Oprah’s Dr Oz calls organic food ‘elitist’; GM foods in UK: Global News Bites

Global News Bites keeps you up-to-date on what's happening around the world in food and beverage manufacturing.

Dr. Oz Says Organic Food Is Elitist, Do You Agree?
Dr. Mehemet Oz, daytime television host of Dr. Oz and the man behind bringing medicine and health to the masses, has found himself in a bit of hot water with the green food community after calling organic food consumers “elitists” “snooty” and “snobs” in a recent article for TIME magazine. Oz argues that the organic lifestyle is not only unconventional and undemocratic but also only reserved for the nation’s “1%”. But before we throw the scrubs clad doctor to the wolves, let’s dissect these notions on the basis that maybe, just maybe, there’s a little truth to his tirade. How often have we heard from friends, family and complete strangers online that eating organic is expensive, not practical and outside of their budget? We’ve all witnessed the single mom at the grocery store filling her cart up with conventional canned vegetables, sugary snacks and chips instead of opting for the healthier foods all in an attempt to stretch her budget and man her household. Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are riddled with fast-food restaurants, “soul food” hot spots, and junk food galore — with the occasional Farmer’s Market coming far and few between. Food deserts aren’t a myth. They are a true reality for millions of Americans living in disadvantaged communities. But guess who can afford to eat well ALL THE TIME? That 1% everyone is always talking about.

Owen Paterson backs UK-grown genetically modified food
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has backed introducing genetically modified (GM) food production in the UK. He said there were "real environmental benefits" to the technology and dismissed concerns about its impact on human health as "complete nonsense". It comes amid speculation that ministers are ready to relax control on the cultivation of GM crops. Although not illegal, to date no GM crops have been grown commercially in the British countryside. However, the coalition has allowed small-scale cultivation trials to take place. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Paterson said: "Emphatically we should be looking at GM … I'm very clear it would be a good thing. "The trouble is all this stuff about Frankenstein foods and putting poisons in foods. "There are real benefits, and what you've got to do is sell the real environmental benefits." Those in favour of the technology argue that it can increase crop yield and avoid the need for pesticides. But there was widespread public opposition to the introduction of GM food to Britain in the 1990s. Mr Paterson dismissed concerns about human health, arguing that widespread use of GM crops around the world meant people were already unwittingly eating GM food.

Global food production to slow following boom: UN report
Global food production will slow over the coming decade following an exceptional but unsustainable rate of growth in developing countries, with more investment needed in the sector, the UN's food agency said Thursday. "The average annual growth in global agricultural production through 2021 will slow to 1.7 percent, down from the 2.6 percent of the previous decade," the Food and Agriculture Organisation said in its yearly report. "Agriculture in many countries has grown at a pace that cannot be sustained," it said, adding that production shot up by over 50 percent over the last 12 years in Latin America as a whole and by 70 percent in Brazil alone. Production had also increased by over 40 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe and central Asia, and by 20 percent in the United States and western Europe, the Rome-based agency said. Biofuel production has also expanded rapidly over the past 10 to 15 years, particularly in the United States, Brazil and the European Union (EU), it said. Ethanol production in the United States shot up by 780 percent over the last 12 years while in Brazil it grew by 140 percent. This year, it absorbed over 37 percent of coarse grain crop in the United States and over 50 percent of Brazil's sugar cane crop. Biodiesel production absorbed almost 80 percent of the EU vegetable oil production. In countries such as Australia and Canada, growth in the biofuel sector has been strong, although less than in the primary producing countries. "The sector has proved the largest source of new demand for agricultural production in the past decade, and represents a new 'market fundamental'."

Mixed Outcome in "Natural" Consumer Class Action Food Case
A decision last month in one of the many class action lawsuits targeting food makers epitomises much of what is wrong about America’s civil justice system generally, and the latest food labelling suits in particular. Two AriZona iced tea purchasers, on behalf of all similarly situated Californians, filed suit in The Food Court (aka The Northern District of California) under three California statutes. They argue that AriZona’s use of “natural” on some product labels is deceptive because the tea contains high fructose corn syrup and citric acid. On November 27, Judge Richard Seeborg granted in part and denied in part AriZona’s summary judgment motion, and also issued a modified certification of the suit as a class action. Plaintiff Lauren Ries claims she purchased an “All Natural Green Tea” at a gas station in 2006 because (among other reasons) she was thirsty and wanted something healthier than a soda. She couldn’t recall the price and doesn’t have a receipt. Plaintiff Serena Algozer says she bought various AriZona teas over several years but doesn’t recall the prices, doesn’t remember what label statements she relied on, and, doesn’t have receipts. Judge Seeborg ruled that Ms. Ries’s claims under two of the California laws were barred by their statutes of limitation. However, her claims under the third law, and all of Ms. Algozer’s claims, were allowed to proceed. Under the court’s interpretation of the proof needed for plaintiffs to survive a summary judgment motion, it did not matter that Ries and Algozer: had no proof of their purchases; had no evidence that they paid more for a “natural” iced tea than a comparable (“unnatural”?) product; and can’t be sure that they relied on the “natural” statement when buying the tea.

