Archive for March, 2013

Whole Foods’ labeling decision draws criticism

March 12th, 2013 3 comments

Late last week, Whole Foods Market became the first national grocery chain to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Labeling genetically engineered foods – sometimes called GMO or genetically modified foods – have been ballot issues in a couple western U.S. states, including California and Washington. The measure died last November in California. It will appear on the ballot in Washington this November.

Supporters of the labeling say it’s needed so consumers can know what they’re buying. Supermarket chains opposed the measures, citing legal liability concerns. GMO producers like Monsanto also opposed the measure, disputing claims that the products were unsafe.

Whole Foods will not start labeling GMO in its American and Canadian stores until 2018. The grocer’s Jackson store in Highland Village is currently under construction and is scheduled to open this fall.

Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb said the five year window would make the transition easier on the grocer’s suppliers.

“This is a complicated issue, and we wanted to give our supplier partners enough time to make this change,” he said in a March 8 letter posted on the company’s website. “Fortunately, many of our suppliers are already well on their way to moving to Non-GMO ingredients and a good number are already there. While five years is the deadline, we know there will be progress much sooner and we plan to announce key milestones along the way.”

GMO opponents reacted to Whole Foods’ decision generally unfavorably.

Food Democracy Now, which supported California’s measure and is doing the same in Washington, said Whole Foods should start the labeling process immediately.

“While this is a step in the right direction, Whole Foods’ customers shouldn’t have to wait another half decade to get common sense labeling of genetically engineered ingredients in their products that they sell unlabeled every day,” said Dave Murphy, the organization’s founder. Murphy, who co-chaired the push to pass the ballot measure in California, said its chances of passage would have increased had Whole Foods supported the measure sooner than it did.

Whole Foods’ Jackson location will be the first in Mississippi. Construction started on the 30,000 square-foot store in November.

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Golf numbers nationwide, in Mississippi dip in January

March 8th, 2013 No comments

In a recent issue of the Mississippi Business Journal, the PGA’s PerformanceTrak showed that rounds of golf played nationwide in 2012 were up 6.4 percent over 2011, the largest jump in more than a decade.

Mississippi’s numbers were actually down 13 percent in 2012, but golf entrepreneur Randy Watkins said that his numbers had taken an upswing that was in line with the national data.

Watkins attributed his increase to last year’s mild winter, which allowed golfers to begin their playing year earlier than usual. He also cited an economy that was generally healthier than it had been.

The PGA has released numbers for January 2013, and they tell a different story than the year-end figures. Rounds played for the month were down 12.3 percent. There is a catch, though: days open were down about the same percentage.

The Midwest states had significantly more snow this winter than last. Jackson even had snow that lasted about a half-day, part of an overall weather pattern that had January rounds played in Mississippi down 25 percent. (For comparison, January 2012’s rounds played nationwide were up almost 30 percent over January 2011.) For January, food and beverage revenue was up, while overall revenue was down about 4 percent in 2013 from 2012.

The figures dame from responses from 3,414 golf facilities across the U.S.

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PSC approves multi-year rate plan for Kemper coal plant

March 5th, 2013 No comments

Mississippi Public Service commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to approve a multi-year rate plan for Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County coal plant.

Terms of the plan call for the utility to receive $99 million in construction-work-in-progress funds for the rest of 2013. That will create a rate increase between 12 and 13 percent for residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month, starting in April. The average residential customer uses about 1,100 kw/h per month, according to PSC figures. Power bills will rise by a little less than $20 per month, according to utility estimates.

In 2014, rates will increase by another 3 percent, bringing the total rate increase associated with CWiP to 15 percent. When Mississippi Power issues bonds to cover costs exceeding $2.4 billion – company CFO Moses Feagin said Monday that would likely happen in late 2014 – rates will jump again. The cumulative rate impact over the life of the seven-year plan and the bond issuance is expected to peak at 22 percent. Those calculations do not include fuel adjustment costs, which could raise or lower rates, depending on the price of fuel.

Mississippi Power, during a hearing that lasted most of Monday afternoon, had asked for more revenue, but Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz said the $99 million figure was appropriate because “we’re in the middle of people’s budget years. I felt that would be the best amount.”

The multi-year rate plan and the bond issuance were part of a settlement between the PSC and the utility that ended litigation brought when regulators denied last summer a 13 percent rate increase for the project. Gov. Phil Bryant signed last week two pieces of legislation that codified the settlement.

The vote on the rate plan came after a public comment hearing that lasted the bulk of Monday morning.  Of the two dozen or so people who spoke, seven were in favor of the project.

One was David Carr, the mayor of Newton, which sits just southwest of the Kemper County site.

“Mississippi Power is our No. 1 economic booster,” Carr said. “They would not have started this plant if they did not think it was in the best interests of customers.”

Most of the objectors had pointed remarks for Bentz and Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey, who has routinely voted for the project. Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley has been the lone dissenting vote.

Commenters used a variety of terms to describe Bentz and Posey’s support of the project, suggesting they were subservient to “corporate puppet-masters” and calling the rate increases “corporate fascism.”

After the public comment portion of the hearing, Bentz retaliated.

“It’s very easy to sit back and make accusations that are untrue,” he said to the audience in the PSC’s hearing room. Bentz said a lot of the problems arose from “misinformation” being spread by the media and special interest groups on both sides of the issue.

One of the groups Bentz singled out was the Sierra Club, which has opposed the plant from its inception, calling it expensive and unnecessary.

Louie Miller, executive director of the environmental group’s Mississippi chapter, called the PSC’s approval of the rate plan “shameful” and said it would place an additional burden on Mississippi Power ratepayers who are already struggling financially.

Mississippi Power spokesperson Cindy Duvall called Tuesday’s vote “a huge step forward.”

“The sooner we can get cost recovery for our facility, the less overall cost impact for our customers,” she said. We’re going to go and review the order in its entirety and we’ll determine next steps from there.”


Toyota’s sales maintain streak of year-over-year increases

March 1st, 2013 No comments

Toyota Motor Sales USA reported an increase in sales over the prior year for February, though the jump wasn’t quite as big as the last two.

Total sales of Lexus, Toyota and Scion vehicles were 166,377 units in February, up 4.7 percent in volume and 8.7 percent on a daily selling rate from the same period last year. The increase was led by the full-size Avalon sedan (sales up 63 percent) and the crossover RAV 4, whose sales were up 5 percent and recorded its best February ever with 13,329 units sold. Sales of the Corolla, which is made in Blue Springs, increased 12.9 percent.

The modest jump comes after two straight reporting periods that saw increases of more than 20 percent. Overall sales in 2012 were up 26 percent over 2011. Sales for January 2013, which had one more selling day than the prior year, jumped 21.6 percent.

Toyota group vice president and general manager Bill Fay said in a press release that February’s numbers were especially gratifying, because the month had several roadblocks.

“Despite rising gas prices, severe winter storms and concerns about the federal budget, February was a good indication of the overall strength of the market,” Fay said. “With the most fuel efficient full line of vehicles, Toyota is well positioned and we’re encouraged by very positive consumer reaction to our new Avalon and RAV4.”

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