Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Cargill lost its number one spot on Forbes’ largest private companies list, the first time in 12 years. The group’s revenues rose about 1% last year, falling behind Koch Industries. Cargill’s CEO said that 2020 was a difficult year but that the company was well-equipped to handle the crisis, as shown by the steady revenues. Danone, on the other hand, announced it would have to cut its staff by 2% globally, which should help meet a target to save EUR 1 billion (USD 1.2 billion) by 2023 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The company will also slash its product range by close to a third. The CEO of Olam forecast that it would take until the end of 2022 for the world economic growth to return to the levels seen before the pandemic. “We’ve come down an escalator, but we’re going to go back up the stairs,” he said. 

In the US, a new report argued that the food supply system had proven to be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus disruptions because of the high level of consolidation. Looking at the meat processing industry, it pointed out that the major groups were not only unable to supply enough food but also caused high levels of waste with thousands of animals that had to be put down. 

The pandemic is also exacerbating land inequality, according to a report by the International Land Coalition and Oxfam. It found that 1% of farming companies manage 70% of the world’s farmland and that the world’s poorest rural population only controls 3% of the world’s farmland. Similarly, the pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on minority-owned businesses. In the US, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that close to half of Black-owned businesses closed down as of May due to the coronavirus. In an attempt to counteract this trend, the Coca-Cola Company announced that it would be doubling its spending on Black-owned businesses to reach USD 500 million within the next five years. 

Looking forward, Cargill announced it was investing in and getting involved with Seventure Partners’ Health for Life Capital II fund. The fund, whose other investors include the likes of Danone, targets investments in microbiome innovations. Cargill says this will help it develop ingredient solutions with health and nutrition benefits. In the same vein, Singapore’s Temasek is setting up a new platform to fast-track investments in agriculture and food, with a focus on helping startups scale up production. 

An estimated USD 8.37 billion have been invested in the food technology space in 2020 so far, up from USD 7 billion in the whole of 2019, according to Finistere Ventures. Alternative proteins and ingredient refinement are some of the areas seeing an increase in investments, in part because the pandemic caused a surge in demand for premium products and plant-based meat. 

Beyond Meat launched plant-based pork in China this week, a mince meat designed to be used in Asian dishes. The company is also building two production plants in the country. A Bloomberg analyst warned that the plant-based pork market was already quite crowded in China, however. Besides, he argued that the country’s vegetarianism didn’t seem to be rising and that vegetarians were more likely to stick to their current options, such as tofu, rather than the more expensive plant-based meat imitations.

KFC is applying innovation elsewhere and has started delivering meals in China using self-driving vehicles. The company hasn’t made any statements but analysts guess this is the result of a partnership between KFC’s parent company Yum Brands and Neolix. In the US, ADM and InnovaFeed have tied up to build what will be the world’s biggest insect protein processing plant. The factory will be supplied with feedstock and waste by the adjacent ADM corn facilities. They expect the market for insect protein in animal feed will be close to 1 million mt by 2027. 

The US FDA announced that food manufacturers will now have to disclose the presence of sesame on labels with a cautionary warning. The House of Representatives passed a bill that would add the seed to the list of major food allergens. The 1.5 million Americans allergic to sesame will welcome the news, according to The Counter which reports that sesame derivatives can be found in all sorts of unexpected places, including a peach-flavored yogurt. There’s another good news for those who are big on spicy food. New research found that people who eat chilis are likely to live longer, even though they’re not sure why.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Eight years after negotiations first started, 15 Asian nations signed the world’s biggest trade agreement with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The treaty is considered by some as somewhat symbolic and excludes most agricultural products, although it does highlight a tilt in Chinese trade towards more regional partners. At the same time, however, China’s western trade partners have expressed frustrations at the claim that China detected coronavirus samples on the packaging of food imports. In response, New Zealand doubted claims that its frozen beef had signs of the virus. And the WHO and FAO repeated their findings that the virus does not appear to spread through food trade. 

