. The concept of producing our own food is not realistic for most of us, and besides that, we have developed in to a complex society and are driven to do other things than be farmers. We are very fortunate to have farmers who care, a rich and wonderful agricultural history, and a food system which is amazing, efficient, and practical. The basic structure of a healthy food system is in place. We would be foolish to follow such tactics as "refusing to buy advertised food."

Corporations are really just people. We all have very similar concerns about the health of our children and our planet. To improve the well being of the things which matter most, we need to work together. Then the pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow, will be discovered at the meeting place of happy people and happy businesses: our happy home, planet Earth!

Winston Riley is the founder of the Ecological Food Manufacturers Association, a former chef and a radical green warrior activist. He can be reached at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The New and Improved Food Industry

The New and Improved Food Industry
by Winston Riley

While Farmer's Markets, local organic fruits and vegetables and the Slow Food movement are broadening the definition of grocery shopping, especially for the affluent, there are lots of ways that the food industry can improve, besides just supporting sustainable agriculture. Thatcher Young writes "Organic foods (and other industries) are all stepping up to the plate," when it comes to Moving From Standards to Sustainability in his article of the same name from

The article makes some excellent suggestions about what can and can't be controlled when breaking down a sustainability plan into digestible pieces. My weariness doesn't spring from his viewpoint. In fact, I support the idea of developing standards, and I also agree that creating a sustainability plan is necessary. What is starting to "wear me out" is the notion that the food industry's only medicine is to buy local and/or buy organics. Organics are great and the category has enjoyed explosive growth because it is important. People and planet are doing better because of work done by the Organic Trade Association, as well as other wonderful efforts to expand the consumption of organic products. But even more important than the tactic of shifting from traditional farming to sustainable agriculture is the CULTURE shift in large and small companies to embrace the notion of the triple bottom line.

Later, I'll return to Thatcher's idea as I describe our plan. But first, the appeal. We are the Ecological Food Manufacturers Association (EFMA) and we need help. We need all eyes on deck. Will you help us connect the dots? If you have a source who may be connected to another source--will you help us find a few good MENtions? What we need are dedicated believers who are already doing this. We hoped Gary Hirshberg, from Stonyfield Farm, would be our poster child, but he's too busy. We understand. The people we need and the companies they work for don't have to be superstars. But we do need to find a few people who want to help get this organization going.

A first question, when confronted with this appeal may be "What good will it do?" To answer the question, one only needs to consider the environmental impact which our food industry makes. Looking at the many ways the environment is affected by food production--agriculture, health, water use, energy, waste, emissions--let's just agree the moral imperitave to reform the food industry doesn't need to be discovered. But still, let's examine the reason for reform. First we should describe what Ecological Foods are. I define the category as "beyond organics" because a company can be ecological in dozens of ways besides using organic ingredients. The laws of supply and demand will encourage more food companies to increase their green behavior, and these same companies will add more green products and grow the production of their existing eco brands. The untold benefits to the environment will cover the gammet from generating less waste, using energy and resources more efficiently, being better global citizens, expanding fair trade practices, and drastically slashing emissions.

But now take a cosmic leap forward to the health benefits and by extension the reduction in health care costs. Take another leap to the direct impact on consumers of seeing food as their connection to the environment and the sustainability movement. EFMA simply wants to expand the sustainability umbrella beyond shelter (now radically improved thanks to LEED and USGBC) to include food. We'll leave clothing and Maslow to another researcher and problem solver.

The second question which is more important--What is the benefit to being a member? The simple answer is PROFIT. Still, the skeptics want proof that becoming a green food manufacturer won't add cost to an already challenging business climate.

We'll start with the obvious... BUILDINGS. Green commercial buildings pay for themselves in three to five years (so goes the typical claim). I'll let your fingers do the googling to help you arrive at your own conclusions. But it's safe to say a green building doesn't cost you money but makes you money--the only debate is about how soon. It is widely reported (WSJ Sep 2009) that commercial real estate accounts for nearly 20% of U.S. energy use, making the sector one of the biggest opportunities for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

PACKAGING--Approximately 3/4 of companies sustainability efforts now focus on packaging, according to global supply chain researcher AMR. In an article from the Feb 16 issue of Industry Week, it was reported that using sustainable packaging is a cost saver, when practicing a 4D Methodology of Ergonomics, Cost, Sustainability and Logistics.

