Rising Prices, Food Fraud and Regulatory Redundancy
A few things caught my eye looking over this piece from CNBC on food fraud and rising prices.
The Department of Agriculture predicts food prices will rise between 2.5 and 3.5 percent this year. And while the consumer price index was up 0.1 percent in February, the food index rose more sharply, at 0.4 percent.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely noticed sticker shock at the check out aisle. Little wonder. According the the USDA ERS, while the CPI rose 1.1% in 2013 it rose 1.4% for food. That 1.4% broke out into .9% for groceries (the same rate as 2012) and 2.2% for restaurant spending. But it’s since the beginning of the year that I’ve noticed the pinch and the numbers bear that out, especially for the kinds of foods I buy. Last year theose items went up faster than the rest of the CPI basket. Since the beginning of this year that trend has accelerated, especially since February and the forecast is for more of the same as we recover from the drought in California and the economic recovery returns inflation to normal historical levels.
Relative to 2012, prices rose considerably for poultry, eggs, fish, and fresh vegetables; however, prices fell for nonalcoholic beverages, sugar and sweets, fats and oils, and other meats. For the remaining food categories, prices were mostly unchanged. From February to December 2013, average supermarket prices fell by 0.2 percent.
Looking ahead to 2014, ERS forecasts that food price inflation will return to a range closer to the historical norm. The food-at-home CPI has already increased more in the first two months of 2014 than it did in all of 2013, but given its current trajectory, it is on track for normal annual inflation. Since 1990, grocery store prices have risen by an average of 2.8 percent per year. Inflationary pressures are expected to be moderate, given the outlook for commodity prices, animal inventories, and ongoing export trends. Retailer margins, having contracted since the drought, may expand in 2014 if input prices rise, which should contribute to inflation. The food, food-at-home, and food-away-from-home CPIs are expected to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2013 levels.
. . . Eggs continued their recent surge, increasing 0.7 percent from January to February. The CPI for eggs is now 5.7 percent above the February 2013 level. ERS has revised the forecast for egg prices upward to 3.0 to 4.0 percent in anticipation of increased exports as well as strong domestic demand (due in part to high meat prices) in 2014.
Painful reading for someone who leans heavily on eggs and vegetables.
Up to 59 percent of tuna is mislabeled, according to a study by advocacy group, Oceana. Customs and Border Protection chemist Matt Birck said escolar is often mislabeled as tuna and could cause digestive issues.
59% !!! That’s a lot of fake tuna. I had to wonder if a lot of non-tuna tuna was winding up in the pet food market, but it turns out that fish fraud in the fish counter and restaurant trade is widespread.
Meanwhile in the TMI departemnt, I love escolar and have never had a problem with it, but apparently lots of people do.
But a Government Accountability Office review found problems in the overlap between the agencies charged with stopping food fraud. For example, while the FDA regulates eggs in the shell, the USDA regulates them once they are in products.
At first I thought that had to be backwards, wouldn’t the USDA inspect eggs and the FDA egg products? But it turns out to be correct. But that all the more underscores the crossed wires of having US Customs, the FDA and the USDA involved in regulatory overlap in vouchsafing the food supply.
The FDA inspects shelled eggs, while the USDA is responsible for egg products, including liquid, frozen and dehydrated eggs. The FDA regulates the feed chickens eat, but the laying facility falls under USDA jurisdiction.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. This year’s investigation into the Salmonella outbreak in Iowa eggs was complicated by the fact that the USDA was responsible for the pile of manure next to the laying facility, but the FDA was accountable for the danger of the eggs themselves.
Let’s construct a primitive infographic on the topic, shall we.
[Chicken feed – FDA] –> [Egg laying operation – USDA] –> [Eggs – FDA] –> [Egg products – USDA]
It seems like that’s the kind of project that could make for a great bipartisan project in Congress, or a non-cabinet level tsar position in the executive branch. That seems like a better place to start than trying to place more burdens on a dysfunctional system.
Rising prices aid $15B food fraud problem
Jennifer Schlesinger, Sheila Dharmarajan | CNBC | 13 April 2014
Food Price Outlook, 2013-14
Economic Resarch Service | USDA
Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Food and Beverages
FRED | St. Louis FED
Olive Oil Fraud Rampant, Trade Agency Finds
Alan Farnum | ABC News | 25 September 2013
Extra Virgin Suicide
Nicholas Blechman | The New York Times
Tom Philpott | Mother Jones | 7 November 2011
The Ex-Lax Fish
Mother Jones | November 2009
Accountability lost in murky fish supply chain
pecial Investigation | Boston Globe | 2011
Who Inspects What? A Food Safety Scramble
Gretchen Goetz | Food Safety News | 16 December 2010