by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: International

Feb 14 2013

Barclays agrees to stop speculating on food. Is Fred Kaufman responsible?

World Development Movement proudly announces that Barclays bank has agreed to stop speculation on food commodities.  Betting on food drives up world food prices.

Until now, Barclays has been the leading UK bank involved in speculation on food including staples like wheat, maize and soy. The bank made up to an estimated £500 million from speculating on food in 2010 and 2011.

The effects of speculation on world hunger is the reason why Fred Kaufman wrote Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (Wiley, 2012).  As I noted in an earlier post, his book is a riveting account of how banks make money by treating food as a speculative widget, driving up prices, and adding global hunger.

Did Bet the Farm have anything to do with shaming Barclay’s into doing the right thing?

World Development Movement takes credit.  Kaufman should too.

Aug 7 2012

Food Politics at the Department of State: Culinary Diplomacy

I’ve been sent a copy of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative. called “Setting the Table for Diplomacy.”

Its mission statement:

The Diplomatic Culinary Partnerships initiative builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “smart power” diplomacy, which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, by utilizing food, hospitality and the dining experience as ways to enhance how formal diplomacy is conducted, cultivating cultural understanding and strengthening bilateral relationships through the shared experience of food.

I particularly like the idea of “using food as a foundation for public diplomacy programs to learn about different cultures and discuss important related issues such as nutrition, sustainability and food security.”

Yes!

Everybody eats.  This is my kind of diplomacy.

 

May 9 2012

FDA’s Global Engagement

The FDA has just released a classy new report on Global Engagement, summarizing its efforts to deal with issues raised by the globalization of drugs, medical devices, and foods.

This is a big deal.  In 2009, 300,000 foreign facilities in more than 150 countries exported $2 trillion worth of FDA-regulated products to the United States.

Given these numbers alone, the FDA has some challenges.

In 2011, one out of every six FDA-regulated food products in the U.S. came from abroad.  Imports of fresh fruits, vegeta­bles, coffee, tea, and cocoa have more than doubled since 2000.

We import:

  • 80 percent of seafood
  • ~50 percent of fresh fruit
  • ~20 percent of fresh vegetables

As the report explains,

  • Many products entering the United States are made or grown in countries that lack the necessary regulatory over­sight to ensure their quality and safety.
  • Greater numbers of suppliers, more complex products, and intricate multinational supply chains introduce risks to product safety and quality, including more oppor­tunities for economic adulteration and the spread of contaminated products.
  • FDA can only realistically inspect a small percent­age (less than 3 percent) of the enormous volume of food products arriving at U.S. ports of entry, making it crucial that the Agency focus on ensuring that food products meet U.S. standards before they reach the United States.

To deal with this problem, the FDA has opened offices in:

  • China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou
  • India: New Delhi and Mumbai
  • Latin America: San Jose, Costa Rica; Santiago, Chile; and Mexico City, Mexico
  • Europe: Brussels, Belgium; London, United Kingdom; and Parma, Italy
  • Asia-Pacific: FDA headquarters
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: Pretoria, South Africa
  • Middle East and North Africa: Amman, Jordan

The FDA seems seriously concerned about its global initiatives and the safety problems posed by our globalized food supply.

The volume seems impossible to manage.  Let’s hope the FDA’s efforts do some good.

Dec 12 2011

Food companies expand sales in emerging markets

Publicly traded companies cannot simply make a profit.  They must grow profits and report growth to Wall Street every 90 days.  This requirement is tough on all corporations, but especially tough on those selling food.  People can only eat so much.

To expand sales, food companies desperately seek new markets.  Last week, The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal described how food corporations are marketing processed foods to the poorest inhabitants of developing countries.

According to The Guardian,

Nestlé is using a floating supermarket to take its products to remote communities in the Amazon. Unilever has a small army of door-to-door vendors selling to low-income villages in India and west and east Africa. The brewer SABMiller has developed cheap beers in some African countries as part of a “price ladder” to its premium lager brands, and, as a leading Coca-Cola bottler and distributor, is aiming to double fizzy drinks sales in South African townships.

Last year 39% of acquisition deals by consumer goods companies were in emerging markets, compared with just 1% in 2008, according to the Grocer’s OC&C Global 50 league table.

The Wall Street Journal follows a salesman in South Africa who is “digging for his gold” in poor neighborhoods:

While Nestlé’s usual sales staff focus on filling shelves of big supermarkets, Mr. Mugwambane and 80 other salespeople like him hunt for tiny shops across South Africa that will buy such Nestlé products as baby food and nondairy creamers, often in single-serving packages that appeal to Africa’s price-sensitive customers.

…Nestlé says it expects 45% of its sales to come from emerging markets by 2020, up from roughly 30% now.

From the standpoint of food companies, says The Guardian, this is about “finding innovative ways to give isolated people the kind of choices the rich have enjoyed for years and are providing valuable jobs and incomes to some of the most marginalised.”

Baby food and nondairy creamers?

Maybe selling items like these brings jobs to some people, but it also brings nutrient-poor diets, obesity, and the resulting chronic diseases to those populations.

The ultimate costs will be high.

Aug 12 2011

Q and A: global food security

Q. I’ve just been thinking about this in light of the current situation – the worst drought in 60 years. Do you think that there is more awareness of global food security, the global food system and ‘our responsibility’?…I find this a complex issue and I think it is incredibly important we don’t forget it as other news items are prioritized.

A. Your question arrived just as the New York Times put another one of those devastating photographs of a starving child on its front page, this time to illustrate the famine in Somalia.

Like all famines, this one is politically induced.  What’s going on in Somalia these days is a consequences of a lengthy colonial history.  A colleague and I wrote a controversial paper about such issues more than 15 years ago (see Nestle M, Dalton S. Food aid and international hungerr crises: the United States in Somalia. Agriculture and Human Values 1994;11(4):19-27)

At the time, I was struck by how often the history of humanitarian aid repeats itself.  We keep making the same mistakes. 

