Weekly Press Summary

In what may become big news, the EU is reconsidering whether to allow genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A study – requested by the European Council – argued that GMOs could play a role in the EU’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. They could also help the bloc’s Farm to Fork Strategy to make food systems ‘fair, healthy and environmentally friendly.

Rising soybean prices are resulting in a wave of farmer defaults in Brazil, where trade houses are finding it difficult to enforce contracts made when prices were lower. Farmers complain that trade houses are demanding delivery even when they struck a verbal agreement on Whatsapp, over the phone or by email.

High grain prices are impacting global trade flows. US chicken producers are buying Brazilian soybeans, and Brazilian chicken producers are buying corn from Argentina. Meanwhile, animal feed producers worldwide are increasing their wheat purchases.

Rising prices and disrupted trade flows may be bad news for the world’s consumers, but they boost revenues for the world’s trade houses. ADM’s quarterly profit to end March jumped 76 per cent on last year; their oilseed crushing unit saw a record quarter. As ethanol prices have risen, ADM has restarted two dry corn ethanol mills. However, the company has said that it still wants to sell them.

Bunge Ltd reported a 91 per cent rise in its third-quarter profit on strong soy processing margins and robust demand. Bunge agribusiness quarterly earnings more than doubled to $467 million and the company has raised its 2020 earnings outlook from $6.25 to $6.75 per share.

Cargill’s Brazilian unit has posted a record net profit of more than 2.1 billion reais ($385 million) and revenue of 68.6 billion reais for last year.

The French cooperative InVivo has agreed to acquire family-owned Soufflet in a deal that will create one of Europe’s biggest agricultural businesses. The takeover could be completed by the end of 2021, subject to regulatory clearance. InVivo’s CEO said he wants the combined company to be able to compete with global crop merchants.

State-owned Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO) – one of the world’s biggest buyers of wheat and barley – is preparing to sell some of its grain silos as part of the country’s privatization programme.  The company has 3.3 million tonnes of grain storage. SAGO sold its flour mills last year for about $1.5 billion.

Still on company news, Olam International has acquired California based spices and seasoning business Olde Thompson for $950 million.

Although container rates peaked in late 2020 – and have been relatively stable in 2021 – they are now heading higher again. Analysts warn that they could rise further as the world’s economic recovery gathers steam.

Meanwhile, Cargill has cut nearly 1.5 million tonnes of gross carbon emissions from its shipping fleet since 2017. Cargill’s gross CO2 emissions fell to 7.102 million tonnes in 2020 from 7.732 million tonnes in 2017. The company charters between 600 to 700 vessels each year.

Low water levels in the Parana and Paraguay rivers are leaving barges grounded and disrupting shipments. Water levels in the port of Rosario are forecast to drop to about 1.17 metres this week versus an average for this time of the year of 3.58 metres.

Drought is also affecting river levels in the north of the continent. More than 15 million salmon raised at hatcheries in California’s Central Valley will hitch a ride to the Pacific Ocean in about 146 trucks. Following two years of drought, water levels in the state’s rivers are too low for the salmon to make the journey alone.

There was further bad news for fish lovers this week when we learned that wild salmon are getting smaller, apparently because they’re returning from the ocean at a younger age, with climate change and overfishing possibly to blame. As a result, Whole Foods has reduced its salmon buying size guidelines.

But, to curb overfishing, the World Trade Organization has said that it is accelerating an effort to end the $22 billion in government subsidies that support fishing industries worldwide. The new WTO Director-General has made the issue her top priority and has called a conference for July to discuss the issue.

But it is not just fish that are in difficulty; America’s bees are also under pressure. American beekeepers have filed a suit against the country’s honey importers, claiming that fake honey from Asia is pushing American beekeepers out of business. Honey is the most adulterated food after milk and olive oil.

Tyson Foods has launched a range of vegan meat products, joining other meat companies in the rapidly growing market for alternative proteins.  Consulting firm Kearney has forecast that meat demand will peak in 2025 and that the alternative protein market will grow to $450 billion by 2040, a quarter of the $1.8 trillion meat market.

However, a survey of 1,000 adults found that 73 per cent of Australian men would prefer to reduce their life expectancy by ten years rather than stop eating meat. The survey also found that 79 per cent of Australian men say they would not eliminate meat from their diets to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Meat is fast becoming a politically partisan issue in the US. Contrary to some media reports, President Biden will not limit meat consumption – or force you to drink ‘plant-based beer’. However, it appears the meat wars are only just beginning.

Finally, there was an excellent article in the FT this week about corruption in the commodity sector. It focuses on the energy and metals sectors, but it is still worth a read.

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