Integrity is foremost in food pipeline

June 26, 2014

Our industry can’t afford to mask challenges with softer-sounding euphemisms.

The food industry should be careful not to catch GM-itis 

An internal General Motors Powerpoint, coupled with a Congressional Committee’s recent grilling of CEO Mary Barra, revealed how the bailed-out domestic carmaker showed America its gratitude.  

The company purposely distanced itself from a faulty ignition switch and other defects through language – as if they would go away on their own.  (For anyone who missed it, for 10 years General Motors knew the faulty ignition switch could cause cars to shut off, but didn’t report it.  GM, reported TIME, acknowledged the switch’s role in 13 deaths – and has issued 44 recalls for 20 million vehicles globally.)

Company linguists and lawyers were active.  A 2008 Powerpoint urged workers not to compare GM cars to the “Titanic” or “Hindenburg,” or to use descriptors such as “deathtrap,” “dangerous” or “inferno.” Also, “defects” were to become “issues.” These were some of 69 banned words or phrases, according to a May 16, 2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration consent order. (Document link located in first paragraph of TIME article)

Food executives could look at this and see how words could affect lives.  When people ride in cars, they implicitly trust the vehicles were built to certain quality and performance standards – which, we believe at The Lempert Report, should motivate work of exceedingly high quality.  Engineering, not syllables, are needed.

Integrity is at least as important in the food supply chain.  Consequences could be extreme if a ground beef or lettuce supplier with product contaminated by e.coli is slow to recall, a yogurt manufacturer isn’t forthright about mold, or a snacks maker doesn’t reveal soy, wheat or nut allergens on its processing lines.  Our thought is for all industry members – though suppliers and retailers are the most visible.

Our industry has its challenges – labeling, food waste, conservation, recalls, and the humane treatment of animals among them.  To have a chance of resolving them for the public good (and our own) requires a collective candor and good will.  We encourage industry to stay on this promising road of honesty and trust.