Weekly Media Monitor

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published a new report on global climate change. One of the authors has warned that ‘If we do not halt our emissions soon, our future climate could well become some kind of hell on Earth.’ The last decade has been hotter than any period in 125,000 years. Atmospheric CO₂ is at a two-million-year peak, while methane and nitrous oxide levels are the highest for at least the last 800,000 years. Methane has a ‘warming potential’ more than 80 times that of CO2.

However, all is not lost. The Guardian writes that ‘everything we need to avoid the exponential impacts of climate change is doable. But it depends on solutions moving exponentially faster than impacts.’ Planting trees is apparently, not going to solve the problem. In a new report, Oxfam argues that an over-reliance on tree-planting to offset carbon emissions could push food prices up 80 per cent by 2050.

With the meat industry blamed for being part of the problem, people are increasing shining the spotlight on alternative meat (alt-meat) products (both plant-based and cultured meat)

In a new report (that a friend of mine calls ‘science fiction’), Rethinx predicts that the US cattle farming industry will be bankrupt by 2030. The think tank adds that ‘all other commercial livestock industries worldwide will quickly follow the same fate, as will commercial fisheries and aquaculture.’

The report authors argue that Precision Fermentation (PF) will make protein production five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins. They write that ‘foods made with them will be higher quality, safer, more consistent, and available in a far wider variety than the animal-derived products they replace.’ They add that the new PF foods will be up to 100 times more land efficient, 10-25 times more feedstock efficient, 20 times more time-efficient, and ten times more water-efficient. They will also produce far less waste.

Impossible Foods CEO is on the same message and wants to end all animal farming by 2035. Meanwhile, the CEO of Beyond Meat sees his company working to make this ‘the first generation of humans to separate meat from animals.’

If they are correct, what will the end of animal farming mean for producers and the rural communities they support?  In a series of 37 interviews, the Breakthrough Institute has tried to answer just that question. The conclusion? The situation for meat producers and meatpackers is not unlike that for coal miners and oil workers before natural gas, wind energy, and solar power took over a big chunk of the market.

Bloomberg joins the conversation with a video that argues that the alt-meat sector will only take significant market share once it develops whole cuts rather than burgers. In another article, Bloomberg claims that cell-cultured meat will be doomed if it doesn’t get its marketing right. They suggest that the sector should stop calling it lab meat.

The world is not just switching away from meat. It is also moving away from dairy. The Guardian interviews the self-proclaimed Queen of Vegan Cheese about the growing demand for non-dairy products and how farmers can make the switch. Figures from Euromonitor show that the dairy alternatives market is the fastest-growing sector among packaged foods and worth £2.5bn in western Europe in 2020-21. The UK market has grown by 69 per cent over the past five years, with non-soya-based milk increasing by 129 per cent.

But what about seafood – are we also moving towards fishless fish? The answer, it seems, is that alt-fish will be the ‘next big thing’, not just among vegans but among all fish-lovers. The sector is already growing strongly, if from a small base. Plant-based fish is a minnow in the alt-protein space, with 2020 sales estimated at $12 million. It compares to alt-dairy at $2.5 billion and alt-meat at $1.4 billion- Alt-meat is growing the fastest at 45 per cent compared to 20 per cent for alt-milk and 23 per cent for alt-fish.

Neither Cargill nor Continental Grain seems convinced that the move to alt-meat will happen quickly. Both companies are reportedly interested in buying Sanderson Farms Inc, the third-biggest chicken farmer in the US, producing about 13.6 million chickens a week. The price discussed is $4.5 billion.

Cargill was also in the news last week for record annual profits of nearly $5 billion. Why is it acceptable for Apple or Google to report record profits from mobile phones or advertising, but it is somehow seen as morally wrong when a trading company makes record profits from food?

To put those Cargill profits in perspective, Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping firm, has reported profits for their second quarter of $5.1 billion, up 200 per cent from the $1.7 billion reported in the same period last year. Revenues were up almost 60 per cent to $14.2 billion. Maersk earned in one quarter what Cargill earned in a year and expects to earn between $18 billion and $19.5 billion over the whole year.

Sky-rocketing freight rates have been driving Maersk’s profits. The spot rate per container on the China-US East coast route has climbed to nearly $20,000, while rates on the China-EU route are flirting with $14,000. The price graphs are astounding. China-US rates have jumped by almost a third in a month and are up by more than three quarters over the year so far. China-EU rates have jumped by nearly 50 per cent on the month and 120 per cent year-on-year.

Demand is not driving these spiking rates. Maersk estimates that global container shipping demand was up only 2.7 per cent in the second quarter versus the same period two years ago, before the pandemic. Instead, the company blames covid-related bottlenecks and congestion.

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