Shane Commentary


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

05/24/2022

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

05/11/2022

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.

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Egg-News

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.

05/05/2022

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:-

 

Egg-News

  • 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

05/01/2022

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

04/27/2022

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

04/27/2022

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

04/15/2022

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

03/29/2022

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

03/27/2022

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

03/21/2022

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

03/17/2022

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

03/04/2022

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.

02/27/2022

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

02/24/2022

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

02/06/2022

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

02/01/2022

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 www.eggnutritioncenter.org. 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

01/30/2022

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

01/20/2022

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

01/17/2022

The Agriculture and Food Policy Center (AFPC) of the Texas A&M University System recently published a report entitled Economic Impact of Higher Fertilizer Prices on AFPC Representative Crop Farms. The Center evaluated the effect of higher fertilizer prices on 64 representative crop farms located in the Southeast, Southwest, Pacific, Midwest and High Plains states. 

 

It was determined that producers of feed grains would incur an average additional cost of $128,000 per farm with a mean of 3,178 acres under cultivation assuming incremental fertilizer cost will exceeding $40 per acre.  Some farmers growing rice and cotton will incur higher per-acre costs. The Report concluded “Given that the farm safety net is not designed to address rapidly rising costs of production, there are growing concerns in the countryside about the need for additional assistance.” 

 

The fertilizer supply situation has been exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Production of fertilizer and its components in Ukraine have been impacted by the war. Exports from Russia are subject to sanctions and restrictions.

 

The price of corn and soybeans, the major determinants of margins for eggs and poultry meat, are set by supply and demand. This prevents farmers from simply passing on additional costs to livestock and poultry producers.  Anticipated subsidies for row-crop farmers will ultimately be inflationary and add to the national debt.  Indirectly all taxpayers and our succeeding generations will contribute to the escalation in crop inputs including fertilizer.


 

FSIS Report on Inhumane Handling at Red Meat Establishments-Implications for USDA Support of “Small Abattoirs”

01/11/2022

On January 5th the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a list of 50 enforcement actions against establishments that were in violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act during 2021.  All but three of the citations were for small-scale meat packing establishments, lockers or plants using ritual slaughter and one meat laboratory operated by a Land Grant University. Three large plants received citations for violations involving improper supervision during stunning of hogs.

 

The 47 other citations resulting in suspension of operations involved egregious deviation from accepted practices for stunning mature cattle, calves or hogs.  Problems identified by FSIS inspectors included inappropriate equipment, lack of training and supervision and non-compliance with standard procedures resulting in extreme cruelty.

 

The problem of inappropriate stunning and slaughter of livestock in small abattoirs should be considered in the context of the USDA program to expand processing of red meat.  Attempts to reduce the dominance of the four major meat packers will require considerable expenditure of public funds. This will inevitably be associated with unintended consequences. It is hoped that in planning for the proposed expansion of facilities that the various agencies within the USDA will coordinate their activities to ensure that standards of buildings, equipment, training of personnel and inspection match existing large plants as the program, stated to cost $1 billion is implemented.


 

Minnesota Legislators Question Mayo Clinic Policy on COVID Vaccination

01/03/2022

A group of 38 legislators representing one party in the Minnesota Legislature addressed a letter to the management of the Mayo Clinic questioning the necessity of a COVID vaccination mandate. In response, the Mayo Clinic that has vaccinated 99 percent of employees in all positions noted:-

 

“Beyond the ability to require vaccination, Mayo Clinic has a moral imperative to do so.  Our staff provide care to transplant patients, cancer patients, immunocompromised patients, and some of the most medically vulnerable people in the world.  These patients deserve the safety of vaccinated staff to care for them during a global pandemic. Mayo Clinic requires vaccination of our staff because it is the right thing to do for our patients and our community.  Our vaccine requirement reflects the best available science.” The response also noted that the Mayo Clinic grants exemptions from the requirements in accordance with law.

 

The response by the Mayo Clinic to legislators encapsulates justification for requiring, but not mandating vaccination by management of enterprises where large numbers of workers are required to function in close proximity.

 

It is emphasized that EGG-NEWS is not in favor of mandates.  Those who wish to protect themselves, their families and their communities have in all probability received COVID vaccines.  Of a sample of non-vaccinated respondents to a recent survey, 48 percent indicated that nothing would convince them to be vaccinated. Mandates only make martyrs of the ill- informed and the intransigent. 