The EU is hoping that a new US President would ease the trade tensions built up by the previous administration. Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have stalled but EU lawmakers said they hoped to resume talks soon. As a sign of goodwill, perhaps, a committee backed a proposal to remove EU duties on US lobsters. US lobster producers have been struggling to compete because of duties from China and the EU’s free trade deal with Canada. 

The situation concerning a potential trade deal between the EU and the UK does not look as promising, however. Tate & Lyle and Associated British Foods suggested that Northern Ireland could face supply issues in January 2021 because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations. The current proposal does not outline how British goods will have access to Northern Ireland, as the region is due to remain in the EU’s single customs market. 

Fish and the protection of British fisheries remain one of the main issues blocking an agreement. An expert noted that the issue was relatively unimportant when measured in terms of economic impact as it only represents 0.08% of the UK’s GDP. The UK Prime Minister is not willing to make any concessions, however, because it is highly symbolic as it represents the UK’s ability to regain its territorial sovereignty. France, meanwhile, has a large fishing fleet and the French President promised to block a deal unless its fishermen are granted access to British waters. 

Speaking of fish, new research identified issues concerning the practice of focusing only on abundant species. Focusing on abundant species can sometimes have a significant impact on other species in what researchers called “indirect extinction cascades”. The fishing world is also unimpressed by China’s campaign to crack down on illegal fishing in the Yangtze River. China’s massive fishing fleet is currently doing a lot more damage to distant fish stocks as far West Africa and the Galapagos. Vessels have to keep going further as the once-abundant Yangtze River, Yellow Sea, Bohai Sea and East China Sea are all effectively considered depleted.

Aquaculture and fish farms have long been promoted as a more sustainable method to produce seafood but a series of dramatic farming disasters has made the practice unpopular with many activists. They point to issues like fish escapes, disease, antibiotic use, and waste as a way to argue that fish farms should be kept out of our oceans. Nevertheless, innovation has made the industry a lot more sustainable over the past few years. The FAO argued that wild fish populations cannot meet the growing demand for seafood and that sustainable aquaculture will have to step in. As of 2018, 46% of the fish eaten globally came from a farm. 

Some aquaculture innovations, like developing a more efficient feed based on microalgae, have been cheerfully accepted, while others remain controversial. In the US, for example, the FDA approved the first genetically modified salmon breeds in 2015 but the product is still not on the market because of legal challenges. The GMO salmon grows twice as fast and has been eaten by Canadians for years. A US court, however, ruled last week that the FDA failed to properly consider the long-term risk of GMO salmon before giving its approval. 

The rush to invest in the plant-based meat sector, meanwhile, continues. Unilever announced a plan to increase sales of meat alternatives five-fold to USD 1.2 billion in 5-7 years, while McDonald’s announced the launch of its own plant-based burger, uninspiringly called the McPlant. At the same time, however, the sale of traditional butter has been steadily rising over the past few years although consumption is not expected to recover to the levels seen before it had to compete with margarine. Nonetheless, butter’s comeback reflects the realisation that plant-based margarine is not necessarily healthier, while an increase in disposable income makes butter a viable option despite its higher price. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

For the first time in its 169-year history, Louis Dreyfus will receive funds from an outside investor as the chairwoman agreed to sell a 45% stake to ADQ, an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund. The deal included a long-term contract to supply commodities to the UAE which could make Dreyfus “the champion of food and agri-supply in the Middle East”, a consultant noted. Louis Dreyfus has been looking for partners for a while to repay some of its debts and had engaged in negotiations with Glencore and Bunge.

This would not be the first time a government fund invests in a major agricultural trade house, as Singapore’s Temasek Holdings is the majority owner of Olam International while the country’s sovereign wealth fund is the largest shareholder in Bunge. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated efforts by countries dependent on food imports looking to be more self-sufficient. Abu Dhabi’s investment in Louis Dreyfus will be accompanied by a series of partnerships to study the production of food in desert climates. NanoRacks announced that it will create a space research center in the desert country to develop agricultural practices in extreme weather conditions. 

