Shane Commentary


Extremist Animal Rights Advocates File Oregon Initiative 28

05/12/2024

People for the Elimination of Animal Cruelty Exemptions have filed for Initiative Petition 28 to be decided by the voters of Oregon during the 2026 general election.  The ballot initiative would remove certain exemptions from animal cruelty laws prohibiting any activity other than self-defense or veterinary practice that intentionally injures or kills animals. Adoption of Oregon IP28 would effectively invalidate all livestock operations.

 

The intent as stated would be to “be protective of the needs of animals and to codify their right to life and bodily autonomy.” IP28 would also establish a “Humane Transition Fund” to provide grants to replace lost income, compensate farmers, to subsidize job retaining and permit conservation and re-wilding of livestock.

 

This extreme and unworkable proposition representing the most radical ideology should not pass.  It will however generate awareness of the negative aspects of livestock production and raise funds for the organizers.

 

Ballot initiatives were regarded as necessary as territories became states, but they are now anachronistic and run counter to the regular legislative process with inherent checks and balances.  It is far easier to bamboozle voters with complex and deceptively worded propositions that appear at face value to be elementary but have serious unintended consequences.  Did the voters agreeing with California Propositions #2 and #12 realize they were effectively voting for a $0.50 to $1.00 per dozen increase in the price of eggs when they were coerced into empathizing with cage-housed chickens?  The so-called “Pacelle-Tax” is an unintended consequence of passage of the two California propositions. The outcome was only possible through the system of ballot initiatives that has effectively distorted the government of our Nation’s most populus state with a population of 39 million and an economy ranking as the 5th largest in the world.

 

 It is now time to eliminate legislation by voter initiative through constitutional amendments. Unfortunately there are too many vested interests benefiting financially from the status quo to expect meaningful change. A starting point would be to increase the number of valid signatures required to allow a petition to be placed on the ballot and to allow legislatures or Governors the power to deny petitions.


 

FDA Issues Guidance on GM Animals

05/07/2024

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued Guidance for Industry (GFI) #187A Heritable Intentional Genomic Alterations in Animals:  Risk-Based Approach and a revised draft GFI #187B Heritable Intentional Genomic Alteration in Animals:  The Approval Process.

 

In addition, the FDA has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify their respective roles and responsibilities in regulation of intentional genomic alteration.

 

At the outset, the FDA jurisdiction over regulation of genetic modification should be limited to a judicial minimum.  The Agency does not have the staff or expertise to understand the realities of genetic modification, whether by insertion or deletion of genes in livestock.  There is obviously a justification for the FDA to be involved in genetic modification where the end product is a biopharmaceutical produced in eggs or milk. 

 

Genetic modification of animals intended for food is a separate issue to biopharmaceuticals and is beyond the competence of the FDA.  This is denoted by the almost two-decade process of approval of Aquabounty® salmon.  Inability of the FDA to make considered decisions regarding approval within a reasonable time has placed the U.S. at a disadvantage with respect to the E.U. and China.  The practical application of CRISPR offers advantages to breeders in developing livestock with resistance to disease, adaptability to heat and benefits yet to be determined.

 

The April 2024 Memorandum of Agreement between the FDA and the USDA is intended to establish policies and procedures to enhance the exchange of information with the objective of enabling an efficient, seamless regulatory process.

 

The FDA is encouraging developers of intentional genomic alteration to approach the Agency early in their research and development or to discuss the specific risk profile of the proposed product and the appropriate pathway for commercialization.  This is a clear admission of technological ignorance, and that the FDA intends to continue using the established playbook of delay in making a decision.

 

The FDA underperforms in the areas over which it has direct mandates including regulation of imported foods, inspection of foreign and domestic pharmaceutical plants. The FDA has a rap sheet of failures including the baby formula debacle, lead contamination of infant foods and failure to suppress bacterial foodborne infections associated with produce.

 

EGG-NEWS has long campaigned for a separate food safety agency independent of both the USDA and the FDA.  Advances in genomic alteration of livestock justify extreme changes in the structure and implementation of food safety regulation.


 

Department of Energy CO2 Sequestration Project a Failure

05/01/2024

The National Energy Technology Laboratory of the Department of Energy, has funded a $281 million demonstration project at an ADM plant in Decatur, IL. over a number of years. The program represents the collaboration between ADM, Schlumberger Inc. and the Illinois State Geological Survey. The project effectively captured only 10 to 12 percent of CO2 produced in ethanol production with the remainder vented to the atmosphere. The Department of Energy claims that 2.8 million metric tons of CO2 have been stored in contrast to the EPA value of 3.94 million metric tons.

 

Academics including Dr. William Burns, affiliated with Northwestern University, questioned the practicality of the project noting, “We have been providing these subsidies for a long time, billions and billions of taxpayer dollars and we still have very little to show for it.”

 

The ADM plant sequesters CO2 underground by injection into a sandstone formation.  According to reports, there are as many as 150 applications to drill and sequester CO2 applying modifications of injection technology that is used to release oil from low-yielding wells.

 

If the ADM Decatur plant is representative of the U.S., a considerable quantity of CO2 is vented to the atmosphere.  The subject plant produces 4.1 million metric tons of CO2 annually through fermentation of corn but captures approximately 10 percent of the quantity generated.  From 2011 through 2022, the plant emitted 53,168,273 metric tons of CO2 and on average stored 7.4 percent amounting to 3,941,344 metric tons.

 

Dr. Charles Harvey of MIT questioned the benefit of sequestering CO2 at an ethanol plant and maintains that ‘diluting’ gasoline with ethanol is more detrimental than using gasoline as a vehicle fuel.  This is based on the acreage needed to produce corn that is fermented with CO2 emissions and by combustion in vehicles.  Dr. Harvey notes, “If our interest is in using government resources to reduce CO2 emissions, that money would be much better spent not making ethanol.”  He added, “You’d really be better off just replacing those cornfields with solar panels.  You’d get a lot more reduction and you get cheaper electricity.”

 

According to Brendan Givens, Oil and Gas Watch reporter for the Environmental Integrity Project, the ADM facility in Decatur operates at a greater level of efficiency than other plants resulting in proportionately higher volumes of CO2 released than many facilities in operation.  

 

Despite the self-laudatory claims by the Renewable Fuel Association, ethanol does not contribute to energy independence and is demonstrably detrimental to the environment.  The entire ethanol industry owes its survival to government mandates and indirect supports. Despite science, logic and economics ethanol production persists at the expense of all who breathe, eat or ride only by virtue of the self-interest of corn-state legislators in Congress.


 

Disinclination to Compromise in Congress Inhibiting Passage of Legislation

04/16/2024

The 118th Congress has only passed 50 bills compared to an average of approximately 400 in a regular 2-year session.  This is due to polarization with extreme positions on both the left and right inhibiting compromise that is necessary for bipartisan progress.  Among delayed legislation is the 2013 Farm Bill that characterizes Congressional impotence.  In the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is advocating for liberal SNAP and WIC benefits and extension of funding for conservation using funds from the Inflation Reduction Act.  In contrast, Minority Ranking member, John Boozman (R-AR) is intent on increases in reference prices to support producers impacted by declining export prices and volumes. 

 

It is apparent that both the Senate and House are looking to the other chamber to pass a Farm Bill that may become a reality through subsequent compromise during reconciliation.  The House Agricultural Committee Chairman, Glen Thompson (R-PA), is committed to presenting a Farm Bill during the spring of this year.  As with the Senate, there is conflict regarding SNAP benefits and the overall cost of the Legislation.  Bringing a bill to the floor is also influenced by the narrow margin of the majority party with dissent evident despite a majority of only five votes.

