Shane Commentary


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.


 

FACT Sues Wendy's Company Over Cage-Free Claim

09/20/2021

In 2016, Wendy's along with most restaurants and QSRs were coerced by HSUS into announcing that eggs and egg products served in their restaurants would be derived from non-cage hens by 2020.

 

On September 9th Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) sued the Wendy's company in the D.C. Superior Court claiming misrepresentation by the company that claims is alleged to derive only five percent of eggs from other than conventional cages.  The plaintiff FACT is demanding that Wendy's conform to the Consumer Protection Procedures Act with respect to DC consumers.  In the complaint, FACT represented by Richman Law and Policy, claimed that Salmonella rates are higher in caged facilities compared to other housing systems.  The scientific justification for this assertion is questioned and relates to prw-2010 data before introduction of the FDA Final Rule on Prevention of Salmonella and effective EQAPs.  Regrettably epidemiologic data is skewed by the single outbreak perpetuated by Jack DeCoster. The 2010 recall involving eggs derived from his Iowa operation may be regarded as an aberration and not representative of the U.S. egg industry.

 

Harry Rhodes, Executive Director of FACT stated, "by representing its animal welfare program is ‘industry-leading’ and claiming its egg suppliers provide space and opportunities for animals to interact with their environment, Wendy's deceives the majority of consumers who care about animal welfare". 

 

Irrespective of claims relating to consumer policies and safety, FACT is promoting a vegan agenda and uses the legal system to generate funding and to oppose all forms of intensive livestock production. Irrespective of the outcome of the case animal rights activists and vegan organizations will continue to misuse the legal system to threaten the food industry with reputational disparagement to achieve their objectives.


 

Would COVID Vaccine Deniers Refuse a Smallpox Vaccine When Faced with an Outbreak?

09/15/2021

In attempting to understand the reluctance of approximately 20 percent of our population over the age of 12 to receive an FDA-approved COVID vaccine, one is tempted to consider alternative diseases.  Notwithstanding the fact that smallpox has been eradicated, repositories of the virus are present in a number of laboratories including in the U.S.  Assuming there was a laboratory error and a limited outbreak of the dreaded disease occurred, would citizens in the affected area be as ready to reject a smallpox vaccine as they are to resist a protective dose of COVID vaccine?

 

Evidence shows that vaccination effectively prevents hospitalization and certainly death after exposure to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus.  It is a matter of record that in excess of 90 percent of patients in hospital, and virtually all in ICU wards, were not vaccinated.  Those that were have one or more predisposing conditions including age, diabetes, immunosuppression, or other medical circumstances.

 

What is the difference between COVID and smallpox?  COVID has unfortunately become politicized and strongly associated with the nebulous concept of ‘freedom’ or ‘personal choice’.  Obviously with smallpox, self-preservation would be the major motivation to be protected against the disease which at best will produce hideous permanent skin disfigurement and at worse a painful death.  For those doubting the effect of COVID, one can point to the 660,000 of our fellow citizens that have succumbed to the disease. We should consider the suffering and cost of those that survived clinical infection and face possibly long-term effects on their renal, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. 

 

Without question all reasonable people would regard smallpox as a public health issue and readily receive a federally-approved vaccine.  So why the reluctance with COVID?  Vaccine rejection has nothing to do with science nor a reasonable assessment of risks and consequences.  The sooner the reluctant minority are vaccinated the more likely they are to survive but more important, not to pass the disease on to their families and the community. So take the shot and let us restore our pre-COVID economy and lifestyle.


 

High Cost of Vaccine Hesitancy and Rejection

08/25/2021

The Kaiser Family Foundation has determined that the cost to the U.S. health system in June and July amount to $2.3 billion as a result of hospitalization of unvaccinated people.  Based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, CDC and other available sources, it was estimated that in the months of June and July, 37,000 and 76,000 preventable hospitalizations occurred respectively.  The average cost of hospitalization as a result of uncomplicated COVID amounted to $20,000 per case.  The analysis did not take into account outpatient treatments, life costs of mortality nor the cost accruing to COVID infections spread by unvaccinated individuals.  On August 25th Delta Airlines stated that the average cost to treat a case of COVID among their employees since the inception of the pandemic amounted to $50,000.

 

The cost of treating unvaccinated people is born by taxpayer funded programs and private insurance premiums that obviously will soar to compensate for health cost that were not predicted prior to 2020.  Currently the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from claiming higher premiums on unvaccinated people, but it is evident that this situation must change.  This is especially the case now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received permanent approval by the FDA. 

 

CDC data from Los Angeles County in May through July, demonstrated that unvaccinated people were five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID and 29 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated peers. The sharp increase in the cost of treating unvaccinated patients between June and July suggests that even higher costs will be incurred in August due to the increase in number of cases requiring hospitalization following the emergence of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.  Vaccination is a public health issue not a political or freedom concern.  Unvaccinated people represent a risk of hospitalization and death not only for themselves but also for their families and the community independently of the financial burden on the healthcare system and society.

IC treatment may cost
up to $250,000


 

COVID Upsurge Influences Consumer Sentiment Index

08/19/2021

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index fell 13.5 percent in July to a value of 70.2. The only larger declines in the Sentiment Index over the past 50-years occurred in April 2020 with a fall of 19.4 percent as a result of concern over COVID and during October 2008 at the start of the Great Recession with a fall of 18.1 percent.

 

Richard Curtin, Chief Economist at the University of Michigan, stated “There is little doubt that the pandemic resurgence due to the Delta variant has been met with a mixture of reason and emotion.”  He added, “Consumers have correctly reasoned that the economy’s performance will be diminished over the next several months.”  The loss in consumer sentiment was distributed across income, age, and education demographics and related to consumer concerns over personal finances, the economy, inflation, and unemployment.


Dr. Richard Curtin

 

The precipitous fall in the Consumer Sentiment Index illustrates the damage caused by vaccine hesitancy and rejection resulting in ascending incidence rates and hospitalizations for severe COVID. The current trends portend inconvenience and possible shutdowns, irrespective of the misplaced optimism and intransigence expressed by some politicians and science deniers.


 

NIH Investigates Routes of COVID Transmission

08/18/2021

In a published study* scientists affiliated to the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton, Montana, investigated the route of infection associated with SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID.  Experiments involved exposing hamsters, that are susceptible to the virus, to both aerosol and contaminated surfaces.  It was determined that aerosol transmission is highly effective and results in virus replication within lung tissue.  In contrast, exposure from contaminated surfaces (fomites) involved replication of the virus in the nasal passages without inducing pulmonary damage. In an additional study involving animal-to-animal transmission of virus by the aerosol route it is shown that airborne transmission was more efficient than surface contamination.

 

The major conclusions that can be drawn from the study is that masking is effective in reducing spread of COVID by aerosol transmission.  Obviously limiting contact by social distancing and providing filtered air in areas where people congregate will also be beneficial.  Above all, immunity stimulated by vaccination is the primary means of reducing the incidence rate of COVID in a community, but supportive measures as indicated from the NIH transmission experiments are complementary.

 

Port, J. et al SARS-CoV-2 disease severity and transmission efficiency is increased for airborne compared to fomite exposure in Syrian hamsters.  Nature Communications doi.1038/s4 and 467-021-25156-8 (2021)


 

U.S. Custom and Border Protection Interdict Exotic Beetle Pests

08/10/2021

On July 7th, U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agricultural specialists at the Pharr International Bridge at Hidalgo, Texas identified an exotic beetle pest in a consignment of jackfruit.  The scarab beetle Cyclocephala forcipulata is indigenous to Mexico.  Larvae of the pest consume plant roots and adults feed on the foliage of crops.

 

In commenting on the rejection of the consignment, Carlos Rodriguez of the CBP stated, “Our agricultural specialists help protect American agriculture and contribute to the Nation’s economic security by denying entry to invasive species not known to exist in the U.S.”  Insect pests although small and reclusive can be identified by examination by trained specialists.  Unfortunately bacterial and viral pathogens cannot be detected by physical surveillance. Bans must be imposed on importation of raw poultry products unless subject to specific permits taking into account disease status in exporting countries and relevant risk assessment and OIE regulations.

 

 The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service frequently identify illegal meat and poultry products deliberately concealed in consignments of otherwise permitted agriculture products.  Given the prevalence of avian influenza and African swine fever, funds extended to training of personnel and other detection measures including trained beagles will represent a significant return on investment to prevent introduction of an exotic disease with catastrophic potential.  Unfortunately as with illicit drugs, more shipments remain undetected compared to the proportion that is interdicted.


Scarab Beetle, Cyclocephala forcipulata interdicted at border

 

Joint EPA and Department of the Army Hearings on WOTUS

08/04/2021

During August, the EPA and the U.S. Department of the Army will organize ‘engagement opportunities’ to allow stakeholders and the public to provide input into rule-making with respect to Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The first rule will define the scope of WOTUS as modified by Supreme Court decisions.  The second rule-making process would establish an updated and durable definition of WOTUS. 

 

In commenting on the intended action, Michael S. Regan, Administrator of the EPA stated, "We are committed to crafting an enduring definition of WOTUS by listening to all sides so that we can build on an inclusive foundation".

 

Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jaime A. Pinkham stated, "The EPA and the Department of the Army recognize the importance of this effort, and we are committed to meaningful engagement with tribes, states, local governments and stakeholders to ensure that a revised definition of WOTUS reflects the experiences and input received from all communities".

