by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: China

Jul 19 2019

Weekend reading: What Big Ag is thinking about planting decisions and economic prospects

Every now and then I run into an excellent source of information about things I know nothing about.  I’ve just discovered Purdue University’s Ag Economy Baromoter, which tracks the opinions of producers of corn and soybeans.

Big Ag feels pretty good about current agriculture and trade policies, probably because USDA’s agricultural support system ihistorically has been firmly rigged in their favor.

If Purdue asked small and medium-sized producers, it might get a different stiory.

Jun 27 2019

Selling baked goods—in China

BakeryandSnacks.com, an industry newsletter I subscribe to, occasionally collects its articles into special editions.  This one is on selling baked goods in China.  The effects of these trends on public health?  One can only guess.

Special Edition: China market report

Chinese appetites for bakery products continues to grow unheeded, despite a market saturated with Asian brands and the continued interest in European offerings.

Following Bakery China 2019 (May 6-9) held in Shanghai, BakeryandSnacks examines the world’s fastest growing sector, using information gleaned from the coalface [translation: real working conditions] and brand data from market researchers.

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Jun 5 2019

Trump’s trade war with China: not going well for US farmers or citizens

As I may have mentioned previously, I have trouble understanding the ins and outs of trade policy.  Fortunately, I subscribe to Politico Morning Agriculture, whose writers are diligent in sorting out the complexities of what our government is doing with respect to trade and what it means.

Here’s what Politico is saying about our current trade dispute with the People’s Republic of China.

In a recent article,  Politico  reports a steady decline in American agricultural exports to China.  The figures are startling:

  • 2019: $6.5 billion
  • 2018: $16.8 billion
  • 2017: $21.8 billion

These figures are from USDA’s latest Outlook for Agricultural trade.

Much of the drop is in soybean exports:  US farmers shipped $17 billion worth of soybeans worldwide in 2019, down from $21.6 billion last year.  Shipments to China accounted for much of the difference.

The US usually runs an agricultural trade surplus (we sell more abroad than we import).  The USDA says the trade surplus is $8 billion in 2019, down from $15.8 billion in fiscal 2018 and $21.1 billion in fiscal 2017.

Politico also reports that the Trump Administration is doing what it can to relieve the pain experienced by US soybean producers [pain that the administration’s policies caused in the first place].  It has promised between $15 billion and $20 billion in bailouts.

The real burden will fall on taxpayers and heartland farmers.

If the president moves ahead with 25 percent tariffs on everything China exports to the United States, it could amount to a tax hike of more than $2,000 on the average American family, swamping the reduction they won from Trump’s signature legislative achievement — the 2017 tax law.

The pain will be felt most acutely by lower-income voters who rely on cheap imports and Midwestern farmers who make up critical slices of Trump’s political base and will help decide the outcome of the 2020 election.

As to who is responsible for this mess?  According to Politico again, “China says U.S. ‘solely to blame’ for collapse of trade talks.”

How will this end?  Badly for U.S. agriculture, I’m guessing.

We need a rational food policy in this country, big time.

Reference: Agricultural Economic Insights on implications of the trade war with China

Jan 15 2019

Coca-Cola’s political influence in China: documented evidence

The BMJ (the new name for what was formerly the British Medical Journal) has just published a report by Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist and China specialist at Harvard, of how Coca-Cola, working through the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), got the Chinese government to focus its anti-obesity efforts on promoting physical activity rather than dietary changes.

Professor Greenhalgh documented industry influence on Chinese health policy through review of published work as well as interviews with key players in this drama.

A more thorough report of her investigation with details of her interviews was released at the same time by the Journal of Public Health Policy: “Soda industry influence on obesity science and policy in China.”  This report comes with extensive supplemental information about her methods and interview details (these explain why training in anthropology is useful for this kind of work and provides information not otherwise available).

For readers familiar with Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), this is a familiar story.

I tell the GEBN story in a chapter in my recently released book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

One surprise in writing that book was how often ILSI turns up in its pages.  ILSI positions itself as an independent “nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” but it was founded by Coca-Cola and is largely supported by food and beverage companies.  It works in many countries to promote food-industry interests.

Greenhalgh’s articles thoroughly expose how this organization accomplishes its objectives.  If you would like to know more about it, UCSF Food Industry Documents Library can help, as I learned about from this tweet.

Greenhalgh’s investigation has received extensive press coverage.

I was particularly interested in the account by Crossfit’s Derek Fields and Russ Greene, which provides further documentation of the close connections between Chinese health agencies, ILSI, and programs funded by Coca-Cola.

Dec 27 2018

Selling bakery products in China: Chocolate!

This is from one of those daily newsletters I get about what’s happening in the food industry.  This one covers baked goods, snacks, and candy.  And this particular collection of articles deals with chocolate as an instrument of international trade policy.

BakeryAndSnacks.com says:

Chocolate’s use in bakery is a booming business in China: Once perceived as an exotic delicacy – bought only as a luxury gift or an extravagant treat – the Chinese consumers’ taste for chocolate is growing and the ingredient is quickly cementing a niche for itself in bakery. Read more

I can’t help thinking about all those calories in chocolate-laden baked goods, and their effects on Chinese waistlines….

Dec 21 2018

Weekend reading: Soy Milk

Jia-Chen Fu.  The Other Milk: Reinventing Soy in Republican China.  University of Washington Press, 2019.

Image result for The Other Milk: Reinventing Soy in Republican China

Here’s my blurb for this one:

The Other Milk tells a fascinating story—how nutrition science transformed the place of soybeans in the Chinese diet from humble components of traditional cuisine to instruments of physical and social development, only to be replaced by dairy foods as markers of modernity.  This book is a superb example of how cultural history, cuisine, science, and globalization intersect around one food–soybeans.

Here is a small taste: Fu, an assistant professor of Chinese at Emory University, explains that the use of soybeans in Chinese cuisine dates back to 500 B.C. or so, but she begins her analysis in the early 1900s with an account of Li Shizeng’s promotion of soy milk—in Paris, of all places.

Li’s soybean experiment in Paris proved short-lived, but his insistence that soybeans offered a key to a modern, industrial China did not fail to impress his compatriots.  Popular accounts celebrated the soybean’s many industrial and gastronomic uses and as late as 1920, highlighted Li’s foresight and ingenuity in promoting an indigenous product, doujiang (soybean milk), as both more nutritious and sanitary than cow’s milk, on the world stage.

If the soybean could signify modern, industrial development, could it also challenge perceptions of Chinese physical and nutritional precarity, of China as “the sick man of Asia”? When coupled with a newly emergent discursive concept of the Chinese diet as a thing scientists and social scientists could measure and adjust, the aspiration grew for soybeans to change not just Chinese history but Chinese bodies.

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Aug 9 2018

Global Meat News on the meat market in China

This is a collection of articles on the Chinese market for meat from the daily industry newsletter, Global Meat News.

Special Edition: Focus on China
China has been the highlight of the international meat market this year in terms of re-igniting unexpected relationships for trade access and its continuous clashes with the US market. With the Asian sector ramping up its global position, will we see China dominate the meat market in years to come?

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May 2 2018

China’s “outward” (foreign) investments in food and agriculture

USDA’s Economic Research Service has a new report on China’s investment in agriculture and farmland.

China’s outward agricultural investments are growing rapidly.

The purchases are everywhere: Indonesia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Jamaica, etc., but some is in the United States.

China owns Smithfield, for example (see previous post).

The report is worth a serious read.  If you aren’t up to that, take a look at the tables and figures.  I wanted to reproduce a lot more of them.