Let’s check in on a trio of topics guaranteed to keep us on our toes all year long:

  • Weight loss drugs: their potential for reduced food production. 
  • The 2023 2024 Farm Bill: its potential for real frustration. 
  • Food safety: the impetus of studies, warnings and recalls.

Heavy Consequences

As the GLP-1 agonist class of weight loss drugs (Ozempic, Wegovy, etc.) grows more prevalent in the U.S. and worldwide, passionate discussions have cropped up around ramifications deep into food production, health, and even the GDP of Denmark.

  • A February 8 Bloomberg article captured how food producers are preparing for increased use of these weight loss drugs. Bloomberg interviewed Wegovy maker Novo Nordisk’s CEO, who claimed food companies are “scared” about the effects the drugs will have on the food marketplace. On the other hand, the article suggested that protein-heavy suppliers Chipotle and Danone make foods that will still appeal to users of these drugs. 
  • A week later, Bloomberg shared the results of a report sponsored by investment broker Morgan Stanley that found monthly grocery spending in households using GLP-1 agonist drugs decreased by 6% to 9%, mostly in snacks and sweets.  
  • Food Dive outlined how weight loss drugs might mean “bad news” for beverage manufacturers, especially coffee. Our prediction: Coffee consumption will remain strong as long as mornings exist.
  • NPR ran an opinion by Lisa Doggett, physician and columnist for Public Health Watch, who suggested a more cautious approach and that these drugs do not address the root problems of the obesity crisis. To address the cost implications, Doggett quoted Dr. Jonathan Bonnet, an expert in obesity: “Treating everyone with obesity in the U.S. with medications will bankrupt the country and still not cultivate the type of health and vitality we actually want.” 
  • Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel andThe Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz battled it out on X. Haspel suggested, “The food environment became non-stop engineered temptation, and it’s fitting that the answer is engineered resistance. It’s a technological solution to a technological problem.” Teicholz countered, “Must give her credit for this clever way of justifying pharma > food. Corporate narrative all the way.” 
  • Wall Street Journal Hong Kong correspondent Dave Sebastian reported how Ozempic is taking off in the gray markets of China, a nation with an estimated 200 million obese adults. 
  • Quartz explained how Ozempic and Wegovy are helping support Denmark’s bottom line. “Without a boost from the pharmaceutical industry making the popular weight loss drugs, the country’s GDP in 2023 would have shrunk.” 

Our Takeaway: Expect this conversation to take many turns throughout 2024 and beyond. Hopefully, a food vs. pharma battle won’t distract from a focus on human health.

Percolating Policies

Fresh food- and farm-related policies are constantly in progress, but rarely do they take as long as the current farm bill (currently in year two, likely to go to three). This week we caught wind of a few leaders who have grown frustrated by the process.

  • In a House of Representatives committee hearing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack suggested to Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) that Congress would need to pass a national law to head off state-specific farm rules like California Proposition 12 or “we’re going to have chaos in the marketplace.” (DTN/Progressive Farmer)
  • Feedstuffs recapped the rest of the five-hour-long hearing as “all talk and no farm bill” and aired Vilsack’s frustration with the lack of progress with the $1 trillion funding bill.
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition aired its own grievances with the farm bill in a hefty report. The key finding: “The current farm safety net tends to disproportionately benefit large, high-income agricultural operations and private companies, often at the expense of small to mid-sized beginning and diversified farmers.”
  • Consumer Reports, National Farmers Union and 15 other special interest groups urged Congress to pass budget plans for the USDA, FTC and DOL to “effectively enforce the nation’s antitrust laws.”
  • In another corner of the capital, the EPA sought comments on whether to revoke or update a rule that exempts farms from reporting air emissions related to manure. A bipartisan coalition of 46 members of Congress signed a letter to leave the exemption in place while environmentalists called the rule “fundamentally flawed.”

Our Takeaway: As important as this farm bill is to both nutrition programs and farm supports, negotiations are very likely to extend through elections and into the next term of Congress — at which point much of the hard work may be undone by a fresh set of lawmakers.

Safety Check

Between lead in baby formula, E. coli in raw dairy, Listeria in processed dairy and PFAS in presumably everything, here’s a core sample of the latest conversations on food safety:

  • Risk-based food inspection system: Practical guidance for national authorities | World Health Organization
  • NC joins 20 other states in calling for FDA to test baby food for lead | CBS
  • FDA releases list showing hundreds of retailers that received tainted [dairy] products | Food Safety News
  • Dole voluntarily recalls salad kits sold in 25 states due to potential Listeria contamination | Food & Wine
  • FSMA: A modern solution to a modern food safety challenge | Supermarket Perimeter
  • CDC investigates multistate E. coli outbreak linked to raw cheddar cheese | NPR
  • New study reveals diet link to PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in human body | The Guardian
  • Harmful chemicals in food: recent studies are not reassuring | Food Politics by Marion Nestle
  • The neurotoxin in star fruit | Nutrition Facts
  • Do you need to rinse your chicken before you cook it? | CNN

Worth Reading

‘Having a Blast’

The Washington Post’s Emily Heil chronicled the history of the sophisticated beverage known as Baja Blast. In celebration of the PespiCo soda’s 20th anniversary, Heil covered everything from its humble origins as a Taco Bell exclusive to its recent move to retail and even a Super Bowl commercial spot. In the future, we expect the appellation “Baja” to be used only if the syrup is sourced from the Baja growing region.

A Grain of Beef

Scientists in South Korea saw how slow (and expensive) the development of cultivated meat has been and decided to try a more hybrid approach. Fast Company featured “beef rice,” where beef cells were grown on a scaffold of cooked rice grains instead of other mediums. Lead author Sohyeon Park pitched it as “high nutritional value and sustainability beyond the value of meat … [using] well-known and inexpensive food ingredients.”

Giving Food the Finger

A New York Times Food Matters article explained that the sense of touch is integral to the eating experience and utensil-free dining options are trending, particularly in Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and African cuisines. Eating with one’s hands may seem “primal,” but there are rules, as demonstrated in another New York Times video.

Caps Locked

The EU is on the bleeding edge of laws that have good intentions, but odd outcomes. Food Ingredients First captured how a push toward monomaterial packaging is leading beverage makers to implement “tethered closures” on plastic bottles. What really grabbed our attention was an aside about Berry Global’s “all-plastic flow control feature” for ketchup bottles.

Artificially Illustrated
Man holding handful of cooked spaghetti
Bring extra napkins, trend spotters say finger foods are in.