The Case for New Breeding Technologies

dna corn gmo

Joan Conrow is a longtime journalist, editor and communications consultant specializing in agriculture and biotechnology. Her clients include the Cornell Alliance for Science. She resides in Santa Fe, NM, with her two rescue dogs.

With the global population expected to top 9 billion by 2050, and climate change impacts likely to reduce crop yields 25-30% in that time, the question increasingly becomes how to keep everyone fed.

That query assumes particular urgency in light of a new global report that calls for revolutionary changes in agriculture and other key areas to ensure that people aren’t pushed further into hunger and poverty, leading to increased conflict and political instability.

The Time is Now

The report by the Global Commission on Adaptation noted that climate change is already worsening food insecurity, and urged governments to promote “climate-smart” interventions to boost agricultural productivity.

Technological innovations, such as gene editing and synthetic biology, offer tools for developing crops that can withstand climate change impacts, such as drought, heat, intense rainfall and plant diseases — if they are allowed to move forward.

“Food production today continues to face old and new threats in ways that are more complex than ever imagined,” said Nassib Mugwanya, an agricultural communications expert from Uganda who is now pursuing a doctorate at North Carolina State University. “The situation gets even worse in developing countries, where much of the food production is reliant on an increasingly changing climate and less productive farming practices. The urgency needed to address these threats requires opening doors to all options that can be of help.”

Bill Gates, the co-chair of both the Global Commission on Adaption and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed similar views in a statement that accompanied the release of the report.

“People everywhere are experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change. Those most impacted are the millions of smallholder farmers and their families in developing countries, who are struggling with poverty and hunger due to low crop yields caused by extreme changes in temperature and rainfall. With greater support for innovation, we can unlock new opportunities and spur change across the global ecosystem.”

– Bill Gates, co-chair of Global Commission on Adaption

Though Gates and the Global Commission outlined specific steps for achieving these revolutionary changes, such as investing in crop research, the call for using new breeding technologies (NBTs) to help agriculture adapt to climate change is not new.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a similar endorsement in its 2016 report: “Biotechnologies, both low- and high-tech, can help small-scale producers, in particular, to be more resilient and to adapt better to climate change.”

More recently, Petra Jorasch of the International Seed Federation published a study that underscored the need for plant breeding innovations to effectively address challenges associated with climate change and a growing population.

Improved plant varieties developed through NBTs have a better capacity to withstand pests and diseases while using fewer resources, her report noted. They also offer stable yields in an unstable climate.

“The new tools of breeding, such as oligonucleotide mutagenesis or CRISPR-Cas9 are more helpful than the previous techniques because these tools allow breeders to do their job in an even more precise and efficient manner,” Jorasch wrote.

 “New breeding technologies have a great potential in tackling major threats to food security in more promising ways than old technologies. Closing doors to these new breeding technologies is like stopping a major required ‘software upgrade’ in food production, which may lead to a ‘freeze’ or serious crash in the system.”

– Nassib Mugwanya, Ugandan agricultural communications expert

A Global Front for NBT Innovations

Innovations in plant breeding can also help agriculture shrink its sizable environmental footprint by making more efficient use of limited resources, such as freshwater, and reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers, the manufacture of which results in substantial carbon emissions. Equally important, these crops have the potential to deliver good harvests by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, as an example. Achieving better yields on existing acreage can reduce the pressure to bring wildlands, such as the Amazon rainforest, into production.

The United States, Japan, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries have streamlined the regulatory process for these new breeding techniques, and China is investing heavily in gene-edited crops in a bid to feed its 1.4 billion citizens.

However, the European Union and some developing nations in Africa and Asia are lagging behind, in part because they either have a regulatory system that is cumbersome or none at all. In an effort to support gene editing, the African Union recently began exploring ways to harmonize the biosafety regulatory framework among its 55 member nations.

Elizabeth Wangeci Njuguna, a plant molecular biologist who is currently pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Cape Town, South Africa, sees that as a positive step toward embracing NBTs.

“If Africa does not adopt new breeding technologies, I think it will lose a great opportunity to improve its agricultural production system to ensure food security and the general wellbeing of its people,” Njuguna said. “Economically, this will be a poor decision since an enhanced agricultural production system, coupled with vast land and favorable climatic conditions throughout the year, would not only ensure a thriving local food market and employment for Africa’s people but would also give individual countries a competitive edge in the world food export market, making the continent the world’s breadbasket.”

