Shane Commentary

Persistence of H5N1 in Europe


ProMed reported on outbreaks of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in Poland and Germany during mid-July. The first recent outbreak was confirmed on a farm on Gizyce in the Province of Wielkopolskie in Central Poland.  Close to 40,000 birds (type not specified) were depopulated.  The case in Germany involved 13,000 geese on a farm in Beverstedt near Cuxhaven in the State of Lower Saxony.


The 2021-2022 epornitic now includes 2,398 confirmed outbreaks in commercial poultry resulting in the depopulation of 46 million birds.  Diagnostic laboratories have confirmed H5N1 in 2,733 cases involving wild birds in 36 European nations. 


It was determined that 86 percent of the outbreaks in commercial poultry were due to farm-to-farm spread. This was especially evident in France that recorded 68 percent of outbreaks and also  in Hungary with 24 percent of cases in commercial poultry.  Wild bird isolations were most frequently reported by Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  The fact that there was a negative correlation between the number of wild bird isolates and commercial outbreaks in the same region may relate to selection bias or the intensity of surveillance of wild birds compared to the protective effect of high levels of biosecurity applied to confined commercial flocks.  All E.U. H5N1 isolates examined belong to clade and were identical to isolates from wild mammals including foxes in Canada, the U.S. and Japan.


The persistence of H5 avian influenza in Europe and the most recent cases in turkeys in Utah during mid-July suggest dissemination of the virus by  domestic wild birds since there is minimal movement of migratory waterfowl at this time.  This reality presupposes an alternative to traditional methods of control given that H5 avian influenza is no longer an exotic infection in many countries with intensive poultry populations.  Persistence of infection requires a high level of biosecurity guided by evaluations of outbreaks. The application of both classical epidemiology and molecular analysis could identify routes of introduction of virus onto commercial farms.  Surveillance of wild birds should now be an ongoing exercise no longer restricted to seasonal evaluation of migratory waterfowl.  A range of birds under surveillance should be extended to domestic species.  It is evident that highly pathogenic avian influenza and specifically the H5 clade now prevalent on four continents has become the Newcastle disease of 2020’s requiring a different approach to prevention.


Store-Brands Gaining at the Expense of National-Brands


The recent spike in inflation has increased consumer demand for store-brands according to IRI.  Prior to the onset of COVID, store-brands were growing at twice the rate of national-brands.  For the four weeks ending July 10th, store-brands represented 21.6 percent of grocery sales. This increase more than compensated for the losses that occurred during the COVID period when consumers preferred national-brands.


During 2020 and extending into 2021, manufacturers of national-brands were able to maintain volume by reducing the range of products and shoppers were less concerned over price than at present.  Since the advent of inflation initiated by COVID spending, subsequent supply-chain disruption and the recent invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, consumer preferences have shifted in favor of lower-priced items.  Since there is little difference if any in quality attributes, many consumers will continue to buy store-brands when inflation is anticipated to moderate in the fourth quarter.


A wide range of lower-priced store-brands is now available, especially from the Kroger Company, Walmart, Costco and other big-box club stores and the deep discounters, including Aldi and Lidl. Availability, positioning on shelves, lower prices and equivalent quality are generating loyalty to house-brands. The recent optimistic statements by spokespersons representing major food companies predicting a return to national-brands suggest a measure of concern. 


The shift in consumer preference towards house-brands will further reduce the margins generated by the manufacturers of branded products. They will be obliged to cut wholesale prices while facing inflation in raw materials, labor and transport. Concurrently manufacturers of national- brands are under pressure from the major chains.  This is evidenced by recent events in the U.K. with disputes between manufacturers such as Kraft-Heinz and major supermarket chains including Tesco.  Although this specific dispute was settled, it is presumed to have been to the disadvantage of the manufacturer.


FDA Delaying Compliance for Proposed Pre-Harvest Water Rule for Leafy Greens


It is generally accepted that irrigation water contaminated with Shiga-toxin producing E.coli (STEC) and Salmonella derived from run-off from CAFOs are responsible for outbreaks of foodborne infection of consumers eating leafy greens.


Notwithstanding the epidemiologic realities, FDA has failed to make appropriate changes to the pre- and post-harvest agricultural water requirements in the Produce Safety Rule.  The FDA is at fault if, as is stated in their release, that stakeholders "do not have clarity on whether FDA might propose to change the harvest and post-harvest agricultural water requirements." 


FDA has proposed to apply enforcement discretion over water requirements relating to the Produce Safety Rule until January 2023 for large businesses and extending to January 2025 for very small businesses.  Delay in implementing the Produce Rule with respect to irrigation and processing water perpetuates the problem of foodborne infection from leafy greens and places consumers and the industry at risk.  Requiring producers to conduct annual systems-based agricultural water assessments is self-serving and represents “make-belief “ prevention and will do little to eliminate the problems arising from contamination.


The inaction and indecision by FDA is yet another example of why the U.S. needs a dedicated food safety agency.


Administration Vacillating Over China Tariffs


The Administration has been sending smoke signals regarding rescission of tariffs imposed by the previous Administration on imports from China.  There is pressure to lower tariffs on many items to reduce the negative effects of inflation that now have both economic and political repercussions leading into the midterms.  Policy advisors within the White House, including the U.S. Trade Representative, wish to retain tariffs as leverage against China in future trade negotiations.


Even if tariffs were lowered, this action would have little effect on U.S. exports of agricultural commodities. Grains and soybeans imported by state-owned trading companies in China benefit through exemptions from duty.


The agricultural community might experience some relief following a reduction in tariffs through lower prices for imported raw materials used to manufacture crop protection products and components of agricultural machinery.


It would be in the interest of all consumers and the agricultural sector if the Administration could develop and implement a coherent policy on mutually destructive tariffs on goods from China. This would be necessary to provide certainty to facilitate planning and execution of new projects and ongoing operations.


SCOTUS Consideration of the Appeal by Pork Producers


Following the EGG-NEWS Editorial on July 1st concerning the agreement by SCOTUS to hear the petition by the National Pork Producers Council, Drs. Richard J. Sexton and Daniel A. Sumner, at the University of California, Davis provided a copy of their amicus curiae brief. EGG-NEWS is indebted for their submission that was prepared to inform the Court of the economic aspects and implications of Proposition #12, with regard to group housing of sows as mandated by Proposition #12. 


