Issue: recall of Taco Bell
Imagine, with all the furore over GM foods, that a food manufacturer finds a batch of its product containing traces of a GM protein only approved for consumption by animals. It's the stuff of a PR nightmare, but this is what happened to Philip Morris-owned Kraft foods.
Companies are often slow to update their web sites in a potential crisis situation. Happily, though, Kraft prove an exception - its web site responded to the issue within a day. Not only that, on-line news services, such as Yahoo!, provided links from stories on the crisis directly to the section on Kraft's site that dealt with the issue.
Kraftfoods.com is the American site for the global food manufacturer.
It consists of rather lurid and fast-foodish branding on its homepage.
There are various sections, including a recipe section for such dishes as 'Cheesy chili for a crowd' and 'Tex-mex dogs'.
On the GM issue, the site is spot on. On the opening page, the first story in the second column is a flashing red banner saying 'Special report'.
Kraft is recalling Taco Shells sold in the US and the Americas, the user is told, in supermarkets and other retail grocery outlets. To find out more about the recall and what other actions the company is taking the user can click for elaboration.
You are then taken to a section of the site that gives the latest news, a video message from president Betsy Holden, a question and answer section and an 'about Kraft' section.
The first statement is dated 19 September, and informs the user that as 'you've probably seen or heard the new coverage', 'here's what we've learned about the situation and the actions we're taking'. At this stage a coalition of environmental groups, the Genetically Engineered Food Alert (GEFA), had sponsored tests on a number of corn-based food products and discovered that some samples of Taco Bell products contained the presence of Cry9C, a potentially allergenic protein associated with GM Starlink corn. Kraft communicated its plan to obtain and test the possibly infected samples that the GEFA had tested.
On 22 September, a letter from Professor Steve Taylor of the University of Nebraska was published. He reassured users that it was unlikely that Cry9C would pose any allergenic threat. That same day Kraft published recommendations for regulatory authorities on the safe entry of biotechnology into the marketplace. It also stated that the company was recalling the 'infected' products and that consumers should return purchases for a full refund. A contact was given for consumers to call to allay any fears they might have.
The US press have since reported that other food marketers are to take a look at their own ingredients-related safeguards. So, rather than just fighting off potential criticism, Kraft has set the wheels in motion for greater protective measures for the consumer.