LATEST ARTICLES

Politicians urge Trump administration to get reduction in India’s tariffs on American pecans

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Amid ongoing trade negotiations, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) joined a bipartisan group of more than 30 colleagues in urging the Trump administration to prioritize a reduction in India’s tariffs on American pecans.

“As you continue discussions with Prime Minister Modi’s administration to reach a trade deal and potentially reinstate India’s Generalized System of Preference Status, we would like to stress the importance of removing existing barriers to the export of U.S. agricultural products, specifically pecans,” Rep. Collins and the lawmakers wrote in an Oct. 15 letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

American pecan producers have faced many challenges due to rising imports from Mexico, Chinese tariffs, natural disasters like Hurricane Michael, and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to their letter. “Gaining access to new markets for pecans will help ease the pain while orchards are replanted and a trade deal is negotiated with China,” they wrote. 

India’s current tariff rate for U.S. pecans is 36 percent, which is higher than its 10 percent rate for pistachios and almonds, according to the congressmen, who wrote that decreasing these tariffs would allow American pecan farmers to better compete in the international market.

“Lowering the tariff on pecans would provide the Indian people with more economical access to tree nut varieties, while providing a much-needed economic boost to rural America,” Rep. Collins and the members wrote.

Also signing the letter were U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter (R-GA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Tom Rice (R-SC), Austin Scott (R-GA), and Sanford Bishop (D-GA).

Turkey’s hazelnut exports lift the otherwise gloomy export data

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Turkey’s exports decreased by 33.2% in the March-May period when the effects of the coronavirus outbreak became visible in the economy, while the greatest loss in foreign sales was recorded in the automotive industry.

A series of measures were launched in Turkey, especially at the beginning of the second half of March when the first virus cased emerged in the country, in line with the global restrictions to prevent the virus spread, which eventually stalled businesses to a certain extent. This period of restrictions ended June 1 when many of the measures were lifted in Turkey as the country’s fight against the virus was proven effective and the spread of the disease was brought under control.hazel

The country’s exports in the period in question decreased by 33.2%, according to a report by Anadolu Agency (AA) on Friday, citing data from Turkey’s Exporters Assembly (TIM), and were recorded at $29.7 billion.One-third of the decrease seen in exports corresponded to some $14.7 billion in the country’s economy. Turkish businesses carried out exports worth $44.4 billion in the March-May period last year.

Largest loss in auto industry

According to the data, foreign sales decreased by 7.8% in agriculture, 37.4% in industry and 23.7% in mining compared to the same period in the previous year.

The largest decline in exports was recorded in the automobile industry with a 53.2% decrease. In this period, the sector’s exports decreased from $8.2 billion to $3.8 billion.

The automotive sector was followed by the leather and leather products industry, exports of which fell by 48.9%. During this period, exports of leather and leather products, which were $480.4 million in the same period last year, decreased to $245.3 million. Another sector whose exports decreased significantly was the apparel industry. The sector’s exports fell by 45.3% in the March-May period year-on-year and decreased to $2.6 billion.The defense and aviation sector was also among those that felt the effects of the virus outbreak on exports. The sector’s exports decreased by 43% in the three-month period and came to a value of $414.8 million.

Increase in food exports 

The food industry was the only sector that experienced a significant increase in exports in the March-May period. The sector that experienced the highest increase in exports during this period were hazelnuts and hazelnut products with a 30.4% surge. The sector’s exports, which were $404.6 million in the March-May period of 2019, reached $527.5 million in the same period of this year. Exports of the fresh fruit and vegetable sector also increased by 14.8% to reach $456.4 million. The fruit and vegetable products sector increased its exports by 3.8% to $406.4 million from March to May.

American pecan growers have found success at home

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The American pecan industry’s stable growth continues to impress industry experts as the global economic shutdown has disrupted other industries, even threatening bankruptcy of multibillion dollar companies in non-essential services. 

American farmers have been feeling the pain of the ongoing trade war between the US and China, as China has reduced its purchases of US agricultural products and levied high tariffs on many of the major commodities produced by US farmers in an effort to discourage purchases from the US. The tactic has worked somewhat, in March to May of 2018 soybean prices were hovering slightly above $10 here in the US as tensions between the two countries began to escalate, soybean prices dropped sharply in the US to around $8.50 a bushel and have remained for over almost 2 years. 