 

The basis of WOTUS is the Clean Water Act of 1972 that was enacted to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters".  The Act specifically prohibits discharge of pollutants from any point source into navigable waters” currently defined as "the waters of the United States including the territorial seas".  Waters of the United States     per se is not defined in the Clean Water Act, but this exclusion will now have to be resolved in an amicable and fair manner in order to protect water resources that support public health, the environment, agriculture and economic growth for future generations.


 

U.S. in Danger of Foreign Animal Diseases and Plant Pests

07/23/2021

According to a Department of Homeland Security report, agricultural specialists assigned to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service (US CBPS) have identified numerous attempts to illegally import consignments of plants and animals that could potentially introduce foreign animal diseases and pests.

 

Among the 18,500 pounds of smuggled products intercepted in containers at International Falls, MN, were balut eggs.  This Asiatic specialty effectively comprises 15 to 18-day incubated eggs that could potentially transmit avian influenza, exotic Newcastle disease or other pathogens to domestic flocks. Prohibited pork product destined for Asian food markets were also interdicted.

 

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an attempt was made to import prohibited pork products through the Pembina point of entry in North Dakota.

 


Balut emryos.
A Philippine delicacy

The issue of concern is the number of illegal importations of poultry and pork products that are not detected. Given statistic and projections of the discrepancy between apprehended and non-detected drug shipments, one can assume that despite vigilance, the sheer volume of imports will permit a high proportion of illegal items to enter the U.S.  Since many of the items are destined for food distribution and consumption through Asian food markets, retail surveillance may be an important adjunct to border inspection. Operators of establishments should be required to provide proof that suspicious food products were in fact imported or acquired legally.

And now the Dominican Republic has cases of African Swine Fever and inevitably Haiti will follow given the long and porous border between the two countries. Will Cuba, 50 miles from Haiti at the nearest point be far behind?


 

Pre-Harvest Testing of Leafy Greens to Detect Pathogens is Self-Deception

07/22/2021

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) of California will introduce pre-harvest testing for produce grown in fields with "elevated risk factors".  The LGMA recognizes that proximity to a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) represents a risk of applying STEC and Salmonella in contaminated irrigation water. Although protocols for testing have not been finalized, the release indicated that it is intended to collect and assay sixty stratified samples from a minimum of three pounds of produce per acre, 4-7 days prior to harvest.

 

According to Tim York, CEO of the LGMA, "new testing protocols are predicted to provide a 95 percent chance of finding a pathogen in the field even if only one percent of the crop is contaminated".  The updates to LGMA testing protocols are intended to convince regulators and customers of the safety of green produce.  There was no indication in the press release of the action that growers must take in the event of a positive isolation of a pathogen.  Will the crop be harvested? Treated? Ploughed back into the soil?  What preventive action will be taken to avert a reoccurrence? 

 

There is a general consensus among food scientist that it is not possible to test-one’s way out of a structural problem.  The fact that the LGMA is applying the test protocol only to "suspect fields" is a confirmation that the association is aware of the probability of infection. The assay protocol is a form of ‘pathogen roulette’ intended to create a false sense of security.

 

Fields adjacent to or in a location that could be contaminated by a CAFO should not be used for cultivation of green produce since it is inevitable that contamination will occur.  In the absence of a positive kill-step in processing, no amount of testing can provide an assurance of safety.

 

Subsequent outbreaks of STEC or salmonellosis attributed to green produce, will generate even greater demand for products grown in greenhouses under controlled conditions or from suppliers using vertical farming. This technology has profound benefits in terms of sustainability, quality, consistency, year-round supply and proximity to urban markets.


 

Cedar Point Nursery Decision by SCOTUS Restricts Union Activities

06/30/2021

The California Agriculture Labor Relations Board allows union representatives to access farming operations for the purposes of organizing workers.  Current regulations allow for up to one hour before and after work and one hour during a lunch break for 120 days per year.  In October 2015, members of the United Farm Workers entered the property owned by Cedar Point Nursery disturbing operations and precipitating a protest and walk-off.  Cedar Point filed suit against the United Farm Workers for access without required notice.  United Farm Workers counterclaimed that Cedar Point committed an unfair labor practice. United Farm Workers organizers attempted to enter the property of Fowler Packing Company in July 2015, an action that was resisted by the company resulting in an unfair labor practice charge. 

 

Lawsuits were accordingly filed by Cedar Point and Fowler against the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.  The Court refused declaratory and injunctive relief and the action against the Board was dismissed.  The growers then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that affirmed the lower court ruling that access did not represent depriving the owners of the beneficial use of their property. 

 

The growers petitioned SCOTUS for certiorari that was granted, and the Court heard oral arguments and then deliberated issuing an opinion in mid-June.  Six of the nine justices ruled that the Takings Clause was relevant to the intrusion by the United Farm Workers and that governmental agencies cannot impose regulations that restrict an owner's ability to use his own property.  Accordingly, the California law prohibiting employers from interfering with the activities of labor unions on their premises is contrary to the Takings Clause of the Constitution.


 

Reappraisal of Job Opportunities After COVID

06/17/2021

The Federal Reserve incorporates employment data in their decisions regarding interest rates, bond purchases and management of the economy.  It is evident that job creation is slowing as denoted by data for March through mid-June.  There is a growing realization that many jobs lost during COVID in 2020 may never return.  Numerous small businesses that collectively employ a significant proportion of the working population ceased functioning in 2020, despite federal and state support programs.  A number of large companies have introduced mechanization in response to a shortage of workers and there has been a general reappraisal of the function and contribution of middle management positions. 

 

An additional factor relates to both resignations and more importantly retirement, reducing the number of available employees.  In May, there was a discrepancy of 7.5 million jobs between current employment and the number of positions available as compared to February 2020. The overhang from COVID is still affecting the number of positions available and the inclination of workers to return to their previous jobs, even if available. It is evident that 2022 will have a different workforce composition compared to pre-COVID 2019.

 

Jobs requiring repetitive manual labor will be replaced progressively by currently available and proven mechanical technology.  The most intensive area for labor and the most replaceable in an egg- packing plant involves the transfer of packs to outer containers.  Both Sanovo and Moba in addition to independents including Pasco, market case packers that show a beneficial return on capital investment at labor rates that now exceed $15 per hour.  Previously egg producers were disinclined to invest in robotics when labor was readily available at lower wage rates than at present.  Bar coding, machine vision and integrated IT systems relieve middle management of the pressures of record keeping and aspects of quality control.  The design of modern grading and breaking installations lowers manual input for decontamination, as cleaning-in-place is now a feature of most new installations.

 

Unfortunately in hen barns, conversion from conventional cage housing to aviaries requires between two to three times the labor requirement and the work performed cannot be easily mechanized. More sophisticated control systems integrating ventilation, lighting, and alarms have reduced reliance on routine decisions on flock management. Advances in technology for injecting vaccines not only enhance the efficiency of administration but also improves accuracy in dosing and consistency in immunizing pullet flocks. 

 

The realization that close to three million in the U.S. workforce have retired following the advent of COVID suggests the need for intensified training to allow workers to advance through the sequential levels of repetitive labor to supervision and then to management.  USPOULTRY is providing recruiting grants to universities and colleges to attract new entrants to the industry to replace retirees and to introduce new concepts and skills.  Obviously additional personnel with more specific training at all levels will be required as the industry expands and undergoes transition to alternative housing. 

 

The U.S. egg industry underwent changes both in structure and introduction of innovative technology through the first two decades since the millennium.  COVID has obviously accelerated this trend and senior management should be attuned to the needs of personnel and their skill sets in planning and capital investment.


 

Task Force on Disruption of Supply Chains a Vehicle of Social Change?

06/11/2021

The Administration has developed a Task Force with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as co-chair to evaluate and prevent disruption of supply chains. This initiative is consistent with the Build Back Better approach promoted in pre-election rhetoric. Part of this program will involve investment of more than $4 billion to strengthen the food system through improved production, more efficient processing and distribution and developing marketing opportunities.


Secretary USDA

In commenting on the initiative, Secretary Vilsack stated, “The COVID pandemic led to massive disruption for growers and food workers.  It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated and fragile.  Meanwhile those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else.”  Vilsack added, “The Build Back Better initiative will make meaningful investments to build a food system that is more resilient against shocks and delivers greater value to growers, workers and consumers.”

 

Areas of investment involving grants, loans and other financing will include:-

 

  • USDA will provide direct assistance, grants, training and technical guidance in food production with special emphasis on farmers and ranchers and agricultural workers who receive a diminishing share of the food dollar.

 

  • USDA will make investments to support new and expanded regional processing capacity to avert future disruptions in supply that may arise from reliance on a few extremely large packing and processing plants.

 

  • USDA will make investments in food system infrastructure including distribution and aggregation to ensure that food is available as and when it is needed.  Deficiencies were evident during COVID restrictions.

 

  • USDA will support new and expanded access to markets for a diversity of growers and will emphasize healthy foods given the relative expenditures on healthcare and food.

