The Latest Hot Ingredient: Bribes

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Who knew that the food ingredient business ran on bribes? The New York Times (print edition) calls its report of the latest scandal "Hidden Ingredient: The Sweetener." By "sweetener," the Times is not referring to aspartame or even Splenda: it means bribes.

You are an ingredient supplier and want a big food company like Kraft, Frito-Lay, or Safeway to buy your products? Easy. Bribe their purchasing managers.

In my book Food Politics I discuss food industry sales tactics ranging from soft (advertising, lobbying) to hard (manipulating media, cozying up to federal officials, and suing critics). These, as I point out, are legal. Fixing prices is not. Neither is bribery.

This is not a pretty story. Managers were bribed to purchase inferior ingredients such as moldy tomato sauce. Companies relied on the suppliers for quality assurance.

The moral: companies need to do their own product testing and consumers need to demand that they do.

Thanks to William Neuman of the Times for his excellent investigative report, handicapped as it was by not being able to interview the jailed perpetrators.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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