Shane Commentary

USDA Criticized Over the Farmers to Families Food Box Program


The $2.7 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program initiated in May has come under intense criticism for inefficiency and inequity. Although it is acknowledged that the program was established in an emergency, there was evidently lack of planning and defective execution by the USDA, especially with regard to accepting bids from unqualified distributors, an overt lack of physical and financial control and failure to recognize and respond to emerging problems.  Many of the contractors selected were either unable or disinclined to deliver boxes to remote regions with a high proportion of needy citizens.  It took until September for USDA to recognize that there were serious inconsistencies in distribution leading to the designation of Opportunity Zones to receive special attention.

While the USDA was implementing the first phase of the program, the need for supplemental food assistance became greater as the economic effect of COVID-19 intensified especially in low-income areas of our nation. Many of the operators of food banks and faith-based organizations complained of the quality of food provided.  The discrepancy between what was delivered and prevailing prices suggested that there was both inefficiency and over charging in both states and territories including Alaska, Puerto Rico and Maine.


The entire program was unnecessary as the objective of feeding could have been achieved by simply increasing appropriations and lifting barriers to enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Alternatively by providing block grants, food banks would have been able to buy food and vegetables directly from farmers within their own areas of operation.  This would have shifted the benefits to farmers rather than contract distributors serving as middlemen.

The Box Program generated "photo-opps"

The USDA failed to recognize the importance of free school meals to children subjected to food insecurity concurrent with the progress of COVID-19 during the second and third quarters.  It was only in August that the USDA announced that schools could continue serving free meals throughout the end of 2020 subject to availability of funding.


A justifiable criticism of the program was that politically fliers were included in boxes, an action considered to be inconsistent with a humanitarian program.


Farmers Accused of Indifference to COVID-19 Among Migrant Workers


Investigative journalists have reviewed county data on prevalence rates of COVID-19 among migrant workers in Northwest States and Florida.  The Columbia University, Brown Institute for Media Innovation undertook interviews with county officials and agricultural workers in ten states during the 2020 harvest season for fruit in the northwest and produce in Florida.


The investigation disclosed that farm and food-plant workers continued in their labor despite the risk of exposure to COVID-19 as they were designated "essential" in terms of the Presidential Executive Order on April 28th.  In addition, migrant farm workers on H-2A visa programs are in reliant on daily labor for survival and for remittances to their families in their home countries. 


Problems that were uncovered in the investigation included:-

  • Failure to maintain social distancing when transporting workers from temporarily accommodation to fields
  • Failure to provide even the most basic PPE
  • Failure to undertake testing followed by isolation of infected individuals
  • Allowing workers to live in accommodation with primitive hygiene facilities conducive to infection
  • Deliberate obstruction of county and state officials investigating outbreaks of COVID-19
  • Reluctance to cooperate with county officials and non-profit healthcare organizations to provide counseling on protection against COVID-19
  • Prompt dismissal of workers complaining of COVID-like symptoms or requesting protective measures


Epidemiologic studies confirm that the prevalence rate of COVID-19 among migrant farm works far exceeded the level in the general population in counties with intensive agriculture that employed a large number of workers for seasonal cultivation or harvesting.  Investigations demonstrated instances of collusion between county and state officials and large employers with respect to testing workers and reporting results. State agencies in California distributed masks to H-2A visa workers picking strawberries and other crops.


COVID-19 will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future in cultivation of fruit and produce, even with deployment of an effective vaccine in the U.S. Since H-2A workers come from nations where vaccination programs will not be carried out, it will be necessary to vaccinate and test workers before entry to the U.S. 


Irrespective of protective modalities, no industry, irrespective of Presidential executive orders can ignore the realities of disease and to subject H-2A workers to exposure resulting in illness and in some cases, death.  Individual family-owned and corporate farms supply packers with brand name products that are sold in supermarkets.  These chains are vulnerable to adverse publicity in the court of public opinion and will be implicated in class action litigation. Ultimately producers will be subject to Federal or state mandates on protection from COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. It would be preferable to adopt a more realistic and proactive approach to preventing COVID-19 among migrant workers in 2021.


Economies of Scale in Dairy Operations—Parallels for Eggs?


The dairy industry as with egg production undergoes periods of oversupply relative to demand.  Recent economic surveys have shown that dairies milking more than a thousand head generate profits far exceeding small herds.  The USDA-Economic Research Service recently published Consolidation in U.S. Dairy Farming.  Small herds ranging from 50-100 cows and those from 100-200 milking animals are not able to cover costs and effectively they generate a negative return.  Labor is apparently the limiting factor with smaller farms surviving through the use of unpaid family labor. 


We read consistently of small dairy farms in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio going out of business with the survivors requiring greater levels of federal support and protection.  The economic pressures on small dairy farms are relentless. Progressively similar trends are evident in the egg industry with a similar diversity between large and small operations.


The number of licensed U.S. dairy herds fell by more than half between 2002 and 2019 with an upturn in both 2018 and 2019 despite a slight increase in milk offtake after successive years of falling demand as a result of competition from substitutes.


Concern over the Farmers to Families Food Box Program


The Farmers to Families Food Box program was initiated in haste in response to market disruptions caused by COVID-19.  The program was conceived by Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Sonny Perdue in response to the fact that there was an accumulation of produce and other agricultural products on farms and a pressing need to alleviate hunger among families that had lost income.  The initial program was funded at approximately $2.7 billion and an additional extension of $1 billion was recently approved using emergency authority.


 The plan was for USDA to select contractors to source produce and assemble the food boxes with distribution to food banks and faith-based organizations to be supplied to those in need. It is understood that as many as 75 million boxes have been distributed.


The program was recently reviewed by journalists Jessica Fu and H. Claire Brown, followed by an article in The Counter.  This non-profit organization investigates social issues and although considered somewhat left-of-center many of the findings have been confirmed by mainstream media.


Despite the self-congratulatory releases by USDA and personal visits by Secretary Perdue to distribution centers it is apparent that the program has operated with inadequate oversight and control. As with many hastily implemented projects the Farmers to Families Box initiative is associated with wastage and possibly fraud.  The program was the subject of an acrimonious hearing by the House Agriculture Sub-committee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations on July 31st in which the chairperson Representative Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) castigated the responsible Undersecretary of Agriculture for lack of oversight.


A statement issued subsequent to the hearing included:-

Because USDA has rushed this program out the door, there is very little quality control with regard to who gets these contracts and who is qualified to actually meet the need. Tens of millions of dollars have gone to inexperienced contractors that still haven’t delivered anywhere near what they’ve promised. 


The article in The Counter notes that boxes distributed in Puerto Rico, assembled by a Caribbean produce exchange cost as much as $100 per unit.  Commentators with experience in handling and distribution of produce claim that the cost to taxpayers represents a three-fold overcharge.  There were numerous complaints regarding quality of products packed and their selection.  Nationwide over 200 contractors were involved in the program many of whom had no experience in sourcing and assembling boxes.  Recipient agencies including food banks were underwhelmed by service and quality. Informed observers consider that the approximately $3.7 billion expended would have been more beneficial had it been injected into the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program using existing mechanisms and allowing recipients to directly purchase what they needed for their families by selecting from participating groceries and supermarkets.


While the program has benefited both farmers and those subjected to hunger, a considerable amount of taxpayer money was wasted through insufficient planning and oversight. It is hoped that lessons will have been learned from the exercise.


Michigan State University Evaluated the Effect of COVID on the Egg Industry


A study* by agricultural economists at Michigan State University and Perdue University quantified the effects of COVID on prices and volumes of shell-egg and egg-liquid sales by segments of the U.S. industry.


The study documented the profound shift from eating out to at-home preparation. This change in purchasing and consumption of food disrupted both segments of the egg market.  Panic buying in March and extending into April resulted in farm-gate and retail price increases of 140 percent and 180 percent respectively.  In contrast breaking stock value fell by close to 70 percent.  Specialty eggs including cage-free, organic and nutritionally-enhanced products lost premiums as consumers purchased generic eggs at the lowest possible cost. 


Prior to the onset of COVID-19, consumers spent 54 percent of their food expenditure away from home representing a third of all food purchased.  As the economy closed down, the food service sector using dedicated shell eggs and egg liquid collapsed and 75 percent of food expenditure comprised the purchase of groceries for at-home consumption.


Following representations to the Food and Drug Administration and supported by United Egg Producers, restrictions were relaxed allowing shell eggs that would otherwise have been broken to be diverted to retail sales.  Initially this resulted in high demand for egg cartons with suppliers forced to triple-shift plants to satisfy demand.


The research team noted that preventing future disruptions will involve relaxation of barriers preventing interaction between the two segments of the egg industry.  The study failed to demonstrate evidence that either heightened demand or the FDA relaxation of regulations “had a meaningful impact on the marketing margin for table eggs sold at grocery stores.”


It is anticipated that the findings of the study will be reviewed in current litigation relating to alleged price gouging by egg producers in actions initiated by States Attorneys General.


Malone, T., Schaefer, A., and Lusk, J., Unscrambling COVID-19 Food Supply Chains (August 10, 2020).



International Cooperation on Vaccines Necessary to end Global COVID Pandemic


It is evident that if COVID-19 is to be eradicated, an effective vaccine will be necessary and should be applied to all of the world’s population with priority extended to frontline workers, the elderly and vulnerable individuals willing to participate in an immunization program.  Even if citizens in industrialized nations are protected, the persistence of infection in less-developed countries will represent a risk to all populations, given the volume and speed of international travel.


Recognizing the need to distribute vaccines equitably in an expeditious manner in the early stages of manufacture and with priority for the most vulnerable, the World Health Organization organized the Global Access Unitiative [COVAX] involving 170 nations.  The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Gavi Vaccine Alliance are also involved in the initiative backed by Japan, Germany, and the EU.


It is noted that the U.S. will not participate based on the refusal of the Administration to participate in any endeavor involving the WHO.  Judd Deere expressed the policy of the White House as, “The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat the virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”


The policy of unilateralism is criticized by established global health authorities, including faculty at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, Georgetown University, and other institutions.  Dr. Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva stated, “It is a real blow when the U.S. says that it’s not going to participate in any sort of multilateral effort to secure vaccines”.


Smerconish, in his Saturday, September 5th CNN program surveyed  the attitude of viewers by posing the question as to whether it would be more advantageous to distribute available vaccine in limited supply on a priority basis internationally or to retain U.S. vaccines only for U.S. residents. As an indication of how far the Administration is from public sentiment, 80 percent of the 18,000 responding considered that an international prioritized approach would be preferable to a unilateral policy since it would do more to end the global pandemic.


NIAID to Fund Research on Emerging Diseases


Based on outbreaks of SARS, MERS, Ebola and now COVID-19, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has established the Centers for Research and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID).  This entity will comprise a global network concentrating on emerging pathogens associated with wildlife.  The initial funding will amount to $17 million in 2020 and will extend to $82 million over five years.


In announcing the establishment of CREID, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci stated, “The impact of COVID-19 pandemic serves as a potent reminder of the devastation that can be wrought when a new virus infects humans for the first time.”  He added, “The CREID network will enable early warning of emerging diseases wherever they occur which will be critical to rapid response.  The knowledge gained through this research will increase our preparedness for future outbreaks.”


RTI International in Research Triangle Park, NC. in association with Duke University will serve as the coordinating center to provide data management, outbreak research response and quality control.  Prominent scientists at major universities and research institutes will be responsible for regions of the world or categories of disease.  Collaborating institutions include Scripps Research Institute, University of California, Washington State University, University of Texas, Washington University and the EcoHealth Alliance.


It is noted that Dr. Peter Daszak a world-renowned investigator with a specific interest in viral disease carried by bats was unjustly deprived of NIH funding at the direction of the Administration due to his long-term collaboration with the Wuhan Viral Research Institute.  As a collaborating entity of CREID it is presumed that research support has been reinstated.  He will be involved in emerging viral infectious diseases of wildlife and human populations in Southeast Asia, his traditional area of involvement.


The need to monitor emerging diseases is considered critical given the worldwide impact of SARS-COV-2 the virus responsible for COVID-19.  Knowledge of the molecular biology, methods of transmission and epidemiology of emerging diseases is critical to proactive development of appropriate detection and preventive measures.


Yet Another Teaser From Josh Tetrick


Reuters citing various food-interest publications reported that Josh Tetrick the CEO of Eat Just Inc. is considering an IPO.  Obviously stimulated by the July 31st debut of Vital Farms, Tetrick seized the opportunity to capitalize on demand for vegetable-based protein. EGG-NEWS previosly commented on the surge in promotion articles extolling the business accumen of Tetrick and questioned the value of his egg substitute. The appearance of adulatory articles relating to his company are interpreted as “setting bait” for  private venture capital investors although he now is suggesting an IPO. As a lawyer he should realise the scrutiny to which he and his Company will be subjected in the event of a filing.

Josh Tetrick Founder of JUST


Over the past decade Tetrick has made unsubstantiated claims of imminent production of cell-cultured meat, his intention of displacing the entire shell egg industry and extensive market demand for mayonnaise and other products throught  the various iterations of his company. The past history of Tetrick and his companies can be retrieved from the web or by entering “Tetrick” or “Just” in the search feature of this website. 


His major product appears to be an ersatz egg substitute extracted from mung beans imported from East Africa and Asia. Industry observers suggest that sales of Just Egg liquid product through the first six months of 2020 have not exceeded $7 million with approximately a million units sold, representing a retail price of $7 per pack.  Unfortunately prices have not been verified since despite visits to numerous supermarkets neither Just Egg liquid nor Just Mayonnaise were available for review.


A significant comment by Tetrick is that he hopes to “hit operating profitability sometime before the end of 2021.”  Operating profit and net profit can be widely different especially with start-ups” that burn capital on R&D and G,A&S at a prodigious rate. In the event of an intended IPO filing analysts and underwriters will naturally look at market growth and profitability, along with other parameters including “character” as used to evaluate an enterprise. It is doubtful that Tetrick would care for the questions and disclosure associated with an IPO.


For the record, Vital Farms (VITL) priced at $22 and by close of trading on July 31st rose to $34.  VITL peaked at $43.30 and closed at $35.87 on August 20th.  Analysts consider the share to be  “overpriced”. Vital Farms has a market capitalization of $1.41 billion.  In contrast, Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg producer in the world, has a market capitalization of $2.04 billion and has traded in a 52-week range of $30.74 to $46.66 with a 50-day moving average of $44.55.


Third-Party Food Delivery Unprofitable


EGG-NEWS has frequently commented on the extreme competition and low profit associated with third-party food and grocery delivery.  Extreme competition has inevitably resulted in consolidation.  Recently GrubHub operating in the U.S. was acquired by Just Eat Take Away of the EU. Uber Technologies then acquired Postmates, their second choice, for $2.65 billion in an all-stock transaction. Uber Technologies has also integrated Corner Shop to establish a foothold in Latin America.

Uber Technologies recently restructured, establishing the “Mobile” segment representing ride hailing and “Delivery” responsible for food and grocery services, previously operated as Uber Eats.  A third segment “Freight” will operate in parallel with the two major company segments. 


The relative non-profitability of food delivery is illustrated by the Q2 results posted by Uber Technologies.  For the most recent quarter, the Delivery segment lost $232 million on revenue of $885 million.  In contrast, Mobility showed a net contribution to EBITDA of $50 million on revenue of $793 million.  The Freight segment lost $49 million on revenue of $167 million.  For Q2 of 2020, Uber Technologies lost $1.775 Billion on revenue of $2.241 billion with an EPS of $[1.02].  For the corresponding second quarter of 2019, Uber Technologies lost $5.24 billion on revenue of $3.166 Billion with a negative EPS of $[4.72].  It is to the credit of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi that expenses were sharply reduced over the past year.  For Q2 of FY 2019, expenses for the categories of Research and Development, Sales and Marketing and General Administration amounted to $5.92 Billion.  For the most recent quarter the company reduced expenditure in the three categories to $1.89 Billion. 


Uber Technologies has a market capitalization of $53.4 billion and has traded over the past 52 weeks in a range of $13.71 to $41.86 with a 50-day moving average of $31.80.  Twelve-month trailing return on assets was a negative 10.0 percent with a negative 52.7 percent on equity. Operating margin attained negative 34.7 percent and the profit margin negative 51.0 percent.  As of June 30th, 2020 total assets amounted to $28.24 billion with long-term debt of $9.67 billion.


Uber and other ride hailing companies have a significant problem in California.  The company recently lost a court challenge to AB5, legislation that designated drivers as employees eligible for benefits rather than independent contractors.  A California court denied a request for a moratorium in implementing AB5 until the results of Proposition 22 on November 3rd are known. This ballot initiative effectively parallels AB5 in intent.  Accordingly, the company will have to meet an August 20th deadline for compliance.  Both Lyft and Uber will incur higher costs if they are obliged by law to provide drivers with benefits including sick leave, insurance, and PPE.


Recovery of the casual dining and white-tablecloth segments of the restaurant industry is reliant on third-party delivery either provided by services such as Uber Eats or direct delivery by restaurants.  In the event that California Proposition 22 is adopted which is most likely, Uber and Lyft together with their clones will not be able to pass on increased costs to consumers and restaurants.  It is generally accepted that trends that emerge in California eventually spread eastward to take root on the opposite coast and eventually encompass the entire nation.  Financial prospects for third-party restaurant and grocery delivery do not appear promising.  Obviously, there is a need for this service, but providers cannot make a profit with prevailing rates.


Comments By ENC Director Dr. Mickey Rubin to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee


On August 11th Dr. Mickey Rubin, Executive Director of the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC) presented comments on the Final Report of the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.


He stated:-

“Significantly, the Committee highlighted science supporting eggs as a FUNDAMENTAL first food for infants and toddlers. Eggs provide several nutrients noted as important during this time of rapid brain development, including high-quality protein, choline, and iodine. The Committee’s thorough review of the science recognized eggs’ role in providing these critical nutrients, including eggs in recommendations from the very moment infants are ready for solid foods.


While choline is under-consumed by most Americans, the Committee noted that this poses special challenges for infants, toddlers, and pregnant women. A recent survey commissioned by ENC showed low levels of awareness of choline, among both new and expecting mothers and the health professionals who care for them. Over 70 percent of these moms and over 40 percent of OBGYN’s and pediatricians were unfamiliar with choline. With less than 10% of pregnant women meeting the Adequate Intake, this lack of knowledge represents a barrier to adequate choline consumption. These data suggest that the recommendations for choline within the Report must be amplified with education and outreach.

Dr. Mickey Rubin ENC


Related, the Report highlighted iodine as a nutrient of public health concern for pregnant women, and as a nutrient important for infant brain development. While the Report lists several foods that contain iodine, eggs - which contain 20% of the daily value – were not listed as a food to help close this nutrient gap.


As an excellent source of BOTH choline and iodine, new and expecting moms would benefit greatly from education and outreach on including eggs in their diets to achieve recommendations and support brain development.


The Report also recommended early introduction of eggs to reduce the risk of egg allergy. This conclusion aligns with previous recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Given older, contradictory guidance to AVOID early introduction of allergens, it will be especially important to provide clear guidance and education on this new recommendation.


The Report recognized that eggs can help Americans move towards healthier diet patterns and meet nutrient needs at ALL ages. In children, the Committee identified the diet quality benefits if energy were to be redistributed from added sugars to the Protein group – highlighting eggs as a preferred nutrient- dense option. In pre-teens and adolescents – particularly girls – eggs were encouraged for their protein and choline content. Older adults were noted for poor nutritional status related to protein and vitamin B12, two nutrients for which eggs provide greater than 10% of the daily value. Eggs also were identified as one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient of public health concern for all Americans.


This Report represents a tremendous step forward in helping Americans build healthy diets at every age. Egg Nutrition Center stands ready to be a partner in educating the public about the Dietary Guidelines and how eggs, as a nutrient-dense food, contribute to health and wellbeing at every age and life stage in a variety of ways”.


Are Consumers Ready to Pack Pantries Again Following a COVID-19 Resurgence


Market survey company Acosta recently determined that consumers will initiate a new cycle of stockpiling in the event that COVID-19 restrictions are reimposed.  Two thirds of those responding consider that a lockdown is either extremely or somewhat likely and that this cohort is extremely concerned over the current incidence and mortality rates of the infection.  More than a third of those surveyed indicated that they stocked up at the beginning of the COVID outbreak in March and intend once again to fill their pantries.  Fifteen percent did not stock up in March, but are inclined to do so should circumstances change.  Only a quarter of respondents did not stock up in March and have no intention of buying more than short-term requirements if restrictions are re-imposed. 

Surge Pricing in March

Darian Pickett, CEO of Acosta stated, "as COVID cases continue to rise most shoppers believe we're heading for another shutdown and plan to respond accordingly so retailers should be prepared for a new surge".  He added "hand sanitizer, masks and gloves will be the most in-demand items in additional to basic school supplies and many will opt for online shopping with delivery options".  The level of concern is illustrated by the fact that only 25 percent of those surveyed opined that they are looking forward to the holidays and do not plan to celebrate as usual.  An equal proportion is apparently in denial with no forward planning for the holiday season. The remainder of respondents accepts that the holiday season will be disrupted and subject to restrictions.


The important question is whether purchasing patterns influenced by COVID will or will not influence the seasonal increase in demand during the fourth quarter. If demand is moderated downward, given the size of the national flock, prices will be lower than production cost with a negative impact on annual profit. On balance there will be probably not be any lock-down given the timing of the 2020 election and the prevailing political climate. Recession and unemployment  will however limit non-essential expenditure on consumables and gifts with inexpensive food, including eggs benefitting. 


Prospects for Pfizer-BioNTech and other Vaccines


The Department of Health and Human Services has announced an agreement to purchase 100 million doses of a candidate COVID-19 vaccine for $1.95 billion ($20 per dose) subject to efficacy.


Pfizer recently announced that one of the candidate vaccines produced using technology developed by BioNTech of Germany stimulated antibody production and has now progressed to Phase Two evaluation. Similar announcements have been made for the Astra-Zeneca Oxford vaccine and other candidates.


If development proceeds as planned, one of the various candidate vaccines might be approved by the end of October and could be supplied in commercial quantities during the first quarter of 2021.


The announcement follows new concern as to the actual protective ability of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and also the durability of  antibodies. This is based on studies demonstrating decay of antibody as measured by ELISA assay in patients recovering from COVID-19 and anecdotal reports of re-infection. It is also possible that mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome may require periodic modification of vaccines although the basic technology and manufacturing capacity would be in place to effect modifications to maintain efficacy.


Even if a suitable vaccine is available in early 2021 the current social climate poisoned by misinformation and political polarization will detract from attaining the level of herd immunity required to suppress the incidence rate of infection. The population of the World will be obliged to continue preventive measures that have proved successful in nations such as Taiwan, Germany and South Korea for many years with or without effective vaccines.


Operation Warpspeed supports research, development and manufacturing capability of pharmaceutical companies with promising vaccine candidates.


Germany Closing in on Cockerel Disposal


Well here we are in mid-2020 with no practical solution to the problem of gender sorting to avoid depletion of hatched layer-strain cockerels.  Three years ago research institutes and startups were actively soliciting and obtaining funding for technology to offer a solution.  Techniques requiring breaking of shells to visualize embryonic development, extraction of fluids for hormone assay at 16 days of incubation, sophisticated spectroscopy, and other proof-of-concept experiments were offered.  On even superficial examination, none of these approaches had the potential to differentiate between fertile eggs containing male or female embryos at a rate that would be commercially and financially acceptable. 