 

The closer to the election, the more difficult it will be to enact legislation.  The 118th Congress has taken too many breaks and indulged in unproductive hearings and activities to the detriment of their responsibilities and the ultimate well-being of U.S. citizens.


 

OTA Value of the Certified Organic Seal Questioned

04/12/2024

In a self-adulatory release, the Organic Trade Association listed responses to a consumer survey on familiarity with the organic seal. Of those responding, 88 percent were either familiar or somewhat familiar with the term “organic”.  However, 86 percent were also aware of the “natural” designation, and 85 percent with “local” suggesting that the certified organic label is not necessarily unique or preeminent.  It is also noteworthy that “pesticide free”, “vegan”, “raised without antibiotics” and “grass fed” all scored at or above 80 percent in terms of familiarity.

 

The Organic Trade Association understandably claims that recognition of the Organic seal and the implied connotation justifies the differential in price from corresponding non-organic food items.  After decades of promotion and availability it is evident that twelve percent of consumers are still unfamiliar with the organic seal. This indicates the need for additional promotion of the claimed attributes of organic foods, requiring publicity and a justification of the price differential.

 

The survey also revealed that “fair trade” was relatively obscure with 58 percent of respondents either somewhat or very familiar with the term.  “Humanely raised” scored 72 percent but was  below the 76 percent for “hormone-free”.  The lowest score of 33 percent for consumer familiarity was accorded “regenerative”.

 

It is apparent that the “certified organic” designation is clearly the leader among numerous label claims, but it is questioned whether consumers really understand the structure of the National Organic Program and what it offers.  Foods accorded the certified organic seal are produced according to a set of regulations and standards that should eliminate the use of pesticides or additives that may be potentially deleterious.  The requirement that foods be either non-GMO in origin or in the case of livestock products, derived from herds or flocks fed non-GMO feed, has no scientific justification with respect to human metabolism and health. 

 

It is also noted that certification according to the National Organic Program is based on a review of documentation and is not supported by any structured program of laboratory assay to confirm freedom from GMO content, pesticides or additives. Annual FDA reports indicate low levels of detectable pesticide residues, not materially different from their organic equivalents. Pesticide assays conducted by the FDA yield levels below established non-effect values indicating the acceptability of conventional domestic fruit and produce. The USDA certified Organic Seal does not address food safety with respect to the potential presence of bacterial pathogens.

 

The Organic Trade Association clearly describes additional costs including production, processing, certification, and other fees to justify the higher cost of certified organic foods.  The question arises as to whether consumers derive a commensurate benefit given the price differential between conventional and certified Organic products.


 

Secretary Vilsack Criticized Over Use of CCC Funds by House Ag. Committee

03/25/2024

In testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Secretary Tom Vilsack was criticized for his allocation of funding under the Commodity Credit Corporation.  Rep. Andy Harris (R-ND), Chairman of the Subcommittee, characterized the Secretary’s use of CCC funding as a “slush fund”.  Republican members of the Committee have been critical of climate-related programs.  In addition, USDA is apparently spending money “outside the regular Farm Bill process”.

 

The CCC was established during the Great Depression to provide farmers with support in the face of falling prices for commodities. 

 

 

Extensive demands have been placed on funding by dairy, cotton, rice and peanut producers for support payments.  These allocations are a major point of dissention in negotiations to establish the much-delayed 2023 Farm Bill with Republicans pressing for higher farm payments and Democrats favoring SNAP and environmental expenditures.

 

The CCC provided funding for USDA-APHIS programs to control HPAI in previous epornitics including indemnity and reimbursement for decontamination.


 

Buzzwords or Substance?

03/22/2024

A recent posting by a representative of a major supplier of micronutrients to the feed industry recently promoted “blood biomarkers to detect potential performance and health challenges.”  The lack of substance and specifics in the article is a hallmark of flim-flammery especially when the current buzzwords  ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’ are invoked.  Obviously collection and interpretation of production data is critical to understanding and analyzing deviations from standard flock performance. These can be attributed to ingredient quality, climate, exposure to pathogens or deviations from acceptable management.

Blood values do not necessarily reflect the rate of metabolic processes or tissue composition.  This was the basic flaw of the concept on which Theranos was based. The Company non-technology claimed to be able to monitor dozens of parameters with a single drop of capillary blood. A dubious presumption at the outset but believed by ill-informed and avaricious venture capital and private investors

 

If the article claiming that nutritional status can be monitored by analysis of blood samples was specific with respect to individual values and supported by scientific substantiation, the premise would have been be more impressive.  Why select blood?  Because it’s easy to obtain and easy to ship to a laboratory?  For most metabolites, liver, muscle or bone tissue specimens would be more reflective of nutritional adequacy.

 

The article notes “blood biomarkers can predict when indicators of issues start to appear in a flock” as a breakthrough. We have been applying serology for decades to monitor antibody status including a determination of flock susceptibility and response to vaccination.

 

Consistently, companies generate “systems” claimed to monitor and predict performance without adequate scientific validation.  Their hallmark is a lack of specificity involving a clear relationship between the variable and outcome. By adding the superfluous "buzzword" claims for ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’, it is questioned whether the touted concept is not another iteration of an ongoing succession of “great new things” to promote existing or newly developed products.


 

Senators Pressing USTR and USDA to Increase Agricultural Exports

03/20/2024

On March 13th, almost all Republican members of the Senate signed a letter addressed to Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing discontent with the decline in agricultural exports.  Specifically, the Senators requested information on specific actions the current Administration intends to implement to increase agricultural exports in 2024 and whether new or improved free-trade agreements will be entered into in the current year.

 

The Administration has urged Congress to fund market development programs that have some impact especially in new markets and for new products.  The U.S. exports mostly undifferentiated commodities as cotton, soybeans, corn, and rice.  These products are purchased by importers based on availability and landed price including ocean freight and duties. 

 

The letter from the senators takes issue with the Administration for pursuing an unambitious U.S. trade strategy that is “failing to meaningfully expand market access or reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade.”  The Senators should remember that the previous Administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was subsequently reconstituted to include eleven nations bordering the Pacific including Canada and Mexico and it eliminated a wide range of taxes and duties to the disadvantage of the U.S. Some bilateral trade agreements have been negotiated such as with Japan that was let down by the precipitous withdrawal by the U.S. in 2017.  The previous Administration imposed punitive duties on the People’s Republic of China that have been retained by the present Administration.

 

For consecutive years 2017 through 2019 the U.S. supplied 34 percent of soybeans requirements for China amounting to 96 million metric tons.  This was followed by decline to 17 percent of the requirements in 2018, followed by a lower proportion in 2019.  Despite negotiation of Phase I of a trade agreement, China did not follow through with imports of soybeans as negotiated. Demand by our major customer declined sharply during the current market year based on a reduction in pork production and Government restrictions on inclusion of soybean meal in diets for livestock.  Total exports of soybeans for the current year are 18.9 percent lower than for the corresponding week in the 2022-2023 market year.  In contrast, China continues to import corn with total exports for the current market year 31.5 percent higher than for the corresponding week during the previous market year.

 

 The Senators representing their agricultural constituencies fail to recognize the formidable expansion in production of soybeans and corn by Brazil and Argentine among other nations.  Russia has become a major exporter of wheat and despite lower harvest; Ukraine is still a major supplier. 