DISTRIBUTION--By practicing alternatives to worn out trucking practices, (such as those promoted at, a service provided by the American Trucking Associations in cooperation with the Transportation Environmental Resource Center), a company will make more money by saving money.

The likely argument is "We don't need to join another trade association to do those things, we're already doing them." But that IS the reason to join trade associations. To better the industry by meeting and sharing and inviting outside experts. For instance, what better place for members of the food industry to learn about intricate and technical information, specific to sustainability? INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY is the shifting of industrial process from linear (open loop) systems, in which resource and capital investments move through the system to become waste, to a closed loop system where wastes become inputs for new processes. It is imperitave that the industry help define the parameters and challenges so closed loops can be created. The analysis will be much more efficient and cost effective if the industry, including manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers work together.

Again though, these are supply chain cost savings, which will increase profit. Taken in isolation from growth, this represents billions of dollars of potential savings. But by far the biggest upside to profit is new and incremental sales. As L. Hunter Lovins, the sustainable icon and co-author of the Magnum Opus, Natural Capitalism, is fond of saying, "The companies and individuals who embrace sustainability today will be the billionaires of tomorrow." She finishes that statement with a warning from Ed Woolard of Dupont, "Don't worry about those that don't--they won't be around much longer!"

In short, the WHY JOIN question can be answered by our mission statement. We will help companies produce products which are good for the planet, good for people and also profitable to produce AND we will help promote the category of Ecological Foods. We are the only organization to take this all encompassing approach. EFMA is the one stop shop for the sustainable food industry. We will work with as many sister organizations as possible--but we'll focus on helping our members make money by doing the right thing.


EFMA has launched its own food initiative campaign, starting with Food Initiative 2010. The idea is for wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers to work together to identify and prioritize the details of the food industry sustainability management plan. Again, others have approached the subject and claim to be working on it. The difference is the methodology. While other organizations continue to hold summits and conferences so members can hear from experts in the sustainability field, EFMA declares that THE EXPERTS ARE IN THE ROOM! No one knows more about the food industry than the wholesalers and retailers and manufacturers who have created it. Our approach is to start with five categories: Waste, Resource Use, Climate Change, Health and Fair Trade and choose one initiative from each category that the entire industry can work on together.

If we continue to approach the complex issues of sustainability as separate entitities, all with our own marketing agendas, we'll waste an enormous amount of time, energy and money. But if we take small bites out of it, while holding hands, we'll be swift and effective. If the scientists are correct, that our most serious threat is climate change, and if they are also correct that we have fewer than ten years to get this right, we really need to be moving together, STARTING NOW.

SESNE Score (Standards of Excellence in Safety, Nutrition and Ecology).
The standards and metrics which Mr. Young mentioned in his article, quoted in the start of this piece, will be a natural part of product development for the food industry. As we create ecological foods in closed loop systems, from our green buildings, which are packaged and distributed in new ways, we need a process, to demonstrate to consumers, which products are best. The task of creating standards and metrics is being attacked by hundreds of groups, consortia, colleges and individual companies.

There are marketing programs such as Smart Choices (which claim sugary cereals as healthy) and legitimate efforts from such organizations as ANSI (American National Standards Institute), with dozens of others in between. EFMA will serve as a liaison for the third party that will work with the ENTIRE industry. We may as well face the fact that the cost of this assessment will rest on the manufacturers.

There is hot debate about multiple standards (such as SESNE) as opposed to single standards (Life Cycle Assessment, social impact, green house gas emissions, water use, nutrition, safety). EFMA feels that a simple to understand number of five digits, with the first number between 1 to 9 showing safety, the next two numbers to 99 rating nutrition, and the last two digits also to 99 measuring the total ecological and ethical value will be a valid universal guide for consumers to identify safe, nutritious, good-for-the-planet foods. The technology and the ability to rate foods, according to these standards is available NOW. We shouldn't wait for the government or for one major player to make the rules.

  • SAFETY. EFMA feels that the first criteria for Ecological Foods should be safety. If a food isn't safe, then why is it allowed to be produced? Moreover, there are degrees of safety from foods produced by traditional agriculture using pesticides to foods with questionable additives such as petroleum based food colorings. Much of this information is not available about foods. In some cases the industry and the government have made it difficult to find out.

