Loblaw CEO Gets Dramatic, Questions Safety of Farmers’ Markets
Galen Weston, executive chairman of the Canadian supermarket giant Loblaws, created an uproar last week after he made an off-the-cuff remark questioning the safety of food from farmers’ markets.
"Farmers’ markets are great," Mr. Weston said last week during a speech at the Canadian Food Summit held in Toronto, according to The Toronto Star. But he added, "One day they’re going to kill some people though."
"I’m just saying that to be dramatic though," he quickly added.
His keynote address spoke to the need for a national food strategy for Canada, including food safety and fostering a production environment that keeps small farms viable.
Following outrage from farmers’ markets advocates, Loblaws’ PR team said the executive’s comments were misinterpreted.
"He does not believe nor did he imply that farmers’ markets are less safe than any other forms of food distribution, including grocery stores," Loblaws public-relations vice-president Julia Hunter, said in a statement sent to betterfarming.com. "His point was that, as the food system evolves, food safety approaches must keep pace through appropriate resources devoted to inspections and certifications throughout the system. His points were made to underscore that food safety is a serious issue and plays an important in the food system."
She added, "We understand that the comments concerned or offended some, and we regret this outcome."
Despite the clarification, Robert Chorney, executive director of Farmers’ Markets Ontario, demanded a "a full and unconditional apology to every farmer across this country who sells at a farmer’s market." He said Ontario’s 175 farmers’ markets are regularly inspected and food is easily traceable because consumers know whom they’re buying from.
Many tweets in the same vein ridiculed Mr. Weston’s comment given the rash of recalls from supermarkets.
Anita Stewart, a Canadian food activist, cut Mr. Weston some slack while noting that retail operations are heavily inspected.
"I think his speech, by and large, was very eloquent and he has a lot to say," Mr. Stewart said. "I think he just slipped up and I truly don’t believe that he meant it."
But some felt the comments only reflect the fact that organic, fresh and local has become a burgeoning opportunity for supermarkets as well. Arlene Stein, who runs a year-round Saturday farmers’ market in Ontario, told the Star, "Farmers’ markets are the competition."
- Loblaw chief Galen Weston says farmers’ markets pose health risk – The Toronto Star
- Farmers’ Markets Ontario executive director wants Galen Weston to tell farmers he’s sorry – Better Farming
- Loblaw’s Galen Weston faces heat for ‘farmers’ markets will kill’ comment – The Globe & Mail
Discussion Questions: Are farmers’ markets becoming more of a competitive threat to food stores? How should food stores respond to competition from farmers’ markets?