Food Chain News - April 21

From faux farm-fresh food to growing produce on Mars to turning food waste into electricity, recent news touches on several points in the food chain. What food chain news made you stop and think this week? Let us know in the comments.

In Florida, where tropical weather and fertile soils feed big and small agriculture alike, it turns out that many “farm to plate” restaurants aren’t always serving locally grown fare. Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley dug a little deeper and found many eateries capitalizing on the desire for local food — and customers’ willingness to pay for it — without actually delivering it. “If you eat food, you are being lied to every day,” Reiley writes. “What makes buying food different from other forms of commerce is this: It’s a trust-based system.” Zing!

And speaking of produce growers: Under the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), food and vegetable growers will be subject to food safety regulations for the first time, and states will play a big role in upholding the standards — as long as they receive sufficient funding from the feds.

University of Colorado Ph.D. student and NASA Fellow Heather Hava with her robotic gardening system. Image: Alex Pilnick

University of Colorado Ph.D. student and NASA Fellow Heather Hava with her robotic gardening system. Image: Alex Pilnick

But vegetable growers on Mars can probably ignore the new regulations. That’s right, a Colorado student has invented a robot-centered space gardening system that can grow produce in extreme conditions. Doctoral student Heather Hava is anxious to try her technology at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

From the filling in truffles to ethically produced Brazilian stevia to coconut cream, recent supplier innovations shared by Food Business News remind us that ingredients also play a role in how a food can be transported.

Household food going to waste. Image: Petrr, used via cc-by-2.0

Household food going to waste. Image: Petrr, used via cc-by-2.0

We already know that Americans toss around a third of our food. Colorado has figured out a way to capture the smelliest — and most environmentally unfriendly — part of rotting food and turn it into electricity.

Oxfam International has completed its fourth annual ranking of food and beverage companies’ commitment to sustainability and human rights, and Unilever led the pack. “Food companies are making their supply chains more transparent and releasing more detailed sustainability policies, said Monique van Zijl, the leader of Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign.... This year’s last-place companies would have placed fourth in the original rankings, a sign of a broader shift in food-company behavior.”

CRISPR-Cas9 is a customizable tool that lets scientists cut and insert small pieces of DNA at precise areas along a DNA strand. The tool is composed of two basic parts: the Cas9 protein, which acts like the wrench, and the specific RNA guides, CRISPRs, which act as the set of different socket heads. These guides direct the Cas9 protein to the correct gene, or area on the DNA strand, that controls a particular trait. This lets scientists study our genes in a specific, targeted way and in real-time. Image: Ernesto del Aguila III, NHGRI

CRISPR-Cas9 is a customizable tool that lets scientists cut and insert small pieces of DNA at precise areas along a DNA strand. The tool is composed of two basic parts: the Cas9 protein, which acts like the wrench, and the specific RNA guides, CRISPRs, which act as the set of different socket heads. These guides direct the Cas9 protein to the correct gene, or area on the DNA strand, that controls a particular trait. This lets scientists study our genes in a specific, targeted way and in real-time. Image: Ernesto del Aguila III, NHGRI

GMO continues to be a hot topic. NPR’s Dan Charles explores whether the CRISPR/Cas-9 gene “editing” technique will trigger GMO regulations in all cases — he starts with non-browning mushrooms. Fast Company has a long feature about CRISPR and offers some helpful definitions and recent issues.

And finally, as traditional warehouse and meatpacking districts transform to higher-rent residential and commercial areas — like this Chicago real estate deal — where are the food distributors moving and how are the changes affecting their delivery times and bottom lines?