Day: February 23, 2021

EVs, turbines, solar panels pose circular economy dilemma: NIST workshop

Read the full post at Waste Dive.

Representatives from throughout the supply chain recently reflected on how batteries and electronics can find their place as greener solutions in the circular economy.

Corporate concentration in the US food system makes food more expensive and less accessible for many Americans

Volunteers prepare boxes at the Greater Boston Food Bank on Oct. 1, 2020. Iaritza Menjivar, The Washington Post via Getty Images

by Philip H. Howard (Michigan State University) and Mary Hendrickson (University of Missouri-Columbia)

Agribusiness executives and government policymakers often praise the U.S. food system for producing abundant and affordable food. In fact, however, food costs are rising, and shoppers in many parts of the U.S. have limited access to fresh, healthy products.

This isn’t just an academic argument. Even before the current pandemic, millions of people in the U.S. went hungry. In 2019 the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that over 35 million people were “food insecure,” meaning they did not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Now food banks are struggling to feed people who have lost jobs and income thanks to COVID-19.

As rural sociologists, we study changes in food systems and sustainability. We’ve closely followed corporate consolidation of food production, processing and distribution in the U.S. over the past 40 years. In our view, this process is making food less available or affordable for many Americans.

Fewer, larger companies

Consolidation has placed key decisions about our nation’s food system in the hands of a few large companies, giving them outsized influence to lobby policymakers, direct food and industry research and influence media coverage. These corporations also have enormous power to make decisions about what food is produced how, where and by whom, and who gets to eat it. We’ve tracked this trend across the globe.

It began in the 1980s with mergers and acquisitions that left a few large firms dominating nearly every step of the food chain. Among the largest are retailer Walmart, food processor Nestlé and seed/chemical firm Bayer.

Graphic showing consolidation in the global seed industry
Between 1996 and 2013 Monsanto acquired more than 70 seed companies, before the firm was itself acquired by competing seed/chemical firm Bayer in 2018. Philip Howard, CC BY-ND

Some corporate leaders have abused their power – for example, by allying with their few competitors to fix prices. In 2020 Christopher Lischewski, the former president and CEO of Bumblebee Foods, was convicted of conspiracy to fix prices of canned tuna. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison and fined US$100,000.

In the same year, chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges and was fined $110.5 million. Meatpacking company JBS settled a $24.5 million pork price-fixing lawsuit, and farmers won a class action settlement against peanut-shelling companies Olam and Birdsong.

Industry consolidation is hard to track. Many subsidiary firms often are controlled by one parent corporation and engage in “contract packing,” in which a single processing plant produces identical foods that are then sold under dozens of different brands – including labels that compete directly against each other.

Recalls ordered in response to food-borne disease outbreaks have revealed the broad scope of contracting relationships. Shutdowns at meatpacking plants due to COVID-19 infections among workers have shown how much of the U.S. food supply flows through a small number of facilities.

With consolidation, large supermarket chains have closed many urban and rural stores. This process has left numerous communities with limited food selections and high prices – especially neighborhoods with many low-income, Black or Latino households.

In 2006, the Community Grocery Store in the small town of Walsh, Colorado, avoided going out of business by selling stock to residents. The store is still in business in 2021.

Widespread hunger

As unemployment has risen during the pandemic, so has the number of hungry Americans. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, estimates that up to 50 million people – including 17 million children – may currently be experiencing food insecurity. Nationwide, demand at food banks grew by over 48% during the first half of 2020.

Simultaneously, disruptions in food supply chains forced farmers to dump milk down the drain, leave produce rotting in fields and euthanize livestock that could not be processed at slaughterhouses. We estimate that between March and May of 2020, farmers disposed of somewhere between 300,000 and 800,000 hogs and 2 million chickens – more than 30,000 tons of meat.

What role does concentration play in this situation? Research shows that retail concentration correlates with higher prices for consumers. It also shows that when food systems have fewer production and processing sites, disruptions can have major impacts on supply.

Consolidation makes it easier for any industry to maintain high prices. With few players, companies simply match each other’s price increases rather than competing with them. Concentration in the U.S. food system has raised the costs of everything from breakfast cereal and coffee to beer.

Graphs showing concentration in U.S. food markets
The combined share of sales for the top four firms (CR4) for selected U.S. commodities, food processing/manufacturing and distribution/retail channels. Family Farm Action Alliance, CC BY-ND

As the pandemic roiled the nation’s food system through 2020, consumer food costs rose by 3.4%, compared to 0.4% in 2018 and 0.9% in 2019. We expect retail prices to remain high because they are “sticky,” with a tendency to increase rapidly but to decline more slowly and only partially.