Dr. Sexton is a Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics and a Fellow and Past-president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.  Dr. Sumner served as a Senior Economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors from 1987 to 1988 and was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the USDA from 1990 to 1992.  Their research focuses on national and international agricultural economics and policy, and they are well positioned to comment on the costs relating to Proposition #12.  A summary of their research on the topic was included in a comprehensive article* that concluded: -


  • The additional cost of compliance with Proposition #12 will be insignificant to U.S. pork producers, given that California requires nine percent of U.S. pork with 99 percent supplied by other states. This conclusion is based on the reality that at least 20 percent of sows are group-housed and will be able to supply California without extensive additional capital installations.  The authors of both the article and the amicus brief note that California Proposition #12 imposes housing systems for sows that produce a commercial generation supplying pork to the state of California. The regulations do not apply to sows indirectly producing pork supplied to other states.
  • It was calculated that the additional cost to comply with California Proposition #12 including increased mortality, lower litter size and both fixed and variable costs would amount to $5 per weanling pig, representing an additional retail value of 3 cents per lb.
  • Consumers in California will pay an additional 7.7 percent for pork at retail, amounting to $320 million, annually.  The increase in unit price of pork will reduce consumption in California by approximately six percent.


Drs. Sexton and Sumner note that the analysis submitted by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, “rests on the unsupported and plainly incorrect assumption that all pork producers nationwide will be forced to comply with Proposition #12 and that the cost of complying with Proposition #12, accordingly, will be passed onto all pork consumers nationwide”.


Accordingly Drs. Sexton and Sumner consider that Petitioners’ arguments are flawed and factually implausible, since Proposition #12 will affect only “a discrete subset participants in the North American pork value chain”.  The brief by the amici maintains that Proposition #12 does not compel “any actor within the supply chain to convert operations to comply with Proposition #12.  The amici concluded that since California will continue to consume pork, “The supply chain must be incentivized through higher prices to supply compliant pork products to the state.”


The amicus brief considers only suppliers to California and consumers in that state.  Effectively, passage of Proposition #12 and its implementation has resulted in a number of restaurant chains and retailers requiring suppliers of pork to conform to the requirements of Proposition #12, extending the economic burden of group-housing of sows.  This is an aspect of California Proposition #12 that should be evaluated in relation to the claims made by the Petitioners.


In many respects, the situation faced by hog farmers is similar to egg producers with hens confined in conventional cages.  Following the passage of Proposition #2 in 2008, investment in conversion to alternative systems, including aviaries and floor units were implemented. As of June 2022 close to a third of hens are now compliant with Proposition #12.  Individual states have enacted legislation to ban cages and New England states have passed ballot initiatives similar to California Proposition #12 extending the need to transition from conventional cages. In addition almost all restaurant and retail chains and independents provided assurances in 2020 that all eggs would be sourced from hens held in housing other than conventional cages by 2025. The commitments made under coercion by animal welfare associations appear to be fraying. The obvious implication is that by 2025 a substantial proportion of the U.S. nominal complement of 325 million hens will still be housed in cages allowing choice by consumers based on price in relation to housing.


Although SCOTUS may take into account the economic impact of Proposition #12, the major issue facing the Justices is whether California can impose standards on other states that clearly impede interstate commerce, without any clear justification based on public interest, including but not limited to avian or human health.


*Lee, H., L., Sexton, R. J. and Sumner, D. A. (2021) Vote-approved Proposition to Raise California Pork Prices. ARE Update 24:5-8. University of California, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics.


House of Representatives Passes Lower Food and Fuel Cost Act


On Thursday, June 16th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Lower Food and Fuel Cost Act (PRICISE) by a vote of 221 to 204. This bill includes the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act that is intended to create a mechanism to review and possibly manipulate prices paid to farmers for cattle. The creation of an office headed by a political appointee obviously duplicates provisions of the Stockyards and Packers Act.  The PRECISE Act is intended to enhance precision agriculture and support row crop farmers facing high prices for fertilizer.  The Year-Round Fuel Choice Act will expand sales of E-15 gasoline blend through funding required infrastructure including storage tanks and mixer-dispensers at gas stations.


The Legislation as passed by the House has limited support in the Senate and is intended primarily as a showpiece to create the illusion that the House is addressing problems of inflation.  Recent increases in the price of crude oil and natural gas are mainly responsible for inflation in food and all items that have a large cost component of energy. This reality is affecting all nations of the world and is not restricted to the U.S.


Inflation is endemic in many nations in Latin America due to fiscal mismanagement.  The advent of COVID introduced disruptions in supply chains adding to the cost of imports to industrialized nations.  The situation is now exacerbated following the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation causing sharp increases in the cost of energy and grains.


There are no "quick-fixes" to a problem that is not the responsibility of any specific political party or their legislative agenda.  The question that faces the U.S. is whether the action by the Federal Reserve Board can reduce inflation without precipitating a recession, as predicted by some economists.


The House voted on the package of measures based on party affiliation in addition to narrow parochial issues. These included the environment and the need to support production and uptake of biofuels at the expense of all those using either fuel or food. Both ethanol and biodiesel are inherently inflationary without direct benefits to the economy or the environment.  


The biofuels program has long since exceeded the reason for its existence as the U.S. is no longer reliant on unfriendly nations for either gas or crude oil.  The biofuels program now supports row crop farmers, the ethanol industry, soybean crushers and corn-state legislators to the detriment of consumers. “Feel-good” legislation such as the PRECISE Act will do little to alleviate inflation in fuel, food and other goods and in the doubtful event of passage in the Senate will have unintended consequences. Prices will decline as the current high cost of energy results in lower demand and increased output restoring equilibrium.


Senators Encouraged Solicitor General To Advocate Before The U.S. Supreme Court Over Proposition #12.


The United States Supreme Court will hear an appeal based on California Proposition #12 at some time in Ocober.  Lower courts have ruled that Proposition #12 is constitutional, despite the fact that there is concern that it conflicts with the Dormant Commerce Clause. Proposition #12 is opposed by twenty state governments and the majority of associations representing agriculture.


Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA); Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) with 13 other members of the Senate requested that Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar support California Proposition #12 by submitting a brief and presenting oral testimony. Other senators supporting the request for the Solicitor General to advance the constitutionality of Proposition #12 represent states that have enacted laws paralleling California statutes, including Michigan, Illinois, and New England states.


The senators urged the Solicitor General in their communication “to support California Proposition #12 that is intended to prevent animal cruelty, protect the health and safety of California consumers and decrease the risk of foodborne illness”.  The letter continued, “We believe that the previous Administration’s position on Proposition #12 was based on a misconception of the law.” In the event the Solicitor General will present  the Government case supporting Proposition #12.


The Supreme Court will not consider the justification for the ballot initiative and should exclude any considerations of welfare or foodborne disease.  Their consideration will be confined to constitutional issues.  The overriding question is whether California can impose state standards of management on producers in other states thereby impeding interstate commerce.


The claims regarding stocking density for poultry, breeding sows and veal calves have no direct or scientifically supportable association with foodborne infection. The Proposition and subsequent legislation can be regarded as a contrived justification to protect producers in California from competition. California consumes 13 percent of the nation’s domestic pork but houses 0.2 percent of breeding sows, suggesting an extremely one-sided approach to imposing welfare standards.


 Proponents of Proposition #12 and the resulting restrictive legislation are relying on the original invalid contention by the HSUS, advanced to sway voters in 2008 that confined herds or flocks are more liable to be infected with foodborne pathogens than animals allowed space requirements consistent with Propositions #2 and #12.


The restrictions imposed by Proposition #12 when enacted will obviously impact the hog industry, since the practice of confining sows to relatively small crates, hardly larger than the animal, during gestation will require investment in alternative facilities to allow 24 square feet of floor area. At the present time, approximately 25 percent of sows are managed under group housing, demonstrating that it is possible, albeit with greater care and capital expenditure to operate the system. 


With respect to egg production, the requirements for California are currently satisfied by domestic producers who have invested in non-confinement following Proposition #2 in 2008.  If the Supreme Court rules that Proposition #12 is unconstitutional, further conversion to other than conventional cages or enriched modules will cease and laws similar to Proposition #12 in the New England states will also be invalid wsith respect to eggs introduced from other states.  In specific states where confinement laws were enacted producers will be obliged to conform but will be vulnerable to the introduction of eggs from non-compliant states. It is doubtful whether revocation of confinement laws will take place in states where legislation has been passed banning conventional cages.


There is concern that if Proposition #12 is declared unconstitutional, there will be unintended consequences affecting interstate trade and the ability of states to effectively control interstate transmission of the diseases of plants and animals.


Irrespective of the outcome, Proposition #2 and its successor, Proposition #12 represented an indirect tax on consumers based on the higher price of eggs and animal protein.


USDA To Top Up HPAI Funding By $400 Million


On May 31st, the USDA announced that it would assign an additional $400 million to pay for control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), including compensation for owners of close to 39 million birds depleted during the 2022 epornitic.  Funding will be derived from the Commodity Credit Corporation and will represent the third tranche following $393 million in the second allocation.


During February and March EGG-NEWS advocated for APHIS to provide poultry producers with preliminary guidance based on an initial epidemiologic evaluation of outbreaks.  It is evident to poultry health professionals that the epidemiology of the 2022 epornitic including shedding by wild birds, timing and distribution of outbreaks along the four flyways, the occurrence of the infection in backyard flocks differed from 2015.  A preliminary opinion in early April may well have prevented some outbreaks, especially among the more expensive and cases involving egg production complexes. Information on the mode of spread would have been beneficial to producers of commercial turkeys in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas.


Advice on prevention, provided by APHIS, was no different from the basic biosecurity recommendations developed during and subsequent to the 1984 and 2015 epornitics.  Surely, initial evaluation based on real-time assessment of risks of introduction of the 2022 H5N1 strain and application of molecular epidemiology could have indicated specific changes required to enhance biosecurity and reduce the number of outbreaks.  If APHIS lacked epidemiologists and qualified poultry health professionals, then they should have outsourced investigations to the faculty at Land Grant universities in the affected states.


Requests were made to the USDA-APHIS during mid-April for an opinion on the mode of introduction onto farms. This should have resulted in relevant guidance as a realistic response.  An interim report would have been more valuable at the time than a more comprehensive document in 2023.


It is apparent that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza can be regarded as seasonally endemic given the role of migratory birds. Eradication based on the incorrect presumption that HPAI is an exotic infection will only lead to a repetition of the mass depopulations of 2015 and 2022.


The industry urgently requires epidemiologic evaluation of the 2022 epornitic with comparisons to the 2015 outbreak. The Industry deserves an analysis of any deficiencies in biosecurity based on molecular biology and traditional case-controlled studies.  This will allow the U.S. industry to be more prepared for a subsequent inevitable outbreak.


Abbott Nutrition Executives Should Face Criminal Penalties Over Contamination of Infant Formula


Following a preliminary investigation following the inspection of the Abbott nutrition plant in Sturgis, MI., the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a complaint on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration alleging that products were adulterated. The legal definition of "adulterated" includes the presence of any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render injurious to health or a product prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated or rendered injurious to health".


Based on a review by William Marler, a prominent plaintiff's attorney specializing in foodborne infection, Abbott in agreeing to a Consent Decree has effectively admitted liability. On his law- firm website, Marler posted the 2021 inspection report, the document prepared by the Whistleblower as submitted to the FDA in October 2021, the Department of Justice Complaint and the Consent Decree.


To support a felony violation, the Department of Justice would have to demonstrate that the adulteration occurred with intent to defraud or mislead by placing a food product in interstate commerce.  A misdemeanor violation would involve negligence through failure to prevent adulteration but does not require proof of fraudulent intent or willful conduct.


Marler makes the case that any producer of food should face penalties for marketing adulterated food whether willfully or not, a position endorsed by EGG-NEWS.  Penalties for both misdemeanors and felonies include substantial fines and the possibility of incarceration.