Naturally along with the science-based contenders, there were a host of charlatans offering gee-whiz blackbox come-ons, only to disappear with funding.  One especially egregious contender was developed by an engineer who since has divested his LED light company who patented claimed technology to not only differentiate between male and female-bearing eggs during incubation, but could also influence the gender of embryos.  To his credit this was not a scam, but merely a delusion.



Federal Minister of Agriculture, Julia Kloeckner

And now we come to the righteously indignant.  The Green Party in Germany, in many EU nations, has gained power.  Julia Klockner, Federal Minister of Agriculture, now realizes that what was promised four years ago is still half a decade in the future.  In a recent interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, an influential newspaper in a dense poultry-producing area, she opined  “as I have not been able to see that the industry is using the existing alternatives to end chick killings across the board by the end of 2021, I am proposing a law.”  Over the past two years, attempts have been made to demonstrate the feasibility of raising unwanted layer-strain cockerels using sentiment to buttress a high price due to inappropriate genetics.  Attempts to breed dual-purpose strains representing a retrograde back-to-the future compromise approach that has been financially unsuccessful.  Farmers are generally more discriminatory and capable of assessing the value of livestock than urban liberals in Birkenstocks, especially a tenth- generation Niedersachsen bauer. 

If a law banning disposal of layer-strain cockerels in Germany is enacted, hatcheries distributing pullet chicks would close.  If the law were extended to importation of pullets derived from hatcheries in other EU nations that disposed of cockerels, the layer industry in Germany would cease.  All table eggs would have to be imported, placing considerable strain on egg producers in Holland already constrained by environmental regulations.  It seems that Klockner’s intentions would do little other than enrich producers in Spain and Italy and add to food inflation in Germany.  The bottom line would be that just as many cockerels would be euthanized.


Until an accurate, rapid and practical method of gender determination and segregation is developed, the industry will have to use all appropriate technology to render unwanted cockerels insensible before disposal.


There may never be a solution that will satisfy opponents of intensive livestock production.  It was suggested that any system of differentiation should be effective before the fifth day of incubation.  Even if this were to be achieved, purists would claim that removal and destruction of fertilized eggs containing male embryos would be gender discrimination.  Germany is hypersensitive over mass killing, especially by gas, and disposal of cockerels represents an acceptable atonement for past injustices.


Progress on COVID-19 Vaccine


In the midst of pessimistic data on the increasing incidence rate of COVID-19 in the U.S., Latin America and the Middle East, some good news on vaccine development was released that should buoy optimism. Pfizer in partnership with BioNTech SE announced that two candidate vaccines will receive “Fast Track” designation from the FDA.  The Pfizer- BioNTech consortium is competing with Moderna Inc. working with AstraZeneca PLC. 


The BioNTech and Moderna alternative vaccines have delivered promising preliminary results in human trials by stimulating an antibody response.  More extensive trials will be required to confirm that antibody level actually correlates with protection and that there are no undesirable side effects and that long-term protection is stimulated. 


Although there is a dire need for an effective, but safe vaccine, regulatory agencies worldwide are aware of both political and economic pressure to grant approval, but this imperative is tempered by their collective knowledge of past vaccine failures.  At best an ineffective vaccine will cause no harm but will be a costly exercise and will require resources to administer.  Despite raising false hopes an ineffective vaccine may prejudice the adoption of a subsequent product.  It is however possible that deleterious side effects of a successful vaccine may only be determined following large-scale administration.  Previously examples of difficulties encountered include an inactivated Cutter vaccine against poliomyelitis in the 1955, RSV vaccines (1967), swine flu   vaccine in the U.S. (1976) initial administration of rotavirus vaccines in developing nations in 2012, and dengue vaccine in 2017. Problems were only encountered after field deployment, leading to modification in the way vaccines were prepared, total withdrawal or replacement with an improved product.


Obligations of Employers with Regard to COVID-19


It is highly probable that individuals employed on farms or in packing plants will contract COVID-19.  Employers are obliged in terms of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) General Duty Clause to maintain a safe environment to take action to suppress infection.  Employers are also enjoined from releasing the identity of infected employees in terms of the American with Disabilities Act.  Results of screening or other diagnostic procedures must be held as confidential medical information.


The supervisor of an employee learning of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis is obligated to report the diagnosis to the company Human Resources Director or designated manager.

It is incumbent on the employer to take immediate action to determine the extent of infection in the workplace.  The following information can be requested from the employee:


  • A list of co-workers with close contact during the 14-day incubation period prior to establishing the diagnosis.
  • The affected employee should describe areas visited in the plant including workstation, breakroom and change rooms during the 14-day incubation period preceding the diagnosis.


Co-workers should be informed of the diagnosis without identifying the individual other than to authorize HR personnel to obtain epidemiologic information.  Affected workers or those in direct contact should be quarantined and contact should monitor for clinical symptoms and submit to testing in the event that they are concerned or develop symptoms.


A general notice to the effect that an employee has tested positive for COVID is permissible without identifying the worker. `Businesses are not obligated to disclose the existence of COVID-19 within the workforce but in the event of contact between the affected employee and third parties, it would be prudent to discuss preventive measures and subsequent monitoring of contacts.  Contractors assigning employees to a complex can be informed of the diagnosis on an affected employee noting the date which the diagnosis was confirmed.


HR departments in large companies should be familiar with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and OSHA regulations.  Legal advice can be obtained in advance of a possible outbreak.


Companies should take preemptive measures to prevent introduction of COVID-19 into farms and packing plants including:

  • Health screening each day
  • Encouraging the use of masks
  • Intensive decontamination at the end of the working shift
  • Insulation of dry hydrogen generators in breakrooms, offices and change rooms
  • Regular education sessions concerning protection from COVID-19 both in the community and the workplace


Status of Trade with China


In interviews with the media on Monday June 26th White House Advisor Dr. Peter Navarro, a confirmed Sinophobe, implied that the Phase One Trade Agreement with China “was over”.  This remark sent the stock market and commodity prices into a tailspin with the Dow dropping 400 points before a retraction was issued.  Navarro claimed he was misinterpreted and his comment referred to the “lack of trust we now have of the Chinese Communist Party after they lied about the origins of the China virus and foisted a pandemic upon the world.” 


Without commenting on the validity of this questionable assertion, it is evident that the Administration now displays a considerable animosity towards China. Whether this is based on the public health ramifications of the COVID-19 outbreak or the pandemic situation is being misrepresented as a diversionary tactic for political reasons is a question of speculation.  It is considered significant that President Trump tweeted on Monday evening that the agreement is still in place and expressed the wish that China will comply with commitments.  This sentiment was reinforced by Larry Kudlow, Director of the Economic Council who praised Beijing for their action on trade.


In recent weeks, China has placed orders for soybeans consistent with their purchase pattern in previous years, requiring deliveries from September onwards representing the new market year.  The USDA data confirmed that exports of soybeans to China attained 208,000 metric tons in March followed by 424,000 metric tons in April. Commitments amounting to $10 billion in terms of the Phase One Agreement have already been completed.


Currently there are delays on shipments of poultry now subject to an unjustified testing procedure for COVID-19 virus. Product from one plant in Springdale, Arkansas has been embargoed based on the prevalence rate of COVID-19 among workers.  Whether this action is based on a distorted and highly sensitive concern over COVID-19 and the recent upsurge in Beijing, or whether it is yet another one of the not-so-subtle messages sent by the Central Government is unknown at this time. Traders report that the action, also directed against Brazil is the initiative of the General Administration of Customs.


It is evident that China will be hard pressed to achieve the targets for agricultural imports required in terms of the Phase One Agreement.  The volume of commodities actually delivered would have to increase by $10 billion for each of the succeeding quarters of 2020 to attain the promised $36.5 billion for the current calendar year.  Informed agricultural economists project that China may not even meet the 2017 baseline of $24 billion.


Functional Microbiome Critical to Suppress Antibiotic Resistance


Dr. Richard Murphy Director of Research for the Alltech European Bioscience Center considered the modulation of antimicrobial-resistance in a presentation in the poultry session at the recent Alltech ONE Virtual Experience. Murphy stressed that the microbiome is involved in multiple functions including suppression of pathogens, modulating the immune system and influencing intestinal morphology.  The intestinal microbiome may be considered as an additional organ enhancing digestion and contributing to health and productivity.


Numerous factors influence the composition of the microbiome including feed ingredients, and in the case of poultry, ingestion of litter, pH of water and medication including antibiotics.  It is generally conceded that a functional and beneficial microbiome is characterized by diversity.  Unfortunately antibiotics severely reduce diversity and thereby depress the beneficial effects of a normal balanced flora.  Reducing diversity permits the proliferation of pathogens resulting in deleterious changes within the intestinal tract.  The use of antibiotics for growth promotion or therapy is associated with excretion of non-absorbed antibiotic and metabolites into the environment.  It is estimated that with respect to some antibiotics, 90 percent may be excreted in urine and 75 percent in feces.  Injudicious use of antibiotics on a specific farm will inevitably result in the emergence of antibiotic resistance.  This will contribute to dissemination of antibiotic-resistant organisms through infected soil, water ansd products.  Studies conducted in Europe and especially in Denmark show that antibiotic resistance can persist in livestock on a specific farm for prolonged periods.

Dr. Richard Murphy


Murphy suggests that strategies to rehabilitate the intestinal microbiome can reverse the deleterious effect of administration of growth-stimulating antibiotics and antibiotic therapy.  Prebiotics that demonstrate efficacy can reintroduce diversity to the intestinal microbiome with beneficial effects on health and productivity.  There are number of feed additives that can influence the microbiome including prebiotics, active live probiotics, enzymes that assist in degradation of nutrients, botanicals and short-chain fatty acids.


First generation prebiotics comprising extracts from the cell wall of the common yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) including mannanoligosaccharides, were introduced over 30 years ago and marketed as Bio-Mos™. Subsequent research demonstrated that an extract from MOS termed the mannan-rich fraction (MRF) demonstrated higher activity and induced a more pronounced beneficial response in the microbiome.  Both MOS and MRF prebiotics have the ability to adsorb pathogenic bacteria with Type-1 fimbriae including Salmonella and E. coli.  By modulating the microbiome, intestinal integrity may be improved together with stimulation of the immune response by the intestine. 


Murphy stressed that the greatest benefit in broilers is derived from administration of the MRF prebiotic early in the growing cycle to establish a beneficial flora that persists through to depletion.


Murphy noted that in addition to diversity, as a result of including MRF in feed, the microbiome became more balanced with a move away from a Gram-positive over-predominance.  A balanced microbiome is generally more resistant to colonization by pathogens than a microflora that is biased in favor of a particular bacterial grouping. In flocks with a balanced and diverse microbiome, positive effects on intestinal morphology are evident from the duodenum extending through to the cecum.


Recently attention on rehabilitation of the microbiome in monogastric livestock has focused on antimicrobial resistance.  There are multiple classes and types of antibiotics many of which were previously administered to poultry, resulting in the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens.  Bacteria can extend antibiotic resistance either through exchange of plasmids, chromosomal transfer or indirectly by phages.  Newer research has identified the presence of more than one-hundred gene markers in the broiler cecum conferring resistance to multiple individual antibiotics. This overall group of resistance genes is referred to as the resistome and can be further categorized into the so-called core and accessory groupings. Resistance in flocks can either be represented by widespread dissemination within the flock referred to as core resistance. In contrast when only a few birds in a flock carry particular antibiotic-resistant genes a state of accessory resistance pertains.


Inclusion of effective prebiotics in diets suppresses the intensity of core resistance.  This has implications for public health as it enhances the ability of the microbiome to suppress antibiotic resistant pathogens.  Studies conducted in Brazil over extended periods demonstrated a significant and progressive decrease in the recovery of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the intestinal tract.  A broiler complex processing 1.5 millions per week over a two-year period experienced a four-fold decrease in recovery of drug-resistant pathogens of human health significance attesting to the value of a diverse microbiome.


Organic Food Sales Attained $50 Billion in 2019


According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sales of USDA-certified organic foods attained $50 billion, approximately five percent above 2018. Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the association, noted “A 2020 survey shows that consumers were increasingly seeking out the organic label in the first quarter to feed their families the healthiest food possible.”  She added “The pandemic has only increased our desire for clean, healthy food.” 


EGG-NEWS strongly deprecates the frequent pronouncements of the Organic Trade Association implying that generic foods are in some way less “clean and healthy” compared to certified organic products.  COVID-19 is not a food borne infection and attempts by the OTA to suggest otherwise is devoid of any scientific justification. 


Consistently, analytical stdies fail to show any superior nutritional benefit from certified organic foods compared to generic equivalents. Organic certification is based on documentation, unsupported by laboratory procedures to quantify nutrient content or pesticide residues and does not address freedom from potential pathogens. The differential in cost between organic and generic food products is justified on the basis of misinformation, perception, sentiment and fear.



Beth Ford Comments on a Post-COVID Future:


Beth Ford, CEO of Land O' Lakes (LOL) recently commented on the effects of COVID on her company and projected future trends in a post-COVID market environment.  As with many food companies Land O'Lakes, the world's largest co-operative, was faced with a collapse of the food service sector.  Many of Land O' Lakes farmer members producing hogs have been impacted by plant shutdowns and reduced capacity.  Concurrently dairy-producing members have had to dump milk and others have destroyed produce as a result of disruption in supply chains. 


Ms. Ford commented on the upsurge in retail buying compensating in part for the decline in food service sales.  In common with other food industry leaders, Ford noted a restoration in food service commenting that at the end of May, LOL was back to approximately 90 percent of pre-COVID sales.  This is reinforced by the statement by Joe F. Sanderson Jnr. addressing analysts last week stating that Sanderson Farms food service business is approaching 80 percent of the volume prior to COVID-19.  Beth Ford questions whether the upsurge in sales reflects actual increased demand or is only a temporary phase of "filling the pipeline". 


As with many food processors and manufacturers Land O' Lakes encountered difficulty in converting plants configured for food service products to supply the retail market.  Although possible, conversion is both expensive and time-consuming and neither Ford nor Sanderson see any significant change in relative production capacity for these markets.


In predicting the future of food, Ford emphasized the move to home cooking.  This is reflected in increased demand for butter and similar products used for baking. Recent IRI data and observations in club stores and supermarkets confirmed increased sales of flour.  Ford noted that current consumer purchases are reminiscent of the patterns before Mother's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.


 It is questioned whether home cooking will persist after consumers emerge from COVID confinement.  This commentator believes that rediscovering the benefits of home preparation of meals both in terms of cost and a sense of fulfillment will outweigh the advantages of convenience from consuming QSR and restaurant meals.  This will be especially evident among Boomers but there will be differences among age demographics in the U.S.   There are obviously new opportunities for prepared meals and meal kits providing they deliver quality and variety at appropriate cost.  Traditional TV dinners that resemble airplane food will certainly not displace restaurant dining in the context of eating at home. The cost of home-delivery over the intermediate term will also be a disincentive to purchasing restaurant meals.


In the context of changes in U.S. preferences for eating there is obviously a place for eggs in the post-COVID diet.  Initiatives established by the American Egg Board to position eggs as an every-meal ingredient should be extended emphasizing both convenience and nutritional value. In a post-recession period following COVID-19 the cost per unit of protein compared to red meat and vegetable substitutes should be advanced as a consumer benefit.


Senate Democrats Propose Increased Funding for Food Production


In a Bill under consideration by the Senate Agriculture Committee, over $7.5 billion would be made available in grants, loans and guarantees to improve distribution of food to the needy.  The Bill proposes $5.5 billion for producers to upgrade equipment, expand facilities and make available new products. An allotment of $1 billion would assist organizations involved in emergency feeding.  Approximately $1 billion would be made available to subsidize storing and distribution of perishable foods by food banks.


According to Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member on the Senate Agriculture Committee "the COVID-19 crisis is testing the strength of our nation's food supply chain creating a ripple effect that’s harming our families, farmers and workers".  She added "this bill will help strengthen our food supply by redirecting food to families and helping farmers and processors retool their operations". 



Sen Stabenow

It is apparent that despite the best intentions and actions of Congress, making money available to the designated recipients does not necessarily relieve the stresses and hunger among families who have been impacted by COVID-19.  This is especially the case with children deprived of meals that would have been provided at their now-closed schools. It appears that between the Federal and state bureaucracies they collectively are unable to effectively even give away money! (see item on child hunger in this edition).


The egg industry is especially generous in donating and delivering products to local food banks. The inherent nutritional value of eggs, especially for children, ease of preparation and low cost for storage and distribution should be recognized by relief agencies that could purchase and supply more eggs to needy families given current needs.


Nebraska to Cease Releasing COVID-19 Data on Meat Packing Plants


Governor Pete Ricketts stated on Wednesday May 6th that the state would not release specific incidence data for COVID-19 infections in plants in Nebraska.  This decision was apparently justified on the basis of “privacy”.  County health departments have previously issued periodic reports on the incidence of COVID-19 at major plants in the state including the Tyson plant in Madison, and the Smithfield plant in Crete.


COVID-19 incidence rates should be made available since workers interact in their communities and often plants are the major employer in a county or region. Differences among plants could indicate more effective protective measures or the existence of specific risk factors that should be addressed.  Suppressing data creates the impression of a cover-up and is a reflection of a totalitarian mentality, foreign to the principles of U.S. democracy. In the absence of official figures speculative and unfounded rumors circulate leading to greater concern than from the expedient of withholding data,


Rhetoric on Phase-One Trade Agreement Should Be Toned Down


Both China and the U.S. have issued inflammatory statements recently hinting at reneging on the Phase-One Trade Agreement, signed in mid-January.  Statements by semi-official organizations in China have urged that the Nation walk away from the agreement.  Given the tight control over communications in China, nothing relating to international affairs is issued, printed or posted on news media without some form of central government approval.


Statements by those opposed to the U.S. are aggrieved over unsubstantiated accusations that China either deliberately engineered SARS-CoV-2 virus or negligently allowed it to escape from the Wuhan National Institute of Virology.  Scientists in the U.S. have refuted Administration accusations, which in past days appear to have been muted. China suffered from COVID-19 and inherent in the concept of ‘face” it is understandable that they are deeply offended by assertions that they were responsible for the pandemic. The culpability of regional authorities in suppressing information on the outbreak, even from their own government is an established fact but should be interpreted in the light of how officialdom operates in China.


Failing to interpret the response from China in its context, the President has threatened to “tear up the Phase-One Trade deal if China reneges on its purchase obligations.”  This would be mutually destructive, since China needs pork and  by early summer, soybeans. The U.S. certainly needs the export potential given partial restoration of hog slaughter and a 2020 soybean harvest estimated at 4.13 billion bushels estimated to be 15 percent higher than in 2019.


It is acknowledged that China was slow in implementing the agreement, partly due to COVID-19 but also by purchasing soybeans from Brazil as is normal during the first half of a calendar year. The agreement did allow for competitive pricing and sourcing and did not specify quantities of specific agricultural commodities to be purchased.  Starting a new trade war, while attempting to negotiate Phase Two of a trade agreement, appears a self-defeating strategy.  Certainly both parties recognize that from a political perspective President Xi does not have to face his electorate in November.


Increased Mechanization Predicted Post-Covid


In recent essay in the Financial Times Carl Frey noted that COVID-19 and its effects on industry will hasten mechanization as a response to both availability and the direct and indirect components of the true cost of labor.  Frey noted that from 2013 to 2017, approximately 12 million line production jobs in China were replaced by mechanization and robotics.  Frey also noted that in a post-COVID era, decoupling of world economies is inevitable with re-shoring of manufacturing capacity back to the U.S. Now is the time to prepare by evaluating alternative systems and to consider installing robotic and mechanical alternatives to repetitive labor. 


Congressional Call to Eliminate Wet Markets in Asia


Legislators in both House and Senate have called for closing wet markets worldwide that offer both live and dead exotic animals and reptiles as food.  A resolution introduced by Rep Steve Chabot (R-OH) representing the first district of Ohio also calls into question the disinformation spread by the Government of China regarding the origin of COVID-19.


In a separate action senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and four other Senatorial colleagues from both sides of the aisle have addressed a letter to the World Health Organization urging a global shutdown of wet markets that are a potential source of zoonotic infections.


Given that the wet market system is a fact of life in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, legislators should not anticipate a rapid response and compliance. In some respects their well-intentioned action may be regarded as quixotic.

Rep Steve Chabot (R-OH)

Civet, A known reservoir of SARS virus

In February 2020 the Government of China banned breeding, transporting and sale of exotics recognizing the risks associated with holding and slaughtering non-conventional species in markets selling meat from domestic livestock together with other food items.


This ban will be virtually impossible to enforce.  The edict from the central government made an exception for traditional Chinese "medicine" creating a significant loophole to continue exploitation of wildlife and perpetuating a potential means of transmission of animal viruses to humans.


From the perspective of the U.S. it would be more practical to ban our wet markets that operate in many urban centers.




Unemployment? Positions Open? Welfare?


CHICK-NEWS has consistently questioned the need for foreign agricultural workers under the H-2A program when the nation supports a large number of non-working citizens.  With the sudden increase in unemployment, and the prospect that some of the jobs will not return after the COVID-19 crisis is resolved, it is time that chronically unemployed should seek work in agriculture.


History confirms the mass movement of displaced farmers from the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, westward to California where they found employment. This was necessary in the absence of liberal Federal and state “safety nets.”


Aid should be directed at temporary resolution of problems such as the current COVID-19 crisis. It is undesirable to perpetuate multi-generational populations with dependency as a way of life. The chronically unemployed need retraining and should be assisted to migrate to areas where both skilled and unskilled labor is in demand.


SNAP benefitted 40 million of our population at an annual cost of $60 billion in 2019. We need to provide opportunities to assist the unemployed, especially in urban areas, and create an environment where they can be productive and to establish a sense of self-worth and acievement.



HSUS to Sue USDA-APHIS over HPAI Program


Never wishing to waste a crisis or calamity, the Humane Society of the United States will initiate a lawsuit over the published USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) plan to control and eradicate highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)


The HSUS conflates HPAI, a disease of avian species with COVID-19, an ongoing human infection, noting “The factory farm industry represents an imminent threat of a pandemic resulting from zoonotic pathogens associated with the intensive confinement of animals.”


The HSUS lawsuit characterizes the HPAI program as “short-sighted and dangerous”.


Kitty Block CEO of the HSUS stated, “Our federal government should require producers to agree to end their intensive confinement of chickens in cages and shift to cage-free systems that give the birds dramatically more space and ability to engage in healthy, natural behaviors.” Ms. Block is reminded that an isolated outbreak of AI in the Carolinas occurred in barn-housed turkeys and was rapidly controlled and eradicated by the USDA-APHIS. The Agency effectively implemented the same “short-sighted and dangerous” program alluded to in the HSUS lawsuit in association with state officials and the turkey industry in the Carolinas.


It is a matter of record that the initiative to establish a common federal standard for housing laying hens foundered in the face of Congressional reluctance to enact a proposed “egg bill”.  Individual states have voted to impose cage-free standards that have been upheld by Federal courts.