 

Incentives, as offered by many retailers and food producing companies, including Tyson Foods, are more productive.  Some companies have adopted both a carrot and stick requiring non vaccinated employees to be tested at regular intervals at their own expense thereby imposing a financial burden on noncompliance.  Given the emergence of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, responsible for higher rates of infection, the need to vaccinate as high a proportion of the population as possible is self-evident.  Although breakthrough infections occur following complete vaccination (a course of two priming mRNA vaccines followed by a third booster) clinical effects are mild with a low probability of hospitalization.  Those admitted to hospitals and ICU wards  and fatalities from COVID are overwhelmingly among the non-vaccinated with a ten-fold probability of admission and a seventeen-fold risk of death.

 

At the end of the day, COVID is a public health situation and is not a political issue.


 

FDA Approves Drug Treatment for COVID

12/30/2021

On December 22nd the Food and Drug Administration approved Paxlovid™ to treat early cases of COVID.  The regimen comprises two tablets of inmatrelvir an antiviral and one tablet of ritonavir that serves as potentiator.  The three pills are taken together twice daily for up to five consecutive days.  The cost of treatment is $530 per patient. This obviously compares unfavorably with a protective series of three mRNA vaccines at approximately $20 each. Pfizer will be able to make available sufficient doses to treat 65,000 patients immediately with 200,000 treatment courses during January 2022.  It is emphasized that Paxlovid is for treatment of clinical cases of COVID and is not a preventive drug. 

 

With this FDA approval, non-vaccinated patients facing hospitalization and possible intubation in an ICU ward will have available a scientifically proven treatment.  This will obviate the demands and threats by both patients and relatives for physicians to administer inappropriate and in some cases deleterious drugs including ivermectin a veterinary anti-parasitic and the now discredited hydoxychloroquine, a drug to prevent malaria as a therapeutic agent.

 

Although cases of COVID are surging in the U.S. due to the introduction of the Omicron variant, hospitalization rates are not increasing in direct proportion, attributed to the reality that Omicron may be less pathogenic than the Delta variant that previously predominated in the U.S.  Unfortunately additional cases due to the more infectious Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 will translate eventually into higher hospital admissions but not necessarily fatalities.  The approval of Paxlovid™ and other drugs to follow will allow for home treatment and presumably reduce the demand for admissions to hospitals that currently are close to maximum capacity.

 

EGG-NEWS urges those not yet vaccinated to receive a protective series and to exercise commonsense procedures to avoid infection. For those who have received the third booster dose, masking in public, testing in the event of symptoms or before travel, are recommended by public health authorities. We must as a Nation raise the level of population immunity to suppress COVID and restore our economy and pre-COVID way of life.

 


 

Seaboard Foods to Withdraw from California Market

12/28/2021

Following the implementation of California Proposition #12, Seaboard Foods will no longer be in a position to supply pork products to the state since the Company will not comply with space requirements that would prevent the use of gestation crates.  Seaboard Foods produces 7.2 million hogs annually.  California represents 15 percent of total U.S. pork consumption according to the National Pork Producers Council.  Members of meat-producing organizations maintain “it would cost pork producers billions of dollars to convert (breeding) barns to meet Proposition#12 standards.”

 

 In a related announcement, Hormel Foods Corporation will fully comply with the law having initiated conversion of gestation stalls to group housing a number of years ago in a structured program of transition.  Previously Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods announced changes in their housing and management in anticipation of Proposition #12 and similar state laws and regulations.

 

It is a matter of record that the U.S. egg industry has converted close to one-third of production from conventional cages to alternative systems and has complied with both California Proposition #2 enacted in 2008 and California Proposition #12 adopted in 2018.

 

To date challenges to Proposition #12 have been turned down by courts that have rejected the contention that regulations framed in terms of Proposition #12 violate the Interstate Commerce Clause. The Ninth Circuit rejected challenges by the North American Meat Institute in October 2020 and litigation initiated by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau litigation at the end of July 2021.

 

Some industry organizations intend to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and have attempted to revive the dubious King Amendment intended to enjoin any state from restricting methods of livestock production.  A proposed bill entitled Exposing Agriculture Trade Suppression Act (EATS) is unlikely to be enacted given conflicts with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and existing welfare legislation in states.

