Worker policy served as this week’s conversational main course among the most influential in food, beverage and agriculture: a foundational topic, pandemic or not. Two less common topics rounded out the plate:

  • Unionization and bonuses dominated worker discussions.
  • Food waste solutions surfaced from the Feds.
  • Labeling conversations bubbled back up about lab-grown meat.

Striking Out

From unionizing to joining picket lines, workers continue to demand better wages and working conditions. While some companies are fighting back, others are showing their gratitude with bonuses and wage increases.

  • Workers at a Buffalo-area Starbucks store voted to unionize this week, with Starbucks arguing that “its workers enjoy some of the best wages and benefits in the retail and restaurant industry and don’t need a union.” Two other stores voted against unionizing, reported The New York Times.
  • After more than two months on strike, the union representing 1,400 Kellogg cereal plant workers rejected a tentative labor agreement reached last week (USA Today). In a statement, Kellogg resolved to hire permanent replacements for the positions left vacant by striking employees. Hacktivists organized on Reddit to clog the online application portals.
  • Workers at a Pennsylvania Coca-Cola distribution center went on strike this week. Food Manufacturing noted 77 Teamsters union members — including delivery truck drivers, loaders and warehouse workers — began picketing at midnight when their contracts expired on Sunday.
  • About 40 first-shift employees at Wayne Farms staged a walkout Tuesday, a day before a scheduled vote on a three-year collective bargaining agreement. Meatingplace mentioned it was the second demonstration in recent months.
  • Tyson Foods plans to spend $50 million on bonuses this year to thank front-line workers for their performance during the pandemic. The one-time bonuses range from $300 to $700 and are based on length of service (Food Processing).
  • A Conference Board survey found that companies are planning an average of 3.9% of total payroll on average for wage increases next year, the most since 2008. For 39% of respondents, inflation factored into the decision to increase wages.

Wasted, but Different

Food waste came back into focus when the U.S. government tackled the issue from both a legislative and regulatory perspective. The latest ripples involve making it easier for companies to donate food and associating food waste reduction with climate change mitigation.

  • Quick background: the FDA estimates 30% to 40% of food in the U.S. is lost or wasted at some point in the production chain, but this issue has largely taken a back burner to pandemic-related priorities. In 2016, the FDA and EPA named a board of “Champions” in the private sector and committed to a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.
  • Members of the U.S. Senate introduced the bipartisan Food Donation Improvement Act on November 30. The bill would remove some liability roadblocks restaurants and grocery stores face when trying to donate to food banks. The Hill reported that the action was prompted by a letter by several influential food brands including WW International, Grubhub, Hellmann’s and Impossible Foods.
  • In support of this legislation, WW International will host a free virtual panel featuring many high-profile voices on December 16.
  • Last month, the EPA published a report, “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste,” that underscores the importance of reducing food waste to address climate change.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council interviewed a co-author of the report who said food waste is “where we are going to get the most bang for our buck from a climate change perspective.”
  • GMO Answers, a group dedicated to informing the public about genetically engineered foods, suggested one solution to food waste: GMOs. Specifically, the group plugged genetically engineered non-browning apples that “mean fewer perfectly good apples thrown away that end up in landfills.”
  • The FDA published a comprehensive guide to reducing food waste at home and at restaurants.
  • The Guardian offered holiday food shopping advice to prevent food waste: “Don’t shop as if you are under siege.” We keep it simple; don’t load up on fruitcake.

So … Cultured

On December 3, the USDA closed a comment period for labeling of foods derived from cell-cultured protein. USDA will use the feedback when developing its rules for marketing standards while FDA establishes regulations for production safety.

  • In comments submitted by Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest, the groups outlined the goal of labeling: “A phrase that is accurate, neutral, and informative to consumers.” The hard part is that everyone disagrees about what is “accurate.”
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association argued in favor of “lab-grown meat,” “meat byproduct” or “meat food product” as “a clear and unambiguous description that effectively distinguishes the product from traditionally harvested meat.”
  • Producers represented by the Alliance for Meat, Poultry, and Seafood Innovation countered that products will be indistinguishable from traditional meat, and “large-scale production … will occur in a food production facility that will not resemble a laboratory.”
  • The National Milk Producers Federation objected to the term “cultured” because of its association with yogurt and kefir.
  • National Chicken Council requested a prohibition of terms like “wing” and “breast” due to lack of cell-cultured anatomy.
  • However, Good Food Institute contended that cuts of meat should be allowed: “Prohibiting the use of a well-known word like ‘bacon’ on this cultivated product package would cause consumer confusion and create potentially severe health risks for consumers with pork allergies.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Don’t Ask Alice

Breakthrough Institute founder Ted Nordhaus penned a scathing profile of farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters in left-leaning Jacobin: “If we followed the advice of ‘slow food’ advocates like Alice Waters, we’d end up with literally billions hungry and more workers hyperexploited. There’s nothing progressive about the ‘slow food revolution.'” Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel tweeted, “He is absolutely right that the way to fix [industrial ag] isn’t with non-industrial ag. It’s with better industrial ag.”

The Cream Cheese Incident

The New York Times described a supply chain issue dear to New Yorkers’ hearts: bagel shops are having a hard time sourcing cream cheese. “Problems have popped up at every point along the supply chain that brings cream cheese from factories to the morning bagel.” One contributing factor: The top maker of cream cheese, Schreiber Foods, shut down production after being hit by a cyberattack (Bloomberg).

Caring is for Everyone

​​Food Ingredients First shared insight from key suppliers in the industry on the “shared planet” trend prediction for 2022, which it described as “planetary health is everyone’s shared responsibility.” “Our food system is resilient, but it’s never faced environmental or social challenges quite like the ones facing us today. Our population is growing, our water sources are dwindling, and our climate is changing,” said a spokesperson for Cargill.

Why Red?

Modern Farmer explored the old tradition of painting barns red. American farmers in the 1800s often mixed linseed oil and pigments to make their own paint, and they often chose a “Venetian red” pigment. “This red pigment penetrated well into wooden barn boards and resisted fading when exposed to sunlight, so it could age gracefully for generations.”