Dear Mr. McNiff and Ms. Chang,
ABC’s 20/20 program that aired on November 22, 2013, aimed to draw out ‘confessions’ from the grocery, bartending, veterinary and trucking industries. On behalf of the Food Marketing Institute, the trade association for the food retail industry, I write to express concerns with the segment addressing grocers and grocery shopping.
This segment lofted a number of allegations at the food retail industry, including questioning the safety of products in the deli and in the ready-to-eat areas, asserting practices in the produce section that are marketing oriented and dangerous, accusing grocers of product date label tampering and more.
Food retailers devote a great amount of time, energy and money to appropriately address these types of issues but unfortunately, your segment sought to go the route of skimming the surface of all these issues in a sensational way and in so doing provided an incomplete, unsubstantiated and misinformed picture of each topic raised. What is most tragic about the fear-over-fact tact taken is that the segment could have offered practical help to the public regarding safe and wise shopping, simply by offering a more substantive look at these important issues.
For instance, your precursory treatment of product dating perpetuated the consumer confusion regarding the intent of food product dates. Furthermore, regarding tampering with the dates, in accordance with Federal regulations, a retailer is unauthorized to change a manufacturer-applied product date. For fresh items, food retailers abide by strict food safety standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (e.g., meats) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (e.g., produce).
We could take the segment apart issue by issue, and in each case we believe ABC 20/20 failed to provide its viewers with content experts to substantiate the claims made by the program. The segment revealed a shocking lack of fact-finding or research on retail food industry practices.
As we shared in our original statement provided to 20/20, FMI has a number of resources and science-based research we would have been happy to share had we been given the opportunity in a timely fashion. We believe the addition of credible sources providing an industry perspective would have made the segment more compelling, more informative and above all more accurate for a public actually interested in shopping for and preparing their holiday meals in a safe fashion. For future segments addressing issues in the food retail industry, we would welcome the opportunity to work with show producers.
Senior Vice President, Communications
Food Marketing Institute