The responsibility of owners or executive management involved in foodborne outbreaks is exemplified by long prison terms handed down to the Parnell Brothers following the extensive outbreak of salmonellosis in 2009. Their company, The Peanut Corporation of America was responsible for 714 cases, 172 hospitalizations and nine fatalities. Paul Kruse then the CEO and majority shareholder of Blue Bell Creameries is under indictment for his actions in an outbreak of listeriosis in 2017. In both instances there were allegations of concealment of results of assays and falsification of records. Despite a self-exculpatory article in the Washington Post, Abbott Laboratories Chairman and CEO, Robert Ford will be subject to DOJ investigation with the inevitable questions of “what did he know and when did he know it”


The bar for CEOs and senior management of food companies is much higher since passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. In addition to civil penalties imposed by the DOJ and civil lawsuits executive officers now face criminal action with even misdemeanor violations carrying the threat of incarceration.


Inflation is Changing Purchasing Patterns of Consumers


As the Nation emerges from COVID restrictions consumers are unable to revert to previous purchase patterns. The emergence of inflation has changed the allocation of family budgets and is creating a new concern for value and restraint of indulgence.


First Insight a market evaluation enterprise recently published The State of Consumer Spending: Inflation Impacting Consumer Confidence.  Close to 75 percent of shoppers surveyed were less inclined to spend money without carefully evaluating their intended expenditure.  Almost half now actively seek sales or deals.  Forty percent are conforming to budgets and a quarter of respondents are shopping in bulk stores or warehouse clubs.  The report showed that 80 percent of consumers are seeking less-expensive products to stretch budgets.



Those surveyed consider groceries their most important priority with a 53 percent weighting. Nearly half of respondents were concerned over the cost of vehicle fuel followed by housing at 30 percent and healthcare at 20 percent.  Consumers are reducing expenditure on home décor, gym memberships, both popular during COVID restrictions although there is pent-up demand for travel among the affluent. 


Egg-NewsApproximately half of consumers surveyed indicated that they would reduce expenditure on dining out and a third will restrict entertainment and travel.  National brands will be displaced by lower priced alternatives.  Industry observers make reference to trends seen during the Great Recession with a downward move in protein from beef to pork and then to chicken with eggs emerging as an inexpensive source of balanced protein served at home over more mealtimes.


Egg-NewsDeep discount grocery chains and club stores will benefit from emerging frugality among consumers. Increased sales of lower priced house brands will be at the expense of nationally advertised products. Traditional supermarkets will have to reduce SKUs and offer more private label and generic products to retain price-conscious consumers. Even if the economy does not spiral into a recession, consumers in a post-COVID environment will develop a level of thrift, reevaluating their respective needs and wants and will exercise greater concern for their future financial well-being.


Misperceptions and Myths Motivating Control of COVID in China Have Implications for the U.S.


Egg-NewsIt is evident that China, the origin of COVID in 2019, despite initial claims, has been unsuccessful in suppressing and certainly not eradicating COVID.  Currently, central government policy appears to run counter to approaches adopted in the E.U. and the U.S.   Myths that pervade policy include:-



  • COVID is introduced into the nation on packaging material on food products.  The World Health Organization has presented evidence to show that there is no risk associated with contamination of either outer or inner packaging material for imported food.  It is evident that authorities in China have used this unsubstantiated route of introduction as an excuse for emerging incident cases. This has implications for exporters of poultry and red meat products to China.
  • Mass disinfection of streets, buildings and even air is effective in destroying virus.  Since the advent of COVID, China has deployed armies of Tyvek™-clad workers brandishing disinfectant sprayers and has deployed trucks with atomizers.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that a contact surface contaminated with SARS-COV-2 virus has less than a 1-in-10,000 probability of causing an infection.  The actions by authorities in China are simply an exercise in disease-theater, devoid of any practical benefit.
  • Mass testing and home detention will reduce incidence rate of COVID to zero. Draconian restrictions have featured during the past two months, especially in major cities.  These measures designed to achieve an unattainably low incidence are futile.  Clearly, confining populations to apartments and locking down entire neighborhoods is not achieving any positive result but has led to misery, lack of productivity and is clearly impacting the economy of China.


China deployed a decidedly ineffective vaccine and failed to promote immunization of the elderly in an orderly and systematic way. This has led to a dangerous level of susceptibility in the population that is now confronted with highly infectious Omicron variants of SARS-COV-2 virus.


Egg-NewsImplications are self-evident.  Supply chain problems in the U.S. and the E.U. will intensify as ports  in China work at less than optimal level.  Food consumption in China will fall, reducing imports of corn, soybeans and pork. Factory output, especially of critical components, will affect all industrialized nations trading with China.


Most of the policy aimed at either controlling COVID or the oft-imposed alternative of suppression of fact and distortion of statistics is designed to create a false sense of stability and prosperity, adding to a sense of national pride. This approach is considered necessary as a prerequisite for the unprecedented election of President Xi Jinping to a third term at the National Conference of the Communist Party of China to be held during the second quarter of 2022.


Adverse and Erroneous Publicity Over Single Alleged Case Of HPAI


Egg-NewsAccording to the CDC, an extensive program of surveillance of workers involved in depleting flocks infected with the H5N1strain of HPAI yielded a single human case.   This event has elicited an inordinate amount of media attention.  The American Egg Board has been tracking print, broadcast TV and social media since the onset of the outbreak and as of the beginning of the last week of April was essentially a non-issue.  Political events, inflation, the war in Ukraine, the fluctuating stock market and trivia such as the Johnny Depp trial have dominated the media.  Mention of HPAI has concentrated on turkeys and to a lesser extent on broilers.


The picture may have now changed with the report emanating from the CDC that has been misinterpreted and taken out of proportion.  The facts are that a prisoner in an institution in Colorado was employed to handle chickens from a flock that had been euthanized as a result of contracting HPAI. Whether as a diagnostic procedure or routine surveillance, a nasal swab from the individual yielded nucleic acid indicative of H5 influenza virus, presumably on PCR assay.  This does not mean that the subject was in fact infected with the avian strain virus.  A PCR procedure would provide a positive result denoting the presence of virus in the nasal passages if inhaled on dust.  To establish a diagnosis of avian influenza, it would be necessary to demonstrate the presence of viral nucleic acid over a sequence of days and also demonstrate subsequent seroconversion.  The individual did not display any clinical signs including elevated temperature that could be associated with influenza other than fatigue that is a complaint and not necessarily a symptom.