Unilever suggested that it was in no hurry to resume advertising on Facebook and Twitter, as the firm left the social media platforms back in July. A director explained that alternatives like Snapchat, Pinterest and YouTube were showing promising results. Unilever is also launching its first pet care products, starting with a launch in Brazil – the second-largest pet market after the US. For its part, Nestle is betting on the rising demand for environmentally-friendly pet food and is launching a line of Purina made with insect proteins

Data published this week confirmed that Brazil’s carbon emissions were up 9.6% on year in 2019, mostly due to the accelerating deforestation. The country was able to reduce emissions in 2004-12 and keep them stable in 2018. Brazil has a great potential to reduce its emissions, although the current government is not expected to push for the right policies. In addition, the new US President is not expected to prioritise trade negotiations with Brazil. The Democratic President-elect is expected to follow the EU’s example and include provisions to protect the environment in any new trade deal which could put Brazil at a disadvantage. The US could also join the list of importers looking to impose tariffs on countries or products linked to deforestation, a Brazilian lawmaker said.

A new study published in the Science Journal estimated that agricultural emissions alone are on track to stop us from meeting the climate goals under the Paris Agreement. The main reason is the increase in consumption, both on the individual and global levels, along with a shift towards more animal-based products. At the same time, a study conducted in Ireland showed that current policies were not effectively addressing rising rates of obesity and other non-communicable diseases. 

Experts argue that a lower food consumption overall, along with a lower consumption of meat, would address both climate and health problems. This is increasing the appeal of a meat tax. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) argued that if food producers were unable to voluntarily act to reduce the consumption of meat by 2025, the government should step in with a tax. A professor said such a tax would highlight the link between planetary and human health. 

Another popular idea is to implement labels outlining the carbon impact of food products. Restaurant chains in the US are experimenting with the solution, while food producers are also looking at the idea. Some suggested this could create a whole new type of diet, possibly called “climatarians”. The concept is not so straightforward though, as Tesco found out when it shelved its plan back in 2012. Measuring the carbon impact of food has become simpler since, but nuances remain that will be hard to convey on a label. For one, the seasonality of ingredients used is key to measure the carbon impact. 

With Thanksgiving approaching in the US, restaurants are preparing to honour to new President by focusing on what he has called “the best sandwich in America”: Capriotti’s Bobbie sandwich with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. It almost sounds as delicious as the famous “moist-maker”: Monica Gellar’s Thanksgiving left-over sandwich. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Meat packers in the US are investing millions to accelerate the automation of plants. The CEO of JBS, the world’s biggest meat processor, explained that labour shortages have been an ongoing issue for the industry even before the pandemic, but current health and safety issues have been an accelerator. A food scientist told Deep Dive that some of the challenges, however, include the need for robots to be able to distinguish colours. Besides, animals have significant “biological variations,” meaning that two chicken can have different wing sizes, something which is very difficult for robots to handle. To make sure they don’t miss out on any new technology, Cargill’s Protein and Animal Health said they are working closely with innovators in Silicon Valley. 

Taking it a step further, Tyson obtained a waiver from the USDA allowing it to use its own staff and a system of cameras and computers to partially replace federal inspectors at its beef plant in Kansas. The USDA already eased inspections in the poultry and pork sectors over the past few years, with an analyst telling Reuters that this would allow inspectors to focus on more complicated issues like animal welfare and food safety. Some activists warn, however, that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show foodborne diseases are on the rise.

Tyson also rolled out infrared body temperature scanners at all of its plants to slow the coronavirus spread. On the other hand, two whistleblowers have accused JBS of making employees without health insurance pay USD 100 for a COVID-19 test. A legal expert argued that the company should have covered the costs.  

A failed trial by Walmart suggests that not all automation is useful. The company announced it would stop using the autonomous shelf-scanning robots it had been trying out for the past 3 years to monitor inventory.  Walmart said that the robots were awkward for shoppers and that they were not adapted to the massive shift to online shopping. While this may be good news in terms of jobs, the CEO of Unilever warned that the worst of the economic impact of the pandemic is yet to be felt. He urged companies to invest in upgrading the skills of their workers to anticipate massive job losses. 

