Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The United Kingdom has already suggested that it might take a significant step away from the EU’s strict food policies as it opened a public consultation that will look at allowing gene-edited crops. The EU ruled in 2018 that gene editing should be banned along the same lines as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), although the former does not involve the introduction of new genetic material. Moreover, English officials said they would look to replace the EU’s subsidy system with payments linked to environmental performance.

Across the channel, the French consumers’ agency DGCCRF concluded that some authorised GMO products were sold in France but ruled that growers have generally been following the ban on planting GMO seeds. The comment comes after an investigation prompted by the discovery of an illegal GMO colza polt in 2018. The agency commented that some GMO seeds could be imported for processing but not for sowing.

The Irish protocol designed to avoid the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland after Brexit is “unworkable” in its current state, according to a letter signed by major supermarket chains, including Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer and Tesco UK. They warn that the region could face major disruption in food supplies when a grace period ends on March 31 and imports from the UK will be screened as they will effectively be entering the EU internal market. The supermarket chains argued that the government should negotiate a new arrangement with the EU. Dutch customs started enforcing the controls on meat imports and British truck drivers can no longer bring their ham sandwiches. A customs official told a surprised driver whose lunch was confiscated “Welcome to Brexit”. 

Farmers in Argentina have been protesting the government’s effort to control inflation by limiting food exports. Eventually, the government cancelled its plan to ban corn exports and said it will cap daily sales instead, although the announcement was not enough to stop the strike. Russia is also worrying importers as it plans to impose an export tax on wheat, following comments by the President that food prices were too high. In response, an economist at the FAO argued that protectionist measures rarely work to lower food prices. 

The Ivory Coast seems to be facing the opposite problem as it is storing 100,000mt of unsold cocoa beans. Traders explained that major chocolate buyers asked to postpone their Oct-Dec purchases to Jan-Mar in response to a fall in demand caused by the coronavirus. Similarly, sales in branded coffee shops in the US are expected to remain below pandemic levels until 2022. Some 208 stores out of 37,189 had to close last year, while the industry’s turnover in 2020 was down 24%.

The coronavirus has refocused the attention on rising obesity rates which the UN describes as a “global pandemic in its own right.” Investors are now putting pressure on food companies to address the associated health concerns of their products, which can be mitigated by reformulation, smaller packages and clearer labels. More and more governments are imposing a targeted tax, like in the UK. However, a new report is asking the UK government to disclose what it has done with the GBP 336 million (USD 459 million) raised from the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2019/20 and is asking that the government fulfil its promise to spend it on children’s health and food programs.

Cargill’s marketing strategy is being challenged in the US by the Family Farm Action Alliance which argued that the claim that Cargill’s meat comes from “independent family farms” amounts to false advertising. Cargill highlights that it sources its meat through contract arrangements but the complainant argued that the farms should be considered subsidiaries. An expert commented that the situation could take years to reach a conclusion, as the US government has a clear definition of what a “family farm” is but no definition for “independent farms”. The same government agencies are also looking to define what “natural” foods should be. 

Air Protein raised USD 32 million from ADM, Barclays and Google this week. The Californian firm makes proteins suitable for meat-alternative products using carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. The process requires no arable land and is fully independent of climate, soil and weather conditions. As if that wasn’t weird enough, Australia’s Vow raised USD 6 million to invest in the production of cultured exotic meat, like cultured kangaroo or alpaca meat. 

When a librarian obsessed with food history passed away in 2015, no one took over her 20-year old website which documented the history of food going back as far as 17,000 BC. Researchers can now rejoice, however, as Virginia Tech University took over the project which will be revived and maintained. The website,, is currently down but the University said it should be up again in the coming weeks. For those who can’t wait and need to know what food the Roman army ate now, the Wayback Machine has you covered. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU


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