It was an extremely hot summer evening several weeks ago and my wife Olga and I were looking for something to do. In one of her “ah- ha” moments, she suggested that we attend a lecture entitled “Climate Change and Its Impact on Food” at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in nearby Edgewater, MD. “It might be a good learning experience for your readers,” she said. So off we went. I figured, why not, as perhaps there was information that I could indeed share. Plus, with Congress off for its summer break, there is not a lot of legislative activity to report from Capitol Hill.
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is a lovely complex of federal buildings on 2,650 acres right on the Rhode River in Anne Arundel County and employs more than 150 researchers and scientists. We settled in rather uncomfortable chairs that I call “funeral seats” (you can figure it out) but the auditorium was air conditioned and the four speakers’ bios read like a “who’s who” in the climate change field. After listening to the speakers for almost two hours, I will admit that I learned quite a bit of interesting information.
Background On Climate Change
You do know that President Trump thinks climate change is a lot of hooey. Perhaps that is the reason that Politico recently reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has largely curtailed publicizing the issue of climate change to a large degree in press releases, blog posts, social media and other communications. Why? Because it’s well-known by Hill staffers not to do anything to upset the president.
USDA has created a 33-page, multiyear plan which highlights how the department should assist agricultural interests to understand, adapt to and minimize the effects of climate change. Senate agriculture committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D–MI) has criticized USDA for putting the multiyear plan under wraps for the past two years but, of course, the folks at USDA deny it. I guess the good news is at least there IS a plan.
What The Lecturers Said
Of course, the Smithsonian speakers said climate change does have a huge impact upon the ability to provide enough food to feed an estimated world population of 10 to 12 billion people in 30 years. I learned that today’s world population is about 7.5 billion. So simply put, the speakers said that “if we do not take corrective action, there will not be enough food on the planet to feed the masses. This equates to increasing food production from 60 percent to 110 percent by 2050. And the crux of the climate control issue is controlling rising C02 and global warming.”
Space prohibits a detailed explanation of all of the solutions for climate change; in summary, I learned that by partnering together, positive changes can be made for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to safer levels including some steps the average Joe, like you, can take to reduce your carbon impact. The first challenge is to eliminate the burning of coal, oil and, eventually, natural gas. A daunting task! Next, commercial and residential buildings need to be more energy efficient. Then we all need to find ways to transport ourselves to work and elsewhere without our cars and to also buy products that are environmentally sound and efficient. I learned that nearly 40 percent of food is wasted from farm to fork! This means that we waste tons of resources when we waste food.
The bottom line is that climate change has to be addressed by our elected officials at the federal, state and local levels as well as within our food industry (why do you think so many localities and food retailers are opting for the elimination of plastic bags and more and more food chains are voluntarily taking steps to cut waste and protect the environment?). Yes, each of us should have a plan to do our part to help the environment. One final fact I picked up: The United Nations is finalizing a major report that says climate change could drive up commodity prices nearly 30 percent and thus disrupt global food chains from farm to fork in the near future! Think of what that forecast could mean to your operations if it becomes reality!
Dietary Guidelines Wars Intensify
Last month I mentioned plans for an upcoming mid-July meeting in Washington to continue discussions of proposed changes to the important Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Since the meeting was held just after press time last month, I can now tell you that Politico’s Morning Agriculture reported that the July 11 meeting of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) turned into a highly pitched battle between low-carb and plant-based diet proponents. About a dozen doctors argued for a low-carb option and criticized past versions of the guidelines for making “their patients fatter and sicker.” Another publication entitled Food Navigator reported that supporters of the low-carb diet were organized by Atkins Nutritionals, which ran full page ads signed by 50 doctors in the New York Times and the Washington Post the day of the meeting. Some of you may have seen the ads, which argued that obesity and diabetes have increased dramatically since the guidelines were first introduced in 1980. I will keep you abreast of the DGAC’s progress but now you know just how important the guidelines will be to our food industry once finalized for the next five- year period.
The next DGAC meeting is slated for October 24-25, and the next one with a public comment segment will be in January 2020. Stay tuned.
Getting Genetically Engineered Animals To Market
The livestock and animal husbandry industry, led by the National Pork Producers Council, has complained for years about the slow pace of approval of genetically engineered animals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now the Pork Council and several other farm groups, including the Farm Bureau and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, are pushing to have the approval responsibility transferred from FDA to USDA. FDA is resisting and says that it is taking steps to update and speed up its approval process. As a side bar note, this is another step to curtail climate change.
Online Grocery Shopping Could Soar
The Wall Street Journal ran a front- page story in its Business & Finance Section last month to highlight tests that are under way that would allow retailers to do away with cashiers through the use of advanced technology. It appears as if Tesco, one of the world’s largest supermarket chains that is based in the U.K., is testing the technology of cashier-less stores with cameras that track what shoppers select to purchase, so they can then pay automatically by simply walking out the door with their iPhone still tucked away in their pocket. Keep your eye on that experiment.
Even more interesting was a story that crossed my desk from Field Agent which released a report last month that predicts that online grocery shopping is about to really explode. More than 65 percent of the 3,342 primary grocery shoppers surveyed reported that they would be buying more of their groceries online over the next five years. Most of the respondents who currently shop said they already buy online from Walmart and Amazon. Yes – major change is coming to our food industry.
FSIS Rules Against Meat And Poultry Labels
Food Safety News has reported that the increased risk of colon and rectal cancer from frequent consumption of processed meats and poultry does not merit warning labels for those products, according to a USDA ruling. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently denied a three-year old petition favoring such processed meat and poultry warnings submitted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). FSIS considers these products safe to consume and not misbranded for failure to display the warnings labels sought in the petition.
Barry Scher is associated with the public policy firm of Policy-Solutions LLC and may be reached at Bscher@policy-solutions.net.