Dear America’s Second Harvest:
As a blogger interested in Wal-Mart, I am familiar with your decision to partner with the chain back in March to help bring food to the hungry. The $5 million dollars that Wal-Mart matched in donations from its customers undoubtedly bought a lot of food, but I want to make sure you knew the backstory.
On January 6, 2006, the Sacramento Bee [link via Wal-Mart Watch] was just about the only major media outlet in the nation to pick up on this important change in Wal-Mart’s food donation policy:
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the nationâ€™s largest food retailer, said Thursday it will no longer donate nearly-expired or expired food to local groups feeding the hungry.
Instead, that food will be thrown away, a move several Sacramento charities consider wasteful.
Olan James, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the policy, which applies to all 1,224 Wal-Marts, 1,929 Supercenters and 558 Samâ€™s Clubs, is an attempt to protect the corporation from liability in case someone who eats the donated food gets sick.
The problem with that, as I’m sure you know, is that the Good Samaritan Food Donations Act of 1996 completely protects any food donor from being sued or prosecuted as a result of their gift. In fact, Wal-Mart’s decision to resume food donations in Alaska shortly after the policy change demonstrates that Wal-Mart knows it lied about its reasoning. After all, people in Alaska have access to the courts too, don’t they?
Now Wal-Mart has moved on to another excuse. This is from the May 14th issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Bob McAdam, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said the law will not have an impact on the retailer.
McAdam verified that Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart stores destroy perishable food rather than donate it. The stores dump the food not for legal reasons, he said, but out of concern for food safety.
He also stressed that the company is emphatic about inventory control and tries to make “just what we sell” – leaving little to give.
McAdam then points out that Wal-Mart still gives dented cans to your organization, but if you look at the January 24, 2006 issue of the Fairbanks News-Miner [linked above], you’ll see that the Fairbanks Community Food Bank has resumed picking up “500 pounds of baked goods” each day, just like they did for years before the policy change took effect. Why is Wal-Mart afraid that the hungry in St. Louis will get sick but not the people of Fairbanks?
As a Wal-Mart partner, Second Harvest is in a unique position to get to the bottom of Wal-Mart’s policy change. I urge you to ask them what their real reasoning is for ending donations of perishable food to food banks. If that reason is not credible, I believe that you should consider pulling out of your partnership. This could pressure Wal-Mart to change their policy back so that the hungry in the continental United States get the same treatment from the company as those in Alaska do.