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October 2012 Volume 18 Number 4
US wine sales were almost 30 million hectoliters or 785 million gallons in 2011 (there are five 750 ml bottles in a gallon). Gallup conducts an annual summer poll of drinking habits. In July 2012, two-thirds of Americans reported that they "have occasion to drink alcohol," and half reported that they had one to seven drinks in the past week. The average was 4.2 drinks in the past week, including 6.2 drinks for men and 2.2 drinks for women. Over half of men who drink report drinking beer, while over half of women who drink report drinking wine.<< back
About 40 percent of drinkers reported drinking beer, 35 percent wine, and 20 percent liquor.
California expects a wine grape harvest of about 3.7 million tons in 2012, up 10 percent from 2011. By contrast, French wine output of 1.1 billion gallons is expected to be up to 25 percent lower in 2012 than in 2011 (one ton of grapes makes 150 gallons or 750 bottles of wine). French wine exports of about $9 billion a year are an eighth of the country's agricultural exports. Italy is expected to produce slightly less wine than France in 2012.
Chile's Vina Concha y Toro hopes to boost sales of Mendocino county Fetzer wines, which it acquired in 2011 for $238 million; the Fetzer family sold their winery to Brown-Foreman in 1992 for $80 million. Concha y Toro has 8,500 hectares of vineyards in Chile and another 1,000 hectares in Argentina.
Diageo, the world's largest drinks firm, earned about L3 billion on sales of L10 billion in 2011-12.
China surpassed the UK in 2011 to become the fifth largest consumer of wine, according to the International Wine and Spirits Research group. The Chinese have bought about 20 of the 9,000 estates in Bordeaux. Chinese owners generally plan to change the packaging, ship the wine to China, and open luxury hotels and Chinese restaurants on their French properties.
Food. The New York Times on August 19, 2012 reported that lawyers who sued Big Tobacco are taking on Big Food, including packaged food companies such as ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Heinz and General Mills. In suits filed in summer 2012, the lawyers asked a federal court to halt sales of what they called foods with misleading labels. In 2009, a federal court dismissed a suit alleging false advertising for Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries cereal, which does not contain real berries.
Most of the Big Food suits have been filed in California, where consumer protection laws tend to favor plaintiffs. Lawyers note that they found it hard to win damages against Big Tobacco when they sued on behalf of smokers dying of cancer because juries believed smoking was a personal choice. However, when they sued Big Tobacco on behalf of states who paid many of the medical bills of smokers, they won. There may be a similar evolution of suits against Big Food centered on the sugar in many processed food that can lead to obesity and other health problems.
A fifth of children six to 18 are obese, prompting new efforts to reduce the availability of snacks with sugar and fat in schools. One study found that obesity rates were lower in states that banned the sale of high-calorie snacks in schools.
The Affordable Health Care Act upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2012 requires all restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie counts on their menus. McDonald's in September 2012 began to post calorie counts on all its menu items in its 14,000 restaurants throughout the US.
Grocery stores are shrinking the space devoted to shelf-stable products, from cereals to condiments, and expanding their produce, bakery, deli and meat sections in a bid to shift shoppers from the center to the more profitable perimeters of the store. Some food processors have bought fresh produce firms, especially those that also sell juices and other items with a longer shelf life.
The 15-member National Organic Standards Board (www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/NOSB) develops standards for "certified organic" food. Organic food, now a $30 billion industry, has followed NOSB standards since 2002, and seen a wave of consolidation involving traditional food companies buying organic firms. The NOSB includes four farmers, three conservationists, three consumer representatives, a scientist, a retailer, a certification agent and two "handlers" or processors.
The so-called National List of non-organic substances that is allowed in organic food has been growing, from 77 items in 2002 to 250 in 2012. Critics such as Cornucopia assert that most consumers do not realize how many non-organic substances are permitted in organic food.
Stanford's Center for Health Policy in September 2012 released a review of 237 studies that concluded there were few obvious health advantages to organic fruits and vegetables, even though detectable levels of pesticides are lower in organic foods. Sales of organic produce are growing, and totaled $12 billion in 2011, when about 26 percent of Americans said they regularly bought organic food. Those who do not buy organic foods regularly cite its higher price.
The Organic Trade Association estimated that certified organic food accounted for four percent of overall food and beverage sales in 2011.
Food has sometimes become a platform for social issues and environmental causes and a rallying point for improving schools and a marker of cultural status. There are almost 8,000 farmers markets, and visiting them to buy organic and local foods is a regular activity for many families.
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 shifted the focus of food safety from detecting and responding to preventing contamination. The FDA received new powers to develop prevention protocols, and most food producers supported the FSMA in a bid to reduce expensive food recalls. The major prevention tools in fruit and vegetable production include monitoring irrigation water, improving worker hygiene, and monitoring the use of manure as fertilizer. Some 3,000 deaths and 128,000 hospitalizations are attributed to food contamination each year.
Buyers of agricultural commodities increasingly specify how livestock and crops are produced. The National Pork Producers Council in Fall 2012 said that the buyers of perhaps 20 percent of US-produced pork have told hog producers to stop using gestation crates that do not allow pigs to turn around. The Humane Society of the US has led the effort to persuade buyers of pork to specify that hogs must be raised in pens, but farmers say that gestation crates are more sanitary and safer for both workers and hogs.
Fish. Fish production reached a record 154 million tons in 2011, including 90 million tons caught in the wild and 64 million tons from aquaculture, including 44 million tons from inland aquaculture. People ate about 131 million tons of fish in 2011; the remaining 23 million tons were used for fishmeal, fish oil and pharmaceuticals.
The share of fish from aquaculture is expected to continue increasing because wild fish stocks are at their maximum sustainable yields in two-thirds of the world's fisheries and overfished in another quarter.
Chinook or king salmon support a $1.4 billion a year sport-fishing industry in Alaska. However, in summer 2012, fewer returned from the ocean to spawn in the streams where they were born, and the state closed king-salmon fishing on several popular rivers. About 40 percent of king salmon are caught in Alaska, and king salmon runs in California and Oregon are higher than usual in 2012. Sockeye salmon numbers in Alaska are normal in 2012.