Gene editing also can make a significant contribution to food security, in part by improving the so-called “orphan crops,” like cowpea, pulses, and cassava, that are nutritious staple foods in developing nations, seven international researchers wrote in a recent article in Science. These crops also represent an important source of income for smallholder farmers, thus helping to alleviate poverty, the article noted.

Supporting Innovations for Generations to Come

Albert Caraan, a pioneer member of UP Grains, an organization that offers informational workshops on biotechnology concepts to high school students in far-flung agricultural communities in the Philippines, sees other potential benefits.

“Adoption of NBTs could, in some way, entice the youth to be involved in agricultural research,” he observed. “Gen Z has more affinity for new technologies, thus giving them the chance to get hands-on experience in this field and possibly bringing more young people to agriculture.”

This is important, since many of the world’s farmers are over the age of 60, and young people, including Gen Zers, have been reluctant to pursue the economic uncertainty and hard physical labor that often accompanies farming.

Njuguna also believes that people will welcome NBTs — provided they are accompanied by adequate public education. This includes information about how the science works, safety procedures that are in place and the various benefits that these breeding technologies hope to confer.

“I think that there will be great expectations among the people since this touches on their food and livelihood,” Njuguna said.

“In my opinion, people will expect that the new technology will be a game-changer and solve a good number of challenges that they are currently facing. For instance, farmers will expect most pests and diseases that affect their crops and livestock will be eradicated for good and they can also grow plants that survive drought and salinity. Pastoralists will expect that they don’t have to walk miles to find fodder for their livestock. I also think that most end-product consumers will expect that the technology will result in higher amounts of foodstuffs available throughout the year at affordable prices. For the growing middle class that is more aware and cautious with their food, they will expect that the new breeding technology will result in food produced safely for consumption, with higher nutrient content and more variety at fair prices.”

– Elizabeth Wangeci Njuguna, plant molecular biologist, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cape Town

Ultimately, Caraan said, NBTs likely hold the key to preventing the “push into poverty” that the Global Commission on Adaption hopes to avoid.

“I believe that the adoption of new breeding technologies in agriculture will boost global efforts to eliminate poverty and hunger,” Caraan said. “Embracing NBTs will provide a powerful tool in our arsenal to combat the negative effects of climate change by expediting the breeding processes. However, strict and stringent regulations will hamper our chances in achieving global goals, most importantly, no poverty and zero hunger.”

Solein: A Space-Age Protein

Wait, what is Solein, you may ask? Well, to put it in its most basic terms, it’s a protein-rich powder made from carbon dioxide-eating bacteria, and with just a touch of space dust. Put it all together, and poof, you have a bland compound that can be mixed with practically anything to give it substantive nutritional value – and with all essential amino acids, to boot! But that’s just the beginning.

A Stellar Feat for Protein

We know most good things come from the land, but the idea for this protein began in space! Based in Finland and founded by CEO, Dr. Pasi Vainikka and his colleagues, Solar Foods got its start in 2017 from VTT, a Finnish research institute.

The original intent of the project was to provide a continuous supply of protein for astronauts en route to Mars in the NASA space program. From there, the founders further refined their process at VTT and the Lappeenranta University of Technology.

Completely disconnected from agriculture, Solar Foods plans to feed the world while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

What is Solein?

Solar Foods has a vision to solve the world’s food crisis beyond agricultural limitations. Dr. Vainikka and his team found a way for bacteria to eat CO2 instead of sugar, thus completely changing the dynamic of protein conversion. Another factor that makes Solein wholly unique? This protein source is devoid of any agriculture involvement – no arable land, no irrigation…no problem!

Solein, a complete protein, is created from the combination of a proprietary bacteria, CO2, water, and electricity. The fermentation process is entirely natural and similar to the production of yeast. But instead of sugars, their unique microbes consume CO2 and hydrogen for energy via water electrolysis, a process of splitting water cells using electricity. Other nutrients are added, too, such as potassium, sodium, and phosphorus.

