Perhaps the heat has everyone cranky because there’s definitely conflict in the air:

  • Health and nutrition organizations sparred over cancer and aspartame.
  • Regulators and industry groups reevaluated supply chains.
  • Global markets struggled with Russian attacks in Ukraine.

“It is clear that Russia continues to use food as a weapon of war. This time, the impact is not only on the people of Ukraine, but also on global food supply and prices.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller (The Wall Street Journal)

Sparingly Scary

On July 14, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a risk assessment finding that aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Influential figures wasted no time in exploring whether this conclusion is as scary as it sounds.

  • The U.S. FDA explained that the conclusion “does not mean that aspartame is actually linked to cancer. … Aspartame is one of the most studied food additives in the human food supply. FDA scientists do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions.”
  • WebMD clarified, “There’s a possible link … it is by no means conclusive” and added that the average person could drink 15 cans of diet soda without exceeding WHO’s recommended daily limit. Um, actually we know those people …
  • A policy-focused spinoff of the American Beverage Association retorted, “It is irresponsible to needlessly scare or confuse people. If there was any cause for concern, they would have adjusted the current Acceptable Daily Intake.”
  • Krystal Register, a registered dietitian nutritionist and senior director at FMI (The Food Industry Association), emphasized that the information should be one factor in “empowering consumers to make healthy choices.”
  • Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz joked on Twitter: “Let’s acknowledge that the WHO thinks virtually everything causes cancer.” It certainly feels that way when pickled vegetables and aloe vera share the same classification.

Mending Busted Links

In the wake of the pandemic’s severe food supply chain disruption, lingering effects have been compounded from many sides by unpredictable weather, inflation and international trade. To mitigate the fallout to consumers, Uncle Sam is stepping in to promote competitiveness in the market and alleviate some of the pressure.

  • Food Business News reporter Jeff Gelski audited a session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and expo that examined ongoing supply chain fragility. Recent contributor price inflation has forced some ingredient suppliers out of business, creating cascading effects.
  • Supply kinks in food production haven’t only impacted food; the construction and remodeling of stores and restaurants that sell it has stalled too. FMI Director Rebecca Daniels stated, “Sourcing materials and resources from both domestic and global suppliers is often tricky, as the pandemic, war in Ukraine, weather events, high shipping costs and other conditions led to difficulties receiving materials such as electrical components, lumber, paint and cement.”
  • The Specialty Food Association described how retailers are attempting to “future-proof” their businesses by adapting to changes in workforce, inflation, competition, and shifting consumer habits.
  • On July 19, the USDA, along with the attorneys general of 31 states and the District of Columbia, launched a bipartisan partnership to “help reduce anticompetitive barriers across food [and] agriculture supply chains.” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said this partnership will stave off inflation and preserve choices for consumers and producers. The move is part of a larger U.S. government initiative covering market consolidation in areas including food, housing and healthcare.
  • Food Dive added, “Even if there isn’t a direct link between market power and inflation, economists say consolidation may still have exacerbated recent price increases. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how dependence on a handful of companies can lead to supply shocks, which in turn cause higher prices.”
  • The National Grocers Association cheered the announcement, adding that independent grocers would benefit from the antitrust measures (Progressive Grocer).

All Pain, No Grain

After a year, Russia pulled out of a deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain despite war between the nations. Global markets are reeling from the disruption, sparking concerns about food prices and hunger.

  • Russia axes landmark Ukraine grain deal just hours before deadline | CNBC
  • Russia bombards Ukraine port after bridge attack and grain deal collapse | The New York Times
  • Ukraine ports attacked for second consecutive night, as U.S. announces Ukrainian agricultural aid | University of Illinois Farm Policy News
  • Attack on Ukraine ports drives wheat to a three-week high | Bloomberg
  • USAID chief criticizes Russia for halting grain deal, announces aid to Ukrainian farmers | DTN / Progressive Farmer
  • Five European countries will extend ban on Ukraine’s grain but let it head to other places | The Associated Press
  • UN says ideas ‘floated’ on how to get Ukraine, Russia grain to world | Reuters
  • Russia seizes local assets of Danone and Carlsberg | Food Processing
  • Statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy | Twitter

What’s Good This Week? Food Waste Into Fashion.

With 60% of clothing based on plastics, today’s fashion is a serious contributor to global pollution. Toronto-based Alt Tex addresses that issue with proprietary technology that produces a wearable synthetic textile out of biodegradable food waste. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of science and polymers and even fermentation involved, but the process ultimately transforms industrial food into fabric similar to polyester — without greenhouse gas emissions.

Worth Reading

Buzzing for Bacteria

After environmental stress in the U.S. contributed to the second-highest death rate on record for honeybees in 2022, Triple Pundit detailed how pollen patties and spray-based formulas containing probiotic blends can enhance the productive pollinator’s immune resilience. These bacteria-based solutions can mitigate pesticide effects and infection risks for honeybees, which are major contributors to our global food supply. Mark that as a win for worldwide nutrition.

The Old Bay Downlow

It ain’t your garden variety seasoning for “meat, sea food, and other food products.” Maryland favorite Old Bay has a long and colorful origin story that’s admirably recounted in a recent Mental Floss post. Among other entertaining tidbits, it reveals that the 1954 trademark listed an astounding 54 ingredients, including such unlikely bedfellows as curry powder, cloves, paprika and marjoram. A singular mash up of such unlikely seasonings is the only possible way one blend could have earned a reputation for topping everything from corn on the cob and crab cakes to apple butters and buttercream cupcakes.

Tuesdays for Everyone

Gizmodo won the best-headline award concerning the kerfuffle over weekday Mexican specials: “’Taco Tuesday’ Has Been Liberated From Its Corporate Overlords.” On July 18, Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel succumbed to Taco Bell’s legal fight over the trademarked phrase, admittedly to avoid the legal fees. 

‘We Love the Subs!’

Readers of a certain age may recall the fever dream that was Quizno’s national campaign featuring the Spongmonkeys in 2003. For the uninitiated, buckle up. Eater shared that the two cubist mascots boasting neither reason nor aesthetics will return to promote the chain despite their track record of appealing to neither diners nor restaurant owners. Apparently, Quizno’s is betting on Generation Z’s love for offbeat humor.