Nestle bought the remaining stake in meal delivery company Freshly last week for USD 950 million and a potential USD 550 million earnout. Freshly is currently delivering over 1 million meals every week, which should increase threefold following the acquisition. An analyst said that Freshly will allow Nestle to deliver more of its products directly to consumers, a growing trend across the industry. 

ADM, meanwhile, identified five major food trends as the world adjusts to the pandemic. It found that consumers are increasingly looking for nutrition which is good for both “the body and mind,” notably with a focus on nutrients that are good for digestion. Sustainability and transparency are also a growing concern, ADM noted. 

Major beverage companies are in a race to design a paper bottle that can replace the existing plastic bottles. Coca-Cola announced its first paper bottle prototype, although it still contains a liner and closure made from recycled plastic. It is now working on a prototype that doesn’t have the plastic liner. The company, as well as competitors like Pepsi, hope to roll out paper bottles next year. The timing is right: scientists in Australia estimate that there is 14.4 million mt of microplastics at the bottom of the seas, twice as much plastic as there is on the oceans’ surface. One researcher explained that “The deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,” all of which risked showing up further down in our food chain. 

The Michelin Guide, too, recognised the importance of a sustainable food supply chain when it launched the Michelin Green Star back in June. Some seven chefs have already been awarded for their “sustainable gastronomy.” In France, however, chefs are warning that the new lockdown measures could drastically transform the country’s culinary landscape as standalone establishments struggle to cope and threaten to close. France’s gastronomic heritage needs to be protected by UNESCO, one of the chefs argued.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Extreme and unpredictable weather conditions across the world, combined with supply chain disruptions and stockpiling caused by the coronavirus, are pushing up the price of many essential crops. The US, Russia and parts of the EU are facing extremely dry weather, while Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have seen crops destroyed by storms and floods. The situation is even more complex when you factor in the sharp drop in the commercial flights which usually collect weather data. Meteorologists warn that they are struggling to make weather forecasts as a result. 

At the same time, China is maintaining its buying spree. The country is expected to issue additional corn import quotas to replenish reserves and meet feed demand for the growing hog population, according to sources who said COFCO was already benefiting from an additional quota. The surge in Chinese demand is also helping other trade houses like the US-based Scoular. The 128-year-old group has reported a spike in sorghum shipments since the Phase One trade deal was signed in February. And ADM sold the first shipment of US rice to China. The California-grown rice was unloaded in China this week and marks the culmination of a decade of regulatory and political work.

The food sector is in a much better place to deal with further coronavirus waves as it has set up systems to shift the food usually delivered to restaurants and caterers to retail stores. Besides, the head of ADM highlighted that being a global company provided clear advantages to deal with a worldwide pandemic. Highlighting ADM’s 118-year history, he mentioned: “That’s what our company does: it adjusts constantly”. Health experts are not so confident about the meat packing sector in the US, however, despite claims by JBS and Perdue Farms that they are prepared for further outbreaks. The major risk factor remains the speed of processing lines, while most plants are still running at the high rates authorised by an emergency decree.

While the first wave of stockpiling was categorised by a focus on comfort food and trusted brands, Nestle noted that consumers were now focusing on healthier purchases. The firm’s health-science unit reported better than expected sales thanks to a growth in demand for vitamins, minerals and supplements. Unilever reported a similar trend and has been working on making some of its products healthier. To be sure, people are still buying comfort food and Unilever revealed that sales of at-home ice cream had fully offset the drop in out-of-home sales.​

Not to be outdone, ADM’s health department said it would increase the production of probiotics five-fold thanks in part to the expansion of a factory in Valencia, Spain. Bayer, meanwhile, signed a USD 4 billion deal to buy Asklepios BioPharmaceutical. The gene therapy firm is looking to use a harmless virus to deliver “genetic repair kits”. 

