Inside this Food Report

VOLUME 1
ISSUE 2


FEBRUARY 1, 2010

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HAPPY NEW YEAR AGAIN!   Gung Hay Fat Choy !  

Welcome  to the Year of the Golden Tiger!

It’s February already and Chinese New Year is just a few weeks away.  We love to visit Chinatown in San Francisco at this time of year... you cannot help but notice a change in the air ...the different aromas, fragrant incense and throngs of shoppers buying so many things to get ready for the New Year celebration.

We asked two of our staff members, Norlina and Pai Pai what special foods they enjoyed growing up during Chinese New Year...we thought this would be interesting since they each come from different regions in China and their backgrounds are quite different!  Here are just a few of the highlights as their lists were pretty long!

Sweet Treats !  This was at the top of both of their lists! One of Norlina’s favorites is fried pockets or dumplings (gold ingots) ...the dough is made of flour and it’s usually filled with sugar and ground peanuts although her aunt liked to make a lightly salted rather than sweet version with mixed vegetables, potato, taro and carrots!

Pai Pai remembered her grandmother always giving children or relatives who came to visit handfuls of candies to wish them a year full of “sweetness” and the most popular ones were always the chocolate “coins”.  And there were plenty of candied peanuts, ginger, walnuts, pumpkin, watermelon and sunflower seeds along with dried fruit snacks on the table throughout the 15 days of Chinese New Year celebration.

Norlina remembered Nian Gao (growing and improvement in the coming year) – a flower and water mixture first steamed in the pan and then cut into pieces – then pan fried to golden brown.  The sweet version is filled with brown sugar and juice flavor and the savory, salty version is made with marinated pork or sausage and vegetables – usually turnip, taro black eye bean or ground peanut.

Pai Pai reminded us that a lot of the foods and dishes have a special meaning:

Oranges signify good luck and wealth, apples mean peace and safety, Chinese Grapefruit means long life, different kinds of roasted seeds signify fertility, and peanuts mean growth and prosperity!  And we cannot forget noodles which represent longevity – usually pan-fried with soy sauce with maybe some dried shrimp or sausage.

Hmm...All this is making us pretty hungry!   Well there were a lot of other foods too but simply too many to mention here.

But there is one thing that remains constant in both of their memories...the importance of the family...relatives returning home from distant places, happy dinner celebrations together, their mother’s cooking, a place set for those not present, respectfully remembering their ancestors and of course the much welcomed hong bao or red envelope!

From everyone here at Noon International we wish all of our friends around the world a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Lily Noon and Betty Johnson

 

CropVeggies

 

 

Overall:  Agriculture throughout the world seems to be plagued with continuing weather problems and unusual conditions. 

 

 

The Missing “Lap Chun”...No Springtime
The Chinese follow two calendars...one is a solar and the other a lunar calendar.  The first day of spring is called the “lap chun” which falls on February 4th every year according to the solar calendar. Now over to the lunar calendar...this year the first day of Chinese New Year according to the lunar calendar falls on February 14th.  But here’s the problem... when the first day of Chinese New Year (Feb 14th) falls after the first day of spring (Feb 4th) the Chinese believe the year will be “missing” the lap chun – there will be no spring... and when there is “no spring, crops and agriculture usually suffer.  Let’s see what happens this year.

United States:  The weather in the eastern United States has been extreme this winter with higher than average snowfall and freezing temperatures.  In Florida during the middle of January temperatures lower than 28 degrees F hit citrus and strawberry growers hard for more than nine hours straight.  While the damage is not yet considered catastrophic, growers are initially reporting citrus crop damages between 10% and 30%.  According to the Florida Department of Agriculture conclusive information on crop damage will not be available for weeks. Florida supplies around 40% of the raw material for the world’s orange juice supply.  Weather in late January is returning to normal.      

Argentina:  Blueberry harvest near Concordia, Argentina will be finished by February 1st.  The biggest problem faced during harvest this season was more rain than usual in December and January.  Blueberry exports in November and December of 2009 exceeded exports in the same months during 2007 and 2008, with 65% of blueberries exported from Argentina going to the United States and 1% going to Asian countries.  Blueberry growers and processors in Argentina are facing the same problem as their counterparts abroad:  increased volume with demand close to the same as in previous years. 