Sec. Vilsack picking up where he left off in 2017. Farmer explaining how high the pile of Dollars should be

It is evident that agricultural policy under the Administration will prioritize local and regional food production and establish fairer markets for producers. The Administration will focus on minor crops, fruits and vegetables, attempting to limit climate change, increase the income of veterans and traditionally disadvantaged farmers and improve the working conditions of agricultural laborers and plant employees. Clearly the vision for the USDA will to become an agent of social reform consistent with policies of the Administration. This may be to the detriment of large, integrated crop and livestock producers and supporting companies that represent the bulk of our domestic food production and agricultural exports.


 

Brazil to Enact Law with Dire Environmental Implications

05/21/2021

A bill currently approved by the Lower House of the Congress of Brazil has evoked considerable criticism and opposition from both environmental activists in Brazil and the E.U.  The bill would relax requirements to license mining, farming projects and infrastructure.

 

A spokesperson for KLP, the largest pension fund in Norway with $80 billion in assets under management stated, "if this dangerous bill passes in the Senate, it will show that the Government is actively seeking to accelerate along its current path towards mass environmental destruction".  U.K. supermarkets are also threatening to boycott agricultural products from Brazil if the proposed legislation is approved by the Senate and enacted.

 

A specific project in contention includes paving a major highway extending into the Amazon.  An environmental assessment has shown that this will accelerate deforestation resulting in the clearing of an area equivalent in size to the state of Florida.

 

The bill is opposed by nine former Ministers of the Environment in Brazil. It is generally recognized that regulations should be upgraded to facilitate the implementation of responsible projects. Unfortunately given the present Administration and the high level of corruption inherent to politics in Brazil, environmental degradation will be accelerated to the detriment not only to the present and future generations in the nation but to the world at large.

 


 

Widespread Fraud with Paycheck Protection Program

05/20/2021

The Paycheck Protection Program signed into law as the CARES Act on March 27th 2020 with $349 billion in funding obviously assisted small businesses to remain in operation but unfortunately attracted fraudsters.  Recently ProPublica investigated Kabbage, an online lending platform that was negligent in processing loans for non-existent businesses. Many of the fraudulent applications claimed to be agricultural enterprises.  It is estimated that the Small Business Administration approved loans for 55,000 ineligible businesses and that overpayments were extended to 43,000 applicants.  The Department of Justice is reviewing the more egregious cases for criminal action.

 

The ProPublica investigation demonstrated that Kabbage operated with minimal oversight of requests. Their remuneration was based on a fee for each loan processed. This payment structure essentially incentivized the Company into throwing money at any applicant.  More conservative and conventional banks declined loans that were advanced by Kabbage and other Fintech enterprises that were lightly regulated.  Kabbage and other loan processors received a fee of five percent on loans under $350,000 representing most of the transactions.  It is estimated that Kabbage processed 300,000 loans amounting to $7 billion. In August 2020 Kabbage was acquired by American Express.

ProPublica documented questionable practices in evaluating loans, 75 percent of which were approved without review, providing application forms were fully completed.  In response to a deluge of applications, Kabbage apparently employed reviewers with inadequate or non-existent training who were provided with incentives to expedite and approve loans.  It is unfortunate that a program that was established as an emergency response to a major economic downturn was highjacked by criminals and fraudsters and facilitated by the mendacity of lending institutions acting on behalf of the Federal government.


 

Truck Rates Increasing Sharply

05/10/2021

The USDA fruit and vegetable truck rates reported on May 4th showed a 70 percent increase compared to the comparable month in 2020.  Truck shortages were apparent in California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Washington State.  Refrigerated produce truck rates were considerably higher as demonstrated by an increase from approximately $6,000 to $10,000 to ship a load from Salinas, CA. to New York State.  The increase in cost of a refrigerated load from Vidalia, GA. to New York State was from $3,000 to $5,000.  Short-term factors that increased trucking rates included floral imports into Southern Florida for Mother’s Day and a delay in the produce season in the southeast due to unfavorable weather conditions during February and March.  There is an obvious shortage of drivers also exacerbated by the Department of Transport Road Check Week over May 4th – 6th when drivers tend to remain off the road.  Comparisons between truck rates during March and April 2020 and the current year were also affected by events during the early stages of the COVID pandemic.

 

In view of uncertainties, shippers are negotiating contracts of short duration also contributing to higher rates.  Some drivers are apparently benefiting from the Federal economic stimulus programs that are a disincentive to work.  Additional factors that are influencing the shortage of drivers and hence an increase in rates include competing driver-jobs close to home, failed drug tests and competitive job opportunities in construction.  Refrigerated produce transport is also competing with non-refrigerated loads because of delays associated with loading and unloading food products.

 

Given the current refrigerated rates between Chicago and Southern California ranging from $7,500 to $8,600 it is estimated that transport represent 3.5 cents per dozen to truck eggs from the Midwest to Southern California.


 

Vaccine Hesitancy Represents a Challenge to the Control of COVID

04/29/2021

It is axiomatic that without attaining "herd immunity" that involves vaccinating 80 percent of the U.S. population, COVID will persist.  The larger the proportion of our population that remains susceptible, the higher is the risk of variants both introduced and arising by spontaneous mutation.  Given that children under the age of 14 will probably not be vaccinated until the end of summer, approximately 15 percent of our population will remain susceptible.  If a substantial proportion of eligible adults decline to be vaccinated, achieving solid herd immunity will be an unattainable goal.

 

There are indications that attitudes mitigating against vaccination are softening. During August 2019 before COVID vaccines became available, polls suggested that 70 percent of those surveyed expressed either a wait-and-see response or averred that they were not likely to receive a vaccine.  By early April, almost 71 percent of respondents stated that they were either likely to be vaccinated or had received an mRNA vaccine.

 

Surprisingly the pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not apparently created uncertainty or exacerbated hesitancy.  Among many respondents, there was no measurable effect arising from the FDA two-week moratorium on administration to review data on post-vaccination clotting reactions attributed to this product in the U.S. and the E.U. The problem that affected approximately eight recipients out of eight million doses in the U.S. strengthened confidence in the regulatory process.  With increasing supplies of the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and restoration of the J&J single-dose product, it is apparent that availability of vaccines will no longer represent a restraint to achieving broader immunization. 

 

Acceptance by communities of color has improved following the efforts of local physicians and making vaccines more readily available to those that lack mobility.  The problem now emerging is the demographic that is opposed to the vaccine, citing either religious or political justification.  Further outreach will be required to convince deniers of the need to be vaccinated and to assist the hesitant to recognize both the safety and the communal need to establish a high level of protection.

 

The CDC recommendation issued on April 27th that vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks while outside is an inducement to be vaccinated.  The quicker our population can be immunized the sooner we can restore the economy and return to a semblance of our life before COVID.


 

American Egg Board Financials, Fiscal 2020

04/27/2021

The American Egg Board (AEB) released the Annual Report for Fiscal 2020 outlining programs, achievements and finances. The AEB posted total assets of $10.9 million, down $1.58 million from Fiscal 2019 attributed mainly to a $1.4 million reduction in cash and certificates of deposit.  The decrease was due to the use of cash to offset the $4.18 million excess of expenses over revenue in 2019. Deficits over previous years have resulted in a decline in equity amounting to $2.47 million from 2019 to 2020.

 

Total revenue decreased by $5.7 million from 2019 to $23.7 million in 2020.  The major contributor to the reduction was the decrease in interest income associated with lower rates and a lower holding of certificates of deposit. 


Emily Metz CEO AEB

Total program expenses were reduced by 9.9 percent to $24.94 million.  Consumer Marketing expenditure was reduced by 22.1 percent to $12.6 million with decreases in the three components, Consumer Marketing, Industry Programs, and State Support.  Market Development was relatively stable with a 1.4 percent decline to $7.06 million with increases in Food Service activities offset by reductions in Egg Product Marketing, Exports and Eggs in Schools justified by COVID restrictions. 

 

Total administrative expenses amounted to $1.2 million representing 5.1 percent of revenue.  This compares favorably to fiscal 2019 with an expenditure of $1.6 million or 6.3 percent of revenue.  The difference was attributed to the lower cost of Board meetings using zoom compared to in-person attendance.  Based on the inordinately large Board, the use of remote meetings should be considered for subsequent years as the saving represented $390,000 or close to a third of the administrative expenses category.

 

The important question is how the individual programs including Consumer Marketing, Market Development and Nutrition actually contributed to increased consumption, thereby benefitting the Industry.  This will be the challenge facing the management and the Board as encompassed in the recently devised Strategic Plan.  Egg consumption in 2017 was 282.1 per capita.  In 2021 it is estimated that consumption will increase to 288.2 eggs, a difference of 6.1 eggs or approximately 1.2 percent per year over the period during which approximately $120 million was expended on programs.  We do not know what consumption may have been without the AEB and its activities, given competition from other foods. It is evident that to maintain the confidence and support of the industry, quantitative increases in demand will be required. Since assessment income represents over 99 percent of revenue, it will be incumbent on management to justify programs that will collectively impose a cost of 0.3 cents per dozen over 8.3 billion dozen in 2021.


 

Farmers to Families Food Box Program Concluded

04/19/2021

There have been five rounds of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program initiated by the previous Administration in 2020.  Since inception, 157 million boxes have been distributed benefiting farmers and recipients.  Unfortunately the program that was implemented as an emergency measure by then Secretary Sonny Perdue, was characterized by inefficient management, high cost, inequitable distribution, waste, and unexplained losses.  The program also developed a strong political direction with insertion of flyers in boxes to solicit support for the 2020 Presidential Election. 

