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Unethical Practices in the Food Industry

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According to Wikipedia, the definition of conscience is: “Conscience is an ability or a faculty that distinguishes whether one’s actions are right or wrong. It leads to feelings of remorse when one does things that go against his/her moral values, and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when one’s actions conform to our moral values. It is also the attitude which informs one’s moral judgment before performing any action.” I believe that a person’s conscience plays a large part in making ethical or unethical decisions in business. Business ethics according to Wikipedia, is described as: “A form of applied ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment.” With this definition, there are many companies that let their conscience or lack of thereof guide them in ethical or unethical business practices. The focus in this paper will be on unethical business practices as there are many cases available for discussion. There are many companies in the food industry that make unethical business decisions for a variety of reasons, most of the reasons revolve around profit and production. I cannot think of a company that would love to lose revenue.

One example of a company that made an unethical business decision was the Beech-Nut company. This company is a manufacturer of baby food and juice products. They have been known to market apple juice to children that claimed to be 100% pure . The company tried cutting costs by ordering apple juice from a supplier at a lower cost. The supplier did not sell apple juice to the Beech-Nut company but a chemically alter product instead. When Beech-Nut was informed of this by investigators, the company failed to act even after the Food and Drug Administration conducted its own investigation. In order to save their reputation and dollars, the company shipped the product to foreign markets and other states. The company continued to sell the product until May 1983. The company faced significant fines and as a result, its stock dropped almost twenty percent and the production of baby juice ceased, as well as the jobs of the employees that were manufacturing the juice. According to the textbook, selling fruit juice with no actual fruit is ethical as long as the “juice” is safe.

My opinion is that selling a “juice” that contains no real fruit juice is unethical and a blatant lie, but I am just a consumer. As a consumer, I trust that when I go shopping, especially for my family that I am purchasing safe and reliable foods for consumption. If I wanted to buy junk I would by candy bars and the like. Another example of unethical business practices in the food industry is the Nestle’ company. The Nestle’ company has been known to influence the baby food market by promoting formula feeding over breast feeding to mothers by handing out formula samples, and sponsorship. Other companies such a Mead Johnson, have also been culprits and are guilty of corrupting lactating mothers into convenience feeding with formula as well. This is an unethical decision because it robs the infant of a bond with the mother as well as deprives the infant of nature’s best food. The Nestle’ company has had the largest of the violations from a study conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). The IBFAN has prohibited The Nestle’ Company from having direct contact with mothers but this restriction is often violated.

Unethical business practices not only occur in the food industry but in every industry across the globe. Companies are out to make money, if there is a defect in the product that the company is producing and the best solution is to discard the defective item, most companies would rather continue to market the item in order to preserve revenue. It seems that the true motivator is greed and self-preservation that is the driving force behind these unethical practices. There are serious consequences to every decision made regardless if the decisions are either ethical or non-ethical. This make a person wonder… when going through your favorite drive-thru window, when feeding your children, what they have done to the food. Is the food an accurate reflection of what is on the label?

Baby Food Action Network:
Boatright,J R., (2007). Business ethics: Second Custom Edition (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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