Avesthagen-Limagrain deal in Atash Seeds Ltd: solution-driven and market-driven

October 31, 2009

On October 29 2009, Avesthagen from India and Limagrain from France signed a cooperation deal. As such, nothing exceptional, except that it brings a leading seed selection company together with an agro biotech company.

This deal is about developing and selling genetically modified seeds that answer critical agricultural challenges such as the need for higher yields through drought resistance and high performance in soil with high salinity. The crops included in this deal are wheat, corn, maize, barley and sunflower.

This deal also illustrates my prediction in my article “Future approach of genetics in agriculture”, that is the combination of GM technology with traditional breeding. This is quite a step further, and a much more useful one, from a global food security point of view, than developing GM plants to increase sales of other agricultural input such as herbicides. In my view, these two companies, and their joint venture, are on the right track, and they will lead by example.

For the complete statement about this deal go to http://www.avesthagen.com/docs/oct292009.pdf

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Environmental performance on labels: it is coming. Really.

October 29, 2009

Sweden has started presenting the carbon footprint of food on the labels for food products sold in supermarkets and on some restaurant menus. The Swedish National Food Administration is managing this program.

I was announcing this trend to inform consumers about the environmental impact of the food they consume, and as an aid to make their eating choices, in my earlier articles “Environmental performance on foods labels” and “The dining of the future“.

Here is the link to the article from fis.com with more details on how some food items, such as fish, beef, chicken or pork, perform.


The vertical farm

October 26, 2009

Here is a think-out-of-the-box article about the “vertical farm”.

It is an interesting vision of a replacement of agricultural land, by indoor robot-tended hydroponic agriculture. They also envision the possibility of raising farm animals and developing aquaculture in the water used to grow the plants; and the fish waste would be used as fertilizer.

All of this would be grown in a 30-floor skyscraper located in the city, powered by the energy coming from city sewage, and the ground floor would be a food supermarket that would provide food for 50,000 people.

Such projects are under review in Abu Dhabi, South Korea, Seattle, WA and Las Vegas, NV.

It looks like science-fiction, yet there are some really interesting arguments in favor of such a development.


The ingredients of the Mediterranean diet nutritionists never talk about

October 16, 2009
Is the good lifestyle under threat?

Is the good lifestyle under threat?

In the world of the many diets, the Mediterranean one has a special place. Although, the people of these countries have extensive meals, they never seem to get fat, and that is a great puzzle to the obesity-plagued America.

The specialists will tell you it is the garlic, and the olive oil, and the wine, etc… that all contain substances that help your metabolism and your health. And you know what? It is true. They all have very positive qualities, but there is so much more to explain why Mediterranean people do not get obese.

They have long and extensive but properly sized meals
With a meal that starts with a soup or a salad, you already start to fill your stomach with relatively low calorie food, so there is less room left for the higher calorie food. Our brain has two ways of getting the message that we have eaten enough. The mechanical message is a simple nervous transmission to the brain from the stomach, when this one is extended because of food intake. It is as if the stomach says: “I am full, stop sending food!” The second way is a biochemical one sending a message through blood content and pH that says: “there is enough fuel in the tank, you can stop now!”
The mechanical message is rather instantaneous, while the biochemical one has a lag. This is why the appetizer is so useful. If you start with a dish that is highly concentrated in calories, you will pass the amount of calories that you need before your stomach can say to the brain that it is full, and the excess calories will be stored in fat.
A three-course menu means that the portion of every course is smaller, and that contributes to less calorie intake. Who has a 9-oz (270 g) steak for dinner, except in North America?

When you have big meals, you do not snack
The other advantage of extensive meals is that you have enough calorie intake for another four hours, which in Mediterranean society is the time of the next meal. Therefore, they do not snack between meals. When you graze on snacks all day long, which by the way are all loaded with sugar and/or fat, you end up eating more calories than you would with two large better-balanced structured meals.
Snacking on a bag of chips or salted nuts or scooping from a bucket of ice cream while watching TV is not common in those countries.

