Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The biotech industry in the US is being proactive in its campaign to promote gene-edited crops as it hopes to avoid some of the consumer push back that followed the launch of GMOs. While GMOs involve adding foreign DNA to plants, gene-editing happens when DNA is removed. Nonetheless, groups like the Non-GMO Project say the two processes are almost identical and they predict that the industry will struggle to make gene-edited crops acceptable among the general public. The USDA is working to update its rules for gene-edited crops, while the head of the agency has repeatedly defended food companies against “fear your food” movements.

Unlike the USDA, however, the FDA currently classifies gene-edited food as drugs, which implies a very rigorous and lengthy approval process. This expert argues that this is a mistake as gene-edited food is still food but with a snippet of DNA removed. Gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 have huge potential in lowering carbon emissions or improving animal welfare but misguided and unjustified regulations will hinder their development and adoption, she argued.

Meanwhile, the FDA is considering a petition from the Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut who is hoping to put health claims on its products. Although a similar petition was previously rejected, the European Commission authorised the health claims back in 2013. In its petition, Barry Callebaut pointed to some research which identified the flavanols present in cocoa as a promoter of healthy blood flow. Promoting the health aspects of chocolate could be essential to protect demand amid a general shift towards what the public perceives as healthier food.

In Belgium, Cargill announced its purchase of Smet, a family-owned producer of semi-finished chocolate products and gourmet chocolate. And while some are focusing on expanding their premium chocolate lines, Nestle unveiled its Cocoa & Forests Action Plan which will seek to remove all deforestation and labour abuse from its supply chain. As part of the effort, Nestle released the list of its suppliers in Ghana: Agroecom and Cocoa Merchants. It also revealed that Barry Callebaut, Cargill and Cocoanect acted as direct suppliers in Cote D’Ivoire. Another chocolate giant, Mondelez, made a similar pledge this week as it committed to monitor all of its suppliers in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Indonesia with satellites to identify and address incidences of deforestation.

Such efforts could become essential, as a Senate committee in the US approved a bill that would force all large food retailers in Washington to publicly report any human right violations in their supply chain, in an effort to combat human trafficking and slavery. The food industry union argued against the proposal and said it would create a “paperwork nightmare”, while the dairy union said farmers and resellers should not be made responsible of regulating their suppliers. It highlighted that several government agencies already exist for that specific purpose.

Besides regulations, consumer demand is also forcing major food producers to adapt. Bloomberg compiled this list of ingredients which have been subject to sudden changes in perception, such as milk, cheese, sugar and corn syrup, and it noted that firms who failed to adapt have seen their value drop significantly.

Two major pharmaceutical companies, Sanofi and Novartis, announced that they have abandoned efforts to develop a drug to help obese patients lose weight. The decision was partly due to the difficulty in achieving significant results and the growing perception that obesity is not a disease but a lifestyle problem. On the other hand, Novo Nordisk, the last major firm researching the issue, is working on a new drug that could cut patients weight by up to 12.7%.

Lastly this week, researchers have finally solved one of the major mysteries in the food world: why do grapes catch fire when microwaved? Watch this video to understand the complexity of plasma clouds and microwave resonance, or just to see grapes exploding!

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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