Cuba enforces new law to promote food production
A new Cuban law on land usufruct came into force on Sunday with the purpose of boosting the island country’s food production. Under the Decree-Law 300 and its accompanying regulations, designed to expand the delivery of state-owned idle land, beneficiaries are allowed to build housing and other production-related properties. Also, the legislation increases the limit of land given to each beneficiary from 40 to 67 hectares, while including forestry and fruit production in the allowed activities. In addition, food producers are expected to enjoy tax reductions or exemptions after a new tax law comes into effect in January. Cuba has an agricultural area of some 6.6 million hectares, and the idle land was estimated at 1.8 million hectares four years ago, when the government began its delivery in usufruct. According to the National Land Control Center, the island now still has 975,000 hectares of idle areas to deliver in usufruct, and 65 percent of them are infested with marabou, a thorny shrub very difficult to eradicate. The Cuban government considers food production as a strategic issue. The country spends 2 billion U.S. dollars a year to import 80 percent of the food needed to meet domestic needs.

U.K. Manufacturing Drops in Sign of Fourth-Quarter Weakness
U.K. manufacturing production fell more than economists forecast in October as food and alcohol slumped, indicating weakness in the economy at the start of the fourth quarter. Factory output dropped 1.3 percent from September, the most in four months, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. The median forecast of 28 economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 0.2 percent decline. Total industrial output unexpectedly fell 0.8 percent, a third consecutive decrease, led by mining, oil and gas. Manufacturers are under pressure as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis hurts demand in the U.K.’s biggest export market and a fiscal squeeze crimps sales at home. The Bank of England, which has said the economy may contract this quarter, left its bond- buying program on hold yesterday as it assesses the need for more stimulus after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne extended his austerity program. The data “raise the chances of a triple-dip recession in the wider economy,” said Samuel Tombs, an economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. “We continue to expect industrial production to fall further in 2013 as the euro zone’s recession deepens and high inflation holds back domestic consumer demand for manufactured goods.” The pound remained lower against the dollar after the report, and was trading at $1.6035 as of 10:10 a.m. in London, down 0.1 percent on the day. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.K. government bond was little changed at 1.74 percent. Out of 13 categories in manufacturing, 10 fell, two rose and one was unchanged in October, the statistics office said. The slump was led by food and alcohol production, with the latter falling 9.1 percent, the most since May 2011.

Food shortages in Syria send prices soaring, compounding hunger problem
Plenty of food lines the shelves in Abd al-Razzak’s warehouse, but only for those who can afford the sky-high prices needed to cover the bribes it took to transport it there. “There’s a powdered-milk factory in Latakia, but there are 13 security checkpoints to go through,” Razzak said, sitting in the darkened warehouse in this forlorn northwestern town, which has no electricity, no running water and trash pickup only when gas can be found for the trucks. “We have to pay a bribe at each checkpoint.” The United Nations’ World Food Program warned this week that the escalating violence in Syria is causing food shortages throughout the country. Factories have been bombed. Roads and farm fields are pockmarked with deep craters left by missiles. Thieves have held up trucks carrying food, as demand has swelled in towns housing at least 1.2 million Syrians displaced from their homes by the fighting, according to official estimates cited by the WFP. “The food security situation for many Syrians is rapidly deteriorating with the intensification of the conflict and its expansion to more areas,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. “Bread shortages are becoming more common with long queues in front of bakeries, a shortage of fuel, damage sustained by bakeries, and an increased demand from fresh waves of internally displaced people.” Some of the most acute food shortages are in northern Syria, where fighting has been intense since the summer.

Libya pays extra for food imports as sellers fear disarray
Libya is having to pay extra for food imports and traders say some foreign firms are diverting shipments elsewhere due to fears – dismissed as unfounded by Tripoli – that growing disarray in the country could delay payments. The North African state, much of which is desert, is a big food buyer and has stepped up purchases of staples including wheat and sugar since the end of fighting last year that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Tripoli shop shelves are now full of foreign produce. But while international traders had viewed oil producing Libya as a lucrative market, some now say they are backing off from trade. "Libya has a huge amount of oil wealth, but its chaotic administration and fears about non-payment are still giving it a bad reputation in international trade," a European grain trader said. Companies contacted by Reuters could not cite concrete cases of default by Libyan importers, but rather unease that payment could be delayed, not least by cumbersome bureaucracy. "There is an unspoken Libya premium in the grain trade which the country has to pay for grain imports despite the fact that its huge oil wealth should make it a grade one customer to sell to," another European grain trader said. "Traders need the extra money because of payment risks and the general uncertainty in the pretty chaotic government there." Traders cited a Nov. 14 tender where Libya paid $395 per tonne on a cost and freight (c&f) basis for 30,000 tonnes of soft wheat. "On the very same day, Jordan, by no means a rich country but a reliable…trading partner, paid only $378 a tonne c&f for 50,000 tonnes of higher quality wheat including more expensive shipment costs," the second trader said.


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