Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this week for its work on “bettering conditions for peace”. The award comes as the agency recently warned that the coronavirus pandemic will double the number of acutely food-insecure people and the Nobel Committee highlighted that food and violent conflict often interact as part of a vicious circle. Researchers, however, argued that the link between food assistance programs and peace is not so straightforward, as food aid can in some cases exacerbate armed conflicts. The WFP’s work will need to go hand in hand with conventional peace-building efforts, experts argued. 

Food assistance programs have been evolving to better reflect the economic reality of agricultural development. The WFP and others are increasingly donating cash instead of food in order to encourage the local production of food crops. Besides, some argue that ending systematic hunger is a worthy goal in itself. In response to the prize announcement, Cargill said it would match the USD 1 million donation offered to the WFP by the Nobel Committee. 

In Brazil, the less-talked-about Pantanal region is suffering from fires that have destroyed 22% of the whole area since January, a NASA scientist estimated. The destruction and uncontrollable fires were caused by a complex combination of drought, more ranchers clearing land, bureaucratic inaction and climate change. Even the fires in the Amazon are affecting the region by limiting the amount of water available. 

As the deforestation rate in Brazil keeps accelerating, experts doubt whether or how food corporations will be able to completely monitor their supply chain. One investigative piece looking at COFCO’s soy supply chain in the Cerrado highlighted a lack of transparency. Moreover, COFCO only pledged to monitor its direct soy supply chain entirely by 2023, without mentioning indirect suppliers. In response, COFCO said it was also looking to monitor indirect suppliers, just as observers noted that the Chinese group recently received a USD 2.3 billion loan linked to its sustainability performance. 

France announced new restrictions on the use of glyphosate as it prepares for a full phase-out by 2021. A few days later, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU nations were indeed allowed to ban pesticides or regulate their use even if they are allowed at the EU level. Activists hope this will encourage more member states to impose their own bans. 

Going further, civil groups are looking to ban the production and exports of pesticides in the EU. Some 41 pesticides banned in the EU were exported by the bloc in 2018 to countries with weaker environmental laws. Lawmakers argued that exporting dangerous pesticides was not only hypocritical but could also lead to pesticides being imported back into the EU via food imports. 

After glyphosate, Bayer and BASF are now fighting to maintain the authorisation to use dicamba in the US. The herbicide was found to drift to neighbouring farmlands and Bayer has already paid USD 400 million to settle legal claims. The two German groups are now saying that dicamba can be mixed with other products to stop it from spreading. 

The IEA commented that the global demand for oil will not peak but plateau by 2040, in part because some of the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic could actually encourage oil consumption. Regardless, some food activists have now turned to another concept: peak meat consumption, as they note that growing environmental concerns could lead to an overall long-term decline in meat demand. Some were quick to point out key differences between oil and meat, however, like the fact that sustainably produced meat can actually help the environment by sequestering carbon or improving soil health. 

In the same vein, the World Sustainability Organization launched a certification program to ensure that plant-based seafood is sustainably produced. The segment has huge growth potential especially in Asia, the organisation noted, as it highlighted the importance of building trust with consumers surrounding the environmental benefits of plant-based alternatives. 

Beyond the environmental credentials of plant-based alternatives, the sector is facing a bigger challenge when addressing potential nutritional advantages, as many products are being criticised for being highly processed and high in additives. Nevertheless, experts explained that consumers these days are more focused on taste and protecting the Earth. In the long-term, some say plant-based meat should merely act as a tool to help people cross-over to a conventional plant-based diet which can have significant nutritional advantages. 

In the meantime, food and drink producers are looking for creative ways to deal with the immediate consequences of climate change. The wildfires in California, for example, are giving grapes an unwanted smoky flavour, making it unsuitable to make wine. In response, one winery is using the grapes to make brandy which should benefit from the smoky aromas. Whether the idea works will only be known by the end of 2021 as the brandy is still undergoing its ageing process. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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