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Christmas nuts


Dr Madsen Pirie at the Adam Smith Institute is worried about his Brazil nuts. He blames the EU for banning them. Strangely the International Tree Nut Council make no mention of such a ban. Now I believe in blaming the EU for all the ills of the world - as a first approximation it is an acceptable truth. But I worry the good Doctor has been had. What I did find is that Food Quality News

reports that "measures to ensure unshelled Brazil nuts from Brazil, that contain aflatoxins above regulatory levels, do not enter the EU" as well as "aflatoxin-contaminated Chinese peanuts, Iranian pistachios and Turkish figs, pistachios and hazelnuts do not enter the European Union"

(The Decisions have been enacted into English law by The Food (Peanuts from China) (Emergency Control) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, The Food (Pistachios from Iran) (Emergency Control) (England) Regulations 2003 and The Food (Figs, Hazelnuts and Pistachios from Turkey) (Emergency Control) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which came into force on 31 July 2003. - Sorry I couldn't find the Brazil nut banning measure!)

Now as a student of Forest Sciences I alway regale my guests with the news that that Brazil nuts ONLY grow on wild trees and are actually your real live food gathered from the Amazon Rain Forest by Genuine Natives - which sort of instills a bit of glamour to them, I suppose.

But then I notice the Grauniad having to publish an apology:

"We exaggerated the height of the brazil nut tree, Bertholletia excelsa, in a report headed In a nutshell, this species is endangered, page 5, December 19. We said it achieved heights of up to 150 metres (about 500 feet). No tree reaches such a height. It should have read 50 metres (about 160 feet). "

That is because you were using the STUPID metric system which means you couldn't visulise what you were writing about.

But maybe the tree is endangered, No, it seems that prices are just too low: In 2002 it was reported:
"Firstly, we had historically high prices for two years and that encouraged the Brazil nut collectors in the interior of Brazil and Bolivia to press further into the jungle to take out anything that looked like a Brazil nut. Ultimately they brought out enough nuts to put the market in an oversupply position and the price advance came to a screeching halt and slowly but surely the market started to inch its way down. The road to the lows that we saw late last year and early this year turned into an expressway as buyers stopped buying and sellers became more anxious to sell. This past January, as the shellers in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru began to assess the new crop, it became apparent that with prices being so low it was not profitable for them to advance money to the collectors to go deep into the jungle to pick up the Brazils. There was absolutely no incentive for them to do it."

So the Adam Smith Institute should be celebrating the shortage - Honest market forces are at work, the toxins are genuinely nasty (and maybe it is a case where government intervention is required) and as the market swings back the Indians will cherish the trees as a cash crop again and not chop them down.


Andrew Duffin tells me that:

"They have not banned the nuts, they have simply imposed a new testing regime which is expensive, complex, and un-necessary. I suppose it comes to the same thing."

I agree. Further, it does not look like market forces because NONE are available. None from supermarkets or from street markets. Zero. This is not how markets work. If less had been collected because of low prices, then the shortages would lead to higher prices. But zero, from any of the supplying countries? It looks more like a prohibition, and I note that the countries concerned have compained to the WTO about the EU policy.

I found some shelled Brazils, but they don't taste as good (not enough toxins, perhaps) and I like the challenge of cracking them. I tried to credit Peter Oborne with part of the story, but London's Evening Standard does not put many of its stories on-line.

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