Tag Archive | Economics

The Global Politics of Food Prices

Joshua Keating at Slate has an excellent piece on the role food prices have political stability and the drivers in the rise in food prices since 2000. That trend is result of the intersection of having maxed out on the amount of food we can produce and the growing global middle class demand. The both for greater net calories and more meat and dairy. Keating shares a number of interesting facts and insights.

Thailand’s program of supporting farmers by buying rice above cost and stockpiling it seems to be on the verge of disaster.

Exporting countries like the US stand to gain. And speaking of the US exports, Keating noted that Iowa produces more grain than all of Canada.

Here are the two most interesting bits.

“Sixty-five percent of the world’s food-insecure people live in seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia, of which all but China have experienced civil conflict in the past decade, with DRC, Ethiopia, India, and Pakistan currently embroiled in civil conflicts.” And China, it should be pointed out, hasn’t been all that quiet. With about 180,000 protests per year, the government now spends about $125 billion annually on riot control.

. . . China has also been at the forefront of the trend of buying large tracts of land in developing countries to meet demand for grain back home, a practice denounced by critics as “land grabs.” State-connected Chinese firms have purchased a swath of farmland the size of Luxembourg in Argentina as well as about 5 percent of Ukraine’s territory.

Purchases on this scale bring up obvious concerns over sovereignty. Anger over the purchase of half of Madagascar’s arable land by the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo was a major precipitating factor in the overthrow of Madagascar’s government in 2009.

Making agriculture work in Africa is going to be the lynch pin to a future that works.

DAILY ESSENTIALS | FRIDAY | 20 SEPTEMBER 2013

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1. FOOD (STAMPS) FOR THOUGHT
Henry Olsen | National Review

The conservative war on food stamps is the most baffling political move of the year. Conservatives have suffered for years from the stereotype that they are heartless Scrooge McDucks more concerned with our money than other people’s lives. Yet in this case, conservatives make the taking of food from the mouths of the genuinely hungry a top priority. What gives? And why are conservatives overlooking a far more egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars in the farm bill?

2. UTICA GREENS
Saveur

With roasted potatoes and spicy peppers, this specialty of Utica, New York, makes for a full-flavored side dish.

7-SAV143-uticagreens-400x600

3. FOUR IN TEN CONSUMERS HAVE LOST TRUST IN THE FOOD SYSTEM
Andy Vance | Feedstuffs

Gallup’s findings line up somewhat with the most recent edition of Oklahoma State’s Food Demand Survey (FooDS), conducted monthly by agricultural economist Jayson Lusk. The September survey asked 1,000 respondents if the could “think of a time when you felt that you lost trust in the food system.”

Forty percent said yes.

Lusk followed up with an open-ended question, asking for the specific circumstances that led to a loss of trust, and then analyzed 413 typed responses. The researchers highlighted specific keywords, and divided responses into eight different categories to determine relevant trends in the data.

Among the top keywords mentioned were “GMOs,” with 24 specific mentions. “Biotechnology seems to be a big contributor to a loss of trust in the food system,” Lusk said. “That said, most of the statements people typed had something to do with food safety issues.”

Indeed, Lusk found 113 responses had something to do with food safety issues including e.coli, avian influenza or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Another 34 responses were categorized as a “personal experience” issue, most of which Lusk said related stories of food poisoning.

Taken together then, more than 35% of responses could be viewed as food-safety related. By comparison, only 74 responses were categorized as “technology related issues,” with specific topics including GMOs, antibiotic use and lean, finely textured beef.

4. MR. PAPAYA HEAD MAKES HIS DEBUT
Farmers4Choice

Last Wednesday we sat through another day of hearings here on the Island of Hawaii and found it hard not to laugh at the hypocrisy, the fallacies and outright lies spread about Hawaii’s farmers, Papayas and agriculture in general. I won’t perpetuate them by writing them here; although admittedly I did react when a female anti gmo activists was verbally accosting a agriculture supporter, he found it funny but refused to answer her questions which only fed her resolve that he must be with a seed company, as if that was a bad thing. It was none of her business and frankly her racial profiling upset me. Racial profiling and undertones were thick in this hearing even from a few Council members. Most of the anti’s are haole

( Hawaiian term for white or fair skin) new comers and a few old timers; while most of the growers are minority farmers and 99% clearly local to Hawaii Island.

Mr. Papaya Head makes his debut at Hawaii County Council hearing to ban gmo’s in Hawaii County

The Chair and Bill 109′s author and proposer; Brenda Ford slaughtered almost every farmers name and even simple names were mispronounced; yet she manged quite well with the anti’s, activists and supporters of her bill..hmmm co-inky dink, me thinks not. By far the most patronizing terms come from Margaret Willie, condescending patronization telling our farmers to just find another crop as if she is smarter than everyone else. As is all the scientists and experts we provided are lying; she acts as if she is god and it’s her way or no way…but because we have contaminated Hawaii Island she will go ahead and allow papaya growers to be exempted. The exemption taints the Hawaii Papaya Industry’s good name and is causing marketing issues, one council member proposed establishing a marketing fund to restore its name, yes that is a start!

[Editor’s note: I normally would not highlight an anonymous blog. I am typically pretty conservative about where I get my news and more conservative about what I pass on. But this entry seems to give a hard to come by glimpse into the on the ground politics and fault lines of the current fight in Hawaii. It doesn’t really clear my normal hurdles for credibility, but it certainly fulfils the criteria of important and interesting that I am looking to deliver in the Daily Essentials segment of this blog.]