Egg-NewsUSDA-APHIS has conducted surveillance on workers involved in handling dead birds during the 2022 epornitic and there have been no reports of positive nasal swabs from approximately 25,000 examined. It is difficult to understand how only one individual out of a large population demonstrated the presence of avian influenza nucleic acid in a nasal swab. This may have been a false positive or alternatively failure by the worker to consistently wear a respirator as issued to all farm workers. In reality, the headlines emblazoned across articles and on websites should have read “24,900 exposed workers negative on nasal swab PCR!”


A number of the reports, all short on detail, invoked the single case of HPAI H5N1 diagnosed in a senior in the U.K.  According to relatives, after he was transported to a hospital, 18 ducks were removed from his home and he was known to have fed and cared for free-roaming waterfowl in his garden and village that died of H5N1 HPAI.  In this case, an initial upper respiratory tract swab was obtained on December 24th 2021 that tested positive for influenza A subtype H5.  This result was reproduced on two successive swabs collected during following days confirming viral replication in the upper respiratory tract. During this time the patient was asymptomatic and after isolated observation returned to his home, fortuitously cleaned by neighbors and family members.  In commenting on the case, Dr. Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer at the U.K. Health Security Agency, stated, “Currently there is no evidence that this strain detected in the U.K. can spread from person to person” She added “We have followed up all of this individual’s contacts and have not identified any onward spread.”  The U.K. Chief Veterinary Officer of the U.K., Dr. Christine Middlemiss, stated, “While Avian Influenza is highly contagious in birds, this is a very rare event and it’s very specific to the circumstances on this premises.”


It is indeed unfortunate that journalists and bloggers are either unable through lack of scientific comprehension or are otherwise disinclined to review and evaluate circumstances, simply publish and amplify events without providing perspective. Regrettably some industry-oriented websites have afforded the CDC release inordinate coverage. Thankfully we still have Johnny Depp.


World Faces Unprecedented Food Crisis


The impending food crisis that will impact nations with deficient domestic production will become evident during the second half of this year.  Food insecurity was a dominating theme at the April meeting of finance ministers including representation from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  The need to deliver food to needy populations is more urgent after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and disruptions of Black Sea shipping.


The U.S. delegation led by secretary of the treasury Janet Yellen proposed practical preemptive measures including revocation of export restrictions, abolishing price controls and subsidizing production in developing nations. The World Bank will provide $17 billion over the next two years to improve food supplies especially in middle-income nations.  It is estimated that malnutrition could affect as many as 15 million in 2023 and the situation may deteriorate further unless the war in Ukraine is ended. 


The fact that Russia and Ukraine collectively are responsible for supplying wheat to Middle East and North African nations among others creates concern for regional stability.  Nations relying on supplies from Eastern Europe are having difficulty in substituting alternative suppliers over the short. Production costs in North American and the E.U. move sharply upwards following increases in the prices of energy, fertilizer and transport. 


CoBank with an involvement in agriculture in the U.S. predicts higher commodity prices driven by energy that will persist through 2023 and will threaten a recession. The World will be more reliant on efficient agricultural nations including Brazil, the U.S. and Canada for grains, oilseed and animal protein.


Concern over global warming and environmental degradation will take a back seat in the short term to optimizing food production, irrespective of the ultimate costs. Eventually industrialized nations will have resume progress in substitution of energy derived from fossil fuel.  Solar, wind and nuclear power generation require additional capital investment and government support.  Unrealistic restrictions on productivity must be deferred until the present crisis is resolved.


No Security Benefits From Texas Border Action in April


Previously, CHICK-NEWS reported on the negative effects resulting from the action conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety that resulted in considerable congestion in transiting border points of entry from Mexico into Texas.  According to a report in the Texas Tribune, the program failed to find drugs, weapons, illegal immigrants or contraband.


From April 8th to April 16th, state troopers inspected 4,100 semis but did identify defects in vehicles including underinflated tires, defective turn signals and oil leaks that resulted in 345 citations for violations.


A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety attributes the failure to apprehend contraband or illegal immigrants to the diligence of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel performing their normal duties.  The U.S. CBP can process vehicles with a usual wait time of 20 minutes.  The action ordered by Governor Greg Abbott resulted in delays exceeding 24 hours at seven commercial bridges linking Texas with the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.  The action that resulted in considerable loss of produce and other disruptions for U.S. industries did result in agreements between four state governors and the State of Texas to increase security.


It is noted that trade between Mexico and the U.S. exceeded $56 billion in February with the seven international entry points responsible for 65 percent of total freight between the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. egg production industry is dependent on road transport for exports to Mexico and is impacted by border delays and closures.


The action by Governor Abbott considered as “political theatre” did not achieve any practical benefit to security but incurred a high cost to the state of Texas and U.S. truckers, importers, distributors and manufacturers.


Injudicious Action by Texas Governor Impedes Vehicle Movement at Southern Border


Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive on Wednesday, April 6th for the Texas State Highway Patrol to inspect all vehicles entering the state from Mexico, apparently to interdict movement of illegal aliens and contraband.


The edict, although intended to engender political support for his reelection obviously backfired.  Despite rapid processing of vehicles by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, day-long delays werecaused by the inefficient and unnecessary inspection by the State of Texas.


At the El Paso international crossing between 2,500 and 3,000 trucks pass between Ciudad, Juarez, and El Paso daily.  Trade between Mexico and Texas is estimated at $450 billion in 2021.  Mexico is a key supplier of components for automobiles, machinery, electric equipment, and produce.  Delays at the border have repercussions throughout the U.S. depriving customers of products from Mexico required in Michigan and Tennessee


A spokesperson for the Texas International Produce Association stated that trucks crossing at the Pharr International Bridge resulted in delays idling warehouses on the U.S. side of the border..


