Law and religion mingled with water this week, making for a potent cocktail of food policy talk.

  • World religions are celebrating with new and old traditions.
  • Defining clean water is important — and contentious.
  • 2023 Farm Bill negotiations pressed on.

“The industry can’t continue to function if you take out more than a certain percentage of the water … It’s not like you keep planting fewer veggies in the garden. It’s that the garden at some point dies.”

Wade Noble, attorney for farms in Yuma, Arizona (Arizona Daily Star)

Trinity of Trends

The holy month of Ramadan for Muslims started on March 23, Holy Week for Christians culminates on Easter Sunday (April 9), and Passover began at sundown on April 5 for Jews. The convergence of major holidays for these Abrahamic faiths only happens three times a century and brought some interesting takes on food trends and traditions.

  • Al Jazeera shared a world map comparing the required Ramadan month fasting hours. Swedish Muslims have it rough with 17 hours of fasting per day while Australians need to abstain from eating for a mere 12 hours.
  • Reuters tweeted a mouth-watering video showcasing all the nut, date and honey-laden desserts enjoyed after long days of fasting.
  • USDA posted food safety do’s and don’ts for Ramadan. Frankly, these are pretty holiday-agnostic.
  • Food & Wine profiled North Carolina egg farmer Trey Braswell, who delivered 30,000 eggs to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll. Eggs included, Easter is estimated to be a $24 billion holiday (National Retail Federation).
  • Consumer Reports deflated some of the Easter fun, pointing out that some Peeps are made with the controversial Red Dye #3.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Spencer Jakab described the “Dog-Eat-Dog World” of Kosher pet food at passover: “Observant pet owners still face issues finding kibble that is acceptable for the holiday.”
  • Matzo ball soup is awesome any time of year, but Eater seized the opportunity to explain everything you’d ever need to know about matzo.

Hydration Consternation

Consistent access to clean water is crucial to food, beverage and agricultural production. And human life for that matter. In the western U.S., farmers are worried that persistent drought conditions will undermine their ability to grow food. Nationwide, debates continue over what counts as water pollution and whether Uncle Sam is getting too nosy.

  • On April 5, the Biden administration announced $585 million in funding to repair aging water infrastructure, with a large chunk of that going to the Colorado River Basin.
  • The Colorado Sun reported that “healthy snowpack” failed to overcome a water deficit brought on by a decades-long drought. The Arizona Daily Star noted that ongoing negotiations of Colorado River water rights pit the needs of farmers against those of city dwellers in the Southwest.
  • The National Milk Producers Federation argued that a rule proposed by the EPA to limit per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water goes too far: “It is economically impossible to … be 100% contaminant free.”
  • In the latest development in a 10-year-long battle over what qualifies as “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, Congress passed a bill on March 29 repealing the so-called WOTUS rule (The Associated Press). However, President Biden vetoed the bill on April 6 (E&E News).
  • Agriculturalists, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, welcomed Congress’ support for overturning the “unlawfully vague” WOTUS rule. These groups worry that the rule could be used to regulate ephemeral streams and ditches.
  • Separately, environmentalist group Food & Water Watch reached an agreement with the EPA on April 3 regarding a 2017 petition to regulate water pollution from medium-sized livestock operations.

Just a Bill?

No matter what other excitement happens in the world of food production, we expect negotiations of the 2023 Farm Bill will be a steady backdrop over the next six to eight months. From food as medicine to farm subsidies, here’s a snapshot of what industry groups, activist organizations and politicians have been saying in the past month:

  • Survey shows strong public support for farm bill passage | American Farm Bureau Federation
  • US food security depends on the 2023 Farm Bill | Bloomberg
  • Op-ed: We need a new farm bill — for my Iowa farm and beyond | Civil Eats
  • Farm bill primer: 25 members of Congress get agriculture subsidies | Food Politics
  • The next farm bill could be a historic climate law — if Congress can agree on it | Grist
  • Senate Agriculture Committee hearing addresses small farm vs. large farm rhetoric | USA Rice Federation
  • 3 topics producers should be tracking in the farm bill | The Scoop
  • 60+ groups form alliance against faulty offsets, dirty energy in farm bill | Food & Water Watch
  • Food-as-medicine advocates urge increased funding | Agri-Pulse
  • It’s back: Farm bill still crammed with subsidies, pork | Las Vegas Review-Journal

Worth Reading

Color-coded Health

Washington Post health reporter Anahad O’Connor directed attention to an excellent health map of the United States on The map enables data visualization of stats like obesity and life expectancy county by county.

More Like Michelle

Sean McBride, a former executive at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Beverage Association, opined in Food Dive that the Biden administration should take some cues from Michelle Obama’s food policy efforts. McBride explained, “Progress is possible but the Administration should think about adopting some of Mrs. Obama’s flexibility and work with industry to identify and put into place voluntary programs rather than push through a gauntlet of costly and dubious government mandates.”

Tube Steak of the Sea

We like to keep our eyes on innovations that cut across diverse niches of food production; this week mixed marine ingredients into meat production. Food Ingredients First tracked a policy measure in the U.K. that seeks to drop methane emissions from cattle by including seaweed oil in lactating cows’ diets. Meanwhile, Norwegian company Kvarøy Arctic debuted salmon hot dogs in U.S. grocery stores. Please don’t microwave the salmon hot dogs in the office.

Searching for Chicken Little

Wall Street Journal writers Patrick Thomas and Heather Haddon described market dynamics of the chicken sandwich wars amid a messy supply chain. After decades of breeding large, 8-pound birds to maximize profits — and popular white meat — industry trends are shifting toward smaller 4-pound chickens.

Alternative Exuberance

Greenbiz Senior Director Theresa Lieb’s quarterly look at alternative protein painted a grim picture, but somehow remained optimistic. Rising inflation, high interest rates and the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (which counted many food startups as customers) all present headwinds to the category. “Yes, the startups over-promised, and investors have overhyped and overfunded … Despite these challenges, alternative protein is not dead.” Flowing investment dollars, industry consolidation and increased advances in cultivated meat continue to keep alt protein alive, wrote Leib.