Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

While many small independent farmers have been able to benefit from the impact of the coronavirus so far, an expert argued that “the current boom is a sweet illusion; the bust is coming fast”. A US survey revealed that many small operations would not survive the year. Part of the issue is that the pandemic seems to have reversed the previous trend where consumers were moving away from processed food to focus on eating local and fresh products. An executive at a large food firm noted that “people aren’t cooking, they’re reheating”, as he highlighted that processed food has gotten much better both in terms of taste and health. The result is that the disease could open the door for large multinationals to take over smaller operations. 

Right on cue, Nestle announced that it will invest USD 100 million to grow its presence in China. The plan includes building its first plant-based meat factory on the continent, expanding a pet food plant and a biscuit factory. In Brazil, Bunge said it will purchase two soy processing plants from Imcopa for a combined USD 9.16 million. The move would cement Bunge as one of the largest soy processors as it currently operates 12 facilities in the country, compared to Cargill’s eight plants. 

Others are seizing on the crisis as an opportunity to highlight sustainability goals. Danone, for one, will add the commitment to produce healthy and environmentally-friendly food to the company bylaws. The key aspect to sustainability is transparency when it comes to gaining consumer trust, according to Cargill’s latest Feed4Thought survey. The Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) has taken the idea to heart and published its Sustainability Report outlining the performance of salmon farming. Salmon farms have a lower carbon footprint and more efficient use of feed when compared to land-based operations, the report claims. 

Meanwhile, the price of food in US grocery stores saw its biggest monthly jump in 50 years in April with the outbreak of the coronavirus. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed a 2.6% overall price hike in retail food prices when compared to the previous month. The situation is similar in Latin America where rising food prices and shortages led to some violent protests. In Chile, the President argued that supply remained plentiful, although he pledged to accelerate the distribution of food packages. 

The extraordinary measures taken by the EU to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus are increasingly clashing with the bloc’s long-term sustainability efforts. For example, countries like France have relaxed rules on the use of pesticides, while a draft proposal by the European Commission outlined a plan to reduce the use of chemical pesticides by half by 2030. Similarly, the Agriculture Commissioner expressed his concern at the call from France and Poland asking citizens to buy local products instead of items imported from other EU nations. The idea could threaten fair competition in the common market, he said. 

The Commissioner also expressed concern at the amount of direct aid offered by some governments. The EU recently increased the limits on state aid but he argued that this would give wealthier countries an unfair advantage. Most of the direct aid so far has been offered by Germany and the Netherlands. A solution presented by Poland would be to increase the CAP budget to make it more resilient in times of crisis. 

A key piece of legislation is due to be published this week with the release of a draft Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, a central component of the European Green New Deal. The bioenergy policy will also see a major rewrite and will focus on minimising the use of food and feed crops, while reconsidering whether biomass feedstock is carbon neutral. In response, Bioenergy Europe said it was concerned about the decision to impose arbitrary restrictions that do not reflect the scientific consensus.

In the meantime, official data from the EU showed that supermarket food and beverage sales surged in March when compared to February, most notably in Luxembourg, Ireland and Belgium where food sales were up 20%, 14% and 13% respectively. More dramatic was the surge in demand for Trappist Westvleteren 12 ale made by monks in Belgium. Their website crashed after being opened for just four hours because of what they called a “tsunami of visitors”. In the UK and Scotland, prime barley usually used to make scotch and beer might have to be used as pig feed. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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