Tree nuts from the US also took a big hit with the trade war, Almonds shipments were down 33% from April 2018 to April 2019 and down another 20% from April 2019 to April 2020. Pecan shipments to China have also suffered significantly as China had become the largest trading partner for the US pecan industry due to marketing efforts by the US Pecan Growers Council decade long campaign. 

While the pecan industry did temporarily lose one of its largest trading partners, American growers have found success right here at home. Several years ago American pecan growers formed a federal marketing order to reverse declining demand of pecans in the US. While still in its infancy, pecan growers have had great success bolstering domestic consumption. 

Read in full at the Pecan Report.

Walnuts are making their way in to more supermarket sections

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Walnuts are making their way into more products in more sections of the supermarket, including the fresh perimeter, said Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director, domestic public relations, for the Folsom-based California Walnut Board and Commission. “They’ve always had a significant presence in sweet bakery foods, but now we’re seeing walnuts used in plant-based meat alternatives, non-dairy milks and snack foods,” she said.

Food and beverage manufacturers are increasing usage because they’re seeing the demand. In a 2019 study, 73% of respondents said they “definitely/probably would buy” a food product containing walnuts. Walnuts are most likely to be eaten as a snack, according to board research. With 95% of Americans snacking daily, and most of them looking for snacks that are both healthy and satisfying, snacking products have been driving a lot of market growth, Olmstead said, citing Mintel data.

Trail mix and bars are two consistently popular uses for walnuts, but in the past year the industry has seen more nut butters, dairy alternatives and snacking products like seasoned walnuts, she added. And because they pair well with sweet and savory flavors, walnuts can be added to products satisfying any craving or taste preference. “Crazy Go Nuts, The Nutty Gourmet and Diamond — just launched — offer delightfully seasoned walnut snacks in flavors like chocolate espresso, buffalo, rosemary and teriyaki and wasabi,” Olmstead said.

Beyond snacking, walnuts fit into a variety of eating habits that have become more popular in recent years: plant-based/flexitarian diets, paleo, ketogenic and Mediterranean. “They appeal to consumers across various audience segments,” she said.  In addition to ongoing research on health benefits and consumer preferences, the California Walnut Board and Commission conducts a variety of marketing activities to drive demand, including advertising to consumers through TV, print and digital media, public relations to share nutrition information and recipe inspiration and instore promotions during key times of year such as American Heart Month, Olmstead said. 

“Our members are developing new products and flavor offerings based on learnings from our consumer research and trend monitoring,” she said. “In addition to new, bold flavors across the snacking category, shoppers are looking for better-for-you indulgences. This includes the variety of seasoned walnuts mentioned above, as well as a growing body of nut butters, nut milks and even a walnut-based pie crust from Diamond.”

The health message is a critical one. Walnuts are the only nut that is a significant source of the essential omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Walnuts on their own and any products containing walnuts boast these unique naturally occurring omega-3s, which have been linked to heart health and other health benefits.

In addition, because of the protein/fiber/fat combination, walnuts lend a texture that can mimic the mouthfeel of meat, which has made for a lot of opportunity in the growing plant-based food category, Olmstead said, citing the California Veggie Burger from Amy’s as a major example. Source: Supermarket Perimeter – Read in full.

The Almond Board is hitting it on TikTok

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With most of the country stuck in lockdown, the Almond Board of California (ABC) achieved viral success with the #AlmondWalk challenge on TikTok that resulted in 1.2 billion views in just over five days.That’s right, billions. How’d they do it?

For one, ABC’s agency Sterling-Rice Group capitalized on trending topics to hijack some buzz. The agency’s team monitors social media platforms and discovered a TikTok influencer who posted a video showing him “taking his almond on a walk.” This mid-April clip on its own received more than six million views.

With its complementary subject the agency and the Almond Board recognized an opportunity to supplement this video’s organic buzz with an agency-developed hash-tag challenge. The resulting follow-up video challenged users by using the audio from the original video to encourage others to submit their own clips, explains Laurie Tewksbury, senior account manager at SRG.

To maximize the project’s visibility, agency leaders recruited additional influencers and issued a call-to-action for everyone to literally take their almond for a walk. The challenge ran for three days on the Discover page of TikTok, a paid placement that amplified visibility. All submissions were grouped under one landing page to signal its popularity.

