Efforts to undermine industrial agriculture alongside stories hoping to reverse the decline. Diversity is everything.
Is it possible that food manufacturers might sometimes use external circumstances to raise their prices (and profits) more than might be justified? Surely not. And yet …
Claire Carlson, writing in The Daily Yonder, reports on a complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission that “record-breaking increases in the price of eggs isn’t being caused by inflation or avian flu, as claimed by egg companies, but by price collusion among the nation’s top egg producers”.
The price of 12 eggs jumped almost 2.4 times, from $1.79 in December 2021 to $4.25 in December 2022. Behind the rise, inflation and avian ‘flu. But the avian ‘flu outbreak in 2015, which was deadlier, only doubled the price of a dozen eggs, from $1.29 to $2.61.
I do not see the either the “roughly doubled” or the “nearly tripled” claimed by the article in the graph they show, copied here, but there is room for doubt. There is no doubt, however, that year-on-year profits for the biggest egg packer in the US jumped from $50.4 million in the six months to November 2021 to $535.3 million in the same period of 2022. Of course they sold more eggs too — 559.4 million versus 524.2 million — but still, that does look a lot like price gouging.
Another group of concerned citizens is asking a US agency to do something about food production. This time the target is antibiotics to prevent disease, still very common in animal rearing. A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Food and Drug Administration to grant an earlier petition to “ban the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry in the absence of illness”.
“A significant percentage of these antibiotics are administered flock- or herd-wide at subtherapeutic levels,” the lawsuit said, “that is, below the dose used to treat disease — and over extended periods of time, to prevent diseases that occur more frequently when animals are kept in cramped, dirty conditions common to intensive animal facilities.”
Labels no longer claim that antibiotics are growth promoters, although they still work that way too, and use has dropped. Nevertheless, the lawsuit claims that continuing use threatens human health, with more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. each year.
“These difficult-to-treat infections contribute to as many as 162,000 deaths annually.”
A quick smattering of cereal stories
What Naked Barley Farming Can Teach Us in An Era of Climate Change could probably do with a hyphen in there somewhere. In the harsh desert of Kargil, part of Ladakh in India, barley is one of the few crops that thrives.
Goya magazine also reports on the efforts of women in Tamil Nadu to grow and benefit from millets. Displaced by plentiful wheat and rice, and abandoned by farmers growing cassava as a cash crop, millets are (still) enjoying a resurgence.
From Cornell University, a somewhat breathless account of an ancient practice, growing different cereal species together as a mixture. Maslins, as they were known in English, are still found around the world and continue to offer resilient yields.
Maslins are harvested and treated as a single crop. Mixtures of different species confer many of the same benefits; a newly published meta-analysis confirms that intercropping — species grown together and treated separately — is a good thing in many ways.
Dan Saladino’s book Eating to Extinction has justifiably won all sorts of awards since it came out about 18 months ago. Capitalising on that and the interest more generally in vanishing foods and ingredients, Dan and his chums put together a Food Diversity Day on 13 January. I was unable to watch any of it for a host of reasons, but a post by Patricia Bixler Reber on her marvellous Researching Food History website reminded me that all of it is now online. There’s probably enough there to keep you busy for a good long while, and if there isn’t, Researching Food History is always good for a suggestion or two. I’d already booked for one on 31 January that promises to be a bit of a myth-buster (and that may yet become an episode).
Dan Saladino doesn’t devote an awful lot of space to the always-humble potato, which is by no means a criticism; there is so much more to be concerned about. But I suspect he is well aware of some of the more exotic potatoes of the Andes and beyond, with their colourful flesh and skin. Diverse efforts to promote these varieties, by encouraging high-end restaurants as much as low-grade snacks, have had some success in Peru. The latest brings Ecuador into the fold, with crisps/chips made from ancestral varieties known locally as black heart and red heart. The tubers are grown by a collective of 180 small farmers, who are guaranteed a stable price for their crop. I hope they use some of that cash to improve their family nutrition.
And if you’re a gardener with a hankering for some creative potato diversity of your own, I highly commend true potato seed; read a bit about it thanks to Modern Farmer.