Has Wal-Mart Become More Influential than the FDA?

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UPDATED — 10:59am CT…

Michelle Obama has now officially endorsed Wal-Mart’s plan.

Today, Wal-Mart has made yet another strident announcement, this time trumpeting a five-year strategy to increase the volume of healthy foods sold in its stores.

The nation’s largest grocery retailer will aim to reduce the levels of sugar, salt and fats in thousands of its packaged products. In addition to packaged goods, Wal-Mart will hope to incentivize better eating habits by dropping prices of fresh fuits and vegetables.

The move has reportedly received the implicit support of First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made anti-obesity a signature theme of her time in the White House.

Wal-Mart has become legendary for the firm’s nimble ability to influence its suppliers to fall in line. Kraft, which relies on Wal-Mart for 16% of its global sales, will be one of the many suppliers that will have no choice but to reduce trans-fats and added sugars in common culprits like potato chips and salad dressing.

Another key pillar of Wal-Mart’s plan is to help eliminate the preponderance of “food deserts” that have propagated in poor, urban neighorhoods across the country.

Wal-Mart is no stranger to big announcements that portend social progress. And to be fair, the firm has achieved many sustainability wins, such as signifcant returns in carbon intensity reduction and expanded fresh, organic and local food offerings.

But what is perhaps most interesting about today’s announcement is how the firm has reached a point where it is considered to be more of a market mover than one of its largest regulators, the FDA.

Highlights from the NYT report:

“Some say the company has almost as much power as federal regulators to shape the marketplace.

“A number of companies have said they are going to make voluntary reductions in sodium over the next several years, and numerous companies have said they are going to try to get trans fat out of their food,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But Wal-Mart is in a position almost like the Food and Drug Administration. I think it really pushes the food industry in the right direction.”

Not all stakeholders are as impressed with Wal-Mart’s plan, but what is the public sector doing better to improve the health of an obese nation?

Image credit by robertstinnett via Flickr under a CC license

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