Food and Agri Update 4 November 2022

Cambridge Food and Drink Dinner

The 2022 Cambridge Food and Drink Dinner was held this week on 2 November at Queens' College, Cambridge organised by Mills & Reeve, Barclays and Deloitte. 

The after-dinner speech was given by Steve Murrells, former CEO of the Co-op Group and fascinating discussion afterwards led by Clive Black of Shore Capital led the juxtaposition of supply chain pressures re costs as balanced against the need to promote sustainability and ethics.

Food Inflation

UK food price inflation reached a record annual rate of 11.6% in October.

This was seen particularly in wheat and other wholesale food costs after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal – designed to ensure safe passage for ships carrying vital food exports from Ukraine – which it has now agreed to rejoin.

In a survey conducted by SurveyGoo, a quarter (24.9 %) of respondents said that they had stopped buying a food or beverage product in the previous three months due to an increase in price.

48.4 % had purchased products less often. A total of 50.9 % claimed that they had bought less of a product and 57.8 % admitted to switching to a cheaper brand.

Cost of living – Christmas – Ads for retailers are launching early as consumers spread the cost over a longer period and seem to be focussing more on charity, community and shared values.

Committee Evidence Session

The reasons behind increasing food prices is being looked at an evidence session of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. On Tuesday 8 November, Farmers, processors, retailers and consumers questioned on food price increases - Farmers, processors, retailers and consumers questioned on food price increases - Committees - UK Parliament

The session will focus on how rising production costs are affecting the food supply chain – including farmers, processors, retailers and consumers. It will look at how rising prices are affecting what farmers decide to plant, who is paying for the high cost of production and how higher costs are affecting what consumer are buying.

It will also consider what the Government can do to improve UK food security, including how we balance growing food domestically with the other pressures on the land.  Panelists will include Minette Batters, NFU President, and Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium.

Packaging Recovery Notes PRN System

A Packaging Recovery Note is a type of document that provides evidence waste packaging material has been recycled into a new product.  They form a key part of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 which covers Great Britain.

Packaging Recovery Notes can be issued by accredited reprocessors when they have recovered and recycled a tonne of packaging material.  

Following the launch of a consultation in March, Defra has now set out plans including requiring reprocessors and exporters to publish monthly data on PRN prices and export figures, rather than quarterly.

Reforms to the Packaging Waste Recycling Note (PRN) and Packaging Waste Export Recycling Note (PERN) Systems and Operator Approval (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Defra’s consultation response rejected the notion of a system of compliance fees for producers who fail to meet strict requirements, despite widespread support for the idea from the industry.

The government response was criticised for not addressing spiralling costs producers will continue to face over the next few years from volatility within the PRN market.

Bird Flu

All bird keepers must house their birds from Monday 7 November until further notice to keep their birds safe from avian influenza. This came after turkey farmers warned of a shortage this Christmas caused by the country’s largest ever bird flu outbreak

This means that all bird keepers must house their birds indoors and implement strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of avian influenza, regardless of whatever type or size.

The new housing measures build on the strengthened biosecurity measures that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) in October 2022. The AIPZ means that all bird keepers need to take extra precautions, such as restricting access for non-essential people on site, ensuring workers change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

The UK has faced its largest ever outbreak of bird flu with over 200 cases confirmed across the country since late October 2021.

These measures will remain in place until further notice,

It comes as Defra announced it would introduce a temporary easement to marketing rules last Friday 28 October, that would allow turkey, goose and duck producers to slaughter their flocks early so they can be frozen, before being defrosted and sold as fresh in the run-up to Christmas.

The move – part of a support package that also included improvements to compensation packages for producers forced to cull bird flu-infected flocks – followed the introduction  of the AIPZ with tightened biosecurity measures, earlier this month across the UK.

A prolonged housing order would mean products such as free-range eggs would eventually need special dispensation to continue to be sold as free-range. Last winter’s bird flu outbreak ultimately led producers and retailers to have to place stickers on packs and on supermarket shelves to state they the birds had laid eggs while housed indoors.

The situation currently is that eggs may still be called 'free range' for up to 16 weeks if chickens are forced to be kept inside to reduce the risk of outbreaks of bird flu. The EU Commission has proposed new rules whereby farmers in the EU would no longer have to drop the free-range label on their eggs if there was an extended compulsory housing order in place.

 It is now essential for egg producers in the UK that we follow this EU approach to avoid British suppliers being disadvantaged and to support their businesses. See World Egg Day, Free Range Eggs and Bird Flu - Mills & Reeve (mills-reeve.com)

ASA Rulings – Evidential basis of substantiation of claims

Two cases this week from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered the basis of evidence needed to substantiate claims:

Phox Water Ltd Upheld  Internet (website content) 02 November 2022 Phox Water Ltd - ASA | CAP

A website for a water filter company was misleading made unsubstantiated claims that their alkaline water filtration system could alleviate acid reflux

Evidence was considered including a clinical trial the ASA criticized this as

  • it was not a blind trial,
  • the outcomes were based on self-reported, subjective measures, 
  • the component parts of diet and alkaline water were not separately assessed and
  • only one type of acid reflux was considered.  
  • In addition, the paper concluded that further research, including from randomised clinical trials, was required to determine the clinical significance of the study’s results. 
  • Finally, the ASA did not consider testimonials alone sufficient to substantiate objective efficacy claims.