Further out in the field of future food science, the debate is growing on whether lab-grown meat will ever be able to compete with traditional meat or its more direct rival, plant-based meat. Sceptics highlight that cost and perception will remain the main challenges for widespread adoption. Nonetheless, some firms are reportedly making lab-grown beef patties for just EUR 9, compared to the EUR 250,000 it took for the first experiment in 2013. The sharp drop in cost is similar, or even faster, than the scaling of the Internet and other digital technologies. One analysis suggested that Moore’s Law could be a good way to predict the future of the sector. 

The head of Impossible Foods certainly has a strong opinion on the subject as he argued that cultured meat is “never going to be a thing. I’d put any amount of money on that.” The cost involved makes the technology much more suited for therapeutic use, he added. Nonetheless, some 80 start-ups are currently studying lab-grown meat and one hopes to launch seafood products made from fish cells in mid-2021. Another group, Israeli-based Aleph Farm, is focusing on using its cell-based 3D bioprinting meat platform in space. After a successful test on the International Space Station, the firm is now partnering with space agencies to develop a solution suitable for Mars. 

Some promising progress is also being made to make traditional meat production more sustainable. Aemetis announced that it had started producing biogas from the methane collected at two dairy operations. The renewable natural gas is then processed into fuel ethanol at a Keyes, California, plant. The group hopes to expand the project to 17 dairies next year.

Amid all this talk of potential food disruptions, Oreo fans can rest easy as Mondelez built a vault to protect the cookie from disasters, including an asteroid that is expected to pass close to the Earth in November. Called the Global Oreo Vault, the facility is built right next to the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The EU’s agriculture ministers agreed this week that 20% of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget which will kick in 2023 should be used for environmentally friendly farming. However, the proposal still has to be voted by Parliament and environmentalists complained that the amount was much too low and translated into massive ongoing subsidies for traditional agriculture. The EU Parliament is also due to vote on a bill proposing that terms such as “sausages” and “burgers” could only be used for products containing meat, even when used with words such as “style” and “like.” An analysis by the BBC said this would take the 3-year old ban on terms like “soya milk” and “vegan cheese” one step further. 

The WWF, meanwhile, is advocating moving away from the meat vs plant debate towards a “Planet-based diet.” The idea is to focus on consuming foods that are produced locally and sustainably while providing us with our nutritional needs. The organisation points out that biodiversity loss is caused by different factors depending on the geography and that advocating for a vegan diet doesn’t make sense everywhere in the world. To help us make the right choices, the WWF designed a Planet-Based Diets Impact and Action Calculator. 

Going local is not on top of governments’ priorities right now, as they focus on ensuring they have sufficient food supply. An analyst explained that consumers and supermarkets have switched from “just-in-time” inventory management to “just-in-case”  in the anticipation of supply disruptions due to the coronavirus. The Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex rallied 20% since June as countries such as China, but also in the Middle East and Africa, stepped up purchases. The additional demand is helping farmers, notably in the US where producers have also benefited from higher buying from China under the Phase One trade deal. Another element contributing to the income of US farmers is the record high USD 51 billion in federal aid they will have received this year, an analysis by Reuters showed. The aid should amount to about a third of farm income in 2020, which will overall be higher than in 2019. 

Danone, which lost a quarter of its market value in 2020, could divest from businesses worth as much as EUR 500 million (USD 592 million) in revenue, as well as downsize some units by up to a third, the CEO said. Bloomberg Intelligence suggested that the company didn’t have much of a choice but to shed assets, arguing that Danone was “way behind the curve.” He added that this would not be enough and the group may need to sell more businesses, including some of its water brands. 

This is exactly what Nestle is doing. Sources say that the group is looking for bids for its North American water brands which have been losing market share. Analysts estimate that the brands could be sold for anywhere between USD 3-5 billion. On the other hand hand, the CEO said he is planning to keep premium brands like Perrier and San Pellegrino. 