 

The pork industry should recognize that with respect to gestation crates, the train has long since left the station.  Customers including major QSR and restaurant chains have already decided where and how their money will be spent and both legal and lobbying efforts to turn back the clock will be unsuccessful especially in the age of YouTube and the internet. Perhaps some institutional shareholders of Seaboard representing 18 percent of the equity will question the wisdom of the response to California Proposition #12. Given the 78 percent insider shareholding the Board considers that the Company is immune from criticism or that it can afford to forgo the market in California and many other states with similar legislation pending. Or maybe they are unfamiliar with King Canute.


 

Is the FDA Sidestepping the Health Implications of of Irrigated Produce?

12/12/2021

Forced to confront widespread annual outbreaks of foodborne infection associated with leafy greens grown in the Yuma Valley of Arizona and the Imperial Valley of California, the FDA mandated regular assay of irrigation water for the presence of pathogens.  These included E.coli O:157 and Salmonella derived from the runoff from CAFOs entering irrigation canals. Growers complained that the testing protocol was expensive and inconvenient.

According to Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response of the FDA, the Agency will develop a new rule based on an annual assessment of risks with implementation of corrective action.  The proposed rule will however require monitoring of irrigation water with appropriate mitigation in the event of contamination.  Growers will be required to assess risks including potential for contamination by CAFOs, weather patterns, topography, and sunlight in a science-based assessment.


Vertical Farming

 

The proposed FDA rule will not address the basic reality that CAFOs and irrigated green produce are spatially incompatible and the problem of contamination of irrigation water cannot be simply eliminated by the frequency of testing. Since the FDA was assigned the responsibility of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, leafy greens producers are now eleven years beyond the intended date of action with every likelihood of repeated outbreaks attributed to field-cultivated leafy greens.

 

 

 

It is inevitable that more vertical farming using advanced technology including hydroponics will become a greater contributor to national demand. The potential premium for produce devoid of contamination with pesticides and pathogens will offset higher initial capital investment. Advantages of alternatives to row cropping include enhanced sustainability, year-round cultivation and the potential for mechanization and robotics saving labor. 


 

China Reports HPAI in Migratory Shelducks

12/08/2021

In past months China has repeatedly reported isolation of H5N1 avian influenza from migratory species, including cranes and shelducks. These birds, among others have been implicated in long-distance dissemination of avian influenza.

 

It is considered ironic that China reports outbreaks of avian influenza in free-living species but apparently does not encounter cases in commercial poultry.  It is question whether this is due to failure to report outbreaks of H5 and H7 avian influenza, irrespective of pathogenicity, as required by the World Organization for Animal Health or is due to an extraordinarily comprehensive and effective vaccination program to protect both commercial and subsistence flocks.


Common Shell Duck. Tadorna tadorna

 

Dichotomy over COVID in Canadian Mink

11/29/2021

The Province of British Columbia has decided to initiate a phase-out of mink production in April 2023 with complete closure of the industry within two years.  The decision was based on public health concerns and will affect nine farms in the Fraser Valley with a collective population of 320,000 mink.

 

In contrast, Nova Scotia is allowing COVID vaccination on a restricted emergency-use basis under supervision of Veterinarians.  The Province of Nova Scotia is offering funding to 24 licensed producers with twelve having received U.S. $650,000 in support, despite the fact that profitability of mink production is declining with only China serving as a market for pelts. This demand could evaporate at the snap of President Xi’s finger if wearing mink is regarded as ‘unpatriotic’.

 

There is considerable opposition to mink farming in Canada that has 70 licensed units.  Dr. Scott Weese, a veterinarian specializing in infectious diseases, affiliated to the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, supported the decision of health authorities in British Columbia.  Dr. Weese maintains that mink that are susceptible to respiratory infections including COVID hav a high probability of developing new strains as has occurred in the EU.  He clearly summarizes the situation as “we have a plausible risk and we have pretty minimal benefits apart from a small number of farmers.”

