As more countries around the world look to progressively unlock their economy, many food producers are still struggling to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. The disease is now spreading in Brazil where Raizen, one of the world’s largest sugar producers, reported that 15 workers at a Sao Paulo plant had tested positive for COVID-19. The meat sector, with its densely packed processing lines, remains one of the most vulnerable and a court forced JBS SA to close a meat plant in Rio Grande do Sul for two weeks.
Some groups have jumped on the opportunity to highlight issues in our current food system and call for a dramatic rethink of the status quo. In response, a coalition of industry members insisted that livestock and modern agriculture were in no way responsible for the outbreak, which originated in wildlife. They asked the EU to keep supporting the meat sector and insisted on its high safety and welfare standards.
In the US, meat plants are struggling to maintain a positive image as many criticised a decision by Tyson Food to reinstate a policy on absent workers which centres around “punitive effect for missing work due to illness.” Tyson has also taken a central role in the government’s price-fixing investigation as the firm confirmed that it was cooperating with the Justice Department. By becoming one of the first parties to admit to misconduct and collaborate with authorities which will now go after other firms, Tyson will be offered leniency, confidentiality and possible financial benefits.
The impact of the pandemic on other food sectors has been more discreet but not always less significant. In Florida’s poor Immokalee area, a doctor revealed that half of the people he tested had been infected, making him think the area had “one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection globally.” Some 25,000 farm workers live in Immokalee, mostly to harvest the tomato crop, but many are undocumented and officials have not made the area a priority.
Food producers who rely on foreign demand are also particularly vulnerable, like West Africa’s cashew nut growers. The region is responsible for 55% of world production but very little is consumed locally. Most of the crop is usually processed in Asia and Olam – the largest player in the market – commented that prices should remain low for a while as the pandemic disrupted cross border trade. In a demonstration of how global the food supply chain is, an African exporter noted that the collapse in cashew prices could be linked to the mass cancellation of weddings in India.
How the world trades food could also be impacted by the coronavirus as the CME Group announced that its grain option pits will remain closed until the situation in Chicago and Illinois significantly improves, with the introduction of a vaccine or a treatment. A broker said she was struggling after losing the advantage of being on the floor, while Futures International suggested this could mark “the end of a 180-year era.”
Countries like Singapore are realising the key role international trade needs to play to feed people. The country unveiled a plan to diversify its trade partners and has been approving more countries for food imports, bringing the total to 170 countries. A plan was also launched to produce 30% of food needs locally by 2030, compared to 10% currently. The situation is going in the opposite direction in Venezuela which is now “on the verge of famine” according to the International Crisis Group. Farmers have not been able to sow crops because of a fuel shortage.
Things could be changing over at Nestle as the CEO mentioned a potential plan to sell the Nestle Waters North America unit in order to refocus on premium international brands like Perrier, S Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. The firm also announced the purchase of a majority stake in Vital Proteins, the US’ largest producer of collagen-based supplements, vitamins and food and beverage products.
ADM, Bunge, Cargill, COFCO, Glencore Agriculture, and Louis Dreyfus joined forces under a new partnership program with Solidaridad Brazil which will focus on improving the sustainability of soy production in the Cerrado. The deforestation rate in the area is currently twice as high as in the Amazon. In Iowa, Cargill is hoping to expand a program that paid soy farmers for their efforts to sequester carbon dioxide and improve water quality. The venture is now looking to expand to other crops and find new corporate partners.
After Murder Hornets made headlines in the US, another dangerous-sounding insect is now taking the spotlight: the Samurai Wasp. Italy is releasing the wasps, originally from Asia, in the hope that they will prey on the brown marmorated stink bug which was accidentally introduced from Asia.
This summary was produced by ECRUU
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