In this triple-A week of influential conversations about food production:

  • A series of updates aimed to bolster trust in USDA organic labelling.
  • An influx of funds will help U.S. food products reach overseas destinations.
  • And, yes, Halloween is a food holiday … if you count candy as food.

“Transparent and factual reporting and coverage of fraud in the system is essential to maintaining the integrity of organic and the trust of consumers.”

Organic Trade Association

Rethinking Organic

The USDA organic label is getting a major overhaul, the second update to the program this year. With new standards being introduced around the production of organic livestock and lingering issues of organic fraud, the need to uphold trust in the organic sector’s integrity has led to a push for greater transparency.

  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack introduced the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards final rule on October 25. The rule has been nearly a decade in the making, with the last attempt being withdrawn early in the Trump administration. 
  • The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) applauded the introduction of the Continuous Improvement in Organic Standards Act in collaboration with industry partners. The act aims to foster transparency and accountability in the organic standard process.
  • The USDA National Organic Program asked the National Organic Standards Board to consider revising compost standards to accommodate a wider range of feedstock materials, following a petition by the Bioplastics Products Institute.
  • Modern Farmer editor Emily Baron Cadloff noted that while organic food is specifically certified and verified, millions of dollars worth of fraud still occurs within the organic system.
  • Politico eyed USDA’s import certification process as advocates claimed the system puts American farmers at a disadvantage to their counterparts in the $60 billion industry.
  • The Organic Trade Association responded to concerns about organic imports and fraud by emphasizing the importance of maintaining trust in the organic sector.

Think Globally

On October 24, the USDA announced that it earmarked $1 billion for international food aid and $1.3 billion for marketing U.S. food and agricultural products overseas. The move supports an important aspect of the U.S. food economy as approximately 20% of the agricultural goods produced here are exported.

  • The USDA posted a report with this jaw-dropping statistic: every $1 invested in export market development increases exports by $24.50. The agency also broke out exports state by state, including insights on the most-exported goods. Wish we could say we provide $23.5 billion in ROI.
  • The announcement came as part of the World Food Prize’s Borlaug Dialogue, which was held in Des Moines, Iowa. The event highlighted an array of strategies to reduce global food insecurity, doubling down on Dr. Norman Borlaug’s belief that “pessimism has no place in action.”
  • Industry groups representing producers of corn, milk, rice, soybeans and wheat welcomed the USDA’s plan of action. 
  • Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) thanked the administration for stepping up while 2023 Farm Bill negotiations have been stalled. They couldn’t claim surprise, however, as the senators had prodded Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to pull the funds from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation budget in late August.
  • Along those lines: Agri-Pulse reported that Sen. Boozman requested a one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill to make up for negotiation time lost to this year’s budget disputes and leadership battles in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sweet ‘n’ Scary

With Halloween just around the corner, children and dentists aren’t the only ones buzzing about candy. Other food and beverage news has perked up around the holiday, too, but we all know what it’s really about. Again, parents, please forgive us for categorizing candy as food.

  • 70 million rolling candies recalled due to choking hazard | Food & Wine
  • Halloween chocolate is pricier this year as El Niño hits cacao bean crop | CNBC
  • Sugar shortage isn’t causing spike in Halloween candy prices: Wells Fargo analyst | Food Dive
  • Candy corn: The great Halloween debate over the tricolor candy | The Associated Press
  • 11 inducted into the Candy Hall of Fame | Food Manufacturing
  • What’s the shelf life of Halloween candy? | Eater
  • Top chocolate, confectionery, and bakery trends for Halloween 2023 | Food Navigator
  • How to Tell When Pumpkins Are Ripe | The Old Farmer’s Almanac

What’s Good This Week? Feather Power.

Chicken feathers have long been a by-product of the poultry industry, which burns around 40 million metric tons of them a year. Popular Science reported that a team of Zurich- and Singapore-based researchers have tapped this resource to use in green hydrogen fuel cells. By extracting the feathers’ keratin, they can create a natural semipermeable membrane, replacing ones fashioned from “forever chemicals.” Protons pass through and electrons don’t, creating a flow of electricity. Raffaele Mezzenga, a professor at ETH Zurich, says, “It not only replaces toxic substances, but also prevents the release of CO2, decreasing the overall carbon footprint cycle.”

Worth Reading

Pumpkin Spice Gets Bitter

Malört is renowned (and detested) for being one of the bitterest liquors, but that hasn’t stopped the product’s manufacturer from getting in on this year’s pumpkin spice craze. The Chicago Tribune shared that CH Distillery finished bottling 400 bottles of Pumpkin Spice Malört last week. With plans to sell the libation exclusively at CH Bar in Chicago’s West Loop, all proceeds will benefit charity. Next up: cranberry-sage Thanksgiving dinner Malört. Yes, seriously. No, don’t even think about it.

Extra Regular

Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel tweeted some attention to an essay examining the virtues of processed foods and dietary fiber by Angry Chef blogger Anthony Warner. The essay is Part 6 of a 10,000-word series based on the premise (revealed in Part 1) that “Away from fads and fashions however, in the world of serious nutrition research, fibre is increasingly being recognised as perhaps the most complex and nuanced of the major nutrients.” Warner asserts that fiber is much more complex than “keeping us regular,” and that more serious discussion will follow, paralleling the uptrend in talk about the gut microbiome. 

A New Future for Foodservice?

As restaurants continue to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, many operators may have a unique opportunity to reinvent their businesses. The New York Times detailed how one owner in San Francisco has found sustainability by introducing a slew of new business strategies, including a slimmed-down menu, supplanting tipping practices with service charges and even repurposing part of their dining space for a retail shop. Is this the dawn of a restaurant renaissance?

Sweet Closer

In The Washington Post, Dr. Trisha Pasricha attempted to explain why people crave sweets after eating, and offered up several explanations from genetics to habit building. One we aren’t particularly buying: “Researchers think this may be related to our nutritional need for a balanced diet, but it also helps explain why we often have room for dessert.”