This week has been tumultuous for lovers of the Cobb salad. To offset some of the bad news, we’re debuting a new segment: Hey, What’s Good This Week?

  • The U.S. banned avocados from Mexico.
  • Turkeys and chickens caught the flu.
  • But sustainable food production earned attention.

Avocados Toasted

On the eve of the Super Bowl, the USDA issued a temporary suspension of some Mexican avocado imports after a U.S. plant safety inspector in Mexico was threatened. “The suspension will remain in place for as long as necessary to ensure the appropriate actions are taken, to secure the safety of APHIS personnel working in Mexico,” the agency said in a statement given to Agri-Pulse.

  • Occurring during peak avocado growing season, the ban is a blow to Mexico’s $3 billion industry, which exports 80% of its annual production to the U.S. (New York Times).
  • Mexico’s president claimed the suspension was “part of a conspiracy against the country by political or economic interests,” but the Associated Press noted that cartels have been fighting for control of Michoacan — the only state that exports avocados to the U.S.
  • In a statement issued yesterday, the USDA said it “must have assurances that our employees’ lives are not at risk” before resuming inspections (Bloomberg).
  • NPR spoke to Tom Stenzel, co-CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association, who predicted there would be rising avocado prices and limited supply in the coming weeks.
  • Fortune reassured Chipotle guac lovers that the burrito chain has enough avocados for a few weeks. Chipotle CFO said the company will “continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust our plans accordingly.”
  • Before the Super Bowl, a Vox investigation revealed that America’s obsession with avocados is causing the rapid expansion of orchards that are threatening Mexico’s forests.

Birds Get Their Own Pandemic

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease to disrupt food production this year. A strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has reached the U.S. and wiped out flocks at several chicken and turkey farms. The bird flu rarely spreads to people, but the spread through commercial operations will ultimately lead to more expensive meat.

  • While the avian flu reached epidemic levels in Europe last year, it wasn’t until February 7 that Florida officials first detected the disease in wild birds (Feedstuffs).
  • The USDA tracked the first outbreak at an Indiana commercial turkey operation on February 9 and confirmed a second outbreak at a broiler chicken flock in Kentucky on February 14.
  • In its coverage, Food Safety News noted that the same Indiana farm was hit by a different strain back in 2016. Additionally, writer Dan Flynn described how different flu strains are named. This outbreak is H5N1, for the record.
  • Meatingplace reported on February 11 that the U.S. was among a dozen nations that halted imports of Canadian poultry after an outbreak of H5N1 in Nova Scotia.
  • David Pitt of The Associated Press covered how poultry operations are bolstering biosecurity to prevent further spread of the virus.
  • The Washington Post addressed the potential consequences if the flu spreads to more flocks: higher chicken and turkey prices in the U.S. and short supplies in export markets.

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Coca-Cola announced a major commitment to reusable packaging. It set an industry-leading target for at least 25% of all its brands to be sold in returnable or refillable bottles by 2030 as part of its World Without Waste goal. It’s ambitious, and it’s earned Coke a lot of coverage. The always dry-eyed Triple Pundit’s coverage suggested it may be a lead-up to the UN summit on plastics at the end of this month in Nairobi.

Scrutinizing Stewardship

Interesting discussions about the stewardship of land, air and water brought some practices into question. Media and consumer groups reminded manufacturers that they are paying close attention to their sustainability commitments.

  • A study published in the journal PNAS found that corn-based ethanol production is worse for the environment than gasoline.
  • Tyson Foods came under scrutiny not only for raising prices (WSJ), but also for missing some sustainable land management goals made in 2018. The Union of Concerned Scientists called out the meat production leader: “With so much land involved in its feed supply chain, Tyson could help move US agriculture in a positive direction if it used its influence to set high standards for the way farmers manage that land.”
  • Modern Farmer examined the future of sustainable groundwater use. Researchers at Dartmouth College suggested that if corn, soybeans and winter wheat were grown exclusively from sustainable sources, crop yields would diminish significantly.
  • As part of its series on agricultural land management, the World Resources Institute wrote, “Over the past 10,000 years, the human quest for food has been the largest driver of land use change, negatively affecting stored carbon and biodiversity through conversion of natural ecosystems into production areas.”
  • National Milk Producers Federation looked to a future where “every tractor on the farm, every piece of machinery could be run by electricity. We’ll be supplying that energy either through solar, or methane, and dairy farms could be a net exporter of energy.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Busy Bees

It takes a lot of honeybees to pollinate 1.5 million acres of almonds annually, and California found itself coming up short. The solution: the state imported 2.1 million beehives, or 42 billion bees, for the 2021 almond pollination, revealed The Scoop. With industry growth expected to continue, hive imports are anticipated to increase in 2022.

‘Not Chicken Feed’

Further complementing this week’s Cobb salad theme, Iowa pig farmer Dwight Mogler posted his frustration with California Proposition 12 on Inside Sources. The law will ban the sale of pork, egg and veal products that do not meet certain “arbitrary” housing requirements, and will be costly for farmers. “We are not talking chicken feed,” Mogler explained. This will cost an estimated $2.2 billion in farm building conversion costs and potentially add to inflation-led higher prices for pork.

Alternative Trends

The usually hoppin’ alternative protein conversion has been unusually quiet. ADM’s “Outside Voice” insights platform looked at trends in the alt-protein space. According to the report, look out for more developments in cell-cultured microbial fermentation and products that mimic whole-muscle cuts of authentic meat products.

Commissioning Califf

The U.S. Senate confirmed Robert Califf, MD, as commissioner of the FDA on February 15. Food Business News highlighted how industry leaders feel the feds have ignored food standards during the pandemic. International Dairy Foods Association CEO Michael Dykes encouraged Dr. Califf to “Put the ‘F’ back in the FDA.”