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Questions and Answers About the Food Industry Consumer Organization (FICO)

How a Canadian FICO with 1 million members and a $40 million annual budget can be formed

The Food Industry Consumer Organization (FICO) is a proposed federally-chartered, non-profit organization designed to represent and educate food products consumers, and hold food industry companies accountable.

The FICO proposal is based upon Citizen Utility Boards (CUBs) which have been established in four states in the U.S.  In these states, utilities were required to enclose a one-page pamphlet in their billing envelopes inviting people to join the CUB.  About five percent of consumers usually join the CUB at a $10-15 annual membership fee.  CUBs are independent, broad-based watchdog groups that are run democratically by their members and represent consumers’ interests in the marketplace.  For example, in Illinois the CUB has 150,000 members, a $1.5 million annual budget, and has saved consumers more than $20 billion since 1983 by opposing rate hikes by utilities.

According to a national survey, 64% of Canadians support the creation of the FICO using the pamphlet method, while only 27% oppose it.

In addition, a national coalition made up of 31 citizen groups with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians supports the creation of the FICO.

To set up the FICO, the Canadian federal and provincial governments must require companies that sell food products (supermarkets, chain restaurants) to hand out a one-page pamphlet to their individual customers at the cashier stations at each store.

Alternatively, these companies could volunteer to hand out the pamphlet, and as long as enough companies volunteered enough people would receive the pamphlet to make the FICO viable.

The pamphlet will describe the FICO and invite individuals to join at an annual membership fee of about $40 (with a lower fee for people with low incomes).  The government can either lend or grant to the FICO the funds needed to print the first pamphlet.  After the first pamphlet, however, the FICO will pay all the costs of the pamphlet.  As a result, the FICO can be set up at little or no cost to government or the companies that sell food products.

If only four percent of the 25 million Canadians who buy food products join the FICO, it will have 1 million members and a $40 million annual budget.  With these resources and large membership base, the FICO will be strong enough to hold food industry companies accountable for their activities both in Canada and worldwide.

The federal and provincial governments could (and should) also increase their royalty and/or tax rate from industrial agricultural food producers, and give the extra amount of money collected to the FICO.

The FICO will be a democratic organization, controlled by its members through the election of regional delegates and the FICO’s board of directors.  The board will hire the FICO’s professional staff and determine the group’s policies.

The FICO will hire economists, experts, organizers, lobbyists and attorneys to represent food product consumers and hold food industry companies accountable.

The FICO will also educate consumers about food issues, especially sustainability and waste reduction.

Large food industry companies control farmland and produce food products in remote areas often far away from the eyes of the public.  These companies have often produced food in ways that are not legal, or failed to keep commitments to produce food in sustainable ways.

Canada’s farms and food products are crucial to the security of the country and are a valuable public resource — they are also key to having a healthy environment and a ready supply of healthy food for all Canadians.  However, many times the public has not had a strong voice in government and food industry decisions about the use and conservation of land, and the production of food.

The FICO will act as a broad-based, well-resourced umbrella group, giving food products consumers an organized voice for their interests.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign