If only the news was as pleasant as the weather has been this week.

  • More obstacles impeded the global flow of food and agricultural goods.
  • Foodservice and CPG brands announced quirky offerings.
  • Avian influenza spread through poultry and egg operations.

Botched Borders

Even during stable times, getting food and agricultural products across international borders can be tricky. That said, things haven’t been stable on the trade front since the Obama administration. And the situation has only gotten more complicated as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further complicated global supply chain issues.

  • As sanctions cut off Russia — the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizers — from the global economy, fertilizers have become scarce. USDA invested $250 million in boosting U.S. production, while The Daily Scoop recommended ways for farmers to stretch supplies.
  • With Russian and Ukrainian wheat supplies off the table, many smaller nations began to worry about food security. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization urged countries not to limit food exports.
  • Dairy industry groups welcomed an antitrust bill aimed at international shipping conglomerates.
  • U.S. Meat Export Federation found that beef exports remained at record levels in January, while pork exports have tapered as China recovers from African swine fever (ASF).
  • Fears of foreign animal disease — particularly avian influenza and ASF — have prompted the USDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to step up inspections of imported goods. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) requested more funds for an operation known as the “Beagle Brigade.” If you’re looking for something cute, Hardy’s official photo remains our favorite government portrait.
  • In the last quarter of 2021, CBP seized a record 262,237 pounds of contraband meat products from China. Los Angeles port director Donald R. Kusser commented: “These unprecedented numbers reflect the critical role and outstanding contributions of CBP’s agriculture specialists; they have been working tirelessly.”
  • One inspector who failed to reject tick-infested cattle from Mexico now faces bribery charges. Food Safety News reports that he could face 15 years of jail time and $250,000 in fines if convicted.

Food Gets Weird

Food news was a mixed bag, offering a little something for fans of weird ice cream flavors, Chipotle, cannabis-infused sodas, Megan Thee Stallion and Wyoming roadkill.

  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ice cream is back due to popular demand. The flavor, which initially launched last July in recognition of National Macaroni & Cheese Day, sold out in an hour and a second batch was released in August. If you haven’t given it a try yet, Food & Wine says the ice cream will be available nationwide.
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill has rolled out its long-awaited pollo asado for a limited time in the U.S. and Canada, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. It’s the chain’s first new chicken offering in 29 years.
  • Food Dive reported that Jones Soda is planning to launch a new line of cannabis-infused sodas, named Mary Jones, that will be sold in California beginning April 1. Within the next year, the company plans to expand to all markets where recreational cannabis is legal.
  • From hot sauce to pie, Megan Thee Stallion is quickly cornering the food collab market. Thrillist highlighted that the rapper’s latest collaboration with Goldbelly coincides with her new single “Sweet as Pie.” Fans can order a 10-inch Megan’s H-Town Hottie Pie, described as “a decadent, sweet and salty twist on a pecan pie” from Goldbelly’s website for $59 plus shipping.
  • Wyoming residents now have an app they can use to quickly claim roadkill they either hit or find on the side of the road, shared Food Safety News. The app allows Cowboy State residents to claim accidentally killed deer, elk, moose, wild bison or wild turkey by identifying the animal and accepting the roadkill rules. This is just taking “drive-thru” too far.

Flu Takes Flight

Avian influenza (aka bird flu) has swiftly expanded across the U.S. since it was first discovered in migratory birds in January. Recent outbreaks of the highly pathogenic flu have hit large commercial flocks and are starting to affect food prices.

  • On March 14, USDA confirmed an outbreak in southern Wisconsin. Although the meat should not pose any health risks, Feedstuffs noted that none of the 3 million birds at the facility will enter the food supply.
  • The University of Wisconsin emphasized its efforts to expand rapid testing capabilities. The vet school also mentioned that summer months typically limit the disease’s spread.
  • As of March 17, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy counted 16 states with outbreaks. In the past two weeks, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and New Hampshire have all been added to the list.
  • Bloomberg tracked rising egg prices, citing Urner Barry analyst Karyn Rispoli: “While there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ time for bird flu, the timing of this one couldn’t be worse, with Easter only five weeks away.”

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Actually, it’s both good and bad for Starbucks this week. The company earned considerable coverage for announcing a bold commitment to being “resource positive” and reducing waste by 50% by 2030. The talk-worthy part centered on eliminating disposable cups over the next three years by creating a “cultural movement towards reusables.” Starbucks also announced a partnership with Aira Tech to create a more accessible experience for blind and low-vision guests through a smartphone app.

But this focus on good was tarnished by complaints issued by the National Labor Relations Board and investor groups for the company’s anti-union activities.

So two steps forward for the goods of sustainability and access, but one step back on the increasingly resonant issue of worker rights. There’s clearly a lot brewing for Howard Schultz as he returns for his third stint as CEO.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Cool Tech, Hot Desert

Water harvested out of thin air enabled researchers to grow spinach in the Saudi Arabian desert last summer. The Counter described the water harvesting process that uses a solar-powered prototype to absorb water vapor overnight when the desert is at peak humidity.

Nugget Nostalgia

Triple Pundit pondered who the true target audience is for Impossible Foods’ plant-based nuggets that are shaped like endangered species. While the product claims to teach kids about how food choices impact the planet and how eating plant-based can help combat climate change, the article speculates the true audience “is most likely adults with a desire to relive their childhoods in a healthier, more sustainable way.”

Food Issues in Focus

FMI outlined its key issues roadmap to support “action-oriented steps for the industry.” Over the next six to 12 months, the food industry trade association plans to focus on supply chain disruption, workforce challenges, evolving customer behavior, rising ESG expectations and accelerating technology transformation.