All this occurs in a bioreactor, from which the team must continually remove the liquid that the process creates. Once the liquid dries, what remains is the elusive Solein powder. Currently, Solar Foods produces about one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of Solein per day.

Solein Applications

You may be wondering what this airy powder might look like. Well, it looks like wheat flour – quite a nondescript ingredient. But with its nutritional profile of 50% protein, 20-25% carbs, and 5-10% fat, it has a slightly savory taste that’s similar to eggs. Despite this unctuousness, the product is also vegan.

With a versatile texture and profile, you can expect this product to be in almost anything and everything, from shakes to cultured meat in the coming years. Given its malleable consistency, Solein protein powder can be used as an added ingredient in yogurts, breads, drinks, and pasta. Not much different than a protein powder we may use in our shakes, but with fewer ingredients and demanding fewer natural resources.

Solein can also contribute to the dizzying array of alternative meats, making these products even more protein-dense while keeping the mouthfeel intact. It can even be 3D-printed to give it a more textured look and feel. And because Solein has all of the essential amino acids, it can feed cultured meat cells in lab-grown environments.

Sustainability with Solein

Perhaps the most compelling part of Solein is that there’s no limit to the supply. Solein can even be produced anywhere a lab can be sustainably built, including on land where conventional protein production has never been possible – like deserts and the Arctic.

Also compelling? Instead of adding to greenhouse gases, Solein actually consumes carbon dioxide. Moreover, Solein is produced by using renewable electricity such as hydropower. And given its lower energy demand, this process can be adapted for other alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power.

And there’s no need for arable land or irrigation, either. Dr. Vannika states that Solein is “completely” disconnected from agriculture. The soil microbes used for their proprietary bacteria only require collection from natural land just once. From there, the microbes are grown in a lab, and the inorganic nutrients they use are obtained from mineral deposits that don’t require the use of fertile land.

Production metrics show Solein’s substantial impact, or lack thereof, on natural resources. Solar Foods conducted research at its lab and reported the following findings:

Solein is reported to be at least 100 times more climate-friendly than any animal or plant-based alternative. And unlike conventional protein production, which can use over 2,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, Solein only needs just over a gallon of water. 

Furthermore, Solein is 10 times more efficient than soy when measured by protein yield per acre.

Plans for Growth

With a pilot lab already underway, Solar Foods appears to have an aggressive roadmap for their planned global commercial launch in 2021. The first factory producing Solein is scheduled to open at the end of 2021, producing 50 million meals per year, scaling up to two billion meals by the end of 2022.  Their picture on their slide show would be good here.

Solar Foods plans to price Solein powder between $8 and $11 per kilogram, which Dr. Vainikka hopes will compete with current plant- and animal-based proteins. Though this price seems reasonable to us consumers, keep in mind this pricing is for food producers that will integrate Solein into their product line. They will then sell their end product to consumers, so the price by that point will most likely be higher than conventional protein sources, or at least initially.

Can this really work?

But our tastes and purchase patterns have everything to do with the long-term success of a product like this. With all the hype and media attention, it’s easy to see Solein as an answer to many of our global woes. But some consumers may have a hard time eating a lab-grown protein like this, as we don’t like the thought of our food coming from anything other than a farm or garden, no matter how eco-friendly the product.

And some critics find the scalability of this powder unachievable:

“This is a technological marvel, perhaps, but it’s not a food system,”

– Peter Tyedmers, Dalhousie University

At one kilogram per day, Solar Foods’ low production yield concerns food expert Peter Tyedmers, a professor in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. He doesn’t believe Solar Foods can even begin to dent the production yields of our current agricultural system. And even if yields were impactful, the price for Solein would still be too high to decrease global hunger levels.

But should large-scale production be feasible, a product like Solein would be a feat for humankind. And it will take all kinds of protein sources to feed our growing population: plant, cell-based, air-based and animal proteins alike. Ingenuity, technology, and innovation are the key to our future. The key component will be getting consumers on board with eating alternative protein whether it is made in a lab or grow in a feedlot.

How Blockchain is Disrupting the Ag Supply Chain

Consider the lone chicken.

The modern poultry farm is a vast and complex place, a maze of houses, yards and transportation centers that can easily support more than 14,000 animals at a time. All part of an industry that raises more than 50 billion chickens annually.

