Tag Archives: walmart

Should big insurance become like Walmart to lower health costs?

Retail titan Walmart uses its market dominance to inflict “ruthless,” “brutal” and “relentless” pressure on prices charged by suppliers, business writers frequently report.

What if huge health insurance companies could push down prices charged by hospitals and doctors in the same way?

The idea is getting new attention as already painful health costs accelerate and major medical insurers seek to merge into three enormous firms.

Now that hospitals have themselves combined, in many cases, into companies that dominate their communities, insurance executives argue the only way to fight bigness is bigness.

No. 2 health insurer Anthem’s proposed marriage to No. 6 Cigna would let the combined company “manage the cost drivers that negatively impact affordability for consumers,” Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish told Congress last year. The bigger company could “negotiate better reimbursement rates” with medical providers, says Anthem spokeswoman Jill Becher.

In metro areas with only a few big insurers, hospital and doctor bills tend to be lower than what economists would otherwise expect. If only one or two insurers are bidding to include providers in their networks, hospitals and doctors must submit to the offered deal or risk getting shut out of a huge piece of business.

“There’s some literature out there that does show that when you have relatively concentrated insurance markets, they tend to keep actual hospital costs down,” said Yevgeniy Feyman, a researcher at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a fellow with the Manhattan Institute.

The American Hospital Association as well as the American Medical Association, trade groups for hospitals and doctors respectively, have long worried that insurance mergers do just that. Now that Anthem is trying to buy Cigna, and No. 3 health insurer Aetna wants to buy No. 5 Humana, they’re even more concerned.

Both deals “have the very real potential to reduce competition substantially” and “diminish the insurers’ willingness to be innovative partners with providers and consumers,” AHA lawyer Melinda Reid Hatton wrote to antitrust authorities after the combos were announced.

But hospitals have built their own market power through numerous mergers, giving them broad ability to raise prices paid by employers, taxpayers and consumers beyond what a competitive market would allow, economists argue.

Hospitals “are much more concentrated than insurance markets,” said Glenn Melnick, a health care economist at the University of Southern California who has researched the matter. “They face a lot less competition than the [health] plans do.”

Why not give hospital giants somebody their own size to negotiate with?

For one thing, insurers might just pocket higher profits from low provider prices instead of passing the savings to consumers and employers.

“I don’t find any evidence that reduction in provider payment leads to reduction in insurance premiums, and I don’t know of any study that does,” said Leemore Dafny, an expert in insurance markets and an economist at Harvard Business School.

Feyman suggests requiring insurers in concentrated areas to spend 90 percent of their revenue on medical care. That might reduce their ability to boost profits with premium increases while preserving their ability to hold down hospital and doctor costs, he said.

But he sees such a measure as only a “worst-case scenario” for the most monopolized insurance markets, not a recipe to allow the Anthem and Aetna deals to go through.

Antitrust regulators are siding with the hospitals and doctors.

Late last month the Justice Department sued to block both insurance mergers, arguing that competition is important to keep premiums down and that the deals “would leave much of the multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry in the hands of three mammoth insurance companies.”

They also rejected the Walmart argument, which is related to what economists call “monopsony.”

Monopsony is the opposite of monopoly: Instead of using market dominance to raise prices for consumers, huge buyers force down prices from suppliers. Walmart is often described as holding monopsony-like power.

But critics of the insurance deals say monopsony can go too far. If the buyer pushes prices too low, suppliers stop producing, making needed goods and services unavailable.

“As a result of the merger, Anthem likely would reduce the rates that … providers earn by providing medical care to their patients,” the Justice Department argued. “This reduction in reimbursement rates likely would lead to a reduction in consumers’ access to medical care.”

Accepting Walmart logic for health care might bolster arguments for an even bigger, more powerful buyer of medical services: the government.

A “single-payer,” government health system, of the type advocated by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, would be the ultimate monopsony: one buyer, negotiating or dictating prices for everybody.

Neither the hospitals nor the insurance companies want that.

This report was published by Kaiser Health News and ran on NPR. KHN is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Court rejects corporate bids to toss class action cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected two corporate challenges in class action cases, refusing to hear bids by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wells Fargo to throw out large judgments against them.

Wal-Mart had sought to get rid of a $187 million class action judgment over the retailer’s treatment of workers in Pennsylvania. Wells Fargo Co wanted the justices to toss a $203 million judgment over allegations the bank had imposed excessive overdraft fees.