 

Although the National Mink Association has raised a number of fatuous arguments to support continued mink farming, science is on the side of eliminating this public health risk.  The Mink Association pointed to the fact that a number of domestic cats have been diagnosed with COVID and it is well documented that felines in zoos have contracted SARS-CoV-2 from staff.  The difference between individual and mostly solitary felines and mink lies in the large number, close proximity, and concentration on a commercial farm.  These are conditions that can lead to the emergence of new strains, irrespective of vaccination.  There is sufficient clinical and epidemiologic evidence that vaccinated humans can be reinfected, although they do not suffer the extreme clinical effects, such as requiring hospitalization and even death compared to non- vaccinated individuals.  Vaccination may well suppress clinical signs in mink housed on farms, but virus will continue to circulate with the potential of mutation and the possibility of a more virulent strain emerging. There are a lot more Greek letters after Omicron!

 

Clearly the Canadian Mink Breeders’ Association is fighting a rearguard action with lower demand and falling prices for pelts.  This is clearly a time to eliminate commercial multiplication of mink and eliminate a potential human health hazard since the product is essentially an unnecessary luxury with few producers involved.

 


 

Salmonellosis from Backyard Chickens Continues

11/22/2021

In a November 18th release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented an increase in cases of salmonellosis in the ongoing outbreak attributed to contact with backyard chickens.  From January 1st of the current year, 1,135 cases were recorded in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Only 13 cases were confirmed in January and February, but reports rose sharply thereafter from April through August.  Of those infected, 273 were hospitalized and two fatalities were attributed to the outbreak.

 

A variety of serotypes were isolated including S.Enteritidis, Hadar, Indiana, Infantis, Mbandaka, and Muenchen.  The CDC noted that the number of actual infections far exceeds the documented level since many affected patients either do not seek medical attention or are treated symptomatically without laboratory investigation.  It is noteworthy that 24 percent of the cases occurred in children under five years of age and 12 percent were under 12 months.  Of 677 patients interviewed, 66 percent reported direct contact with backyard poultry before onset of symptoms.  Chicks and ducklings for backyard flocks are purchased from feed stores or are ordered directly from small hatcheries.  The CDC recorded 264 separate purchases from 150 locations with 17 hatcheries involved.

 

Recovery and collation of data from as many as 48 states, DC, and Puerto Rico is only possible using the PulseNet system to identify cases that are then entered into the national database including the results of whole genome sequencing.  State public health officials demonstrated commonality among infective strains in patients and their poultry in Ohio, California, Arizona, and Maryland.

 

Of the 1,112 samples subjected to laboratory examination 35 percent were predicted to be resistant to one or more antibiotics used for human therapy including ampicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.  Despite the CDC publishing advisories and recommending procedures including hand-washing it is impossible to prevent transmission of Salmonella from backyard poultry in their environment to residents of homes including children.  Backyard poultry are inappropriate as pets and yield very expensive potentially contaminated eggs.

 

The cookie-cutter recommendations provided by the CDC to prevent salmonellosis sourced from backyard flocks and eggs are obviously not followed or are inadequate given the increasing incidence of infection.


 

VSD is Probably Unacceptable to Consumers

11/18/2021

The COVID outbreak disrupted operations of red meat plants during the first quarter of 2020,  extending through May with an effective reduction in plant capacity of over 50 percent due to absenteeism among line workers. This resulted in temporary closure of 38 Midwest plants and with reduced throughput after resuming operations.  The hog industry was especially impacted with farms unable to consign market-ready animals to slaughter.  As a consequence, hog producers resorted to mass euthanasia.  Ventilation shutdown with supplementary temperature and humidity was evaluated and documented in a recent peer-reviewed article1. A field trial of ventilation shut-down (VSD) demonstrated that the duration required to achieve death in a herd could be interpreted by a reasonable consumer to represent “extreme suffering”. The American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines for Depopulation of Animals requires any method of mass-euthanasia such as VSD to achieve 95 percent mortality of a flock or herd within an hour. This is a questionable and somewhat self-serving standard inconsistent with public perceptions of welfare-ethics and humanity.

 

The authors of the article cannot be criticized in either their attempt to achieve rapid euthanasia under extreme conditions nor with their forthright publication of the documented field trial. The article elicited two contributions in the form of letters to the Editor indicating that VSD was morally unacceptable especially for hogs whether at the nursery or finishing stage together with a response from the authors.

