By Tyler Shannon, Food & Water Watch

Only Walmart can make headlines with a new policy not to sell consumers rotten produce. Just last week, Walmart announced a new “fresh produce guarantee” allowing consumers to get their money back if they’re unhappy with purchased produce that’s, presumably, old or expired. Walmart is not even asking customers to return the produce to get their money back, indicating that it already knows it may have a problem.

This initiative is clearly in response to recent discoveries that the company has been selling customers expired produce, which, according to analysts, is likely due to a severe reduction in the number of employees responsible for stocking shelves and checking on produce.

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Once the news of the problem got out, instead of addressing the actual issue of not enough employees assigned to the task, Walmart set the PR machine into motion, trying to improve its image with consumers through yet another initiative, following other pledges to improve their environmental sustainability and food procurement.

However, what Walmart’s spin doctors aren’t broadcasting is that this new policy includes an insidious change in how the company deals with fruit and vegetable producers. Walmart, well known for putting intense pressure on its suppliers to cut costs, has eliminated the middle person in many cases and will now apply pressure directly to the farmers with which it does business. Walmart does not like to deal with multiple, small or even mid-sided suppliers, instead choosing to deal with a few huge suppliers for each product in order to maximize efficiency. The same will likely be true here, with Walmart turning to only the largest operations run by the biggest businesses in the fruit and vegetable industry.

In addition to its produce quality woes, a recent report released by the congressional House Committee on Education and Workforce showed problems outside the produce section. Analyzing state Medicaid and benefit records in Wisconsin, the congressional committee found that each Walmart superstore in the state was costing Wisconsin taxpayers a minimum of about $905,000 per year as a result of its low wages and minimal employee benefits, including, among other things, Medicaid, section 8 housing assistance, reduced price lunches, and food stamps. The analysis only counted actual enrollees in state services.

So much for the Walmart motto “Save Money. Live better.” It looks like Walmart is just talking about its corporate executives and top shareholders, not its employees or its customers.

This article was written by Tyler Shannon and published in Food & Water Watch on June 12, 2013.

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