The court’s decisions on whether to hear the cases had been on hold pending its action in a separate class action case involving Tyson Foods Inc.

On March 22, the court in that case backed workers at a pork facility in Iowa who said they were entitled to overtime pay and damages because they were not paid for the time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment and walking to work stations.

Entering the court’s current term, which began in October, the justices had issued a series of rulings in recent years clamping down on class action litigation, a goal of big business.

But that trend has not continued. The court has heard three important class action cases this term. In January, it ruled against advertising firm Campbell-Ewald and in March ruled against Tyson Foods.

The justices have yet to issue a ruling in a case argued in November in which online people-search service Spokeo Inc sought to avoid a class action lawsuit for including incorrect information in its database.

In declining to hear Wal-Mart’s appeal, the court left intact a 2014 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that largely upheld a lower court judgment awarding the $187 million to the plaintiffs.

The case affects about 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who worked in Pennsylvania between 1998 and 2006.

“We are disappointed the Supreme Court decided not to review our case. While we continue to believe these claims should not be bundled together in a class action lawsuit, we respect the court’s decision,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

The Pennsylvania court mostly upheld a 2007 lower court ruling in favor of the employees, who said the company failed to pay them for all hours worked and prevented them from taking full meal and rest breaks. The appeals court threw out a $37 million attorneys’ fee award and ordered the trial court to recalculate that portion of the judgment.

In the Wells Fargo case, the justices left in place a 2014 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the class action judgment against the bank.

American attitudes toward animals are shifting

Ever since WiG added a pet section last year, countless stories have come to our attention demonstrating the surprising lengths that Americans go to care for their furry friends. At a time when senseless violence dominates the news, greed overwhelms our society and hateful, divisive rhetoric guides our political process, these stories remind us that the human heart still beats strong.

The manner in which people treat animals says a lot about them. Psychologists have discovered a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and a predisposition for violence toward people, marking them as a threat to society.

Although most animal abuse cases go unreported, those that do come to public attention face increasingly harsh penalties. Before 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws on their books. Today, all 50 states have such laws, although punishments vary greatly in severity.

In addition to concern about their pets, a growing number of people are also questioning the treatment of the domesticated animals we eat. Scientists have discovered that mammals raised as food, like those bred for human companionship, possess the same levels of self-awareness, intelligence, personalities and emotions that pets do. That’s an uncomfortable thing for people who enjoy a pork chop or a steak to consider.

Until very recently the treatment of “farmed” animals was largely overlooked. A growing number of revelations about the brutal, torturous conditions under which factory farm animals suffer, however, has made it all but impossible to ignore the cruelty any longer.

Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.”  Posing as slaughterhouse workers, members of groups such as Mercy for Animals have made and released numerous videos of the heinous abuse that awaits factory farm animals at the end of their miserable lives. They’ve lifted the curtains.

In response, Big Ag has given money to lawmakers to introduce so-called “ag-gag” bills that make it a crime to video or photograph abuse. Eight states have enacted such laws, but a federal judge struck down a bill in Idaho, raising First Amendment questions about all such laws.

Wisconsin Republicans planned to introduce an ag-gag law in the state last year but apparently decided to put the idea on hold.

The revelations about factory farms are changing how Americans eat. The number of vegetarians and vegans in the United States skyrocketed from 1 percent in 2009 to 5 percent — or 16 million people — last year. Raw Food World reports that roughly 42 percent of people who’ve given up consumption of animal products cite an educational film with prompting their decision. Sixty-nine percent said they chose to eat a vegan diet to support the ethical treatment of animals.

Food producers didn’t object to the cruelty, but they are responding to the shift in consumer behavior. In October, Starbucks joined McDonald’s, Unilever, Burger King, Walmart and other major food providers in setting a specific timeline to switch over to cage-free egg suppliers. Although the term “cage free” doesn’t mean what it sounds like, it’s better than the alternative.

But male chicks continue to be dumped alive into meat grinders.

Aware consumers are also influencing lawmakers. Nine states, including the agricultural behemoth California, have banned battery cages, which pile chickens together in such small quarters that many are crushed to death. States have also banned gestation crates, which confine pregnant pigs to cages so small that they can’t stand or move.

