The United States government embraced the prospect of shutting down this week, whether grinding itself into a deep hole of disagreement or using its power to limit mega corporations. Oh, and the most influential voices in food production talked about pizza. A lot.

  • One party could not agree with itself on government funding.
  • Two retail groups crossed paths with the FTC.
  • Three magic ingredients — dough, tomatoes and cheese — snagged a big slice of the conversation. 
  • Four worthwhile articles addressed the future of food.

Shutdowns are a colossal waste of resources.

Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary (Agri-Pulse)

Shutdown Sunday

Absent a deal in Congress, the current federal budget will expire at midnight on Saturday, September 30 and the bulk of the U.S. government will shut down. At the time of publication, the House of Representatives — which must start budget negotiations in Congress — has failed to pass budgets for the FDA and USDA. Some food and farm programs are considered “essential” and will continue to operate, but the programs at risk sounded many alarms:

  • The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley outlined the effects on anti-hunger programs: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) could lose funding next week while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) will only be funded until the end of October.
  • Ellie Hollander of Meals on Wheels America and Bob Blancato of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs lambasted Congress for jeopardizing meal services to the elderly during Malnutrition Awareness Week.
  • Food Safety News reviewed past shutdowns to determine the impact on food safety: USDA meat inspections will continue as usual, but proactive FDA inspections are likely to be put on hold.
  • In a White House press briefing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified that the shutdown would halt farm lending programs and commodity pricing reports that aid farmers as they take harvests to market. Vilsack added, “We have a presence in every county in the country. So it’s going to affect every county in the country.”
  • Agri-Pulse added that underfunding the USDA will impair development of the 2023 Farm Bill, compromising the ability to maintain food and farm policy for the future.

You can’t get numb to the consequences of a shutdown that is reckless and unnecessary. … There are real impacts to real people on a daily basis when [members of] Congress … don’t do their job.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (YouTube)

Who You Gonna Call? Trustbusters

Since taking office, the Biden administration has made it abundantly clear that it intends to take on corporate consolidation and market monopolies, particularly in the meat industry. Recent leadership changes and renewed antitrust focus hint at even more aggressive efforts to counter anticompetitive practices in the retail sector as well.

  • The Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorneys sued Amazon alleging that the online retail and technology company uses a set of anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its power. FTC Chair Lina Khan said they are “seeking to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition.”
  • In response, David Zapolsky, SVP, Global Public Policy & General Counsel at Amazon claimed the FTC’s case could “negatively impact consumers and the businesses that sell in our store and reveals the Commission’s fundamental misunderstanding of retail.”
  • In Winsight Grocery Business, National Grocers Association SVP of Government Relations Chris Jones stated: “FTC’s move underscores the vital importance of ensuring that consumers benefit from a variety of choices, competitive pricing, and fair market environment that empowers both independent businesses and the consumers themselves.”
  • Lynn Petrak of Progressive Grocer added some context, notably pointing out that the online perishable grocery category is not part of the FTC’s complaint. However, the publication does peg Amazon as the second largest food retailer.
  • FTC Chair Lina Kahn had similar things to say surrounding the Kroger-Albertsons merger: “If there’s a merger that is presenting a lot of risk of reducing competition, may even create a monopoly … we need to weigh those risks.”
  • In a separate antitrust action, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Agri Stats, alleging the firm facilitated meat price-fixing when it “organized and managed anticompetitive information exchanges among broiler chicken, pork and turkey processors.”

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

Perhaps food industry leaders needed something more lighthearted to talk about than budgets and regulation. Choose a slice from this big pie of recent pizza conversations.

Worth Reading

Climate-defying Crops

As higher temperatures and prolonged dry periods continue to impact global crop production, The New York Times detailed how farmers and industry partners are developing new techniques and breeding practices to produce fruits and vegetables that can withstand evolving climates. From melons and avocados that require less water to seedless blackberries, weather-proof white cabbage and heat-resistant apples, these innovations have a chance to reshape the landscape of consumable crops.

Editor’s Cut

Modern Farmer published an informative, approachable and optimistic article about CRISPR, the gene-editing technology: “CRISPR promises a genetic revolution, with advocates hopeful that it can address disease prevention, food security and a reduction of methane, the greenhouse gas spewed by ruminants that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping atmospheric heat.” Sounds like CRISPR is an alternative to a crispier future.

Cell-ing the Future

Is cellular agriculture the next great advance in food technology? Food Ingredients First shared how exhibits at the recent Spacefarming: The future of food event indicate a potential future for sustainable food cultivation. While regulatory approvals still pose a formidable roadblock for the commercialization of cell-based meats and produce, industry collaborators are leveraging science, technology and design to develop new ways for farmers to grow crops on Earth — or elsewhere.

The Future of Natural Is NEXT

New Hope Media, host of the influential Natural Expos East and West conventions, peered into the future of the natural category and revealed 2023’s NEXTY award winners. A few that caught our attention? Best new sweet snack: Pocket’s Chocolate Black Sesame Oat Milk Chocolate Almonds. That checks all the boxes. Best new condiment: Smallhold’s Mushroom Pesto. Their R&D head must be a fun guy. Editors’ choice for innovation: Prime Roots’ Koji Foie Gras Torchon. Faux foie gras anyone?