What Peanut Butter Cost America

Written by Kay Sexton

Apart from the $1 billion in lost production and sales, what has been the cost of the peanut butter recall?
The environmental impact will take years to unravel. The first level of harm is the weakened price for peanuts, which hits farmers hard, and the limited outlets that are now available to those who farm them – in Georgia, small farmers in particular are looking at little or no income for the next year, and then at a severely reduced marketplace. Peanuts are used in many more products than peanut butter and Reese’s Cups, but where they have been used as a filler or paste to give structure and mouth appeal to certain foods, alternative products like carnauba are now being used, meaning that a lot of the low-grade peanuts formerly bought by the food processing industry are going begging.

Small farmers find no markets for peanuts
Farmers may be the first to feel the pain of the recall, but they won’t be the only ones – many small businesses supplying and supplied by peanut farmers will suffer, everyone from those who supply shelling staff on short term contracts through to top-end confectioners who use peanut paste to ‘support’ choux pastry used in those towers of profiteroles seen at society weddings. Peanut Corporation has already filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and over 2,100 products that used their peanut paste – from cakes to dog food – have been recalled from sale. The salmonella outbreak may have caused nine deaths, as well as making as many as 700 people ill, and sales of peanut butter are at their lowest for three years, even though peanut butter in jars is not a product that has been much implicated in the poisoning: that’s been down to peanut paste in other products.
The environment will suffer too. Four kinds of peanuts are grown in the USA: Runners are used primarily to make peanut butter. Virginia peanuts which are grown for use as roasted-in-shell snacks, Spanish peanuts are used in sweets and candies and Valencias which are a top of the range variant of Virginia used as roasted peanuts. All of them, in the USA, are used as a cycle breaker, rotating through a four crop process with other crops, usually soy, cotton and corn.

The alternative to peanuts is more drug crops
But if peanut farmers drop their peanut crop, the soil will be used to grow an extra cotton crop, and that is a highly intensively managed crop, requiring irrigation, pesticides and fertilisers, so that there is a greater environmental impact, and equally, because cotton is a hoardable crop, extra cotton on the market is likely to drive prices down, meaning cotton will be stockpiled in warehouses, and that will leave Asian and African cotton producers with less marketplace in which to sell, so they are more likely to turn to crops with a guaranteed return … and opium is a crop that always finds a market.

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