October 2, 2020
Friday by Noon:
Waste, Exports, Politics
Politics, international trade and food waste drew the most attention this week, until early this morning when President Trump tweeted that he tested positive for coronavirus.
- The United Nations brought food waste back into the spotlight.
- Progress with exports met with uncertainty on other trade issues.
- With the election nearing, talk about politics heats up. Now it’s on boil.
“The past several months have demonstrated just how much meals matter, especially when they’re prepared and enjoyed with family and friends.”Keith Dailey, Kroger chief sustainability officer (Supermarket News)
‘Farm to Fork to Landfill’
The United Nations declared September 29 its First International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. The organization recognized the pandemic as “a global wake-up on the need to transform and rebalance the way our food is produced and consumed.” Several influential voices acknowledged food waste in statements and commitments, adding to a recent deluge of sustainability commitments by food companies (see Friday by Noon 9/25/2020).
- NRDC publicized the UN event, referenced its own data from 2017 and added, “It’s time that we acknowledge the environmental, economic, and social effects of food waste and do our part to turn this ship around.”
- USDA’s Jean Buzby posted her take, suggesting that reducing food waste is an opportunity to strengthen our food system.
- In September, public-private partnership Champions 12.3 sponsored the “10x20x30” initiative in which 10+ retailers engaged at least 20 suppliers to halve food waste by 2030. Food Dive reported that, in total, more than 200 food companies have made the pledge so far.
- Supermarket News outlined an impressive array of measures 10x20x30 participant Kroger is taking to cut down on food waste, including simplifying expiration labels and offering an extensive recycling program for private label goods.
- Not everyone is in universal agreement that reducing food waste is always good. Ag economists Brenna Ellison and Jayson Lusk published a paper that concludes “waste reduction strategies have benefits and costs, and there are likely a number of trade‐offs that must be made to reduce waste.”
- Bloomberg summarized General Mills’ multifaceted commitment, adding that the company donates surplus food or uses it for animal feed in biogas production.
- Extra credit: check out the UN’s Food Waste Atlas.
New data and developments on international trade showed gains for U.S. exports across different trading partners. And agricultural groups united to maintain a U.S. presence in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
- A coalition of agricultural groups sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, urging that the U.S. remain in the WTO. This came after the Trump administration threatened to withdraw from the WTO when it found tariffs on Chinese goods violated international trade rules (Agri-Pulse).
- Reuters reported that Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods and Brazilian-owned JBS benefited from a recent surge in pork exports to China. Meanwhile, China suspended a second U.S. poultry processor, OK Foods, due to positive COVID-19 cases among workers.
- New government reports showed exports of soybeans to China and Mexico increased in September and U.S. rice exports to South Korea approached its country-specific quota, according to Agri-Pulse.
- In a Des Moines Register interview, departing U.S. ambassador Terry Branstad defended the Trump administration’s tough stance on China: “The unfortunate thing is we’re trying to rebalance the relationship so we have fairness and reciprocity, but every time we do something, they keep it unbalanced.”
- Modern Farmer reported that the Trump administration launched an investigation on the “threat” of rising Mexican blueberry imports.
- Meatingplace shared that beef from the U.K. will ship to the U.S. for the first time since a ban was imposed in 1996 due to an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, aka “mad cow disease”).
Political Positions on Food
In the wake of a … raucous … first presidential debate, this seemed like an appropriate time to highlight policy points from the Trump and Biden campaigns. We plan to publish a deeper dive on food and ag policy issues alongside the Q3 report. Look for that to hit your inbox later this month.
- The American Farm Bureau Federation delivered information on how each candidate would address farm-related issues, ranging from trade and immigration to endangered species and climate change.
- Despite these policy pledges, Farmer’s Daughter blogger Amanda Zaluckyj suggested that any farm policy-based drinking games would leave a debate-watcher sober.
- Eater highlighted VP candidate Sen. Kamala Harris’ stances on food justice issues.
- Grub Street reported that Biden has committed to eliminating a separate wage for tipped workers.
- Many food companies have encouraged employees to vote as part of the Time to Vote campaign. Recently, Noodles & Company offered time off and Starbucks pledged to help staff voting stations typically run by elderly citizens.
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Green Eggs and Tam
Tamar Haspel, Washington Post food columnist posted a criticism of American dieting in what she calls “one-thing-itis.” Haspel uses Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches (YouTube) as an analogy to look at American dieting under a social modeling lens, suggesting that trendy diets serve to identify people rather than help them actually lose weight.
Meatingplace announced a new counterpart magazine, Alt-Meat, a publication focused on the growing alternative meat market, including plant-based and cell-cultured protein producers. “Alt-Meat tapped the expertise of a half-dozen of the sector’s CEOs, investors and thought leaders to draw a clearer picture of the conventional meat analogue market in a post-COVID world,” summarized editor-in-chief Lisa M. Keefe.
A Friendly Caterpillar
On September 24, Wired reported that biotech firm Oxitec, which recently introduced a genetically modified mosquito for use in the Florida Keys, has now developed a self-destructing genetically modified caterpillar. This new “friendly” fall armyworm hopes to be the pesticide-free solution for crop protection. But, much like the GM mosquitoes, the creation of these insects has met with some opposition and claims that the approach will not protect farms from other pests moving in.
The USDA began including a letter claiming credit for the Farmers to Families Food Box. Signed by President Trump, it states that “safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities,” and outlines health measures to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich shared the news, suggesting this is “the latest example of Trump using the levers of government and taxpayer dollars for self-promotion as he runs for re-election.”
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