Despite the announced intent to interdict smuggling of humans and contraband, the highway patrol is carrying out 45 minute mechanical inspections of vehicles refuting the intention of the gubernatorial order.


If the example of political theater continues for an extended period cross border traffic will be diverted to neighboring states, depriving Texas of jobs and revenue and indirectly eroding political goodwill for the governor for his third term.


U.S. representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX) condemned the action of the Governor as “impractical and detrimental to the state economy”.


Ermilo Richer, operator of a trucking company in Laredo, noted “We definitely need to make sure Washington figures out how to keep Title 42 open, but control immigration.  However, we need Governor Abbott to make the right calls and not affect a community that’s got nothing to do with immigration.”  Representative Gonzalez was joined by logistics companies in calling for the Governor to rescind his action and restore normal operations along the southern border. Delays resulted in protests by truckers that accentuated delays and exacerbated the effect of the injudicious action by Gov. Abbott.


Following meetings with the Governors of the States of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon and signing of memorandums of agreement, border crossings are returning to normal although the Laredo point of entry is still congested in the absence of an agreement with the State of Tamaulipas. The long Easter weekend only complicated trans-border traffic.


Gov. Abbott announced an end to the double inspection on April 18th but noted that the program could be restored at any time depending on illegal entry of aliens


 ‘Political Theater’ to generate support for an incumbent can have far-reaching repercussions and predictable additional costs imposed on consumers. This is especially eggregious during a time of high inflation partly caused by supply-chain disruption.


Desirability and Constitutionality Of Local Food Acts Questioned


Over the past four years a series of laws have either been proposed of enacted in various states permitting homeowners to prepare foods for sale without state licenses or inspection.  In April 2021, Montana adopted the Local Food Choice Act.  This legislation “allows for the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms and home-based producers and the accessibility of homemade food and food products to informed end-consumers”. The law has now been challenged by the Senior Public Health Sanitarian for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, serving as the plaintiff pro se.


At issue is the fact that the law does not distinguish between interstate and intrastate commerce, rendering the Act void. The Act fails to provide equal consumer protection for high-risk foods.  The law does, however, exclude meat that is still subject to the Montana federally-sanctioned inspection program.


Various state laws permitting sale of non-inspected home foods and raw milk and overturning mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases conflict with accepted standards of hygiene. Injudicious legislation enacted in pursuit of ‘freedom’ is the direct extension of a mindset rejecting reasonable and scientifically proven measures to promote public health. A reversion to 19th century approaches to food safety is extensively promoted and funded by extreme conservative and libertarian advocates.


Adoption of laws that permit and promote the sale of uninspected food and non-pasteurized milk will have deleterious effects on public health and ultimately will add to medical costs and place an additional burden on society.


Outside Access for Organic Flocks Modified After Emergence of HPAI


A USDA-AMS memorandum originally issued in January 2011 and re-circulated in April 2017, permits temporary confinement for flocks producing under the Organic Certified Program.  The original memorandum under signature of Miles V. McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the USDA, notes, “Temporary confinement may be appropriate under certain conditions such as when low or highly pathogenic avian influenza is detected in an area.  Organic poultry maybe confined on a temporary basis in areas in proximity to low or highly pathogenic avian influenza findings.  Temporary confinement can be done without compromising the organic status of the certified operation under these conditions.” 


The memorandum was re-issued by USDA-AMS on March 25th under the heading, “Allowed Actions To Respond To Risks From Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza”. Confinement is a necessary precaution to prevent exposure to AI virus shed by waterfowl currently migrating along the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways.  Risk of outdoor exposure is evidenced by the number of backyard flocks that have been confirmed as infected with the high probability of other flocks that were exposed and never diagnosed.


The status of flocks producing eggs that are advertised and sold as “pasture raised” or “free-range” with images or text on cartons, represents a different situation.  It will not be long before an enterprising lawyer brings a class action lawsuit against one or more producers or marketers of eggs claiming deceptive advertising if flocks do not have free access outside barns. 


As noted in the March 25th edition of EGG-NEWS, cage-free-flocks in the U.K. have been confined to barns since November and their eggs can no longer be marketed as “free-range”.  Notices to this effect are displayed in stores at point-of-sale, although it is unknown whether retailers have reduced shelf prices. Members of the U.K Free-Range Egg Producers’ Association are requesting higher prices from retailers claiming an “imminent implosion” of their segment of the egg industry. Unfortunately prices are established by supply and demand in free-market economies and not by entreaties. The danger to producers of these high-priced eggs is that consumers will find that there is no difference in perceived quality between free-range and barn eggs and will be disinclined to pay a large differential for a housing system when free-range eggs once more become available in the U.K.   


If U.S. producers hold hens in barns and claim “free-range” or “pasture-raised” status, action by the FTC or lawsuits should be expected, especially if barn-confinement extends over months as is anticipated.


Pork Check-off Rate Reduced


At a meeting of the Pork Forum in Louisville, KY., delegates voted 94 percent to reduce the pork check-off rate from $0.40 to $0.35 per $100 value effective January 1st 2023.  The resolution followed a recommendation from the Pork Industry Vision Task Force representing the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers’ Council that was convened to revise the structure of pork promotion.  Recommendations approved by the Vision Task Force included:-


  • Creating a joint Producer-Led working group of state leaders
  • Forming a new joint-industry task force to review issues and opportunities
  • Promoting efficient and effective methods of promotion that optimize funding  


According to the release, Gene Noem president of the National Pork Board stated, “Producers have told industry leadership they expect us to be efficient and strategic with their dollars.”  He added, “These resolutions reflect a desire to more responsive to the industry needs and challenges and to present a more unified and consistent voice across the industry.”  Perhaps more efficient and productive use of check-off funds could include termination of successive non-winnable lawsuits opposing California Proposition #12 and encourage their members to move towards group housing of sows before they run out of customers.


