As I’ve said before when writing about Chipotle Mexican Grill, you cannot make this stuff up. Just as Chipotle was running out its summer rewards programs for its most loyal and frequent customers, the company’s marketing man, Mark Crumpacker, was indicted in the Big Apple for allegedly being a repeat customer of a cocaine delivery service. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged three people for allegedly operating the cocaine-trafficking ring, along with 18 “repeat buyers,” including, they claim, Crumpacker. According to information filed by the district attorney, “Members of the ring allegedly used car services to deliver the drugs to buyers, including to delis, restaurants, bars, apartments, hotels, and the buyers’ workplaces. The defendants delivered to locations across Manhattan, including the Lower East Side, the Upper East Side, Chelsea, the Financial District, and Midtown, as well as areas of Brooklyn and Queens. Many of the sales took place in delis or Duane Reade and CVS pharmacies. Customers generally paid between $200 and $300 per transaction.” Chipotle put the 52-year-old Crumpacker on leave. He made $4.3 million in 2015. Customers turned away in droves after Chipotle experienced a half-dozen separate outbreaks of various foodborne diseases in the last half of last year. Chipotle stock remains in the dump at less than $400 a share, compared with its high of $750 before the many outbreaks. While Crumpacker had failed to do anything about getting Chipotle customers back, he may have been gaining experience in one very successful repeat customer program. Chung CHUNG! Let’s move on. As an old politician once told me, “There is only so much oxygen in the room.” It was his way of explaining why any body politic can only handle just so many issues at a time. For that reason, it is always troubling whenever there is something in the food safety space that is of tangential importance or less. Food labels are one of those tangential issues. The space on any food package is finite. The freedom of commercial speech has usually meant that government must have a good reason to compel the space on the food label that the government dictates. Then along came this marketing campaign by the organic industry to politically force a label on food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Food safety was once put up as the compelling government interest in doing so — like when this all started back a decade or more. But that dog ceased to hunt a long time ago. Every scientific body of note in the world has concluded that genetically modified food is just as safe as other food. Four of the most populous Western states put GMO labeling on their ballots, and voters in all four voted it down. A couple dozen other states heard bills and voted it down in their legislatures. Then tiny Vermont passed a law that is now technically in effect as of July 1, but which is going to be essentially unenforced for the next six months, supposedly. Coca-Cola has reportedly pulled its products from Vermont grocery shelves out of an abundance of caution. Other, mostly smaller food manufacturers, have also pulled out of Vermont. There are only about major 88 grocery stores in Vermont, which will likely mean that other products will be dropping out of the state. But that has not gotten much attention until the Coke announcement this weekend. The U.S. District Court for Vermont let the state GMO labeling law stand, and the appeal by the Grocery Manufacturers Association has yet to change anything. All of this brings us up to the moment. Either Congress acts to assert its jurisdiction or cedes the issue to the states. Last Wednesday, the Senate voted 68-29 in a test of support for a compromise cooked up by U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), respectively the Senate Agriculture Committee’s chairman and ranking member. This coming Wednesday the Senate votes for real, and this one ain’t going to be over until the proverbial fat lady sings. Organic industry groups and their allies are making a last stand against the Senate compromise bill. They favor “state sovereignty” when it comes to GMO labeling, plus a lot of civil and criminal penalties. Under the Senate compromise that will be on the floor this coming week, there would be a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients, although manufacturers would have options about how they present the information. It is said that this compromise proposal would cover 24,000 more products than the Vermont law. States would be taken out of the labeling business. Sen. Roberts says the new disclosure system would protect biotech products from “being denigrated by opponents.” Some say that was the goal of GMO labeling all along. Favorable votes by the Senate this week won’t bring this long saga to an end, but it will be pretty close. The House of Representatives turned a bipartisan vote last year to put the states out of GMO labeling. If the Senate compromise gets to them, the House will likely pass it. Then we will feel the oxygen again filling the room. I felt that once before and it felt good. It was the day when we did not have to write about horse slaughter anymore.
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