Monday, April 21, 2008

When greed sometimes isn’t

This was going to be a post about corporate greed. Partly, it still is. But it’s also a slap at the media.

First the greed: Food prices, especially prices charged for dairy products. Most of New Zealand’s dairy food is produced by the farmer-owned cooperative, Fonterra, which is New Zealand’s largest company. As world demand for New Zealand dairy products has grown, the company has started selling more and more overseas, with a corresponding skyrocketing of prices NZ consumers pay for staples like milk and cheese.

This is on top of price rises caused by rapidly soaring world oil prices, so Kiwi consumers have been hit by food prices rising nearly three times faster than inflation generally. Not all of that can be blamed on either farmers’ greed or “world markets,” but both have a role to play.

Still, no one could blame Fonterra from selling their products to the highest bidder. After all, it’s what traditional capitalism demands. Supermarkets pass on their increased costs to consumers, which is also to be expected. Consumers are left struggling to cope.

This morning’s TVNZ programme Breakfast reported that New Zealand’s largest supermarket chain, New Zealand-owned Foodstuffs, planned to import cheese to lower the price to consumers. New Zealand provides 40% of the world’s dairy products, yet a retailer was looking at importing cheese so ordinary people could afford it! The hosts were outraged.

But Breakfast got it wrong.

Rob Chemaly from Foodstuffs appeared on the Business Breakfast programme, and it’s that interview that the later Breakfast programme was referring to. Here’s a transcript I made after watching the interview online:

Chemaly: We’ve looked at other options, we’ve looked at import options, but those aren’t feasible, so we have to live with what we (have).

ONE News: So, you’ve actually looked at importing cheese?

Chemaly: Yeah, we’ll look at all options. Why wouldn’t you if there’s the possibility of bringing in products that might be potentially cheaper into the New Zealand market, we will.

Reading the transcript, it’s pretty clear that Foodstuffs rejected the idea of importing cheese, but would keep an open mind for the future, as you’d expect any capitalist company to do. That’s completely different from actually planning on doing it.

It’s hard enough for ordinary people to understand the Machiavellian world of corporate greed when the news media so often ignores what’s going on. But when they also do their job poorly, it makes matters worse.

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