 

As we enter the second quarter of 2024, the demands for new free-trade agreements appear cynical in an expectation that the Administration is somehow required to pull reluctant rabbits out of a very large hat.  Due to no fault of the current Administration and based on the overhang of COVID on the World economy, competition at lower cost and domestic protectionism over at least two Administrations, there is an inevitability over declining exports.  Had the world entered into a depression following the COVID years, the situation would have been far worse?

 

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Dukakis campaigning for the Democratic candidacy in Iowa who opined that farmers were growing too much corn. He was asked by a farmer what he should grow other than corn at a time when the price was depressed.  The Candidate based on his elitist’s leanings suggests that “Belgian endives” were a suitable replacement, effectively scuttling support in the Midwest. Corn growers have the Renewable Fuel Standard that accounts for a third of the crop being converted to ethanol and with biodiesel absorbing 40 percent of soy oil. Both fuels benefit farmers at the expense of livestock producers and consumers and the respective industries would be non-viable without Federal mandates.

 

The Senators are asking the Administration to push a piece of string on agricultural exports. Importing nations make purchase decisions on commodities based on actual need and landed price in a competitive market. Demands to increase exports engenders favorable constituent approval and generates political points in an election year.

 

 

 


 

The Need for Surveillance of Free-living Birds for HPAI

03/18/2024

A recent news item presented the views of Dr. Kyle Van Why, a wildlife biologist with USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services.  Dr. Van Why noted that his Agency is sampling dabbling ducks including mallards, teals and wood ducks that are known to be infected with various strains of avian influenza virus and specifically, the 2022-2024 H5N1 epornitic strain.

 

Dr. Van Why correctly noted that the mild winter encouraged ducks to congregate in mid-migration until the severe storm of mid-January that resulted in southward migration.  He stated, “We just didn’t have a full push until we had that one winter storm in January and then we had a big push of birds down and then they were gone.” 

 

Perhaps by concentrating on dabbling ducks, the USDA-APHIS is missing other non-clinically affected carrier species of HPAI.  If dabbling ducks are in their winter habitat along the Gulf, why did outbreaks occur in backyard flocks in diverse states including Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and Minnesota during the week ending March 11th in addition to a case affecting commercial turkeys in South Dakota?  Logic would suggest that domestic resident free-living birds have become infected along with carnivorous scavenging mammals that may transmit the virus for, as yet, undetermined periods.  Backyard poultry housed with minimal biosecurity have little involvement with the infection of commercial flocks but serve as sentinels.

 

It would be of value for APHIS to sample a range of wild birds in the vicinity of confirmed outbreaks of HPAI both in backyard and commercial flocks.  It would also be of value to determine the duration and quantum of viral shedding in individual species.  There is considerable literature on the recovery of avian influenza viruses from orders other than Anseriformes and susceptibility of migratory and resident domestic bird species has been demonstrated by both surveys and through widespread mortality.

 

An additional aspect of research is assessing the persistence of avian influenza virus in water and soil although this has been investigated for strains of LPAI1.  Even more important will be to determine the distance over which avian influenza virus can be spread by the aerogenous route under a range of weather conditions.  There is adequate circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to suggest that the virus can be introduced into power- ventilated layer houses. Multitier units holding 200,000 hens may have a maximum exhaust displacement of 1.2 million ft3 per minute and even 400,000 ft3 per minute as a minimum rate during cold conditions.

 

If avian influenza is carried by a wide range of free-living bird species that are resident in the vicinity of poultry farms, the previous model of seasonal dissemination by migratory waterfowl is outdated2.  To concentrate on sampling hunter-killed dabbling ducks based on ease of attainment will provide prevalence rates in the species sampled but it will not advance our knowledge of the epidemiology of avian influenza and specifically H5N1.

 

It is questioned whether the administrators at APHIS are allocating sufficient resources to their field biologists and veterinarians to obtain an understanding of the changing epidemiology of avian influenza?  Are field projects and investigations constrained by past actions or prevailing policies?  Are we going to look back on the ongoing epornitic since 2022 in successive years and ask why we lacked imagination and flexibility in our approach to field evaluation that deprived us of an understand of the role of non-Anseriform avian reservoirs and disseminators of the disease?

 

1. Stallknecht, D. E., et al., Persistence of Avian Influenza Viruses in Water, Avian Diseases, 34:406-411 (1990)

2. Stallknecht, D. E. and Shane, S.M., Host Range of Avian Influenza Virus in Free-Living Birds, Veterinary Research Communications, 12:125-141 (1988)


 

FDA Requests $7.2 Billion Budget

03/12/2024

The Food and Drug Administration has requested $7.2 billion as a component of the proposed Federal FY 2025 budget.
 

According to the Commissioner, Dr. Robert M. Califf, “This new funding request will help us build on our accomplishments (?) and also modernize our Agency and operations as we plan for the future.”  Included in the request is an additional $15 million to promote a safe and nutritious U.S. food supply.  The newly created FDA Human Foods Initiative will allow the Agency to “prevent or mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks”.  The request also supports programs to reduce diet-related chronic diseases and attain the goals of the National Strategy for Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

 

The Agency is requesting $114 million to support recruitment and support of a public health workforce.  Does this represent a duplication of the activities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? 

It is noted that the Agency will request $1 million to expand foreign offices and strengthen the quality of imported products.  Given that a high proportion of our pharmaceuticals are manufactured in China or India, this appears to be an inconsequential amount given the magnitude of the tasks facing the Agency. The FDA has the obligation to certify the quality, safety and purity of imported drugs available to U.S. consumers.

 

The FDA is also requesting new authorization relating to the safety of foods including infant formula through binding limits for contaminants, testing of final products, environmental monitoring for pathogens and mandatory reporting.

 

Each year the FDA requests a larger allocation of funds citing real challenges and problems that as an Agency they are unable to address and resolve.  Under the immediate-previous and current Commissioners, the U.S. public has been subjected to a number of food-related crises with evident negligence, inactivity and incompetence demonstrated by the Agency.

 

It is time for a new, independent food safety and nutrition agency independent of the FDA.


 

USDA-ARS Announces RF Pasteurization for Shell Eggs-Again

03/03/2024

The USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Eastern Region Research Center in Pennsylvania has adapted radio frequency heating technology for in-shell pasteurization of eggs. The principle of radio frequency heating is well established with numerous commercial applications. The ARS development team has successfully created a prototype installation that is effective in eliminating Salmonella within eggs without altering organoleptic properties.  An existing commercial scale process involving immersion in hot water is effective in pasteurizing eggs but does result in changes in albumen and is not an in-line process.

 

The question arises as to why the USDA-ARS is expending time and money to produce an RF pasteurizer.  There is no evident problem of salmonellosis associated with eggs.  Since the introduction of the FDA Final Rule on Salmonella in eggs in 2010 there have been no reported outbreaks of S.Enteritidis among consumers of eggs produced and packed under FDA rules.  There however may be a case for pasteurization of shell eggs destined for specific consumers including the immunosuppressed.  Serving egg dishes prepared from pasteurized liquids would provide a safe source of nutrition although eggs from regularly tested flocks would provide an acceptable level of risk.

 

Egg-NewsThe USDA press release was overtly deceptive in that the introductory paragraph cited 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis with 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 fatalities annually in the U.S.  Eggs produced in accordance with existing regulations and industry procedures are not contributing to salmonellosis among consumers. In actuality multiple serotypes and foods including produce, fruit and undercooked poultry meat are responsible for infection.