Those actions represent the start of a revolution in the way Americans think about the treatment of animals, and we urge readers to join in. Support animal welfare groups. Contact your elected officials are urge them to vote no on bills such as ag gag. Ask restaurants if they use “cage free” eggs and where they source their meat and dairy products.

As Czech writer Milan Kundera put it, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test … consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”

See also:

Majority of Ashland, Bayfield county residents oppose proposed mega hog farm

Petco drops small-animal supplier amid federal probe

Did slaves peel your frozen shrimp? A guide to the issue and what to do

Enslaved migrant workers and children are ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp at processing factories in Thailand, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp going from one peeling shed to major Thai exporting companies. Then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, they tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.

U.S. customs records show the farmed shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. AP reporters in all 50 states went shopping and found related brands in more than 150 stores across America.

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to labor abuse, and many said they were launching investigations.

Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?

A: That’s a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

Q: What shrimp brands and companies did the AP find linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef’s Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman’s Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.

Q: AP reporters visited supermarkets chosen at random in all 50 states. Where did they find shrimp linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D’Agostino Supermarket; Dan’s Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry’s Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano’s; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin’s Super Markets; McDade’s Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall’s Food Market; Redner’s Warehouse Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van’s Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.

Q: Thailand has been in the news a lot lately with problems linked to human trafficking in its seafood industry. Why is this still an issue?

A: Thailand is one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, and relies heavily on migrant workers from poor neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These laborers often are misled by brokers in their home countries and illegally brought to Thailand with promises of good-paying jobs. They are then sold onto fishing boats or put into seafood processing plants where they become trapped and forced to work long hours for little or no money. Thailand has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the abuses. It has created new laws and is helping to register undocumented workers, but arrests and prosecutions are still rare.

Q: What are buyers and governments doing to try to stop slave-tainted seafood from reaching their countries?

A: The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Thailand for the past two years for its dismal human rights record, placing it among the world’s worst offenders such as North Korea and Syria. However, it has not issued sanctions. The European Union put out a “yellow card” warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban on products. Companies such as Nestle have vowed to force change after conducting their own audits and finding that their Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers. Others are working with rights groups to monitor their supply chains and ensure laborers are treated fairly and humanely.

General Mills joins pledge to stop using eggs from caged hens

Within the last six months or so, we’ve worked with many of the biggest names in the food business to announce their commitment to stop selling eggs from caged hens. Aramark, Compass Group, Dunkin Brands, Hilton, Kellogg, Nestle, Sodexo, Starbucks, and Walmart have all made public pledges to shift their egg-purchasing practices away from battery cage confinement systems. Today, we’re pleased to announce that General Mills, one of the nation’s largest food makers, is joining the list.

“We commit to working toward 100 percent cage free eggs for our U.S. operations,” says General Mills — which owns brands like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Progresso Soups, and Hamburger Helper — in its new policy. “We recognize that the current avian influenza outbreak has been deeply disruptive to the U.S. egg supply and producers. As the industry works to rebuild its supply chain, we will work with suppliers to determine a path and reasonable timeline toward this commitment.”

General Mills is grounding its policy on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, a set of principles that will translate into better outcomes for all of the animals in its supply chain. With the Five Freedoms in mind, the company’s policy pledges continual improvement by also examining solutions to solve other key animal welfare concerns, including subjecting animals to tail docking, de-horning, and, without the administration of pain killers, castration. It’s also translating into an examination of issues related to rapid growth of broiler chickens and turkeys.

Certainly the highlight of this announcement is the commitment to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs. And as the egg industry considers its production strategies in light of the impact of bird flu on cage confinement facilities, there’s an opportunity for the industry to pivot away from caging hens altogether and make the transition to higher-welfare, cage-free systems.

Commodities expert Urner Barry recently reported that cage facilities have been hit much harder by bird flu than cage-free facilities. In many parts of the country, prices for battery-cage eggs doubled at the height of the outbreak. Because the volume of birds in a single cage confinement facility is so large, if even a single bird gets sick, then the entire flock must be killed — a devastating outcome for the birds and the farmers.

Common sense and sound science tell us that warehousing animals in cramped cages is bad for both the animals and for us. The veal industry is eliminating its cruel crates. Many of the largest pork producers are eliminating gestation crates. And now, with many food companies like General Mills pledging to eliminate chicken cages from their egg supplier chains, the egg industry can accelerate its own shift toward cage-free housing. For the sake of animals and consumers, it can’t happen fast enough.

Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of the Human Society of the United States. This piece appeared in his blog “A Humane Nation.”


Protesters clash over Confederate flag issue at Phoenix Walmart

Things got noisy outside a west Phoenix Walmart after the company’s decision to remove Confederate flag merchandise attracted scores of protesters and counter-protesters.

The Arizona Republic reports that Jon Ritzheimer organized a July 5 protest of Walmart’s decision. Ritzheimer is a former Marine who staged a contentious rally outside a Phoenix mosque in May.

His group of self-proclaimed “patriots,” some of them armed, waved the rebel flag alongside the American one while chanting “U-S-A.”

Counter-protesters clashed with Ritzheimer’s group. They called the flag racist and lauded Walmart’s decision to remove it from shelves.

An unofficial police count estimates that the event drew about 100 people. Phoenix police spokesman Lt. Randy Force says 11 officers were at the event after Walmart management called police.

Wal-Mart’s push on animal welfare hailed as game changer

UPDATED: Walmart, the nation’s largest food retailer, announced in May its commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain and issued revised animal welfare policies hailed as game-changing.

Even some of the company’s harshest critics, including the watchdog group Mercy for Animals, cheered the policy change as signaling a new era.

The “Position on Farm Animal Welfare” posted on Walmart’s corporate site states, “We expect that our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.”

The statement says Walmart supports the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health:

• Freedom from hunger and thirst.

• Freedom from discomfort.

• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

• Freedom to express normal behavior.

• Freedom from fear and distress.

The company wants suppliers of fresh and frozen meat, deli, dairy and eggs to take action against animal abuse, adopt the “Five Freedoms,” avoid subjecting animals to painful procedures, such as tail docking, de-horning and castration, and to use antibiotics only to treat or prevent disease.

Walmart also wants suppliers to stop using pig gestations crates and other housing that confines animals to small spaces.

At the Humane Society of the United States, president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Timelines aside, this announcement helps create an economy where no agribusiness company — for business reasons alone — should ever again install a new battery cage, gestation crate or veal crate. Walmart is helping drive the transition away from immobilizing cages and other inhumane practices and toward a more humane, more sustainable approach to production agriculture.”

He continued, “This is an unstoppable trend and that was the trajectory even before Walmart made the announcement. The company’s embrace of a more ethical framework for the treatment of all farm animals serves as perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change throughout animal agriculture.”

Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle said, “This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America.”

Mercy has waged a multi-year campaign against Walmart — the company accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. food business. The Mercy effort has involved protests, publicity in major newspapers and on mobile billboards, celebrity denunciations and a petition via Change.org.

In recent years, Mercy has released investigative video documenting extreme animal abuse by Walmart suppliers. The videos show pigs hit with metal cans and sheets of wood and sows held in cages so small they could barely move.

Mercy, in its praise for the Walmart position statement, also emphasized its own position: The best way to prevent animal abuse is to stop eating animals.

Charting change

Major animal-welfare moves announced by food and retail companies since 2012:

• FEBRUARY 2012: McDonald’s Corp. requires U.S. pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out sow gestation stalls.

• AUGUST 2014: Nestle says it wants to get rid of the confinement of sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. It also wants to eliminate the cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers and pledges to work with suppliers on the responsible use of antibiotics.

• DECEMBER 2014: Starbucks supports the responsible use of antibiotics, eliminating the use of artificial growth hormones and wants to address concerns related to de-horning and other forms of castration — with and without anesthesia.

• MARCH 2015: McDonald’s says it is asking chicken suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics. 

• APRIL 2015: Aramark, the largest U.S. food-service company, says it’s eliminating all cages for laying hens by 2020, gestation crates for mother pigs by 2017 and crates for veal calves by 2017.

• APRIL 2015: Tyson Foods plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. The company has also said it’s working on ways to curb use of antibiotics for its beef and chicken businesses.

— Associated Press

Low-wage earners demonstrate in ‘Fight for $15’

The Fight for $15 campaign to win higher pay and a union for fast-food workers is expanding to represent a variety of low-wage workers and become more of a social justice movement.

In New York City on April 15, more than 100 chanting protesters gathered outside a McDonald’s around noon, prompting the store to lock its doors to prevent the crowd from streaming in.

