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October 2019, Volume 25, Number 4

Wine, Food

California wine grape growers produced a record 4.3 million tons of grapes in 2018, up 10 percent from the average for the previous four years. The average price of the state's wine grapes was $882 a ton or $0.44 a pound. Some 2.7 pounds of grapes, worth an average $1.20, were required to get the juice to make a standard 750 ml of wine in 2018.

Another large crop is expected in 2019. With so much wine in storage, some growers fear they will be unable to find buyers for their wine grapes. Prices for growers without contracts are in some cases half or less of what was paid in 2018.

Gallo, the largest US wine producer, offered to buy 30 of Constellation's lower cost wine brands and six wineries for $1.7 billion in April 2019. Gallo is the largest US winery, selling 70 million cases of wine in 2018.

Heat in France and hailstorms in Italy reduced Europe's wine production by at least 10 percent in 2019; Europe produces about 70 percent of the world's wine. Warmer temperatures are raising sugar and alcohol levels; the average alcohol level of Italian wine rose one percent over the past quarter century.

Europe's Old World appellation system, based on efforts to protect Champagne, starts with designation of origin and adds rules on which grape varieties can be grown, how grapes from various varieties may be blended to make wine, and what viticultural practices such as irrigation are allowed. The goal is to protect the reputation earned by producers in a region from both insiders and outsiders.

Brands have become more important than appellations, which is encouraging many Old World wine producers to promote non-appellation wines, such as super-Tuscans.

The US on October 18, 2019 imposed tariffs of 25 percent on, inter alia, French, German, and Spanish wines with less than 13 percent alcohol in retaliation for EU subsidies for Airbus (excluding sparkling wine). The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau considers wines with up to 14 percent alcohol to be table wine, and those with 14 to 24 percent alcohol to be dessert wines that are taxed at a different rate. The 2018 tax law raised the alcohol level to 16 percent for table wine, but the US is using the 14 percent standard in the Airbus dispute.

Food. The FAO estimates that a third of the almost four million tons of food produced each year, and worth almost $700 billion, is lost or wasted.

In a blow to nutrition advice, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in September 2019 found no evidence that eating less red meat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer. The review of other studies found that the links between eating red meat and disease and death were small, and the quality of the evidence was low to very low. Americans eat an average 4.5 servings of red meat a week.

Nutrition studies must infer the effects of various components of diets. Researchers ask people what they eat, and then study their health to detect links. The AIM study used GRADE to evaluate meat and health outcome studies, which was developed to rate clinical drug trials.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat make meat substitutes by using microbes such as yeasts to produce the protein heme, which is abundant in animal muscles and gives burgers their meaty flavor. Firms such as New Culture and Perfect Day are trying to produce cow-free dairy products by making whey and casein, a protein that coagulates to give mozzarella cheese its stretchy texture.

Livestock including cattle, swine, and poultry account for 15 percent of human-linked greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to clearing land for feed and pasture and the release of methane during animal digestion. Many scientists assert that avoiding meat is the easiest way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint.

Plant-based milk from soy, almond or coconut is now an eighth of the fluid dairy market. Plant-based meat is one percent of the meat market, but its share is expected to expand quickly.

Salmonella continues to make food eaters sick. There are over 2,500 types of salmonella, including 4,5,12:i-minus, which is resistant to the four major antibiotics: ampicillin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole and tetracycline. In 2015, pork from Kapowsin Meats in Washington sickened dozens. However, the farms that raised the pigs did not allow investigators to check their farms, reportedly because they did not want the government to know that they were using antibiotics as a prophylactic measure to avoid disease.

Walmart has 5,000 US supermarkets; Publix has 1,200. Experts say that at least 2,000 supermarkets are needed to have national impacts on food marketing.

Kraft and Heinz merged in 2015, creating a food behemoth with $28 billion in sales. However, sales have fallen, and Kraft-Heinz is laying off employees as major shareholder Brazilian investment firm 3G tries to reduce expenses to improve profits. The 3G zero-based budgeting model requires managers to justify every expense on an annual basis, which often results in budget cuts.

The world produces about 31 million tons of olive oil a year, including two-thirds in the EU. Spain produces almost three-fourth of EU olive oil, followed by 12 percent in Italy and 10 percent in Greece.

Spanish farmers in August 2019 complained of low olive oil prices, including some who threatened not to harvest their 2019 olives. The farm price of olive oil is E5 per kilo in Italy, E2.50 in Greece and E2.20 in Spain. Andalusia is expected to produce 80 percent of the 1.8 million tons of Spanish olive oil in 2019. Spain exports three-fourths of its olive oil, and has almost a million tons in storage. Italy is the leading importer of Spanish olive oil.

Olive oil labeling can be confusing. Extra-virgin or oil from the very first pressing of the olives is often not helpful because most olive oil is from centrifuges that produce cleaner and purer oils. Most olive oil has a best by date on the label that is usually two years from when it was bottled.

The key to taste is freshness, since olive oil is sensitive to light and heat and begins to degrade as soon as it is exposed to oxygen. Unlike canola and safflower, olive oil is processed from a fruit rather than seeds. Residents of Greece, Italy and Spain consume an average 20 liters of olive oil per person per year, compared with a liter a person in the US.

Indian cuisine uses many onions in its curries. The price of onions tripled in 2019 from 25 to 70 rupees per kilogram because of drought and monsoon rains, prompting the Indian government to ban exports of onions and raising the price of onions seven fold in neighboring Bangladesh. India exported five billion pounds of onions in the 2018-19 fiscal year, and the export ban reduced the Indian price of onions to 50 rupees per kilogram. Indian farmers are upset with the government, saying that their incomes are down because lower yields do not compensate for higher prices.

The 40-year old International Life Sciences Institute is a US NGO with a $17 million a year budget provided by 400 global food firms. The ILSI, which has branches in 17 countries, provides food policy advice to governments and the World Health Organization. Critics of "Big Food" argue that the ILSI aims to slow the labeling and taxing of high-sugar food and drinks.

The Dutch firm Protix uses insect larvae to produce protein-rich ingredients for animal feed rather than soybeans and fish meal. The FAO estimates that animal feed production uses a third of the world's cropland and 12 percent of the world's fish.

Insects such as the black soldier fly larvae are very efficient at turning organic material into digestible proteins. The fly larvae can become 200 times larger after 10 days of eating organic waste and be mixed with soybeans and fish meal in animal feed.