 

The fact that less than one percent of eggs marketed in the U.S. are pasteurized using the water immersion process, suggests a low demand for in-shell pasteurization and a lack of concern among both domestic and institutional users.

 

A number of alternative in-shell pasteurization systems have been developed including immersion in hot water, infrared and microwave heating in addition to RF pasteurization.  Over twenty years ago, the Government of South Korea developed a pasteurization process that failed to elicit interest. A developer in South Africa produced a microwave in-line system that was widely promoted without achieving commercial adoption.

It is regrettable that the USDA announcement implies an ongoing problem of salmonellosis attributable to eggs and that this prototype laboratory-scale RF pasteurizer would be a solution.  It is questioned why USDA funds are expended on a project with little prospect of commercial adoption or intended to alleviate a public health problem that has little to do with eggs. A far more useful project would be to develop a positive kill-step for leafy greens responsible for STEC, Salmonella and Listeria infection.

 


 

Collaborative Influenza Research Justified

02/25/2024

In a February 15th letter to the USDA, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA)  requested information on funding collaborative experiments on avian influenza involving the U.S., the U.K. and a laboratory in China. The letter was stimulated by a misrepresentation circulated by White Coat Waste Project, an animal activist organization opposed to research using live animals.

 

The letter refers to Project 6040-32008-081-013-A, entitled U.S.-U.K.-China Collaboration: Predictive Phylogenetics for Evolutionary and Transmission Dynamics of Newly Emerging Avian Influenza Viruses.  The project was funded for the period beginning April 1, 2021 and is due to end at the end of February 2026.  The objective is to assess the pathogenicity of evolving avian influenza viruses of the H5NX clade 2.3.4.4b and for H7N9 and H9N2 lineages.  Evolution of these strains has been linked to the potential emergence of an influenza strain with pandemic zoonotic potential.  Experiments and analysis to be conducted over the course of the study period will determine how virus strains evolve and the response of hosts (quail, duck and chicken) to infection. Studies will include Japanese quail since this species has receptors for both avian and mammalian influenza viruses.  Challenge studies involving ducks and quail in addition to in vitro laboratory cell culture systems will be used to assess pathogenicity.

 

There is no indication from the description of the cooperative agreement that any form of gain-of-function studies will be conducted.  Most of the work will be completed in the U.S. with concurrent collaboration by scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Involvement by specialists in avian influenza in China was considered appropriate since they have access to endemic influenza strains circulating in poultry in that nation.

 

It can be accepted that the results of the studies, proposed and in-progress, will enhance our knowledge of the biology of avian influenza viruses of potential human health significance including aspects of immunology and molecular biology.  Results will be directly applicable to the development of improved diagnostic procedures and the development of human and avian vaccines.  Above all, knowledge obtained will improve our understanding of how avian influenza viruses may adapt to non-avian hosts.  It is a matter of record that the H5N1 panornitic strain has infected a wide range of both terrestrial and marine mammals. Fortunately to date there has been no evidence of human infection other than a limited numbers of cases and without confirming human-to-human transmission. 

 

It is regrettable that this project and aspects of research on respiratory pathogens have become politicized. Misleading statements have been made as to the purpose of the research with outlandish and unsupportable claims for risk. It is hoped that the response by the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture will reassure Senator Ernst and will moderate prevailing Sinophobia relating to medical research that emerged with COVID.


 

Iowa Egg Company Receives FDA Warning Letter

02/21/2024

A December 15th 2023, warning letter to the Iowa Egg Company located in Osage, IA. confirmed a wide range of deficiencies in conforming to the FDA Final Rule on Salmonella. Effectively product is technically “adulterated” under section 402 (a) (4) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act Section 21 U.S.C. 342 (a) (4) as potentially injurious to health.

 

The warning letter followed issue of a FDA Form 483 following a June 2023 inspection of the complex by the Iowa Department of Agriculture, acting on behalf of the FDA.

 

The warning letter was issued since the company did not respond within the statutory period acknowledging deficiencies and providing an action program for remediation.

Defects noted by the Iowa Department of Agriculture included:

 

  • Failure to have available a written Salmonella Enteritidis Prevention Plan as required.

 

  • Failure to document that pullets were monitored for SE prior to transfer.

 

  • Failure to maintain an acceptable program to suppress rodents and flies and evident structural defects allowing entry of rodents.

 

  • Failure to document or implement appropriate holding temperatures for eggs.

 

  • Failure to comply with required ages for drag-swab screening of flocks for environmental SE contamination.

 

  • Failure to register a farm as required.

 

The delay between the FDA Form 483 in June 2023 and the warning letter in mid-December raises questions of timing in the response to obvious public health-related issues. Given the date of the original report documenting multiple defects relating to testing and other requirements, the FDA was negligent in waiting 21 weeks before issuing a warning letter.  Had flocks on the operation been infected with SE, product would have been released to the market with the potential for human infection. Any egg-borne outbreak of SE results in degradation of the image of the egg industry indirectly affecting all compliant farms.

 

If the FDA is sincerely interested in protecting the food supply then a 21-week delay in follow-up is unacceptable.  This situation appears to be a replay of the infant formula crisis but on a much smaller scale. Failure by the FDA to inspect major production facilities and a lack of response to evident problems of contamination led to a debacle characterized by a shortage of product with economic, political and social implications. It remains to be seen whether organizational changes at the FDA will improve concern within the Agency for food-related risks.


 

Opposition to the EATS Act

02/11/2024

The Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act was drafted in response to the May 11th decision by SCOTUS upholding Proposition #12. It was the intent of the promoters of the Bill to incorporate the EATS Act into the 2023 Farm Bill that has been delayed to at the earliest, mid-2024.

 

The intent of the proposed legislation would be to prevent individual states from placing restrictions on systems used to rear and process livestock intended for sale in their states.

 

The U.S. egg industry has long since complied with Proposition #12 and Massachusetts question #3. There is an adequate supply of cage-free eggs to satisfy California and other states that have enacted legislation restricting the sale of eggs from conventional cages.

 

A number of companies involved in organic and premium meat production are opposed to the EATS Act and have addressed an open letter to Congress expressing their concerns. Signatories to the letter stated, “while some companies remain silent in the name of cheaper production cost we believe it is our responsibility to amplify the concerns of our customers and businesses partners through our platforms.”

 

Informed observers and jurists have opined on the direct and unintended consequences of the EATS Act over and above the welfare aspect.  The broadly framed act could invalidate a number of necessary state regulations and would be contrary to existing laws relating to methods of production, including suppression of livestock and poultry diseases.

 

The EATS Act was introduced to invalidate Proposition #12 that currently impacts a segment of the pork industry still using gestation crates for sows. The case is advanced by industry associations representing pork producers that the EATS Act would obviate the requirement for farmers to invest in group-housing for sows.  Economists at the University of California-Davis ascertained that there is adequate pork available from sows housed in compliance with California Proposition #12. The economists presented data to show that there would not be any restriction on states imposing sanctions against gestation crates and that no further investment is needed in the U.S. 

 

The problem facing the pork industry is that major retailers and food service operators are committed to source pork from piglets bred from sows maintained under group housing. As has been frequently stated in CHICK-NEWS, as far as the need for conversion is concerned the train left the station years ago.  Irrespective of legislation, public pressure and the policies of retailers will determine the extent of alternatives to gestation crates. Most major pork producers have recognized this reality and over the past decade have progressed in transitioning to alternative housing systems leaving those who would ignore the realities of the marketplace to rely on exports and low-price accessible markets.