Demonstrators laid on the sidewalk outside to stage a “die-in,” which became popular during the “Black Lives Matter” protests after recent police shootings of black men. Several wore sweatshirts that said “I Can’t Breathe,” a nod to the last words of a black man in New York City who died after he was put in a police chokehold.

Timothy Roach, a 21-year-old Wendy’s worker from Milwaukee, said the police brutality black men face is linked to the lack of economic opportunity they’re given. He said the protests were necessary to send a message to companies.

“If they don’t see that it matters to us, then it won’t matter to them,” Roach said.

Organizers said demonstrations were planned for more than 230 U.S. cities and college campuses, as well as dozens of cities overseas. Among those who joined the latest day of protests were airport workers, Walmart workers and adjunct professors.

The campaign began in late 2012 and is being spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage workers in areas like home care, child care and building cleaning services. Mary Kay Henry, the SEIU’s president, said the push has already helped prompt local governments to consider higher minimum wages, nudged companies to announce pay hikes and made it easier for SEIU members to win better contracts. Those results are inspiring other groups of workers, she said.

“It has defied a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

In Jackson, Mississippi, around 30 people protested in a McDonald’s before being kicked out, with one of the demonstrators being arrested for trespassing. Protesters also gathered outside McDonald’s restaurants in cities including Denver, Los Angeles and Albany, New York.

Even if fast-food workers and others never become union members, winning higher pay for them would benefit the SEIU by helping lift pay for its members, said Susan Schurman, dean of Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“By raising the wage floor, it really benefits everyone,” she said.

Ann Hodges, a professor of labor employment law at the University of Richmond, said engaging different types of workers also broadens the appeal of the movement by increasing the chances people know someone who’s affected.

And the push to make Fight for $15 more of a social justice movement makes those who might have negative perceptions about unions more likely to join, she said.

“It becomes easier to organize workers if they view it as something positive and socially desirable,” Hodges said.

In the meantime, McDonald’s said this month it would raise its starting salary to $1 above the local minimum wage, and give workers the ability to accrue paid time off. It marked the company’s first national pay policy, and indicates McDonald’s wants to take control of its image as an employer. But the move only applies to workers at company-owned stores, which account for about 10 percent of more than 14,300 locations.

McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s say they don’t control the employment decisions at franchised restaurants. The SEIU is working to upend that position and hold McDonald’s responsible for labor conditions at franchised restaurants in multiple ways, including lawsuits.

In a statement, McDonald’s said it respects the right to “peacefully protest.” In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDonald’s workers out of about 800,000 in the U.S. have participated.

In a recent column in The Chicago Tribune, McDonald’s Corp. CEO Steve Easterbrook described the company’s pay hike and other perks as “an initial step,” and said he wants to transform McDonald’s into a “modern, progressive burger company.”

But that transformation will have to take place as labor organizers continue pressuring employers over wages. Ahead of the protests this week, a study funded by the SEIU found working families rely on $153 billion in public assistance a year as a result of their low wages.

Top brands fail Greenpeace’s canned tuna review

Greenpeace, in its first ranking, found the majority of the canned tuna sold in the U.S. market fails to meet fundamental sustainability standards. The environmental group said the worst performers are the big three brands: Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and StarKist, which represent a combined 80 percent of the U.S. tuna market. 

The ranking, included in Greenpeace’s 2015 Canned Tuna Shopping Guide, looked at 14 well-known U.S. national and private label supermarket brands and concluded that most do not have adequate measures in place to address both sustainability and the human welfare and labor issues that plague the industry.

Eight of the 14 tuna brands evaluated received a failing score, including the brands by retail giants Walmart and Kroger.

“Consumers should know that popular and trusted canned tuna brands are contributing to ocean destruction at an alarming rate,”  Greenpeace’s Graham Forbes. “While the biggest brands have thus far refused to offer sustainable tuna, the silver lining here is that other companies are stepping up to provide ocean safe options for their customers.”

Wild Planet, American Tuna and Ocean Naturals received the top scores and were identified as the best choices for U.S. tuna consumers – all offering what Greenpeace called “ocean safe products.” Each brand has a comprehensive approach to sustainability and sources from operations striving to be fair and socially responsible.

Whole Foods finished near the top tier for selling only more responsibly caught tuna.

Hy-Vee and Trader Joe’s also ranked near the top, but continue to have some outstanding sustainability concerns, according to the organization.

The tuna ranking evaluated the sourcing policies and practices of the 14 brands, including:

• Whether the fishing method used to catch their tuna harms other marine life.