 

Trials using mature hens were conducted at North Carolina State University in a chamber to determine the physiological effect of various combinations of carbon dioxide, temperature and duration simulating VSD.  This work was motivated by the need to euthanize flocks of caged hens during the 2015 highly pathogenic avian influenza epornitic.  Anecdotal reports of high mortality in caged hens resulting from accidental power failure or extreme heat suggests that caged flocks are susceptible to hyperthermia with some episodes resulting in up to 70 percent mortality within 90 minutes.

 

Despite studies on combinations of heat, temperature and carbon dioxide under experimental or small-scale conditions there is no effective, practical or morally acceptable method of mass euthanasia for caged laying flocks.  A similar situation would apply to aviary systems irrespective of whether flocks are allowed floor access or are confirmed to modules.  The use of carbon dioxide foam is effective and humane in floor housed broiler and turkey flocks. For slat and litter housing producing cage-free eggs it will be necessary to herd and confine hens to the litter area. 

 

Protests over mass euthanasia required to control highly pathogenic avian influenza in 2015 were relatively muted.  It is predicted that in the event of a future outbreak, there will be considerable opposition to VSD for chicken flocks.  Recognizing the practical problems of VSD and its relatively inhumane consequences, USPOULTRY has called for proposals to achieve mass euthanasia that would presumably be more acceptable to consumers and regulators.  Anecdotal reports suggest that toxic compounds including organophosphates have been added to drinking water to dispose of flocks rapidly and with less stress than would be induced by VSD.  Until a suitable compound can be identified, the industry and those responsible for control of catastrophic diseases will be obliged use manual labor and kill-carts or alternatively some mechanized version of hypercapnic euthanasia. Prototype mobile equipment has been demonstrated but application still requires transfer of hens from cages to a receiving hopper.

 

The application of VSD is fraught with public relations implications.  Not only will individual companies be subjected to extensive criticism in this age of the internet and 24-hour news cycle, degradation of brand value and consumer rejection of table eggs will be inevitable. These consequences will have even greater long-term financial impact than that caused by the disease for which Federal compensation is anticipated.

 

1.Baysinger, A. et al. (2021). A case study of ventilation shutdown with the addition of high temperature and humidity for depopulation of pigs. J. Am Vet Med Assoc. 259: 415-424


 

National Retail Federation Opposing Federal COVID Vaccination Mandate

11/08/2021

The National Retail Federation has issued a response to the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure workers are either vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID.

 

David French the Senior Vice President for Government Relations stated, "as an industry that supports one in four American jobs, retailers have consistently requested that the Administration consider public comment on this new vaccine mandate". The National Retail Federation has adopted a self-serving position opposing mandates and has lobbied intensely against the vaccination requirement. The Federation is a party to a recent petition to the U.S. Federal Appeals Court for the 5th Circuit to stay the implementation of the Administration mandate.

 

Workers in the retail industry must be protected from infection and at the same time should not be in a position to transmit virus to coworkers and customers. Most retail workers spend their day in air-conditioned stores facilitating transmission of a virus spread by the aerosol route.  Although the National Retail Federation cited declining incidence rates of COVID to justify their opposition to vaccination, the disease is far from eradicated, and the U.S. will continue to experience regional spikes in infection.  The higher the proportion of immunized individuals in a given population the lower the probability of a resurgence in cases.

 

The National Retail Federation is obviously concerned over absenteeism and resignations that will impact an already depleted work force.  This is no justification to oppose a sound and proven method of protecting communities from a disease that has serious implications for the elderly and the immunosuppressed.

 

If companies such as Tyson Foods can vaccinate 96 percent of their line workers by offering incentives, bonuses and convenience in receiving the vaccine, the National Retail Federation should look within its membership to determine how best to protect its workers.  Surges in COVID will result in even greater absenteeism and were still a stay-at-home response by consumers further impacting retail stores and the national economy. It would be appropriate for the executive for the National Retail Federation to carefully consider their position and adopt a more realistic and longer-term perception of this COVID situation.

 

This said blanket mandates are unfortunately self-defeating in the politicized atmosphere of 2021. Those who are willing to be protected readily submit to vaccination. Employees who are offended by a mandate, considering it a violation of their rights or who are influenced by anti-vax misstatements and falsehoods, will be even less likely to be vaccinated. All citizens are entitled to their opinions but not necessarily their facts. At the end of the day the Courts will decide whether there is a Constitutional right to disseminate an infection to co-workers and the community. This issue was the subject of Jacobson v. Massachusetts:  197 U.S. 11, a 1905 ruling on the right of states to mandate smallpox vaccination for employees of a school system. The suppression of COVID is a public health issue and not a political contest.