 

It is ironic that lobbying by pork associations scuttled the “Egg Bill” that would have created a uniform Federal housing standard for hens. Now when their backs are against the wall a segment of pork producers are seeking Federal relief through legislation. 


 

South Dakota Senators Opine on AI Vaccination-Reason now Emerging

01/25/2024

Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Rounds, (R-SD) have commented on control of HPAI that has severely affected turkey production in their state.  Noting that the USDA is “testing” vaccines, the legislators point to the more important aspect of trade.  In their letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Senators Thune and Rounds state, “We recognize that without updated trade agreements, the use of HPAI vaccination can put our poultry and egg industry at a disadvantage.  So, now is the time to begin the tedious work of talking with our trading partners to solidify agreements that reflect the new reality.”

 

An obvious starting point is to rescind the ban on importation of poultry products from France based on the spurious justification of protecting the U.S. industry.  Limited use of HPAI vaccine on a seasonal and regional basis for specific segments of the industry at risk in France will have no deleterious effect on the U.S. This is based on the reality that HPAI is introduced seasonally and disseminated along four flyways by migratory waterfowl and marine birds.

 

An additional question relates to why the USDA is “testing” new vaccines given publications confirming relative efficacy of commercially available products as a practical control measure along with biosecurity.  It appears that the fall-winter phase of the 2023-2024 epornitic is waning and will cease as it did at the end of 2022.  The USDA has until spring to determine the efficacy and safety of both HVT-vectored vaccines for day old chicks and poults and inactivated oil emulsion vaccines for older birds.  Concurrently, as noted by the Senators, negotiations must be initiated with trading partners citing the World Organization of Animal Health endorsement of vaccination as an adjunct to biosecurity, quarantine and surveillance as control measures.

 

HPAI is the Newcastle disease of the 2020s. We learned to co-exist and maintain production despite persistence of the infection from the 1970s onwards by applying vaccination. So it should be with HPAI. This infection will never be eradicated and poses a threat of severe economic harm using current unsuccessful control measures.


 

Philippines Bans U.S. Imports from California and Ohio

01/21/2024

Based on diagnoses of highly pathogenic avian influenza in California and Ohio, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Philippines has banned importation of live poultry and products including meat and eggs effective January 15th or processed two weeks before diagnoses were made in the states concerned.

 

Importation by the 5th-ranked Philippines for first eleven months of 2023 amounted to 156,526 metric tons with a value of $163 million and at a unit price of $1,041 per metric ton, below the average value of $1,306 per metric tons for the period.    

 

This blanket ban of a U.S. state represents a 1980’s approach to prevention of highly pathogenic avian influenza.  Nations such as the Philippines should adhere to WOAH policies that recognize regionalization (zoning).  Banning of exports from entire states is not beneficial in terms of protecting flocks of the importing nation from a disease such as HPAI that is carried by migratory birds.  Importers should rely on certification of freedom from HPAI (avian influenza strains H5 and H7) as determined using PCR screening and zonal surveillance.

 

Unless the USDA-APHIS recognizes the realities of HPAI epidemiology relevant to the 2020’s and amends current regulations it will be impossible to demand or request concessions from importing nations.  APHIS currently labors under the misapprehension that HPAI could be eradicated through a program of flock depopulation. This conveniently ignores the reality of seasonal reintroduction by migratory waterfowl and marine birds.  This inappropriate approach to HPAI is exemplified by a ban on importation of poultry products from France following introduction of vaccination in that nation.  This is a totally illogical knee-jerk response conditioned by decades of misunderstanding and a disinclination to recognize the changing epidemiology of HPAI.

 

The Philippines will be no more protected against HPAI after the blanket California and Ohio bans than they were before their edict.  Bureaucrats believe in bans. No one was ever fired or censured for adhering to an obsolete policy. By adherence to the status quo bureacrats are absolved from having to question entrenched policies or to adapt to changing realities.


 

Minnesota Records Uptake of School Meals

01/17/2024

Following passage of Minnesota House Bill HF5 funding free universal meals, the State will serve an additional one million school lunches and breakfasts per month compared to January 2022. The editorial last week commented on the summer EBT program that provided an allowance of $40 per child over the three-month summer recess.  In addition, states offering or planning free or subsidized meals were mentioned.

 

Governor Tim Walz (D) noted, “In Minnesota we’re not splitting students into the have’s and have-not’s, we are feeding all our children and saving hard-working families thousands of dollars a year on our way to making Minnesota the best state to grow up in.”

 

The School Nutrition Association revealed that 87.4 percent of respondents to a recent survey in nine states reported an increase in school meal participation after free meal service was initiated.

 

School feeding is beneficial to all students since programs provide balanced nutrition.  Children from low-income households will benefit most through school feeding since they will be able to more adequately learn in the absence of hunger.   This in turn, will contribute to their future socio-economic advancement making them responsible and productive, members of the community.  School feeding should be regarded as an investment in the future, limiting subsequent expenditure by judicial and health systems.

 

In a similar approach, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will distribute $1 million to help 30 colleges in the state to alleviate food insecurity.  It is apparent that problems experienced by school children extend into community colleges and universities in the state.  The recipient colleges are members of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Hunger-Free Campus Initiative.  Governor Josh Shapiro commented, “Students of all ages learn best when they start the day with a full stomach and are better prepared to succeed when they have access to nutritious healthy food.”  He added, “This Administration fought for and delivered universal free breakfast in K-12 classrooms and this is why we are fighting against hunger on our college campuses.”  The problem of food insecurity on college campuses became apparent during the COVID period and persists to the present time.

 

School feeding is beneficial for recipients, administrations and ultimately for food producers including our industry.


 

Cost of U.S. HPAI Response

01/14/2024

In accordance with documents released, the USDA has spent $715 million on indemnity to integrators and growers since February 8th 2022.  In addition, $183 million has been expended to dispose of infected flocks and $130 million has been allocated to personnel and related costs.

 

The USDA draws funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), an Agency established by C in1933 during the depression to “stabilize, support and protect farm income and profit” Activities of the Agency are authorized under the CCC Charter Act of 1948. Use of funds to support control of a disease may or may not fall within the remit of the CCC that serves as a potentially bottomless piggy bank for the USDA but ultimately subject to Congress that has the option to increase the reserve of $30 billion. Requests for a financial transfusion may elicit opposition in both houses especially as some senators are opposed to intensive livestock production based on personal antipathy and environmental considerations. It is evident that HPAI is a panornitic, present on six continents and is both seasonally and regionally endemic in many nations including the U.S. Since prospects for eradication are remote, given that HPAI is introduced and disseminated by migratory marine birds and waterfowl, alternative modalities including vaccination should be considered in addition to biosecurity as a preventive measure.

 

EGG-NEWS has continuously advocated for adoption of preventive vaccination in high-risk areas and for susceptible segments of the industry including egg production and turkeys along the four U.S. flyways.  Vaccination can serve as a means of reducing the financial and production-related costs of the infection if applied with existing structural and operational biosecurity.  The obvious restraint of limited vaccination relating to export of broiler products may not be insurmountable. It will be necessary for importers to recognize the WOAH principle of regionalization (zoning) in addition to certification based on PCR assay, that flocks contributing to a consignment were free of infection at the time of processing.

