With summer winding down, vacations over and kids returning to school, it’s time once again to catch up on some food & ag news from around the world. It’s been a busy time, with lots of news we at Dirt-to-Dinner found to be important, interesting, sometimes outrageous and occasionally funny. So, in case you missed it….
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.”