This is because it seems—and in the case of Somalia is—much easier to deal with the immediate demand for food aid than to address the underlying politics that caused the problem in the first place.   

But if we don’t deal with the underlying politics, the same tragedies occur again and again.  

More awareness? I don’t see it happening—just increasing feelings of helplessness in the face of so much human misery. 

What to do?  I have no answers.  Somalia is too dangerous for amateurs. 

Readers: Thoughts?  Suggestions for action?

Jan 12 2011

Worldwatch issues report on nourishing the planet

The Worldwatch Institute, a group that conducts research on climate & energy, food & agriculture, and the green economy, has just released its 2011 State of the World Report, subtitled “Innovations that Nourish the Planet.”

By “innovations,” Worldwatch means agriculture-based methods that have been shown to prevent food waste, help resist climate change, and promote urban farming.  The report describes 15 such innovations, all of them environmentally sustainable.

As Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, writes in the introduction,

Increasing the production of food and eradicating hunger and malnutrition are two very different objectives—complementary perhaps, but not necessarily linked…Some clear conclusions are emerging from all this evidence.

We need to improve the resilience of countries—particularly poor, net food-importing countires—vis-à-vis increasingly high and volatile prices on the international markets.

We need to encourage modes of agricultural production that will be more resistant to climate change, which means that they will have to be more diversified and use more trees….

And we need to develop agriculture in ways that contribute to rural development by creating jobs both on farms and off them in the rural areas and by supporting decent revenues for farmers.

The report describes programs that do just those things.  Examples: breeding rice in Madagascar, trading grain in Zanzibar, using solar cookers in Senegal, and promoting safer wastewater irrigation in West Africa.

It’s always useful to have Worldwatch reports and this one is especially relevant to food, agriculture, and international development.

Sep 10 2010

International food politics: UK food industry wants more regulation!

In a move that surprises British commentators, the U.K.’s The Food and Drink Federation is calling for more government regulation.

This call is based on a report commissioned by the Federation, Future Scenarios for the UK Food and Drink Industry, which summarizes interviews with food manufacturers, policy makers, civil society representatives, farmers, and retailers, about their visions for the future of the industry.

While the most desirable future was one where sufficient resources were available and consumer behaviours had responded to global pressures, manufacturers and retailers surprisingly preferred a situation where more government intervention was necessary.

What’s going on here?  “It’s about putting in place the right structures and frameworks that give industry the kind of coherence to make investment decisions.”

However, all participants recognised that resource demand would most likely outstrip supply unless action was taken. Even more disastrous would be the scenario where there was insufficient government control and a lack of engagement by people; a severe supply-demand gap, resulting in social unrest.

Oh.  Investment decisions.  And preventing social unrest, of course.

The report concludes that “there is a need for a shared vision for the future of the UK’s food industry based on strong evidence, consistent regulation and consumer engagement.”

Consistent regulation?  This from an industry that successfully lobbied for removing regulatory power from the Food Standards Agency?

As in the U.S., the British food industry wants regulations when they protect industry interests, but strongly opposes those that favor consumer interests.

Sep 7 2010

International food politics: Carving up the UK’s Food Standards Agency

FoodProductionDaily.com has done an analysis of who does what under the new UK scheme for dividing food responsibilities and taking power away from the pesky Food Standards Agency, which had the nerve to actually try to regulate the food industry.

At a time when it is increasingly obvious that food regulations would be better served if under the authority of a single food agency, the UK is doing just the opposite.

Here in America, we have enough problems with food regulations divided between FDA and USDA.  The UK has done us one better.    It now has three agencies in charge.  See if you can make sense of any of these new responsibilities:

The Food Standards Agency

  • Scientific advice on the food safety aspects of date marking
  • Assessment and labeling of ingredients/foods with food safety implications (e.g. allergens, glycols, high caffeine, high glycyrrhizinic acid)
  • Food safety aspects of organic food and of foods controlled by compositional standards
  • Treatments and conditions of use with food safety implications (e.g. quick frozen foods, raw drinking milk and pasteurization, food contact materials)
  • GM and novel foods (including use of nanotechnology)
  • EU General Food Law regulation, including traceability of food
  • Codex Committees on Food Hygiene, Methods of Analysis and Sampling, Food Additives, Contaminants in Foods

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (a mix of our FDA, USDA, and EPA)

  • General lead on food labeling legislation and relevant EU negotiations
  • Lead on the EU Food Information proposal
  • Country of origin labeling
  • Food composition standards and labeling such as fruit juice and fruit nectars, jams and bottled water
  • Technical advice on compositional standards for food without specific legislation, such as soft drinks and cereal products
  • Fish labeling
  • Use of marketing terms e.g. natural, fresh, clear labeling, vegan and vegetarian labeling
  • Food authenticity program
  • Codex Committees for: Food Labeling, Processed Fruits and Vegetables, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Fats and Oils, Fish and Fishery Products, Europe, General Principles
  • Lead on Codex Alimentarius Commission, General Principles and Coordinating Committee for Europe

Department of Health

  • Nutrition related aspects of the EU food information regulation
  • Front of pack labeling
  • Food for particular nutritional uses (PARNUTS)
  • Infant formula and follow on formula
  • Health and nutrition claims
  • Food supplements
  • Calorie information in catering establishments
  • Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses

This sounds to me like an ironclad guarantee that nothing will ever get accomplished.  But that, of course, was very point of taking so many responsibilities away from the Food Standards Agency.  That agency, alas, was actually trying to regulate the food industry, something no conservative government is willing to tolerate.

Let’s hope our FDA pays no attention.