 


 

Bill to Allow Sale of Raw Milk in Wisconsin

01/09/2024

Wisconsin, the “Nation's Dairyland”, has strong laws that prohibit sale of unpasteurized (raw) milk and forbids the direct sale to consumers of other than fluid milk conforming to Grade A. Currently all state dairy farmers are licensed with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

 

State representative, Elijah Behnke, has pre-filed Senate Bill 781 to allow for the sale of raw milk.  The proposed legislation would require quarterly sampling of milk only for coliforms and annual testing of the herd for tuberculosis and brucellosis. This is completely inadequate since a flick of a tail can contaminate an entire lactation with a range of pathogens at any milking.

 

Wisconsin has a lot at stake given that it is the largest producer of milk and inevitable outbreaks of milk-borne infection from unpasteurized dairy products will detract from the image of state producers. 

 

Regrettably, the sale of raw milk has become a “freedom issue” rather than a public health imperative.  In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covering 1993 through 2006, 121 outbreaks linked to dairy products were identified.  Areas where raw milk is sold legally have more than three times more outbreaks of bacterial infections than regions where the sale of raw milk is illegal or restricted.  Areas where raw milk is sold at retail had close to four times more outbreaks than areas where sales were restricted to farms.  This data relates to a period when raw-milk consumption was rare. More recent incidence rates of milk-borne infection are rising sharply in response to increased availability of raw milk.

 

As noted in a recent ProMED release, the CDC published a report in 2012* citing “121 foodborne outbreaks with 4,413 cases of reported illness caused by contaminated dairy products. Of these, 73 (60%) were involved with unpasteurized dairy products. A total of 65 (54%) involved cheese (42% made from unpasteurized milk) and 56 involved fluid milk (82% involved unpasteurized milk). In these outbreaks, Campylobacter spp. were responsible for 54% of the outbreaks, followed by Salmonella spp. (22%), E.coli (13%), Brucella spp. (4%), Listeria spp. (4%), and Shigella spp. (3%). Pasteurized milk can also transmit disease, and 48 outbreaks were reported. The source of contamination was reported in only 7 (14%) outbreaks, of which at least four resulted from post-pasteurization contamination by an infected food handler”. 

 

Infants and children are disproportionately affected by consuming raw milk and develop complications including hemolytic uremia syndrome that may be life-threatening or life-altering. 

 

There is epidemiologic evidence that liberalizing the sale of raw milk results in a higher incidence rate of milk-borne infections including salmonellosis, listeriosis, campylobacteriosis and colibacillosis.  It is estimated that less than one percent of dairy products, including fluid milk, are consumed as non-pasteurized.  The relative risk of acquiring a bacterial infection from raw milk is, therefore high.

 

What are legislators trying to achieve with their “freedom to infect” state legislation? Who will benefit? Are the non-existent claimed benefits for raw-milk worth the societal costs of treating and responding to outbreaks of inevitable milk-borne bacterial infection? Supplying raw milk to minors is essentially a form of child abuse.

 

*Ayers T, Grass J, et al. Nonpasteurized dairy products, disease outbreaks, and state laws -- United States, 1993-2006. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012; 18(3): 385-391;


 

Preventing Aerosol Transmission of Livestock and Poultry Diseases

12/31/2023

A recent review article* considered available and prospective technology intended to limit the introduction of viruses of livestock and poultry into housing by the aerogenous route. This article, although not providing any specific solutions to the current problem of HPAI, may stimulate creativity among agricultural engineers to adapt or modify available modalities.

 

Existing methods include filtration that has limitations with respect to fan capacity considering the volume of air that has to be moved to support large flocks. Application of HEPA filtration may be effective with small units housing specific pathogen-free stock or elite-level breeders.  Unfortunately, the ventilation requirements for a compartment of a house holding upwards of 100,000 laying hens requiring as much as 500,000 cubic foot per minute of air displacement at 0.25” swp. resistance could not function adequately with ultra high-efficiency filtration.

 

Emerging technologies include electrostatic precipitators with and without ultraviolet irradiation could in theory be used. Again, these systems are suitable for medical facilities, pharmaceutical and high-technology manufacturing plants but adaptation to poultry and hog housing is beyond current capability to achieve efficient destruction or inactivation of viruses.

 

Advanced technologies that may be used in industrial and medical applications again would be difficult to apply in livestock housing.  These include microwave inactivation and generation of reactive oxygen compounds.

 

The recognition that the virus responsible for HPAI can be transmitted by air entrained on dust particles suggests that some combination of filtration and electromagnetic inactivation could be possible.  Unfortunately, HPAI is very much an all-or-nothing situation.  Introduction of even a small quantum of virus into a susceptible, closely confined flock will result in propagation of the pathogen and the emergence of the disease.  Unfortunately a small quantum of virus does not produce only a limited infection.  Once introduced, the entire susceptible flock will be exposed and given the pathogenicity of H5 and H7 viruses, mortality in excess of 90 percent will occur. In reality authorities in most industrialized nations adopt a policy of depopulation immediately following a diagnosis. Recognition that HPAI is transmitted through air does not necessarily invalidate biosecurity since there are other more obvious routes of infection.  The converse is that even the most extreme biosecurity procedures approaching the envelope of practicality will not provide absolute protection in the event that a large quantity of virus is shed by migratory birds in the vicinity of a complex.

 

*Ouyang, H. et al. Control Technologies to Prevent Aerosol-Based Disease Transmission in Animal Agriculture Production Settings:  A review of established and emergent approaches.  Front.Vet.Sci.doi:10.3389/fvets.2023.1291312


 

Premature Optimism over HPAI Expressed by APHIS

12/26/2023

Dr. Rosemary Sifford, Chief Veterinary Officer for the USDA, recently commented on the declining number of recoveries of avian influenza virus from migratory birds.  According to the USDA data-base, 2,600 isolations were recorded in 2023 compared to 6,000 in 2022.  It is clear that the number of isolations is directly attributed to the intensity of surveillance but the rate of recovery at any comparable time and from a species in a region is the determinant factor relating to outbreaks.

 

Notwithstanding the prevalence in either mature birds or their progeny, outbreaks of avian influenza attributed to H5N1 strain  continue both with respect to numbers of commercial flocks affected but also the geographic spread involving all four U.S. Flyways.

 

Dr. Sifford considers that, “The viral load in the environment is less”  without substantiation for this opinion. To date the USDA has not published information on the possible genetic relationship among isolates from wild birds and from affected commercial flocks.  Molecular epidemiologic data is critical to an understanding of the source of viruses responsible for outbreaks in commercial flocks. The source is generally presumed to be migratory waterfowl based on temporal and spatial associations between migration and outbreaks. 

 

The critical question is how virus, apparently shed by migratory birds enters farms.  There are numerous cases in which large complexes with high standards of structural and operational biosecurity have been infected, accompanied by anecdotal evidence of airborne spread.  If in fact the virus can be disseminated over even short distances by the aerogenous route, higher standards of biosecurity will be ineffective in absolutely protecting flocks. 

 

With the realization of regional and seasonal endemicity and airborne infection, vaccination is obviously a necessary adjunct to biosecurity as a method to prevent HPAI and also to facilitate control.  Basing a prevention program on the hope that a decline in shed rate by migratory birds, is not a viable strategy. Free-living birds will continue to migrate either northbound or southbound annually, presumably shedding the current H5N1 strain or a mutation or alternatively a newly emerged influenza virus strain with altered pathogenicity or even zoonotic potential.


 

Wayne Hsiung of DxE to Raise Legal Issues Involving Intrusion in Appeal

12/12/2023

Wayne Hsiung the founder and leader of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) was convicted of a felony counts of conspiracy to trespass and was sentenced to 90-days in jail.  The charges arose from 2018 and 2019 intrusions at Reichardt Duck Farm and Sunrise Poultry Farm in Sonoma County, CA. 

