One of the biggest U.S. government regulators got hit with a highly critical series of articles, bringing its role in regulation of food safety into question. Food prices and inflation continued to drive leading conversations as the war in Ukraine grinds on. Meanwhile, talk about sustainability in its many forms ratcheted up ahead of Earth Day.

FDA’s Failing Grade

On April 8, Politico published an investigation into the FDA’s failure to act on critical food issues. Based on more than 50 interviews, the article details the agency’s slow responses that often come too late. “There’s a long-running joke among FDA officials that the ‘F’ in FDA is silent.” Ouch.

  • In response, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director Susan Mayne said her “division is working with limited resources and funding” (Agri-Pulse).
  • In her Food Politics blog, Marion Nestle called the “blockbuster exposé of the FDA” a “must-read” and noted her long belief “that it would be better all the way around if the FDA strongly regulated the food industry.”
  • By April 11, Politico reported that lawmakers were demanding answers following the findings. In a letter sent to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Pat Murray (D-Wash.) sought “immediate action to ensure the FDA is doing all it can to fulfill all aspects of its mission to protect the health and safety of the American people.”
  • Michael Taylor, who served as FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine from 2010 to 2016, suggested breaking up the FDA, noting that “the problem of food’s low priority within FDA is not new” (Politico).
  • Food Safety News Editor Dan Flynn proposed taking Taylor’s suggested solution a step further by recommending the creation of “a single, independent body that combines all the food safety functions of the FDA and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Agency.”
  • Earthjustice, which is currently suing the FDA to force decision on petitions to ban PFAS in food, used the Politico investigation to call out the agency on Twitter for being “asleep at the job and allowing countless harmful contaminants into our food.”

Supply Goes Down, Price Goes Up

It’s a basic rule of economics that a reduction in supply leads to a rise in price. Given that the past two years have thoroughly messed with supply chains, it’s no surprise that consumers are leaving grocery stores with lighter wallets these days.

  • Politico explained the factors affecting different food segments through the lens of a bacon cheeseburger. Politico is on a roll this week.
  • In its April 8 Food Price Index report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization attributed record-high food prices to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • In a bid to ease gas price spikes from the war, the Biden administration lifted restrictions on ethanol blending for the summer. The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick Thomas cited National Chicken Council concerns that this will limit corn supply and drive up feed costs.
  • Reuters noted that egg prices are rising globally as Feedstuff remarked that avian influenza infections in the U.S. have surpassed the 2014-15 outbreak.
  • Food brands are feeling the pain too. Conagra Brands told investors that its profits dropped by 22% due to rising input costs.
  • Discount grocer Aldi doubled down on maintaining low prices (Supermarket News), contrasting a broader trends of grocers passing costs along to consumers (The Wall Street Journal).

Shouting Sustainability

Is it really doing good if no one’s watching? From third-party verifications to partnering with NGOs to earning media attention, food and agriculture groups explored various ways to make their good known.

  • Burger King and Cargill partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, donating $5 million to target climate change on cattle ranches. The program will manage grasslands and greenhouse gas emissions in six states (Meat+Poultry).
  • Going against the grain in an atmosphere that typically criticizes the environmental impact of livestock, Theresa Lieb from Greenbiz described the positive impact of raising cattle. Two of the pluses include grazing on invasive plants and helping Native American people thrive.
  • Modern Farmer summarized recent research on cable bacteria, which are “naturally-occuring living wires” that may reduce methane emissions from rice farms with electricity.
  • The Washington Post interviewed the sustainability director from Fetzer Vineyards about the granularity that goes into the comprehensive carbon footprint analysis of its wine. From the thickness of the bottles to the gas needed from employees’ cars, a climate-neutral certification is difficult to measure and earn.
  • Urban salad greens grower Gotham Greens earned B Corp certification. New Hope interviewed Viraj Puri, co-founder and CEO: “The certification adds in additional layers of accountability and transparency for our employees, customers, retail and foodservice partners, and investors.”

Worth Reading

Funky Flavors

If you think those guacamole Takis you saw at the gas station are exotic, check out Eater’s write up of Asian snacks like hot chili seaweed chips, sour plum umeboshi sticks and shrimp chips. In Japan, “enthusiastic snackers are met with an overwhelming abundance of options in snack-food categories as narrow as chips, with brands like Calbee and Koikeya consistently remaining on top.”

Interdependent Corn

Ethanol conversations were on tap this week, emphasizing the relationship between the Russia-Ukraine war, gas prices, corn farming and food prices. The Des Moines Register summarized President Biden’s April 11 visit to Iowa, where he announced lifting a summertime ban on E15 gasoline (gas blended with 15% corn-based ethanol). This was good news for corn farmers and drivers complaining about high gasoline prices. Because the same corn is used for livestock feed, Wall Street Journal’s Jinjoo Lee opined this might be a poor choice: “Even implied impacts on food should be enough to make E15 an unappetizing option.” Predictably, the Farm Bureau and many ag groups welcomed year-round E15.

Anti-antibiotic Labels

Researchers at George Washington University published research in Science Magazine that found 10% of urine samples from cattle “raised without antibiotics” tested positive for trace evidence of antibiotics. The researchers accused USDA of failing to adequately test the livestock, noting that “an approved USDA label cannot be deemed false or misleading by any entity other than the USDA.” The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley captured the response from Whole Foods, the most-affected retailer.

Wasted at Home

Food Waste Prevention Week ran April 4 to 8. While the topic isn’t the lightning rod it was circa 2012, reducing food waste is one of the few things on which everyone agrees. Natural Resources Defense Council broke out where food loss happens in the supply chain. The biggest contributors? Households.