Ag Industry Brief: Monsanto Emails, New Australian Accelerator, Federal Cannabis Legalization Bill, more

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Controversial Monsanto Communications Revealed

New documents made public by The New York Times in conjunction with a lawsuit against Monsanto show various attempts to influence research and broader public opinion through questionable means, including authoring an editorial for a Forbes contributor to publish, attempting to “ghost write” research it funded and having a contractual relationship with editor of an academic journal. Monsanto denied and qualified each of these claims. Monsanto representatives called the disclosures “cherry picked” and stated that they would be seeking penalties since the release violated an existing confidentiality agreement. A 2003 email written by a Monsanto executive says “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.” She adds, however, that “we can make that statement about glyphosate and can infer that there is no reason to believe that Roundup would cause cancer.” Read more here.

Australian Food Accelerator Calls for Applicants

Rocket Seeder, an Melbourne-based food accelerator is seeking applications from startups responding to specific consumer problems with food science and agriculture technology. The accelerator will be based at the Monash Food Incubator at Monash University and is supported by LaunchVic. Applications to its inaugural start-up program have opened, and CEO Jeff Bourne is on a roadshow around Victoria looking for innovations in food processing, packaging and distribution, as well as industrial agriculture. Applications close August 28. Apply here.

Irish Minister of Agriculture wants a GMO-Free Ireland

Irish Minister of State for Agriculture Andrew Doyle said this week that Ireland should work to be a completely GMO-free island in order to protect seed contamination and biodiversity. “But I’m thinking of it from the island status point of view. All I’m saying is, is it worth our while being recognized as an island that is a reservoir for seed in the event of some breakdown with a mainstream crop,” said the Minister. This view is in direct contrast with Ireland’s Agricultural Food Development Authority which has a “follow the science” view, according to Irish Times. Read more here.

Mondelez names new CEO

Mondelez’s head of Canadian frozen foods, Dirk Can de Put will succeed Irene Rosenfeld as CEO of Mondelez International. Rosenfeld has helmed the company for 11 years. Mondelez  has been making efforts to rescue declining sales with simpler ingredient lists and healthier items, but so far has been unsuccessful – its core brands are Oreo, Triscuit and Ritz. Earnings in 2016 were down 50% from 2013 totaling $1.66 billion. Van de Put formerly worked for Coco Cola Co, Mars and McCain. Read more here.

Cory Booker Proposes Federal Cannabis Legalization

Citing a “devastating impact” on the country, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) proposed this week a bill to reschedule cannabis at the federal level as well as provide incentives for states to legalize the substance and address racial dynamics in cannabis law enforcement to date. The bill includes the following provisions according to The Cannabist:

• Removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act;

• Retroactively expunging federal cannabis use and possession crimes;

• Incentivizing states through federal funds to change their cannabis laws, if illegal;

• Withholding federal funds for prison construction or staffing in states that have disproportionate arrest rates for minority and low-income individuals arrested for cannabis offenses;

• Allowing individuals currently serving a term in federal prison for cannabis use or possession to petition a court for re-sentencing;

• Creating a reinvestment fund for communities most affected by the war on drugs with grants in areas such as job training, reentry services, expenses related to the expungement of convictions, public libraries, and health education programs, among others.

New Cohort for Canopy Cannabis Accelerator

This week Canopy has announced its fall cohort – a class of eight startups that will service the rapidly maturing cannabis industry. This class will participate in a 16-week accelerator program, and receive a $30,000 investment from Canopy with the opportunity to score an additional $50,000 at the program’s conclusion. The new cohort includes startups addressing the cannabis supply chain, growing, marketing data, and retail experience among others. They are:

• Virtugro is a Colorado-based team developing automated grow tech solutions for medium to large-scale cultivators.

• My THC Guide is developing chatbot solutions for the cannabis industry.

• Cannabis Quality Group is a cloud-based integrated quality management system designed for licensed businesses to have transparency in their supply chains.

• Serene is a social network encouraging an active outdoor lifestyle, paired with cannabis use, by leveraging technology.

• Redfield Proctor is a startup in stealth mode focused on efficiency in the cannabis industry. 

• Dispenserly manages, monitors, and mines cannabis industry reviews to identify new opportunities and trends.

• DeepGreen is an optical recognition technology that identifies plant characteristics using AI and machine vision technology.

• GreenScreens manages a network of digital flat screens in dispensaries across the country that rotate menu information and advertising to inform and target customers in the store.

Kirchner Food Fellows Selected

The Kirchner Food Fellowship, an initiative of the Kirchner Impact Foundation, has selected new fellows for its program. The program provides capital and hands-on training in capital allocation for university students. This year the fellowship will be focused on Mexico in collaboration with Centro Fox and will commence in August.

The fellows are:

Adrian Garcia-Casarrubias is a Plant Biotechnology PhD candidate  in San Pedro Zacatenco, Mexico and founder of platform INFOOD®, giving small Mexican farmers access to high value markets.

Karla Rascon-Garcia is a PhD candidate in Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis.

Alfredo Costilla-Reyes is a PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University.  Alfredo has developed a platform to educate kids about agriculture in collaboration with the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew

  • America’s farmland is increasingly out of the hands of American farmers, reports the New Food Economy.
  • The largest producer of fresh garlic in the US raised wages from $11 to $13 an hour and quickly filled its 150 open positions. Read about wether this is a one-off or a hopeful sign for agricultural labor in California in The Mercury News.
  • A study finds that decreasing fruit and vegetable prices by 50% significantly increases fruit and vegetable consumption suggesting that economic incentives are an effective way to change eating behavior. Read the study in Obesity, a research journal.
  • Unionization efforts by employees of United Natural Foods, Inc., Whole Foods largest supplier, are moving forward in advance of the retailers sale to Amazon, reports the New Food Economy.
  • Researchers in Singapore have created a probiotic beer according to US News.
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