But, even in such a large space, there are reasons to pay attention to each individual chicken. Maybe we want to keep track of what that bird was fed over the course of its lifetime. Maybe we need to maintain a record of the antibiotics it was given (or not given) and its associated disease history. Maybe we simply want to prove to the end consumer exactly where that chicken came from and how it was raised.

Because the path from farm to plate today is far from a straight line.

The poultry supply chain starts in the coop: when that chicken is hatched it begins its life on the farm. Then, over the course of the next three to five months, it grows into a mature bird, packing on several pounds of new weight and prepares for harvesting.

At that point, its time on the farm is over and it enters the production chain. Depending on what it will eventually be used for – maybe it will be sold as a whole broiler, or maybe it will be broken up into individual parts, or maybe it will be turned into something entirely different – the chicken is sent to a production facility, processed and sent on its way to the retailer. That retailer, also known as your local grocer, is the last step in the chain, finally delivering that chicken to the end consumer.

That’s a very high-level overview, and even at that level, there are a lot of moving pieces in the process that can cause problems.

Maybe that chicken was not raised in an organic manner but ends up on the wrong truck to be sold as an organic broiler.

Maybe it was fed a high-quality, low-grain diet that cost the poultry farmer extra, but that fact didn’t earn them anything extra at the sale because they couldn’t prove it to the wholesaler.

Or maybe that chicken contracted a disease somewhere along the way that went unnoticed, and it ended up being combined with healthy chickens from elsewhere and contaminating them as well.

Whatever the case, the industry has a problem. It needs a way to accurately and securely track and monitor the entire supply chain, and it needs to be scalable to handle the needs of one of the largest logistical operations in the world. After all, agriculture, on the whole, is a massive industry worth $1 trillion and accounting for 5.4% of U.S. GDP in 2017.

The solution is waiting in a somewhat unlikely place.

A new frontier for technology

The last few years might as well be renamed “the age of blockchain.”

What was, until fairly recently, a subject only well known among tech enthusiasts and cryptocurrency buffs burst into the mainstream in the fall of 2017, during Bitcoin’s epic run-up to $19,000 and beyond.

Seemingly overnight, everyone suddenly had an opinion on cryptocurrencies and the obscure technology underpinning them. Because that’s how blockchain technology got its start in 2009: as the fundamental technology on which the cryptocurrency market is built. Blockchain is defined as: “a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network.”

Essentially, it’s a way to digitally prove who you are and what you have that’s permanent and cannot be altered or forged. The information is recorded on a public ledger to ensure transparency.

When applied to cryptocurrencies, this functionality is very straightforward. Blockchain is a way for me to prove to you that I have the coins I say I do and, when I send them to you, is a verifiable way for you to prove that value has been transferred to you.

But blockchain has other applications across industries that are just starting to come to the surface.

For example, banks are using the technology to better facilitate cross-border financial transfers and speed up digital transactions. Western Union, for instance, has been using blockchain to power its money transfers for more than a year.

IBM is using it to create iron-clad “digital identities” and prevent identify theft.

And governments are even using it to improve public services and crackdown on crime.

But it’s in agriculture that the true power of blockchain technology might fully come to life, enabling all of the tracking and security measures that the industry has been working on for years while simultaneously stepping up to meet today’s consumer demands.

Adapting to a more engaged consumer

“The industry has been moving toward traceability for years, with the advent of natural and organic and so on and so forth,” explains Steve Sands, VP of Protein at Performance Food Group (PFG), one of the largest food distributors in the U.S. “But most of those systems were affidavit based, so they were only as good as the guy who signed the piece of paper saying, ‘I raised my animal this way.’”

That worked for a while, but in the face of new customer expectations and tastes, it just wasn’t enough.

“For us as a food distributor, we want to make sure that the brands that we own are infallible in those claims,” Sands says, “and that led us to introduce an extra layer of infallibility, or auditability, to ensure that we weren’t making claims that we couldn’t back up. In a $20-billion company like PFG, you better be doing what you say you’re doing.”

– Steve Sands, VP of Protein at Performance Food Group

Over the years, PFG has developed a number of processes to help make this a reality, establishing verifiable standards for the farmers it worked with, auditing the records, tracking the DNA of the animals it was purchasing and more. Blockchain is a natural evolution of these efforts.

