For people in the American food and agriculture industries, there is much to worry about this week. Most of us tend to take food for granted, but that can change quickly when prices soar or products vanish. And for those who work in the industry, looming problems grow apparent much sooner. The very livelihood of many farmers might be under threat due to alleged acts of espionage, fisheries are seeing their business stolen away by foreign “invaders,” and several beloved foodstuffs may soon disappear from the shelves of your local grocery store.
5 The Year of the Food Recall
If it seemed like there were more food recalls than normal in 2013, well, there weren’t, really. But there were several prominent food recalls that stayed in the news for days and might have made it seem like that. In particular, the spring saw a huge and very public recall of chicken from mega-producer Tyson, while the fall saw a huge recall of pet food imported from overseas. The fact is that millions of pounds of foodstuffs are recalled almost every month due to mislabeling, pathogen/allergen detection, and so forth.
4 The Heat Is on for Sriracha
Sriracha, that iconic, beloved hot sauce, has been all over the news recently, and not for the right reasons. First the flagship factory of the sauce maker, Huy Fong Foods, came under fire from the residents of Irwindale, CA, where the factory is located. The locals complained that the fumes and scent wafting from the factory were ruining their quality of life and are seeking to get it closed. Now a judge has ordered all shipments of Sriracha to halt for a full month to allow for more rigorous safety inspections. That alone will cut into Huy Fong’s profits, and if any issues are found, the heat will be ratcheted up on the company dramatically.
3 Panera’s Image Problem
A writer for the website Foodbeast is publicly calling out Panera Bread for misrepresenting their foods in advertising materials. In a series of side-by-side photographic comparisons, the company’s images of their food, from hearty soups to luxurious hot chocolates, are shown next to actual customer photos of the items in which the foods appear dramatically less photogenic (and less appetizing, of course). There has been no response from the company as of yet.
2 Invasion of Vietnamese Catfish
Believe it or not, at its heyday, the domestic catfish yield was over 650 million pounds a year. That was well over a decade ago, though, before inexpensive Vietnamese catfish began to flood the American marketplace. Last year, domestic catfish fisheries reported a harvest of less than half the peak amount. The Asian imports not only threaten the livelihood of many American workers, but also may be less safe for consumption due to differing health and safety standards overseas. Thus, the government is working hard to include language about imported fish sales in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement intended to be completed before the end of this year.
1 Chinese Seed Heists
In two apparently unrelated recent incidents, Chinese nationals were arrested attempting to steal American seeds. These seeds, in one case for a specific type of corn, and in the other for an engineered strain of rice, are considered the intellectual property of the companies that created them, and stealing the seeds is hardly different than stealing blueprints from an architectural firm or designs from a tech company. Both incidents have led to intense FBI investigations, and at least one may well be part of a much deeper case of international corporate espionage: the corn seed incident seems predicated by Chinese seed giant Kings Nower Seed.