January 7, 2022
Friday by Noon:
BE the Change
As we crossed into 2022, much-discussed policies finally took effect. All the while, we kept track of the evolving definition of what makes food “good.”
- President Biden attempted to mitigate meat industry consolidation and rising prices.
- Labeling for bioengineered food is now the law.
- Brands turned up the volume on goodness.
Let it BE
As of January 1, food makers must disclose whether products are made with detectable levels of “bioengineered” ingredients (including genetically engineered, genetically modified and gene edited varieties). It may seem like small potatoes now, but the rule is the culmination of the biggest food fight of the past decade. After years of activist campaigns, the national law only came about in July 2015 to avoid Vermont kicking off a patchwork of state labeling laws.
- Laura Reiley of The Washington Post provided a thorough synopsis of the history and particulars.
- The law still faces opposition. Gregory Jaffe of Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized the use of the term “bioengineered” when most consumers more readily recognize GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
- Leaders from Natural Grocers and activist group Center for Food Safety reiterated complaints in a lawsuit that alleges the use of QR codes instead of on-package labels is “a regulatory scam … trying to keep us in the dark.”
- Meanwhile, a Cornell University study concluded that in Vermont, mandatory labels did not make a significant difference in sales volume compared with voluntary Non-GMO Project Verified labels.
- In Modern Farmer, lead researcher Aaron Adalja asked: “Do [mandatory labels] actually serve a purpose? … What sort of message are we sending if the government slaps a label on a product when it has nothing to do with safety or health?”
- Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich summed up the net result in a tweet: “GMO labeling is finally here & basically no one cares.”
On January 3, the Biden administration announced it will invest $1 billion to support independent meat and poultry producers. They argued that consolidation is responsible for consumer price increases and suggested that more competition will lead to lower prices. Additionally, the USDA and Department of Justice released shared principles and commitments “to protect against unfair and anticompetitive practices.”
- The White House readout explained “that just a small handful of companies control the majority of the markets for beef, pork, and poultry, enabling them to squeeze farmers and ranchers while also raising prices on consumers.”
- Fortune profiled the big four — Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS and National Beef Packing — that “control 55% to 85% of the hog, cattle, and chicken markets,” predictably casting each with some negative light.
- A USDA working paper found that just 17 pork processing plants accounted for 65% of the nation’s pork production in 2020. The paper also found that pork production rates decreased early in the pandemic, then recovered to match and even exceed 2019 levels.
- Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, claimed this was “the third time in six months” that the Biden administration has “announced the same plans to spend $1 billion to fund government intervention in the market.”
- The National Chicken Council (NCC) accused the Biden administration of “scapegoating” meat and poultry companies for inflation and rising prices. Mike Brown, NCC president, labeled the action plan as “a solution in search of a problem.”
- Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, supported the action plan: “We must get to the bottom of why farmers and ranchers continue to receive low payments while families across America endure rising meat prices.”
- The National Farmers Union welcomed the action plan and hoped “the administration’s renewed focus on boosting competition and reducing prices will force changes needed to create an even playing field.”
Finding the Goods
At Bader Rutter, we believe that the definition of “good” food is dynamic and has evolved significantly over recent years. We feel it’s important to track how influential brands define good food and how marketers share the message. The range of definitions of “good” is considerable; here are a few recent standouts:
- Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle wrote about a United Nations installation in Rome that brought attention to the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many food producers model their own policies after this set of 17 SDGs that address hunger, poverty, employment and more.
- Smithfield Foods got some positive ink for joining the USDA and EPA’s U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions by committing to cut its food loss and waste by 50% (Supermarket Perimeter) and for joining Farm Powered Strategic Alliance, “a collaborative movement to boost food waste reduction and recycling, and expand renewable energy production across America” (Feedstuffs).
- Swiss Chocolatier Barry Callebaut proudly shared its “A List” status after being ranked by the Carbon Disclosure Project for transparency on deforestation.
- Meatingplace summarized the philanthropic efforts of Triumph Foods, Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods, many of which involved feeding needy families during the holiday season.
- Nation’s Restaurant News shared that Culver’s Thank You Farmers project donations surpassed $3.5 million since its creation in 2013.
- Maker’s Mark took the award for stretching the limits of doing good: They offered to pay checked bag fees for holiday travelers if their bags included a bottle of the premium bourbon (Mashed).
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Right on cue, the new year brought no shortage of solutions to reverse the effects of holiday excesses. U.S. News published its annual review of diets and, to no one’s surprise, the Mediterranean Diet held the top spot. (We prefer scouring the bottom of the list to review the more colorful options like the “Modified Keto” and the “Dukan.”) Veganuary, a vegan UK nonprofit founded in 2014, worked with noteworthy brands like Kroger and Domino’s (Plant Based News). Finally, Popular Science questioned the positive long-term benefits of a “Dry January.”
The Wall Street Journal explored the life of the Spanish calador, or sniffer, whose job is to act as quality control for an Iberian ham company during the massive rush for holiday hams. “A cadre of six sniffers whose job is to poke each pork loin in four specific places with probes made of cow bone and take evaluative whiffs.”
New York Times journalist Jamie Lowe closed out 2021 by offering advice on how to dig for clams. Basically, start with a permit and look for bubbles. Fact: clams feel the cold too: “When it’s colder, they bury themselves deeper, so it’s harder to dig them up. You can clam year-round … but because the mollusks are closer to the surface in the summer, that’s when most recreational clamming is done.” Yes, “clam” is apparently a verb too.
She Thinks My Tractor’s Techy
At the Consumer Electronics Show, John Deere unveiled the first fully autonomous tractor to be produced en masse. Existing tractors can already autopilot by GPS, but Deere’s new model adds the ability to avoid obstacles. Wired writer Will Knight noted that autonomous equipment may alleviate some pains of worker shortages, but cited farmers’ concerns about Deere farming data with the machines too: “They’re trying to be the Facebook of farming.” While we’re on the subject, The Wall Street Journal reviewed Neil Dahlstrom’s “Tractor Wars,” a history of the tractor starting from the 1902 foundation of International Harvester and following competition between firms.
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