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Of Waste for Charity, Kenyan GMOs and Burp Taxes

Oct. 13, 2022
A grab bag for October.

Sometimes the news comes so thick and fast that all you can do is sit back and marvel. And make snarky comments, of course.

Less waste = less charity

It’s appalling how much perfectly good food gets discarded in wealthy countries. Much of this waste happens at the retail level, where supermarkets throw out slightly blemished produce, day-old bread, etc.

Now that food prices are skyrocketing, many retailers are trying to cut down on waste to offer shoppers more affordable options. That’s commendable, but it does have an unintended consequence: There’s less available for hungry people who can’t pay.

The BBC spoke to several British charities for which donated discards are a major source of food. While they supported the concept of less food waste overall, several said the new supermarket frugality left them without much of the bread, dairy and meat they count on to feed their clients.

"Supermarkets at the moment are more willing to sell wonky fruit and veg than they may previously have done, or to sell food with slightly less shelf life on it - and that food would traditionally have come to us," one charity chief said.

To me this situation shows two sad things: how some people’s tough luck reduces them to eating food that otherwise would become trash, and how tough everyone has it these days.

When GMOs taste pretty good

Turning our attention to Kenya, it seems some people there are upset because the government has dropped a ban on bioengineered foods.

The country’s new president announced the policy reversal at the beginning of October. The decision reportedly came  after pressure from the U.S., which said a no-GMO policy could interfere with Kenya’s ability to accept food aid.

Greenpeace Africa and other advocacy groups protested, saying it curtails freedom to choose. I don’t see how, actually, since Kenyans who really want GMO-free products presumably will be free to seek them out.

More generally, I have long been of the opinion that opposition to GMOs is based in an absolutist attitude: every scientific innovation that has to do with food must be assumed to be harmful in the absence of complete proof to the contrary. This kind of rigor is silly in the best of circumstances; using it to keep food away from hungry people becomes ridiculous and borderline cruel. Good for Kenya.

Taxing cow burps

Methane emissions from cows, mostly through burps and belches, has been deemed a major contributor to climate change. Now New Zealand proposes to do something about it: Tax the burps.

The plan would go into effect in 2025, but not if the country’s farmers have anything to say about it. The head of one farm organization told the BBC that the plan would "rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand."

I’m more interested in how such a tax would work. The BBC article says that “the pricing has not yet been decided on.” Presumably it would be a head tax. But doesn’t that penalize the farmers whose cows have, say, really good digestion and don’t burp as much?

Some researchers funded by Cargill have been looking into devices that cows can wear over their mouths to absorb methane. While they’re at it, why don’t they just rig up a methane meter? The farmer’s tax could be adjusted according to each cow's belch total. This could be a selling point: Milk made from low-gas cows!

Or it could go in the opposite direction. If burping contests ever become a thing for cows, these meters could help train the winners.

About the Author

Pan Demetrakakes | Senior Editor

Pan has written about the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. His areas of coverage have included formulations, processing, packaging, marketing and retailing. Pan worked for Food Processing Magazine for six years in the 1990s, where he was operations editor (his current role), touring dozens of food plants of every description. He has also worked for Packaging and Food & Beverage Packaging magazines, the latter as chief editor, during which he won three ASBPE awards. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in communications.