“I think [blockchain] has different applications for different food products,” he explains, “so it might be better suited to things like produce that travel through the supply chain largely intact but may go through many different hands before ending up at a restaurant.”

That’s opposed to something like a 550-pound animal carcass that will be cut up into hundreds of different products and then combined with hundreds of other products before being shipped out. In those cases, DNA might be a better tool, but blockchain still addresses a need.

“Where blockchain would come in handy is on the live side, because that live animal may trade several times before it gets to the point of slaughter,” Sands says. “Typically, a cow-calf operation is going to try to sell that animal once it’s weaned, and off to a rancher who will put it on grass and let it grow for a year before selling it off to a feedlot. Every time that animal changes hands, blockchain would be very useful because it would be a way to maintain that chain of custody without having to go to the expense of DNA at every step, which you really can’t do.”

And PFG is far from alone in this.

IBM has teamed up with companies including Dole, Driscoll’s, Kroger, Nestle, Tyson, and Unilever on the so-called IBM Food Trust, which is leveraging IBM’s computing platform to improve data traceability and speed up results for all involved. According to reports, the time it takes to trace an individual item from a grocer’s shelf to the field where it was produced has been trimmed from seven days to as little as 2.2 seconds, enabling companies to quickly identify and isolate contaminated supply chains and issue recalls in real-time.

Starbucks is working on a new “bean to cup” program that’s built on the blockchain to promote ethical sourcing in the coffee industry.

French retail chain Carrefour in 2018 launched what it called Europe’s first food blockchain in order to track the one million-plus free-range chickens it sells in its stores every year, with plans to extend the technology to 8 more animal and vegetable product lines in the coming year.

And last Thanksgiving, Cargill expanded its popular “blockchain for turkeys” program to 30 states, offering consumers direct access to information about 200,000 turkeys from 70 farms under its Honeysuckle White brand.

What’s next?

If that is any indication, the potential applications of blockchain technology are broad and the industry is just beginning to scratch the surface. From traceability to verification, to sourcing, quality and more, blockchain stands to revolutionize not only the agriculture supply chain, but what consumers can expect from it going forward.

But questions remain, according to Christophe Uzureau, a blockchain and token analyst with Gartner and the co-author, along with Gartner colleague David Furlonger, of the book “The Real Business of Blockchain: How Leaders Can Create Value in a New Digital Age,” which discusses the pitfalls and possibilities of the technology for businesses.

“Today we’re at the stage of adoption where we’re reaching critical mass,” he says, “so now we need to complete the blockchain in order for it to reach its full potential. We’re moving in that direction, but we’re still only likely to see maturity post-2020, or more likely 2023.”

– Christophe Uzureau, Gartner analyst

In Uzureau’s view, there are five elements that need to be in place before blockchain can truly revolutionize the ag supply chain: trust, distribution, encryption, tokenization, and specialization, all of which the industry has up and running in at least their early stages. The next step, then, is what he calls the “enhanced blockchain,” which is when the technology gets fully integrated with existing ag system, including Internet of Thing (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence and more.

“That’s the fundamental next step,” he says, “and it’s clearly a challenge, but the potential for what it could mean for the supply chain could be very big. Farmers today have many different sensors and capture lots of data. By bringing all of that information today and using it to make better decisions about the supply chain, even the smallest players in the market could contribute directly to the whole system. It would revolutionize what the supply chain can do.”

Now imagine reconnecting with that lone chicken in your grocery store. On its packaging label, you see a QR code. With your phone, you scan the code and immediately see the chicken’s farm, feed and medical information – the power of blockchain demonstrated for consumers and processors alike.

Comparing Traditional & Alternative Burgers

Plant-based burgers have taken the media and our menus by storm. Fast-food establishments like Carl’s Jr., Burger King, White Castle, Red Robin and TGI Friday’s have all added the alternative burgers to their protein offerings – and even more restaurants are following suit. We even saw the Beyond Burger in the wilds of the Pennsylvania countryside this summer.

Comparison of popular meat and meat alternatives

They may look, taste and even ‘bleed’ like real meat, but how do the nutritional profiles of these plant-based alternative burgers compare to more traditional options? Let’s take a look!


