I waffle about Wal-Mart. On the one hand, it is a huge company and any effort it makes regarding improving public health or addressing environmental issues has a huge impact. So healthy food labeling can potentially increase consumer demand for healthy food through influencing consumer preferences for healthy products.
On the other hand, I just can’t get past the “low price” strategy. I know healthy food access people will judge my stance on low prices, and they have a valid point: lower prices for healthy food mean that people can buy more of it. And I agree that low income people, in particular, can greatly benefit from lower prices. But Wal-Mart operates on small margins, and low prices mean that the suppliers (for produce, that would be farmers) will receive lower prices for their products.
I suggest the following instead: income transfers to low income people (ie more federal nutrition benefits) so they can afford more food. For the rest of us, maybe we should pay a higher share of our income for food, say 13 percent instead of roughly 10 percent? And since relative prices of healthy to unhealthy food drive consumer decisions, rather than absolute prices, why not increase the price of junk food, through a tax?
I know, I know. This is an economist’s fantasy of how the world could be improved (more specifically, a dream of this economist). But ultimately, I don’t want consumer health to be increased at the expense of farmer income. Any other suggestions?