While this campaign may seem like lighting in a bottle, Tewksbury believes one key to success is to create content that’s true to the specific platform. This challenge would not easily translate to Twitter or Facebook or say for a different type of nut. The key was to mimic an authentic TikTok video. Moreover, Tewksbury admits “TikTok isn’t for every brand, but making someone’s day a little bit brighter with a fun challenge, while getting them to think about your product in a positive, lighthearted way makes it a great fit.”

Another tip: Stop before the campaign lingers too long. The agency is currently pondering another challenge or custom content integration. “We’ll be keeping our eye on how TikTok continues to evolve and if there’s another cultural moment we feel we could align ourselves with,” says Tewksbury. source. Mediapost

Almond Board of California 2020 Results Board of Directors

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Almond Board of California 2020 Results
 The Almond Board of California has released election results for the Board of Directors positions whose terms of office will run from August 1, 2020 through July 31, 2021. The names of the following nominees have been submitted to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for selection:
Independent Grower:
Member Position One (one-year term):
Paul Ewing, Los Banos
Alternate Position One:
Joe Gardiner, Earlimart
Independent Handler:
Member Position One (three-year term):
Alexi Rodriguez, Caruthers
Alternate Position One:
Ron Fisher, Modesto
Member Position Three (one-year term):
Darren Rigg, Le Grand
Alternate Position Two:
Chad DeRose, McFarland
Cooperative Grower:
Member Position One (three-year term):
George Goshgarian Jr., Fowler
Alternate Position One:
Christine Gemperle, Ceres
Cooperative Handler:
Member Position Two (three-year term):
Bill Morecraft, Sacramento
Alternate Position Two:
Alicia Rockwell, Sacramento
ABOUT THE ALMOND BOARD OF CALIFORNIA
Almonds from California are a healthy, natural, wholesome and quality food. The Almond Board of California promotes almonds with a research-based approach to responsible farming, production and marketing on behalf of the more than 7,600 almond growers and processors in California, many of whom have third- and fourth-generation family operations. Established in 1950 and based in Modesto, California, the Almond Board of California is a non-profit organization that administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture. For more information on the Almond Board of California or almonds, visit Almonds.com or check out California Almonds on FacebookTwitterInstagram and the California Almonds blog.

Investors buy almond orchards in Australia

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Funds managed by North American farmland and timber giant Hancock Natural Resource Group are poised to snap up two almond properties worth around $12 million in the NSW Riverina and South Australia’s Riverland. The deals continue a strong trend of offshore institutional investors bulking up on almond and macadamia orchards in Australia’s premium growing regions.

Title deeds show Sustainable Farmland Holdings Australia placed a caveat over Tharbogang Almond Orchards near Griffith in the NSW Riverina.The 85-hectare property, with 80 hectares of young almond, trees lies 30 kilometres north-west of the Almondco processing facility at Hanwood. Sustainable Farmland Holdings Australia (SFHA) is ultimately owned by Japan’s largest insurance company Nippon Life.

Andrew Strahley, head of Australasian Agricultural Investments at Hancock, is a director of SFHA, along with a number of other Hancock executives.Hancock (unrelated to Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting) manages over $US3.6 billion ($5.4 billion) of farmland assets and $US10.5 billion of timberland on behalf of international investors. It is owned by Canadian financial services giant Manulife, which has more than $1 trillion of assets under management.

Last year SFHA acquired 206 hectares of vineyards at Belvidere west of Langhorne Creek in the Fleurieu wine region from French wine and spirits group Pernod Ricard for $22 million. Mr Strahley is also a director of Attis Farms, which has placed a caveat over a 131-hectare property at 1251 Kingston Road, New Residence in South Australia’s Riverland.

The property is owned by local almond, stone fruit and vegetable growers Peter and Sadie George. It comprises a 131-hectare parcel with 20 hectares of almonds, about 5.5 hectares of citrus varieties and 90 hectares of broadacre irrigation land. Attis Farms is ultimately owned by Brown Pelican Farms, a company tied to the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. Last year, Attis Farms acquired a 300-hectare property on two titles at Moorook near Loxton in the Riverland paying $11.7 million for the land and water rights.