 

In a recent hearing of the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Secretary Tom Vilsak promised to take the best of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to be incorporated in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) that will run through September 30th.  The USDA will work closely with food banks and will follow their advice in providing more fresh produce.

 

Recenly 80 members of the United Fresh Produce Association who participated in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program submitted 30 recommendations to USDA to effect improvements.  It is anticipated that boxes of fresh produce will weigh from 10 to 12 pounds, will contain a variety of vegetables with limits on root vegetables, but include fruit with a shelf-life of seven to 10 days once delivered to a distribution point. It is hoped that the benefits of the early Farmers to Families Food Box program will be retained but with improvements in the subsequent version to be developed by the USDA. Given that food banks have the capability to store and distribute eggs donated by producers, could USDA include shell eggs in the new program? 

 


 

Estimate of Non-Diagnosed COVID Cases in the U.S.

04/05/2021

It was evident from the beginning of the COVID outbreak that many individuals were infected with SARS-CoV-2 but did not develop symptoms although they were transmitters of the virus contributing to ascending incidence rates.

 

Scientists affiliated with the National Institutes of Health(NIH)conducted a survey on U.S. adults from early May through late July 2020 to determine the prevalence of antibodies in asymptomatic individuals.  A total of 9,028 blood samples were examined from 11,382 volunteers reflecting the U.S. population that had previously not been diagnosed with COVID-19.  The presence of antibodies was determined in 4.6 percent of these undiagnosed cases.  Within this value there was marked regional and ethnic diversity.  Younger participants yielded a proportion of 5.9 percent, black/African American, 14.2 percent, Hispanic 6.1 percent and urban residents 5.3 percent.  The data indicated that there were 4.8 unrecognized cases for every diagnosis of COVID-19 during the period of review.  This would correspond to 16.8 million undiagnosed cases in 2020 by late July.

 

Effective April 4th there have been 30.8 million diagnosed cases with 555,000 fatalities. The NIH data suggest a total of 147 million actual infections.

 

Daily Trends in COVID-19 Cases in the United States Reported to CDC  7-Day moving average

To date 69 million people have received one dose of vaccine and 37 million are fully vaccinated. This implies that approximately 150 of the U.S population have an acceptable level of immunity since many of the undiagnosed individuals were vaccinated. At present 35 percent of the U.S. population is immune, some distance from the desirable 80 percent or 260 million to achieve herd immunity. With a rate of vaccination of 2.8 to 3.0 million doses per day those eligible and willing to receive vaccine will have been protected by mid-June. Those under 18 years of age representing 24 percent of the population will only receive a COVID vaccine in November in decreasing age categories following Phase 3 trials in progress. Those disinclined or hesitant to receive an approved vaccine represent a risk to the entire population as their susceptibility provides an opportunity for the emergence and dissemination of variants of SARS-CoV-2.   


 

Pressure Mounting to Recycle Plastics

04/03/2021

A number of environmental advocacy groups and regional community organizations have petitioned to President Joe Biden to expedite the Presidential Plastics Action Plan.  The objective will be to reduce production of single-use plastics and place a moratorium on new manufacturing facilities. 

 

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) have introduced the Breakfree From Plastic Pollution Act into their respective Chambers.

 

President Biden has already issued an Executive Order addressing climate change with recycling to be incorporated into the program.  It is anticipated that in addition to national action, environmentalists will initiate action at the local level with publicity directed against specific brands, manufacturing plants and incinerators.

 

It is evident that many of the plastic plants are located in areas with a predominance of minority residents.  A case in point is the concentration of petrochemical facilities up-river from New Orleans. Currently there is opposition to a proposed Formosa Plastics complex in St. James Parish LA. Adjacent to the Mississippi River. Community groups are pressing for the concept of environmental justice with local and national politicians involved.

 

Earthworks, an international group that uses tort law to oppose new and existing plants, is shifting emphasis from oil and gas towards plastics.  The organization will strenuously oppose permits for new and expanded plastic facilities.  Concurrently the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives will be active in the area of disposal of plastic and will advocate for recycling. 

 

According to Chemical and Engineering News published by the American Chemical Society, the industry has formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste with membership including Shell, Formosa, and ExxonMobil.  The Alliance through its commercial affiliations will raise $1.5 billion over five years to support efforts in education and environmental remediation.  Over the past three years member companies of the American Chemistry Council have collectively invested $5.3 billion in 64 recycling projects in the U.S.

 

Producers of polystyrene and PET egg cartons are encouraged to develop re-cycling programs and to apply emerging technology to reduce dependence on virgin plastic.


 

Iowa House Pass “Ag Gag” Bill

03/28/2021

The Iowa House has passed Bill 775 making it illegal to enter private property without consent to obtain samples from the environment or livestock.  The Bill has been sent to the State Senate for their consideration, amendment and passage.

 

Federal courts have consistently ruled various iterations of all State “Ag Gag” laws, as unconstitutional based on free-speech considerations.  House File 775 replaces a previous law enacted over two years ago. This was the subject of a verdict against the State of Iowa with the Plaintiff animal rights group receiving legal fees.

 

To date no challenged Ag-Gag law has been supported by a Federal Court. It is about time legislatures stopped passing "feel-good" laws in response to farmers' associations and corporate lobbying. Lawmakers will either have to enact carefully crafted legislation or alternatively  persuade their constituents to become more transparent and media conscious taking the initiative to promote positive aspects of intensive livestock production. I frequently advise clients that if they would be concerned to come to work on a Monday morning to find a 60-Minutes Crew on their doorstep, then they need to do some serious introspection, evaluation and where necessary correction.   


 

National Grocers’ Association Calling for Federal Control Over Large Buyers-Implications for Egg Producers

03/23/2021

The National Grocers’ Association (NGA) representing small independent food stores is calling for federal legislation to limit the ability of major chains and club stores to engage in anticompetitive behavior. The NGA has stated that their membership is at a disadvantage in sourcing products and package sizes when competing with chains including Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Target, and the ‘Dollar’ stores.  The NGA maintain that the large chains by virtue of their power obtain lower pricing and preferential supply.  The plight of independent grocers was evidenced during the COVID outbreak when restocking problems occurred.

 

The president of the NGA, Greg Ferrara, noted “Our members compete in markets that are increasingly dominated by a handful of national and international chains who will tremendous economic power to the detriment of America’s food supply.”  He added, “Independent grocers are increasingly struggling in the face of the growing influence of so-called power buyers who act as gatekeepers to grocery shelf space and control terms of trade in our industry.”

It is difficult to see how the federal government could intervene and establish either policies or legislation that could benefit a specific class of retailer.  Obviously if there was collusion between major chains constituting anticompetitive behavior, the Department of Justice could act if specific laws were broken. 

 

The situation regarding the NGA could find a parallel in the egg industry where fewer buyers are responsible for an increasingly higher proportion of the shell egg market.  The situation is compounded by the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Urner-Barry quotation. This benchmark           frequently places the egg industry in a difficult position since commercial transactions based on the Urner-Barry price discovery service amplifies both extreme rises and significant falls in price distorting markets.  The same can be said of machine trading that can markedly affect specific indexes, sectors or even individual equities.  At least with respect to the major stock markets, there are circuit breakers that can limit extreme moves.  A CME futures contract based on Midwest large would be preferable and more equitable than the current Urner-Barry quotation.

 


 

Evaluation of Farm to Families Boxes

03/17/2021

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Food Law and Policy Clinic of Harvard Law School recently concluded an evaluation of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. While acknowledging advantages and benefits, the extensive report incorporated recommendations in the event that USDA continues the program. 

 

It is acknowledged that millions of boxes of fresh produce were distributed to people in need. The program did assist job retention among distributors and benefited some small and medium-size farms.  With experience, Administration of the program that was initiated as an emergency, progressively improved.

 

The evaluation disclosed failure to support minority and women-owned farms and disproportionately excluded small and mid-sized farm.  The program was extremely expensive in relation to the value of produce and food items distributed especially with the early rounds of the program.  In certain areas, the program contributed to food waste, ironically the program was established to preserve produce through an efficient chain of distribution.

 

Many observers at the time the program was initiated regarded it as a political boondoggle. Food assistance could have been rendered to the needy more simply by expanding the SNAP and EBT programs.  In late 2020, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program was misused for political purposes with pro-Administration flyers inserted into boxes. 

 

Recommendations for any future program include:-

  • Distribution of produce-only boxes
  • Establish best practice guidance to ensure equity in distribution
  • Improve management of the program including a requirement that contractors submit plans to address food waste
  • Allow specific tax benefits to encourage donations
  • Evaluate bid prices based on reasonable cost
  • Ensure that best practices in food distribution and supply chain management are incorporated into the program.

 

FDA Responds to Congressional Report on Contaminated Baby Food

03/10/2021

On February 8th EGG-NEWS editorialized on the report from the Sub-Committee on Economic and Consumer Policy for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, relating to revelations of arsenic and other heavy metal contamination of baby food.  The report included recommendations to the FDA with respect to standards and mandatory testing for the presence of these contaminants.

 

On March 5th the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition issued a letter to manufacturers of baby and infant food under signature of the Director, Dr. Susan Mayne, emphasizing the need to comply with Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food issued on September 17th 2015.

 

The FDA will issue guidance to identify action levels for contaminants in key foods.  The Agency will increase inspections resulting in compliance and enforcement actions. FDA will also increase the frequency of sampling of foods for babies and young children.

