Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The US President signed an executive order this week to simplify and accelerate the process to approve genetically modified livestock and seeds. According to the order, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) need to set up “common sense regulations.” Earlier, the US Department of Agriculture had already proposed to significantly relax genetically engineered rules in a bid to make it cheaper for companies to develop new crops and for farmers to have more options. The idea was that companies would no longer need the FDA and EPA approvals for genetically engineered crops that are similar to crops that could be made through traditional breeding – leaving it up to the companies to determine whether this was the case or not.

An area where US farmers do want more regulation, on the other hand, is to limit foreign ownership of US land. As of 2016, the USDA estimated that some 2.3 million acres of land was in foreign hands, including 190,000ha under Chinese investments. However, some say the numbers are inaccurate and could be higher. This is also expected to be an issue in the presidential race with at least one candidate proposing to ban foreigners from buying farmland at a federal level.

In an interview with Forbes, Cargill’s recently appointed chairman of Asia Pacific (the group’s first board-level executive not to be based in the US) said that Asia was increasingly important as a home for food grown in the US where yields are growing faster than consumption. He said the group was focusing on developing “Asian run” businesses and was looking to build more partnerships with both governments and private organisations.

Cargill’s Aqua Nutrition is 43% on track to being entirely Marine Stewardship Council certified, a goal it has set for 2025. The division, which produces almost 5% of the world’s aquafeed, managed to reduce its freshwater usage by 15% and its greenhouse gas emissions by 6% in 2018. Cargill also managed to cut CO2 emissions from its chartered shipping fleet by 12.1% in 2018, on track to reach 15% in 2020 and part of the International Maritime Organisation’s target of a 50% reduction by 2050. The head of the ocean transportation business said, however, that “we must do more.”

In the US, Cargill has launched several high-protein low-carb meat snacks after a survey showed that almost everyone snacks during the day, with some people eating 4-5 snacks a day. Close to half of those surveyed are looking – and ready to pay a premium – for healthier options.

Wilmar is looking for opportunities in China’s struggling animal feed market – in part due to the African swine fever – to invest in building new soybean crushing plants. A source said the strategy was to focus on poultry feed instead of hogs as chicken demand is growing faster. The group could also be looking at setting up an oilseed plant in Vietnam. In Australia, Wilmar, which is Queensland’s third largest rail network owner-operator, has installed cameras on all the sugarcane trains so that footage can be used in case of an accident with pedestrians.

Via its Prize for Innovation in Food Security award, Olam is investing in Innovation Mapping for Food Security (IM4FS), a technology that is being developed to help small farmers work out which is the best crop to grow on a field at a given time. Olam’s CEO said this was exactly the kind of technology required at a time of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Global chocolate producers are likely to miss their 2020 deadline to eradicate child labour from their supply chain, the fourth time they miss the deadline after trying in 2005, 2008 and 2010. A report in the Washington Post said that none of the main chocolate producers could guarantee that their supply chain was child labour free and that they felt the existing certification agencies were insufficient. Part of the problem is that traceability from farms is a major challenge and that small farms often found a way around the certification criteria. Similarly, most companies’ “no deforestation” pledge by 2020 deadline is going to be missed, with Greenpeace estimating that 50 million ha of forest has been lost in the last 10 years. However, with the Global Forest Watch platform launching a real-time platform using satellite imagery to track deforestation, “there are no more excuses,” the organisation said. They added that companies like Cargill and Louis Dreyfus are already using it for a wide range of commodities, including beef.

A new study found that the average adult in America ingests at least 50,000 microplastic particles every year through food, with actual numbers likely to be close to three times that amount. The worst is for those who drink water from plastic bottles, which have 22 times more microplastic than tap water. No one really knows how bad the plastic is, however, and some scientists say the risk could be overplayed. But better be safe than sorry – the Canadian government is apparently going to ban single-use plastics by 2021. That would include straws, cotton swabs and single-use cutlery, among many other things. Plastic is also a major issue in organic farming which uses more plastic mulch to compensate for not using weed killers. One organic farmer in the US said that the plastic film used on a 30-acre plot would spread over 58km in a straight line, all of which ends up in landfills later on.

Last but certainly not least, a Mongolian NGO is re-introducing the traditional guard and shepherd Bhankar dog which was phased out during the Soviet era. The number of livestock in the grasslands has increased threefold in the last 17 years in part because herders want to anticipate the loss of animals to predators. This, in turn, accelerates desertification. Bhankar dogs are such a source of pride that some families who had moved to the city are reportedly being convinced back into herding life just to be given one. Check them out here.

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