Chinese Bok Choy Covered in SnowChina:  China is suffering from the coldest winter in 30 years.  Northern China, Northwest, East Coast (Yangzi River Triangle Area) and even Southern China, have been affected.  In the Yangzi River Triangle farmland is frozen and livestock are in danger of freezing to death.  The winter broccoli and cauliflower crops have been damaged.  It is reported that raw material cost for broccoli is approximately 50% higher than last season.  China is scrambling to source fresh vegetables and most of what is being harvested is going into the fresh market with processors having no product to run through their factories.  Domination of the fresh market with higher raw material prices to the processors will most likely cause Chinese frozen broccoli and cauliflower to be in limited supply with higher prices. 

Frozen strawberry production is estimated at 147,000 m/t in 2009 which is a 7% increase over 2008 production.  Although planted acreage continues to increase prices are expected to rise due to increasing price of labor, fuel, and fertilizer.   

MexicoThe Mexican Association of Vegetable and Fruit Processors and Exporters reported that the amount of fall broccoli transplants planted for winter harvest is on target to satisfy past volume requirements.  Adequate supplies of raw material are anticipated as long as yields remain consistent with the past, and the weather remains conducive to broccoli growing.  There is some concern that lower than normal temperatures might prevail as El Nino conditions have been observed over the eastern pacific. 

New Zealand: In 2009 a pest known as the potato psyllid damaged New Zealand potato crops.  It is not the bug itself that causes the damage but rather the bacteria, called Liberibacter, associated with the insect.  Damage was largely confined to the North Island late crop.  Potatoes intended for processing are expected to be the hardest hit sector because the bacteria causes a “zebra chip” pattern on the potato when fried.  Estimated 2009 losses are $27-$34 million USD.  Losses for the 2010 crop are projected in the $102-$109 million USD range.  As of yet no effective management plan has been developed to control this pest.   

Zebra Chip Effect


Psylld Insect on Leaf

Fried Potato with "Zebra Chip" caused by Liberibacter bacteriaPsyllid Pest on Potato Plant Leaf

*Potato Crop status is subject to sudden and unexpected change due to the unpredictable nature of weather and growing conditions.

 

 

The United States Legislature has recently whispered two words that strike fear into the heart of American businesses, ”federal regulation”. 

In 2009 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2749 titled “Food Safety Enhancement Act” and it is now up for review in the Senate.  The Senate also has its own food safety bill, S 510, titled “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act” which is up for vote in 2010.  The competing bills are in response to growing numbers of recorded food borne illness outbreaks in the United States during the last decade.  Both bills increase the regulatory and enforcement powers of the FDA throughout the entire food chain.  Agriculture based businesses in the United States are concerned about the implementation of this bill. 

According to the House of Representatives bill, individual processors are expected to pay for mandatory FDA audits on a $500 per facility basis.  Facility can mean anything from a kitchen to a large scale processing area.  The Senate bill allows the FDA to collect fees only from facilities that need to be re-inspected if they fail an initial inspection.  

Small processors are worried that these additional costs cannot be easily absorbed.  A good example of how much costs can increase due to more stringent regulations is seen in the “Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement” of California, which increases food safety regulation in response to widely publicized salmonella outbreaks in leafy greens from California.  According to the December, 2009 issue of American Vegetable Grower magazine, the average food safety costs reported by growers increased from $24.04 per acre in 2006 to $54.63 per acre in 2007.  Additional funding for the FDA to cover these increased regulations will come from the federal government and charges to the growers will supplement the funding of the new regulations.        

In 2007, a 56 page internal FDA evaluation entitled “FDA Science and Mission at Risk”, reported the following three major findings concerning the FDA’s ability to fulfill its mission statement:

  1. The FDA cannot fulfill its mission because its scientific base has eroded and its scientific organizational structure is weak.
  2. The FDA cannot fulfill its mission because its scientific workforce does not have sufficient capacity and capability.
  3. The FDA cannot fulfill its mission because its information technology (IT) infrastructure is inadequate.

Is the answer to ensuring a safe food supply for the United States increasing the funding and power of an agency?  The bills in both houses ignore the fact that it is not just a lack of funding plaguing the FDA, but an inappropriate and aging infrastructure.  Pumping more money into a fundamentally flawed system will just increase inefficiency.  More than likely those who will be most affected are small businesses which cannot afford penalties or sufficient legal counsel to defend themselves against a more powerful FDA.