While the price of almonds has fallen recently due the combination of a record harvest in California (the world’s biggest grower) and a decline in exports to China due to COVID-19-related logistics issues, Colliers International rural agent Jesse Manuel said investors were taking a long-term view. “The COVID-19 situation has really intensified the importance of food and agriculture and Australian produce in particular, and we’re receiving inquiries from segments of the market that have historically focused on traditional real estate investments markets,” said Mr Manuel who is marketing the NSW and SA almond properties with colleague Tim Altschwager,

The agents recently listed another two almond properties for sale: Jakad Almonds, which has a 75-hectare orchard at Lindsay Point in Victoria’s Sunraysia region and Coughlan Road Almonds, an 83-hectare orchard at Leeton, in the NSW Riverina. Price expectations are upwards of $80,000 per hectare for mature plantings. Last year, Belgian sugar producer Finasucre acquired Australia’s largest portfolio of macadamia orchards for almost $60 million.

Almond Board offers wide range of E-Learning

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The Almond Board of California is taking virtual learning one step further starting next month. Virtual tailgate sessions will take a deeper dive into tools growers can take advantage of in the California Almond Sustainability program. But Senior Manager of Field Outreach and Education Tom Devol said growers could go one step further and schedule one-on-one sessions with the team to answer any questions they have about the tools or even just technical challenges. Read more.

June 2020 
6/03TBD: Tree and Vine IPM Update Breakfast Meeting – 7:00 a.m.
For more information, click here
 
6/03Virtual Tailgate: Assessment Modules – 9:00 a.m.
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/03Virtual Tailgate: Assessment Modules – 1:00 p.m.
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/04Introduction to Groundwater, Watersheds, and Groundwater Sustainability Plans – Online Short Course – 9:00 a.m. 
For more information, click here.   
 
6/05Virtual Tailgate: Office Hours – 1:30 p.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/08 Almond Quality & Food Safety Committee Webinar – 1:00 p.m. 
For more information, contact Toni Arellano at (209) 343-3220 or tarellano@almondboard.com.
 
6/09CANCELLED: Almond Quality & Food Safety Symposium – 9:00 a.m. Wine & Roses, Lodi  
Modesto, CA – More information to come. 
 
6/10 Virtual Tailgate: Setting up the Irrigation Calculator – 9:00 a.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/10Virtual Tailgate: Setting up the Irrigation Calculator – 1:00 p.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/10Finance & Audit Committee Meeting – 9:30 a.m.
For more information, contact Lynn Jordan at (209) 343-3237 or ljordan@almondboard.com 
 
6/12Virtual Tailgate: Office Hours – 1:30 p.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/12NRCS Conversation Stewardship Plan Deadline
For more information, click here
 
6/17Virtual Tailgate: Setting up the Nitrogen Tool – 9:00 a.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/17Virtual Tailgate: Setting up the Nitrogen Tool – 1:00 p.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/17Technical & Regulatory Affairs Committee Webinar – 9:00 a.m.
For more information, contact Lynn Jordan at (209) 343-3237 or ljordan@almondboard.com.
 
6/17Tree and Vine IPM Update Breakfast Meeting – 7:00 a.m.
For more information, click here
 
6/18Board of Directors Meeting – 9:30 a.m.
For more information, contact Lynn Jordan at (209) 343-3237 or ljordan@almondboard.com.
 
6/18Introduction to Groundwater, Watersheds, and Groundwater Sustainability Plans – Online Short Course – 9:00 a.m. 
For more information, click here.  
 
6/24Virtual Tailgate: Using the Irrigation and Nitrogen Management Plan (INMP tool) – 9:00 a.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/24Virtual Tailgate: Using the Irrigation and Nitrogen Management Plan (INMP tool) – 1:00 p.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
6/25Introduction to Groundwater, Watersheds, and Groundwater Sustainability Plans – Online Short Course – 9:00 a.m. 
For more information, click here.  
 
6/26Virtual Tailgate: Office Hours – 1:30 p.m. 
For more information, click here.
To RSVP, click here
 
July 2020 
7/03-7/04Independence Day – ABC Office Closed
 
7/072020 Objective Forecast Presentation – 11:50 a.m. 
For more information, please click here
 
7/15Ag Regulatory Subcommittee Webinar – 9:00 a.m.
For more information, contact Lynn Jordan at (209) 343-3237 or ljordan@almondboard.com.
 
August 2020 
8/11Board of Directors Meeting – 9:30 a.m.
For more information, contact Lynn Jordan at (209) 343-3237 or ljordan@almondboard.com.
 
8/15 – 8/30North America Mite – A – Thon – Pollinator Partnership 
For more information, click here.
 