The decision by pork producers may have implication for other commodity boards including the American Egg Board.  More than a decade ago, producers voted against an increase in the check-off rate for eggs.  Since this time, the American Egg Board has demonstrated competence and professionalism in the three-fold mission of research, promotion and consumer education.  The AEB overhead is constrained and allocation of resources to activities appears to be appropriate to the challenges presented by an inflationary economy, fluctuating wholesale prices, relatively static demand and above all the effects of COVID over the past two years.  Prospects for an increase in the check-off rate are remote despite the increased margins during the present quarter compared to previous years. There appears to be no immediate prospect of an increase in the check-off rate unless the AEB can develop programs that significantly improve egg consumption. Over the past decade there have been only incremental increases on an annual basis. An argument could be made that in the absence of the activities of the AEB egg consumption may have in fact fallen reflecting competition from alternative foods and substitutes.



U.S. Egg Industry Urgently Requires Guidance from APHIS on Risk Factors for HPAI


Since the first outbreak of H5N1 strain highly pathogenic avian influenza was diagnosed on a farm in New Castle County, DE on February 22nd, losses as a result of four outbreaks among commercial egg production farms have amounted to close to 5.6 million hens and 265,000 pullets. The most recent outbreak, involving three million hens in Jefferson Country, WI. confirmed on March 14th came as a shock, since the pattern of cases is reminiscent of the early weeks of the Spring 2015 epornitic. Since this unprecedented loss of flocks, our industry has invested in both structural and operational biosecurity that we presume will be effective in preventing introduction of virus onto farms.


Following outbreaks of exotic diseases including END and HPAI, the USDA-APHIS publishes reports dealing with risk factors, causation and control measures. At the AEB-UEP listening session on HPAI held on March 15th, Dr. Koren Custer discussed aspects of her Agency response to infection and depletion.  In her response to questions she noted the routine evaluation of risk factors possibly contributing to an outbreak using  preliminary epidemiologic questionnaires.


The industry needs to know the nature of factors contributing to outbreaks in the five egg industry cases.  This information is required as soon as possible since corrective action can be taken to resolve any deficiencies in biosecurity that have emerged relevant to the 2022 outbreaks.  An initial best-judgement professional opinion in late March would be infinitely more useful than a more comprehensive review with statistical analysis in 2024.  What the industry urgently needs is guidance from APHIS based on an initial epidemiologic evaluation of cirumstances leading to HPAI in the affected complexes.


USDA-APHIS is urged to review the questionnaires with specific reference to egg production units that have represented the major losses to date in terms of bird numbers and financial impact. Considered observations based on experience and training that identify deficiencies in biosecurity or epidemiologic factors that may have emerged since the 2015 epornitic will provide valuable guidance for the industry and may avert future outbreaks in the immediate term.


United Nations Climate Report Includes Dire Warnings on Global Warming


The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the effects of increasing global temperature on February 28th.  The document was co-authored by 270 scientists and climatologists.  Global temperatures are now 2.2 F higher than during pre-industrial times creating changes that are stressing ecosystems.  These include wetlands, rainforest, Polar regions and coral reefs.


The report follows an August 2021 release documenting rising sea levels, severe storms and higher ambient temperatures worldwide.  The report confirms the movement of animals and plant species towards the poles, bleaching of coral reefs, forest fires and thawing of permafrost and drying of peat lands that serve as a carbon dioxide sink.  Ocean warming and acidification are affecting sea fishing and aquaculture and there is evidence that populations are already being displaced creating the potential for conflict.


Assuming that nations comply with the targets established at the 2021 U.N. climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, up to three billion of the world’s population could face water scarcity before the turn of the century.  Islands will disappear and food insecurity will expand especially in the Southern Hemisphere.  Approximately one billion people will exposed to flooding and there will be adverse health effects from environmental extremes and the emergence of insect borne diseases.  Up to 100 million of the world population might be forced into poverty during the next two decades.


A report to be released in April will consider the effects of reducing emissions contributing to climate change.  Understanding the effects of global warming and acidification of our oceans will provide a blueprint for corrective action to avert extreme changes that will most certainly degrade the quality of life for our children and grandchildren.


Unfortunately the current situation in Ukraine suggests continued use of fossil fuels with enhanced uncertainty over the safety of nuclear generation of energy in the face of hostile military action. Regrettably a Black Swan event for stabilizing climate change.




Census Bureau Data Quantifies Poverty and Hunger in the U.S.


The Household Pulse Survey, an ongoing program of the U.S. Census Bureau conducted during the period January 26th through February 7th, 2020 disclosed widespread food scarcity and housing insecurity in homes with young children.  Highlights of the survey included:-


  • Approximately 42 percent of adults living in homes with children under five years of age were unable to work due to a lack of child-care, inability to pay for the service or concerns over safety.  This finding directly relates to the inability of QSRs and other employers to recruit and retain unskilled single mothers suggesting the need for more extensive programs of childcare and related feeding and medical resources in inner cities.


  • Of adults living in households with children receiving food assistance over the seven-day period preceding the survey, 21 percent were unable to pay utility bills in full during the previous twelve months.


  • Ten percent of adults living in homes with children experienced food scarcity during the seven days preceding the survey.


  • Seven percent of adults are not current on either rent or mortgage payment and are unaware how they will be able to make the next remittance.


  • Approximately one-third of adults living in households with young children are not current on rent or mortgage and anticipate eviction or foreclosure in the proximal two months.


  • Approximately one-third of adults living in households with children under five years of age experienced difficulties in paying households expenses.



It is evident that support programs at the federal and state levels should be refined to address specific needs of recipients. Mechanisms should be developed to uplift potentially productive workers from poverty and to break the cycle of successive generations of dependency.


Value of COVID Vaccination


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released data on U.S. COVID incidence and hospitalization rates for vaccinated and non-vaccinated segments of the population over the past three months.



The age-adjusted rolling 14-day cumulative rates clearly demonstrate the protective effect of a comprehensive (two-doses plus booster) regimen even against exposure to the highly infectious Omicron variant.


EGG-NEWS emphasizes previously expressed opposition to vaccine mandates. These solidify and intensify opposition to vaccination among non-recipients comprising 25 percent of our population. Perhaps skeptics could review data and decide whether the risk, consequences and expense of contracting COVID is worth the personal satisfaction of being a libertarian denier of both the infection and the availability of protection. COVID is a public health problem, neither the infection nor voluntary vaccination should be political or freedom issues.