COVID-19 as with other recently emerged coronavirus infections including SARS and MERS are by definition, zoonoses but have no relationship with intensive production of livestock.  It is generally accepted that the coronaviruses responsible for each of the three infections was derived from bats and transmitted to humans in all probability through an intermediate mammalian host.  After undergoing mutation, infection has spread among human populations as a result of  specific epidemiologic circumstances including air travel in the case of SARS, high density of population in case of COVID-19 and contact with camels in the case of MERS.


HSUS is perverting science and reality to create legal mischief in pursuit of their vegan agenda.  Obviously Wayne Pacelle left the playbook in his desk drawer when he was ousted from HSUS for alleged sexual harassment and financial irregularities.


POET and other Ethanol Refiners Shutter Plants


Warren Buffet maintains that only when the tide goes out does one discover who was swimming without a costume.  So it is with the ethanol industry that has recently shuttered 41 ethanol plants. This industry has lurched along at the expense of consumers and taxpayers support since its inception by government mandates and ongoing Congressional protection from corn-producing states.


Since the advent of the current Administration, exemptions have been granted to small (and not so small) refiners representing a  significant proportion of the 15 billion gallons of ethanol used to dilute gasoline at the level of 10 percent to produce E-10 fuel. The EPA action is currently under litigation.


COVID-19 restrictions came out from left field in March and sharply reduced gasoline consumption and hence the requirement for ethanol. The Energy Information Agency anticipates that consumption of gasoline in the U.S will reach the lowest level in 20 years during the second quarter of 2020.  This reality coupled with the precipitous drop in the price of crude and reduced export demand has curtailed markets for ethanol.


POET will cease production at three facilities in Iowa and one in South Dakota and will postpone the opening a fourth plant scheduled to come on line in Indiana.  Jeff Broin CEO of POET stated, “across the board biofuel producers and our partners in the farm community face an unprecedented challenge”. He added “our company is working hard to ensure that every biorefinery remains well positioned to support a strong and swift recovery once daily life returns to normal.”


In their press release POET stated that ethanol producers across the country are reducing production proportional to the predicted reduction in demand for automobile fuel. This is estimated to amount to 55 percent of pre-COVID-19 requirements and represents an annualized drop in ethanol demand of approximately 8 billion gallons produced from 2.7 billion bushels of corn.  The USDA WASDE forecast #598 released on March 10th estimated that 5.4 billion bushels of corn, equivalent to 34 percent of the projected 2020 harvest would be used for ethanol.  Given the lower production of ethanol, it can be presumed that DDGS will also be reduced proportionately and that the poultry and swine industries will purchase corn at lower prices.


Ethanol has decreased in price by 38 percent since the beginning of 2020 and on April 7th was trading at $0.86 per gallon. On June 16th 2019, ethanol traded at $1.62 per gallon.  At close of trading on April 7th, May corn closed at $3.32 per bushel.  There has been no positive effect from either the Phase-One trade agreement with China or from the USMCA that will officially come into effect June 1st.


Dollar Discount Stores Must Offer Fresh Foods to Avoid Restrictions


A number of jurisdictions have placed restrictions on the number of dollar-style discount stores based on what is regarded as predatory pricing and a limited range of foods.  The biggest concerns relate to the trend that proliferation of these chain stores drive small groceries out of business. This effectively deprives low-income consumers of access to fresh fruit, vegetables and perishable foods. The rise in dollar-style stores creates the phenomenon of "food deserts" since residents of these areas, frequently without transport, do not have convenient access to full-service supermarkets


Dollar stores are strategically located and clustered in areas with low income and also in rural areas without competition from major chains. Dollar discount stores including Dollar General and Dollar Tree, with its subsidiary Family Dollar, operate as many as 30,000 stores in the U.S. This volume represents a 10,000-unit increase over the past ten years with plans to increase units by an additional 20,000 within a decade.


Since stores are in the region of 7,000 square foot in extent compared to 40,000 square foot for a medium-sized Supermarket, capital costs are low favoring proliferation.  It is estimated that there are as many as 100 dollar discount stores located within a five-mile radius in moderate to low-income metropolitan areas.


According to a CNN Business report by Nathaniel Meyersohn, Birmingham, AL, Oklahoma City, OK, Mesquite, TX and Cleveland, OH have all introduced zoning rules that limit the location of dollar stores.


In response Dollar General is introducing fresh fruit and vegetables in 500 stores and is now stocking a range of "good & smart" nutritious items.  Although criticized for the limited initial approach it is evident that Dollar General and Dollar Tree will eventually provide a wider array of health foods.


With the advent of COVID-19 consumers are favoring smaller-format units including Aldi, and convenience stores for essentials including bread, milk and eggs.  Dollar discount stores may be a valuable outlet for eggs, making them available across a wide geographic area and specifically to lower-income consumers. 


Unfortunately, this may create problems of distribution given obvious logistic challenges.  Local producers may be able to service dollar-style discount stores using smaller vehicles and regular deliveries to maintain stock held in small store coolers.  Dollar stores should be regarded as a new and possibly beneficial retail channel to increase consumption.


Stefan Pohlmann Sentenced in Germany over Salmonella Outbreaks


Stefan Pohlmann, son of Anton Pohlmann was found guilty as the responsible manager of an egg production enterprise responsible for a serious Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) outbreak in 2014. He was sentenced to one year and nine months, suspended, after being detained for eight months awaiting trial.  He was found guilty in190 cases of commercial fraud relating to distribution of eggs known to have been infected with SE and negligent bodily harm in 26 cases.  He was fined $375,000 and his company Bayern-Ei (‘Bavarian Egg’) was ordered to pay $1.27 million in compensation.  The 2014 SE outbreak occurred in 2014 and involved cases in Austria, France, Germany and the U.K.  In a subsequent outbreak of salmonellosis during the summer of 2019 Salmonella was traced back to the Aiterhofen Farm operated by the Pohlmann family.  In these cases, Salmonella was detected on the surface of eggs that were not washed as is the practice in most nations in the EU.


Anton Pohlmann (left) and his son Stefan (right)

Prison for the Animal torturer

As part of his plea bargain, Pohlmann will no longer be eligible to manage commercial livestock in Germany.  This penalty was imposed on his father Anton in 1996 when evidence of gross deviations from welfare standards was documented on farms he operated.


For perspective relating to the U.S., Anton Pohlmann established egg production operations in Ohio in 1980 when he purchased land near Croton. By 1984 his operations had 56 layer houses, 21 pullet houses, four egg packing plants, a hatchery, feed mill and support facilities for five million hens.  Eventually his Buckeye holdings included complexes in Marseilles, Goshen and Mt.Victory, OH. with a combined total of 11 million hens.


In September 2000, a tornado ripped through the Croton complex destroying 12 barns housing about one million hens.  The cleanup program was delayed and both Buckeye Egg Farm and the industry were subject to adverse publicity as hens trapped in cages died of starvation and dehydration. Depopulation was impeded by the danger of removing hens from damaged cages in unstable buildings.


The Pohlmann operations were characterized by a series of complaints, lawsuits and citations relating to contamination of streams and groundwater with manure in addition to odor and fly nuisance. These problems resulted in increasing intervention by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.  A major contamination episode occurred in April 1999 from the LaRue Complex causing an extensive fish kill.


Facing punitive action by the State of Ohio involving revocation of permits and adverse judgments on numerous nuisance lawsuits, Pohlmann sold his interest in the Ohio operations to a company with Orland Bethel as a front man for Jack DeCoster in 2003.  Following the revelation that DeCoster was the de facto owner and taking into account the problems experienced over ten years the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture recommended closure of the entire enterprise. Following a series of contempt of court charges and noncompliance with environmental regulations, Buckeye was ordered to implement a shutdown program involving two barns each week followed by divestment.


The Ohio complexes originally established by Pohlmann have been extensively reconstructed and now function in compliance with environmental and welfare regulations under family management as Versova Holdings LLC. This company formed in 2016 involves equity participation among the Dean, Henning and Boomsma families with farms in Iowa and Ohio. Their origins extend back to 1978 with the establishment of the Center Fresh Group with Central Valley Farms and Trillium Farms combining to form Versova.


Time to Separate Ruminant CAFOs from Leafy Green Cultivation


Dr. Timothy D.  Lytton a Distinguished University Professor of law at Georgia State University recently published an opinion on aspects of FDA oversight of leafy green production. There is a long history of outbreaks of Shiga toxin producing E.coli (STEC) attributed to leafy greens with successive Federal administrations attempting to devise regulations and performance standards focusing on testing procedures rather than practical preventive modalities.

The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement was initiated in 2006 following outbreaks of food-borne infection associated with spinach.  Various incidents occurred in subsequent years with the most recent extensive series of cases in 2017 and 2018, traced back to romaine lettuce cultivated in the costal region of California and the Yuma Valley of Arizona. We are now in an era of whole-genome sequencing and FoodNet and other databases. Multistate outbreaks of food-borne infection can be rapidly recognized and traced back to source given intensity of diagnostic and epidemiologic procedures.

It does not take much imagination and perspective to recognize that the source of STEC contamination is the intestinal tract of ruminants housed on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Run-off results in contamination of both surface and ground water used to irrigate fields of leafy greens.  Growers of lettuce and spinach have been attempting to separate their operations from CAFOs under the guidance of both academia and government agencies but their efforts may be too little and too late. 

There is no guarantee that measures adopted in 2019 and extending into 2020 will eliminate the inherent problem of contamination.  Growers will have to recognize that proximity to a CAFO is incompatible with food safety given that they are cultivating and distributing a product that is consumed raw.  In the absence of a practical method of decontaminating green produce there can be no assurance that measures adopted to date will prevent subsequent seasonal outbreaks among U.S. consumers.  Monitoring a small proportion of produce using insensitive protocols does not eliminate pathogens.  Identifying produce by farm or even field only facilities trace-back after the effect. These palliative measures create the illusion of control.

If the farmers cultivating leafy greens cannot devise a simple and effective method of decontaminating their product at a packing plant using advanced technology such as electron beam treatment then they will be obliged to segregate their fields and irrigation systems from potential contamination by CAFOs.

For too long the FDA has ignored reality and issued vague suggestions for incremental improvement.  The Agency has issued well-meaning but unconvincing statements pledging to "prioritize work with leafy greens stakeholders to develop better water standards and testing protocols."

Dr. Lytton notes that progress is slow and unlikely to yield quick answers. Either realistic measures will be adopted, or consumers will continue to be subject to reoccurring outbreaks of STEC infection.


Bureau of Land Management to Relocate DC Employees


In a strategy reminiscent of the transfer of the USDA-Economic Research Service from DC to Kansas City, the Bureau of Land Management is relocating employees this summer to a western location.  According to an article by Rebecca Beitsch in The Hill on March 5th 25 employees will work at the new headquarters in Grand Junction, CO. and 150 additional workers would be dispersed among other western locations. Eighty employees have agreed to move but eighty-seven in the DC office have indicated that they will resign and eighteen previously left the Department of Interior after the plans for the relocation were announced.

The move was criticized by retirees from the Agency and also by Democratic lawmakers who predicted that career employees with experience would leave the Agency. 

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told a Senate Committee with oversight on Wednesday March 6th that the Agency would find qualified candidates to replace those who have resigned.  A retired senior administrator Steve Ellis stated “the relocation removes the Bureau of Land Management from the direct influence in the Nations capital and would critically weaken the Agency’s ability for career leadership and their staff to collaborate across disciplines and work closely with other key Agencies.” He added “the Administration is solving a problem that does not exist while creating new ones”. 

Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) stated, “the Trump Administration is destroying the Bureau of Land Management by mistreating its staff and politicizing its mission and then lying to Congress and the public about the damage it is causing.  This is what happens when you put fossil-fuel industry lobbyist and anti-public land extremist in charge of government Agencies”.

The Department of the Interior believe that relocation of the Bureau will improve services since most of the land administered by the Agency, 250 million acres in extent , is located in western states. The Bureau is charged with managing recreation, grazing and energy production on public land estimated to cover one eighth of the Nation’s land area.


Nothing Positive for U.S. Agriculture From Presidential Visit to India


A posting on EGG-NEWS on Friday February 28th echoed the sentiments of Dr. Gregg Doud, Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “that India was the most protectionist of nations in the world”. This is demonstrated by the fact that President Trump returned from his recent visit to India without a trade agreement.  Prospects of a deal were dampened by the news that U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer had cancelled plans to visit the nation in advance of the visit by the President.


Following negotiations in New Delhi, a joint statement was issued confirming that President Trump and Prime Minister Modi had “agreed to promptly initiate ongoing negotiations which they hope could become Phase-One of a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement that reflects the true ambition and full potential of bilateral commercial relations, advancing prosperity, investment and job creation in both countries”. 


During the visit of President Trump, farmers protested against imports of U.S. chicken and ethnic riots occurred.


India may lose benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences that favors the nation enjoying a positive trade balance.  During 2018-2019 India exported $38.8 billion in goods to the U.S. while importing $26.3 billion in value.  The U.S. is India’s second trading partner after China and exports to our nation could exceed $50 billion in 2020. Are they willing to risk tariffs and other punitive measures?


Budget Cuts for USDA-ERS?


The proposed Federal budget for fiscal 2021 includes a 27 percent reduction for the USDA-ERS from $85.3 million in fiscal 2020 to $62.0 million in fiscal 2021.  The reduction would impact research, publications and staff.


It is noted that USDA-ERS was subjected to a forced relocation from Washington, DC. to Kansas City resulting in considerable attrition of personnel in 2019.


It is hoped that Congress will restore funding to a level that allows the ERS to maintain their high level of service and to conduct research, irrespective of whether the results may conflict with current White House policy.


Lettuce Growers Striving to Eliminate Foodborne Bacterial Contamination


In 2018 and 2019, the Centers for Disease Control determined that Romaine lettuce from the Yuma Valley, CO. and from coastal regions of California were responsible for E. coli and Salmonella infections.


It was apparent that runoff from concentrated animal feeding operations contaminated with  Shiga-toxin producing E.coli  (STEC) was used to irrigate lettuce fields resulting in infection of consumers.  Industry groups in collaboration with Land-grant universities, consultants and federal agencies developed programs to improve the safety of leafy greens.  The following action was taken:-

  • Untreated surface water is no longer used for irrigation. 
  • Distances from CAFOs have been increased in accordance with guidelines established by the LGMA.
  • Farmers in California and Arizona are now provided with guidance and training relating to practices for cultivation and packing that contribute to food safety.  In this respect the Western Growers and the Growers’ and Shippers’ Association of Central California are involved in field extension and training activities.
  • The FDA will conduct a structured surveillance program to determine the presence of STEC and Salmonella during 2020.  It is hoped that early detection will enable federal and state agencies to divert contaminated product from the market.
  • Concurrently the Center for Product Safety is funding research to the value of $29 million on 72 research projects with the involvement of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service.  Following the November 2018 outbreak the Romaine Task Force was established to investigate aspects of supply contributing to potential infection and prevention.


The Leafy Greens Safety Coalition includes major chains and QSRs focusing on prevention, traceability, labeling and investigation of food-borne outbreaks from produce.


It remains to be seen whether producers in Western states can effectively prevent food-borne infections through their improvements.  The incidence of outbreaks attributed to leafy greens in 2020 will be a measure of the efficacy of various practices introduced since the 2018 harvest season.


Influenza a Greater Concern in the U.S. than Coronavirus


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 19 million cases of influenza this season. The exposure to various 2019/2020 influenza strains has resulted in 180,000 hospitalizations and at least 10,000 fatalities among all ages. In contrast to date the U.S. has confirmed 11 cases of Hunan coronavius, all associated with travel from China.

During the present season influenza B has emerged as a predominant serotype. According to Dr. Andi L. Shane, Professor and Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, the strain has not been seen in the U.S. for 27 years. This means that those born during this century have had no previous exposure and therefore do not carry antibodies unless vaccinated.

Public health authorities involved in selection of influenza strains for the current season included H1N1 and H3N2 strains of influenza A and an influenza B strain for this season. The B component is only 60 percent homologous with the Victoria-origin virus in circulation. In the 25 to 65 year age group, influenza B is responsible for 43 percent of cases diagnosed, but only 23 percent of the cases in the age group above 65. Fortunately, there are fewer cases of influenza A H3N2 strain, which is responsible for severe complications in the elderly.

Generally, experience and surveillance of circulating strains by the WHO allows the incorporation of appropriate strains into vaccines. Occasionally nature throws a curveball with the emergence and dissemination of either an influenza A or B strain different from those incorporated into the vaccine.

EGG-NEWS has repeatedly advised producers to implement preventive influenza vaccination for all personnel in early fall, especially those in direct contact with flocks. In the unlikely event that a worker infected with a human strain comes into contact with a flock incubating low pathogenicity avian influenza, a recombinant event might take place resulting in the emergence of an avian strain transmissible to humans. Influenza vaccination reduces absenteism and reduces medical costs especially with complications.


Origin of the Wuhan Coronavirus Under Investigation


While the number of infected individuals in China now exceeds 60,000 with over 1,000 fatalities, scientists continue to investigate the source of the infective agent termed COVID-19 formerly 2019-nCoV. Based on sequencing, it was concluded that an animal reservoir, possibly a snake, was the reservoir of the virus.


Epidemiologic data implicated the Hunan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan with early cases identified in late December leading to the closure of the facility on January 1st 2020. Recently The Lancet published a report that the index case may have been identified on December 1st and that the individual had no connection to the seafood market.


There is no question that the SARS outbreak, also caused by a coronavirus in 2003, was initially a zoonosis with bats serving as a reservoir transmitting the infection to palm civets that are consumed as a delicacy in China and are sold in wet markets. It is possible that a complex host interaction has led to the emergence of the Wuhan coronavirus that may by now be transmissible among humans following mutation.


The Washington Times reported on a conspiracy theory that the virus escaped from a presumed Wuhan national biosafety laboratory. A mildly pathogenic coronavirus, hardly more deadly in its effect than influenza, would most certainly not be a candidate for a biological weapon and without obvious substantiation, the theory is soundly rejected.


The actual incidence rate of Wuhan coronavirus in China is, in all probability, underestimated. On February 12th authorities in Hubei Province with a population of 59 million changed the definition of the disease to include clinically affected cases not confirmed by antigen detection. This led to a surge in reported cases but not necessarily an increase in actual incidence. Dr. Scott Gottleib former Administrator of the FDA noted in a CNBC interview on February 3rd that scarcity of testing reagents and kits is probably limiting confirmation of a diagnosis to the most seriously affected patients showing atypical pneumonia. It is also presumed that most of the fatalities occur in the elderly or those with predisposing conditions. Notwithstanding this reality the mortality rate , depending on divisor, is apparently far higher in Wuhan than other areas of China or in Japan and Korea


The real impact of Wuhan Coronavirus infection lies in the economic disruption associated with quarantine of 16 metropolitan areas involving over 50 million people concurrent with and subsequent to the Lunar New Year. Disruption of international travel and breakdown of supply chains will most certainly reduce the GNP of China and will surely spill over to other nations in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.


Economists are basing predictions on the 2003 outbreak of SARS, a condition which was less infective but more virulent than the Wuhan Coronavirus. Commentator Dr. Steve Liesman a contributing economist for CNBC noted that in 2020 China is a more important global force than it was in 2003 and the disruption of trade and supply chains will reduce GNP in China by as much as two percent and will have knock-on effects on China’s trading partners.


Navigable Waters Protection Rule Replaces WOTUS


The Navigable Waters Protection Rule has officially superseded the Waters of the United Stares (WOTUS) Rule introduced in 2015 by the previous Administration.


According to Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the EPA, “After decades of landowners relying on expensive attorneys to determine what water on their land may or may not fall under Federal regulations, the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule strikes the proper balance between Washington and the states in managing land and water resources, while protecting our nation’s navigable waters, and it does so within the authority Congress provided.”


The Navigable Waters Protection (NWP) Rule defines four categories of waters regulated under the Clean Water Act.  These comprise:


  • The territorial seas and traditional navigable waters


  • Perennial and intermittent tributaries


  • Lakes, ponds, and impoundments


  • Wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters


The rule contains twelve exemptions from jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act and specifically in relation to farmland “features that only contain water in direct response to rainfall, farm and roadside ditches, stock watering ponds and waste treatment systems.”


Publication of the new rule was welcomed by farm groups with Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) who opined, “the original WOTUS rule was nothing but a severe regulatory overreach.”


The rule will face legal challenge by environmental advocacy organizations including the Natural Resource Defense Council that claims, “the NWP rule neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment.”


Georgia Appeals Court Supports OSHA on Injury Citation


The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta denied a petition by Packers Sanitation Services, a cleaning contractor in a case involving injury of a worker in a broiler processing plant.  An employee of the company contracted to perform cleaning services was injured in the course of duties.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] cited the contractor for two violations involving safe walking-working space and inadequate guards on machinery.

The decision in this case has relevance to egg packing operations:- 

  • Equipment should be locked-out before cleaning commences. 
  • Workers should be appropriately trained and supervised in their cleaning activities.
  •  Equipment should never be operated without protective covers. 
  • Appropriate personal protective gear must be issued and worn by cleaners including bump caps. 
  • Supervisors and managers should consistently review equipment and operations to preempt accidents. 
  • Worker committees are often helpful in maintaining awareness of safety and identifying defects and hazards that are frequently evident to those performing cleaning tasks. 
  • Any injury or accident must be documented in conformity with OSHA requirements.

The OSHA will investigate injuries resulting in referral to medical facilities. Irrespective of whether a victim of an accident involved in cleaning is employed by the company or a contractor negative publicity could accrue to the egg-packer and lawsuits will be an inevitable consequence of an incident.


Supermarket Chains Investing in Technology


In order to implement effective click-and-collect and curbside pickup programs, supermarkets are adopting packaged technology from specialist developers.


Lowes’ Foods has partnered with Radius Networks for the FlyBuy Pickup Service using proprietary AI technology. FlyBuy Pickup allows customers to communicate with the store to facilitate collection. Shoppers are notified when an order is ready and customers can indicate their proximity to a store and the time to collect an order.


Jeff Baskin, Executive VP of Global Partnerships at Radius Networks, noted “Our goal at Radius Networks is to help our partners improve the customer and staff experience with the growth of click-and-collect programs.” He added “We have built our solution to provide customers with location updates along their journey and provide accurate updates to Lowes’ Foods so that they can be as efficient as possible.” 


It is understood that H-E-B and Whole Foods have similar efficient systems limiting customer waiting time. 


Weis Markets and Brookshire Grocery Company have established relationships with Mercatus to improve online grocery shopping. The Mercatus Aisle One system has designed a “personalization intelligence engine” to analyze customer data including dietary preferences and demographics, providing services to the shopper. There are obvious advantages to Weis and Brookshire, who operate a Mercatus integrated commerce platform. Aisle One will be integrated to achieve faster check-out and make more optimal a use of in-store associates preparing orders. It is noted that Savemart, WinCo Foods, Piggly Wiggly, and Giant Tiger use the Mercatus E-commerce platform.


It is evident that to be successful in the retail food market, supermarket chains have to provide superlative service on multiple levels. This requires the application of advanced technology including remote sensing and robotics but with integration of systems that benefit the chain


Potential Impact of Listeria Outbreak on Hard Cooked Peeled Egg Sales


The recent recall of hard-cooked peeled eggs and products (HCPE) followed trace-back of a total of seven cases of listeriosis diagnosed in 2017 and in 2019 among five states.  Although the Georgia plant implicated in the outbreak has been closed, production has been shifted to a sister facility in Arizona maintaining company output.  There are numerous plants processing hard cooked peeled eggs in the U.S. and total supply should not be adversely impacted.  The obvious question is whether negative publicity might influence consumption in either the short or the intermediate term.


