The wonks among us appreciated the nuances of a tumultuous, complicated week in food policy.

  • Food prices are up and down at the same time.
  • The Supreme Court weighed in on interstate pork sales.
  • World leaders (and Al Gore) discussed food production in a changing climate.

Up? Down? Yes.

Food prices have been a consistent concern since the COVID-19 pandemic, but lately the numbers are pointing in different directions. Whether prices rose or declined depends on the location and time period considered.

  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) pegged global food prices at 0.6% higher in April compared with the prior month, but 19.7% below April 2022.
  • In contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked no overall change in U.S. food prices in April, yet prices remain 7.7% higher than a year ago. Yeah, we can’t do the math either.
  • The Chicago Tribune took a longer view, charting how prices of grocery staples have changed (sometimes dramatically) over the past five years.
  • In “The Big Take” podcast, a panel of Bloomberg reporters discussed the rise of “buy now, pay later” services for food purchases as tight budgets push some consumers to alternative credit sources.
  • CPG and foodservice brands are adjusting strategies to head off consumer price sensitivity. Yum Brands Chief Financial Officer Chris Turner told The Wall Street Journal, “We’re bringing some lower-price-point items to provide those customers who need it with more options.”
  • Food prices aren’t great in the U.S., but some places have it much worse. Reuters reported that Italy’s pasta prices rose to “crisis” levels, with the nation negotiating with industry representatives for a week starting May 4. Have they tried sourcing pasta from New Jersey?

Narrow Win for California

On May 11, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the state of California regarding Proposition 12, a law that would regulate housing of food animals. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and American Farm Bureau Federation had contested the rule because it imposed regulations almost exclusively on out-of-state pork producers — which they argued was a violation of the constitutional protection of interstate commerce.

  • Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch argued that the industry groups failed to show an explicit violation: “While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”
  • The Washington Post emphasized Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent that a 9% cost increase affecting a $20 billion industry would have been considered substantial enough to overcome this hurdle in the past.
  • The Wall Street Journal added, “The bare 5-4 majority upholding California’s law scrambled the court’s ideological chessboard.” The reactions of legislators were more predictable as Newsweek summarized, “Republican lawmakers and the pork industry are none too pleased” with the decision.
  • Pro Farmer reporter Jim Wiesemeyer highlighted Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion that implied challenges to the rule may prevail with different arguments.
  • Activist group Center for Food Safety hailed the decision as “a major victory for animal welfare and … states’ rights.”
  • NPPC President Scott Hays responded, “Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation.”
  • In an interview with Meatingplace, Michael Formica, NPPC chief legal strategist said: “This is more than just pork; this is about the freedom of farmers to make choices about how they operate.”

AIMing High for Low Emissions

The AIM for Climate Summit kicked off this week in Washington, D.C. The goal of the event was “to bring together policymakers, industry leaders, producers, civil society groups, and scientists and researchers worldwide to drive rapid and transformative climate action.” Leaders from across food production attended, including foreign dignitaries advocating for agricultural interests of nations around the world. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore represented familiar faces at this intersection of climate and food production policy.

  • USDA, the co-host of the event, outlined a panel discussion with the CEOs of ADM, Gro Intelligence, PepsiCo and Planet FWD on the role of agribusiness in driving credible climate action for COP28.
  • Politico’s weekly agriculture newsletter noted that Vilsack has elevated climate to one of USDA’s top priorities, dedicating $3.1 billion to climate-smart programming. However, encouraging private-sector investment remains a challenge.
  • Agri-Pulse reported that event leaders planned to use the summit to set the stage for the upcoming COP28 conference. “We’re hosting COP28 and inviting the world. And I’m really making sure that food systems have the attention and central stage,” said Mariam Almheiri, minister of climate change and environment in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Reuters reporters Valerie Volcovici and Leah Douglas contrasted the fossil fuel plans of rich vs. developing nations.

Worth Reading

Nose in Your Phone? Now We’re Shopping.

AR (augmented reality for us analog-minded folk) is hitting the grocery aisle in hopes of refreshing the in-store shopping experience. Neil Redding, writing for Progressive Grocer, explored this smartphone tech’s various testing tactics. The benefits? Personalization, instantly updated sale pricing, and even item wayfinding. The change could also cater to a younger tech-adept audience and combat labor shortages. Of course, when there’s fewer floor staff, who will help us find the spaghetti sauce?

Crops Protected by Cannibalism

The Guardian science correspondent Hannah Devlin covered the recent discovery of a locust pheromone that deters the insects from eating other locusts when traveling in swarms. Researchers theorize that interfering with the pheromone could help control locust populations or crops could be protected by applying the anti-cannibalism pheromone. Bill Hansson, the lead researcher, explained: “Humans invented ethical rules that stop us from being cannibals, but this is not the general rule in nature.”

Diamond Dawg Jubilee

Superdawg, Norwood Park’s iconic eatery with its glamorous rooftop weiner couple, celebrated 75 years this week. But as the Chicago Tribune explained in a charming feature, they only serve Superdawgs; you will never hear the pedestrian term “hot dog” uttered at the intersection of Milwaukee, Devon and Nagle. Fun fact: The tightly boxed weiner nestled in those crinkle cut fries may come Chicago style but it is NOT Vienna Beef — Superdawg uses a private manufacturer.

Lunch Lady Land

Food Management helped honor the 2023 School Lunch Hero awards, presented by the School Nutrition Association. SNA President Lori Adkins reflected, “We celebrate the positive impact they are making on students day in and day out and their unwavering dedication to their school nutrition programs.”