Issues big, new and old provided lots of discussion topics for the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture this past week:

  • Hot: cyberattack vigilance, the drought and workers
  • Simmering: discussions about labeling meat, non-meat, fish and more pressed on
  • Slow burn: concerns about sugar (or its absence) in new products

The Hot List

Today’s heavy-duty issues will continue to shape policy for some time to come. Concerns about cyberattacks on American companies, including food producers, linger weeks after ransomware shut down meat producer JBS. The drought’s tight grip on the western United States strengthened; worries about livestock and crops in the region remain high. And worker issues remain top of mind throughout food production as we emerge from the pandemic.

  • The industry remains vigilant after JBS paid $11 million in bitcoin on June 10 to ransomware hackers who froze meat processing operations on two continents (ABC News). A few days later, another industry behemoth, McDonald’s, reported a data breach that exposed business data and personnel information in South Korea and Taiwan (The Associated Press).
  • Detailing the summit between President Biden and Russian President Putin, The Wall Street Journal summarized how “Mr. Biden warned of significant consequences for future cyber-aggression” from Russia.
  • On June 17, CNN shared three maps that outline the severity of the drought: “Vast swaths of the West are experiencing a historic and unrelenting drought.” Farm Journal’s Daily Scoop outlined the agricultural impact. Keep an eye on the University of Illinois’ Farm Policy Twitter (@FarmPolicy) for the latest developments.
  • Civil Eats summarized two reports that drew attention to farmworker health, a particular concern during hot summer months.
  • The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) introduced Emergency Temporary Standard rules to protect frontline workers. Mother Jones contributor Tom Philpot complained that the rules do not protect meatpacking workers, while The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union disapproved of OSHA excluding grocery workers.
  • The Supreme Court ruled on June 17 that Cargill and Nestlé cannot be sued in U.S. courts for child labor at cocoa suppliers in other countries.

COOL & Alternative Labels

Heated discussions about labeling unglued a few influential voices. This time, the bulk of attention focused on how to ensure that consumers know where a product was made, but not all ignored how it was made.

  • The issue of country of origin Labeling (COOL) bubbled up again as the U.S. Senate passed a bill that includes language from the failed COOL Online Act. The World Trade Organization struck down a similar rule in 2015.
  • The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association petitioned the USDA to eliminate the “Product of USA” label, citing consumer confusion.
  • FMI/The Food Industry Association also expressed concern, saying COOL would pose technical challenges on retailers.
  • Small olive oil processors in California advocated for a new law that would further protect state of origin labeling on their products (Food Processing).
  • Alt-Meat described legislative efforts in Michigan and Wisconsin to address labeling of alternative protein products. The common theme? Don’t call it “meat.”
  • A study published on June 14 by researchers at Washington State University found “many consumers are willing to pay a premium for ready‑to‑eat meals with a ‘clean label’ showing few ingredients.” Sometimes less is more. Or at least more expensive.

Sugar Gets the Cold Shoulder

A lack of sugar is a common theme running through a number of recent stories. Between brands removing the ingredient, supplies falling short and nutritionists exposing long-term health consequences, it’s a bad time to have a sweet tooth.

  • A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that overconsumption of sugar during childhood “produces persistent hyperactivity and neurocognitive deficits in adulthood.”
  • Chobani launched Zero Sugar, a lactose-free yogurt made using “cutting-edge natural fermentation methods.” For those who think that’s an oxymoron, Food Ingredients First elaborated on the process.
  • IRI ranked Mtn Dew Zero Sugar as the top non-alcoholic food and beverage product launch last year, trailing only Bud Light Seltzer and Truly Lemonade in debut earnings.
  • Maple syrup could be the latest victim of a shortage scare. The culprits? Crazy worms (NPR) and mild weather (Burlington Free Press). Sounds more like the plot of a children’s book than supply-chain-disrupting circumstances …

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Dads ‘n’ Burgers

America’s Test Kitchen chef Lisa McManus consulted her team and offered some burger-grilling tips, just in time for Fathers Day. While most of the tips revolve around not overhandling the burgers, we especially appreciate the advice to dimple the top so the patty will not “puff up on the grill and give you a burger ball instead of a burger patty.”

So Many Pieces of Vaccine Flair

Eater predicted “vaccine flair” will be this summer’s hottest restaurant accessory. With COVID-19 restrictions lifting, some diners and workers are opting to accessorize with fun and creative vaccine pins as a subtle way to show that they’re vaccinated. Article author Hillary Dixler Canavan wrote, “Given some of the potential drawbacks to publicizing workers’ vaccine status, I suspect it will take more time before pins for workers become totally widespread.”

Smells Like COVID Spirit

The New York Times shared insight into COVID-linked parosmia, a condition that distorts the senses of smell and taste — fruits that taste like soap and broccoli that smells like chemicals are just a couple of examples. For some patients, this long-lasting effect is proving that it can linger for several months, much longer than anyone would like to be turned off by the smell or taste of their favorite foods. Scientists still don’t know how long this can last.

Circle of Regulatory Life

In the past week, both the EPA and USDA opted to review contentious rules that regulate water supplies (WOTUS) and meat industry operations (OLPP and P&S Act), respectively. The Intel Distillery team has previously tracked one round of industry groups and farmers rallying against the rules, and we expect this time to be no different. North American Meat Institute CEO Julie Anna Potts captured a common sentiment: “They were a bad idea in 2010, they were a bad idea in 2016, and they are a bad idea in 2021.”

Pineapple-Cabbage … Milk?

The Washington Post showcased NotCo’s plant-based milk alternative that mimics the texture and flavor of dairy milk by using an 18-ingredient formula with pineapple and cabbage as key ingredients. Co-founder Matias Muchnik plans to expand availability: “The only way we’re going to move the needle is if we access the mass market.” To which The Post writer Emily Codik responded, “There’s only one way to do that: scribbling out the biggest competitor out there — the cow.”