Data assembled by Neilson and circulated by the American Egg Board on December 27th 2019 reflected the first eleven months of 2019. This data includes retail sales and presumably excludes the food service sector. Consumption of HCPE and derived salad products during the eleven months of 2019 should represent the basis of future comparisons as we move through the first quarter of 2020.  Based on the data for January through December it is calculated that HCPE represented 1.0 percent of the volume of eggs sold at retail amounting to 33.8 million egg equivalents or 2.8 million dozen out of a total of 3.35 billion shell egg equivalents or approximately 0.3 billion dozen.  It is significant that HCPE sales grew at an 8.7 percent rate in 2019 compared to the previous year.  Shell egg sales in comparison increased by 1.5 percent and egg products sold at retail declined by 2.9 percent. 


The dollar value of HCPE at retail was $167.4 million, three percent of the $6.1 billion for all retail sales of shell eggs and products.  The average unit value of $2.96 per dozen for HCPE increased by 9.1 percent in 2019 compared to a 10.7 percent decline for shell eggs and a 4.2 percent drop for retail egg products.  For the eleven-month reporting period, Neilson calculated that six-count packs represented 55 percent of sales followed by two-count packs at 23 percent.  These categories increased by 12.0 percent and 16.1 percent respectively compared to 2018.


In reviewing retail channels for HCPE, conventional supermarkets and groceries represented 56 percent of volume, up by 5.3 percent from 2018.  Convenience stores accounted for 16 percent of sales in 2019, up by 3 percent from 2018.  The combination of club stores and dollar stores accounted for 27 percent of sales, up by 18.8 percent compared to the first eleven months of 2018.


In February 2020, EGG-NEWS will compare volumes, prices and trends in an attempt to determine whether the Listeria recall and consequential but muted adverse publicity had had any effect on consumption of HCPE.


Adverse Jury Verdicts in North Carolina Hog Nuisance Cases to be Appealed


The 4th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, will consider the first of five adverse verdicts against Murphy-Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, owned by the WH Group of China. Juries in five cases awarded significant compensation to plaintiffs in a series of trials in Raleigh, NC. State law reduced the awards amounting to $550 million among the five cases. Further litigation at the Federal court level is in abeyance until a ruling from the Court of Appeals.


At issue is alleged nuisance from spreading liquid from manure lagoons on agricultural land creating odor and a consequential reduction in property values for neighbors of contract farms. The outcome of this litigation is important with regard to the future of all CAFOs.


For decades, the hog industry in North Carolina has relied on lagoons to dispose of manure despite nuisance and the seasonal risk associated with environmental damage following hurricanes. Alternatives including anaerobic digesters have been installed on some farms but both contractors and Murphy-Brown are disinclined to expend capital on alternatives to lagoons.


It is noted that the egg industry used flush-houses and lagoons in the 1960s and 1970s but converted to high-rise housing with under-cage manure storage as a result of the cost and environmental restraints.


Connecticut Department of Labor Fines Labor Recruiters for Hillandale Farms


According to a detailed report by Stephen Singer in the Hartford Courant the Connecticut Department of Labor has fined two labor-recruiting companies for improper classification of foreign workers and employing minors.  Five Brothers of Sunbury, PA. was fined $80,000 and Whitmore Poultry was fined $90,000.  The two companies were providing labor to Hillandale Farms of Connecticut for their Bozrah Complex.


Thomas J. Wydra, director of the Department of Labor, Wage and Workplace Standards Division noted that, “Classifying workers as independent contractors results in the employer paying lower worker compensation premiums, taxes and unemployment insurance costs.”  He added, “These business practices are an unacceptable way to operate in Connecticut and is generally accepted that all workers should be provided with workplace protection and the public should not bear the cost that are the legal responsibility of employers”.


During an inspection of the operation on October 11th investigators determined that 34 employees of Five Brothers but effectively working for Hillandale Farms were misclassified as independent contractors.  The company was cited for 602 violations.


The Connecticut Department of Labor determined that 16 young workers including minors were also misclassified as independent contractors and had worked at the Bozrah location as employees of Whitmore Poultry for eight months and had been paid in cash.

According to the findings stop orders were imposed on both Whitmore Poultry and Five Brothers.


Using labor-providers as a means for actual employers to evade their responsibility for ensuring that workers are in fact legally eligible to work. The producers are shifting the onus to review documentation and process applicants and to make appropriate deductions for social security and other benefits.  Using subterfuges to avoid labor and eligibility laws is ultimately deleterious to the image of the egg industry and is strongly deprecated.


Although there is limited use of contract labor in the egg industry according to contacts, most of the workers are employed in work-crews for moving or vaccination.  Notwithstanding the use of work-crews all reputable companies insist that the employees of the contractors are subject to the E-Verify program and their employment and remuneration is consist with state and federal policy.


Confusion Over Recall of Romaine Lettuce-Contrast with the U.S Egg Industry


On October 31st the Food and Drug Administration announced that Romaine lettuce was safe to eat following an outbreak of E.coli O157:H7. The outbreak involved 40 cases in sixteen states with product grown in the Salinas Valley of California. On Friday, November 22nd the FDA and CDC specifically implicated Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Bonito and Monterrey Counties in California as involved in the outbreak and advised that lettuce derived from the designated area should be recalled. Consumers were warned not use lettuce including whole heads, hearts and pre-cut packs and salad mixes.

The problem that has emerged relates to identification and specifically the product traceability identifiers on labels affixed to cases and cartons. This has predictably created consumer resistance impacting growers in the Yuma Valley and those outside the designated counties in California that at the present time are not involved in the recall.

The travails of the Leafy Produce Marketing Association and individual growers contrasts with the situation in the egg industry. Apart from comprehensive surveillance of flocks for SE, each carton bears a plant of origin and each packer maintains comprehensive paper or electronic records to initiate trace-forward within an hour. Some plants use Ovotrack™ technology that can follow product from farm to retail delivery using barcoding. Notwithstanding the present situation, consumer confidence could be enhanced by imprinting individual eggs with codes using the available AccuPrinter™ at a cost of 0.5 cents per dozen.


Kroger Enters Into Yet another Food Distribution Endeavor


In recent months, Kroger seems to be diverging from its core competency as a leading food retailer through its supermarket chain.  The latest iteration is a joint venture with an enterprise named ClusterTruck.  With the initial reading of the announcement it occurred to this commentator that it was in fact a spoof.  The first negative was the unfortunate name of the company deploying mobile kitchens, basically sophisticated food trucks.  The name may have appeared amusing at 2 am in an extended planning session involving superannuated frat boys back in 2015 but the appellation is inconsistent with good taste.

The ClusterTruck concept involves consumers ordering a meal using an app and within 30 minutes will receive a cooked delivery less than 10 minutes from the oven.


Susie Monford, Group Vice-president of Fresh for Kroger stated, “Kroger delivery kitchen customers can order pizza or pad Thai on the same order and get it hot and fresh within minutes of the meals being prepared.  We are excited to work together to bring this partnership to life to provide our customers with real food delivered to their doorstep.”


Chris Baggott, co-founder and CEO of Cluster Truck stated, “This winning combination has allowed us to thrill customers across the country while achieving profitability.  We are excited to partner with Kroger to redefine the food experience for their valued customers.”


I’m now sure that this isn’t a spoof but whatever happened to either cooking in one’s own kitchen or simply dining in a restaurant?


CDC Issues Antibiotic Resistance Report


The release by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2019 documents 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. each year. Collectively, these cases resulted in 35,000 fatalities. Within this total were 223,000 cases of Clostridioides difficile (“CDiff”) in 2017 with 12,800 fatalities.

The report lists 18 antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi and includes a Watch List identifying three emerging pathogens that could result in serious outcomes.

  • Urgent threats are represented by carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter, Clostridioides difficile, carbapenemm-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
  • Serious threats are represented by drug-resistant Campylobacter, non-typhodial Salmonella, Shigella, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), multi drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae.

In a forward to the report, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director of the CDC noted that we should stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era, since it’s already here. Redfield opines that we should stop playing the blame game and recognize the role that industry, farmers, healthcare providers are all involved in emerging drug resistance. He stressed that we should not rely on new antibiotics that inevitably will become ineffective. He urges aggressive strategies including biosecurity and care in preventing infection. He concluded his remarks by noting that antibiotic resistance is universal and occurs in every U.S. state and every country in the world. He predicts the problem will become worse unless sound antibiotic stewardship is exercised.


Speculation on Just IPO


At approximately six-month intervals, Josh Tetrick receives adulatory publicity for his business acumen and concern for the environment. Just, the most recent iteration of the enterprises he operates was accorded the usual treatment by less than conscientious journalists with regard to an IPO. Tetrick is on record as intending to replace the entire complement of U.S. laying hens by substituting his brand of egg substitute.


It would appear that he and Just are riding on the somewhat tattered coattails of Beyond Meat.  Opponents of intensive livestock production and the financially naïve are speculating on an IPO although Tetrick has indicated “no timeline but at some point we will do it”.  Given concern over the rapid rise and then fall in share price of Beyond Meat, negative profitability and impending competition, Just would have great difficulty in obtaining a listing. Basically Just markets an ersatz mayonnaise, cookie dough and now a scrambled egg substitute based on mung beans.


It would appear that Tetrick has initiated a presence in China for his company where even a fraction of a vast market can accrue large sales.  Investors in the U.S. have become weary of the grandiose promises by Tetrick over the years and are obviously concerned over allegations of unethical marketing practices, defective corporate governance and churn in directors and managers over the years associated with Hampton Creek and other entities under his management.


Approximately two years ago, when cell-cultured meat was in vogue Tetrick announced that his company would market a product within a year.  This was obviously nonsense at the time given the lack of technical resources available to his company and that fact that label regulations and standards for cell-cultured meat will not be finalized before 2021.  In any event there is no indication that any of the current companies involved in the development of cell-cultured meat in the U.S., Holland and Israel can achieve a competitive price to conventional meat in the foreseeable future without a radical breakthrough in technology or advantage from scale of operation.


Journalists entering his orbit would be well advised to carefully investigate the claims made by Tetrick, consider the history of his numerous companies and evaluate market realities in promoting his image and businesses.  Moving the focus of his company to China without having achieved market penetration in the U.S. and with claims to sell product in India and the EU are probably expressions of desperation. Relocating to a new continent is an attempt to generate financial support from the uninitiated.  An IPO would be an unacceptable strategy for Tetrick and his company since this would involve preparation of a prospectus and would engender critical evaluation of his track record and prospects.


As with previous postings Josh Tetrick is welcome to respond to this commentary but with substantiation of claims, presentation of realistic business plans and technical data.


China Experiences Declining Rate of Economic Growth-The U.S Response?


Michael Beckley writing in the October edition of Foreign Affairs in an article entitled United States Fear of Faltering China predicts a more aggressive “mercantilist expansion” by that Nation. Beckley notes that China’s economy is growing at a progressively lower annual rate down from 20 percent in 1970 to 6.1 percent in 2019.  Along with many Western economists, Beckly warns that statistics released by China are always suspect. He cites approximately $6 trillion in non-productive investments in real estate and in government-owned or managed enterprises.

Based on the response of the U.S. to declining growth in the late 1800s, and in turn-of-the-19th century Tzarist Russia, Beckley anticipates that China will continue to manipulate international rules, exert pressure where it is capable and use conflict with the U.S. to divert distrust and disillusionment among the middle class at home. Viewed from this perspective, it is evident that China will not respond to short-term trade pressure exerted by the current Administration although some concessions might be made in the interest of expediency.

China is playing a long game even beyond their 2025 “Made in China Initiative” that will be characterized by assertiveness and international expansion. President Xi has warned of a potential Soviet-style collapse. As a counter measure Beijing has enhanced security, intensified propaganda and has employed xenophobia to generate patriotism.

Beckley advocates cooperation with potential allies including those in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that could, subject to appropriate conditions, be expanded to include China. The U.S. must not only dominate in the military sphere but technological dominance should prevail allowing some Chinese investment in U.S. companies and immigration to our shores. Beckley anticipates that Chinese power will mellow in response to a sense of security. The U.S. must “contain China with a balance of deterrents, reassurance and limitation of damage”. Confrontation is unlikely to achieve any degree of resolution of the structural issues that are the source of conflict in U.S.-China relations.


Scientific and Agricultural Organizations Support Reversal of Relocation of ERS and NIFA


A statement issued by five prominent associations representing farmers’ organizations and agricultural economists, deprecates the decision to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City. The joint statement reads: The harm done to American farmers, rural America and the agricultural economy at the hands of USDA is deeply troubling, but not irreversible. Many House and Senate appropriators have for months stood in strong, unified and outright opposition to the relocation. We stand firmly with that position in support of farmers, consumers and science-based agricultural research made possible by the hard-working employees at ERS and NIFA. All individuals and organizations who rely on agricultural research and economics – and support good government – should join us.

At a hearing on October 21st, Deputy Undersecretary Scott Hutchins was allegedly defensive regarding the consequences of the relocation of both ERS and NIFA. It is understood that 75 percent of staff have left the two agencies. The result will be delays in submission of reports and an interruption in awarding research grants to universities.

EGG-NEWS has consistently questioned the justification for the relocation that was obviously expected to be disruptive and prejudicial to the work of both agencies since key personnel were patently disinclined to move from Washington, D.C. Stating that the intent was to encourage economists and scientists at these agencies to be closer to their constituencies is fallacious. In effect the relocation deprived ERS and NIFA personnel of contact with colleagues at other government agencies, academic institutions and think-tanks in the Washington, D.C. area.

Observers have speculated that the relocation was intended to encourage the departure of economists and researchers engaged in studies considered politically sensitive and unacceptable to the Administration.

The decision to relocate is not irreversible and both logic and experience suggest that the exercise should be reversed. Under a subsequent Administration, it is certain that personnel will be transferred back from Kansas City to Washington, D.C. involving further disruption, expense and stress. No agency can afford to lose 75 percent of its personnel including the most experienced thinkers and achievers without diminishing service in the short term. The relocation will create profound deficiencies in future planning and decisions on a national level.


Hype Over Cell-Cultured Meat and Space Experiment


Media reports recently report on an experiment conducted on the international space station to demonstrate the feasibility of synthesizing cell-cultured meat under zero gravity. According to the October 8th press release, the activity represented a collaboration between 3D Bioprinting Solutions of Russia, Aleph Farms of Israel and both Meal Source Technology and Finless Foods based in the U.S.

A small quantity of muscle tissue was apparently synthesized. In commenting on this achievement Didier Toubia, CEO of Aleph Farms stated “This joint experiment mounts a significant first step towards achieving our vision to ensure food security for generations to come while preserving our natural resources”.

The exercise can be regarded as little more than a publicity endeavor with no meaningful practical or commercial application, certainly for the intermediate future.

To be viable, cell-cultured meat must be available at a competitive price compared with alternative vegetable and animal-sourced protein. This objective according to promoters of the technology is always just five years away, but please keep those investments coming in as we are almost there.


2020 RFS Dispute Settled


Establishing the quantity of ethanol to be incorporated into gasoline degenerates into an annual conflict between the biofuels industry and oil refiners with lobbying from both sides and pressure by corn-state legislators. After delays the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA announced the Administration policy for 2020.  The EPA has called for public comment on the proposed 2020 renewable volumes standard and the biomass-based diesel volumes for 2021. 


EPA has determined that 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol will be blended into gasoline in 2020. The EPA will also address the issue of small refiner exemptions based on protests over the total of 54 SREs awarded since 2017.  Following the decision to allow year-round sales of E15, the EPA will issue new rules relating to labeling and will “remove other barriers” to the sales of E15.  The USDA will consider infrastructure projects to facilitate higher biofuel blends.  This probably implies subsidy of pumps which can blend a range of ethanol levels. 


The joint announcement by EPA and USDA was applauded by legislators representing corn states including Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Governor Pete Ricketts (R-NE).


Establishing the renewable fuels standard was established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and extended under the Energy and Dependence and Security Act of 2007.


Over the past 15 years, the U.S. has become energy independent. This invalidates the initial and principal objective of the RFS to reduce reliance on potentially antagonistic nations for energy. The RFS has become a consumer-funded support program for corn growers and the ethanol industry to the detriment of livestock production and ultimately all who eat and drive.


Corn Farmers Receive Satisfaction Over RFS and Waivers


The concerns expressed by leaders of 23 State corn-growers associations were relieved by the Administration decision on the 2020 RFS and future policy on Small Refinery Waivers. A letter addressed to the President requested that the Administration cease issuing waivers to small refineries. They claim that 85 waivers during the current Administration removed demand for four billion gallons of ethanol to be blended into gasoline. At present, ethanol plants in seven states have been mothballed resulting in the loss of jobs in rural areas and decreased demand for 300 million bushels of corn.

The plight of the ethanol industry has less to do with waivers than it has with overcapacity. The RFS was established with assumptions that have been proven to be unrealistic The ethanol industry expanded injudiciously to supply an exaggerated but mandated potential market. Exports have not compensated for the disparity between production and domestic demand. Even with mandates and government support, market forces are in effect setting volumes and prices.

Corn-based ethanol is neither sustainable nor beneficial to the environment and inclusion (dilution?) in gasoline reduces mileage. Given the relative independence of the U.S. based on shale oil and gas, the entire question of diverting food to fuel should be reconsidered either by this or a subsequent Administration. Corn farmers have benefited from the biofuels program at the expense of livestock producers and consumers.

Unfortunately the RFS has is now regarded as an established right for corn growers and ethanol producers. The political considerations regarding the RFS have become a “third rail” with successive administrations disinclined to impose restrictions. Ultimately conomic forces will prevail and the recent decision on the RFS suggests that the gravy train is slowing down and may even end up in the terminus.


Limited U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement


The signing of a limited trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan provided only partial compensation for the damage caused by the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017. In a less than complimentary editorial in the September 26th edition of The Wall Street Journal, the editor refers to self-inflicted damage on trade and the loss of opportunities to export agricultural commodities. Between April and July this year, compared to the corresponding periods in 2016 and 2017, U.S. farm exports to Japan increased by less than 5.8 percent. In contrast, agricultural imports from Europe were higher by 15.9 percent, from Mexico 27.6 percent and from New Zealand 16.9 percent. Exports of U.S. pork to Japan declined by one percent in contrast to exports from Europe that increased by 17 percent.

In terms of the Agreement signed during the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. farmers have comparable access to markets in Japan as for the E.U. and nations belonging to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Agreement. Approximately 90 percent of U.S. agricultural and food products will be duty-free. In return, the U.S. will reduce or eliminate tariffs on machine tools, musical instruments and bicycles.

The agreement did however exclude motor vehicles although in a joint statement the President and the Prime Minister noted that the agreement will be based on mutual trust. Both parties will refrain from taking measures against the spirit of the deal. Clearly Japan expects the U.S. not to impose punitive tariffs on vehicles and parts.

The Wall Street Journal editorial notes that the slimmed-down agreement that does not have to be ratified by Congress will place the U.S. in an inferior position on trade compared to participation in the TPP. An added detriment to the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. in 2017 is the fact that the TPP was weakened and could have served as a stronger competitor to China in the efforts of that Nation to dominate trade in Asia.


Alaska Senator Continues to Oppose AquaBounty™ Salmon


In a blatant display of protectionism for a local industry, Senator Lisa Murkowski intends to continue blocking the commercial release of AquaBounty ™ GM Atlantic Salmon. The company that developed the fast-growing strain has spent two decades to obtain FDA approval which was granted in 2015. The Agency with oversight over food declared that the fish is safe to eat and as nutritious as wild Atlantic salmon. The GM variety grows at twice the rate of wild salmon with obvious benefits in terms of feed conversion efficiency and hence sustainability.

Following the FDA determination, Senator Murkowski used her position to impose an additional delaying hurdle requiring an evaluation of consumer-labeling. Now that this issue has been resolved, Senator Murkowski intends to add a rider to a bill to require a “label comprehension study” normally applied to pharmaceutical products but not to food. Further delay would necessitate destruction of salmon elvers already placed in an approved land-locked aquaculture facility in Indiana.

The commercialization of AquaBounty™ Atlantic Salmon would in no way compete with Pacific coast salmon species since collectively natural fisheries cannot supply demand. It is estimated that a high proportion of Atlantic Salmon consumed in the U.S. is imported from Norway and Chile.

From a livestock perspective, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard enacted in 2016 should prevail in this case and Aqua Bounty should be allowed to produce and market their product having complied with all relevant regulations imposed by the FDA, in addition to federal and state agencies.

Apart from the parochial political aspect of opposition to AquaBounty™, a dangerous precedent would be created if Senator Murkowski were to be successful in her efforts to preserve the perceived interests of her constituents. Future GM developments that could potentially enhance food production would be delayed or even prevented by the actions of a single legislator in acting in defiance of a national standard.


Decision by China to Allow Imported U.S. Pork Motivated by Inflation and Stability Concerns


EGG-NEWS is entirely supportive of the contention by Capital Economics that authorities in China will not be able to control African swine fever even in the intermediate term. Julian Evans-Pritchard, Senior China economist for the consulting group, noted “The Chinese government measures to contain the fallout from the disease will only have a marginal impact.”

 It is fair to reiterate that the infection has become endemic with virtually all provinces reporting cases. It is also evident that the ability to monitor the progress of the disease is beyond the capacity of provincial governments. The reality that a high proportion of pork is derived from small family-operated units devoid of biosecurity and that the structure of the industry requires transport of large numbers of animals over the considerable distances has added to dissemination of the virus. Control of the disease will only be initiated when a reliable, effective and safe vaccine becomes available and the industry restructures to produce from biosecure complexes. These improvements have yet to be accomplished.

The shortage of pork will have an impact on consumer prices and the national level of inflation. Consumers in China consume 65 percent of their meat as pork. With at least a third and possibly as much as 45 percent of the hog population culled or dead as a result of infection, prices will soar as frozen pork inventory is depleted. August prices of pork were up 47 percent year-on-year according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Consumer prices rose 2.3 percent in August suggesting a 2019 inflation rate of over 3 percent.

Government initiatives to provide subsidies to restock farms are akin to pouring water into a bucket with a large hole. Restoration of production will take at least four years given that the breeding herd has been severely impacted. The central government realizing that they are faced with a serious long-term problem have eliminated the tariff on U.S. pork. This is more an initiative to ensure supplies through the October celebrations marking the Centennial of the founding of the Communist Party of China and an attempt to restrain inflation.

Pitched as concession to the U.S. in anticipation of Ministerial-level trade negotiations in October, the move by China appears self-serving, given the realization that there is a wide disparity between available pork and domestic demand. The advent of African swine fever is an obvious boon for the domestic chicken industry in China and for exporters of animal protein in the E.U., Brazil and now potentially the U.S.


Environmental Impact of the NC Timber Industry


The editorial on August 21st dealt with sustainability and specifically the fallacy of burning wood chips to generate electricity.  Further to the information provided in this posting, a subsequent report by the Center for a Sustainable Economy characterizes the North Carolina timber industry as a “climate catastrophe”.  Approximately 5 percent of North Carolina covering 2.6 million acres is a carbon sequestration dead zone.  This is due to clear cutting and removal of timber for wood chip production and for sawmills in the state.  If plantations are harvested it takes approximately 13 years to begin offsetting atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.  Pine plantations store less carbon than native forest currently dominated by hardwoods in North Carolina.