The Coca-Cola Company said the coronavirus had contributed to accelerating its portfolio review. It announced it would stop producing a number of drinks, such as Coca-Cola Life, to free resources for higher-margin products. The virus also fast-tracked changes that were taking place in the group’s marketing strategy – an official explained that they were now focusing on more “meaningful” advertising

The CEO of Unilever warned, meanwhile, that more and more companies were making sustainability commitments to appeal to consumers without any plans to stick to them, also known as “woke-washing.” Ironically, he made the comment just as Greenpeace accused Unilever of “greenwashing.” The NGO conceded that the group has been vocal about becoming more sustainable but argued it needed to do much more. 

A study looking at several carnivore species in the US Midwest found that predators were getting close to half of their food from humans, by eating through garbage, foraging fields and even eating pets. One of the scientists told Wired that the presence of corn in their systems revealed the source of their food, explaining that “Human foods look like corn, because we give corn to everything.” 

Going back to the subject of eating locally, the coronavirus-led surge in gardening has caused a shortage of Mason jars in the US. Many people have used the time at home to plant food stuff which they have been canning for preservation, causing the shortage in canning containers. A jar merchant called it “Sourdough 2.0.”

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

European and UK negotiators have reportedly made some progress on reaching a free trade agreement although EU officials note that some open issues still need to be addressed, such as fisheries and state aid. The UK has set a deadline of October 15 to reach an agreement and the Prime Minister said he was open to a deal in line with what Australia has with the EU. However, commentators pointed out that there was no trade deal between Australia and the EU, while Australia has been looking to sign a full trade agreement with the block for years.

The UK did report a trade win this week as the country exported its first shipment of beef to the US in 20 years. The US banned imports in 1996 following issues with the mad cow disease but ruled that safety standards were acceptable again in March this year. The UK government estimates that this could generate USD 85 million annually over the next five years. This remains only a small victory, however, as the UK could lose USD 174 billion every year for 10 years with the combined impact of a no-deal Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, according to Baker McKenzie. 

Food imports into Iran might become even more difficult if the US moves ahead with a plan to extend its sanctions and cut the country off from the global financial system. Essential goods should be exempt from the sanctions, in theory, but banks are reluctant to facilitate deals because of the fear of facing penalties. Besides, EU and Swiss efforts to set up alternative payment channels have only had limited success. Iran has been focusing on trade with the UAE and China in the meantime. 

As countries look to negotiate new trade agreements, industry members are busy trying to reduce the environmental impact of transporting commodities by ship. Sea Cargo Charter was launched by a coalition of 17 companies, including ADM, Bunge, Cargill, COFCO and Louis Dreyfus. The group set up a standard to transparently report shipping emissions to help meet greenhouse gas targets. In the same vein, Cargill will let its customers access CocoaWise, a portal set up to centralise the sustainability data of the cocoa supply chain. The solution includes a map with details on 128 cooperative offices in Cote d’Ivoire, 7 buying stations in Ghana and 11 stations in Cameroon.

Campaigners submitted a petition with 300,000 signatures urging Nestle to reconsider its decision to stop using Fairtrade cocoa and sugar in its Kit Kat bars. In response, Nestle highlighted that they are now sourcing Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa instead. They also argued that, along with its own Nestle Cocoa Plan, they are now in a better position to help improve the livelihoods of farmers. 

In the plant-based food world, oat milk just overtook soy milk to become the second most popular non-dairy milk. Oat milk has been gaining in popularity because of the low amount of water it needs to grow and the high protein and fiber content but almond milk remains the most popular in part thanks to its health advantages: it is low in calories, fat and carbohydrates.

Shoppers might be seeing a lot more plant-based products on sale following pledges by Tesco and Asda to boost sales. Tesco partnered with the WWF to increase sales of plant-based meat by 300% by 2025, while Asda is launching 104 new plant-based products. The move was not welcomed by the head of the National Sheep Association, however. He highlighted that it was based on an incorrect assumption, as meat can, and often is, produced in a sustainable way, while plant-based products are often mass-produced, highly industrialised and highly packaged.

