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Anna Lappe: Why We Should Question Walmart's Latest PR Blitz

Walmart made big news yesterday with a press conference alongside the First Lady to announce new company commitments. Most of the mainstream media coverage of the Walmart announcement seemed to buy the company PR that it was taking valiant steps to improve the affordability and health qualities of the food it sells. Among these commitments, Walmart said it will be working with food suppliers to reduce sodium, sugars, and trans fat in certain products by 2015; developing its own seal to help consumers identify healthier products; and addressing hunger by opening Walmart stores in the nation's "food deserts."

Do these Walmart promises really hold big upsides for health and food insecurity?The Times seemed to think so, running with this headline: "Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods." (Am I crazy or does that read remarkably like the Walmart press release: "Walmart Launches Major Initiative to Make Food Healthier and Healthier Food More Affordable"?) Had The Times been aiming for accuracy it might better have titled the article: "Walmart Launches PR Campaign Promoting Promises to Win the Hearts and Minds of Urban Consumers."

With little critical coverage in the mainstream media, we are left to ponder the impact of these Walmart commitments ourselves. Thankfully, we have the wisdom of experts like Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and What to Eat, to shed light on these claims. (Check out her take here). One of Nestle's most important points is that Walmart's promise to develop its own front-of-package seal is a clever preemption of work underway at the Institutes of Medicine and FDA to "establish research-based criteria" for such packaging and create regulations for the entire industry, with real oversight.  


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