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The decisions of everyone in the food chain – from farmers, to distributors and consumers – are heavily influenced by economic factors such as price, risk and resource availability. The food economy is composed of a complicated, global network of trade, which today connects producers and consumers at scales never seen before. Subsidies for food production exist in almost all nations; some reject these as market distorting while others hail them for their ability to ensure sufficient national/regional supply of food at all times and to protect farmers. Foods that are traded as commodities are subject to volatile markets and also show the intimate connection between food prices and other sectors, such as oil.
The Food Research Collaboration argues in this report that every form of Brexit (for non UK readers, this is the UK’s upcoming departure from the European Union) will affect the UK’s food supply, and that Local Authorities should set up “food resilience teams” to assess local risks to food provision.
This piece in the New Food Economy explores why the US cranberry industry has collectively agreed to destroy one quarter of its harvest, but will not ask any farmers to scale back production. A surplus of cranberries on the market means that prices are being driven below the cost of production. The agreement to destroy a portion of the harvest means that prices will rise again. Unlike other industries, which are regulated by antitrust laws, farmers are allowed to make collective agreements such as this under the Capper–Volstead Act.
The UK government is not preparing well enough for the impacts of Brexit on the food sector, argues Tony Lewis, Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in a piece for the Food Research Collaboration. Lewis points out that, among other issues, introducing necessary food safety checks on imports could cause 17 miles of tailbacks along the Dover-Calais route, the resources needed to operate the border may not be ready by March 2019 (when the UK will leave the European Union), and businesses do not have enough time to adapt in the event of no deal being reached between the UK and the EU.
In this piece for The Conversation, researcher Elise Wach discusses the consolidation of farmland in the UK and rising farmland prices. According to Wach, there were nine times more small farms in England 15 years ago than there are today, and the number of high-intensity large farms is rising swiftly.
A hard Brexit, where the UK trades with other nations on the terms and tariffs set out by the World Trade Organisation after leaving the European Union, could cause an additional 5,600 deaths in the UK, mainly due to reduced consumption of fruits, vegetables and nuts, according to a working paper published by the Oxford Martin School.
The book “Feeding the world: Brazil’s transformation into a modern agricultural economy”, by Herbert S. Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna, examines the development of Brazil’s agricultural production, provides a historical understanding of the changes in Brazil’s economy, and explains Brazil’s impact on the world food system.
The Food Ethics Council has produced a report of its business forum “Brexit breakfast <200 days to go… How can we get the best post-Brexit outcomes for UK food and farming systems?”, which was held on 11 September 2018. Forum participants discussed the Irish border, future trade deals, organic certification, promoting public health after Brexit, farm labour, and future food standards.
Smallholders with farms under two hectares produce 28–31% of all crops and 30–34% of all food supply on 24% of the world’s agricultural land, according to a new paper. This contrasts with common claims that smallholders produce 70–80% of the world’s food. The paper also finds that, relative to larger farms, farms under two hectares have greater crop species diversity, allocate less of their crop outputs towards feed and processing and are important suppliers of fruit, pulses, roots and tubers.
Bayer, the German pharmaceutical and life sciences multinational, has bought US agribusiness Monsanto in a $63 billion deal after receiving approval from antitrust regulatory authorities. The US Department of Justice required Bayer to sell some of its crop science assets to BASF as a condition of approving the merger.
A recent paper examines the connections between food system changes and diet and nutrition changes in Latin America and the Caribbean. It finds that food systems are changing to include more processed food, more and more easily available meat, dairy and out-of-season foods, cheaper food and a rise in supermarkets. It concludes that, while some Latin American countries are leaders on interventions to change demand (such as by introducing taxes on sugary beverages or regulating the advertising of unhealthy food), there is a long way to go, and that a change towards healthier food systems will require introducing incentives for companies to market healthy foods, driven by consumer demand.
The report “Brexit: food prices and availability” from the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee of the UK House of Lords examines the potential impacts of Brexit on the UK food supply. 30% of the UK food supply is currently imported from the EU and a further 11% from non-EU countries under terms set by EU trade deals.
Last year, members of the European Parliament voted to ban palm oil in biofuels in Europe by 2020, citing concerns over deforestation (read more about the environmental impacts of palm oil production here). The Guardian spoke to palm oil farmers in Malaysia who are worried they will lose their livelihood. Some of the farmers were given land by the government in the 1980s and do not use recently deforested land. “Our whole community here totally depends on palm oil… everybody is scared of what is going to happen to us in two years time,” said farmer Hussain Mohamed.
Large, powerful companies control much of the US food supply chain, with detrimental effects on consumer choice, food safety and food system resilience, according to a recent paper by researchers from NGO Food & Water Watch. The paper discusses the current “nearly unprecedented wave of food megamergers”, impacts on consumers of grocery consolidation and different types of mergers throughout the food supply chain.
The UK waste charity WRAP has recently reported that hotels could save $7 for every $1 invested in reducing food waste. The report studied 42 hotels in 15 countries and identified winning strategies that included: “measure the food waste, engage staff, rethink the buffet, reduce food overproduction, and repurpose excess food”. 70% of hotels managed to recoup their investments within one year, and 95% within two years.