As much as this industry fascinates us, the news isn’t always positive. In the fortnight since our last edition of Plated, the most influential figures in food production expressed increasing concern over some serious issues:

  • As the disease jumps species, Avian Flu concerns increase.
  • As aid to Gaza suffers, hunger worries increase. 
  • As food prices remain high, consumer pushbacks increase. 

Pathogenic and Spreading

Avian influenza coverage experienced a recent resurgence due to its discovery in dairy cattle. But the virus is not done yet with poultry, having been found in two flocks of egg-laying hens totaling more than 3 million birds so far in April.

  • While the outbreaks on a Cal-Maine farm in Texas and at a separate farm in Michigan may cause fluctuations in egg prices, Oklahoma State agricultural economist Amy Hagerman told NPR, “We’re not going back to no-eggs-on-the-shelf levels of restricted supply,” and the American Egg Board noted wholesale egg prices were down 25% from a February peak.
  • On the cattle side, The Scoop reported influenza cases have been found on dairy farms in six states, with some of the spread due to unsuspected cattle being moved to other states. Still, there’s been little impact on milk prices, according to Dairy Herd Management. 
  • After North Carolina became the seventh state to report an outbreak in dairy cattle, producers restricted visitor access to farms and cut down trees to limit exposure to birds (Reuters).
  • To avoid confusion around what to call the currently circulating flu virus, Feedstuffs noted that a cattle veterinary group has labeled the version in dairy cattle “bovine influenza A virus,” as opposed to “highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)” in poultry. Regardless of name, it is still H5N1.
  • Meanwhile, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracked one human infection: a Texan who exhibited only mild symptoms. CDC maintains that risk of human spread is low and tied to “unprotected exposure to any infected animal.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that, to date, no restrictions have been placed on U.S. red meat or dairy exports.

Our Takeaway: Influenza is a fact of life, affecting birds and mammals alike to various degrees. Major impacts to the food industry lie in supply chain complications since cooking and sanitation practices deactivate the virus in food.

Artificially Illustrated
Chicken wearing mask on top of cow
The modern super spreaders. E-I-E-I-whoa.

Midjourney image by Heyward Coleman

Food ‘Weaponized’

In late March, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice issued an order to Israel to ensure food and other humanitarian assistance reach Palestinians in Gaza. The order warned that hunger and famine were at extreme risk in the region, six months after the war began. Days after the order, an Israeli air raid struck and killed seven aid workers representing World Central Kitchen (WCK), a U.S. organization founded by chef José Andrés and his wife, Patricia. 

  • NPR detailed WCK’s role in providing aid. “This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war,” said Erin Gore, CEO of the humanitarian group.
  • PBS described how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident an “unintended strike” and how WCK promptly halted its effort to provide help, further worsening the desperate hunger situation. 
  • Andrés’ April 3 guest essay in the New York Times captured his frustration, and dedication to WCK’s mission: “Their work was based on the simple belief that food is a universal human right. It is not conditional on being good or bad, rich or poor, left or right. We do not ask what religion you belong to. We just ask how many meals you need.”
  • Chloe Sorvino, Forbes’ food and agriculture reporter, summarized the aftermath and the aid group’s call for a detailed investigation: “The deadly attack this week is far from the first time food has been weaponized in Palestine.” 
  • Just a week before the attack, NPR’s Nurith Aizemnman asked “who decides when to call it a famine?” She found that starvation is often widespread before the designation is used.
  • McDonald’s agreed to buy back all 225 franchised units in the region. According to The Hill, “The move prompted boycotts to the company in protest of Israel’s counteroffensive and continued bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 32,000 people.”
  • In more recent developments, BBC reported a possible turning point on April 9:  Israel officials said they would open a crossing to northern Gaza, as well as a shipping port, giving humanitarian aid better access to address the hunger.

Our Takeaway: The WCK incident complicated, and will continue to complicate, an already dire hunger situation.

Prices Persistent

While food prices at retail remain higher than their pre-pandemic levels, consumers are finding strategic ways to level the financial playing field. From litigation and strategic buying practices to a mounting desire for retailer transparency, major chains are facing a myriad of challenges that appear to be moving the needle back into the consumer’s favor.

  • On April 8, Walmart settled a $45 million class action lawsuit that alleges the retail chain charged more for weighted groceries and bagged fruit than the lowest price advertised in stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico (The Associated Press).
  • As consumers continue seeking out ways to feed their households without breaking the bank, Food & Wine explored how the “6-to-1” grocery shopping method inspired by TikTok is helping shoppers eat healthy and save money at the store. 
  • The Wall Street Journal analyzed the decreasing value of $100 at grocery stores between 2019 and today with a cool graphic. While the Biden administration has criticized food companies for shrinkflation, multiple brands are attempting to right the ship by offering deals and reduced prices.
  • On the heels of Wendy’s dynamic menu pricing debacle, The New York Times indicated that consumers may be more accepting of the strategy “if they feel companies are being forthright about how they’re changing prices and what information they’re using to do it.”
  • Following the enforcement of a bill requiring a $20 minimum wage for fast-food workers in California, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that multiple restaurant chains have raised prices for select menu items by as much as 8%. Some owners already have expressed profitability concerns as customer transactions have started to decline. 

Our Takeaway: As consumers continue pushing for candor and cheaper offerings, food brands have a significant opportunity to generate loyalty through refined business plans and communication strategies.

Worth Reading


Food Safety News summarized a Consumer Reports investigation that found high levels of lead in Kraft Heinz/Oscar Meyer’s Lunchables brand. “The investigation revealed that some Lunchables kits contained lead and other harmful contaminants, posing potential risks to children’s health. This comes amid broader concerns about lead contamination in children’s food products, including recent issues with lead in children’s cinnamon applesauce products.”

‘Night of the Living Wage’

Amid a recent rise in food delivery, Eater explored the April 7 Simpsons episode where Marge becomes the face of a ghost kitchen union as she tries to pay off a medical bill. Facing low wages, long hours and other forms of abuse, ghost kitchen employees have been organizing to fight these bleak conditions. Although it’s satirical, the episode is “ripped from the headlines,” urging viewers to have empathy and voice solidarity with foodservice workers. 

Abridged Recovery

In a 37-minute address, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced that the port of Baltimore will be partially operational by the end of April and fully operational by the end of May (PBS NewsHour). Food Business News noted that both sugar and farm equipment shipments have been halted since a cargo ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26.

‘Super Banana’

A genetically modified banana variety can solve some serious hunger and nutrition issues in Uganda, but it’s having a difficult time gaining approval from the government there, where GMOs are banned. The Cool Down explained, “Scientists combined a type of banana called the Asupina, which is rich in provitamin A and native to New Guinea, with other types of bananas that are easier to grow and considered better tasting.” Uganda is not the first government to turn a blind eye to crops modified to include eyesight-preserving vitamin A.