Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Just when there seemed to be no limits to the possibilities of plant-based meat alternatives, the CEO of Whole Foods‘ warned that these alternatives were highly processed, rich in salt and fat and therefore not very good for you. Whereas he did concede that it was better than eating meat in terms of the environmental impact, a researcher at Oxford argued that it would be better still to consume unprocessed plants. He explained that “while [plant-based meat] products have about half the carbon footprint than chicken does, they also have 5 times more of a footprint than a bean patty.” And if this was making you think of waiting for lab-grown meat to be financially viable, a food anthropologist warned that it was not yet clear that this option would be much better for the environment either. 

Eating fruits and vegetables might not be as healthy as we think, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers noted that, as expected, people who consume meat have a higher chance of reporting a coronary heart disease when compared to vegans and vegetarians, although it also found that vegans and vegetarians have a 20% higher stroke risk. The reasons are unclear, although experts said it could be linked to the lack of B12 vitamins in a vegetarian diet. Overall, dieticians argue that the healthiest diets involve eating a  wide range of foods.

We might also have to rethink whether buying unpackaged fresh food is better for the environment. A new study argues that the carbon footprint of food that wastes faster because it is not packaged is bigger than the environmental impact of the actual packaging. The solution, then, seems to be better packaging. 

The media backlash against Brazilian agriculture policy – which is being blamed for the fires in the Amazon – continues. ADM, Bunge and Nestle are some of the groups that have officially committed not to source from the newly deforested areas. They are using satellite data as well as ground teams to identify the affected areas. Some have blamed the Amazon fires on the US-China trade war which has led to a boost in exports from Brazil. However, Brazil’s soybean exports dropped to 5.3 million mt in August, a fall from over 8 million mt in the same month last year at the start of the trade war. On the other hand, Brazil exported a record high 7.65 million mt of corn in August, double what was exported in the same month last year.

In the US, Cargill tied up with White Dog Labs to work on a sustainable alternative to fishmeal in aquafeed using corn feedstock. It is also investing USD 75 million in Puris, which supplies plant-based meat companies such as Beyond Burger, to set up a new pea protein plant in Minnesota. 

In Ghana, the 20,000 certified cocoa farmers who supplied Cargill in 2018/19 benefitted from a combined USD 2 million in sustainability premium, an increase of 33% on year. The group buys directly from farmers who bring the cocoa to local warehouses where they are registered, allowing full traceability. Cargill also announced a USD 121 million investment in expanding its cocoa grinding plant in the Ivory Coast

As it continues to look for innovative solutions for the food and agriculture industry, Cargill announced the official opening of a research lab at the University of Illinois. Similarly, ADM said it would donate USD 2.5 million to the University of Illinois’ Feed Technology Center.

Bunge continues on its cost-cutting tracks and announced it was reducing headcount at its New York headquarters, which will be moving to St Louis as part of the company’s strategy to become more globally integrated. Analysts forecast that the group will probably look at selling its fertilizer business and could split the commodity trading side from food ingredients ahead of a possible sale. Glencore is seen as a potential acquirer, on the assumption that antitrust regulators would not approve a takeover or merger with ADM. 

Launched at the last G7, Danone is chairing a new initiative, Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG), which aims to help all member companies encourage diversity and fairness throughout their supply chain. The program, which will be managed by the OECD, has already identified some 50 projects worth USD 1 billion in funding. The head of Mars, which also signed up, said, “It isn’t about philanthropy, but rather an understanding that a business can only be successful if it also enables all of its partners, community and the environment to thrive.” 

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