Key nutritional differences

From the chart above, you can easily identify some similarities, but also some obvious differences. The most glaring difference? The number of ingredients. Traditional meat products typically have one ingredient: meat. These meat-like products, however, are more complicated! Comprised of a variety of ingredients, Beyond Burger has 18, while Impossible burger has 21.

These meatless alternatives have a similar amount of protein as traditional burgers, but how? The Beyond Burger lists pea isolate, a plant-derived protein, as its second ingredient after water. Alternatively, Impossible Burger credits soy and potato isolates for their main sources of protein.

While the primary protein source is not made from whole foods, they do contain a healthy amount of nutrients such as iron, calcium and in the case of Impossible burger, high amounts of B12, an important ingredient for those not eating meat.

Veggie burgers sold from consumer product companies, like MorningStar Farms and Kraft Heinz, are also non-whole-food based, deriving their protein from soy. These products lack the complex nutrient profile that the plant-based alternatives contain.

So, what is a whole-food-based option? A good example of a whole-food-based burger is Kellogg’s Gardenburger, which contains rolled oats, mushrooms, and brown rice as its first three ingredients. While the protein makeup is only 8.5 grams per 4 ounce burger, this alternative is a great source of fiber at 12% DV, and contains moderate levels of Vitamin A, C, calcium, and iron.

How are these meatish products made?

It is pretty obvious how a cow becomes a hamburger, but Beyond and Impossible consider the production of their products as proprietary information. With the Impossible Burger, however, we know it is made with genetically-modified heme. In order to make their ‘meat’ look ‘blood-red’, they use an iron-containing molecule found in the root nodules of soy. They then take the DNA for soy leghemoglobin, insert it into yeast, and ferment the yeast.

Impossible Foods also proudly embraces GMO soy to ‘solve critical environmental, health, safety, and food security problems’ and have long advocated for responsible use of this technology in the food system.

So should I be eating Beyond and Impossible burgers or traditional beef?

The answer depends on your dietary needs. While the Impossible and Beyond burgers are not necessarily unhealthy, they are not the healthier choice over traditional beef or veggie burgers either. It has been reported that we Americans tend to eat too much red meat, so making room for more vegetables in our diets can only improve our health. So how can I get more veggies?

Well, a common misconception is that these new plant-based options are like the V-8 of burgers. The fact is that eating less red meat and more vegetables does not mean substituting traditional meats for these meatless options. You are not eating whole vegetables when you eat a Beyond or Impossible burger; to achieve that, you would need whole vegetables or burgers made from them.

Here are some great burger recipes we love – all with good amounts of protein, whole vegetables and a nice amount of fiber: Homemade Black Bean Veggie Burger, Sweet Potato Burger, and High Fiber Veggie Burger.

Alternative meat burgers are just another choice in the grocery store. Everyone has different preferences and dietary guidelines. While we are optimistic about the emerging environmentally-friendly food technologies, the biggest challenge still left to face is the nutrition of these products. These are exciting options for those who don’t eat meat. And in the future, it will be great to see protein sources with more whole-food-based options and less sodium.

Back to Business: D2D News Recap

Glyphosate Wars Continue to Rage

The battle over the potential health risks of glyphosate – the key ingredient of the popular weed killer, Roundup – saw new developments that seemed helpful to both sides in the debate. The number of U.S. civil lawsuits against Roundup’s parent company (Monsanto, later acquired by Bayer AG) has grown to 18,400 – a number prompting courts in California to consolidate various actions into class-action suits and multi-court district litigation. Initial jury awards in the hundreds of millions of dollars have been lowered afterward by judges reviewing the cases. But Bayer reportedly has offered to pay as much as $8 billion to settle the outstanding claims. The company also welcomed the Environmental Protection Agency’s following announcement:

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when the EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific-based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them.”

However, California officials said they will maintain their labeling requirement.

FAO Food Security Report Offers Grim News

The Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations released its annual assessment of global food security, highlighted by the grim news that the number of people facing food insecurity rose again for the third straight year. For more than a decade, the number had been declining amid a collective effort to deal with the problem by member nations. But the 2019 FAO report estimates the number of people without enough nutrition rose to 822 million – over 10% of the planet.