 

Avocado Glut in Australia—Lessons for Egg Industry?

11/04/2021

A recent article by Michael Miller, the Sydney correspondent for the Washington Post recently described the plight of farmers in Queensland State who are the victims of concurrent overproduction and diminished demand.  During the late-2000s avocados became a staple in salads and as a snack in Australia especially among the young high-income demographic.

 

Responding to anticipated growing demand, farmers planted acreage to avocado orchards and invested in irrigation and harvesting equipment. Many of these trees matured over the past four years and yielded bountiful crops in 2020 after a prolonged drought. It is estimated that production in 2020 increased by 65 percent over the average of the previous two years. In an unfortunate case of timing, demand crashed as authorities imposed strict COVID shut-down regulations carrying over into 2021.

 

Farmers are now faced with a glut of ripe and highly perishable fruit with a farm-gate market price of less than 20 percent of unit value pre-COVID. The response by many farmers is to bear losses from current prices and hope for a restoration in future value. We have seen this movie previously. Currently excess fruit is being dumped as surplus to consumer requirements.

 

The lessons from the situation in Australia are:-

  • To be conservative in predicting demand. Although an event such as COVID could not be foreseen, Australia, as the home of the Black Swan, illustrates the effect of external factors on an industry. Examples for egg producers could be a widespread outbreak of HPAI or END that would raise prices for those avoiding infection. The advent of plant-based alternatives to eggs has not proven to be deleterious and mung-bean products are not even the cygnets of Black Swans
  • Further processing adds value. While farmers are squashing harvested fruit onto pasture with tractor tires, considerable value could be recovered by extracting avocado oil or incorporating unsold or unprofitable raw fruit into prepared foods or cosmetics. Innovation is the best response to adversity but requires vision and planning
  • Export of avocados and derived products, especially if a brand image is established through promotion of quality. Producers in New Zealand did just this with kiwis. With a small population, producers of avocados in Australia were always vulnerable to any disturbance of the equilibrium between supply and demand. Injudicious expansion was a self-inflicted wound. Producers also took for granted continued domestic demand based on consumption by a demographic subject to trends and fads and with distribution through casual dining restaurants a very restricted end point with respect to volume.
  • Accurate data regarding expansion of orchards and hence future production, coupled with transparency in price discovery are critical to rational decisions on investment and allocation of resources to a crop or livestock system.  

 

Without resorting to Schadenfreude, that unique Teutonic capacity to derive comfort from the misfortunes of someone else, our egg industry could apply some lessons from the avocado glut in Australia.


 

Supply Chain Remediation

10/18/2021

On Wednesday October 13th, the White House convened a meeting of business leaders, directors of major ports and union representatives. The purpose was to review the deteriorating situation in U.S. ports resulting in disruption in supply chains that has now assumed serious proportions with political implications for the Administration.

 

Following extensive discussions, the White House announced both public and private commitments including 24/7 operation at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  These facilities represent the points of entry for 40 percent of containers to the U.S.  Despite moving an additional 25 percent of containers above the volume handled in September 2020, West-coast port facilities are overwhelmed and ships are waiting at anchorage to be berthed.  The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed that its membership will work extra shifts to clear backlogs.  Major companies will expand hours over which their shipments can be received.  Night transport from docks and into distribution centers is invariably more efficient than during daylight hours.

 

Individual company commitments include Walmart that has accepted night-time operation for distribution centers with UPS committing to 24/7 operation and data sharing. FedEx will increase their night-time operations. Home Depot will move an additional 10 percent of containers using off-peak hours and Target is moving half of its containers at night to enhance delivery rates.  It is anticipated that the combined efforts of these companies will move an additional 3,500 containers per week with the initiative extending through the remainder of 2021.

 

Walmart, Home Depot Inc., Costco Wholesale Corporation and Target Corp have each chartered smaller vessels carrying up to 10,000 containers at prices frequently double that for a large container carrier. In 2012 individual companies including Walmart last used chartered vessels during West-coast port strikes. Large companies have the ability to make alternative shipping arrangements but small and intermediate-scale retailers will be deprived of goods for the holiday season.