8/19Technical & Regulatory Affairs Committee Webinar – 9:00 a.m.
For more information, contact Lynn Jordan at (209) 343-3237 or ljordan@almondboard.com.
 
8/27Almond Quality & Food Safety Committee Meeting – 9:30 a.m.
For more information, contact Toni Arellano at (209) 343-3220 or tarellano@almondboard.com.
 

Coronavirus pandemic slowed down exports from Iran

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TEHRAN- The value of Iran’s exports of agricultural products and foodstuffs stood at $336 million in the first month of the current Iranian calendar year (March 20-April 19), according to the acting head of Agriculture Ministry’s Economic Affairs Department Shahrokh Shajari.

The official said that while the coronavirus pandemic slowed down the process of exporting the mentioned products in the first month of the year, the monthly weight of exports rose 25.8 percent to 680,000 tons compared to the same month in the past year, IRIB reported. Shajari further put Iran’s imports of agricultural products and foodstuffs at 2.078 million tons valued at $831 million in the first month of this year. 

The official has previously put Iran’s exports of the mentioned products at about 7.104 million tons worth $5.8 billion in the past Iranian calendar year.In the previous year, over 6.941 million tons of agricultural and foodstuff products worth $6.392 billion were also imported into the country, according to Shajari. Watermelons, apples, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and shallots were the top five exported products in the previous year in terms of weight, while in terms of value, pistachios, apples, tomatoes, pistachio kernels, and watermelons were the five major export products. Shajari further pointed to the major imported items in terms of weight, saying, corn, barley, soybean meal, soybean, and untreated sugar were the top five imported items, while in terms of value livestock corn, rice, barley, and soybeans were the top imported products.

MA/MA

Bringing new life to the land with almond production

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ZUJAR, Spain, May 27 (Reuters) – In one of the driest corners of Europe, Manuel Barnes has watched the soil become healthier since he started growing almonds using techniques aimed at bringing new life to the land. Barnes and his neighbours in southern Spain are turning to pre-industrial methods they hope will avert the risk of their land turning into desert to grow crops that command higher prices from increasingly environmentally-aware consumers.

“The soil here was poor, degraded, pale and lifeless. Now it has changed colour, the structure has changed, it’s looser,” Barnes, 35, said at the hangar where his family has processed almonds, one of the area’s most prolific crops, for 40 years. When Spain imposed some of Europe’s most stringent curbs on movement in March to deal with the spread of the new coronavirus, Barnes managed to make some deliveries to markets including Germany, and kept employees busy with maintenance. Demand evaporated just as predictions of a bumper harvest pushed down prices, leaving him braced for a marked, but not ruinous, drop in income this year of 20,000 euros ($21,794).

But while finances waver, the land looks stronger, with more insects visible among the plants, indicating strengthening biodiversity, and offering the farmers hope for the future. “If you leave the land alone it regenerates … the lockdown has been good for the land and the countryside,” Barnes said.More than a third of land globally is degraded in some way, according to the United Nations. But this stretch north of the ancient Arab stronghold of Granada shows it is possible to transform challenging landscapes, said Amsterdam-based foundation Commonland, which aims to support businesses to restore the landscape. Almendrehesa Chief Executive Frank Ohlenschlager, who sells to German health-food brand Rapuntzel Naturkost and British cosmetics chain Lush, believes consumers have become even more receptive to concepts like regenerative agriculture as the virus disrupted people’s lives and forced them to reflect.

“Everything we proposed before COVID-19 has taken on a new value for people. There is more awareness now that there is something wrong with our food system,” he said. Both Ohlenschlager and Barnes expect international demand to hold up, but say selling at home may get tougher as Spain teeters on the brink of recession. Ohlenschlager, whose almonds fetched as much as 8.45 euros per kg last year while the conventionally grown variety sold for 5 euros, said: “I will need to re-think prices a bit for the domestic market, where possible.”

Read in full.

Could gut microbes be key to solving food allergies?

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New therapeutics are testing whether protective bacteria can dampen harmful immune responses to food

5.21.2020

As a child, Cathryn Nagler broke out in hives when she ate eggs. She reacted to penicillin. Working in labs after college, she developed a severe allergy to mice that caused wheezing, swelling and trouble breathing — twice landing her in the emergency room.