Self-Serving Survey by Stop Foodborne Illness


Activist organization Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP) recently conducted, a poll which purported to show that 86 percent of 1,000 registered voters supported a prohibition on selling ‘products with the potential to cause disease’.


The result is not surprising given the question that rises to the level of surveying seven- year olds as to whether they are in favor of ice cream.  What is surprising is that 14 percent of those surveyed apparently were indifferent concerning the sale of products failing to meet safety standards.


It would appear that activist organizations have found a new champion in USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack who has initiated reviews on Salmonella contamination of poultry given that this supports his agenda of opposing intensive livestock production. The Federal government is conveniently sidestepping E.coli (STEC) infections, listeriosis and salmonellosis associated with fruit, leafy greens, dairy products, and imported foods that fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA.


When technologies such as irradiation are advanced as effective, nondestructive and innocuous methods of destroying bacterial infection of foods, STOP and other activists groups oppose absolute kill-steps but continue to demand pristine food products without beneficial additives.


The USDA has successfully promoted hygienic preparation, storage, and cooking of food both at the domestic and institutional levels to prevent foodborne bacterial infections.  Contemplated and draconian measures to demand food products of animal origin that are free of all Salmonella irrespective of pathogenicity without employing a range of advanced technologies will be impossible.  Knee-jerk regulations and unattainable standards will disrupt food supply to the detriment of processors and consumers.



February is Heart Health Month


Although the risk of cardiovascular disease due to dietary intake of cholesterol from consumption of eggs is now a discredited theory it is appropriate to revisit the issue during February, designated as “Heart Health Month” By President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.


Dr. Mickey Rubin summarized relevant peer-reviewed literature in July 2020. It is worthwhile revisiting his article available on the Egg Nutrition Center website The Summary of this scholarly article is reproduced but industry professionals are urged to read the article in entirety.


The science on dietary cholesterol and eggs continues to grow and demonstrates that eggs are an important part of healthy dietary patterns across the lifespan. Overall, these data support the value of eggs as a nutrient dense food within healthy dietary patterns. As a good or excellent source of eight essential nutrients including choline, six grams of high quality protein, 252 mcg of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, the 70 calories of an egg can be viewed as so much more than just a source of dietary cholesterol.


Walmart Invests in Indoor Vertical Produce Farming


A January 25th article by Amy Sowder in The Packer confirms that Walmart has invested in Plenty Unlimited Inc., a San Francisco enterprise involved in indoor vertical farming of produce.  The long-term agreement provides Walmart with the opportunity to stock leafy greens for California stores that will be grown in a proposed indoor farm in Compton, CA.


According to the article, Charles Redfield, U.S. Chief Merchandising Officer for Walmart stated, "we believe Plenty is a proven leader in a new era of agriculture that offers pesticide free, peak-flavor produce to shoppers every day of the year".  He added, "this partnership not only accelerates agricultural innovation but reinforces our commitment to sustainability by delivering a new category of fresh that is good for people and the planet".


Plenty holds a range of engineering and software patents, and their technology incorporates efficient use of water and land.  By locating units in close proximity to centers of population density, transportation and waste can be minimized.


Arama Kukutai, CEO of Plenty stated, "our farms can be sited anywhere allowing us to put fresh fruits, greens and vegetables on shelves that all times at speed for maximum freshness".  According to The Packer, Plenty operates a research facility in Laramie, WY. in addition to the farm in Compton under construction.


In recent years, the leafy greens industry has faced problems arising from outbreaks of STEC and Salmonella infection as a result of contaminated irrigation water.  In the absence of a positive kill step during packing, the measures adopted by growers of the Yuma Valley of Arizona and in the Central Valley of California will not assure consumers that products are free of potentially pathogenic bacteria.


Intensive vertical farming could represent a game changer providing cost is comparable with conventional cultivation given escalation in labor and transport together with restrictions on the availability of water in western states.  Obviously, Walmart is putting a toe in the water and their experience with Plenty will soon be paralleled by other supermarket chains.  If financially and technically superior to conventional cultivation, a higher proportion of leafy greens and other produce maybe derived from intensive facilities paralleling developments in the commercial egg-production industry.


Protection from COVID Vaccination Confirmed


On January 18th Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D, MPH, affiliated with the University of Texas Health Science Center, documented in her authoritative website Your Local Epidemiologist that vaccination protects against severe consequences arising from COVID infection. She cited data from the U.K., Switzerland and the U.S. to demonstrate the benefit of immunization.  From May through December 2021, critical care admissions to ICU wards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland attained 40.9 cases per 100,000 population among the 60 to 69-year age group.  Comparative figures for double-vaccinated patients of the same range in ages was 0.7 per 100,000 and for those receiving a booster, 0.4 per 100,000 population.  The hospital admission rate for those in the 30 to 39-age group was 1.6 per 100,000 in the non-vaccinated cases compared to 0.1 per 100,000 in the double- vaccinated category.


As of January 1st the death rate among non-vaccinated people in Switzerland was 16 per 100,000 for all age groups.  The corresponding figure for fully vaccinated (2 doses) was 2 per 100,000 and for those receiving a booster approximately 0.2 per 100,000.


In Oregon, the unvaccinated case rate during the first week of January was 2,250 per 100,000.  The corresponding figure for breakthrough cases among double-vaccinated individuals was 480 per 100,000.


Current incidence rates suggest that the Omicron wave has plateaued and is declining in many areas of the nation that showed widespread infection in November 2021. Dr. Jetelina provided a cautionary note, "there will be the same number of new infections on the way down as there were on the way up and hospitalizations and deaths will follow".   The conclusion from data presented on her website is that vaccines continue to provide protection against clinical infection requiring hospitalization and ICU care. To reduce the impact of COVID on society and the economy, public health measures are required over and above vaccination including masking and avoiding large concentrations of people in confined areas, especially with suboptimal ventilation. These precautions are also appropriate in some U.S. counties with low vaccination compliance. In rural Georgia 25% of the population is vaccinated contributing to an increasing incidence rate especially for gatherings that promote transmission of SARS-CoV-2, with the Omicron variant now responsible for 99 percent of new cases.


Impact of Escalation in Fertilizer and Other Farm Costs