Now that it’s past Memorial Day, we figured we should dive right in:

  • Abundant regulation and negotiation about water use.
  • Lively conversations about meat alternatives.
  • Expert advice about health and nutrition.

‘Lawyers Galore’

As the most common input in food production, water often serves as a focal point for stewardship discussions. Regulators have wrestled with the issue lately, with verdicts handed down from the highest court in the land and negotiations between states along the fifth-longest river in the U.S.

  • On May 25, the U.S Supreme Court ruled against the EPA’s interpretation of what counts as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. While the final decision was split 5-4, all nine justices agreed that the EPA’s current “significant nexus” test was too ambiguous.
  • Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, welcomed the disambiguation: “Lawyers galore were going to be making a new industry out of identifying what is and what is not eligible for production.”
  • Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook portrayed the decision as undermining “the EPA’s ability … to hold polluters like corporate agriculture operations accountable.”
  • Arizona, California and Nevada agreed on May 22 to reduce their residents’ use of water from the Colorado River through 2026 by roughly 13%.
  • Grist noted that the negotiations will make use of funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to pay farmers to reduce production. We don’t always want to eat salad, but it’s something else to pay to not grow it.
  • Drought remains a persistent concern across the Great Plains, with Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma facing particularly severe conditions. Farm Journal observed that 47% of the nation’s wheat acreage faces a rainfall shortage, while only 26% of corn and 20% of soybeans face similar conditions.
  • Incredibly, the rest of the country has largely emerged from drought. The USA Rice Federation rejoiced that higher precipitation enables Californian growers to resume rice production.
  • Check out the U.S. Drought Monitor’s comparison tool for a wild contrast with this time last year, when half of the contiguous U.S. experienced severe (or worse) drought conditions.

Nü Meat Pulse Check

Even as the fast-food adoption of plant-based alternatives subsides and valuation of the biggest alt-meat players falls, innovation in the category continues. Major manufacturers and startups continue to invest in the segment, with increasing attention focused on cell-cultured proteins.

  • Food Dive covered Nestlé’s commitment to plant-based foods, which bucks some current trends. CMO Mel Cash told Food Dive: “Even as we start to talk about, ‘Is plant based tamped down,’ there’s still significant awareness, significant desire, and again, listening to the consumer, they’re still telling us that’s where they want to go. We need to be there.”
  • ADM is partnering up with a company called Air Protein to manufacture protein “using carbon dioxide, rather than sugar to fuel its microbial fermentation platform,” which would require less land. AgFunder News filled in the details.
  • Going against the prevailing disposition that cell-cultured meat is more environmentally friendly than animal protein, a UC Davis study found quite the opposite. Feedstuffs reported: “In a preprint, not yet peer-reviewed, researchers … found that lab-grown or ‘cultivated’ meat’s environmental impact is likely to be ‘orders of magnitude’ higher than retail beef based on current and near-term production methods.”
  • Dutch food tech company Meatable has dramatically sped up the process to create a cultivated pork product, dropping production time to just eight days. The company also claims to do so at “a competitive price” (Food Ingredients First).
  • Supermarket Perimeter summarized a study on plant-based foods by San Francisco-based Grand View Research. Respondents identified the top three reasons for “vegan curiosity”: health, environmental concerns and a preference for the taste of plant-based ingredients.

“If you’re going to tell them what to avoid, Americans are often clever enough to choose something else that’s just as bad or worse.”

Christopher Gardner, director of nutrition studies, Stanford University (NPR)

Processing Health

Recent research has tied brain function, sleep and stress to diet choices. Some studies find that eating processed food worsens these conditions, while others have found that mental health affects which foods we choose to eat. Which came first? The chicken nugget or the insomnia?

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

We posted a new episode of our The Good Minute podcast series that features Tyler Groeneveld, North American director of grains and oils for Corteva Agriscience. Listen in as he discusses how innovating crop seed production to serve consumer demand for both healthier oils and increased proteins essentially elevates grains from commodities to ingredients. Listen here.

Worth Reading

Food Fuels the Phone Wars

Tests performed to support a class-action lawsuit filed at a U.S. District Court in Maryland suggest that DoorDash charges iPhone users an expanded range delivery fee not incurred by Android owners (Supermarket News). The suit also blames DoorDash for using a number of smaller fees to mislead, deceive and defraud consumers into using the delivery app at a much higher, premium cost. Sounds like there’s a new talking point in the smartphone superiority debate.

Black Market Bacon

Since pork products entering California must meet new sow housing requirements as of July 1, agricultural economist Steve Meyer has predicted: “There’s going to be a very active black market in California for pork. It’s got a big border, and you can probably get it into small retailers” (Feedstuffs).

Wait, Food Expiration Dates Are Real?

Either you’re a person who follows use-by dates or you’re the ungovernable type who lives by your own rules. Food Safety News profiled a social media user who was on a quest to determine how long foods last compared with their expiration dates. His findings: Eat at your own risk. Food Safety News framed it as “social media being the excuse for all sorts of dumb and dangerous experiments.” That is not news.

Unrelated, but Still Sickening.

PBS Newshour reported that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked as many as 40% of food poisoning incidents at restaurants to sick and contagious staff. The study reviewed outbreaks with a known cause between 2017 and 2019 and concluded that better enforcement of current policies is needed. Basic steps like washing hands and staying home when sick would address the issue but that’s often at odds with employee income needs. What about those little signs in restaurant bathrooms?

Immigration Inflation

In Bloomberg, Vanderbilt University journalism professor Amanda Little wrote that food prices are increasing, in part, due to restrictions on immigration. Little underscored the vital connection between food production and production agriculture, suggesting: “Rather than making life even harder for the undocumented workers … our lawmakers should be guaranteeing their safety.”