 

Cooperation will be extended to other government agencies, academia, and industry to support research and development and will disseminate additional safety information on toxic elements in foods for babies and young children.  An action level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal will be finalized.  The FDA will soon convene a public workshop to discuss the science surrounding exposure and health impacts.  The agency is committed to reducing exposure to toxic elements in foods and will motivate efforts to achieve this objective.


 

Emergence of New COVID Variant

02/25/2021

The B.1.525 variant that was detected in December 2020 in the U.K. and Nigeria is now present in 11 other nations including the U.S., Australia and in the E.U. 

 

The B.1.525 lineage  includes a number of mutations involving the spike protein with a specific change designated E484K (colloquially referred to as ‘EEEK’!).  This mutation is also common to the South African B.1.351 and the Brazilian P.1 variants and is similar to the now dominant B.1.1.7 variant responsible for extensive transmission in the U.K. According to preliminary studies, the B.1.525 variant may be more transmissible and may express greater pathogenicity compared to the 2019 conventional strain.

 

Evidence from South Africa and Brazil suggests that B.1.525 in common with B.1.351 may be able to evade antibodies against the SARS-Cov-2 conventional strain.  Accordingly both Moderna and Pfizer are working on modifications to their vaccines to immunize against the E484K mutation. It is emerging that as with other coronaviruses, variants will continually emerge in susceptible populations. Accordingly annual or semi-annual booster vaccinations may be required for high-risk demographics or for more general administration.


 

WHO Investigation Panel Reports on the Origin of COVID in China

02/15/2021

An international team assembled by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on February 9th on their investigations into the origins of COVID-19.  The four-week evaluation included two weeks of quarantine, allowing Zoom consultation with counterparts in the China National Health Commission followed by site visits and direct discussions.

 

The Blue-Ribbon Panel chaired by Dr. Peter Embarek advanced a hypothesis that COVID arose by extension from an animal host passing through an intermediary species and then to humans. This hypothesis corresponds to an understanding of the emergence of Nipah and Hendra viruses, SARS and MERS.  After visits to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Hunan Seafood Market, the Wuhan Center for Disease Control, various hospitals where interviews were conducted with scientists and clinicians, there is as yet no certainty as to the specific hosts or mechanism for the adaptations or when they occurred.

 


Dr. Peter Ben Embarek Leader
of the WHO Investigation Panel

The WHO panel determined that 174 confirmed cases were diagnosed in early December 2019 in Wuhan, presuming many thousand infected individuals at this time. There were 13 different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus identified by genome sequencing suggesting circulation of the virus for a prolonged period prior to December. China is currently examining 200,000 retention serum samples from blood banks to ascertain the temporal and spatial presence of specific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. It is noted that research extending over a number of years was required to identify the origin of SARS and that the source of Ebolavirus has yet to be determined.

 

The Commission clearly rejected the unfounded speculation that the virus "leaked" or was deliberately released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This canard is regarded as unjustified Sinophobic rhetoric for domestic U.S. political purposes.

 

A recent publication notes that viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 have been actively circulating in bats in Southeast Asia for some time.  A recent study demonstrated a related coronavirus in Rhinolophus bats in a cave in Southern Thailand. This virus was isolated from a pangolin in the same area.  The Thai bat virus is similar to a bat virus isolated in Yunnan Province in China.  The geographic extent of the related bat viruses includes Japan, China and Thailand encompassing a 3,000-mile range.

 

It is understood that China was relatively cooperative with the WHO panel despite sensitivity to international criticism arising from an obvious true-to-form initial cover-up of the emerging infection. Health authorities in China did not provide an opportunity for the Panel to review raw data on cases that would have been important in determining when and where the infection emerged.

Rejoining the WHO will be to the benefit of the U.S. both with respect to COVID-19 but also in anticipation of the next emerging disease that is considered inevitable.


 

Unions Leverage COVID to Negotiate Pay Rises and Benefits

02/03/2021

Concern over COVID-19 and its impact on essential, relatively low-paid workers has enabled the Teamsters Union and other unions including the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to negotiate increased pay, benefits, and protection during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

 

On January 23rd, Teamsters Local 202 settled with the management of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market following a two week strike. This facility is the largest wholesale produce market in the world and is located in the South Bronx, the epicenter of COVID-19 in New York City.  The market serves a population of 22 million, and is responsible for 20,000 direct jobs including approximately 10,000 unionized workers.  The union demand for a $1 per hour rise was eventually negotiated to a minimum raise of 70 cents per hour in 2021, rising to $1.85 over three years.

 

Apart from the Hunts Point Market strike, a number of facilities employing workers represented by the Teamsters Union have organized strikes and demonstrations.  United Natural Foods Inc. was impacted by work stoppage at their Ft. Wayne, Indiana distribution center.  U.S Foods was able to prevent strike action by Teamsters Local 104 in Tucson, AZ  by negotiating over the issue of COVID protection. Unionised nurses and hospital employees initiated work action in Chicago based on a shortage of PPE. 

 

It is evident that the threat of COVID among workers has created insecurity and uncertainty in addition to obvious financial loss and hardship for those infected. Unions have gained prominence nationally as apparent protectors of their membership.  The problems involving Unions would not have been as severe had OSHA and CDC been more forceful in issuing standards and had relevant federal agencies cooperated with individual states to provide PPE and other resources.  COVID-19 in 2020 was a wakeup call and it is hoped that the lessons learned will be applied to prevent future outbreaks and to alleviate the health and financial effects of any subsequent widescale disease.


 

HSUS Crowing Over Conversion to Cage Free

01/29/2021

In a January 28th release, Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) listed companies converting entirely to cage-free sourcing of eggs.  These include Nestle, Mondelez, both manufacturers; Aramark, a food service company; QSR chain Arby's and coffee chains under JAB ownership.

 

Collectively these companies represent a small proportion of total shell egg and egg liquid demand. Unlike retailers with narrow margins and faced with competition these users of eggs are in a position to pass on increased costs to customers.

 

Other companies including Compass Group, a food service supplier; General Mills, a food producer and Blooming Brands, operator of casual dining restaurants anticipate conversion by 2023.

 

It is a matter of record that currently 79.8 million hens out of a total population of a nominal 320 million in production are housed in alternative systems to cages including barns and aviaries.  This represents 25 percent of the production flock, but 35.2 percent of a presumed flock of 224 million producing for the shell egg market. In reality progress in converting from cage to cage- free slowed in the second half of 2020 mainly due to depressed prices associated with the retraction in the food service and restaurant sectors.  Eat-at-home has increased demand for shell eggs, but prevailing economic conditions favor generic eggs based on price.  The HSUS should recognize that while most people would support cage-free production, they are not willing to back this sentiment with their wallets.

 

EGG-NEWS is in favor of the principle of choice with a range of products reflecting housing systems as diverse as traditional cages, colony modules, barns, aviaries through to pasture with consumers exercising their best judgment in selection applying trade-offs with concern over “welfare” and price.

 

Organic production that represents approximately 17 million hens or 20 percent of non-caged flocks are by definition non-caged with nominal outside access. Apart from this category ballot initiatives in California and New England states and State agreements have driven conversion to cage-free housing.  The initial efforts by HSUS and kindred organizations to coerce food service companies, retailers and manufactures to convert to cage-free under the direction of Wayne Pacelle, erstwhile CEO of HSUS appear to have lost impact.

 

Reconciliation of USDA monthly cage-free reports and retail data suggests that as many as a third of organic and cage-free eggs may in fact be down-marketed and sold as generics given the disparity between supply and consumers’ willingness to pay. The rate of conversion to cage-free housing is now out of the control of the HSUS and has devolved into a rational marketing situation. Some affluent demographics with disposable income will be willing to pay a premium for eggs derived from a specific system. The bulk of consumers with budget constraints should not be forced to pay a “Pacelle Tax” by being deprived of lower priced eggs on the shelf.


 

Hunger in America

01/14/2021

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Household Survey released during the first week of January, approximately18 percent of adults living with children reported their household did not get sufficient food to eat over the previous seven-day period.  This is four times the level recorded by surveys conducted in 2019.  The survey covering the period December 9th to 21st, 2020 determined that 29 million adults reported that their household sometimes did not get enough to eat over the past seven days; approximately 2 million more households were in need of food during November with 7 million adults since August.  Approximately 90 million adults or 38 percent of those surveyed reported that it was difficult for their households to pay for usual expenses including rent and utilities over a seven-day period.  This figure was 13 million more than in August 2020.

 

Despite passage of the CARES Act, millions of families are in need including unemployment benefits, food assistance and help with rent payment.  Jobless benefits expire during March 2021 and aid to states and tribal nations is currently insufficient to provide assistance.  The Census Bureau anticipates that the undesirable health and economic situation in the Nation will persist through mid-2021.

 

There are indications that an additional CARES support package will be placed before the 117th Congress by the incoming Administration incorporating additional supplementary checks,  intensified vaccination to restore the economy and protection from eviction.

 

In 2020 egg producers were actively generous in donating shell eggs and products to local food banks to assist the needy. This civic activity will continue in our current year of challenge.


 

Reversing the Relocation of USDA ERS and NIFA?

01/06/2021

EGG-NEWS previously commented extensively and forcefully on the negative aspects of the USDA action to transfer the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) from Washington D.C. to Kansas City.