Findings by the Center for a Sustainable Economy concerning release of carbon dioxide by the logging industry are paralleled in Oregon.  In that state logging is the most carbon-intensive sector.  In North Carolina electric generation and transportation are more carbon intensive.

The Center for a Sustainable Economy advocates application of acceptable forestry practices as an alternative to clear cutting including restoration and a lower intensity of logging.  Unfortunately the economic impact of the timber industry and its political clout mitigate against any meaningful improvement in the intermediate future.



The Trade War With China – Who is Winning?


CNBC Morning Squawk on September 9th presented data from official sources in China indicating the country reported a trade surplus of $35 billion in August compared to $45 billion in July. Exports to the U.S. were 16 percent lower year-on-year in August but up from a 6.5 percent decline in July.  Imports from the U.S. to China were 22.4 percent lower in August 2019 compared to August 2018, reflecting the impact of the ban on agricultural products effective on August 4th together with previous high retaliatory tariffs.  Overall exports to China declined by 5.6 percent in August 2019 compared to the corresponding month in 2018 reflecting a drop in domestic consumption.


A principal of objective of the trade action taken against China, initiated in 2017 was to reduce the negative balance of trade.  For the first eight months of 2019 the difference between imports and exports favored China by $196 billion with the August deficit attaining $27 billion.


On Friday September 6th the Central Bank of China cut reserve requirements for banks for the seventh time since the beginning of 2018 to allow institutions to extend more loans to companies.  Additional support measures are anticipated to prevent an economic slowdown according to CNBC. Zhang Yi an economist at a financial management company stated, “Exports are still weak even the face of substantial Yuan currency depreciation, indicating that sluggish external demand is the most important factor affecting exports this year.”


Larry Kudlow, White House Economic Advisor also stated on Friday September 6th that the U.S. anticipates “near term” results from bilateral talks scheduled for October.  He indicated that the trade conflict could take years to resolve.  This is a retraction from the earlier Administration claim that “trade wars were easy to win and of short duration”.  Prospects of even a limited near-term resumption of agricultural imports are unlikely unless both nations make concessions with regard to recently announced additional tariffs. Resolution of the trade dispute is critical for the financial wellbeing of the agricultural sector as the 2019 harvest approaches


 The more basic conflicts relating to structural issues including intellectual property and coercive trade practices that were the justification for initiating the trade conflict by the U.S. in 2017 are unlikely to be resolved in October if at all. These practices are critical to achieving the “Made in China 2025” initiative essential for continued growth in GDP. We will never conclude a Grand Agreement over a dinner regardless of the deal making skills of the Negotiator-in-Chief. We could make steady but slow progress through diplomacy, application of tactical economic pressure and cooperation with our allies with whom we have converging interests with respect to China.


Hepatitis A Emerges as a Significant Food-Borne Disease


According to the Center for Disease Control, a total of 31 states have reported close to 35,000 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in 2019.  This infection results in a high proportion of hospital admissions.  Although the infection is common among the homeless and intravenous drug users, approximately 30 percent of cases involve foodborne infection. Numerous cases have been diagnosed, in which food handlers were implicated.


Infected food handlers are responsible for transmission of the virus to diners through the fecal-oral route requiring deficiencies in personal hygiene by shedders in direct contact with food and utensils.


Since hepatitis A can be prevented by available vaccination, all food handlers and workers in restaurants including QSRs should receive preventive vaccination as a condition of employment. 


Philippines Suffering from Widespread Dengue Fever Outbreak


During 2019, close to 150,000 confirmed cases of Dengue fever have been reported in the Philippines with 622 fatalities.  The Health Ministry of the Philippines has declared an emergency and the Nation is concentrating all public health resources to combating the infection.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease and in the absence of a safe and effective vaccine, control measures are confined to suppressing mosquito populations.

 Recently EGG-NEWS reported on opposition to deploying genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes to control malaria.  Any activity that unjustly disparages GM on principle or restricts the use of a viable and scientifically proven control method for a serious disease such as malaria or Dengue is strongly deprecated.  Opponents of GM are not taking into account the effect of disease and mortality caused by mosquitoes responsible for numerous widespread infections on four continents.  Given unseasonal rains and increased temperatures, Gulf States are vulnerable to Arborviral encephalitides, Dengue, Zika and Chikunguna fever, all of which are vector borne.


Dangers from Maximum Security Biohazard Laboratories


A recent audit by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention carried out on the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) disclosed deficiencies in biocontainment and decontamination of waste-water.


The military laboratory “studies” selected agents responsible for Ebola, plague, anthrax and other lethal diseases that have potential biological warfare application.  Deficiencies in containment represent a hazard to both workers at institutes and the population surrounding these establishments. 


EGG-NEWS has previously documented failures in biocontainment at major establishments including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Russian bio-warfare laboratory in Ekaterinberg, Pirbright Laboratory in the U.K. and various universities and institutes in Africa, the EU and the U.S.

Rotation of employees without training and re-training, deviations from accepted standard operating procedures attributable to familiarity and the failure to maintain equipment can all contribute to release of pathogens.


Those responsible for planning, implementing and managing the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility equipped with BL-4 laboratories should be cognizant of risks and consequences of a release of either a zoonotic or animal-specific pathogen and should exercise the utmost safety.


USSEC Efforts to Promote Soybean Exports to China Face Obstacles


Despite the deteriorating trade relationship between the U.S. and China, USSEC is justifiably still maintaining promotional efforts in China as an investment for the future. The Council recently reported on promotional activities directed to soybean food processors.

Obstacles to exports obviously include the now blanket ban on imports of all U.S. agricultural products, competition from local varieties suited to production of tofu and yuba and a strict embargo on GM-origin soybeans.

It is questioned whether contacts with the Jiangnan University School of Food Science and Technology and major food companies in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province will in fact generate goodwill. Providing technology to Chinese institutions and business entities, many of which are state-managed is simply transfer of know-how ultimately to the detriment of the U.S.

During the 1990’s the American Soybean Association promoted exports of soybeans to India, China and other nations by providing live-bird and hog technology to develop domestic livestock industries. This resulted in increased demand for soybeans frequently supplied by Brazil and Argentine. The result of seminars, farm and plant visits and advice especially on processing contributed to a rise in domestic production reducing the market for U.S. exports and in some cases even generating competition for export markets supplied by U.S. producers. The USSEC should recognize that U.S. hog, broiler and egg producers are their main market and that the long-term interests of users of soybeans should be considered.

The 1990s ASA model of promoting domestic production to stimulate exports of U.S. soybeans may have generated a short-term benefit, but providing technology especially in the area of post-harvest poultry processing, as requested by China, has been contrary to the interests of our domestic poultry industry.

At the end of the day, soybeans are a commodity, despite the attempts by USSEC to promote superior nutritional value. Irrespective of claims to the contrary, landed price is the principal motivation to purchase corn, wheat and oilseeds. Sustainability, is a justified attribute and is worthy of promotion but probably is not considered in the purchase decision. Quality depends on scrutiny by USDA personnel at export terminals and is probably equivalent to soybeans from Brazil, Argentina and the Ukraine given international standards. Major purchases by potential importers are based on landed price and availability and attempts at product differentiation of what is essentially a commodity may be akin to pushing a piece of string. Either way it plays well in Peoria, since the expenditure on promotion, personnel and logistics is derived from check-off funds relying on the goodwill of farmers.


Environmental Groups Opposing GM Mosquitoes to Control Malaria



According to an insightful essay by Richard Tren in the August 1st edition of The Wall Street Journal a group of forty environment organizations are opposing the Target Malaria Project funded in part by the Gates Foundation.  The initiative involves release of genetically modified male mosquitoes to reduce the incidence rate or even eliminate malaria in affected locations.

Previously EGG-NEWS commented on misguided opposition to field trials on the Florida Keys to eliminate GM mosquitoes capable of carrying Dengue, Chikungunya and other arborviral diseases.


Advances in genetic technology including CRISPR-cas9 to produce beneficial crops displaying pest and drought resistance and nutritional enhancement will be required to feed burgeoning populations by the middle of this Century. Applying GM to insect vectors could save lives and enhance the quality of life in nations afflicted with malaria. With progressive climate change areas in temperate latitudes hitherto free of tropical diseases may become endemic areas requiring the application of emerging and unconventional control technologies.


A petition signed by close to 150 Nobel laureates has demand that environmentalists including Greenpeace cease opposition to genetic modification which offer benefits to developing populations impacted by malnutrition and disease. Blind opposition to technical advances including insertion and deletion of genes is strongly condemned as are deceptive, false and distorted claims perpetrated by antagonists of GM.


Central Government in China Pushes Pork Production


In the face of ascending mortality from African swine fever (ASF) that to date may have depleted the national herd by one third, government authorities in China are adopting a traditional centrally-planned approach to increasing production. At issue is the reality that pork prices are climbing, reflecting an imbalance between supply and demand. It is understood that frozen pork in storage has been depleted and with tariffs imposed on U.S. imports, prices are over 30 percent higher than in July 2018. To prevent consumer disaffection, provincial and municipal authorities are now subject to obligatory production quotas consistent with traditional Communist practice. Measures to support production include grants to consolidate processing and subsidizing hog producers. Issuing orders may be easier than ensuring compliance given that the infection is not controlled and that a low standard of biosecurity prevails in small family-operated farms.

The disease will not be controlled for at least two years even if an effective vaccine is introduced since the hog industry requires radical restructuring. Eradication in the foreseeable future does not appear to be a reality. Previous postings on EGG-NEWS and CHICK-NEWS commented on the epidemiology of African swine fever in both Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia and the problems associated with control and the impact on supply. (Enter African swine fever in the SEARCH block to review previous postings)

Evidence that ASF has severely impacted supply is the response to the order to increase production with a reported five percent increase in the share price of the WH Group on the Hang Seng Exchange on Friday, July 26th.

The action by the central government and provincial authorities are at least recognition of the problem represented by ASF despite an egregious lack of transparency over prevalence and failure to acknowledge the wide geographic extent of the infection.


Research on ILT


USPOULTRY recently circulated the results of Project 692 Modified Live Vaccines of Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus.  The research was conducted by Dr. Calvin L. Keeler, Jr. of the University of Delaware.  It is accepted that chick-embryo-origin (CEO) vaccines against infectious laryngotracheitis are effective in suppressing clinical manifestations of infection. In contrast CEO vaccine is generally regarded as being responsible for field outbreaks of clinical ILT allegedly due to reversion to virulence by back-passage.  Studies conducted at the University of Georgia have demonstrated conclusively that most field “breaks” of ILT are attributed to CEO vaccine.


Dr. Keeler and his team evaluated a CEO ILT vaccine to determine the characteristics of the live virus component.  Two sub-populations of virus were identified, designated University of Delaware CEO D2 and D3.  Both were nonpathogenic in broiler chickens.  On successive passage in SPF chickens, embryonated eggs and liver cell cultures, viruses showed a decline in viability.  The attenuated strains of ILT virus were passaged twenty times in chicks without inducing heightened pathogenicity.  Passage in embryonated eggs or liver cell tissue culture could not be achieved.


On the basis of the laboratory experiments Dr. Keeler maintains that CEO vaccines do not revert to virulence under field conditions by back-passage and these strains have limited ability to propagate in avian hosts.


Since ILT virus vaccines represent “a mixture of genetically related viruses exhibiting differences in pathogenicity” a competitive situation may exist in which the virulent sub-populations in the vaccine dominate the apathogenic strains contributing to vaccine spread and increased virulence consistent with field experience.



Easter Sales and Future Prospects. Are we Flying Blind?


Anne L. Alonzo, president and CEO of the American Egg Board recently commented on sales volume and prices of eggs in an article published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Urner Barry Report. Ms. Alonzo emphasized the importance of Easter as the egg holiday with demand increased by home baking and entertaining. The importance of eggs during the Easter holiday is highlighted by the annual White House Egg Roll, which generates favorable publicity for the egg- producing industry.

Ms. Alonzo contrasted sales volume and prices for Easter periods from 2015 through 2019. Over the Easter period March 11th through April 7th in 2018, 242.5 dozen equivalent shell eggs were sold generating a revenue at retail of $511.4 million with a unit price of $2.10 per dozen. For Easter 2019 extending from March 31st through April 27th, 242.0 dozen equivalents were sold at a combined retail value of $424 million corresponding to a unit price of  $1.75 per dozen, a reduction of 17 percent.

Nielsen data suggests that including eggs in a shopping basket contributes to a tab of $33 per trip if generic eggs are included. This is compared to $49 per basket if cage-free, organic or other specialty eggs are purchased. This denotes that the demographic purchasing more expensive specialty, cage-free or organic eggs tend to purchase either more items per trip or tolerate higher unit prices due to perceived value of attributes. Eggs are obviously inelastic with regard to demand. Reducing the price of eggs may increase purchases slightly, but there is a limit to the quantity a consumer will purchase given perishability and a fairly constant use pattern.

Retail prices do not directly correlate with wholesale values. Prices paid to packers and integrators are a function of supply which in turn is influenced by flock size. Injudiciously high placement of pullet chicks reflects in lower wholesale prices 24 weeks later. The impact of the 2015 HPAI epornitic which occurred after the Easter period of that year resulted in a sharp increase in wholesale price following depletion of 40 million hens or 12 percent of the laying flock with replacement pullets although disproportionately affecting in-line breaking complexes. The effect of reduced flock size continued through 2016 in proportion to the level of rebuilding the hen population.

From the perspective of producers of shell eggs, supply is the important determinant of wholesale price. A comprehensive economic analysis is required to relate volume of production to wholesale and retail prices and the interaction of the shell and liquid segments of the industry. The impact of the 2015 HPAI epornitic, overproduction in 2019 and other factors influencing the egg industry represents a real-world exercise for agricultural economists. Determining the price elasticity for shell eggs and liquid and their interaction would be a valuable contribution to the industry with respect to forward planning and placement.

EGG-NEWS has advocated for such a study since 2015, and it is hoped that an industry initiative could fund a comprehensive study. This is especially important given the transition of the industry from caged housing to alternative systems including aviaries and floor-barns. Given the immense capital required to erect a complex of one to two million hens comprising pullet and layer housing, a feed mill and packing plant with appropriate biosecurity and other infrastructure demonstrates the need for quantifiable data to guide the industry going forward to 2025.


Economist Warns of Economic Slowdown from Trade Conflicts


Tom Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond highlighted uncertainty in trade policy as a factor contributing to a decline in U.S. economic growth from 3 percent last year to 2 percent in 2019.


In an interview with the Wall Street Journal with comments in an article published on July 2nd, Barkin deferred on the possibility of the FOMC reducing interest rates at the July 30th meeting.

Barkin noted steady employment gains and strong consumer spending but still uncertainty over trade, political development and Brexit.  In commenting on political pressure on the Fed, Barkin noted, “I think emotions have gotten far out in front of the data in terms of where we sit in the economy.”


It is evident that there is no immediate prospect of resolution of the trade conflict with China given the duration of negotiation, intransigence by China to commit to structural changes and the apparent willingness of the U.S. to apply tariffs to pressure advantages in negotiations.


Barkin noted that trade tensions between the U.S. and China will be “a permanent feature no matter how talks unfolded.”


Industry to Face Legal Opponents on Welfare


The Animal Wellness Foundation has announced formation of the National Law Enforcement Council. This group is dedicated to enforcing federal, state and local laws against animal cruelty. The Animal Wellness Foundation has as its objective alleviation of suffering of companion animals, livestock and wildlife. Although the organization is in the forefront of opposing dog and cock fighting or any other form of overt cruelty, their charter includes confrontation of “factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation”.

Unlike many “do good” organizations with members motivated by sentiment, the National Law Enforcement Council includes solid legal support numbering eleven past or present states Attorney’s General, six District Attorneys and a number of legislators representing most of the U.S. states.

The activities of the parent body, the Animal Wellness Foundation, include veterinary care for companion animals regardless of owner’s economic status. The 501(c) 4 organization promotes responsible pet ownership and vaccination.

With considerable legal heft, the National Law Enforcement Council could be a formidable opponent if the organization is inclined to adopt a confrontational approach to intensive livestock production.


Executive Order to Expedite Approval of GM Cultivars


President Trump has issued an order to Federal agencies to expedite approval of genetically modified crops. This is especially important given the growing availability and application of gene deletion technology applying CRISPR-cas9. The order is directed to the USDA, the FDA and the EPA to remove unnecessary barriers and to approve gene-editing technology. The White House has also called for promotional activities to increase public acceptance of genetically engineered foods. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative will also actively work to remove unjustified trade barriers based on GM technology.

EGG-NEWS has frequently commented that although government agencies exert considerable pressure on applicants requesting licenses to demonstrate safety of novel food and agricultural technology they do little to promote the inherent qualities of GM foods. For two decades, opponents of GMO have used social media to spread disinformation concerning the safety of genetically engineered food ingredients. The Executive Order also incorporates a provision for Federal agencies to develop and maintain websites to serve as a reference for developers of GM seeds.

The magnitude of the problem relating to registration is noted in an article by Jacob Bunge in the June 13th edition of The Wall Street Journal stating that “Even avowed opponents of biotechnology including the Center for Science in the Public Interest accept that registration of GM products is cumbersome and time consuming”. Greg Jaffe of the Organization questioned whether the Executive Order was “just about streamlining or is about deregulating and exempting products from registration”.


H-2A and Other Documented Employees Require Adequate Housing


EGG-NEWS has commented previously on the relationship between acceptable housing for legal migrant workers and their productivity and tenure. Faced with competition from industry and progressively higher labor rates and the imperative to train and retain employees, many egg farmers are evaluating alternatives to their traditional recruiting and retention programs.  This is especially the case in the Southwest where employers require legal workers from Mexico and Central America.


Unlike seasonal harvests, egg production provides year-round employment and demands a high level of training in stockmanship and a commitment to welfare and acceptable procedures. The H-2A program requires employers to provide housing meeting minimum standards as laid down by the Department of Labor.


Based on personal experience in a number of nations and observing the situation in the U.S., egg producers should seriously consider providing acceptable housing for documented workers and their families.  With the conversion from conventional cages to aviary systems, labor requirements are at least double and sometimes three-fold compared to conventional cages creating a demand for additional workers.  Selection and then training including supervision is an expensive component of the cost of labor.  Motivated employees deserve both job security and domestic stability in return for service and commitment.  Providing homes of a suitable standard will generate loyalty to an employer and will contribute to a stable workforce which can be relied on to adhere to company procedures.


It is a matter of judicial record that in past years, producers such as the DeCoster family exploited workers and provided “captive” groups of employees with substandard accommodation. His companies used disused and obsolete trailers for housing subjecting workers to unsanitary and unhygienic conditions resulting in intervention by state and Federal authorities in addition to adverse judgments and settlements in civil lawsuits.


Along with investments and installations to satisfy structural biosecurity and environmental compliance, developers of new complexes should consider the erection of housing for workers as an integral component of capital cost as they now or should do with biosecurity.


Soy Farmers will Require Federal Compensation as a Result of the Trade War with China


According to the World Agricultural Supply Demand estimate #588 issued on May 10 U.S. farmers will plant 84.6 million acres to soybeans with a projected production of 4,150 million bushels.  Although USDA economists anticipate export of 1,150 million bushels, 38 percent of a total supply of 5,165 million bushels will be priced at a decade-low given the sharp reduction in exports to China.  USDA predicts the average farm price for the 2019 crop to be 810 cents per bushel.  At noon May 22, July futures were 833 cents per bushel with the November 2019 new crop price at 860 cents per bushel. Admittedly corn and soybean prices rose sharply in the second half of May but only in response to late planting and the prospect of lowered yields.


It is estimated that production costs is $8.80 per bushel.  In many cases farmers received less than the CME quotation for soybean delivered to local elevators.  Farmers should receive at least $1 per bushel more than current prices to generate any positive income from the 2019 harvest.


Following the release two tranches of support in 2018 to a wide range of producers with soy predominating, farmers will receive directly and indirectly about $12 billion in 2019. The White House directed the USDA to work on the new package with funds derived from the Commodity Credit Corporation.


For the 2016 election, the President received considerable support from farmers but the fall-out from the prolong trade war with China was not anticipated and has generated concern in Midwest states. Relying on “patriotism” is wearing thin in the corn-belt.


The National Farmers Union considered that support programs are “temporary solutions insufficient to address the permanent damage the trade war has inflicted on agricultural export markets.” An Iowa farmer quoted in the May 18th edition of The Wall Street Journal stated, “We don’t want gifts or government money, we just want fair trade.” At this point farmers might settle for any trade, fair or otherwise, to raise prices and regain markets.


FDA as a Separate Agency from DHHS?


A recent article in New Food Economy authored by Jessica Fu and Glenn Cohen of the Harvard Law School suggested that the FDA should be established as a separate agency such as the EPA. At issue is the potential politicization of the FDA that falls under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cohen noted that the “FDA regulates a huge percentage of our economy and makes a huge difference to people’s lives”. There are instances of the DHHS obstructing or interfering in FDA decisions, especially in areas relating to drug approval, tobacco use and food safety. The authors suggest that if the FDA were an independent agency with its own budget, it would have the independence to conduct operations and develop policy appropriate to its mission. The authors noted “When science and politics collide, the optimal path is to delineate as transparently as possible the contribution of each”. It was the contention of the authors that in any situation when values are in conflict, an independent FDA would react with the best interest of all citizenry.

The suggestion has merit especially given blatant political interference with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which are subsidiary agencies of DHHS.

CHICK-NEWS has frequently advocated for an independent food safety agency that would combine the current functions of the FDA, USDA-FSIS and other agencies with peripheral jurisdiction. This would enable the FDA either as an independent agency or a component of the DHHS to concentrate on approval, oversight of manufacture, distribution and regulation of drugs and medical devices. An independent food safety agency would parallel similar approaches in the E.U. leading to more efficient allocation of resources to research, surveillance and enforcement.


Sustainability of Intensive Protein Production


With a backdrop of media hype over transition to plant-based protein, it is important to recognize the inherent sustainability of intensive egg production.  The Good Food Institute estimates that a single egg is responsible for evolution of approximately 150 g of carbon dioxide equivalent compared to one once of chicken at 170 g, pork at 190 g and dairy at 300 g.  On the basis of land use, a single egg requires approximately 0.1 m2 compared to pork at 1.0 m2.  Beef requires 5 m2 per one-ounce serving.


Despite the appeal to what has been referred to as a bewildering array of food tribes including veggievores, flexitarians and lacto-vegetarians and their ilk, the cost of plant-based substitutes compared to animal protein is extremely high.  An Impossible Burger served at the Seattle Airport carried a $1 surcharge over a conventional beef burger.  In the UK, vegetable-based meat substitutes including hotdogs and cauliflower-based steak are priced significantly higher than conventional counterparts resulting in a backlash from consumers.


A commentator for a major UK restaurant chain said that profit margins on vegan dishes were approximately equal to meat equivalents despite the fact that the cost of ingredients is cheaper.  She added, “Anything that is plant-based has a huge amount of work in it since everything on the plate is made from scratch.”


