A theme of introspection fueled the global and domestic conversations on food production:

  • Experts from around the world converged to scrutinize food production’s relation to climate change.
  • An accountability report investigated the U.S. crop insurance system.
  • The persistent and ironic problem of food waste earned careful examination.

Pursuing Practical Solutions

Food and agriculture garnered considerably more attention at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai than at previous climate conferences. Food production holds the distinction of being both a contributor to climate change and an industry that suffers from the consequences. As the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, any impediments to growing more food could have devastating consequences.

  • A big driver of attention was the food pavilion — hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) and The Rockefeller Foundation — that featured 12 days packed with speakers and seminars. Overall, the conference featured more than 550 food-related events.
  • Kicking off the summit, 134 countries signed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action on December 1. World Resources Institute President and CEO Ani Dasgupta called it “the moment when food truly comes of age in the climate process.”
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined the UAE in contributing $200 million to support the Emirates Declaration and bolster farming innovations. It’s just a shame it came in too late for that Giving Tuesday donation match …
  • Methane reduction proved to be an important goal at COP28, with beef and dairy cattle contributing much of food’s slice of methane production. Dairy manufacturers Bel Group, Danone, Kraft Heinz, Lactalis, Nestlé pledged to boost transparency on the issue and individually “implement a comprehensive methane action plan” in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund.
  • The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research touted its Greener Cattle Initiative as a way for supply-side companies to pursue methane reduction, boasting buy-in from ADM, Elanco, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and JBS.
  • An array of companies, ranging from Tyson Foods and PepsiCo to commodities giants Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, formed the First Movers Coalition for Food with the intent to “[use] the combined procurement power for sustainably produced farming products to speed up the adoption of sustainable farming, innovations and transitional funding.”

Shaking Up Crop Insurance

Crop insurance provides U.S. farmers a safety net designed to offset financial losses from natural disasters or severe market declines. The USDA pays an average of 62 cents for each $1 of coverage. Critics have accused the subsidy system of favoring bigger farms and private insurance companies, making it challenging for smaller farms to access benefits. That could all be changing as a result of a report emerging from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

  • On December 4, the GAO recommended two “opportunities to reduce program costs:” Repealing a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill that stipulates any change to crop insurance agreements cannot reduce insurers’ underwriting gains and reducing subsidies for the highest-income farmers.
  • The report found that reducing premium subsidy rates for the highest-income policyholders from 62% to 47% in 2022 could have saved the federal government about $15 million.
  • Senate Ag Committee member Cory Booker, (D-N.J.), who requested the GAO report, stated, “This report shows that a shocking proportion of the subsidies intended to support the cost of writing crop insurance policies for all farmers are being eaten up by companies and agents.”
  • While this topic has brought together some unlikely members of Congress, House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.), disagreed. He claimed, “the report on crop insurance isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.”
  • The Environmental Working Group called for Congress to rein in the subsidies going to wealthy farmers and private insurance companies: “The Crop Insurance Program must be reformed so it works better for farmers, taxpayers and the environment.”
  • In an extreme example, dubbed “mother of all crop insurance frauds,” Farm Journal recounted the case of North Carolina farm couple, Robert and Vicki Warren, who orchestrated a massive $9 million crop insurance fraud over six years by filing false claims, selling hidden yields and employing forged documents.

Quick Hits: Food Waste

Nobody likes to see food go to waste, yet it remains a perennial problem. We’ve seen renewed efforts from the Biden-Harris administration, state governments and environmentalist groups to combat the issue:

Worth Reading

A Limited-Time Goldmine

Food industry research firm Circana (formerly IRI and NPD Group) shared a report suggesting 91% of consumers are more likely to visit foodservice chains that provide limited-time offers (LTOs) or entirely new food options. The data suggested that, by introducing unique menu items or resurrecting previously discontinued fan favorites, businesses across the country can effectively boost sales, reshape consumer behavior and increase visit frequency. Talk about achieving long-term benefits with a short-term solution.

Juicy Tomatoes with Less Water

The Wall Street Journal explained how researchers in California are working to identify tomato varieties that can grow with up to 50% less water. As drought and rising temperatures increasingly compromise the quality of tomatoes and other food crops, the ability to create hardier plants will likely dictate farmer profitability, supply chain fulfillment, pricing of consumer goods and, ultimately, the fate of the treasured tomato. Perish the thought of a world without ketchup.

Lethal Lemonade

The New York Times reported that Panera Bread is facing its second wrongful death lawsuit since October. Both lawsuits involve the chain’s Charged Lemonade, which contains 390mg of caffeine in its large size (FDA recommends no more than 400mg per day). This level was high enough to exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions suffered by both victims. While Panera maintains the safety of its products, the chain has enhanced caffeine disclosures throughout its website, app and restaurants.

Got a Taste for Tamarind?

McCormick & Company bets you do. The leading spice and seasoning company named tamarind “Flavor of the Year” for 2024. For over two decades, the company has identified flavors they believe will dominate restaurant menus and cookbooks in the year ahead. Fun fact? 2023’s winner was “Vietnamese Cajun Style Seasoning.” Yeah, we don’t get it either.

Artificial, Just Not Particularly Intelligent

It’s not easy keeping up with technology and Uber Eats heard about it this week after taking some ill-advised shortcuts on behalf of some of their client restaurants. Yahoo! reposted a Creative Bloq post that covered how poorly realized AI-generated food images have started fouling online menus. From pizzas that look like fruit pies to ranch dressings bizarrely labeled “Lelnach,” online wags are having a field day mocking some of the ridiculous imagery on the Uber site.