 

USDA Secretary, Dr. Sonny Perdue claimed that the motivation was to place USDA personnel "near their constituency-the farmers".  This is arrant nonsense.  Economists and specialists involved in the activities of the ERS and the NIFA are not involved in walking fields or interacting on a day-to-day basis with farmers.  Informed observers in academia and industry and veterans of the Agencies regarded the action by the Administration, dutifully implemented by USDA Secretary Dr. Perdue, as an effort to deemphasize studies on sustainability, climate change and trade policy. By uprooting the Agencies from their D.C. location the Administration shed senior economists and scientists who expressed views and published research contrary to prevailing policy and “alternative facts”.

 

As expected, key personnel with years of experience were disinclined to move from Washington and resigned en masse finding opportunities in academia, think-tanks, producer-associations and industry.  Replacements of equivalent calibre were not hired and critical research and reports on studies relating to conservation, nutrition and economics have been delayed or cancelled. Former USDA Chief Economist, Dr. Joseph Glauber stated, "it's hard to pretend it never happened".  He added, "you've uprooted everyone's lives, you had all these people quit and it’s a tough situation". 

 

Remedying the situation by moving relocated employees and new hires back to Washington will be an expensive and disruptive process antithetical to the second justification that the move would save money, a position that at the time was discredited. At the request of USDA, the states of Missouri and Kansas invested in incentives to host the relocated agencies that will require some form of reimbursement in the event of a return to Washington D.C.

 

The question facing the incoming administration and Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack will be to either retain the agencies in their current location with recruitment of suitable personnel or to allocate funds for the move back to Washington, DC.

 

The previous commentary on the issue is repreoduced for the benefit of subscribers.


 

Dairy Industry Subject to Negative Publicity on Welfare: Implications for Egg Production

12/31/2020

The U.S. dairy industry, impacted by declining sales of liquid milk and competition from alternatives is now coming under scrutiny for alleged violation of welfare standards. Having achieved a measure of success in forcing egg producers to transition to alternative housing systems, animal rights advocates have transferred their opposition to milk production.

 

As with eggs, pork and beef production there will always be “bad actors” that provide activists with images that are disseminated on the internet.  It is axiomatic that management practices that cause pain and stress reflect adversely on performance.  In competitive livestock industries achieving genetic potential is critical to both margin and ultimately survival.  Accordingly dairy farmers should practice sound stockmanship and provide housing consistent with the needs of their herds.

 

 

 

Practices which are coming under scrutiny include debudding and castration without anesthesia; rearing in calf crates; artificial insemination; confinement in barns frequently with shackling.  The most extreme of animal rights activists consider any form of farming including gathering of eggs or collection of milk as “species exploitation”.

 

Animal scientists are now evaluating management systems based on the analysis of behavior displayed by dairy cattle and are providing recommendations especially in the area of group housing of calves and abolishing invasive procedures.  Given the benefits of improved housing and management, adoption of recommendations by progressive farmers is evident. Current financial realities in addition to innate resistance to changing practices considered standard by generations of farmers are impediments to progress.

 

The dairy industry would be well served to heed the experience of egg producers since activists influence politicians and consumers.  Given the internet, immense funding and media support, the decline in consumption of dairy products based on negative welfare perceptions will continue.  Ballot initiatives primary directed against egg production have included housing practices used in both pork and veal production.  Restrictive legislation will be a reality except in the most intensive dairy-production states, although a trend towards more concerted opposition is evident.

 


Disbudding calf following administration of local anaesthetic

The dairy industry is advised to intensify their responses to unjust demands but also to recognize deficiencies and implement corrective action on a national scale.  A number of progressive dairymen are leading the way and should serve as ambassadors for change.  The U.S. egg industry has changed for the better over the past two decades and has made strides in improving sustainability, welfare, product quality and image.  The pork and dairy segments of livestock agriculture should follow.


 

Spread of HPAI in the U.K.

12/23/2020

The extent to which migratory birds can disseminate avian influenza virus is indicated by an outbreak in a backyard flock on the island of Sanday in the Orkney Isles of Scotland.  Thirty-nine of fifty-two free range chickens died of H5N8 avian influenza in a case documented on ProMed Mail on December 18th.

 

On December 14th, the Chief Veterinary Officer of Scotland, Dr. Sheila Voas advised that all commercial poultry should be confined to housing.  Avian influenza has not been recorded in Scotland for four years, but recently England has encountered H5N8 in swans, near the coast of Hampshire, on the Isle of Wight and in the counties of Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Commercial outbreaks have occurred in East Anglia and North Worcestershire.

 

According to the National Farmers Union of Scotland, "it is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers whether they have one hen in the back garden or a large poultry business, to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures to limit the spread of avian influenza and keep out the disease".  Animal Health Policy Manager for Scotland, Dr. Penny Middleton stated, "it is crucial that everyone remain vigilant to report any signs of disease both in domestic birds and wild birds at the earliest opportunity.

What may be facing the EU in 2020/2021

A joint statement from Britain's three Chief Veterinary Officers included "whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from December 14th, 2020 onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors.  We have not taken this decision lightly, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease".  Since late November H5N8 HPAI has been reported from poultry, captive non-poultry birds and free-living species in France, Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Slovenia, Croatia and Poland in addition to reports from Israel.  Between August 15th and December 7th, 561 HPAI detections were reported in the fifteen EU/EEA nations of which 510 were in wild birds including geese, swans, and raptors including buzzards and falcons.  Of the 43 outbreaks in commercial poultry, contact with wild birds was regarded as the primary means of introduction of infection.  In addition to H5N8 the predominant strain, 17 isolates of H5N5 and six of H5N1 have been identified suggesting multiple virus introductions into Europe. 

 

Although authorities are emphasizing the fact that H5N8 is not transmissible to consumers, zoonotic H5N1 and H9N2 cases were reported in two individuals.

 

The implications for the U.S. are that surveillance of free-living birds is necessary as an early warning for the emergence of avian influenza in commercial flocks. In 2014, the first cases of HPAI were diagnosed in California during late December and the major epornitic commenced in March 2015 in the northern regions of the Mississippi valley. We should all look to our biosecurity.

 

Contrast in Approach to COVID-19 in Mink between the U.S. and the EU

12/21/2020

Following outbreaks of commercially farmed mink in Holland and Denmark, authorities initiated strict quarantine followed by depopulation of affected farms as a public health measure. It is not surprising that mink are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 given that a close relative, ferrets are used as a laboratory animals to study coronavirus infections. Scientists in the E.U. clearly established that mink transmit COVID infection to humans and vice-versa.  The U.S. has recorded outbreaks of COVID in Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon, the states with significant mink production.

 

The introduction of a new pathogen into a dense population of susceptible animals will result in rapid dissemination of the infectious agent.  The higher the density of susceptible individuals in a population, the greater will be the rate of spread and multiplication of an infective virus. Depending on the structure of the virus, a high concentration of infected hosts will increase the probability of point mutations resulting in potentially enhanced or alternatively reduced pathogenicity or infectivity.  A mutation has apparently occurred in the SARS-CoV-2 virus affecting mink in the dense location of farms on the Island of Jutland in Denmark.  The mink strain has been isolated from humans in contact with mink but more worrisome, also among humans in urban centers far removed from the mink farms with evidence of community transmission. In mid-December a mutant mink strain emerged in farms in Greece.

 

The high probability of the escape of infected mink from farms infected with COVID is an important justification to rapidly deplete populations. In Denmark, trappers frequently capture feral mink suggesting that COVID infection could be transmitted to other wild mustelids including weasels, badgers, and otters.

 

The International Society for Infectious Diseases has notified the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) of the isolation of SARS-COVID-2 from feral mink in the vicinity of farms in Utah.  The Society commented, “To our knowledge this is the first free-ranging native wild animal confirmed with SARS-COVID-2.”  The investigators were unable to determine the presence of the virus in other wildlife species surveyed.  At this time it is known that a variety of felidae are susceptible to COVID ranging from domestic cats in households usually with an infected human, in addition to tigers, lions and leopards in zoos infected by keepers.  Since mink are solitary animals, widespread infection of wildlife is unlikely.  It is not known how long infected mink will shed the virus so it is uncertain whether a wildlife reservoir of COVID-19 could be established.

 

In the absence of an effective vaccine that will suppress both clinical signs and shedding, mink farms with their high concentration of animal in close proximity will represent a risk for the development of mutant strains of SARS-CoV-2.  There is some debate as to the legal justification for complete depletion of unaffected mink populations as in Denmark.  The Netherlands had in any event banned commercial mink production after 2024 and has advanced the date of depletion on a national basis with compensation. 

 

Since mink are not food animals it is questioned whether perpetuation of commercial farming is justified given the risks of COVID-19. Maintaining animals such as mink in cage housing virtually identical to layer cages for hens is regarded as inhumane.  Obviously the susceptibility of mink to COVID-19 will be used by animal rights groups to justify ending commercial fur production.  

 

There is concern that state departments of agriculture in Utah and Oregon are minimizing the problem of COVID in mink. To date the only action taken has been to quarantine affected farms, a strategy that appears to be ineffective given the spread of infection over a short period.  Misleading placatory statements have been issued by the spokespersons for departments of agriculture in Oregon and Utah. The assurance that COVID in mink does not represent a danger to public health lacks a scientific basis. We have seen this movie before!

