Attempting to decipher what constitutes a “good” or a “bad” business or industry is an impossible task because to call any business good is a paradox. Companies exist because they have a desirable good or service, but profit is what companies need in order to survive. Therefore the profits of a business are the only parameters that define a “good” business.
The food industry is no exception to this rule. Consequently, there has been plenty of debate over how ethical the industry is in actuality. With these questions of ethics, the next issue at hand is determining who should reform it. Through the analysis of the main criticisms of the industry, the perpetrators involved, and how the system could be repaired, it is clear that the food industry is not bad as a business, it is just not ethical. Given this, there should still be reformations within the industry, specifically regarding the government and its policies on food regulation.
Any industry is going to have a plethora of complaints about its ethical attributes; however, the food industry is especially scrutinized given that it is what provides the public with what they need to survive. There are three main criticisms that surround the food industry: that they do not prioritize the health of the citizens, the industry tends to deceive their customers, and that the government should come in and “fix it”. This is highlighted when comparing the tobacco and food industries; however, while it is nearly impossible to include all aspects or similarities, there are a few imperative parallels. These can be broken down to the industry themselves and the prescribed way in which the general public should react.
As for acknowledging the criticisms, prioritizing health should always be at the forefront of a business, ethically speaking, because ultimately the customers should be the top concern. If your customers do not stay healthy, and it is evident that it is from your product, they will consequently stop using it. However, it is not possible for people to stop engaging with the food industry. As stated previously, this is something that people need in order to survive, so they cannot simply rebuke it. Given that the World Health Organization has already addressed the obesity epidemic, it is evident that the food industry must begin to regulate its products and acknowledge that their role in order to assure a healthy future for the globe.
Manipulation is synonymous with the act that the food industry commits because they manipulate their customers physically and mentally. There have been cross studies referring to the addictive effects of caffeine and comparing it to nicotine. In fact, caffeine shows clear patterns of dependence, with signs of tolerance and withdrawal. Which are similar side effects to nicotine withdrawal. This is the same effect that nicotine has on the body, continuously causing people to come back to their product; however, the main difference between the two products is that cigarettes and nicotine products are monitored.
This means that there is an effort to discourage people to buy the products and that there is also transparent communication regarding the consequences of this. As for mental manipulation, the food industry takes advantage of consumer rationality. Meaning that they are aware of how kids are attracted to cute cartoons, and how middle-aged women reminisce on being fit and twenty years old again. This might appear to be a brief blip, or an insignificant factor, but this manipulation is one of the main reasons why the food industry does well.
It also makes it explicit that they do not care for the consumers and their health, but rather the fact that they can make money from them. The food industry has not learned anything from tobacco industry, and they will continue to manipulate unless the government steps in as they did with tobacco.
Besides manipulation, a huge topic of controversy regarding the food industry is its deceitful nature. Food labels, as of late, have made leaps and bounds of improving the transparency of the product; however, there are still many improvements that need to be made. But, calories are not the only significant factor regarding the nutrition of food. Many aspects are still hidden from the public, ranging from sugar additives, sodium levels, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) amounts.
These are the more dangerous assets of food, yet companies within this industry do not disclose this information. From a business perspective, it is evident as to why companies avoid doing this, as it would decrease sales and make consumers wary of buying their products. Nevertheless, this is not an acceptable action. Misinformation or lack of information is another method that the food industry employs in order to assure that the customers will continue coming back. The argument that industry offers in regards to that is parallel to the idea that consumers are responsible for what they get.
This idea encapsulates that it is not the business or industry’s responsibility to inform the consumer, but rather that the consumer must take whatever steps they find necessary to approve and use a product. This is both true and false.
Though the public should consume responsibly, it is the liability of the business to make this information easily accessible for them. Including a brief ingredient list or monotonous nutrition fact chart in size 2 font, does not allow for the consumer to have explicit access to the information they need to responsibly decide if a product is worth it.
Another detrimental facet of misinformation is that both the tobacco and food industry are known to have paid scientists to ensure a favorable outcome from tests. This entails that the company purposely lies to their consumers in order to give them false assurance of the safety and implications of their products. Whether it is the lack of information, or falsifying of information, this is unacceptable.
So what can we do?
This is the area that needs the most attention from the government. However, as the government can benefit from the profits of these industries, as seen with tobacco, it would be advantageous to have a separate third party to assess the honesty of the government reports. The Food and Drug Association (FDA) is supposed to regulate and ensure the safety of the products entering the market; however, as they too make a profit, it is difficult to ensure the judgment of this company.
An alternative to this is to have a third-party research facility that is not paid for by the government, though this is a difficult task it would provide an unbiased, not bribed review of the product. Misinformation is a responsibility that falls onto both the consumer and producer; however, a consumer cannot get informed if the information is false or hard to find.
Government intervention is the last area of major conflict regarding the food industry, and it can be considered the most crucial. In both the tobacco and the food industry, the role of the government has been debated for and against it. The pros of having the government intervention would clearly be that they can define the legalities for the food industry to follow, just as they did with tobacco.
The downside to it is that there have been innumerable instances where the government has been shown to succumb to greed and make decisions not based on the citizens, but rather for profit. When this is the case, the public cannot trust what the government provides, thus making their own independent research futile.
Self-regulation is an alternative to government regulation. However, this option is not feasible.
Self-regulation, in the context of the food industry, would be terrifying. One couldn’t even begin to imagine what ingredients the food companies would add to their products if there was no regulation. Surely there would be an epidemic of incorporating addictive chemicals in order to ensure their customer returns. Although government intervention and regulation are necessary, it is not enough to make certain that the food industry would become ethical. As previously stated, it would be favorable for a third party to be involved. The presence of a third party that is not funded by the government would be able to unbiasedly judge the product and its consequences. Though it is difficult to perform any sort of regulation without it being completely in control of the government, this would ensure a cross-check system to overall help the public be aware of what they purchase and put in their bodies.
Tobacco VS Food
The food industry is not perfect and should not be considered an ethical entity; however, you cannot call it a “bad” business. Despite the subjectivity of the terms “good” or “bad”, the food industry does what business should and that is to make a profit. Where they fall short is regarding the ethical responsibilities that any business should strive to have beyond profits.
The leaders of the food industry should look at the tobacco industry as an example of what not to do, and as the food industry can be just as harmful as the tobacco industry if not reformed now.
The citizens’ health should be a priority, the industry should provide concise and transparent information regarding their products, and the government should work in tandem with a third party in order to assure the regulation of food products. These are just a few criticisms that would ensure the reliability of the food industry and the safety of the citizens around the world.