They may drink wine, but they do not drink pop
Do not think that Mediterranean people drink wine like it is a medicine, but their consumption of soft drinks is much lower than it is in North America. They also tend to drink more water as part of the meal. This in terms of calories makes a quite a difference, too. My story of the mechanical and biochemical messages applies for this superbly; there is no mechanical message, and by the time the blood tells the brain, the subject will have drunk more than a pint (~ ½ litre) of a drink containing 10% of sugar. That is about three tablespoons of raw sugar. Try to eat that up straight!

The weather is warm and sunny
That is another difference with more northern countries. When the weather is warm, you eat less, because your body needs fewer calories for maintaining its temperature.
Moreover, in nice climates, people tend to drink more water and spend more time walking or riding their bikes, instead of driving around.

They cook their own meals
Another component of many Mediterranean countries is the fact that people tend to like cooking much more, probably because of much more diverse and fragrant possibilities that their cultures have developed. Further, eating in Mediterranean countries is much more a social happening than in Northern countries, and you do not serve guests with a frozen meal!
The advantage of cooking your own meal, next to the fact that it is cheaper, ids that you have the possibility of choosing the ingredients and you can decide yourself of how much you put in the recipe. This way, you can manage much better, the origin, the quality and the quantity of your calories.
When you buy ready meals, very often you do not have as much flexibility. Although the food industry has developed low sodium and low calorie meals, it has been quite good at using relatively high levels of salt, sugar and fat, because they are cheap ingredients.

Is everything fine under the sun, then?
Unfortunately, over the last decade, changes in lifestyle and especially the popularity of fast food with the younger generation is changing the picture somehow. The rate of obesity is increasing there, too. Maybe Mediterranean people will have to rediscover their own diet sometime in the future.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Nobel Prize of Economics: Back to the basics

October 16, 2009

This year’s Nobel Prize of Economics to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson seems to have attracted more attention than previous years, and by reading the comments, I have the feeling that everyone saw signs of what they find important. I believe that the reason for this is that both recipients worked on broad subjects, that have become mainstream, thanks to the climate change issue and the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

The title in this week’s The Economist is “The bigger picture”, and the subtitle is “This year’s Nobel prize has rewarded the use of economics to answer wider questions”. This sounds to me like common sense having turned into some revolutionary concept for some people.

Per definition, economy is the management of natural and human resources to sustain human population. Therefore, it is the very essence of economy to address wider questions and the big picture indeed. To that extent, their receiving the Nobel Prize definitely makes a lot of sense, especially in a time when common sense (aka wisdom) has been widely forgotten and economy has been reduced to just money and profits. What we forgot in our drive for instant gratification is the long-term consequences, and the costs associated to those.

The definition of economy tells it all: it is about the Earth, money and people and it is sustainable. Well, this sounds a lot like the triple bottom line concept, doesn’t it?

Triple bottom line and sustainability are not ideological concepts, and those who try to make it so, are probably making as big a mistake as those who ignore them. Needless to say that reducing such concepts to PR and to marketing are even bigger mistakes, because such an approach only serves the short-term.

Economy, triple bottom line and sustainability are about just one thing: life and survival of our species; and that requires integrating the long-term vision of our societies. If we ignore the future, we will not have any. It is all back to the basics.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Educating the consumer – Nutritional information only is not enough

October 15, 2009

Last week a survey was published in the US about whether fast food customers were using nutritional information to make their choice. The result was that although they could read how many calories their meal would include, they did not choose for a healthier lower calorie meal.

Apparently, this was a shocker. It was not to me, and this for a couple of simple reasons. First, people do not go to a fast food restaurant to nibble on a knackebrod. Secondly, information disclosed is never enough to make people change their habits, especially if they have a craving for what they buy. Otherwise, why do some people still smoke when they can read in big letters on the pack that it will kill them?

Parents play a crucial role in getting good eating habits

Parents play a crucial role in getting good eating habits

If we want to make people change their eating habits, information is necessary, but by far not sufficient. When it comes to food, we are dealing with many complex issues that have to do with psychology and with taste and a behaviour that we have acquired at a very young and developed as we grow up in the environment that our parents have provided. Further, we all know how skillfully marketing has use these psychological “weaknesses”.

