Government seizes reins of Egypt’s market

10/11/2013 11:00:00 AM
Chris Koger

Chris Koger, News EditorChris Koger, News EditorIt’s been said farming is a gamble. Growers take a risk and sometimes lose, with low markets and a lack of demand.

Every few years, some commodity hits the jackpot, as when cartons of iceberg hit $45. A banner year makes the bust years easier to weather.

In Egypt, the government has enacted mandatory price caps on fruits and vegetables, after merchants didn’t voluntarily slash the prices themselves. A recent story on dailynewsegypt.com — the online version of Egypt’s “only daily independent newspaper in English,” according to the website — says government officials believe the law allows them to “price any commodity in the market at any time.”

Can you image the havoc with markets in the U.S. if the government could set prices? The hue and cry of socialism!

The government released its first round of products affected by the price restrictions in late September. On a per-pound basis, onions must be priced from 88 cents to $1.12, tomatoes can range from 48 cents to 64 cents, and potatoes are set at $1.52 to $1.76. Every Thursday, a council made of vendors, and supply and government agricultural representatives meet to determine whether to increase or lower prices. Violators can be fined about $390 (U.S.) and face up to five years in jail.

The measure is part of a series of populist measures from the transitional government, after the country’s military ousted president Mohamed Morsi in July. From all accounts, it’s been well-received. Press reports say consumers support the new controls (why wouldn’t they?) and the prices still allow growers to turn a profit.

Despite instability in the market, why are the growers taking it on the chin, as they so often do? If the prices have been cut minimally, as the Egyptian government claims, then it should be the government, not the growers, to stabilize the market.

Hawaiian papayas

In Hawaii, fruit growers are facing another kind of threat, one that could eradicate papaya production there.

This story starts back in the 1990s, when the ringspot virus threatened to wipe out papayas on the island. The virus had first been detected in the 1940s. Researchers genetically engineered a papaya — the rainbow — and now 60% of the U.S. papayas are grown there.

But now anti-genetically modified organism activists are hacking down trees. In late September, about 100 trees were slashed. Last year about 10 acres were destroyed, and the year before that 8,500 trees were cut down by activists.

The recent destruction comes as two bills in the state’s legislature seek to halt or restrict biotechnology in Hawaii, going so far as to force the destruction of the GMO papaya trees and fine any grower who doesn’t comply.

Restaurant vigilantes

The Packer receives numerous news releases about consumer-driven social media campaigns, encouraging them to spread the message about different ways to prepare fruits and vegetables.

Instagramming pics of entrees and side dishes has become so popular it’s not uncommon to see diners at restaurants whipping out their phones before digging in.

There’s a new project taking that approach with food safety abuses/blunders, #citizenfoodsafety, encouraging anyone spotting a roach at a restaurant or filthy facilities where they are eating.

Kind of nifty, giving regular people the power to shame food safety scofflaws. Ben Chapman, known to readers of the Barf Blog, announced the food safety site, saying that it’s about sharing information, not vigilantism.

Chapman, an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, said he’s not encouraging people to sneak into fast food kitchens but become more aware of food safety. It’s not the first time such a program existed. In a news release, Chapman references a 2005 program in South Korea asking diners to report infractions to food safety inspectors, and there was another one in the United Kingdom.

My favorite pic on the site (as of Oct. 10): a screenshot of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, with the message: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.”

I do take issue with one of the photos, of apples on the ground in an orchard. Yes, they’re yucky and could have worms, animal feces and who knows what else, but no commercial shipper following even the simplest of good agricultural practices puts this fruit, known as windfall apples, on the packing line. It just isn’t done. I hope visitors to the site don’t get the wrong idea.

ckoger@thepacker.com

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