• Whether they avoid shark finning.

• Whether they can trace their products back to the sea.

In addition, Greenpeace examined how equitable and socially responsible the brands are. Poor working conditions are systemic in the tuna industry, and in the worst cases, human rights violations and slave labor take place.

The U.S. is the largest market for canned tuna in the world and the primary global market for albacore tuna, a species mostly caught by longlines. Longline fishing consists of multiple hooks on a single line that can stretch for miles. The longline fishery is less regulated and can be highly destructive when measures are not employed to mitigate bycatch. Thousands of tons of seabirds, sea turtles, sharks and other marine life are hooked and then left to die on the lines. Up to 35 percent of the longline catch can be species other than tuna, many of which are already vulnerable.

“Unfortunately, dolphin safe does not mean ocean safe. Turtles, sharks and other vulnerable ocean life are collateral damage in tuna fisheries that supply the US market,” said Forbes. “The big players have a responsibility to join forward-thinking brands in building a more responsible tuna industry.  As the market continues to shift, selling products that are bad for our oceans will be bad for business.”

The U.S. tuna ranking is part of a global Greenpeace campaign to transition toward fair and sustainable global tuna fisheries for our oceans and ocean-dependent people.

In addition to the ranking, Greenpeace developed a “Decoding the Can” page to assist consumers with the various labels and options on a tuna can.

On the Web

Greenpeace’s Canned Tuna Shopping Guide.

2-year-old kills mom in conceal-and-carry accident at Idaho Walmart

A 29-year-old woman described as a “beautiful, young, loving mother” was fatally shot by her 2-year-old son at a northern Idaho Walmart in what authorities called a tragic accident.

The boy reached into Veronica J. Rutledge’s purse and her concealed gun fired, Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller said. The woman was shopping on Dec. 30 with her son and three other children, Miller said.

Rutledge was from Blackfoot in southeastern Idaho, and her family had come to the area to visit relatives.

She was an employee of the Idaho National Laboratory, The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, reported. The Idaho Falls laboratory supports the U.S. Department of Energy in nuclear and energy research and national defense.

The woman had a concealed weapons permit. Miller said the young boy was left in a shopping cart, reached into his mother’s purse and grabbed a small-caliber handgun, which discharged one time.

Deputies who responded to the Walmart found Rutledge dead, the sheriff’s office said.

“It appears to be a pretty tragic accident,” Miller said.

The victim’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told The Associated Press that Veronica Rutledge “was a beautiful, young, loving mother.”

“She was not the least bit irresponsible,” Terry Rutledge said. “She was taken much too soon.”

The woman’s husband was not in the store when the shooting happened at about 10:20 a.m. Dec. 30. Miller said the man arrived shortly after the shooting. All the children were taken to a relative’s house.

The shooting occurred in the Wal-Mart in Hayden, Idaho, a town about 40 miles northeast of Spokane. The store closed for the rest of the day.

Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said in a statement the shooting was a “very sad and tragic accident.”

“We are working closely with the local sheriff’s department while they investigate what happened,” Buchanan said.

Idaho National Laboratory senior chemical engineer Vince Maio worked with Rutledge on a research paper about using glass ceramic to store nuclear waste, The Spokesman-Review said.

Maio said he was immediately impressed with her.

“She had a lot of maturity for her age,” he told the newspaper. “Her work was impeccable. She found new ways to do things that we did before and she found ways to do them better.”

“She was a beautiful person,” he added.

There do not appear to be reliable national statistics about the number of accidental fatalities involving children handling guns.

In neighboring Washington state, a 3-year-old boy was seriously injured in November when he accidentally shot himself in the face in a home in Lake Stevens, about 30 miles north of Seattle.

In April, a 2-year-old boy apparently shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while they and their siblings played with a gun inside a Philadelphia home. Authorities said the gun was believed to have been brought into the home by the mother’s boyfriend.

Hayden is a politically conservative town of about 9,000 people just north of Coeur d’Alene, in Idaho’s northern panhandle.

Idaho lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing concealed weapons on the state’s public college and university campuses.

Despite facing opposition from all eight of the state’s university college presidents, lawmakers sided with gun rights advocates who said the law would better uphold the Second Amendment.

Under the law, gun holders are barred from bringing their weapons into dormitories or buildings that hold more than 1,000 people, such as stadiums or concert halls.