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The Valley Advocate (Massachusetts)

Whole Foods Boycott Grows

CEO, John Mackey, Shoots Himself in the Birkenstock

Maureen Turner

The Western Mass. Single Payer Network and Western Mass. Jobs with Justice have thrown their support behind a national boycott of Whole Foods. (Wicked Local photo by Jessica Bal.)

The Western Mass. Single Payer Network and Western Mass. Jobs with Justice have thrown their support behind a national boycott of Whole Foods.

The boycott was sparked by a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, which sounds a very different note from the supermarket chain's earthy-crunchy image. In the piece-headlined the "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare"-the libertarian Mackey argues against increasing government's role in the healthcare system. In the column-which begins with a quote from Margaret Thatcher-Mackey writes that, while he agrees that the healthcare system needs reform, "the last thing our country needs is a massive health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficit and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system."

Instead, Mackey calls for a reform driven by "more individual empowerment." Among his suggestions: the repeal of government mandates on what insurers must cover ("What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying."); tort reform to curtail "ruinous lawsuits" that drive up doctors' malpractice insurance rates; and an unspecified reform of the Medicare system "that creates greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility."

"[W]hile all of us empathize with those who are sick," Mackey goes on, access to healthcare should not be a guaranteed right, but rather should be "provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges." And-echoing the hecklers who've dominated town-hall meetings around the country in recent weeks-he claims that "All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments....

"Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health," Mackey writes. "This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health."


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Many of Americans' health problems are "self-inflicted," he writes, and could be prevented by diet, exercise and "other healthy lifestyle choices" (including, presumably, buying the natural and organic products on the shelves of his supermarket chain). Nowhere in his paean to responsible behavior does Mackey mention any degree of corporate responsibility for public health-the industries that pump pollutants into the air and waterways, say, or makers of unhealthy food who spend billions to market their crap to kids.

Mackey was already the nemesis of organized labor and other progressives before his op-ed ran. The CEO also opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, and in April, Mother Jones magazine (available for purchase, by the way, at the checkout racks at Whole Foods) reported that it had obtained an internal company document that named remaining "100 percent union-free" as a key corporate goal.

Cathy Cochran-Lewis, a spokeswoman for the company, sent the Advocate this statement: "While Whole Foods Market has no official companywide position on the healthcare reform issue, we would not want our very successful and sustainable healthcare coverage to be jeopardized. Our CEO submitted an opinion piece last week with the intention of expressing his own viewpoints and providing constructive ideas to support reform, as President Obama invited America to do.

"We have heard from individuals who both agree and disagree with John's ideas as there are many opinions and emotions surrounding the ongoing healthcare reform issue, including lots of differing views here inside of Whole Foods Market," the statement went on. "We appreciate those diverse perspectives but it is unfortunate there is misinformation and confusion out there to cloud John's good intentions.... One single opinion piece is far from the sum total of what Whole Foods Market has been known to offer for the past 30 years. Our customers can be assured that our primary focus is to continue to serve our valued shoppers, to ensure a great work environment for our Team Members, and to support our communities and our planet as a whole."

Jobs with Justice and the Single Payer Network point out that there are other local food stores that support their communities, including Stop and Shop, which is unionized, and Northampton's River Valley Market co-op. (And, for the next couple of months at least, the Valley is filled with farmers' markets and farm stands, where the community can directly support local food producers.) The activists also plan a boycott action at the Hadley Whole Foods sometime next month.

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