Other experts are also questioning whether overselling the potential benefits of agricultural practices can actually undermine the fight against climate change. Environmentalists have recently been eagerly promoting the idea of regenerative agriculture to sequester the carbon in the atmosphere into the soil. But some proponents argue that the practice could actually absorb all of the carbon we currently emit. Such a claim is not only baseless, some experts say, but can also overpromise and simplify a complex problem that will require a whole suite of changes to solve. 

Talking of smart technological solutions to fight climate change, farmers found two clever ways to use agricultural products in surprising places this week. The first is in the Netherlands where researchers made bitumen – usually produced from fossil fuels – using lignin. And in the UK, the largest dairy cooperative, Arla, started converting some cow manure into methane and biofuels to power its trucks. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Germany has gone all out to contain the African Swine Fever (ASF) which was detected this month in a few wild boars but already cost the country a ban on exports to China. Even though no commercial pigs have tested positive, one expert estimated that Germany lost a USD 1 billion market in just one day from import bans. He calculated that the world’s pig population dropped by at least 25% because of ASF, whereas China lost about a third of its pig population since 2018. The US and Spain could fill in the gap but an analyst warned that the situation was very volatile. A second Covid-19 wave could have a drastic impact on both pork consumption and supply. 

China is also asking importers to be careful about sourcing frozen food and seafood from countries with big Covid-19 outbreaks. The government said it had found the virus in imported cold-chain food. The WHO still maintains that one was unlikely to catch the virus through food. 

The growing demand for salmon has led to its wild population dropping by half in the last 50 years. Beyond overfishing, sea lice, which spreads from fish farms to the wild, also contributed to the fall in population. US startup Wildtype is working to solve the issue with their lab-grown salmon. For the moment, it cost them USD 200 to make a spicy salmon roll but they hope to commercialise their salmon within the next 5 years. 

US-based plant-based protein company Puris is hoping to solve the issue of the high sodium content in alternative burgers with its new low-sodium pea protein. The CEO explained that plant-based burgers have much more salt than meat burgers, with one Beyond Burgers containing 16% of our daily allowance. The group, which will be doubling its pea protein production by next year, is also launching lupin flour and pea syrup, to be used in keto products and as a substitute for corn syrups. Similarly, ADM launched a series of plant-based proteins designed to improve the “sensory appeal” of plant-based meat, including textured pea proteins and textured wheat protein. 

The British Retail Consortium calculated that new import tariffs as a result of a no-deal Brexit could cost households an additional GBP 112 in food expenses, and probably more once the administrative costs are also taken into account. It explained that the UK’s food supply chain works on very little margin, which means most of the additional costs would be passed on to consumers. Besides, the recently launched Future British Standards Coalition is lobbying against any lowering of food standards after Brexit. A specific point of contention is the import of chlorinated chicken from the US – something opposed by many in the UK. 

Some 200 global food suppliers joined a voluntary coalition committing to reduce their food waste by half by 2030. An insight by Food Dive, however, points out that 80% of the world’s food waste happens in supermarkets, restaurants and with the end consumer. Nevertheless, it expects the commitment to eventually happen as it will help boost these companies’ bottom line. One solution is being tested in Kenya, where a farm is feeding food waste to black soldier fly larvae which will then be used for animal feed. 

If fighting waste was not enough, Walmart declared its commitment to becoming a “regenerative company.” The CEO Explained that “Regenerating means restoring, renewing, and replenishing, in addition to conserving.” Concretely, the target is to reach zero net emissions by 2040, restore 50 million acres of land and 1 million sq m of ocean by 2030. 

Funding and incentivising sustainable farming is a growing issue, one that a new fund hopes to solve in Brazil. Saff, the product of a public-private partnership, will start with USD 68 million in 2021, aims to reach USD 1.4 billion by 2026 and will target farmers who follow the crop-livestock-forest integration on at least 5% of their area. In the UK, McDonald’s tied up with McCain to set up a GBP 1 million fund, called the Sustainable MacFries Fund, to help potato growers become more sustainable.

