Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Bunge reported a net loss of USD 51 million in the last quarter of 2019, an improvement from a loss of USD 65 million the previous year. This was in part thanks to higher sales and margins out of South America and farmers in Argentina selling their crops early in anticipation of the increase in export taxes. The CEO said the company was benefiting from becoming more “nimble” as well as implementing a “more rigorous approach to risk management.” Overall, however, the group reported total net losses for 2019 of USD 1.28 billion, from an income of USD 267 million in 2018. The CEO warned that there remained a lot of uncertainty for US origination in terms of the US-China trade deal in 2020, in addition to the African Swine Fever and Coronavirus. 

Olam, on the other hand, said it should see a net one-time post-tax gain of USD 52 million for the last quarter of 2019 as a result of the company’s restructuring, which included the sale of a number of assets and shares. 

Similarly, ADM was able to deliver a solid fourth quarter, with net earnings of USD 504 million, despite the challenging market environment. The company published its OutsideVoice Protein Perception & Awareness Study which suggested that plant-based food will continue to see impressive growth in 2020. The study found that 44% of US consumers now identified as flexitarian. In anticipation, ADM will expand its non-GMO soy protein factory in Europoort, Netherlands.

The decision might be particularly well-timed as members of the EU Parliament discussed a proposal to impose a tax on meat as part of the integrated food policy Farm to Fork (F2F) under the EU Green Deal. A recent report argued that a meat tax was essential to reach carbon neutrality and lower healthcare costs. Nonetheless, the farmer’s union Copa-Cogeca said the tax would impose a terrible burden on farmers, especially if it was only implemented in the EU. 

Environmentalists added that the overall F2F effort would be jeopardised if the EU continued to negotiate new trade deals with countries like Brazil and the US. Some activists are concerned that the EU will not be able to stand up to pressure from the US, which recently threatened to target Germany’s auto industry with tariffs to push for concessions on agricultural trade. 

Scientists continue to show evidence that eating red meat is linked to a small but increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as this JAMA Internal Medicine paper which gathered data on 30,000 people over 30 years. Government guidelines against over-eating beef – which started as early as 1977 in the US – could have contributed to the growth of the chicken nugget, now infamous for being one of the most highly processed meat products. Right on cue, KFC and Beyond Meat launched Beyond Fried Chicken. Early reviewers say they are quite good, but food critics also note that “everything tastes like chicken”.

Besides, the Rothamsted Institute warned that tofu could actually have a bigger environmental impact than meat products in terms of protein content because it is highly processed and not as digestible. Danone is also reviewing how it is marketing its plant-based alternative to whippable cream after a Swedish group awarded the company the top prize for “food bluff of the year”. The product, called Alpro Cuisine Soya Whippable, only contains 2% soy but 25% palm oil. In response, Danone said it would change the packaging to highlight the palm oil content, pointing out that the palm oil was certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and one of the most sustainable sources of oil. 

California-based Farmers Business Network (FBN), a small start up hoping to disrupt the agricultural world, complained to Canadian authorities that big commodity groups were abusing their dominant position to block its growth. FBN launched an online marketplace for farmers to buy agricultural inputs, thus cutting out the traditional middleman. The Canadian Competition Bureau confirmed it was investigating the case and had extended the claim to include Cargill and Bayer. In the EU, meanwhile, the Commission said it was looking into whether Mondelez had abused its dominant position by restricting the cross border trade of certain products, in breach of the EU’s Single Market rules. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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