Further the ASA found it discouraged essential treatment for health conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.

The ad stated that the alkaline water filtration system “soothes acid reflux” and that it was an “effective remedy” to acid reflux. In particular, the ASA considered that the term “remedy” would be interpreted as having a curative or corrective function.

The Pack Pet Ltd THE PACK PET Limited - ASA | CAP 2 November 2022

A paid-for Facebook post and a post on a dog food retailer’s Facebook page was held to have

1.  misleadingly implied that a plant-based diet was healthier for dogs than a meat-based diet and

2. made misleading and unsubstantiated environmental claims.

The ASA considered consumers would understand the claims “A healthier plant based alternative” in and “FOR A HEALTHIER DOG” in to mean that a plant-based diet was healthier for dogs than a conventional meat-based diet.

Evidence was provided but the the study stated that its reliability had been limited by,

  • its reliance on owners’ perceptions of their pet’s health rather than veterinary assessments or laboratory based results.
  • The reliability of the study had also been undermined by the fact 82% of respondents had no veterinary training or skills when assessing their pet’s health.
  • The study concluded that a larger-scale, longer term study was needed.

A second study had not been peer-reviewed, and stated that the observations it contained could have been random coincidence relationships and that prospective, randomised, controlled clinical studies were needed to confirm the clinical significance of the observations.

The third study collected diet information via an online form and the ASA considered the reliability of the results was hampered by the respondents’ lack of veterinary training or skills when assessing their pets’ health.

The study concluded that there were no adverse health outcomes from feeding dogs a plant-based diet, and that plant-based diets were generally perceived to be protective against health disorders by respondents. However, it also concluded that no causation could be inferred from the results, and there was a high risk of recall bias on behalf of the respondents.

The literature review was also not precise or peer reviewed. The ASA therefore found the claims to not be properly substantiated.

The second complaint was also upheld and underlines the need to look to the entire life cycle of the product, including packaging.

The CAP Code required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear. The Code also stated that claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the ad stated otherwise.

The claims “JOIN THE PACK FOR A HEALTHIER … PLANET” and “Better for the Planet” were broad and non-specific.

THE PACK’s products were found to produce around 7 to 18 times less CO2e than their meat-based alternatives. However, the ASA noted the report omitted the disposal of the products’ packaging in its analysis and therefore did not cover their entire life cycle, the complaint was therefore upheld.

Gene Technology

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill covers precision-bred plants and animals developed through techniques such as gene editing, where the genetic changes could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding methods. This is different to genetic modification (GM), which produces organisms containing additional genes. 

The legislation will make provision about the release and marketing of, and risk assessments relating to, precision bred plants and animals, and the marketing of food and feed produced from such plants and animals; it received its 3rd reading in the commons and had it’s first reading in the House of Lords this week.

The Bill will:

Remove plants and animals produced through precision breeding technologies from regulatory requirements applicable to the environmental release and marketing of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

Introduce two notification systems; one for precision bred organisms used for research purposes and the other for marketing purposes. The information collected will be published on a public register on GOV.UK.

Establish a proportionate regulatory system for precision bred animals to ensure animal welfare is safeguarded. We will not be introducing changes to the regulations for animals until this system is in place.

Establish a new science-based authorisation process for food and feed products developed using precision bred plants and animals.

Opportunities brought by the new legislation:

Climate resilient wheat

Developing wheat that is resilient to climate change will help to increase food production from a crop that 2.5 billion people are dependent on globally.

Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have used gene editing techniques to identify a key gene in wheat that can be used to introduce traits such as heat resilience whilst maintaining high yield.

This discovery presents an exciting opportunity to identify variations of the gene that can give wheat varieties resilience to climate change.

Non-browning banana

Bananas are a key food crop globally - but there is significant wastage with over 50% not consumed and 10% - 15% lost due to fruit bruising post-harvest.

Tropic, a leading agricultural biotechnology company in the UK, has recently developed a non-browning banana using precision breeding techniques.

Given the fruit’s high perishability, this innovation has the potential to reduce the amount of bananas that are wasted, reduce carbon emissions and provide higher farmer revenues.

Disease resistant chickens

Bird flu is a major threat to farmed chickens worldwide, with some strains killing up to 100 per cent of birds in a flock. In some cases, variants of the virus can infect people and cause serious illness.  Latest developments have underlined just how quickly the disease can spread and the impact it can have.

In a collaboration between Imperial College London, the Pirbright Institute and the Roslin Institute, a research study has shown potential in using gene-editing to produce chickens that are resistant to the disease. The virus was no longer able to grow inside cells with the genetic change.

Whilst this will not help save this Christmas turkeys the use of gene editing could help to control the spread of the disease in the future.

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