 

During the past month freight rates from China to West-coast ports have dropped by almost 50 percent partly due to reduced production attributed to power shortages and cancellation of orders which has taken immediate pressure off shipping companies.  The problem of available containers to consign agriculture products including fruit to Asia still exists as shipping companies are retuning empty containers to ports in China and Vietnam. China continues to delay operations in their ports based on the unnecessary requirement to test crew members for COVID before allowing vessels to dock causing delays of up to seven days.

 

The 30 percent increase in demand in the U.S. for manufactured products from Asia coupled with inherent inefficiencies exacerbated by COVID has created the supply chain problem. For similar reasons Europe has also experienced congestion in ports and shortages on store shelves.

 

Over the intermediate term the U.S. will have to address inefficiencies in port operations, many of which relate to extortionist union demands. Complementary considerations include the availability of long-distance drivers and vehicles, enhancing coordination and logistics and reducing dependence on just-in-time management of inventory. With higher costs for ocean shipping and land-transport and with the financial consequences of disruptions in supply, it is time for U.S. manufacturers to reconsider on-shoring where possible with greater use of automation and robotics to offset labor costs.


 

Improvement in COVID Data

10/11/2021

For the week ending Friday October 8th, the seven-day average of new COVID infections fell to 99,669 compared to 152,400 per day for the first week of September.  Hospitalizations declined from 101,700 in September to 68,700 during the first week in October.  Fatalities, a lagging indicator, were slightly higher with 2,426 dying of COVID per day, compared to 2,226 in early September.  To date confirmed cases of COVID have risen to 44.2 million with 710,500 confirmed fatalities. Both figures are in all probability underestimates.

Notwithstanding the ongoing unacceptable incidence rate of COVID, at least 35 percent of our population has not been vaccinated with a high concentration of those hesitant or rejecting vaccination resident in southern and northwestern states.  COVID is unfortunately now regarded as a political issue whereas it should be a matter of public health concern. Control and eventual eradication should be subject to the application of scientific principles and recommendations by the medical community and not politicians or talk-show media.

 

 

It is axiomatic that until COVID is controlled, the economy will be fettered by a patchwork of restrictions of fluctuating intensity. Continual bickering by politicians on both sides of the issue of protective measures including vaccination, masking and common sense precautions has been unproductive. Simply denying the existence of COVID is illogical and an affront to the reality of over 710,000 deaths to date.

 

As a nation we are making progress in controlling COVID but the action we have taken to suppress the infection should be intensified in coming months since co-morbidities with possibly influenza and other respiratory viruses including RSV may result in spikes in mortality especially among our fellow citizens with predisposing conditions including the elderly, the obese and the immunosuppressed.

 

Fortunately we will soon have emergency use authorization of mRNA vaccines at an appropriate dose for children aged 5 through 12.  As with adult vaccination, the challenge will be to assure parents of the safety and effectiveness of vaccination.  Rising incidence rates as children have returned to school, coupled with hospitalization and unnecessary mortality should stimulate acceptance of vaccination demonstrated to be the simplest and most effective method of controlling the infection.


 

Merck Molnupiravir Anti-COVID Drug – An Additional String to the Bow?

10/06/2021

Merck has developed a specific antiviral drug that prevents the replication of SARS-CoV-2 when administered early in the course of COVID infection.  The company announced the results of a clinical trial involving 175 participants in a double-blind study.  Recipients of the drug that is administered orally required only half the rate of hospitalization and prevented mortality compared to controls receiving a placebo.  In contrast there were eight deaths in the placebo cohort.

 

Dr. Robert Davis, president and CEO of Merck stated, “With these compelling results, we are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic.”  He added that Merck will expand all possible efforts to increase production” Merck anticipates releasing 10 million courses each of 10 capsules by the end of 2021.  With an incidence rate of 125,000 cases per day, the U.S. would theoretically require approximately 12 million courses during the fourth quarter if the drug is widely prescribed. 

 

Wendy Holman, CEO of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, co-developer of the drug noted, “With the virus continuing to circulate widely, and because therapeutic options currently available require infusion and access to a healthcare facility, antiviral treatments that can be taken at home and that will keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital are critically needed.”

