Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Following in Austria’s footsteps, Germany’s cabinet agreed to progressively phase out the use of glyphosate and implement a total ban by the end of 2023. In France, some 20 mayors banned the weedkiller last month. This could be a game-changer for agriculture, as a farmer in Nebraska pointed out that glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds were probably the biggest labour-saver since the invention of the tractor. That same farmer, however, was one of the first farmers in Nebraska to file a lawsuit against Monsanto after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Some of the major scientific institutions disagree on whether glyphosate is safe but three juries in California have already ruled against Bayer – the new owner of Monsanto. Experts note that the outcome of the legal challenges might not come down to science, but rather Monsanto’s efforts to manipulate the regulatory process. In France, the government is investigating a list of potentially influential individuals Monsanto compiled in order to control public opinion. Bayer conceded that the list was created but argued that it was not illegal. 

The Environmental Protection Agency in the US explained that relying on industry studies when assessing pesticides was a common practice because companies must cover the costs of approval. It highlighted, however, that the data is shared and often collected by outside labs. The comment was in response to a second lawsuit filed against the agency which claimed that the recently approved sulfoxaflor pesticide would threaten bees, beekeepers and the whole food supply. 

In France, a public consultation was opened on the proposal to ban the use of pesticides within 5-10 metres of houses, due to come into force in January 2020. Associations argue that the distance is too small, while some mayors have already implemented a ban than can be as wide as 150 metres. The agriculture ministry warned that enforcing a 150-metre pesticide free-zone would reduce the total crop area by 20-30%. 

Meanwhile, Malaysian palm oil exporters are expected to lose market share in India following the recent 5% hike in import duty. India said the higher levy would apply to refined palm oil to protect domestic refiners. In response to hostility towards palm oil and low prices, the Malaysian government announced a plan to promote the cultivation of food crops. Palm oil is currently grown on 5 million ha, out of the 7 million ha of total agricultural area, but crude palm oil prices more than halved in the last eight years. 

The Indonesian government, on the other hand, hopes it can address mounting palm oil inventories by promoting the use of biodiesel. It recently reported that a fleet of cars travelled 42,000km on biodiesel and reported no engine issues. The plan is to increase the current 20% blending mandate to 30% next year and possibly 100% in 2021. 

China approved 25 Brazilian meatpacking plants for exports this week at a time when European countries are increasingly worried about buying meat from Brazil amid the spike in deforestation rate. Brazil already exports most of its meat to China, where the African Swine Fever (ASF) has decimated the local pig herd. The trade war with the US is also impacting the supply of soybeans and China announced that it will allow the import of soybean meal from Argentina

China is stepping up efforts to deal with the ASF by boosting subsidies and has even started enforcing pork rations in some cities. Last week, the government said it would release emergency stocks of frozen meat if necessary. Some estimates say China lost 100 million hogs to the disease while Vietnam said it culled 4.7 million pigs to contain the outbreak. The disease has also made its first appearance in the Philippines, despite a ban on pork imports and reinforced quarantine procedures. 

ADM was the target of two separate antitrust lawsuits last week which accused the group of manipulating prices. The first one concerns its Golden Peanut subsidiary, along with another peanut sheller Birdsong Corp, which are accused by farmers of conspiring to fix unprocessed peanut prices. The two firms control 90% of the shelling industry. The second lawsuit accused ADM of manipulating the Argo ethanol market to benefit from its short position. Some traders had already complained to S&P Global Platts that ADM was selling large amounts of ethanol on the cash market just before the market closed.

Bunge revealed that it owned a 1.6% stake in Beyond Meat. The maker of plant-based meat alternatives recently reached a market capitalisation of USD 9.9 billion, more than Bunge. Kellog and Danone joined the long list of firms planning to launch meat alternatives, while the University of Cambridge said it has removed beef and lamb from its menu to reduce its carbon footprint. A less impressive announcement came from Unilver’s Country Crock with the launch of “Plant Butter”. People quickly realised it was pretty much margarine, but with a higher concentration of saturated fat.  

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