Obviously, COVID-19 dominated every facet of the news this week. Influential voices in food certainly dug in on the subject, while a few other topics squeaked past:

  • Panic pandemic shopping
  • Bioengineered education
  • Salad safety

“Go ahead and put your money where your heart is. But don’t feel like it’s up to you and your food purchases to solve every problem in the world.”

Dan Charles, NPR

COVID-19 Clears Shelves

Food figures heavily in how people are preparing for the possibility of a two-week quarantine. It should be noted that while the Department of Homeland Security recommended stocking up on two weeks worth of food, water and regular prescription drugs in a pandemic, panic buying is always ill advised. That doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent.

  • Eater interviewed Cornell Tech professor Karan Girotra, who reminded readers “Panic buying becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy … Irrational behavior, rumors, misinformation can create short-term logistical issues.”
  • The Wall Street Journal spoke with retailers, logistics specialists and consumers to illustrate the different ways people are preparing for shortages and the rise in demand for food and cleaning supplies.
  • Increasingly, people are turning to delivery services to get supplies without leaving their homes, The Counter quoted a representative from Instacart: “Sales have grown tenfold over the last 72 hours.”
  • Supermarket News reported some delivery services have launched “contactless” delivery options “to protect the health and safety of the delivery ecosystem.”
  • Bloomberg surveyed what people were stocking up on for their “pandemic pantries.” Rather surprisingly, oat milk stuck out as a crowd favorite.
  • Food publications and blogs stressed eating at home. Bon Appetit published “71 Creative Rice Recipes Using Our Favorite Pantry Staple” while Quartz posted home-cooking ideas under the “Quarantine Cookbook” umbrella.

BE-tter Understanding

On March 4, the EPA, USDA and FDA launched Feed Your Mind, a multi-agency effort to “help consumers better understand genetically engineered foods.” This initiative comes as the agencies work to fulfill requirements of the requirements of the national mandatory bioengineered (BE) food labeling standard by 2022.”

  • Feedstuffs provided a summary of the information that was published, including this YouTube video from the FDA.
  • A Feed Your Mind fact sheet noted GMO is the “common term consumers and popular media use,” while bioengineered is “the term that Congress used to describe certain types of GMOs.”
  • On March 12, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the future of biotechnology and regulatory issues. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts told Agri-Pulse the hearing would focus on “where we are from a producer’s standpoint.”
  • Food Dive suggested the initiative was too late: “Since the labeling law could very well change the public terminology on the issue, there may be a future where the acronym ‘GMO’ may only consistently appear on the Non GMO Project Verified seal.”

Yellow Light for Leafy Greens

On March 5, the FDA released the “2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan” to identify and prevent dangerous strains of E. coli after several recent outbreaks of foodborne illness stemming from leafy greens, (food safety attorney Bill Marler counted five E. coli outbreaks in the past three years). The plan falls under the FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the plan was “designed to help foster a more urgent, collaborative and action-oriented approach.”

  • Food Safety News reporter Coral Beach provided a detailed backgrounder while Georgia State professor Timothy Lytton published an opinion in the same publication suggesting this policy is “more of the same.”
  • Meatingplace highlighted FDA efforts to monitor cattle operations and “the impact of adjacent and nearby land use on leafy greens growing areas.”
  • Western Growers Association committed to “working with FDA and the leafy greens sector to achieve common goals.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

If You Can’t Take the Heat …

According to Bloomberg, fine dining can come with a hefty price tag and even heftier carbon footprint. On March 5, food editor Kate Krader and food critic Richard Vines highlighted chefs who are “showcasing innovative ways to cook in a warming world,” through a series of upscale recipes made with sustainable and low- or no-waste ingredients.

C-Suite Solidarity

On March 6, the New York State Pension Fund withdrew its shareholder proposal that requested Coca-Cola Co. take into account the wages it pays all of its employees when setting executive salaries. Trustee Thomas DiNapoli announced Coca-Cola agreed to “consider other factors which it regularly reviews, including … CEO pay ratio; global pay fairness; progress against diversity metrics; and others.”

This Research Stinks

Modern Farmer reported that scientists from Technical University of Munich in Germany figured out what makes durian so stinky. The popular Asian fruit’s smell has been likened to “rotten onions mixed with a hot mountain of poopy diapers.” A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that as a durian ripens, it accrues more ethionine, a rare amino acid that releases the smell. Taking bets on how long it takes this discovery to reach middle school boys.

‘Can’t Build Peace on Empty Stomachs’

On LinkedIn, Bayer SVP of Public Affairs and Sustainability Matthias Berninger recalled his experience at the 2020 Munich Security Conference. For the first time, food security became a topic of discussion. Berninger stressed that “climate change is the most significant threat to food security which will in turn become a major security risk.” To mitigate that risk, he suggests innovating traditional ag, supporting small farmers and focusing collaboration efforts. As Lord John Boyd Orr, the first director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, put it: “You can’t build peace on empty stomachs.”

Clearing Up Cluttered Labels

On NPR’s Life Kit podcast, host Dan Charles explained how to read different eco-labels that appear on food and beverage items, in an attempt to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. The final takeaway: “Go ahead and put your money where your heart is. But don’t feel like it’s up to you and your food purchases to solve every problem in the world.”