In past months, multinational companies have invested heavily in plant-based substitutes including Danone of France that forecasts sales of $7 billion by 2025.  Observers are in fact questioning whether their $12.5 billion acquisition of WhiteWave in 2016 represented an injudicious overpayment.  Maple Leaf Foods of Canada purchased two brands for $270 million in 2017 and will invest $310 million in a new plant in Indiana.  Tyson Foods will adopt a go-it-alone program following sale of their equity in Beyond Meat before the highly successful IPO. Tyson Foods anticipates sales of $1 billion from plant-based products within a decade.


The appeal for plant-based meat substitutes is based partly on perceptions of health but also considerations of sustainability and welfare.  It remains to be seen whether there is a sufficient mass of consumers willing to pay a premium for these attributes, even if taste and satisfaction are equivalent to conventional meat products.  There is a growing concern that the rapid rise in demand for plant-based substitutes may well be based on curiosity. This was the case in my selection of an overpriced Impossible Burger sandwich. Since the product was inferior to a conventional meat burger, the trial will not to be repeated.


Commercial Banks in China Experiencing Dollar Squeeze


The combined dollar liabilities at the four biggest banks in China now exceed their dollar holdings. The institutions comprise the Bank of China, Agriculture Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the China Construction Bank.  At the end of 2008, the Bank of China was $70 billion in deficit but claimed that off balance sheet dollar assets covered the shortfall.  The three other banks collectively showed a dollar surplus on their balance sheets amounting to approximately $15 billion.


Banks in China require dollars since currency derivatives mature within 12 months requiring regular renewal.  China is active in the swap market with other central banks but does not have an agreement with the U.S. Federal Reserve. 


China is however in no danger of embarrassment over the shortfall of dollars since the Central Government apparently holds $3.1 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and would come to the aid of any quasi-commercial bank all of which operate with close state supervision.  The dollar is still regarded as the most significant currency for international trade with many commodities including oil and gold bear dollar denominations.  The Chinese yuan is not universally accepted and conversion is difficult.


If a trade agreement is negotiated, China may still show a preference towards Brazil and Argentina for purchases of soybeans and other commodities if they can pay with their own currency or effect a state-sponsored barter transaction.  Clearly if the magic wand could resolve trade differences immediately, the U.S. may not reclaim the Chinese export market which has been profoundly eroded.  This has implications for the agricultural sector.  Prices of soybeans and hence meal will remain depressed and this will influence production costs for all monogastric livestock. Perhaps we will never revert to pre-trade war equilibrium. Belgian endives anybody?


Newcastle Disease Prevention Workshop in California


Poultry health professionals from California representing the Department of Agriculture, the University of California at Davis and representatives from commercial-level producers met in Dublin, CA to review measures to prevent extension of Newcastle disease from backyard flocks to commercial farms. The program was hosted by the California Poultry Federation with the participation of Foster Farms as the major broiler and turkey integrator in the state. Topics covered included biosecurity, clinical recognition of Newcastle disease and control measures


It is estimated that there are 100,000 backyard chicken flocks throughout the State but with a high concentration in the three counties surrounding Los Angeles.  In contrast he majority of commercial flocks are in the Central Valley and northern counties.


Currently quarantines are in effect in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties although there is an obvious question as to the durability of enforcement given that fighting cocks are involved.

California State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones stressed the importance of collaboration although with more than 420 cases in backyard flocks and three on commercial farms over 11 months, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has been less than effective in controlling a potentially catastrophic infection. 


EGG-NEWS reasserts that epidemiologic evidence suggest that the disease is endemic in the game fowl (fighting cock) population of southern California and that the three spatially related cases on commercial farms represented spill-over, facilitated by defective biosecurity.  Until the owners of game fowl and the relatively few backyard and pet flocks create a solidly immune population, “pop-up” cases will continue, whether reported or not with the danger of extension to large broiler, turkey and egg-producing complexes.



Store Upgrades by Walmart and Target


In a concerted drive to compete with Amazon, both Walmart and Target announced upgrades to their stores. While Target intends renovating 1,000 locations by 2020, the scope of the Walmart initiative involving 5,000 stores coupled with high technology will require investment of $11 billion.

Walmart will deploy robotics to increase efficiency and reduce labor costs. The company intends installing 1,500 autonomous floor cleaners, 300 shelf scanners and 1,200 unloaders at delivery docks. To improve click-and-collect transactions, Walmart will install 1,700 pick-up towers, 3,100 delivery locations and 1,600 grocery delivery locations.

Walmart spokesperson Delia Garcia quoted in Digiday, stated “we are using the stores as that connector to be able to serve customers how and whenever they want.” She added “Customers can order online and use in-store pick up towers.” Walmart will also include self-checkout machines, upgrade grocery presentations, install private consultation rooms in pharmacy departments and will add new signage.

According to retail industry analysts, there is a need to upgrade stores and improve appearance, to enhance the buying experience. Evaluating the return from investment in upgrades is difficult, but analysts maintain that declines in sales and consumer loyalty are consistently attributable to stores “which are old and gross”. This reality was apparently lost on the management of Sears at the outset of its decline that  can be traced back to neglect of appearance, staid brands and an unexciting ambience dating back to the 1970s.


Senator Warren Opposes Agribusiness and Commodity Check Offs


Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is taking aim at the entire agribusiness sector in addition to statutory commodity promotion programs. In pre-election rhetoric she has vowed to dismember agribusiness companies including Bayer AG (which is a German company) and Tyson Foods Inc. a domestic entity with international investments.


Warren maintains that “check offs” are corrupted and need reform and have been used to squeeze out competition” according to a March 27th posting on Bloomberg.

Warren maintains that check-off payments should be voluntary rather than mandatory.  If in fact check-offs were at the whim of an individual, the U.S. egg-production industry would not have enjoyed the benefit and support of the American Egg Board that successfully defeated the cholesterol myth through supporting responsible scientific research and publicizing results. 


The AEB has expanded egg consumption by promoting innovative products and developing new markets both in the U.S. and internationally.  Increased egg production and sales benefit consumers but also generate jobs through the entire supply chain, This extends from operators of farms growing corn and soybeans, plants crushing soybeans, owners and operators of egg-production complexes and farms, the transport industry, manufacturers of equipment, suppliers of pharmaceuticals and biologics, packaging manufacturers and workers in the food industry. 


Check-offs are not necessarily corrupt, certainly the AEB is not and one cannot envisage the need for reform.  Senator Warren should spend more time studying her targets and understanding their contribution and role rather than trying to fix something which is not broken. Generating rhetoric to support a quixotic political aspiration will rebound in Iowa wit 50 million hens. 



Canadian Farmers Concerned over Cancellation of Canola Seed Imports


Canada has relied on exports for 90 percent of canola seed harvested. During the past week, importers in China representing the bulk of shipments have cancelled orders for the ingredient.

The South China Morning Post suggests that the cancellations are in retribution for Canada arresting and detaining the CFO of Huawei on a warrant issued by the U.S. China does not apparently understand the rule of law and independence of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Prime Minister Trudeau has been placed in a difficult position by the case, but cannot personally intervene and overrule the judiciary.

The warrant for the detention of CFO Meng Wanzhou currently under loose house arrest in Vancouver was issued in response to a formal request on allegations that her company contravened U.S. sanctions against Iran. Huawei has come under scrutiny from officials in western companies including the U.S. and the U.K. and also Australia and New Zealand alleging that intended 5G systems will represent a potential for espionage.

The action by China against canola exporters illustrates the gap in their understanding of procedural law in western democracies and illustrates the ruthlessness with which the central government of China will react to achieve predetermined policies.


Reiteration of California Proposition #12 Requirements


The November 2018 Proposition #12 ballot which passed with 60 percent of those voting requires producers of shell eggs or egg liquid to conform to the following housing requirements:-

  • Confining an animal in any manner that prevents the animal from laying down, standing up, fully extending the animals limbs or turning around freely (as per Proposition 2 of 2008).

  • After December 31st 2019 confined egg-laying hens must be provided with at least 144 square inches of usable floor space.

  • After December 31st 2021 egg-laying hens must be held in an enclosure other than a cage-housing system.

The requirements of Proposition #12 were extensively reviewed at both the IPPE and the recent Midwest Poultry Federation Convention.

It is anticipated that Proposition #12 will accelerate conversion of existing caged facilities to aviaries and also result in erection of new housing and even complexes especially in California in addition to producers shipping eggs and products to the state.

Accepting the legality of both the California proposition and the East coast counterparts, it is anticipated that more hens will have to be housed in systems other than conventional and colony cages to supply designated markets. Despite the passage of ballot legislation on both coasts, the prevailing sentiment in the industry is that even by 2025 at least 35 percent of producing hens will remain in some form of confinement. It is possible that many of these flocks will be held in enriched colony cages in states not banning confinement.

It is noted that enrichable cages were purchased by producers wishing to expand in the late 2000's as an insurance strategy in anticipation of passage of a Federal "Egg Bill" introduced as H.R. 3798, The Egg Products Amendment Act of 2012. The intention was to convert these installations to colonies by removal of partitions and installation of enrichments in accordance with anticipated legislation and the tacit acceptance of enriched colonies by the HSUS.

As of February 2019, 15.7 million hens were housed under the rules of the Certified Organic Program and 41.6 million as "cage-free" predominately barn-housed in either aviaries or on slat-and-litter floors. A total of 57.3 million hens in other than conventional cages represents 17.6 percent of a nominal U.S. flock of 325 million hens in production but in effect 25 percent of the shell-egg flock comprising approximately 225 million hens.


Significance of Backyard Flocks in HPAI Outbreak in France 2016-2017


The role of backyard flocks in the incidence and dissemination of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was investigated subsequent to the extensive outbreak of H5N8 clade in Southwestern France. Approximately 480 farms were affected in a limited geographic area from late November 2016 to late March 2017. The initial case was presumed to have been infected by migratory birds. The outbreak was characterized by a low incidence rate in backyard flocks compared to commercial farms, reminiscent of the 2015 HPAI epornitic in the U.S.

The study involved 70 backyard flocks in the Gers Department. This administrative region reported 20 percent of the cases recorded with 55 percent of 96 cases diagnosed between December 11th 2016 and January 4th 2017. A retrospective serologic survey was carried out on

70 backyard flocks comprising 608 birds. Of all backyard flocks evaluated, 26 percent were seropositive for AI with 11 percent demonstrating antibodies against subtype H5. Backyard ducks showed a 41 percent seroprevalence against AI and 27 percent specifically against subtype H5. This may be compared to backyard flocks holding only chickens yielding a 19 percent seropositive rate against AI and with 4 percent showing antibodies against H5.

The authors noted that backyard flocks with a connection to commercial farms were likely to be infected suggesting the role of humans in transmission. The odds ratio associated with a link with commercial poultry was 5.8 for avian influenza and 20.5 for subtype H5, denoting deficiencies in biosecurity on commercial farms. The findings in France correspond with observations made in the Netherlands following an H7N7 epornitic. Following this outbreak it was demonstrated that infection in backyard flocks was essentially a spillover from commercial units.

The results in France should be related to the current situations involving velogenic viscerotropic Newcastle disease in Southern California. In the case of backyard flocks in France and the Netherlands, a limited number of birds in each location had minimal indirect contact with commercial poultry and represented a situation of minimal risk. In contrast in Southern California, the so-called "backyard" and "exhibition" flocks comprise game-fowl (fighting-cocks). These birds are by their purpose frequently moved and have direct contact with game-fowl from other locations. In addition there is frequent movement of owners and caretakers among and between flocks. This has contributed to the high incidence rate in San Bernardino and Riverside counties including four commercial units and extension from the three-county area to one case in each of Alameda County in Northern California and to Utah County, Utah.

Souvestre, M. et al Role of backyard flocks in transmission dynamics of highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N8) clade, France, 2016-2017 Emerging Infectious Diseases 25: 551-554 (2019)


FDA Reports on Recall Events


A March 19th joint statement from the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottlieb and the Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas, outlined improvements in the FDA Food Safety Program based on the 2020 budget developed by the White House. It is noted that appropriations will ultimately have to be made by Congress, but food safety is high on the list of priorities since it is essentially non-partisan.

During fiscal 2017, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition responded to 794 recall events associated with microbial contamination and undeclared allergens and undertook responsibility for the recall of 3,600 products. During fiscal 2017 and 2018, the FDA Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network dealt with 120 human food safety outbreak incidents annually.

Deputy Commissioner Yiannas has considerable experience in implementation of trace-back investigations with specific reference to a blockchain system introduced in his previous position with Walmart stores. Deficiencies in identifying the source of STEC contamination of Romaine lettuce responsible for extensive outbreaks denoted the need for digital records for tracking and tracing products. Experience gained with the E.coli 0157 outbreaks led to improvements in labeling including harvest date and location which has enhanced traceability.

FDA has introduced the Plant and Animal Biotechnology Innovation Action Plan. This will facilitate innovation in plant and animal biotechnology to improve the food safety component of the FDA public health mission. During the past two years, FDA has introduced Whole Genome Sequencing to determine the source of contaminated foods attributed to outbreaks of infection.

Although the FDA is placing an emphasis on food safety, fragmentation of responsibility and jurisdiction among a number of government departments, principally USDA and FDA suggest that a unified food safety agency, as in Europe, would best serve the interest of consumers.


The Market Value of the “Organic” Image Questioned.


Use of the term "organic" on labels is confined to products grown, reared and processed in accordance with the requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA. In contrast the term "natural" is not regulated but motivates purchase decisions by 53 percent of consumers in a recent Label Insight survey of 1,000 shoppers.

Other label claims that attract consumers include "antibiotic-free" and "no-preservatives". Apparently the attractiveness of the "clean label" is directly proportional to age.

As with many narrow-focused surveys the results depend on how the questions are framed and the specific knowledge of the product attributes including the definition of any claim and an appreciation of the significance of an additive. Surveys have shown an almost total opposition to inclusion of "dihydroxy oxygen" (water) or DNA (ubiquitous) in food. The Label Insight study apparently made no attempt to consider trade-offs including how much consumers were willing to pay for products free of additives and antibiotics compared to generic alternatives. An obvious case in point is that a high proportion of consumers disfavor confining hens in cages but only a subset of the population are willing to pay a differential for non-confined housing systems including barns and aviaries.

If the NOP and the Organic Trade Association wish to enhance the image and hence volume of sales of USDA-Certified Organic products they will have to develop a brand approach for their category. This will require a check-off program with promotion analogous to the American Egg Board and other statutory commodity groups including milk, beef, and pork.

The fact that any manufacturer can apply the non-defined and vague term "natural" to labels and elicit a positive response suggests that the NOP with a disproportionately regulatory and production orientation, is neglecting promotion and consumer education. This calls into question the value of the USDA Certified Seal that incurs a considerable incremental cost of production. Perhaps in the case of eggs that are by nature "gluten-free" and in the U.S. are produced without "hormones and antibiotics" are in no way inferior with respect to nutritional value or quality than more expensive Certified Organic product with a price differential of up to $1.50 per dozen. There is a small segment among consumers who actively search for the organic label and are willing to pay a premium over generics. That segment appears to be small and static in size as denoted by the fact that hens under the Certified organic program have remained at approximately seven percent of the national shell-egg flock for close to a year.


Promotion of U.S. Eggs in India


The Indiana Corn Marketing Council in conjunction with USAPEEC recently conducted a promotional seminar for eggs in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu State. The theme of the seminar was "Unscramble the Nutrition Science on Eggs", applying the resources of the Egg Nutrition Center.

The benefits of investment in this event are questionable given the fact that India is self-sufficient in eggs and is in fact an exporter of both egg liquids and shell eggs.

Well-meaning promotions involving transfer of technology will only benefit India. This commentator was involved in broiler production seminars organized by the American Soybean Association during the 1990's. Initially the purpose was to promote broiler production with objective of increasing demand for U.S. soybeans. The flawed program was extended at the request of the host country to include processing technology. This effectively placed India in a position to compete with the U.S. in Asian markets.

Promotional activities in nations to which we export are beneficial. Programs such as those arranged in Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and at Middle East exhibitions enhance the image of our products to the detriment of potential competitors. By creating a U.S. Brand based on quality, consistency and service market share can be entrenched and expanded over the long term to the benefit of our industry.


Genetic Manipulation Produces Improved Rice Strain


Opponents of genetic engineering fail to appreciate the advantages associated with modification of plant genomes to produce strains with benefits to farmers, especially those in under-developed nations. Collaborators in a project involving Iowa State University, the University of California - Davis and INRA in France have developed a strain of rice that can reproduce without fertilization. This type of reproduction is referred to as "synthetic apomixis". This is the first commercial crop which expresses this characteristic, although as many as 500 wild plants are capable of producing seeds without fertilization.

The modification was achieved by identifying genes that regulate reproduction with specific reference to fertilization. Progeny of modified plants capable of apomixis are clones but are still capable of reproducing.

The rice plant which has been developed relieves farmers from having to purchase hybrid seed each planting season. The system will however require further development since the efficiency of asexual reproduction is currently only at 30 percent. Continuing work applying genome editing will eventually yield a rice plant which incorporates acceptable commercial attributes at minimal cost.

Opponents of GE should consider the benefits such as yield, resistance to drought, pests and enhanced nutrient content. It is clear that GM strains of cotton, corn, and soybeans can be produced with lower levels of pesticide and herbicide application and specific strains of bananas and rice with enhanced carotene levels have the potential to reduce blindness in the nations where GMO cultivars would have the most impact.

Zimbabwe has recently lifted a ban imposed on importation of GM seeds and commodities. It is expected that additional nations in sub-Saharan Africa will follow based on need and education.


Concern Over U.S. Economy


Expansion of the economy as measured by growth in the Gross Domestic Product is currently undergoing revision. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York now predicts a first-quarter 2019 growth rate of 1.1 percent, a marked reduction from previous forecasts. A bleaker outlook is based on weak industrial output that fell by 0.6 percent in January against an anticipated 0.1 percent gain. An unexpected 0.9 percent drop in manufacturing production occurred within the industrial production segment of the forecast.

It is evident that the effect of the 2017 tax cut is no longer apparent. Exports may be impacted by trade disputes and weakness in the E.U. occasioned in part by the inability of Italy to curb spending and uncertainty over Brexit.


Progress on Talks with China


Following the late January 2019 high-level meetings in Washington, Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin traveled to Beijing to continue trade talks. The Administration has indicated that it would consider delaying the imposition of increased tariffs beyond the March 1st deadline providing substantial progress is being made in discussions. China is obviously making some concessions with regard to purchases of capital goods and agricultural products to offset the negative trade balance with the U.S.

Following a meeting with the Commerce Ministry of China, the U.S. negotiating team engaged with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He followed by an audience with President Xi Jingping.

The reluctance of China to change structural considerations that are necessary to expand their economy will be the major obstruction to a comprehensive deal. These issues include support of state-owned enterprises, coercive technology transfer and industrial espionage all integrated into a national development plan plans.

It is hoped that the negotiators can finalize a memorandum of agreement on major issues that will pave the way for a meeting between the two Presidents. It is unlikely that this will take place in China following a scheduled visit to Vietnam by the President. A more likely venue will be the U.S. during March provided that the tariff rate on approximately $200 billion in imports remains at 10 percent.


Prospects for Passage of USMCA?


Despite the publicity accorded the signing ceremony for the USMCA during the G-20 Summit, none of the three nations involved have presented the Agreement to their respective legislatures for ratification. Given the composition of the House, prospects for passage without changes and concessions appear dim. In the event that Congress does not approve the USMCA, the White House has threatened to unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA.

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal expressed the view that prominent legislators including Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep Tim Ryan (D-OH) consider that the USMCA provides insufficient protection for U.S. workers. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer pushed for higher wages for a proportion of workers in Mexico producing automobiles for the U.S. market. This was intended to placate Democratic members of the House and Senate who have since become emboldened to oppose the USMCA.

The conservative credentials of The Wall Street Journal are without question as a pro-business publication. They characterize a unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA as "political suicide" for the party in power unless there are sufficient votes to ratify USMCA.

CHICK-NEWS and EGG-NEWS have consistently stressed the importance of exports to both Canada and Mexico, without which prices and hence profitability of poultry would be eroded in the domestic market resulting in curtailed production and shuttered plants. As with many contentious issues which have surfaced in the past two years, it is hoped that reason will prevail and that a workable compromise will emerge. This will contribute to harmonious relations with our northern and southern neighbors to the benefit of the agricultural sector and specifically egg, turkey and broiler production.


9th Circuit Blocks San Francisco Beverage Label Ordinance


The full bench of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously blocked a San Francisco ordinance requiring health-warning labels on sugar-containing beverages. The intent was to advise consumers that sodas containing sugar are injurious to health, contribute to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. San Francisco imposed a tax on high-sugar containing beverages amounting to one cent per ounce, effective January 1, 20148.


The Court ruled that the warnings were contrary to plaintiff’s First Amendment rights by “chilling protective speech”. The Court considered that beverage manufacturers would suffer irreparable harm if the law was implemented. A three-judge panel set aside the law in 2017 stating that it “unfairly targeted one group of products.” The city of San Francisco appealed the decision to the full bench of the 9th Circuit.

The American Beverage Association has operated under a preliminary injunction deferring the labeling law since 2015.


The decision of the 9th Circuit that frequently favors consumers, the environment and public authorities, continues precedents relating to advertising claims as “speech”. The verdict is potentially significant to the egg-production industry since is is possible that in the future that some jurisdiction might impose warning labels on eggs based on saturated fat or cholesterol. Although well meaning, mandatory warnings in the absence of clear scientific evidence are deleterious and represent an extension of the “nanny state”.


Critique of National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard


Dr. Henry J. Miller a physician-scientist and the Founding Director of the FDA Office of Biotechnology recently authored a commentary This Must be the Worst Regulation Ever dealing with the labeling requirements for bioengineered (GMO) foods. Co-authored with Drew Kershen an Emeritus Professor of Law, the item appeared this week in The Wall Street Journal as an example of creative confusion.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) requires labeling of bioengineered food if it "contains detectable genetically modified material" The Rule will bear a cost ranging from $569 million to $3.9 billion to implement and an in perpetuity annual cost of between $65 million to $234 million applying a three percent discount rate.

Miller and Kershen correctly point out that there will be no benefit from the expenditure of public funds for either consumers or the environment as the label requirement will be voluntary. The NBFDS regulation framed in terms of the 2016 law effectively preempted individual states from imposing their own labeling standards for bioengineered food. A Vermont law mandating label disclosure of milk and products from cows treated with BST, was struck down by the Second U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals following an action by dairy processors. The Court ruled that if there was no demonstrable health hazard or other substantial government concern, manufacturers can not be forced to disclose content.

Based on the complexity of regulations framed in terms of the NBFDS and the inevitability of litigation Miller and Kershen justifiably called for a repeal of the enabling legislation and replacement with a law restricting the ability of states to require GMO products to be labeled., a position endorsed by EGG-NEWS


Acquiring Foodborne Infection from Home-Prepared Meals


A recent survey conducted in Scotland demonstrated that 40 percent of respondents who suffered an episode of foodborne illness during the previous year acquired the infection from a home-cooked meal.  This represents approximately 17,000 cases of foodborne illness annually in Scotland.  The survey was conducted during December and involved 1,000 adults.


Home food preparation practices which contributed to infection included ignoring “use by” dates, failure to wash chopping boards, consumption of undercooked chicken and turkey especially when not using a thermometer.


Health authorities in Scotland have now intensified their “Kitchen Crimes” food safety campaign emphasizing 20 safety-related precautions.  The initial “Kitchen Crimes” campaign was apparently successful based on responses by consumers who were exposed to publicity and changed their cooking practices.


