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Of course it is.

WE ALL KNOW THAT WHEN anyone says it isn't about the money, it's about the money. This is especially true when the subject is business. And particularly so when the subject is tough new competition. And the question is settled completely if the incumbent business refuses to even mention money at all.

Take, for instance, that fascinating letter to the editor that appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week. The writer, Donna Masterson of Fayetteville, argued that Bentonville's Wal-Mart Stores Inc. should not receive a permit to operate a liquor store that will share a common wall with a Sam's Club it plans to build in Fayetteville.

"If Sam's gets this license approved, by next year we will not be able to take our children or grandchildren when we go to purchase groceries, gas, etc., without leading them past hard liquor," Masterson wrote. "Now people have a choice on whether they expose their children to liquor. By 2007, it will be2 in all the grocery stores, Wal-Mart and Sam's stores all over the state. This is just the start for Wal-Mart and top executives will tell you this."

Actually, Wal-Mart executives specifically won't tell you this, but that's not the real weakness in Masterson's plea for the protection of innocent children. The real weakness came next:

"This may sound funny coming from a liquor store owner; but this is not what I want for my state."

Ah. Masterson is a Fayetteville liquor store owner, and her only concern about an encroachment on her market by the single most successful retailer in recorded history is ... the children.

If you believe that, you'll also believe that safety is the Arkansas Development Finance Authority's only interest in challenging a Mississippi State University study that found that Vietnamese catfish taste better than U.S. farm-raised catfish. Pay no attention to the fact that ADFA is so heavily invested in catfish operations that it has an officer, Ted McNulty, whose title is vice president for aquaculture.

McNulty zipped out a press release last week after publications across the country picked up a wire service report on the MSU study. "American consumers should not be deceived," McNulty began, apparently with a straight face.

Deceived? Deceived by a taxpayer-supported academic institution in a state that produces five times more commercial catfish than Arkansas? Deceived by the 58 people who participated in blind taste comparisons of fried and baked catfish and basa--the label Vietnamese catfish are now required to carry when imported into the U.S.--and preferred the basa by a ratio of 3-to-1?

"The small number of untrained tasters plus the restricted demographic of the tasters makes it impossible to make any significant conclusion from this study," McNulty said, without offering any direct evidence contradicting the study's conclusion. (And, of course, he didn't acknowledge that folks in Starkville, Miss., are as likely to know good catfish as any other consumers, trained or not.) Instead, McNulty stated with conviction that basa is raised in rivers overflowing with raw sewage and chemical waste while U.S. catfish grow in controlled ponds using only filtered well water. Homegrown catfish, he concluded, is "much more desirable to domestic consumers." But again, he offered nothing to directly contradict MSU Professor Doug Marshall's finding that "both fish were about the same in terms of quality and safety indicators" and were similar nutritionally although the U.S. fish were a tad fattier.

Here's the deal: U.S. catfish farmers don't want competition from cheap Vietnamese imports any more than Donna Masterson wants to do battle with Wal-Mart. If Vietnamese catfish is really contaminated, don't you think those catfish farmers could prove it shouldn't even be allowed into the U.S. diet regardless of labeling? If the sight of a liquor bottle is a true detriment to children, let's ban all TV and billboard advertising of those products that Masterson sells.

Professor Marshall says U.S. catfish farmers need to figure out how to improve their product if they want to compete with the Vietnamese. We suggest a similar mindset for liquor retailers in Fayetteville, because--with reckless disregard for the welfare of children--the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has approved WalMart's liquor license.
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jul 25, 2005
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