 

Subject to FDA emergency use approval, the U.S. Government will purchase 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion.  This computes to $706 per treatment less expensive than monoclonal antibody infusions at about $1,250. Both treatments are still far more expensive than vaccination at approximately $25 per dose.  Administration of molnupiravir will require testing that will add to the expense. 

 

Molnupiravir as an antiviral drug is no panacea for COVID but has a definite application for non-vaccinated individuals, especially in high-risk groups who become infected.  In considering both the economic and societal implications of a therapeutic drug, should the U.S. Government pay $750 to protect an individual who declined a $25 vaccination that would have kept them out of a hospital? Other questions relating to an oral virucidal drug include the inevitability of inappropriate or repeated use by the non-vaccinated, the emergence of resistance by strains of influenza virus as occurred with oseltamivir at $100 per course at out-of-pocket cost and strengthening of anti-vaccine sentiment.

 

Speculators who sold Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) on Friday October 1st driving down  share prices by 13.6 and 14.2 percent respectively and boosting Merck (MRK) by 9.6 percent reacted to gut feel and sentiment without thinking through the issue.


 

COVID Vaccination Mandates Increase Compliance

10/06/2021

On August 5th the State of California issued an order requiring workers in healthcare facilities including hospitals and long-term care homes to receive an approved vaccination against COVID unless in possession of medical or religious exemption. 

 

The response to the order has encouraged vaccine-hesitant healthcare workers to receive protection.  Sutter Health based in Sacramento reported a 98 percent compliance rate on September 30th.  Approximately 92 percent of all employees and 97 percent of providers were vaccinated comprising a group of 55,000. Dr. William Isenberg, chief quality and safety officer for Sutter Health stated, “Vaccine against COVID-19 is critical to protect healthcare workers, their loved ones and communities they care for and we strongly encourage those who can be vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.”

 

Dr. John Swartzberg of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley stated, “Mandates are working, if you define this by the percentage of people getting vaccinated and not leaving their jobs.” The California mandate is similar to the New York State requirement issued on September 22nd.  The Administration is requiring 17 million healthcare workers and facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid support to be vaccinated.

 

Notwithstanding the scientific justification for vaccination with undeniable proof of effectiveness and safety, a number of healthcare providers have applied for medical, religious and conscientious exceptions from vaccination.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion.  Accordingly accommodation is required for employees that have sincere religious objections to vaccination.  Generally the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a broad interpretation of ‘religious belief’.  This may include moral or ethical views that are held personally with the strength of traditional religious values. The EEOC has established criteria to determine whether an employee holds sincere views that would support a decision to reject vaccination against COVID.

 

Data assembled to date does not indicate any appreciable number of resignations from healthcare facilities among employees declining to be vaccinated.  Inconvenience and expense associated with proscribed regular testing and peer pressure should encourage compliance. Regrettably any reduction in workforce especially in critical areas of hospital operation will intensify the pressure on existing workers who are dealing with incident and unnecessary cases since more than 95 percent of admissions are in previously non-vaccinated patients.


 

Walmart ESG and Sustainability Goals

09/28/2021

Walmart announced that a $2 billion green bond will be part of a $7 billion senior unsecured note that the company has successfully closed.  Proceeds will be used to advance Walmart sustainability goals that include achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 across global operations, electrifying vehicles to eliminate emissions and to install low-impact refrigeration systems for all facilities by 2040.  The current year represent the fourth year of project Gigaton™ that is intended to avoid one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

 

Proceeds from the bond will be directed towards:

  • Renewable energy projects to avoid using fossil fuel
  • Sustainable transport using electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles through the entire supply chain
  • Modifying buildings for optimal energy efficiency
  • Attaining zero waste including closed-loop material flows
  • Conservation of water including monitoring, treatment and recycling
  • Restoration of habitat and conservation on all facilities

 

As Walmart does, so follows the industry.  As a major retailer, Walmart will influence decisions by competitors.  It is self-evident that standards imposed by Walmart will be extended to suppliers.  The purchasing power of the company will be applied to first encourage and then demand compliance with company ESG standards.  The egg industry is accordingly on notice to monitor Walmart sustainability reports and to mirror innovations and actions by the company.  Areas of concentration will include packaging, transport to DCs, evidence of environmental stewardship including water and land resources and the use of renewable energy.