 

 

Hsiung will base his appeal on California legislation providing Samaritans with the “right to rescue”.  Hsiung is no Samaritan, he is in fact a zealot.  The right to rescue law provided protection to citizens who respond appropriately to obvious situations such as a dog locked in a car in danger of dying hyperthermia within a short time unless released.

 

The actions taken by Hsiung, and his followers were premeditated, planned in advance, were intended to elicit publicity and in no way could have represented “rescue” for birds and flocks that were apparently not subjected to cruelty or were in imminent danger.  DxE supporters egged on by leaders such as Hsiung are willing to sacrifice their liberty in a cult-inspired series of demonstrations and farm intrusions.  Their actions effectively represent a win-win situation for the animal liberation movement.  If they “rescue” birds they are regarded as heroes.  When they suffer the inevitable retribution of the law they become martyrs. Either way they attract recruits and financial support.

 

If Hsiung places reliance on the contention that flocks on the two farms were subjected to cruelty he will be contradicted by dispassionate opinions offered by specialists in poultry production attesting to adherence to accepted standards of housing and management.  The appeal will be confined to matters of procedure and law not justification.  The videos submitted by DxE in the trial of Mr. Hsiung were disallowed by the Judge as being prejudicial.  This may represent grounds for either a reversal or for a retrial. Previous appeals have been granted based on First Amendment rights.

 

In a statement prior to sentencing, District Attorney Carla Rodriguez of Sonoma County stated, “The First Amendment is not a license to commit crime.  Mr. Hsiung went beyond mere activism and decided to engage in unlawful, reckless and potentially dangerous behavior putting farms, their employees and flocks of birds at risk of harm by his conduct.”

 

Within past weeks, both the multi-generation owned Reichardt Duck Farm (November 27th) with 169,000 birds and Sunrise Poultry Farm (December 7th) with 85,000 hens were diagnosed with HPAI and were depopulated.


 

State Legislators Calling for Support of Organic Dairy Production-Justified?

12/11/2023

Representatives and Senators from Maine, California and Wisconsin have called on the USDA to provide additional support for dairy farmers producing organic milk. Funding is required as producers face environmental and financial challenges. In the letter to the USDA signed by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) the legislators urged that $83 million in unspent funds should be made available through the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP).

 

The letter included “We must support the small family farms that are the foundation of the organic dairy industry and many of our rural economies.”  The letter added, “Whether it is updating the calculations for the program payment rate, initiating a sign-up for another year’s projected future marketing cost or some other mechanism to improve coverage results, the remaining funds dedicated for ODMAP should be distributed promptly.”

 

In 2022, USDA made available $104 million to organic dairy operations to maintain operations.  It is questioned whether public funds should be used to support what appears to be a non-viable industry.  It is evident that the cost of organic feed and other requirements to comply with the Certified Organic Program detract from attaining positive margins. This is a reflection of the pricing structure for organic dairy products given demand for the organic seal in competition with conventional milk and plant-based substitutes. If organic dairy farmers cannot make a profit they should revert to conventional dairy production or develop a suitable business model that does not require public support.  There is no nutritional or health benefit from organic milk over conventional milk and accordingly taxpayer funds should not be used to support a component of production that has a self-imposed cost burden. 

 

Producers of organic eggs have never requested support despite high prices for non-GMO feed and mandated outside access. Although organic eggs have a shelf price considerably higher than conventional cage-free equivalents, there is adequate consumer support to sustain this segment of the industry.  According to the December 1, 2023, USDA Cage-Free Report, the flock held for organic production has been fairly constant at 19 million hens for successive quarters.  This compares to 106 million hens held for cage-free production other than under the USDA Certified Organic Program.  Given a national producing flock of 320 million at present, organic hens represent six percent of the total industry.  Production appears to be in balance with demand but with limited scope for expansion. This is due to the cost of production mostly attributed to the non-GMO feed requirement that is devoid of any scientific substantiation and that effectively doubles the cost of production.

 

Collectively numerous small-scale organic dairy farmers are producing in excess of demand and accordingly there has to be rationalization and a contraction of supply. It is contrary to a free-enterprise economy for an inherently unprofitable and non-essential segment of livestock agriculture to be sustained by taxpayer support. So if USDA Secretary Vilsack disburses $83 million to needy organic dairy farmers, how long will it take before the constituents of the legislators concerned renew their Oliver Twist request of “please can I have some more”?  


 

USDA Regional Agricultural Promotion Program

12/05/2023

USDA will make available $300 million in funding to support new projects intended to open new markets and to expand existing markets under the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program. The intended allocation is from the $1.2 billion available over a five-year period from the Commodity Credit Corporation.

 

Secretary Vilsack stated, “It takes significant investment to open and develop new export markets and this new fund will be dedicated to helping provide start-up capital so that American exporters can diversify their markets and create new opportunities.”

 

Funding under the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program is available to agricultural trade organizations, U.S. agricultural cooperatives and state regional trade groups operating approved market development activities. In order to concentrate funding on new markets and opportunities, the nations of the E.U. and China, Canada, Mexico will be ineligible for funding.  In contrast, emphasis will be placed on Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.

 

Trade promotion involving undifferentiated commodities can evolve into an exercise of pushing a piece of string.  Commodities are purchased in a competitive market environment based on landed cost and the needs of the purchasing nation.  For many years, this commentator along with colleagues undertook promotional seminars in Asia and the Middle East on behalf of the American Soybean Association.  The premise was that promoting domestic production of eggs and broilers through technology transfer would create more viable poultry industries, creating a demand for soybeans.  In many cases, the information did, in fact, help develop industries in India, Pakistan, Thailand, China and the Middle East. The activities of speakers and experts did little to generate goodwill that translated to preferences for the U.S. Importers in host nations understandably sourced soybeans from the best available and cheapest supplier with FOB price, sea freight and seasonal availability being the principal determinants of the purchase decision. An unintended consequence of promotional activities was the inevitable decline in chicken exports to many countries that imposed barriers to imports to protect their emerging industries. The situation was further complicated when U.S. experts were sponsored by commodity associations to present programs on further-processing and packaging thereby creating competition for U.S. exporters in many regional markets. This was ironically to the detriment of the associations’ best customers, the U.S. domestic broiler industry.

Funding the promotion of an undifferentiated commodity by an association may create awareness for a product but this will not necessarily establish a preference for a national supplier. The major U.S. commodity associations have been unsuccessful in identifying superior attributes for GMO corn, soybeans or wheat or establishing quantifiable product differentiation for their commodities among the competing major world exporters.

 

Considerable progress has been made by industry organizations such as USAPEEC that together with USDA-APHIS have worked to remove artificial trade barriers and to update unrealistic regulations that represented restraints to trade.  Local product demonstrations and promotions have increased awareness and demand for turkey, duck and broiler products in Latin America and the Caribbean and in some cases in Asia. This is reflected in direct and indirect benefits for some segments of the industry.

 

 It is hoped that USDA will be able to monitor and quantify the effect of their “investment” in promotion.  Public funds are easy to disburse, especially when vast sums of money, that add to the national debt, are made available.  USDA intends that the regional agricultural promotion programs should be confined to nonprofits and commodity associations. A more effective and less expensive approach might be to grant tax concessions and other incentives to the private sector to stimulate exports.  At the end of the day, neither the U.S. Soybean Association nor the U.S. Grains Council actually sell a single bean or kernel. This is the province of the big five multinational agribusiness conglomerates responsible for the bulk of world trade in commodities. 