Explore Knowable’s coronavirus coverage

Today, Nagler is an immunologist the University of Chicago and is helping to pioneer an emerging research field: studying how bacteria in the gut can be harnessed to help people with food allergies.

It wasn’t personal experience with allergies that inspired her interest. Rather, it was an odd observation she made as a doctoral student in the 1980s. She was studying mice whose immune systems go haywire and attack the collagen protein inside their joints, causing severe arthritis. Scientists could jump-start the disease by administering a shot of collagen under the skin. But, curiously, when Nagler later fed the creatures collagen using a tube that snaked down into their stomachs, it had the opposite effect: The mice got better.

Decades on, this concept, called oral immunotherapy, has come into use as a treatment for food allergies, which affect an estimated 32 million people in the United States, including about two schoolchildren per classroom. Over the last ten years or so, some allergists have begun treating food allergy patients with small, regular doses of the offending food (or products made from it) to calm allergic responses. The approach stands to grow in popularity with the approval in January of a standardized version — a set of daily capsules to treat peanut allergy — by the US Food and Drug Administration.

But oral immunotherapy has downsides. The regimen can be nerve-racking, since it involves daily consumption of food that could kill. It doesn’t work for everyone and does little to fix the underlying disease. Success mostly means gaining the ability to safely eat several peanuts, for example, rather than reacting to a speck of peanut flour.

For some families, this modest gain is life-altering. Still, it is precarious: Patients must consume a bit of the food every day, or a few times a week, for the rest of their lives — or they could lose the protection.

So Nagler and several other researchers are working to find ways to treat food allergies more easily and durably. They’re targeting what they believe is a root cause — imbalances in the community of beneficial bacteria, or microbiome, that lives in our guts — in the hopes of resetting the immune system.

Producing a microbiome-based treatment will be challenging, with many details to hash out, such as which microbes to provide and how best to deliver them. But the approach is gaining momentum. Last year, Nagler’s team and another group in Boston reported an important step forward: They prevented severe allergic responses in allergy-prone mice by supplying gut microbes from healthy, non-allergic human babies. “The data are sound, and they are very encouraging,” says pediatric allergist Jaclyn Bjelac of the Cleveland Clinic.

And in March, scientists reported finding large amounts of antibodies against peanut allergens in the stomach and gut of allergic patients, further supporting the idea that the gastrointestinal tract is a hotspot for food allergy regulation and treatment. Already, companies are testing several strategies.

It has long been a puzzle why one person tolerates a food while another is allergic but, as outlined in an article she coauthored in the Annual Review of Immunology, Nagler is convinced that the microbiome is key.

Birth of a hypothesis

Four years after finishing her graduate work, Nagler started running a lab at Harvard Medical School. She was studying inflammatory bowel disease, not food allergies, back then. But as research in the 1990s showed that inflammatory bowel disease was primarily caused by immune reactions against gut bacteria, she shifted her attention to the microbiome.

Then, in 2000, she came across an intriguing publication. It described a mouse model for peanut allergy that mimics key symptoms experienced by people. The mice scratch relentlessly. Their eyes and mouths get puffy. Some struggle to breathe — a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis.

All of this happens after researchers feed the mice peanut powder. “That caught my eye,” Nagler says. It ran counter to her earlier findings with the arthritic mice, where feeding collagen calmed the immune reaction. Why the difference?

The peanut-allergy mice, another report showed, had a genetic glitch that damages a receptor called TLR4 that sits in the membranes of immune cells and recognizes microbes. It looked as though the peanut-allergy mice lacked the normal cross talk that takes place between gut microbes and immune cells.

“That was my lightbulb moment,” Nagler says. Perhaps the trillions of microbes that live in us suppress immune responses to food by stimulating the TLR4 receptor. And perhaps perturbations in that teeming microbiome alter the suppression and cause a rise in allergies.

The idea meshes with historical trends. As societies modernized, people moved to urban areas, had more babies by cesarean section, took more antibiotics and ate more processed, low-fiber foods — all of which shake up microbiomes. The timing of these lifestyle shifts parallels the observed increase in food and other types of allergies, whose steep rise over a generation points to some environmental cause.

In 2004, Nagler and her coworkers published a report showing that peanuts provoked anaphylaxis only in mice with a mutated TLR4 receptor, not in genetically related strains with a normal TLR4. The difference disappeared when the scientists wiped out populations of gut bacteria with antibiotics. Then, even normal mice became susceptible to food allergies, implying that bacteria are at the heart of the protection.