 

COVID-19 has clearly focused public concern over how mink are housed and there are questions as to the ethics and morality of the industry, its contribution to society and its reason for existence in an advanced industrialized nation such as the U.S. or in E.U. counterparts.


 

Dicamba Emerges as an Environmental and Legal Liability for Monsanto and Bayer

12/14/2020

Reeling from expensive claims alleging carcinogenicity of glyphosate the active ingredient in RoundUp™, Bayer is now facing extensive liability as a result of damage caused by the application of Dicamba, a chlorphenoxy herbicide.  Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018 with Dicamba marketed in various formulations since 2015.  The compound was developed jointly with BASF and marketed in response to weeds developing resistance to glyphosate.  Accordingly, cotton and soybean cultivars resistant to both glyphosate and Dicamba were developed.

 

On December 4th Jonathan Hettinger, affiliated with the Midway Center for Investigative Reporting published and exposé of the Dicamba situation. The article confirmed that Dicamba  will damage or destroy non-resistant crops by both drift after application and by volatilization, a second and more serious mechanism.  Dicamba can persist in the air over a treated field for hours and can spread for as much as two miles depending on atmospheric conditions.

 

By 2018, approximately forty percent of all soybeans planted in the U.S. were genetically modified to withstand both RoundUp™ and Dicamba.  By the following year seventy percent of cotton planted was genetically modified to withstand both herbicides.  The problem arises with non-resistant cotton and soybean seeds and other crops that have not be subjected to genetic modification.  A number of cases have appeared before the courts resulting in jury verdicts awarding both direct and punitive damages. Damage has been caused to orchards and soybean fields including non-GMO certified organic crops susceptible to Dicamba.

 

 

Dicamba damage to non-resistant soybean plant

Internal Monsanto and BASF memorandums discovered in the process of litigation indicate that scientists and managers at Monsanto were aware of the risks associated with the compound.  It is evident that EPA has been complicit in approving and reapproving Dicamba through 2020 despite cautions from independent agronomists and those at Land-Grant institutions and Agency scientists.  One of the allegations raised is that Monsanto deliberately re-worded the statutory labels specifying restrictions on use to shift responsibility for damage from the company to individual farmers and commercial applicators of Dicamba.
The conclusions from the Hettinger article are that Monsanto and BASF released Dicamba in various formulations knowing that damage to nonresistant soybean and cotton crops would occur. Hettinger alleges that Monsanto conducted testing to generate data that would expedite EPA approval but the company failed to disclose potential problems relating to drift and volatilization. It is alleged that field investigations of damage to non-resistant crops were conducted in a manner intended to exculpate Monsanto and to limit compensation to farmers.

 

Shareholders Invoke Climate Change as a Risk in Addressing Corporate Governance

12/03/2020

In an article in the November 21st edition of The Economist it is apparent that shareholder groups, including fund managers, are now scrutinizing the contribution of companies to global warming and climate change. Based on events in Australia, individual investors are resorting to legal action claiming failure to disclose risks that may prejudice future profitability and hence share value.

 

Quoted in The Economist article, Peter Barnett, a lawyer with ClientEarth, an advocacy group, stated “Unless the corporate sector switches quickly to meet investor expectations, I think we are inevitably going to see increasing shareholder litigation.  The Retail Employee Superannuation Trust of Australia, a pension fund, was successfully sued and agreed to settle with plaintiffs acknowledging that “climate change is a material, direct and a current financial risk.”


Coal-fired Power Plant

 

A similar approach has been taken by a Swedish pension fund that intends litigating as a means to pressure management to engage in climate-friendly use of assets. ClientEarth sued Enea, a major power utility in Poland, over a plan to erect a coal-fired power plant.  ClientEarth claimed that the plant would become an unprofitable stranded asset, representing a financial risk.  Following a court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the project was abandoned. So much for the myth of “beautiful clean coal”

 

It is apparent that companies failing to disclose climate risk to shareholders and with management following activities prejudicial to the environment will be subject to legal action in the future.  This will have a direct effect on share value and the willingness of institutions to purchase corporate bonds.


 

Estimate of the Proportion of the U.S. Population Infected with COVID-19

12/01/2020

It is generally accepted that actual cases of COVID-19 are under-reported.  This is due the large number of asymptomatic infections and chronic and profound deficiencies in testing and availability of diagnostic resources, especially in rural areas and for the economically disadvantaged demographic.  In a report* published on November 25th, epidemiologists affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 53 million people in the U.S had been infected by the end of September 2020.  Official reports placed the number of cases at 6.9 million, suggesting that only one in eight cases were actually diagnosed and recorded.

 

The CDC group evaluated available data on symptomatic illness, hospitalizations and incidence rates for COVID-19 with reference to available serologic data. It was estimated that through the end of September, only one out of 2.5 cases that were hospitalized and one out of every seven non-hospitalized cases were nationally reported. It is therefore estimated that 2.4 million hospitalizations and 44.8 million symptomatic illnesses occurred from February 27th through September 30th 2020.

 

It is emphasized that the report covers data to the end of September with 6.9 confirmed cases at this time.  During the past two months, the number of confirmed cases has almost doubled to 13.3 million cases suggesting as many as a 100 million among the U.S. population have been infected with COVID-19.  The report noted the disparity in age among reported cases which may be due to the fact that children were infrequently tested or presented for treatment.

 

The report estimates that 13 percent of cases were documented through the end of September.

 

This figure should be compared to an estimate provided by Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, in May 2020 suggesting with prescience that the U.S was recording only 10 percent of actual cases. The CDC data reflecting September indicated that between one and twenty percent of the U.S. population carried antibodies against SARS-COV-2, depending on location and occupation, with an estimated average ten percent prevalence of antibody.

 

The fact that as many as one million people have been infected and only 10 percent carry antibodies effectively demolishes the “herd immunity” theories propagated by Dr. Scott Atlas and his adherents. Failure to establish widespread immunity was confirmed by serologic surveys conducted in Stockholm mid-year. 

 

By December 8th there were 285,000 documented fatalities attributed to COVID-19. Mortality rose to between 1,000 and 2,000 per day over the last half of November with over 100,000 hospitalized.  Over 15.1 million cases have been diagnosed with as many as 170,000 to 200,000 incident cases per day prior to the anticipated surge following Thanksgiving travel and interaction.

 

*Reese, H. et al Estimated Incidence of COVID-19 illness and hospitalization – United States, February-September 2020 Clinical Infectious Diseases doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa 1780 November 25, 2020


 

Grow-NY Prize Awarded to Soos Technology for Regulation of Chick Gender

11/30/2020

Soos Technology claims that they have developed a method to regulate the gender of chick embryos by manipulating incubation variables. The Company was awarded the $1 million grand prize by Grow-NY an international business competition administered by Cornell University and funded by the state of New York.  The prize was awarded on the basis of a ten-minute presentation followed by 10-minutes for questions. Presumably the presentation included preliminary data to demonstrate proof of concept.

 

Temperature is an important variable in determining the gender of tortoises and some desert-living reptiles and the mechanism of gender development in these species has been extensively studied.  Soos Technology claims to have developed specific parameters for humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide level and sound vibrations during early incubation to modify sex determination. If successful, the technology would eliminate the hatching and destruction of cockerels in the egg production segment of the poultry industry. Despite preliminary studies to determine gender at various stages of incubation there has been no commercial applications of any of the emerging technologies in chickens. Since the commercial benefit of an effective system to eliminate destruction of cockerels is so large the challenge has attracted both legitimate scientists and charlatans to the field.

 

The acid test would be to subject 1,200 eggs to the Soos process and rear the 1,000 hatched (presumably) pullet chicks and determine whether their subsequent performance is consistent with strain standard.  To produce a pullet chick that is capable of subsequent reproduction with respect to peak production and persistence would confirm the validity of the process.

 

In commenting on the competition, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, "innovation companies have help drive creating a lasting economic impact on New York's agribusiness as we continue our work to build our economy".

 

CEO of Soos Technology, Yael Alter stated, "with our Grow-NY prize money we plan to create over twenty high-paying research and engineering jobs in the next two years by building the NY Poultry Research Hub which will connect academic research with poultry startups and corporations to commercialize validated research.  We are thrilled to put down roots in the Grow-NY region".

 

The Soos Technology website provides scant detail on the operation of the system and is devoid of specific data or references to peer-reviewed publications to support their claim.  If the technology is valid and reproducible under commercial conditions, the industry will benefit.  Soos Technology has a year in which to demonstrate commercial applicability. In the interim additional details on how the system functions and the effects on hatchability, the capital cost of modifying equipment and reliability would add to the creditability of the company and its technology.

 

Until the technology is shown to be commercially viable the Company and its technology will have to be regarded with a degree of scientific skepticism as we have unfortunately ‘seen this movie before’.


 

California Leads in Establishing Workplace Standards to Prevent COVID-19

11/25/2020

The Board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CAL/OSHA) has voted to implement protocols to protect employees from COVID-19 in the workplace.  In the absence of clearly defined recommendations from the Federal OSHA, California has proactively established standards to guide employers in agriculture, food production and industrial operations.