    NUTRITION. Closely related to safety is nutrition. We know that 1/2 to 2/3 of our health care crisis is directly related to diet. We also know that the food industry is implicated because of the choices of foods which are available. The diet of many Americans is unhealthy because of the abundance of "cheap calorie" foods. As more nutritious choices are available, the rules of the marketplace will bring down prices of nutritious alternatives.

    ECOLOGY. Both safety and nutrition are connected to ecology because a healthy ecosystem includes healthy humans, but the final test of a product's worthiness, when viewed by its ecological value, will be the environmental and social impact created by making it. We feel that one index, covering all three areas and taking only the space of five digits, will be the best standard for consumers.

From the June 2009 Workshop Report from the American National Standards Institute, entitled, TOWARD PRODUCT STANDARDS AND SUSTAINABILITY, this was the most important point which received unanimous consent:

Panelists agreed that while there are various approaches to standards development, the single most important component of a successful
standard is participation by an inclusive set of stakeholders.

It was announced in July 2009 that Walmart's products will display sustainabilitindex to rate the environmental impact from design-to-disposal of every product it sells. Though the claim is that this will be an industry index, many show concern that the conversation should be widened beyond those currently included in the Walmart consortium.

All manufacturers will be required to comply with the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) process or they will be eliminated as Walmart suppliers. Many questions arise about the implications of this announcement and the bearing this will have on the food industry. For one, the obvious concern by other retailers is how this will affect market share. Currently, Walmart has the enviable position of selling nearly 1/3 of all the food which is purchased in the U.S. Will Walmart's push for this label enable Walmart to continue to outdistance other retailers, thereby widening the gap between them and other chains? And what will this mean for the hundreds of thousands of independent grocers? Will they loose business by not being able to participate in a sustainability conversation with manufacturers because their buying power will limit them?

EFMA would like to see such an index be a true industry index, in which all stakeholders will be involved in the process to score products for consumers. By working with wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers, including Walmart but not under the control of Walmart, the industry will be well prepared to supply thoroughly researched and transparent guidelines to help consumers make well informed purchasing decisions.

For more information about EFMA, see and for more information about Food Initiative 2010, see

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tell Food Companies--Its Time

The film, Food, Inc. is a must see event. From the website you read: Food, Inc. exposes America's industrialized food system and its effect on our environment, health, economy and workers' rights.

Many solutions are being discussed and there are hundreds of groups and organizations doing wonderful work. The organic foods movement has significantly helped by increasing the availability and awareness of healthy and safe foods.

Gary Hirshberg, founder and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, insists that business has the power to heal the planet in time to prevent catastrophe. And his company is doing its share to provide healthy and safe food choices, while they simultaneously address environmental issues. Gary points out that if just one hundred large companies lowered their emissions by 5 percent, it would be equivalent to taking 25 million cars off the road for a year. Now imagine if those one hundred companies were food companies, also devoted to producing "Ecological Foods," which are good for the consumer and good for the planet.

Over one-half of our healthcare costs are related to treating preventable illness and diseases related to diet, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Marion Nestle, noted author, nutritionist and professor at NYU points out in her book, Food Politics, that "Food companies will make and market any product that sells, regardless of its nutritional value or its effect on health." Does that sound like another industry which has been implicated for lung cancer? Yes indeed. In fact many food companies have a direct link to the tobacco industry because the food companies themselves are part of the same corporations which sell cigarettes!

So the cumulative effect to the environment and to consumer health of one hundred food companies joining the movement to produce Ecological Foods would be astounding! And guess what? The food companies will do what you tell them. That's right. The food companies will respond to consumer demand for healthy, wholesome foods, produced by sound ecological practices. If our grandparents could produce foods for the winter without one harmful chemical and without any advanced technology, I'm quite certain our food suppliers can learn to do the same.

Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore's Dilemma suggests that we consumers "vote with our forks." Here's our chance to enjoy more healthy foods and for the planet to heal in the process. Send a letter or email to the food companies and tell them that you are Raising Your Fork for Reform. The Ecological Food Manufacturers Association (EFMA) has been created to help food companies learn to produce foods which are healthy for the planet, and healthy for the customer. Tell the food companies that they should become a member of EFMA today and start healing the planet. Tell them your children will thank them, the planet will thank them and their stockholders will thank them!