Nagler’s lab has been working ever since to identify which bacteria are helpful, and to understand how they regulate allergic responses.

Early effects

In their work, Nagler’s team focused on Clostridia and Bacteroides — two major groups of bacteria in the human gut. Working with mice bred in a germ-free environment and thus without any microbiome at all, the team found that Clostridia, but not Bacteroides, prevented food-allergic responses when introduced into the guts of the squeaky-clean mice.

There’s a potential explanation: Mice colonized with Clostridia bacteria had more regulatory T cells, a type of cell that dampens immune responses. The Clostridia mice also produced more of a molecule called IL-22 that strengthens the intestinal lining. A new theory began to emerge: If protective microbes are missing, the gut barrier weakens, allowing food proteins to seep into the bloodstream and potentially trigger allergic responses.

This reasoning jibes well with the curious observation that top food allergens (certain proteins found in milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish) bear little biochemical resemblance to each other. What they do have in common is the ability to remain intact in the digestive tract, which normally breaks food into small pieces that the body absorbs as nutrients. “That seems to be what makes peanut the champion — its ability to resist degradation in the gut,” Nagler says.

Studies have further solidified the link between gut bacteria and food allergies and suggest that the microbiome’s impact comes early in life. Analyzing feces of healthy babies and those with egg or milk allergies, researchers showed that allergic and nonallergic infants had different communities of gut bacteria.

Another study tracked 226 children with milk allergy from infancy to age 8. The scientists found that certain bacteria, including Clostridia, were enriched in stool samples from 3- to 6-month-old infants who eventually outgrew their allergy, compared to those who remained allergic. The scientists didn’t see the same difference between these groups in older babies, suggesting that allergy-protective microbes may only act early in life.

“All of this points to the concept of a window of opportunity in terms of prevention,” says study leader Supinda Bunyavanich, a pediatric allergist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Causal evidence

From birth, our immune systems get schooled in life-or-death choices. They learn to kill germs, tumors and dying cells. Much else in their surroundings they must learn to leave alone — nerve fibers, bone tissue, proteins from milk and cookies consumed at snack time. Mouse studies published in 2019 by Nagler’s lab and another team argue convincingly that gut microbes cultivate this critical immune decision-making.

In one of the studies, Nagler and coworkers collected gut bacteria from the feces of healthy and milk-allergic babies and put those collections of microbes into the digestive tracts of germ-free mice. They found that gut bacteria from healthy babies protected mice against allergic responses to milk, whereas microbes from allergic infants didn’t.

Using mathematical and computer science techniques to analyze the results, the team identified bacterial strains that were present in healthy but not allergic babies. They also examined gene activity in cells lining the intestines — certain gene patterns are characteristic of a healthy gut barrier — and looked for microbes whose presence correlated with a healthy barrier.

One Clostridia species, Anaerostipes caccae, popped out of both analyses. When the scientists transferred A. caccae alone into germ-free mice, it seemed to mimic the protection imparted by a full, healthy microbiome.

The other team, led by Rima Rachid and Talal Chatila at Boston Children’s Hospital, took a similar approach using hyper-allergic mice, finding that the single species Subdoligranulum variabile and a set of Clostridia species prevented allergic responses. Regulatory T cells were key to the response and were spurred into action by the microbes.

These and other studies clearly show that the microbiome is important for preventing food allergies and inducing tolerance, says Carina Venter, a research dietician at the University of Colorado in Denver who is studying links between maternal diet during pregnancy, microbiomes of infants and risk for eczema and allergies. But, she says, “how that microbiome should look in terms of diversity and in terms of specific strains, we just don’t know.”

Trials and questions

The many unknowns leave a quandary for researchers hoping to develop better treatments for food allergies: Is it better to supply a full, healthy microbiome, or to replenish just a few helpful microbes? “I scratch my head every day thinking about this,” Rachid says.

She’s leading a clinical study to test the first possibility. In this small trial, adults with peanut allergies will swallow pills containing a full slate of gut bacteria from healthy donors pre-screened for safety by the nonprofit stool bank OpenBiome. The approach, known as fecal transplantation, is not FDA-approved but is increasingly used to treat severe intestinal disorders with the aim of fixing diseased microbiomes by infusing healthy, balanced ones.