We live in an era where we are used to questioning the things we’ve been doing but here’s one you probably didn’t see coming: you shouldn’t use boiling water to make tea. An expert explained that the habit of boiling developed when water was unsafe to drink. Instead, he suggests using water at 50-65 degrees for green tea and 80 degrees for most breakfast teas. Otherwise, he warned, your tea will taste “no better than cabbage water.”

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

New York hosted the annual UN meeting last week, along with Climate Week, and the Brazilian President used his speech to highlight that Brazil successfully ramped up food production to meet a growing export demand. He also claimed that his government was a victim of “brutal disinformation campaigns” concerning the Amazon and Pantanal, as he highlighted new measures taken to protect the environment. Nonetheless, local experts were quick to highlight that these rules were rarely enforced, while Brazil’s own space agency published data suggesting that deforestation in the Amazon reached a 14-year high in the year ending in July. 

Fires in the Amazon and Pantanal could potentially lead to the end of trade negotiations between the EU and Mercosur. The French government issued a list of three demands before it would agree to continue negotiating a free-trade deal. The list highlights the importance of meeting the Paris agreement and fighting deforestation. Other EU nations, namely Germany, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium, have also expressed concerns.

Food producers in the region are being proactive to protect their image on the international stage, however. The world’s largest meatpacker, JBS, announced a USD 183 million investment to help develop the Amazon and fight deforestation. The company also pledged to eventually monitor 100% of its indirect cattle supply chain, as it noted that no company currently does so. Seventeen brands behind the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) also used Climate Week to announce the creation of the Forest Positive Coalition of Action. Food firms like Mondelez, Nestle and Unilever, pledged to intensify efforts to end deforestation. 

Supply-chain traceability has been a goal of the industry for a while now but it can take years to achieve because of “fragmented farming systems and lack of infrastructure”, according to the CEO of Olam Cocoa. The firm published an update to its 5-year old effort to increase traceability across nine cocoa-producing countries. Olam can now trace 100% of its direct supply chain and 12% of the global cocoa supply to an individual farm or community. The topic might actually gain traction with the coronavirus pandemic, as a Kellogg director said the firm had noted that interest in the environment and social issues was accelerating

The coronavirus pandemic will lower the volume and value of Australian exports because of the lower demand for certain products, according to a government agency. Moreover, trade relations with China have been deteriorating, with the country imposing prohibitive duties on Australian wheat and increasing inspections. Australian producers are hoping to adapt by finding new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand. Soybean processors in Brazil are facing the opposite problem, meanwhile, as a surge in export demand is putting pressure on stocks despite a bumper crop. As a result, Brazil’s soybean imports might reach the highest since 2003. Sources reported that Bunge was now buying soybean from Uruguay to supply its plant in Rio Grande, Brazil. 

The EU is looking to create financial incentives to push farmers to focus on carbon-capture crops. The Commission recently argued that while agricultural emissions “can never be fully eliminated under existing technology and management options, they can be significantly reduced”. Some of the proposals include financing crop rotations and afforestation. Norway is also doubling down on its carbon-capture ambitions, as it will spend EUR 1.54 billion to fund two-thirds of a massive project, which had failed a decade ago because of cost issues. 

Tech enthusiasts are highlighting the potential of vertical farming to lower the carbon footprint of agriculture. Some firms, like Square Roots, also emphasise that container farming allows them to perfectly control temperature, light and fertiliser application to create the best tasting products. Nonetheless, this investigation concluded that the claim was “more marketing than science”, mostly because sensory scientists are still working on what makes food taste good, while focusing only on taste could negatively impact yields or shelf-life. In the end, an expert reiterated that “if you just leave a consumer panel to their own devices, they’ll typically choose whatever is sweetest.”

Beyond creating the best tasting products, supporters of vertical farming argue that the technology will be key in the age of space exploration. At the same time, scientists are making impressive progress in farming crops on simulation Martian and lunar soils. Unlike what some Hollywood movies would like us to believe, however, potatoes actually struggle in space soils, while kale actually grows better than on Earth soil. And in case you were wondering, yes, the researchers are experimenting with growing barley and hops that could be used to make space beer

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.