Under emergency regulations, employers not currently covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Disease Standard must:-

 

  • Establish and commit to writing a COVID-19 prevention program for employees appropriate to the facility
  • Identify COVID-19 hazards with relevant input from employees
  • Investigate cases of COVID-19 and establish an effective program of tracing and quarantine
  • Report all cases of COVID-19 to public health departments.
  • Special provisions are required to transport workers involving screening, separation and the use of face masks

 

 In the event of an ascending incidence rate in a facility, regular testing of all employees will be required.  This is based on the recognition that asymptomatic carriers can be responsible for dissemination of virus.

 

It is anticipated that the incoming Administration will issue nationwide rules to enhance workplace safety.  Politco reported that introduction of a National Emergency Temporary Standard will be vigorously opposed as has occurred in California.  The California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association have already raised objections claiming infeasibility and cost to enforce the proposed regulations.

 

It is evident that unless the incidence rate of COVID can be reduced to more acceptable levels through workplace safety and concurrent precautions applied in communities, restoration of the economy and resumption of what might be considered a ‘new normal’ will be impossible.

 

Despite the statistics that confirm at least 13 million diagnosed cases and more than 260,000 fatalities and as many as 100,000 in hospital there are many in our society that believe COVID-19 is a hoax or accept that it will simply "go away".  We are now past the time for political rhetoric and misinformation disseminated on the internet. Action by state agencies such as California and the anticipated standards to be issued by the incoming Administration will be instrumental in reducing morbidity and mortality from COVID until an effective vaccine is widely administered.

 

In the interim, it is necessary to practice proven preventive measures including masking, avoiding large gatherings and social distancing. According to some models the simple expedient of universal masking in public could potentially save 150,000 lives by the beginning of March.


 

Wearing Masks Will Save Lives

11/17/2020

According to a commentary by Dr. A. L Komaroff, in the November 5th edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, wearing masks universally in public could over 100,000 U.S. lives over the next four months. 

 

Komaroff, founding editor of the NEJM Journal Watch, General Medicine cited a model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington*.  Based on data from all states since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it is calculated that universal mask use could save 130,000 lives between September 22, 2020 and February 28, 2021.  In his article Komaroff stated, "disease modeling is sometimes disparaged as just a model, not reality.  That surely is true, but future reality can only be estimated using models”.  He advances the reality that predictions by the IHME have been accurate with respect to incident cases of COVID, hospitalizations and fatalities. 

 

Reducing incident cases to ‘flatten the curve’ will again be necessary as universal administration of an effective COVID vaccine may only be a reality by the middle of 2021. This is based on predicted logistic problems in distribution of vaccines requiring a cold chain and the current reluctance to receive the vaccine.


Dr. Anthony Komaroff

Masked personnel on USS Theodore Roosevelt
It is hoped that with the inauguration of a new Administration there will be a relaxation of social pressures against masking. The use of face covering is a simple and inexpensive precaution to limit aerosol transmission should be accepted irrespective of demographic or political inclination as a sound public health measure. Reducing the incidence rate of COVID will expedite reopening of the economy. 

 

The value of masks is demonstrated by a series of investigations on outbreaks in situations where the benefits could by quantified

  • Two hair stylists with COVID symptoms served 139 clients over an eight-day period with an interaction of 15 minutes.  None of the 67 clients subsequently interviewed and consenting for testing developed COVID infection.  In accordance with company policy and local ordinances, stylists and clients wore masks in the salon.
  • A retrospective case-control study conducted in Thailand involving 1,000 subjects showed that there was a 70 percent reduced risk of acquiring COVID infection compared to individuals who did not wear masks.
  • A study of the outbreak onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt demonstrated that face covering onboard was associated with a 70 percent reduced risk of infection.  This COVID outbreak involved 1,271 diagnosed crew-members comprising 27 percent of the personnel on the vessel, 77 percent were asymptomatic at the time of diagnosis.  Twenty-three crew-members were hospitalized with one fatality.
  • A study of 124 households in Beijing with one or more laboratory-confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection showed that use of masks by the index patient and family contacts before symptoms developed reduced secondary transmission within the household by 79 percent. 
  • Structured experiments involving transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in passenger aircraft demonstrated the beneficial effects of wearing masks combined with frequent air exchange and HEPA filtration.  Studies on passengers undertaking flights longer than ten hours wearing masks demonstrated the absence of infection in both crew and passengers  over a 14-day period following potential exposure. 
  • Based on studies in fifteen U.S. states and in a German city, it was calculated that universal masking could reduce the need for lockdowns and advert losses of up to $1 trillion or five percent of GDP.

 

*IHME. COVID-19 Forecasting Team.  Modeling COVID-19 scenarios for the United States.  Nat. Med. October 23, 2020.  doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-1132-9


 

Prominent Food Safety Lawyer Questions Inaction By South Africa Over Listeriosis

11/07/2020

Bill Marler, a prominent advocate for food safety and a leading plaintiff’s attorney, questions the inaction by the South African Department of Justice over the 2017-2018 outbreak of listeriosis.  A polony (sausage) product, widely consumed by lower income demographics, was responsible for over 1,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis from January 2017 through July 2018.  The outbreak involved 216 documented deaths with many survivors enduring permanent disability.  The outbreak was extensively investigated by both local epidemiologists and international experts and was ascribed to an ST6 strain of Listeria monocytogenes isolated from patients and product and the environment of an implicated plant operated by Tiger Brands in Polokwane. 

Despite a class action civil lawsuit, there has been no compensation for victims.  South African authorities have yet to bring criminal charges against those considered responsible for the outbreak. This action is urged by Marler who addressed a video conference demanding government response. He cited criminal action brought against companies and individuals involved in significant foodborne disease outbreaks.  These include:-


Bill Marler
  • The Odwalla apple juice outbreak of STEC in 1998, resulting in a fine of $1.5 million.
  • The owners of Jensen Farms were each fined $1.5 million in 2012 as a result of unknowingly distributing cantaloupe infected with Listeria.
  • Jack and Peter Decoster responsible for an extensive 2010 SE outbreak, each served three months in jail and their company, Quality Egg, paid a $6.8 million fine.  The outbreak, extending from May to November 2010, resulted in close to 2,000 confirmed infections and based on statistical projections up to 62,000 consumers may have been affected.
  • The 2014 case against the Parnell Brothers operating the Peanut Corporation of America resulted in two-decade prison terms as a result of the 2008 Salmonella outbreak with 714 diagnosed cases and nine fatalities.
  • Conagra Foods paid an $11 million fine in 2015 following distribution of contaminated peanut butter in 2006 related to the Peanut Corporation of America case.
  • Blue Bell Creameries paid a $17 million fine following distribution of ice cream containing Listeria.  Criminal charges are pending against the then CEO, Paul Kruse.
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill paid a $25 million fine following a series of foodborne outbreaks involving Salmonella, norovirus, and E.coli infections.

It is obvious that the FDA, FSIS, and the DOJ in the U.S. consider foodborne disease as a serious threat to public wellbeing.  In the U.S. any evidence of suppression of microbiological data, criminal negligence, fraud, knowingly distributing adulterated products constituting depraved indifference will result in severe penalties including the possibility of incarceration for managers and executives. Marler together with his colleagues in South Africa is seeking justice for the Listeria victims and their families.


 

Biofuels Industry Concerned Over Conversional to Electric Vehicles

10/31/2020

A recent study entitled Economic Impacts to U.S. Biofuels, Agriculture and the Economy from Subsidized Electric Vehicle Penetration was released by the Agricultural Retailers Association.  The authors, Dr. Daniel Ugarte and Ken Ditzel are affiliated with the University of Tennessee.  The conclusions of the study were that conversion from internal combustion engines to electric propulsion by 2035 would reduce consumption of ethanol by 90 percent and biodiesel by 61 percent to quantities of 1.1 billion gallons and 0.8 million gallons respectively.  Decreased use of biofuels would reduce annual corn demand by 2.0 billion bushels and soybeans by 470 million bushels.  This could result in a 50 percent drop in the price of corn to $1.74 per bushel and soybeans would fall 44 percent to $4.92 per bushel. Collectively reduced demand for biofuels would decrease net farm income by $27 billion annually.

 

Although the figures developed in the study project the situation from 2035 through 2050, it is evident that currently the livestock industry and other users of corn and soybeans are currently supporting row-crop agriculture and biofuel producers through the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate.

 

EGG-NEWS has consistently maintained that the entire biofuels system supported by corn and soybean state legislators represents an indirect tax on all who eat and drive.  Since the U.S. is self-sufficient in energy and is no longer dependent on potentially adversarial supply nations, it would now be appropriate to phase out mandates. This would allow a structured transition of the artificially created ethanol and biodiesel industries to adapt to the realities of electric-powered passenger vehicles and trucks.


 

USDA Criticized Over the Farmers to Families Food Box Program

10/21/2020

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

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

 

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


The Box Program generated "photo-opps"

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

 

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


 

Farmers Accused of Indifference to COVID-19 Among Migrant Workers

10/01/2020

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

 

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

 

Problems that were uncovered in the investigation included:-

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


 

Economies of Scale in Dairy Operations—Parallels for Eggs?

09/17/2020

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

 

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

 

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


 

Concern over the Farmers to Families Food Box Program

09/14/2020

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A statement issued subsequent to the hearing included:-

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

 

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

 

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


 

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

09/14/2020

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Malone, T., Schaefer, A., and Lusk, J., Unscrambling COVID-19 Food Supply Chains (August 10, 2020). http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3672018