To address the growing problem of food borne outbreak in the United States rapid and accurate information sharing technology must be developed which will encourage inter-departmental communication between federal agencies.  The FDA report itself points out, “...the system for managing imported products cannot communicate with customs and other government systems.” 

Instead of investing billions in one federal agency alone, it might be beneficial for the Legislature to consider a more efficient linking of the FDA to other government sectors involved in the food chain.  The complex process of getting food safely from fields around the world to plates in American households cannot be addressed by attention to just one governmental agency, no matter their size or level of funding.  There must be dedicated concentration to linking and cooperating with other sectors that play a part in controlling food safety throughout the food chain if we are to be successful.

 

ChiaSeedIt is only recently that serious scientific inquiries have been made into the chia seed as an extremely healthy food which can be used in tandem with conventional drugs to control cardiovascular disease factors common in Type 2 diabetes patients.  

Indigenous tribes in Mexico have been consuming the seed since before the Aztec times.  One such tribe in Mexico, the Tarahumara people, use the seed to this day as sustenance for ultra long distance runs, which are often in excess of 170 kilometers with no rest! Now other people are taking a closer look at the benefits of this little-known seed.

So what is it about the chia seed that makes it so healthy?  The University of Toronto study, which linked increased chia seed consumption with protective cardiovascular benefits for diabetics, noted that the chia seed “…represents the highest known whole-food source of dietary fiber…in nature.  In addition, it is an exceptionally rich source of vegetable protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, and antioxidants.”  This same study, which was originally published in the November, 2007 issue of Diabetes Care, noted that patients who consumed the grain for 12 weeks saw a significant drop in their diastolic blood pressure

While this seed is unknown to many of us, the chia seed is readily available at natural food and nutritional supplement stores and is grown in Central and South America.  

For more about the amazing Tarahumara people, read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall or click on the following link: Burn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.

 

Based on data taken from the North American Potato Market News, 2009 was a difficult year for the American potato industry.  Potato market analysis completed after the New Year brings this fact into sharp focus.  Most sobering is the declining growth trend seen in American potato production during the last decade.  The 1980’s saw small but steady growth, and the 1990’s saw yearly average growth rates of nearly 3% in potato production.  Growth rates changed significantly from 2000-2009 and potato production has been declining at an average rate of 1% per year since the millennium.  What has caused this decline, and is there any indication that production will pick up in the next few years?

One factor affecting United States potato production decline is the steady growth rate in acreage of potatoes planted internationally over the last decade.   In Belgium and the Netherlands the reported planted potato acreage has increased by 6% from 2008 to 2009. Additionally, North American per acre potato yield has grown steadily from 248 cwt in 1979 to 370 cwt in 2009 increasing the supply while the demand for American potato products has not grown at the same rate.  Growth in international potato demand has been largely absorbed by Europe with the Netherlands and Belgium leading the way. 

The March 2009 implementation of a retaliatory tax on many US commodities, including French fried potatoes, shipped to Mexico from the United States has augmented Canada’s ability to compete with its southern neighbor.  By November of 2009 Canada’s exports to Mexico had doubled from the previous year while the only countries to increase their US potato imports were Guatemala and Saudi Arabia at 17% and 40% respectively.  At the same time, US potato exports to Mexico fell 53.5% in the same period. The situation will continue to be difficult for American potato growers if Mexico does not lift the retaliatory tax.

In response to decline in export demand, United States potato growers will have to cut acreage in 2010 to balance supply and demand.  Idaho alone could see a total reduction in plantings of 25% from 2004 if cuts continue to be made in plantings this year.  Overall United States decrease in planted acreage could be as much as 8% from 2009 to 2010 which should help the oversupply situation.  The key of course is increased demand in the U.S. domestic market, which depends on an improved economy when people once again eat out at fast food outlets and restaurants with more frequency than in the past two years.

Superfood…Parsnips!

Did you know that a serving of parsnips is packed with 7 grams of fiber?  Their sweet mild flavor requires less butter and they are delicious mashed or in soups and stews.

Parsnips


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