Other trials are also underway. Using the protective strains identified by the Boston team, Pareto Bio of La Jolla, California, is developing a live microbial product to treat food allergies. Another company, Vedanta Biosciences of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is developing a probiotic capsule that contains a mix of Clostridia strains selected for their ability to induce regulatory T cells. Vedanta is testing the capsules as an add-on to oral immunotherapy in adults with peanut allergies.

A third company, Prota Therapeutics of Melbourne, Australia, is commercializing a similar strategy combining peanut oral immunotherapy with a probiotic — in their case, a Lactobacillus strain commonly prescribed for gastrointestinal problems.

Administering whole microbiomes from donors is not without risk: Four patients have been hospitalized, and one died, from serious infections linked to stool transplants. So some researchers think it may be better to use precisely defined species. Though this risks weakening the benefit, “you’re less likely to induce unanticipated problems,” says Wayne Shreffler, who directs the food allergy center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is leading the Vedanta study.

But there’s one challenge shared by all microbiome-modulating approaches: getting new microbes established when someone already has a microbiome in place, even an unhealthy one. Traditionally, patients receive antibiotics to help new bacteria gain a foothold. But maybe there’s another way. A start-up that Nagler cofounded with University of Chicago biomolecular engineer Jeff Hubbell — ClostraBio — is developing a therapy that combines live bacteria with a key microbial metabolite, butyrate.

The chemical is known to enhance gut barrier function and may also have antimicrobial effects, which could help create a niche for the added microbes. ClostraBio plans to launch its first human trial by 2021, Nagler says.

Over the next few years, researchers will learn more about harnessing the microbiome to fight food allergies. It won’t be easy. Genetics, diet, environmental exposures: All influence allergy risk. “It’s a big puzzle,” says Bunyavanich. The microbiome is only one piece of it — but she, Nagler and others are betting it will turn out to be a big one.

10.1146/knowable-052020-1

Esther Landhuis (@ elandhuis) is a freelance science journalist who was writing a lot about food allergies before a very different threat changed our lives.

This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine, an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews. Sign up for the newsletter.

Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews

US nut shipments to China: Will they recover?

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The “phase one” trade deal with China is paying off substantially for commodities like soybeans, corn, wheat and sorghum, but it’s hit or miss for specialty crop farmers, many of whom are still trying to find replacement markets.

U.S. walnut exports to China had been slowly declining as Chinese production rose before the trade war began in 2018, but that process accelerated quickly after China hit the nuts with multiple tariffs that added up to a total of 75% for inshell walnuts and 70% for shelled walnuts.The exclusion would shave some of those tariffs down, but not enough to boost sales, as has been the case for oranges.

China imported 52,722 short tons of walnuts in the 2016-17 marketing year, according to commission data. That was cut roughly in half to 25,667 tons in 2017-18, and then dropped farther to 16,456 tons in 2018-19.“China does have other viable places to import from, so they can buy from Chile or Australia, which both have tariff-free agreements with China,” Graviet said. “At this time buyers are not likely to use the exclusion process unless they have specific customers that only want California products.”

Adding to the problem is the fact that California farmers continue to produce more. The industry is diversifying its exports, but prices are declining. “For the most recent crop year ending Aug. 31, 2019, the industry saw a 7% increase in production, reaching 672,723 short tons from 350,000 bearing acres,” Graviet said. “Despite tariff and non-tariff barriers, the majority of the larger crop was sold, however at significantly reduced prices. Total value of the crop saw a 44% decline to an estimated $879 million — a loss in value of close to $700 million.”

For U.S. almonds, exports had been growing before the trade war, but China’s tariffs — even after the exclusions began — are significantly holding back trade.Almond shipments to China fell by 25% last year and are down 20% so far this year, said Julie Adams, a vice president for the Almond Board of California. It’s unclear how many Chinese importers are taking advantage of the exclusion process, which would take the tariff level down from 55% to 25%, but it hasn’t pushed trade back up to anywhere near previous highs, she said.

A major problem is that California farmers are competing with producers elsewhere that do not have to contend with any tariffs. “In the case of almonds, Australia has a free-trade agreement with China, so there is (no tariff),” Adams said. Before the trade war, China levied a base 10% tariff on U.S. almonds and they were still able to compete, but now that would be more than double even after an exclusion.

“We understand some importers have been looking at (tariff exclusions), but obviously the numbers don’t bear out that it’s had a significant impact on shipments,” she said.