5. THE DATING GAME
The Natural Resources Defense Council

Here’s a superbly-kept secret: All those dates on food products — sell by, use by, best before — almost none of those dates indicate the safety of food, and generally speaking, they’re not regulated in the way many people believe. The current system of expiration dates misleads consumers to believe they must discard food in order to protect their own safety. In fact, the dates are only suggestions by the manufacturer for when the food is at its peak quality, not when it is unsafe to eat.

U.S. consumers and businesses needlessly trash billions of pounds of food every year as a result of America’s dizzying array of food expiration date labeling practices, which need to be standardized and clarified. Forty percent of the food we produce in this country never gets eaten. That’s nearly half our food, wasted — not just on our plates, but in our refrigerators and pantries, in our grocery stores and on our farms. Much of it perfectly good, edible food — worth $165 billion annually — gets tossed in the trash instead feeding someone who’s hungry. Misinterpretation of date labels is one of the key factors contributing to this waste.

6. USDA WILL NOT TAKE ACTION IN CASE OF GMO ALFALFA CONTAMINATION
Cary Gillam | Reuters

Crop experts have warned that the confirmation of contamination threatens U.S. sales of alfalfa feedstock to many Asia nations who reject GMOs, and some are encouraging farmers to test every bag of seed they buy before they plant.

But USDA said the detection of Monsanto Co’s patented Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerant trait in the Washington farmer’s non-GMO alfalfa crop should be addressed by the marketplace and not the government.

“The agriculture industry has approaches to minimize their occurrence and manage them when they occur,” the statement said.

Alfalfa, a livestock feed crop, routinely ranks among the top five crops in the nation in terms of farmgate value and total acreage planted. It is the first perennial biotech crop to be approved, and its perennial nature makes it even more of a contamination risk, critics have charged.

Washington agriculture officials notified APHIS late Friday that they had confirmed a “low-level” presence of a genetically engineered trait in what the farmer thought was a non-GMO crop.

State agriculture officials did not identify the level of contamination, but in a letter to APHIS said it was “within ranges acceptable to much of the marketplace.”

7. LOCAL DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN FAIR: WASHINGTON BERRY PICKERS URGE BOYCOTT
Matthew Canfield | Civil Eats

On July 10, Frederico Lopez couldn’t take it anymore. The berry picker says he was constantly barraged with verbal abuse by his supervisor, while earning only 30 cents per pound of berries. “It’s unjust to yell at us like we are animals, simply for asking for a fair wage” he told his supervisors that day.

It is no surprise that Lopez spoke up. At such a low rate, he and his fellow workers have to pick at an impossible speed just to earn Washington State’s $9.19 minimum wage.

On the hot summer day Lopez complained, he was given an eviction and a pink slip – a practice that would is routine in the fields. But on this day, Lopez’s co-workers took notice and decided not to return to work the next day. What has ensued has been an all-out labor dispute in a region widely known for its local food movement. As the farm workers press on to raise their working conditions, they are raising important questions about the priorities and social values of the burgeoning food movement.

8. NEW ACCELERATOR PROGRAM LAUNCHES FOR FOOD, HEALTH AND WELLNESS STARTUPS
Nina Meijers | Food Tech Connect

FTC: How do you differentiate yourself from others startup accelerator programs?

SC: Our program is very different. Sure we offer money and space to work but that is where the similarities end. Instead of having a long list of familiar faces as mentors we have a small group of people you may not know but who are some of the best designers/developers/UX/UI/sales/strategy/marketing in the city. And instead of them just dropping in a few times, they are on the payroll, work in the space and are available to our applicants as needed. Beyond that, we have an internationally recognized Strategic Foresight team on staff with far reaching research resources at their fingertips waiting to work with our applicants. But the biggest differentiator is our amazing partnership with Matthew Corrin and his company Freshii. Freshii opens up a vertical expertise that these companies can’t find anywhere as well as access to customers and other opportunities through their distribution and procurement channels if thats appropriate and important to the startup.

FTC: Why do you think your model (and the partnership of Kinetic Cafe and Freshii) is best suited to bolster wellness, food and health startups?

SC: By taking a laser focus and only working with health, food and fitness startups we can focus all our research, startups and education towards the same goal. When a co-hort has people from hardware to app discovery to social platforms the goals can’t be similar and the learnings and mentor talks can’t be anything more than high level. With everyone working in the same space the lessons are similar and even allow for co-marketing.

Revealed Preference and GMO’s

Steve Holt has an article at Take Part on public opinion and GMO labeling. Long and short, unsurprisingly, when asked nearly everyone says that they are in favor of labeling. But what does that really tell us?

Economists have a pair of concepts: stated preference and revealed preference that say a lot about this issue:

Revealed preference theory, pioneered by American economist Paul Samuelson, is a method for comparing the influence of policies on consumer behavior. These models assume that the preferences of consumers can be revealed by their purchasing habits.

It’s very easy to tell a pollster that you want something and another to put a little effort into it. The stated preference is that people want labeling. The revealed preference; judging from the shelves at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, two chains whose customers are ostensibly the most passionate about the issue and whose supply chain is in the best position to be responsive to these demands; shows that people apparently don’t really care that much about labels. Enough to say yes to a pollster or sign a petition, but not enough to change their shopping habits. Markets aren’t perfect, but one thing they do really well is match consumer goods to consumer preference. Clearly producers in the natural and health segment of the market don’t see a enough demand to respond to the most motivated anti-GMO consumers or it wouldn’t take Whole Foods until 2018 to shift their product mix over.

I’m not shy about calling for regulation, but I want as little as possible and I don’t see why this is problem the market wouldn’t solve if people were really motivated. When US consumers wanted to cut fat out of their diets in the 80’s an 90’s the market was more than happy to give them what they wanted. If enough people really cared about GMO labeling, the suppliers who cater to that market segment would be bending over backwards to respond.