Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Concerns have been growing that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to an unprecedented rise in world hunger. Oxfam estimates that, under the worst-case scenario, hunger could kill 12,000 people a day by the end of the year, more than the deaths caused by the virus itself. The crisis would be particularly shocking as we are also facing a massive global food surplus which is forcing many to destroy their crops. Farmers explained that the logistics do not exist to divert crops where they are needed, while farmers are also more likely to let crops rot instead of paying to harvest it and donate it. As an expert put it, “it’s hard to take surplus milk in Wisconsin and get it to people in Malawi”.

Some countries are particularly vulnerable as they import most of their food, like Gulf Countries. In response, the UAE recently purchased 4,500 Holstein cows from Uruguay, with more purchases to come. The country has also set up a trading platform, Agriota, to help local companies connect with Indian farmers. Some companies, meanwhile, are looking at improving their position in global supply chains. For one, Glencore Agriculture purchased a port terminal from Orezim in Ukraine. The Everi port terminal can load 1.5 million mt/year of vegetable oil. 

In the health science world, Nestle announced the purchase of Aimmune Therapeutics, the producer of the world’s first approved treatment for peanut allergy. The purchase valued the company at USD 2.6 billion. Nestle said it was hoping to get the treatment approved in the EU next year. Unilever has also been looking at health and wellness nutrition, as it signed a deal to buy Liquid IV. The firm produces drink mixes that claim to boost the hydration capacity of water by two to three times. 

In the technology realm, ADM Capital Europe bought an 11.7% stake in Saga Robotics. The Norwegian firm uses an autonomous robot to treat mildew with UV. The firm is also looking at commercialising harvesting robots. Otherwise, Unilever announced a partnership with Algenuity, a biotech startup researching microalgae. Algenuity is looking to remove the bitter taste and smell from microalgae to take advantage of the high levels of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. 

For the time being, most plant-based proteins still come from the land. Bunge invested USD 22.7 million to help Merit Functional Foods build a plant that will produce canola and pea proteins. The Canadian firm hopes its patented extraction technology will help it expand in the USD 4.5 billion plant-based foods market. The traditional beef market is not yet doomed, however, and a USD 8.5 million project seeks to help cattle operations in Nebraska store some of their gas emissions in the soil. The project is supported by Cargill, McDonald’s and Target. 

Mondelez International signed an agreement to buy power generated by the Roadrunner solar plant. With 1.2 million photovoltaic panels, Roadrunner is the largest solar farm in Texas and will help Mondelez get closer to meeting its goal of reducing manufacturing emissions by 15% by 2020. In Cashmere, Washington, a producer of mealworm is pushing the high tech concept even further. A new plant will use the heat generated by computers mining cryptocurrencies and the waste generated by a neighbouring apple factory. The company behind the plan hopes that the mealworm, mostly beetle larva, will be used as feed for livestock and fish. 

Not to be outdone, Chinese researchers are also embracing the concept of “intelligent farming”. A few pig farms are testing the use of facial recognition to monitor every step of animals and, potentially, even their mood. The country is hoping the tech will help improve food security and deal with an ageing population and labour shortages. While the solution could hopefully improve the well-being of animals and replace the use of ear tags, a journalist wonders whether this sounded a bit like “Orwell’s nightmare”. 

A less controversial idea was announced this week with the launch of the world’s first carbon-negative vodka. The Air Company is now selling Air Vodka, a drink made using only water and ethanol produced from CO2, in a factory powered by solar panels. In India, Phool found a clever way to deal with the 8mt of temple flower waste that usually ends up in the river Ganga every day. The flowers go to make incense sticks, vermicompost, packaging and, most recently, Fleather – a vegan leather.

An ancient McDonald’s burger received some Internet fame this week as a woman discovered a burger 24 years old meal that looked completely intact. McDonald’s defended itself, however, arguing that their burgers do decompose like other food products, given a sufficient amount of moisture. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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