It would be interesting to determine the incidence rate of foodborne infection from home cooking.  Generally foodborne outbreaks involve a number of cases over a limited time resulting in capture by the FoodNet database or posted on <>.  Foodborne infection associated with restaurants, QSRs and institutions are usually subject to some form of microbiological confirmation of the diagnosis especially if patients are hospitalized. 

Unfortunately family-confined outbreaks are invariably missed due to small numbers involved.  Regrettably mild home-associated cases are not reported other than infection with highly pathogenic organisms such as Listeria, a virulent Salmonella or an STEC is involved. 


This is the basis of the CDC using a multiplication factor when evaluating the number of cases of salmonellosis based on diagnosed and confirmed cases.  The fact that CDC regional laboratories are now using PCR and have the advantages of almost real-time information from FoodNet allows recognition of limited outbreaks.  A case in point was a Salmonella Braenderup outbreak during late 2017 and early 2018 that involved less than 60 cases over a six-month period in a region comprising mid-Atlantic and northeast states.


California Ban on Foie Gras Impacts Producers in France


Failure by the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the 2012 California statute banning production and sale of foie gras has not only ended the unpleasant and cruel practice in the state but has eliminated a market for farmers in France. The practice of “gavage feeding” an euphemism for forcing feed in semi-liquid form through a metal tube into the distended proventriculus of restrained geese, has been banned in Denmark, the U.K., Germany, Finland, Argentina and Australia among other nations.


Even in France, that counts foie gras as part of their gastronomic heritage, renowned chefs have spurned the product, as have some supermarket chains. France produces seventy percent of the World’s production and is slowly building back the market lost in Japan, the major customer, after embargos as a result of AI in 2016 and 2017.


Continuation of the inhumane practice of gavage feeding to produce what is essentially a pathological fat infiltration of the liver would be detrimental to the overall image of poultry production. To claim that this sub-section of the industry is producing a “product conforming to hygiene regulations” ignores the overwhelming welfare consideration of force-feeding to produce an unhealthy product.


It is axiomatic that trends and laws emerging in California ultimately spread eastward. It is predicted that state laws will soon be enacted by legislators and by ballot on the East coast. Elimination of Foie Gras production, a medieval practice, would benefit both the health of geese and consumers. Producers in France should consider another line of work and not rely on Japan. On second thought is their main customer now the only remaining nation that slaughters whales and dolphins for food?


Multinational Agribusiness Companies Losing Significance in World Trade


For more than a century, four multinational commodity and grain traders have dominated agriculture as middlemen between producers and consumers. The four comprising ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus referred to as ABCD, have brokered a high proportion of the World’s major commodities. This has been achieved through superior market intelligence, storage infrastructure and transport facilities including harbor installations and bulk vessels.

According to an insightful article in the December 14th edition of The Economist, the dominance of ABCD has been eroded over the past decade. Cofco was established by the Government of China to source and supply grains essentially from Latin America to producers in their nation. Glencore Agriculture emerged as a major competitor to ABCD backed by parent company Glencore, involved in multinational mining. Glencore was a potential acquirer of Bunge in 2017. Olam was established by a state-funded Singapore investment group and is active in brokering transactions between Africa and Asia.

The problem faced by international commodity traders is exemplified by the decline in profitability of Bunge that recently announced replacement of both the Chairman and the CEO. According to The Economist article, total commodity sales generated by ABCD declined from $350 billion in 2013 to $260 billion in 2017. The relevance of the four enterprises was enhanced by the tariff war with China. The advent of disruption in orderly marketing commencing in June resulted in a scramble to source alternatives to U.S. soybeans and the countervailing need for the U.S. to find new customers. The market price of Brazilian soybeans soared reaching a peak in October with a concurrent depression in U.S. prices which stimulated trade. By early December, with the end of the export season from the Southern Hemisphere, the world market price for soybeans in the U.S. and Brazil had converged close to $350 per ton. In the interim, razor-thin margins on trading increased, albeit fractionally, to improve profitability.

Companies such as ADM and Cargill have diversified with the former involved in ethanol production and the latter deriving two thirds of revenue from upstream activities including poultry in Latin America, the E.U., Asia and Central America. In addition Cargill is heavily involved in production of animal feed and further-processing of commodities.

Multinational commodity traders such as ABCD and their clones are a necessary component of the food supply chain. Going forward, their dominance will decline possibly representing an advantage for consumers in developing nations.


Campbell Soup Company Confirms Mark Clouse as CEO


Mark Clouse a twenty-year veteran of Pinnacle Foods and Kraft Foods was appointed as the CEO of Campbell Soup Company on December 20th following a six-month search for a replacement for Denise Morrison. Clouse is due to commence duties on January 22nd. The appointment was contingent on an agreement between activist investment group, Third Point LLC and the family-dominated Board of Campbell Soup.

As noted previously, Mark Clouse is a “company man” with experience in generating sales growth for old packaged-food brands including Bird’s Eye and Duncan Hines. Campbell clearly needs a turnaround specialist with a strong entrepreneurial track record. This however would not be consistent with the staid Board of socialite amateurs stuck in a 1960’s time warp.

It is considered significant that Conagra Brands attributed lower earnings and profit to their Pinnacle Foods acquisition that closed one month before the release of results for their 2nd quarter. Although Conagra revenue rose 9.7 percent to $2.38 billion, it missed consensus estimates of $2.41 billion. Conagra did however beat on EPS with $0.67 per share excluding items against a Street estimate of $0.55. Shares dived 17 percent after the release to a 52-week low mainly on a downward adjustment in projected FY2019 earnings from $2.11 to a range of $2.03 to $2.08. In a conference call, Conagra opined that the challenges presented by the Pinnacle Foods acquisition were “largely self-inflicted due to sub-par innovation and executional missteps.”

The success of Mark Clouse at Campbell Soup will depend on whether he in fact has entrepreneurial flair and whether the Board will allow him to exercise innovation which may conflict with company culture. If Clouse continues on the same conservative path or is restricted from innovation, Campbell will continue on a downward spiral and will either be an acquisition or will be dismembered. A sad outcome for a well-established food company that tried to move too quickly into ‘fresh and natural’ incurring immense debt and then in a funk reverting to a stand-fast position based on traditional but dated products.


Pew Charitable Trust Still Opposing Antibiotics


The Pew Charitable Trust has partnered with the Farm Foundation to establish “effective stewardship” to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock production. Organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trust are simply reiterating established FDA restrictions on the use of antibiotics to  create the impression that they are driving the trend.

The stewardship framework has ensnared pharmaceutical companies such as Elanco Animal Health and Zoetis, producer organizations including the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation. Producers involved in the framework include Smithfield Foods Inc., Tyson Foods and Jennie-O Turkey Store. Customers for the livestock industry affiliated with the framework include McDonald’s Corp. and Walmart.

The Director of the Pew Charitable Trust Antibiotic Resistance project, Cathy Talkington stated “Antibiotic stewardship is essential to protect human and animal health, ensuring food safety and security and combatting antibiotic resistance.” She added “The organizations who are part of this dialog represent the food animal supply chain from farm to table and they recognize the need for meaningful stewardship programs that everyone can understand and trust.”

The antibiotic stewardship framework comprises 15 components dealing with treatment, record-keeping and “culture of continuous improvement and commitment to antibiotic stewardship”. There is nothing in the framework which deviates from accepted FDA regulations and professional veterinary ethics.

It is questioned whether the Pew Charitable Trust is sincere in its objective of reducing resistance to antibiotics or whether the issue is not a thinly veiled attempt to opposed intensive livestock production under the guise of public health.


Update on Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Infection


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement on November 26th concerning the multistate outbreak of E. Coli O157:H7 attributed to romaine lettuce. As of this date, 43 confirmed cases have been documented in 12 states with most recent being October 31st.  To date 22 cases have been diagnosed in Canada.


On November 20th CDC advised consumers not to consume romaine lettuce based on the fact that the probable source had not been identified. As a precaution the green produce industry complied with a FDA request to withdrawn romaine lettuce and QSRs and supermarkets disposed of product on their shelves.


Traceback investigations suggest that the implicated lettuce was cultivated along the Central Coast and the Northern growing regions of California, with product harvested during late summer.

The FDA is attempting to narrow the location which is responsible for the infection.  As of mid-November, harvesting of romaine lettuce from the Central Coast region has ended.  Cultivation has now shifted to the Imperial Valley and the Yuma Valley of California.  During winter romaine lettuce is also imported from Mexico and some cultivation occurs in Florida.  It is evident that hydroponic romaine lettuce and greenhouse product is not involved.


The FDA considers that the recommendation to destroy available stocks of romaine lettuce issued during mid-November has removed potentially contaminated product from the market.  The FDA recommended that major producers agree to participate in a labeling program to identify the harvest region and date of pack.  This is confirmed in an official FDA update stating - based on discussions with major producers and distributors, Romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with the harvest location and the harvest date.  Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse-grown.  Product without this information should not be consumed.


The FDA statement concluded with comments by Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottleib, “We hope that growers, processors, distributors and retailers will join us in our effort to protect consumers by applying labeling recommendations to their products.  We remain committed to identifying ways to decrease the incidence and impact of food borne illness outbreaks, and will continue to provide updates on our investigation and changes to our advice on romaine lettuce as more information becomes available.”

Labeling will be useful in traceback investigations but will do nothing to prevent foodborne Salmonella or E.coli infection if produce is contaminated in fields or through cross-infection in packing plants. The only sure method of ensuring that green produce is free of bacterial pathogens is to introduce electron beam treatment as no other effective method of inactivating bacteria is available.


Agreement on Composition of Campbell Soup Company Board


The contentious and acrimonious conflict over the composition of the Board of Campbell Soup Company and Third Point LLC has been resolved by the addition of two independent directors proposed by Third Point.  The incumbents will be Sarah Hofstetter, President of Global Information an analytics company and Kurt Schmidt former director and CEO of Blue Buffalo. 


In terms of the agreement Third Point LLC will participate in the recruitment of a CEO and will present views at two meeting of the Board over the next 12-months.  Third Point LLC has also agreed to a 12-month standstill and will dismiss litigation against Campbell Soup.  A third director will be appointed in May 2019. 


Keith McLoughlin interim president and CEO of Campbell Soup stated, “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with Third Point that is in the best interest of Campbell Shareholders and we look forward to welcoming both Sarah and Kurt to our Board of Directors.”  He added, “We will continue to maintain an active and productive dialogue with all our Shareholders including Third Point as we execute our strategic plan and build a stronger and more focused company that creates long-term value for shareholders.”


Daniel S. Loeb, CEO of Third Point LLC stated, “Our Company looks forward to working collaboratively with Campbell to improve value for all Shareholders at this important time for the Company.”


The conflict relates to suboptimal performance by Campbell Soup Company which has endured a YTD 17 percent decline in share price. This is ascribed by minority shareholders to inappropriate purchase of companies by the previous CEO, Denise M. Morrison who promoted an “organic and natural” orientation for the company which proved financially disastrous.


Third Point which owns 6 percent of the equity in Campbell Soup Company has made common cause with family shareholder George Strawbridge Jr., splitting the solidarity of family-related members of the Board who collectively control 41 percent of the company.


It appears that the strategic plan crafted by the Board, emphasizing traditional products and divesting certain assets will restore return on equity and provide for future growth in a highly competitive market.  Third Point LLC had advocated for either outright sale of the company or dismemberment. Both alternatives were opposed by Family-directors.



GUEST COMMENTARY One in Ten is Too Many


One in ten are great odds if playing the lottery or entering a raffle. These are devastating odds when representing the chances of developing severe complications of post-diarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after exposure to Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). These are absolutely unacceptable odds if this is your child, a family member, or for a physician, a patient.

Acute and chronic complications that are life-changing after consuming a salad is too high a high price to pay for consuming fruits and vegetables. Incidence of HUS follows the seasonal fluctuation of E coli O157:H7 infection, which frequently peaks in the summer months in the northern hemisphere. While a consumer can cook meat thoroughly, and wash hands after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals, there is little that can be done to prevent exposure to foodborne STEC on non-cooked food.

Application of ionizing radiation using available and inexpensive electron-beam technology to eradicate foodborne pathogens including STEC can prevent infections and consequently reduce the risk for acquiring post-diarrheal HUS. Similar to heat treatment used to pasteurize milk or to can foods, irradiation is a physical treatment with the potential to eliminate pathogens such as STEC from fruits, vegetables and meat. Irradiation of foods will reduce the odds of foodborne infection from one in ten to zero.

As a pediatric infectious disease physician who has helped families after infection with STEC and who has cared for too many children with HUS, I see no alternative. For a child, food irradiation would mean the difference between a healthy life and one tethered to dialysis awaiting a renal transplant.

Dr. Andrea L. Shane, MD MPH MSc is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Interim Clinical Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Marcus Professor of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control, Emory University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.


California Adopts Proposition #12


On Tuesday November 6th voters approved California Proposition #12 by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, effectively repealing Proposition #2 of 2008.  Effective 2020 Proposition #12 will ban confinement of egg- laying hens in cages and mandates at least 1 square foot of usable floor space per hen.  The Proposition incorporated the United Egg Producers’ 2017 Cage-Free Guidelines which define cage-free housing “as areas that provide 1.0 to 1.5 square foot of usable floor space per hen and allowing hens to move around inside the area”.


Proposition #12 was promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and an in-state organization, Prevent Cruelty California.  Proponents raised $13.1 million with a $4 million contribution from the Open Philanthropy Action Fund.


The proposal was opposed by the Humane Farming Association, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Friends of Animals who collectively regarded the proposal as not being sufficiently “animal-friendly” allowing barn and aviary systems.  Industry groups opposing the proposition included the Association of California Egg Farmers and the National Pork Producers’ Council.


California Proposition #2 in 2008 banned confinement of pregnant sows, calves raised for veal and hens under conditions that did not allow them “to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs”.  Considerable confusion as to the interpretation of the wording of Proposition #2 resulted in lawsuits with the Proposition sustained.  Effective 2014 any eggs marketed in California should have been derived from flocks housed in accordance with Proposition #2.


The official ballot summary for Proposition #12 included:


  • Establishes new minimum space requirements for confining veal calves, breeding pig and egg-laying hens
  • Requires egg-laying hens to be raised in cage-free environment after December
    31st, 2021
  • Prohibits certain commercial sales of specified meat and egg products derived from animals confined in non-complying facilities
  • Defines sales violations as unfair competition
  • Creates good-faith defense for sellers relying on written certification by suppliers that meat and egg products comply with new confinement standards.
  • Requires the state of California to issue implementing regulations. California Proposition #12 is termed the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act.

The proposition as adopted would effectively ban enriched colony modules which were introduced as an alternative to conventional cages following passage of proposition #2 in 2008.  After adoption of Proposition #2 California producers reduced floor stocking density in conventional cages by removing partitions from conventional cages. This expedient will obviously not be permitted under Proposition #12.
The economic impact of Proposition #12 ranges from the HSUS estimate of “a penny per egg” to as much as $1 per dozen based on studies conducted by agricultural economists at the University of California-Davis.
Erecting aviary facilities to house hens costs in the region of $30 to $35 depending on selection of equipment and housing representing a considerable capital investment.  Currently California houses 14 million laying hens out of a U.S. total of approximately 320 million on commercial farms with over 30,000 birds.  California is not self-sufficient in eggs and relies on shipments from the Midwest states and more recently aviary units erected in Arizona.
At the present time there are 57.2 million non-caged laying hens representing 17 percent of a nominal 320 million U.S. flock in production but 25.4 percent of a presumed flock of 225 million housed for the shell-egg market.
Since the wording of Proposition #12 refers to products, it is presumed that hens producing eggs which are converted into pasteurized liquids will also have to conform to the statutory housing requirements.
The State of California has estimated an annual cost of $10 million to administer the Animal Welfare law but consumers will ultimately bear the cost of enhanced housing.  At the beginning of November, Midwest prices for generic Large delivered to stores range from $1.13 to 1.15 per dozen.  The price in Southern California for the same product was $1.51 to 1.58 per dozen.  Midwest cage-free eggs into a packing plant during October averaged $1.59 per dozen confirming the differential based on regional cost factors and housing. Evidently the “Pacelle Tax” has now been entrenched for all consumers of eggs and egg-products in California.


McCain Foods Management Ignored Positive Listeria Assays


Following trace-back to the Colton, California plant owned by McCain Foods of Canada, the U.S. FDA conducted a detailed audit of procedures to monitor for the presence of pathogenic bacteria. It was determined that for 30 months, management of the Colton plant, packing leafy vegetables ignored presumptive positive Listeria and Salmonella assays.

It is standard procedure to hold batches which yield a presumptive positive until completion of confirmatory assays. The fact that management released product knowingly represents profound disregard for public health and capricious business practice.

In the event, FDA issued a Class II recall of all products shipped after January 1st 2016. Product was shipped through North America and exported to China and Korea. The voluntary recall issued on October 13th for recently processed items has resulted in a chain of secondary recalls by manufacturers of wraps, ready-to-eat foods and salads distributed by Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, 7-Eleven and others.

The examples of the Peanut Corporation of America and the Bluebell Creamery should have been sufficient warning for the management of the Colton plant management to have responded appropriately to preliminary isolation of either Salmonella or Listeria. Apart from embargoing suspect product, surveillance assays should have been conducted to determine the source of infection in the plant with appropriate corrective action. Given the allegations arising from the FDA audit, it is highly likely that criminal charges will be brought against management and McCain Foods will face civil suits to compensate customers including manufacturers and in turn the retailers.

It is questionable whether Colton Foods was simply a “rogue plant” or whether the corporate culture at McCain Foods led to decisions which placed profit ahead of safety. The only redeeming feature of the episode is that no outbreaks of either salmonellosis or listeriosis have been traced back to the plant.


Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans


Vegans tend to be a vociferous minority frequently proselytizing consumers to their lifestyle. The question arises as to the proportion in the U.S. population that are respectively vegans and vegetarians. A 2017 study conducted by Nielsen yielded a value of three percent of the population regarding themselves as vegans with six percent as vegetarians. Concurrently, Gallup and Harris found three percent of the population self-characterizing as vegan during the period 2012 to 2018.

These figures would appear to be high in relation to a 2016 study in Britain which showed that only one percent of those surveyed never ate meat or animal products. The U.K. value is closer to studies conducted by Faunalytics which ascertained that only 0.5 percent of the U.S. population are true vegans with additional 3 to 4 percent as vegetarians.

Obviously the discrepancy between polls and detailed surveys relates to definition. Vegans exclude all meat, fish, dairy and egg products from their diets. Vegetarians generally eschew meat but consume eggs and dairy products. Flexitarians represent a class of consumers who move between omnivorous and vegetable-based diets.

The low proportion of true vegans and a fairly stable number of vegetarians belies the increase in consumption of food products designated “vegetarian”. Obviously consumers are purchasing vegetarian foods which are incorporated in a conventional omnivorous diet. The motivation for this practice has yet to be defined although companies such as Nestle which estimates that only a quarter of consumers purchasing vegetarian meals fall strictly into this category. Obviously some consumers classified as flexitarians consider that some welfare or sustainability objectives are satisfied by eating an occasional vegetarian meal, thereby, contributing to a feeling of self-satisfaction.

The subject of veganism reviewed by The Economist on October 13th characterizes responses elicited by surveys as “aspirational self-deception, terminological inexactitude or simply hypocrisy”.

In assessing the environmental impact of egg production, the carbon dioxide equivalent emission per ton of protein from eggs is approximately 25,000 tons per ton of protein compared to beef at 275,000 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of protein.


Misleading Technology Hype


During recent months, two completely diverse areas of technology have been hyped by journalists as solutions to current problems. The lack of journalistic skepticism and realism creates false hope for breakthroughs and major shifts in the production and distribution of food.


The first hype relates to self-driving trucks to alleviate a shortage of drivers.  The technology is experimental and unproven.  There is no legislation to control autonomous vehicles. Small SUVs appear to function well on test tracks but there have been too many failures under practical road conditions.  Despite articles to the contrary, autonomous semis will not resolve the driver shortage. 


The second area which is receiving inordinate attention relates to cell-cultured protein.

Again, there has been considerable progress at the laboratory level.  Startups have attracted funding but no company has yet shown that it is possible to produce any product in quantity or at a cost which would even be remotely competitive with conventional pork, beef and chicken.  The federal government is only now attempting to establish jurisdiction over cell-cultured meat and there is considerable debate as to how the product, even if it becomes commercially viable will positioned in the marketplace.


Let’s start being practical and reject pie-in-the-sky solutions which may be realized by mid-century but offer no logistical or financial advantage in the short or intermediate term.


Roundup® Verdict Reversed


In September, a plaintiff alleged that exposure to Roundup® (glyphosate) manufactured by Monsanto, now owned by Bayer AG was responsible for his diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The judgement of $289 million later reduced to $39 million, was the first in the series of shakedown lawsuits which lowered Bayer stock price by 20 percent.


Subsequently Judge Suzanne Bolanos granted a motion by Bayer which claimed that there was insufficient evidence to prove the company intended to harm the plaintiff and that the sum awarded was not justified.


Glyphosate has entered the cross-hairs of both the tort bar and environmentalists opposed in principle to GMO technology.  It is clear that if glyphosate were to be banned, the advantages associated with Roundup®-resistant corn and soybeans would be invalidated, representing a major restraint to planting GM cultivars.


In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a subsidiary of the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a “potential carcinogenic”.  Subsequent protests by responsible environmental toxicologists affiliated to regulatory agencies, chemical companies and universities resulted in a retraction of the adverse classification.  It was disclosed that a contributor to the IARC review on which the “potential carcinogen” categorization was made had a conflict of interest in that he was concurrently serving as an expert for plaintiffs’ attorneys in litigation against Monsanto over glyphosate.


Monsanto markets approximately $11 billion in Roundup®- ready seed used extensively in North America and other nations with financial benefits to farmers and the product represents environmental advantages.


The ruling in California setting aside the jury verdict is the first step in reasserting scientific certainty in the face of avaricious lawyers and anti-GMO activists. Monsanto faces probably as many as 8,000 cases worldwide claiming an adverse effect from exposure. On February 25th 2019 a case (3:16-md-02741-vc) involving a class of 580 plaintiffs will be tried in San Francisco with others in Montana and Missouri.


Over-Production Impacts Profitability in the Dairy Industry


Despite the prospect of increased access to the dairy market in Canada if the USMCA is ratified in 2019, U.S. producers are impacted by a surfeit of milk and dairy products.  It is calculated that 172 dairy farms in New York state ceased milking during the past 12 months representing 7.5 percent of the state’s production.  Michigan lost 120 farms or 20 percent of production over the past four years.  Globally milk production has increased by 2.3 percent in the face of decreased demand.  The market for dairy products including liquids has been eroded by milk substitutes and changing taste in beverages.


According to the Farm and Dairy, October 4th edition, Dianne Shoemaker posed a number of questions including the prospects for a turnaround in prices and the extent to which profitability will be restored.  Shoemaker states, “We simply have too many cows.”  She cited USDA data in August, showing 9.4 million dairy cows in the U.S. This exceeds the consensus requirement of 9.0 million producing animals.  An excess of milk is reflected in low prices.  EGG-NEWS has previously commented on dairy farmers abandoning organic production based on the low margins resulting from decreased demand for this expensive category.


