PHILADELPHIA, PA., Sept. 10, 2014 — Because of the controversy generated by the efforts of organic food industry leader Eden Foods to be exempted from covering birth control for its employees, Weavers Way Co-op is hosting a special meeting for members to air their views.
The open forum is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Summit Church, 6757 Greene St. (corner of Greene and Westview), Philadelphia, PA. Members of the Weavers Way Board of Directors will be joined by Weavers Way Purchasing Manager Norman Weiss and Weavers Way Marketing Director Rebecca Torpie in leading the discussion, which will focus on the Co-op’s product purchasing philosophy in general as well as the Eden Foods situation in particular.
Participation is limited to Weavers Way members, but the public is welcome to attend. (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-843-2350, ext. 118, for head-count purposes.)
Eden’s lawsuit is similar to the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that for-profit corporations could be exempt from a law its owners object to on religious grounds.
Last month, Weavers Way staff and Board representatives met with a group of Co-op members to discuss their request to poll the entire membership about boycotting Eden Foods products, which include popular canned beans, shelf-stable soy milk and other organic items. The meeting ended with a decision to hold an open forum where all opinions, contexts and complexities could be explained and discussed.
“This is a divisive issue, and more complex than it seems on the surface,” said Weavers Way Board President Jeremy Thomas. “We haven’t yet taken an official position either way, and want to avoid rushing to judgment. This meeting is the first step in creating a fruitful and educational dialogue.”
Thomas explained that Weavers Way has a duty to take actions that reflect its product philosophy, and the values held by its members. “We have a broad and diverse base of members, who span the spectrum of political and religious beliefs. All sides and opinions need to be heard and respected.
“A yes-no poll tends to simplify complex issues, rather than encourage a dialogue. A public discussion is a more appropriate forum; we want to explore, explain and discuss these complexities to come to a better overall understanding, so that every member can make an informed decision.”
Some Weavers Way members raised objections back in 2013, when Eden first filed its lawsuit, and Purchasing Manager Weiss has written about the complexities in the Shuttle, Weavers Way’s monthly newspaper.
One complication is Eden Foods’ status as a strong and responsible member of the organic foods movement. The company — which started as a co-op in Ann Arbor, MI, in the late 1960s — has remained independently owned and operated for 46 years, while many of its competitors have been swallowed up by major corporations. It has relationships with over 370 family farms, and buys from and pays these farmers directly. The company has taken a hard-line stance against genetically modified foods since 1993.
Eden was also the first company to take seriously the problems with BPA (Bisphenol A), a carcinogenic chemical found in can linings. Eden led the way in finding a substitute, and today the chemical is banned, partially or completely, in several countries, including Canada. Among the large number of negative health effects BPA can cause, there is growing evidence linking the chemical to infertility and birth defects. Eden Foods cites this concern on their website as one of the reasons they invested in BPA-free cans, despite the increase in production costs (14-36%, depending on can size).
“What we need to establish is whether the Co-op’s values are reflected in its actions and decisions,” Weiss said. “How do we link our behavior, including stocking decisions, back to our values, and how do we define those values?
“Hopefully, we can use this meeting as a hands-on, educational opportunity to look at our internal processes and product purchase philosophy.”
In its lawsuit, Eden used the same argument as Hobby Lobby — that the ACA — a/k/a Obamacare — violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring employers to pay for health insurance that covers contraceptives they oppose on religious grounds. The plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby objected to several specific contraceptives; Eden founder and CEO Michael Potter sought exemption from paying for any contraception at all because it runs counter to his beliefs as a Catholic.
After losing in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Eden appealed to the Supreme Court, which opted to hear the Hobby Lobby case. On June 30, 2014, the court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, and immediately ordered the lower courts to reconsider the Eden case and several others on the basis of that ruling. The Eden case is still open.
Weavers Way’s current position, like many other co-ops and progressive grocery stores around the country, has been that members should decide individually whether they want to buy Eden Foods products.
“While I have no problem personally choosing whether or not to buy Eden’s product, I do have a problem with telling buyers to stop purchasing,” said Weavers Way General Manager Glenn Bergman. “It is important that our members are able to choose, and not just upper management. We want the members to come to this meeting with an open mind, ready to listen to both sides.”
About Weavers Way: Founded in 1973 as a neighborhood buying club, the Co-op now encompasses two grocery stores, three specialty shops in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill and still growing. Weavers Way is member-owned and open to everyone. We are committed to offering quality products that are local, sustainable and nutritious. For more information, visitwww.weaversway.coop.