In the US, there is currently quite a debate on health care and obesity is one of the main issues. In many ways, our eating habits are a reflection of our life style and of our society, as I have mentioned in my article “If we are what we eat, what will we eat in the future?” Therefore, trying to induce a change in our eating habits can only succeed if we make broader changes in the way we live.

Next to information, what consumers need is education. Unless they have an understanding of what the data they get really means, how can we expect them to act upon it?

Teaching children about nutrition will help them eat properly

Teaching children about nutrition will help them eat properly

We need to teach children about the basics of nutrition and of metabolism as early as possible, and this education must include their parents, too. There is no big mystery behind what causes obesity, diabetes and other food excesses related ailments. It is quite easy to explain what functions the different food groups fill and how to compose healthy meals, as it is really just a matter of adding up and keeping the right proportions.

It would be highly useful to educate everyone about where food comes from and how it is produced. A program like “Know your food, know your farmer” introduced in the US is useful, but “Know your farming” is just as needed.

What parents also need to understand is that it is their duty to give their children a balanced diet, although it might mean that they, too, should have one, but most importantly, when it comes to decide what is on the table, the children do not dictate what they want simply based on what they like.

Education, though, goes much further than just parents and schools, and retailers, restaurants and the agribusiness need to co-operate more than they currently do, even though some are more active than others in this field. If we want to solve a society problem, the whole society must participate. It is rather interesting to see how the meat industry in the US is reacting to the proposal of a meat-free Monday in school cafeterias. I can understand the resistance to government intervention in telling how people should feed themselves, although when this leads to many health issues, one could argue that if the people cannot make the right choices, maybe someone else should set stricter rules to help them. I also can understand that such a meat-free Monday is a bit threatening to the meat industry, as it means (a tiny little) bit less business in the short-term and maybe quite a bit more if it meant that the next generation might cut on meat consumption. On the other hand, what the meat industry in developed countries needs to realize is that there are plenty of people in other countries who are longing for meat, and these new markets have more than the potential to replace the volumes lost in their domestic markets.

Another great source of information is consumers’ organizations, like the ones I know in Europe. They are independent and they provide many surveys and comparisons on consumer products. They have been very useful in helping consumers gain more awareness about what they consume. Unfortunately, such open and objective information is not directly available in all countries and this is a weakness in the fight for health.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


More action needed on food waste

October 5, 2009

Food waste is one of those topics that rarely make the headlines while the numbers that come out surveys are simply stunning.

40% of food production does not reach the plate

40% of food production does not reach the plate

Five years ago, the University of Arizona had published a report about the situation in the USA. Their estimate of food waste was almost that 50% of the food produced in the US never gets eaten. Although some losses are inevitable in the supply chain, their report estimated that 14% of the food bought but American households are thrown away, and even 15% of that amount is sent to garbage without even being opened. Not only, this is lost food that could have even eaten, but also the environmental impact of food waste is far from negligible. According to the University of Arizona research, cutting half of the food waste would reduce the environmental impact by 25%, because of reduced landfill use, soil depletion and application of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Recent USDA studies indicate a level of 25% of food that never reaches a plate.

In the UK, research by the government’s waste reduction agency, WRAP, found that one third of all food bought in Britain is thrown away – of which half is edible! I read an amazing statement from Liz Goodwin, WRAP’s chief executive in a 2007 article from The Guardian: ‘If we stopped the amount [of food waste] that we could stop, it would be the same as taking one fifth of cars off the road.’  About a third of the food waste in the UK comes from households, food manufacturers account for about 20%, food service and restaurants for about 15%, and retailers just under 10%.

In Australia, it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country’s landfill!

At the global level, estimates of food going wasted are that over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, finds a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme released in early 2009.

According to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet.” This statement is a nice illustration of what I was presenting in my article The transition from a consumption society towards a maintenance society.

Let’s check if this is correct:
Today’s food production being 100 with waste of 40%, means that we actually consume 60. FAO claims that food production needs to increase by 70% to meet the needs of the population in 2050. This means available food must be 60 x 1.70 = 102, compared with 100 gross production currently. With no waste, Achim Steiner statement sounds consistent and correct!

If this is not food for thought, I do not know what is. Nonetheless, this is definitely a part of what we need to address for the future of food supply.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.