We also believe there could be further supply disruptions. A few months into the pandemic, meat shelves in some U.S. stores sat empty, while some of the nation’s largest processors were exporting record amounts of meat to China. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., cited this imbalance as evidence of the need to crack down on what they called “monopolistic practices” by Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and Smithfield, which dominate the U.S. meatpacking industry.

Tyson Foods responded that a large portion of its exports were “cuts of meat or portions of the animal that are not desired by” Americans. Store shelves are no longer empty for most cuts of meat, but processing plants remain overbooked, with many scheduling well into 2021.

Toward a more equitable food system

In our view, a resilient food system that feeds everyone can be achieved only through a more equitable distribution of power. This in turn will require action in areas ranging from contract law and antitrust policy to workers’ rights and economic development. Farmers, workers, elected officials and communities will have to work together to fashion alternatives and change policies.

The goal should be to produce more locally sourced food with shorter and less-centralized supply chains. Detroit offers an example. Over the past 50 years, food producers there have established more than 1,900 urban farms and gardens. A planned community-owned food co-op will serve the city’s North End, whose residents are predominantly low- and moderate-income and African American.

The federal government can help by adapting farm support programs to target farms and businesses that serve local and regional markets. State and federal incentives can build community- or cooperative-owned farms and processing and distribution businesses. Ventures like these could provide economic development opportunities while making the food system more resilient.

In our view, the best solutions will come from listening to and working with the people most affected: sustainable farmers, farm and food service workers, entrepreneurs and cooperators – and ultimately, the people whom they feed.

Philip H. Howard, Associate Professor of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University and Mary Hendrickson, Associate Professor of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“We need ecodesign for chemicals and chemical products”, says Jutta Paulus MEP

Read the full story at EU Today.

The European Environment Agency EEA has just published a briefing on safe and sustainable products. The EEA calls for a new approach for the design of chemicals to meet the requirements of the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.

Simple change to fishing gear saves thousands of birds in Namibia

Read the full story in The Guardian.

A cheap and simple change to the equipment used by Namibian fishing boats is saving tens of thousands of vulnerable seabirds annually, researchers have estimated.

Some industrial fleets often use long lines fitted with thousands of baited hooks, which attract seabirds. In attempting to snatch away the bait, the birds can become tangled in the lines and die.

But by fitting pieces of red or yellow hosepipe, each a few metres long, to separate lines towed behind boats, they have succeeded in scaring away the birds and preventing huge numbers of deaths, according to a study in the Biological Conservation journal.

Electric vehicles could be ‘imperfect substitutes’ for gas-powered cars, new study suggests

Read the full story at Utility Dive.

Electric vehicles are being driven about half the distance of conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, according to new a new paper from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). That means policymakers may be underestimating the costs of going fully electric, according to the authors.

The study combined hourly electric meter readings with address-level EV registration records in California, and found the purchase of an EV raised a household’s electricity consumption by just 2.9 kWh/day — indicating an average EV is driven about 5,300 miles annually. According to EPIC, that’s less than half of the U.S. fleet average.

There are several possible reasons EVs are driven less. “Perhaps most pessimistic for electrification would be if EVs are viewed by drivers as complements to gasoline cars, as opposed to substitutes,” David Rapson, an associate professor in the University of California Davis economics department and a co-author of the paper, said in an email.

How Can Green Cities Create Equitable Futures?

Read the full story at Arch Daily.

Understanding what drives economic, social, and educational disparities between communities is one of urbanism’s most critical and highly-discussed topics. It’s an increasingly complex issue, with many factors at play- one of them being the design and location of desirable urban green spaces. While sometimes they are a tool that helps to bolster underserved communities in terms of health and economic benefits, safety, and climate resistance, other times they can actually drive out the residents that they are created to serve. Now, the challenge lies in how to design these recreational sites to create better futures for all.

How the EU wants to achieve a circular economy by 2050

Read the full story at EU Reporter.

Find out about the EU’s circular economy action plan and what additional measures MEPs want to reduce waste and make products more sustainable. If we keep on exploiting resources as we do now, by 2050 we would need the resources of three Earths. Finite resources and climate issues require moving from a ‘take-make-dispose’ society to a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050.

Talking Rain talks sustainability efforts and ‘extremely big expectations’ for 2021

Read the full story at Beverage Daily.

Addressing its natural gas use and fleet emissions, Talking Rain (maker of Sparkling ICE) is funding over 28,000 metric tons of carbon reduction offsets through taking on ownership of three land projects in need of environmental clean up. But what significance does that hold for the consumer?

PFAS destruction and disposal solutions may raise liability, long-term cost

Read the full story in Water World.

Consulting firm GHD is helping waste generators and operators across the U.S. navigate the complex array of solutions available for the destruction and disposal of PFAS.

A Growing Concern: Microplastic Pollution on Farm Fields

Read the full story from the NRDC.

Scientists are showing that we are sending tons of tiny plastic particles into our soils each year, potentially affecting crops and our health.

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