 

Is it the intention of the USDA through regional agricultural promotion programs simply to increase the sale of dairy products, endives or similar minor agricultural commodities to Costa Rica and other nations? Is the U. S. taxpayer going to recognize a return on the considerable amount to be assigned to this program? How will it be measured? Who will take responsibility if there is no positive return? Inquiring minds want to know!


 

Demise of Vertical Farming?

11/27/2023

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by AeroFarms and AppHarvest highlight the problems experienced by high-tech agriculture.  Along with similar companies, indoor cultivation of leafy greens offered the promise of year-round availability, proximity to high-density centers of consumption and freedom from pathogens. Profitability of vertical farming was based on over-optimistic assumptions of implementation and volumes of production coupled with inappropriate levels of consumer demand given high and non-competitive shelf prices. The exponential rise in vertical farming emerged from a concordance between enthusiastic proponents of high-tech agriculture and the desire of venture capital (VC) investors to generate high returns over short periods by disrupting existing production systems. Between aspiration and an overabundance of capital, the common sense evaluation of production costs and margins was ignored. Dr. Ari Ginsberg of New York University noted,  “VCs didn’t do their homework on the economics and how long it would take to reach profitability.” 

 

When this commentator visited a newly erected vertical farming operation in 2022 in an industrial complex adjacent to Atlanta Airport, the overwhelming impression was an inordinately high capital cost for equipment and installations required to create an environment suitable to propagate relatively low volumes of lettuce.  It was evident that a high level of technical knowledge was necessary to achieve production. Maintenance and operation of equipment was evidently incurring high variable costs and above all, considerable energy input was necessary to illuminate racks of plants and to constantly circulate aqueous solutions of liquid fertilizer.  The impression gained was that the enterprise represented technology for the sake of technology.  The product still required high labor input for packing. Containers of immature lettuce in PET clamshell packs were essentially less attractive and more expensive than far larger heads trucked to distribution centers from Arizona and California or derived from conventional greenhouses.

 

Escalation in the cost of energy and capital destroyed the validity of spreadsheets created three years previously when capital was assigned to many of the emerging enterprises.  Venture capital companies quickly soured on vertical agriculture, terminating cash spigots that maintained operations until promised scale of production could be achieved.

 

Some businesses in this aspect of intensive agriculture will survive and even prosper.  They are characterized as smaller operations, offering a diversity of products and enjoying close relationships with supermarket chains.  Survivors will concentrate on product quality and efficiency while maintaining a balance between traditional and high-tech systems.

 

In contrast, the egg industry has evolved over decades with adoption of technology consistent with practicality and an anticipation of profitability.  Certainly, mistakes have been made along the way including adoption of high-rise housing as a successor to lagoon systems. Storing manure in pits inevitably led to difficulties in current disposal in the face of increasing environmental restrictions.  High-rise housing also led to the emergence of SE as an industry problem.  Transition to multi-tier aviary housing was a response to the need to transition from conventional cages. Time will be required to overcome inherent difficulties in management of flocks and to establish whether the cost differential compared to conventional cages will be offset by higher unit revenue over the long term.

 

In order to feed burgeoning populations of the world, agriculture must adopt higher levels of efficiency through genetics and management while maintaining sustainability and compliance with environmental regulations.  Moving forward at a slower pace provides an opportunity to identify and correct unpredicted but inevitable difficulties and to adjust to market demands.  The rise and demise of vertical farming should serve as a lesson to agriculture limited by biological realties in addition to production and marketing pressures.


 

NY Attorney General Sues PepsiCo over Single-Use Plastic

11/22/2023

On November 15th National Recycle Day, the Attorney General of the state of New York Letitia James filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo alleging “harm to the public and the environment through single-use plastic packaging”.  The lawsuit is intended to restrain PepsiCo from the sale and distribution of products packed in single-use containers without adequate information to consumers.

 

The lawsuit is loosely based on the “Green Amendment” approved in New York in 2021 requiring that “each person shall have a right to clean air and water and to a healthful environment.”

 

Studies have disclosed that plastic waste along the Buffalo River in NY. contains a disproportionate amount of plastic waste derived from PepsiCo products.  This assertion is also supported by a 2018 study conducted by environmental activist organization Break Free From Plastic that determined that PepsiCo was the second most prevalent producer of branded plastic waste and was the top producer between 2020 and 2022.

 

The complaint alleges that PepsiCo “failed to warn the public or consumers of its potential to contribute to plastic pollution in waterways.” The New York attorney general states that PepsiCo uses refillable and returnable glass and plastic in international markets but has failed to use alternatives to single-use plastic in the U.S.

 

Documentation submitted to the Courts stated that PepsiCo established goals to incorporate recycled plastic but has made little progress in reducing virgin content.  In 2019 PepsiCo announced that first-use plastic would be reduced to 35 percent in bottles by 2025. It was stated that the company has made little progress in introducing recycled content and has adopted a policy of simply extending the year for compliance.

 

The nonprofit Beyond Plastics has called on Attorneys General of other states with problem of waterway pollution to take legal action against manufacturers using single-use plastic containers.

 

This action by the Attorney General of New York State has implications for the egg industry that uses both styrofoam and PET containers for eggs.  There is growing international and national concern over plastic pollution given recent findings that microplastics cause adverse health effects in addition to cleanup costs. Manufacturers of other than fiber and other biodegradable egg cartons should consider programs to recycle containers and to incorporate additional second-use plastic in the interest of health and sustainability.

 


 

USDA Continues to Disperse Funding to Underserved Communities

11/16/2023

In a November 9th release, USDA announced that $1.2 billion will be provided in loans and grants to rural cooperatives in 36 states and Puerto Rico.  The announcement was made by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during a roundtable with rural community and business leaders held in Colorado.  The $1.2 billion is intended to support 112 projects in diverse communities in 36 states.

 

In commenting on the grants, Vilsack stated, “The cooperative business model has been integral to rural advancement and the American economy and today accounts for more than two million jobs across the country.  The investments we are announcing today will ensure that cooperatives continue the important work of serving the unique needs of their communities.”

 

USDA provided examples of grants including a $10 million loan guarantee to build a hospital in Mohave County, AZ; a grant to Wayne-White County electric co-op to replace drainage water pumps to protect 9,000 acres of farmland from flooding and a grant to the Mississippi Minority Farmers Alliance to assist farmers to develop business plans among six counties.

 

The USDA under the present Administration regards loans and grants as “investments”.  In the business sense, this is an inappropriate definition since investment implies a tangible, financial return.

 

It is obviously too much to expect the USDA to account for the grants and loans in years to come quantifying benefits in terms of jobs created or increased productivity.  To equate giveaways with “investment” is a misnomer and distortion of reality.


 

Texas Vehicle Safety Inspections Ceases but with Ongoing Delays

11/02/2023

On September 20th, Governor Greg Abbott imposed a mandatory safety check on all semis crossing into the U.S. from Mexico at major border points of entry. The Texas Department of Public Safety was incapable of conducting brake and other safety inspections at a rate that would allow constant passage of vehicles and their northbound cargos. Delays exceeding a day were encountered, disrupting the flow of transport. The action by Texas added to cost and created a problem for manufacturers using just-in-time inventory control systems. Although the misdirected and mischievous program of obstruction was cancelled, following both diplomatic and industry intercession, it is estimated