Poor economic conditions attracted much of the blame, but continuing episodes of natural disaster and disruption to local food production, political instability, outright conflict, and displaced populations also drew attention. In contrast, the report also noted the still-significant role played by obesity in contributing to global malnutrition.

Further Evidence of Weather Woes

The lingering effects of wet weather in key U.S. agricultural areas resulted in almost 20 million acres of cropland going unplanted this spring, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s the largest “prevented planting” area since the USDA began collecting such data back in 2007. Despite this, other USDA crop production estimates point to robust crops this year for most major commodities. Soybean farmers, beset by the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China, are expected to cut production by a whopping 19% as they shift to planting more of other crops, notably corn. USDA continues to predict modest overall food price increases for the year.

FDA Cautions Against Certain Pet Foods

As Dirt to Dinner previously reported, growing concerns with the adverse health effects of certain pet foods have attracted the attention of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has now issued a consumer advisory on the issue, naming several specific dry dog food products and launching a recall of products found to have toxic levels of vitamin D. To see the complete list of products covered by the alert, please visit this site.

Like We Also Said….

Following our recent post on the emergence of aquatic dead zones in the U.S. Gulf and other locations, the Trump Administration has spoken out about plans to use $100 million already authorized by Congress to fight “red tide” – the toxic algae bloom blamed for damage to fishing, recreational activities, and aquatic wildlife, notably in many Florida waters. Local authorities and water-related interests welcomed the attention called to the issue, despite the political overtones of the discussion. Red tide has played havoc with commercial and recreational fishing in some areas and made swimming in contaminated areas a very risky proposition.

Brexit Prompts Another Salvo in Debate over Genetic Engineering

British and European officials continue to trade barbs as the Oct. 31 deadline approaches for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. New UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson added to the fun by distancing his government from last summer’s gene-editing ruling by the European Court of Justice imposing stringent regulatory requirements. Many believe this “CRISPR” approach to genetics holds the key to the rapid development of better plant varieties that will increase food production and enhance food security.

Johnson recently promised “…to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bio-science sector from anti-genetic modification rules and…develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.”

UN Climate Report Urges Attention to Ag Production

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has jumped on the growing effort to curtail the role of modern eating habits and the global agricultural production system in contributing to what it warned could be “climate change-induced environmental catastrophe.”

In a report issued this summer, the panel of international scientists observed that “Earth’s climate is entering a qualitatively different stage.” Adding insult to injury, the IPCC claims that current ag practices misuse resources and actually make global warming worse, creating a “vicious cycle” that makes food more expensive, scarcer and less nutritious. So far leaders of major farm and food organizations have avoided substantive public comment on the report.

So what solutions does the report offer? One big idea: consuming less meat (especially red meats) and more plant-based foods. Other suggestions include more environmentally-friendly tillage techniques and more targeted use of fertilizers, coupled with serious efforts to reduce food waste. Such efforts would cut greenhouse gas emissions and make better use of precious natural resources, the experts concluded.

A Tax on Traditional Meats?

The broad subject of meat alternatives – both plant-based and cultured cell products – doesn’t seem to be losing any steam across the news media. Stories abound of efforts by fast-food chains and independent restaurants to add meat alternatives to their menus, including novel new offerings such as an “Impossible Burger” and a “Beyond Meatball Marinara.” Who would have thought these products would push us toward meat taxation?

A sign of the economic steam behind this emerging food product category might be in comments from government officials about the need to add taxes to the competitive mix. A study lead by Dr. Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food estimated there will be 2.4 million deaths due to red and processed meat consumption by 2020.

Governments with socialized medicine might also be licking their chops to recoup the estimated $285 billion in health care costs. German politicians have suggested an increase in taxes on traditional meats, from today’s 7% to upwards of 19%, with Sweden, The Netherlands and Denmark considering similar taxation practices.

And to Wash It Down

The Natural Hemp Company has announced launch of a CBD-infused sparkling water for people with an active lifestyle, creatively positioned as “the Gatorade of CBD beverages.” The product is called Day One CBD Sparkling Water and claims to have no sugars, calories or carbohydrates. The company didn’t elaborate on what constitutes an appropriate “active lifestyle.”