The dairy industry provides a valuable lesson for egg producers.  Over-production leads to a depression in unit revenue.  Fortunately, only one month in 2018 has produced a USDA- benchmark price below the average cost of production, although margins for shell eggs have been variable and seasonal.  Extreme competition has prevented producers from generating cash reserves including depreciation. Investment of up to $35 per hen will be necessary to replace existing cage housing with modern but expensive alternative aviaries or floor systems.


Petition to Prohibit Non-GMO Label Claims


An advocacy organization the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has filed a petition with the U.S. FDA to prohibit the use of specific labeling on consumer foods and goods indicating that products are derived from non-GMO ingredients.


The Foundation claims that the butterfly logo franchised by the Non-GMO Project represents a false and misleading implication that conventional products are in some way healthier than GMO or bioengineered products.  Dr. Val Giddings, senior fellow at the Foundation stated, “The Non-GMO Project Butterfly Campaign deceives consumers through false and misleading claims about foods, food ingredients, and their health and safety characteristics.  She added, “The campaign constitutes misbranding under the law, and the FDA should act in the best interest of consumers and protect them, as the law demands, against the confusion spread by these false claims.”


In support of the petition, the Foundation cites the National Academy of Sciences and other scientific organizations that have found no deleterious effects from consumption of ingredients and food derived from GMO technology.  The Foundation also points out that the Non-GMO Project butterfly logo is applied to many products for which there are no bioengineered counterparts.


It is anticipated that the Non-GMO Project which has benefited financially from selling their logo will contest the petition since it strikes at the heart of their business which is based on a foundation of unfounded fear and anxiety.


The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 introduced by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) was reintroduced into the House of Representatives and allows for voluntary labeling as to GMO content.  The Bill had the support of the Grocery Manufacturers Association which led to disaffection by a number of member companies favoring “fresh and natural” including Campbell Soup Company under the leadership of now displaced CEO Denise Morrison.  The Bill was also supported by many commodity groups including the American Soybean Association and the International Dairy Foods Association.


Opposition to the petition and presumably to the current FDA petition will be based on the canard of the “public right to know”.


"Endless Buffet for Bald Eagles" Case Resolved


The late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) who passed away in 2005, was renowned for his award of the Golden Fleece to any Federal agency or government official or contractor wasting taxpayer money and resources. If he were with us today he would most certainly consider the ruling of the National Appeals Division of the Farm Service Agency a worthy recipient.  This body recently awarded $2.2 million to White Oak Pastures in compensation for the loss of 160,000 free-range chickens over a number of years from predation by bald eagles.  Adapting from their traditional hunting practices which include stealing fish from ospreys and occasionally dipping their talons into water, our national symbol has adapted to lifting chicken from pasture.  There are approximately 75 resident bald eagles on and around the White Oak Pastures Farm extending over 3,200 acres.  The ruling has created a precedent which would allow compensation for the loss and destruction of poultry by protected raptors.


Will Harris owner of White Oak Pastures stated “We are extremely grateful that the National Appeals Division ruled in our favor and recognized our right to fair compensation for our losses.”  He added, “We are proud to be a working farm committed to doing what is right for the land and our animals and appreciate the recognition that the FSA acted improperly when it denied our claims.”


Pasture ranged hens are presumed to be “happier” than hens confined to barns.  Given a random sample test in North Carolina which showed that up to 50 percent of hen populations die as a result of predation and disease on pasture and that White Oak Pastures can document the loss of 160,000 chickens suggest that free-range production is not as welfare-friendly as confinement in barns. 


Chickens are derived from jungle fowl which have as their natural habitat tropical forest which provide a canopy to protect them from raptors.  Commercial hens are subject to stress when forced to access pastures without the benefit of cover from foliage or shade cloth.  This is evidenced by flocks preferring to remain in the proximity of their barns effectively congregating on soil and mud rather than grass as portrayed in the social media and on carton images.


Hens are a defenseless source of food for both raptors and vermin.  The fox population in Germany soared following introduction of free-range egg production.  Free-range systems can be regarded as less than ideal with respect to welfare, sustainability and egg safety.


Environmental Impact of Florence on the NC Hog Industry.


Lessons learned from the 1999 Hurricane Floyd were applied in the days leading up to the landfall of Hurricane Florence. According to a statement issued by the North Carolina Pork Council losses amounted to 5,500 hogs out of a population of 8.9 million on 2,100 farms in the State. This compares to 21,000 hogs drowned or destroyed in the 1999 event.

With respect to potential storm damage to waste lagoons The NC Pork Council noted “We are currently aware of the following impacts:
•One lagoon breach occurred on a small farm in Duplin County. An on-site inspection showed that solids remained in the lagoon. The roof of an empty barn on the farm was also damaged.
•Three lagoons with other structural damage

•Nine lagoons have been inundated by flood waters.
•Thirteen lagoons are at capacity due to rainfall and appear to have overtopped. Others are at capacity and efforts are being taken to respond within state regulations and guidance.

Critics of the North Carolina hog industry, including Dr. Mark Sobsey of the Environmental Science Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, expressed skepticism in the low numbers of lagoons impacted. In a statement on Monday 16th September he noted that in the severely affected counties, elevation is “barely above sea level.” Sobsey commented “I’d like to see some evidence to show that somehow swine farms and lagoons have been spared as everything else fell under water.” He is welcome to transition from his ivory tower and journey eastward to observe conditions firsthand. Maybe even help with cleanup.


Opposition to Proposition 12


Proposed California Proposition 12 can be regarded as a successor to Proposition 2 enacted by ballot in 2008 by a two-to-one majority.  The wording of Proposition 2 as adopted was vague and the interpretation was subject to extensive litigation. Various courts in California have however ruled on the constitutionality of Proposition 2. 


To establish a level playing field for in-state producers who have a 25 cent per dozen disadvantage in feed cost against the Midwest, the California legislature enacted AB1437 effective January 2015 which required that eggs shipped to the state would have to be derived from hens housed under conditions conforming to regulations issued by the California Department of Agriculture and Food complying with Proposition 2.  The policies of California regarding minimum space requirements have been successively challenged by the Attorneys General of Midwest egg-producing states supplying California, claiming that the California statute restricts interstate commerce and is therefore ultra vires. The courts have yet to rule on the issue but adverse decisions handed down were based on technicalities establishing that the Plaintiffs had no standing in their attempt to overturn the California legislation.


The Association of California Egg Farmers is opposing Proposition 12 claiming:


  • The wording is ambiguous and lacks details
  • The Proposition is unnecessary for egg production and unenforceable for meat production
  • The Proposition will increase the cost of eggs to consumers.
    It is estimated that egg producers in California have spent in excess of $250 million to comply with Proposition 2.  In the short term to provide adequate space, partitions in conventional cages were removed to reduce stocking density but at the expense of farm capacity.  Individual producers have erected housing which complies with Proposition 2 and presumably Proposition 12 in the form of multi-tier aviary units and floor housing on either slats or litter.
    Irrespective of whether or not the Association of California Egg Farmers opposes Proposition 12, the outcome is predictable and the Proposition will effectively achieve what was intended with Proposition 2, namely the elimination of confined cage housing.


Newcastle Disease in Southern California


With no sign of resolution, the extended outbreak of Newcastle disease in Southern California has reached approximately 130 cases.  Outbreaks have been confirmed in San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.


Since the initial outbreak in mid-May, authorities in California and the USDA-APHIS have had sufficient time to initiate and complete an epidemiologic evaluation to determine the source of infection, the rate of spread and to provide an indication of their intended action to firstly control and secondly eradicate the disease before commercial flocks are affected. The poultry industry in California would benefit from a detailed report in mid-2019 but appropriate epidemiologic information are needed now.


It is understood that about 9,000 backyard and exhibition birds have been euthanized and premises have been quarantined.  The incidence rate is increasing, confirming that there is effectively no control.  Without knowing the specific epidemiologic factors associated with the 2018 outbreak, resolution of the problem in the intermediate term is unlikely.


As a simple recommendation, owners should be urged to effectively vaccinate their backyard flocks as this will convert a presumably susceptible population to a level of immunity that will inhibit dissemination of virus by whatever means. It is emphasized that vaccination should be implemented by owners and not by state or federal workers since this will result in a repetition of the 1979 END outbreak when flocks broke with Newcastle disease approximately seven days after a mandatory visit to vaccinate birds.


The California Department of Food and Agriculture has issued an advisory to flock owners concerning quarantine of new birds for thirty days.  Appropriate action should be to cease acquiring or selling birds under any circumstances with strict quarantine of flocks.  The stated recommendation to “restrict contact with wild birds, rodents or insects which carry disease organisms” appears to be great on paper but impossible to implement given that many of the flocks are on pasture (or in reality, mud). The suggestion to purchase feed from “clean and dependable supplier” is also applicable although Newcastle disease is not generally regarded as being transmitted through feed despite individual cases in the U.K. during the 1980’s with pigeon paramyxovirus.  If feed were involved in transmission of Newcastle disease in the California outbreak, there would probably be more cases over a shorter time period.


Again, it is emphasized that epidemiologic investigations are required to determine both source of infection and mode of transmission in the specific Southern California END event. An understanding of the epidemiology is necessary to advise commercial farmers of the appropriate steps to take to prevent introduction over and above enhanced structural and operational biosecurity which in most cases are woefully inadequate.


Australian Egg Producers Enduring Skyrocketing Feed Cost


A severe drought in Australia caused by an El Nino event has resulted in substantial increases in feed cost shaving margins. A similar situation exists in the E.U. as a result of the prevailing drought which has reduced wheat and canola yields.


From news reports, it does not appear that supermarket chains will raise prices to compensate farmers.  Chains hold prices to maintain sales volume and are disinclined to pay more for their product which would reduce store margins. 


The situation in Australia and in Western Europe is a direct manifestation of supply and demand economics.  If less efficient producers either curtail or cease production, supply declines resulting in price increases ultimately benefiting more efficient producers.


The fact that Australia has a high proportion of free-range pastured hens does not help producers who adopted the system in response to perceived consumer demand.



Secretary Perdue Appeases Aggrieved Farmers


Faced with increased tariffs and embargoes on U.S. agricultural commodities including soybeans, Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Sonny Perdue commented on the longer-term issues in a recent television interview. He characterized the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and the E.U. as “a little bit like weight loss…it’s kind of painful to start with, but you’re healthier at the end.”

The Administration has offered $12 billion to compensate farmers for losses on exports but no details have been provided as to how the one-time payment will be made and when farmers will receive compensation. It is not known whether the $12 billion offered will be adequate to make up the difference between anticipated revenue and what will be obtained from the 2018 crop due to be harvested in October.

Recent discussions at sub-cabinet level suggest that there is some movement towards resolution of what must be regarded as a tariff war, but again no specifics on resolution are in sight.

Let us hope that Dr. Perdue finds common cause with his constituency in a weight-loss program. Both he and farmers are experiencing the pain, but by the end of the year, we hope that farmers’ bank accounts will be fatter and the Secretary leaner.

On August 23rd, a 10 percent tariff was imposed on $200 billion in imported Chinese goods covering 6,000 product lines. Not only has this action elicited a proportional response from China, but the net effect of increased duties will be to escalate costs of domestic production which will be passed on to consumers, adding to rising inflation.


Edwina Curry Redux


Eerily reminiscent of the misinformed 1988 statement by Edwina Curry, then Deputy Minister of Health in the U.K. that a high proportion of table eggs were contaminated with Salmonella, we now have Dr. Sagit Nagar, Head of Poultry Diseases of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Department making a similar claim thirty years later in 2018.


Nagar maintains that 30 percent of eggs in Israel are infected with Salmonella including S. Enteritidis.  The Director-General of the Agriculture Ministry, Ariel Whitman in a scathing commentary on the safety of domestic eggs stated, “I personally refrain from eating eggs from Israel.”  


The problem of Salmonella infection in Israel extends back over 40 years. For security reasons the government placed immigrants from Eastern Europe along the border with Lebanon sponsoring small family units operating 5,000 to 10,000 hens.  Since this time there has been a measure of consolidation by Moshavim but many of the units are decrepit and inconsistent with acceptable standards of hygiene.  Due to the socialistic policies of successive governments and a virtual monopoly over distribution of eggs by Tnuvia, the situation has persisted.  Obviously, the Ministry would like to resolve the problem by dealing with fewer larger modern egg production units operated according to a standard reflecting the E.U. and North America.


Control of Salmonella in substandard units is impossible and a radical restructuring of egg production will be required.  As with any large-scale initiative established applying socialistic principles the participants are looking to the government to provide financial support and other assurances before committing to rehabilitation or construction.


No Movement on U.S.-China Negotiations


Despite the urging of prominent economists and business leaders including former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Stephen Schwarzman CEO of Blackstone, formal talks between the U.S. and China over ongoing trade disputes have not been scheduled.  Previously the negotiator for China, Liu He had offered to increase imports from the U.S. by $70 billion in an attempt to reduce the negative $200 billion trade deficit.  Informally Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and Liu He have discussed possible solutions but formal talks have not been scheduled.


The American negotiating position has been strengthened by agreements with the European Union which has similar problems with aggressive business practices and coercive tactics imposed by China.


Led by trade hawks including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Advisor Dr. Peter Navarro the U.S. has imposed a sequential series of tariffs on Chinese imports.  Currently there is a 25 percent levy on imports valued at $34 billion to be followed by an additional $16 billion before mid-August.  The Administration has proposed a 10 percent tariff on products with a value of $200 billion imported from China and the President has threatened to double down to include all $505 billion in imports.  In this event, retaliatory tariffs could impact growth of world income and have severe socio-political repercussions in the U.S.


It is hoped that diplomacy will prevail and that equitable solutions will be devised.  Simply assigning $12 billion as a “short-term” reimbursement to placate farmers will be insufficient to restore their profitability.  The law of unintended consequences is in clear evidence with U.S. manufacturers suffering from increased prices of steel and aluminum whether imported or domestic.  Ultimately if the economy slows down, the effect will be felt by all sectors of the poultry industry with lowered spending initially in restaurants and then for home preparation and consumption.


Biological Hazard from Vaccination Crews


The possible role of vaccination crews in introducing disease onto pullet-raising facilities was reviewed at a recent meeting of the American Veterinarians in Egg Production. A survey conducted among health professionals disclosed that most pullet farms are multi-aged with the result that if an infection is introduced at the time of vaccination of flocks aged 10 to 12 weeks there is a high probability that the pathogen will be disseminated among two adjacent flocks aged below 5 weeks and older than 16 weeks depending on the placement cycle. What may be worse, a mature flock incubating an infection which would be clinically inapparent might be transferred to a multi-aged laying complex with severe financial consequences.

Most vaccination crews consist of 11 to 17 workers which creates problems unless the biosecurity module is equipped to decontaminate a large crew over a one-hour period by showering. Obviously the farm must supply workers with protective clothing and footwear which again requires either a laundry service or onsite decontamination. Since most pullet rearing operations and integrations use contractors, there is an obvious danger that pathogens can be introduced from the last farm at which workers had contact with poultry. This may include mature hens or pullets if the crew is involved with moving or even insemination of turkeys.

Dr. Carol Cardona of the University of Minnesota reported on a simulation study to determine the probability of a vaccination crew introducing avian influenza. The study assumed the likelihood of transmission on a specific day by each member as two percent with 15 workers in the crew. The estimate was based on  one crew member exposing only five birds to 20 EID50 infective doses with a 50 percent infectious dose of 10 3.5 EID50. It was also assumed that the infectivity of avian influenza would decline by 1 log EID50 per day at room temperature. If crews had one day between successive farms there would be a 26 percent likelihood of exposure from 15 workers.

The probability of introduction of infection can be significantly reduced by implementing effective operational biosecurity. This requires investment in structural biosecurity including a decontamination module with functional showers, (NOT a Danish-entry change room), fencing, water-impervious roads within the biosecure area of the farm, a vehicle wash installation and all required vaccinating equipment.

If a contract vaccination crew is employed, biosecurity should be based on the presumption that the crew came immediately from an infected flock. The biological link can be broken by effective decontamination of personnel. This requires complete disrobing, thorough personal decontamination in a shower and then donning company-provided protective clothing. Anything less is self-delusion concerning the level of protection and an exercise in AI-Roulette.


Contamination of an Ingredient Can Result in Extensive Recalls


Currently Mondelez Global is recalling Ritz Cracker products based on presumed contamination with Salmonella. Initial investigations showed that batches of whey powder produced by Associated Milk Producers Inc. at a Blair, WI. plant on four occasions during May and June may be contaminated with Salmonella as detected by a retain-and test program.


Whey is common ingredient in a range of foods and detection of Salmonella by the supplier   resulted in food manufacturers purchasing presumably affected batches having to recall products.  Mondelez has recalled seven consignments of Ritz Crackers, Flowers Foods has recalled Swiss Rolls and bread products, Pepperidge Farm has recalled Goldfish Crackers and Hungry Man Products produced by Pinnacle Foods may also have contained the contaminated whey powder.

As yet there have been no recorded illnesses associated with the event.


Two issues emerged from the ongoing problem:


  • A contaminated ingredient can be responsible for extensive recalls across a wide range of products and brands.  This was the situation in 2008 when consignments of Salmonella-contaminated peanut products were knowingly distributed by the Peanut Corporation of America.  The resulting recalls which unfortunately were detected following an extensive outbreak of salmonellosis including fatalities, required a recall far more extensive and expensive than if a single food product was involved.
  • The second issue which is probably more important is that in-plant quality control procedures based on HACCP can detect the presence of pathogens before outbreaks can occur.  During past months we have observed recalls attributed to Salmonella, Listeria and E.coli. It is possible that other cases of contamination detected by QC and not by outbreaks have occurred without publicity.
    There is an ongoing conflict between government agencies including the FDA and consumer advocates regarding early release of the names of companies and their brands with potential contamination. FDA policy has apparently restrained the agency from naming manufacturers until extensive investigations have been concluded.
    Attorney William Marler the doyen of food safety lawyers is an advocate for early release of information which he believes could protect consumers.  Hopefully his preoccupation with this aspect of foodborne disease outbreaks is altruistic and that he is not relying on the FDA to identify potential defendants for his firm.  Given his track record and public pronouncements, Marler is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Since the 19193 Jack-in-the-Box E.coli STEC case he has served as a responsible consumer advocate and attorney when compared to the activities of his colleagues in the California tort bar.


Robots to Replace $15 per Hour QSR Workers


A previous report on EGG-NEWS described the limited ability of “Flippy”, a robot that can rotate hamburgers cooking on a griddle. The device was recalled for modification after a brief commercial trial since the module was not able to maintain a required throughput and it was difficult to integrate operation with cooks on a production line. New robots however are under development or undergoing evaluation and can perform a series of tasks replacing unskilled manual workers preparing hamburgers and related servings for QSRs.

An article in the July 14th The Economist describes the Creator which is integrated with a production line for gourmet burgers. The robot which is under test in San Francisco can grind meat, form and cook patties and add chopped tomatoes, grated cheese and dispense sauces. Customers can select their options using a tablet and Creator will deliver a packaged burger conforming to order. The robot has been in development since 2012 and can deliver 120 burgers an hour to customers’ specifications.

In Boston Spyce can deliver a variety of ethnic dishes within three minutes with a variety of ingredients cooked in woks. In China an entrepreneur has opened a restaurant Changsha, Hunan Province equipped with a robot that can cook 40 different recipes which are prepared and dispensed in a bowl with precision both with regard to ingredients, quantity and cooking temperature.

When the proponents of $15 per hour achieved their objectives through local ordinances in West Coast cities, it was predicted that robots would be developed to replace unskilled manual labor and ultimately swell the ranks of urban unemployed. Rather than earning an acceptable wage working on a food preparation line, individuals will be displaced by robots, much as automobile plant workers were rendered redundant by robotic welders, paint sprayers and quality inspectors.

Similar changes are occurring in egg-packing plants and in broiler processing facilities in the E.U. A few years ago this commentator visited an E-room with two 10,000 bph lines devoid of human presence. Robots do not take holidays, always report for work on Monday, are E-verify compliant and never join unions.

As the need for manual labor is reduced by mechanization and robotics, there will be a demand for employees with technical skills to operate and program teams of robots and to maintain and service these installations. This will require technical training. Community colleges and apprenticeship programs will hopefully produce the next generation of skilled plant workers. It is understood that technical training has received the attention of the U.S. poultry industry and that successful academic programs at land grant universities and other institutions which have proven successful will be paralleled in the form of apprenticeship training using the German model.


Canadian Government to Fund Egg Scanning Technology


 Canadian Government to Fund Egg Scanning Technology

Lawrence MacAulay, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced $850,000 in funding to develop a scanner (or scammer, depending on the outcome) which will identify infertile eggs and male embryos. Proof of principle has been sparse and initial press reports in 2017 suggested that the technology would be commercially available during late 2018.

While a non-invasive method to clearly establish the gender of an embryo before four days of incubation would be a boon to the egg production industry, there have been no commercially acceptable or financially feasible solutions despite claims and hype. Some of the press releases by developers in the U.S. in one case and in the E.U. have been clearly ingenuous, biologically infeasible or downright fraudulent. Entrepreneurs seeking funding have consistently attempted to obtain official recognition for their technology from a university or a government agency, whether in the E.U. or North America.

The press releases from the promoters of the Canadian technology would be more persuasive if accompanied by details regarding the principle, proposed rate of processing and the projected capital and operating costs.

It is hoped that the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food will not have to explain how public funds were expended on a project in 2018 with no practical results or commercial application by 2020.


“Son of Prop. #2” To Be Placed On California Ballot


A ballot measure promoted by the Humane Society of the United States will be presented to the California electorate in November. Basically the proposition establishes more specific standards for confinement of livestock. Effectively by 2022, egg-laying hens in California would not be allowed in cages and more extensive housing areas have been mandated for pigs and calves. In recognition of the inevitability of cage-free production, progressive egg production companies including Central Valley Eggs, have erected complexes incorporating aviaries which allow flocks to range within a barn using the cube-volume of the house. Other producers have retrofitted houses with aviaries or floor systems although the number of hens in California declined after 2014 with recent stabilization.

In contrast to the 2008 ballot, United Egg Producers are not taking any stand on the proposition. A spokesperson for the organization stated “Changes in hen housing are complex and costly and require close collaboration with customers.” It is estimated that a new house fitted with aviaries on a green-field complex would require expenditure in excess of $40 to $50 per hen for site development, buildings, equipment, packing plant, cold storage, biosecurity installations and vehicles. Retrofitting aviaries to existing cage-housing could be achieved at proportionately lower cost.

It is estimated that the state of California would face up to $10 million in potential costs for inspection to enforce the measure.

As usual, the ballot will be decided on sentiment without consideration of costs borne by producers and passed on to consumers. Currently California eggs bear a 40 to 50 cent “Pacelle tax” as a result of the passage of Proposition#2 in 2008.

The 2018 ballot initiative is essentially moot since supermarket chains, restaurants and food service suppliers have committed to sourcing from non-caged flocks. After an initial burst of building and modification in 2017, erection of new facilities and retrofits to existing houses have slowed given that a balance has now been established between the demand for cage-free eggs and supply.

The action by the HSUS in promoting the initiative is considered an exercise in rebuilding image and welfare credentials in order to regain momentum in fund raising to support a vegan agenda. The misplaced perception of the HSUS as a defender of animal rights was eroded by allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of funds leading to widespread resignation of board members and executives.