Trade Wars Now a Reality


The U.S. farming community awoke on Friday morning July 7th to the reality of a trade war.  Threatened tariffs on imported Chinese equipment including auto parts and medical devices valued at $34 billion came into effect at midnight triggering retaliatory tariffs imposed by China.  These amount to 500 categories of U.S. products. Additional tariffs are proposed on as much as $500 billion in products shipped by China to the U.S. in an ongoing reciprocal series of countermeasures.


Soybean and hog producers will be the most affected in the short term.  China imported U.S. soybeans valued at $14 billion in 2017.  Imposition of a 25 percent duty following tariffs on steel and aluminum from China in April effectively eliminated trade in soybeans now dominated by Brazil.  Hog farmers will be excluded from their market in China based on a price differential represented by newly imposed tariffs, including VAT will represent an 81 percent ad valorem boost in price.  The implications for companies exporting hogs to China is self-evident.  It is estimated that currently one out of every four U.S. hogs is exported to China.  A prominent family-owned integrator in the Midwest estimates that the company will lose $100 million on 5.5 million hogs spread across ten states.


To add to the woes of the hog industry, Mexico has imposed a 10 percent retaliatory tariff on chilled and frozen pork with a 20 percent rate effective Friday July 6.


Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Sonny Perdue has commented on “a plan to help protect farmers and agriculture businesses.”  EGG-NEWS has previously noted that any compensatory payment to farmers will increase the national debt and will engender opposition from Congress.



It is hoped that the present situation is only extreme brinkmanship and that China and the U.S. will recognize the folly of “assured mutual destruction” and will negotiate a satisfactory resolution to the outstanding problems of an imbalance in trade and misappropriation of intellectual property.  Failure to restore free trade will have both social and political implications for the U.S. and especially for the agricultural sector of the economy.


Secretary of Agriculture Promotes Work Requirements for SNAP Recipients


Speaking at an Eastern Washington Agriculture Leaders’ Conference on July 2, Dr. Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture expressed his view that able-bodied adults should work or participate in training programs to receive SNAP benefits.  This places him on record as endorsing a major provision of the House version of the Farm Bill.  The Senate version which was passed on a bipartisan vote has no restrictions on SNAP recipients.


Perdue stated, “If people enjoy the benefit of having food for their family…they should expect that someone that’s taking advantage of that, or utilizing that during down times, are trying to better themselves to a more independent lifestyle.”  Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was active in promoting the House version which passed narrowly on a 213-211 vote.  She commented, “The House felt very strongly – frankly, as I do – there should be some work requirement associated with the generosity and compassion of the American taxpayer.”  She added, “The Farm Bill and the work requirement is a historic effort to empower more people to build a foundation for a better life.” 


Reconciliation of the House and Senate versions of the 2018 Farm Bill will be contentious but hopefully resolution will be achieved before expiration of the 2014 Act in September.


Jury Rules Against Smithfield Farms in North Carolina Hog-Nuisance Case


In the second jury trial filed against Smithfield Foods, a jury in Raleigh, Wake County ruled in favor of plaintiffs on Friday June 29th. The case involved a bellwether couple living in the vicinity of a 4,700 hog unit contracted to Smithfield Foods.  At issue is the apparent odor, alleged contamination of ground water and deprivation of property rights as a result of operating a lagoon and pasture-spray system of manure disposal.  Although the jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages, state law will restrict compensation to $250,000 per plaintiff and the $25 million total award will probably be reduced to $650,000.


The current case in Duplin County follows a previous verdict against Smithfield in a U.S. District Court in which ten neighbors were awarded $51 million which was subsequently reduced to $3 million. This case was regarded as the best opportunity for Smithfield to mount a defense since the bellwether plaintiffs moved to the area after the hog farm commenced operation.


The Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University has emerged as the champion of homeowners in their opposition to hog farms using lagoon storage and spray disposal of manure.  North Carolina has 9 million hogs concentrated in the eastern segment of the state located among 2,000 farms contracted to a few integrators.


Alternative technology including biodigestors which could displace lagoons and are considered to be too expensive to install and operate.  Smithfield Foods, a subsidiary of the WH Group of China has indicated that should hog production become uneconomical as a result of lawsuits they will withdraw from North Carolina. The North Carolina Pork Council commented that the two verdicts would have “unforeseen economic consequences for our farmers, the state’s pork industry and North Carolina agriculture.”


During the first week of June, the North Carolina legislature overrode a veto by Governor Roy Cooper allowing to stand a law limiting the ability of residents to join a class action lawsuit against farmers and integrators as a result of nuisance.


The National Pork Producers Council president, Jim Heimerl stated, “We are deeply troubled by the decision against a farm that has operated responsibly and in compliance with state law since 1985 and maintains the highest standards of environmental and community stewardship.”


The two cases have established precedents which will result in a spate of claims of doubtful validity against operators of CAFOs. These may well include egg producers especially in areas where suburban encroachment on farms occurs.


Administration Anticipates Agricultural Deal With Mexico – Realism or Optimism?


The USAPEEC MondayLine posted on June 29th quoted Ted McKinney USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Agriculture as opining “I think we’re very near with Mexico. There are some things we’ve got to work through, but I think we’re very near.” He was referring to an agreement to revise NAFTA, generally considered to be dead, given reciprocal retaliatory action by both Mexico and Canada following threatened and imposed U.S. tariffs on products emanating from both nations.

The president of the Mexican Association of Poultry Producers (UNA) has called for retaliatory tariffs on U.S. poultry products imported into Mexico. Cesar Quesada of UNA and also the Mexican Agricultural Council are soliciting support from the Government of Mexico to facilitate expansion requiring investment in the poultry industry. The UNA action is basically a request for protection.

As with all demands by producers over tariffs, the concern of any government is to balance the social, political and economic benefits of inexpensive imports relative to the contribution from protected poultry industries. The situation with respect to India, China and the Republic of South Africa is to favor local production to support employment. In contrast, governments tend to relax protection prior to elections or with prevailing high inflation or an economic downturn. Waivers are granted over import restrictions to support an inexpensive “chicken in every pot” policy, if only as a temporary expedient to placate supporters of the ruling party.

The optimism expressed by the USDA with regard to Mexico may be premature given attitudes expressed by the Administration and future intransigence in negotiations under an Obrador Presidency.


Citizens Petition To Require FDA to Designate Eggs as “Healthy”


Jesse Laflamme, CEO of Pete and Gerry’s Organics is to be complimented on his initiative to file a citizens petition with the FDA to amend the definition of “healthy”. The FDA considers that eggs are too high in total and saturated fat and cholesterol to be designated “healthy” by food processors. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services consider eggs to be a part of a “healthy diet”.

Current knowledge of nutrition has proven that dietary cholesterol does not raise serum cholesterol to any appreciable degree in consumers without a genetic predisposition to hypercholesterolemia. The petition filed by Jesse Laflamme emphasizes the nutritional value of eggs and the contribution of Vitamin D and choline. Nutritionally enriched eggs achieved through dietary supplementation have even higher nutrient values. This is the basis of the success of Eggland’s Best LLC, a producer cooperative which dominates the specialty egg segment.

The role of eggs in diets is now accepted with companies such as Weight Watchers International, Inc., adding eggs to the range of foods members can consume without the need for dietary tracking. This concession is based on the nutrient value of eggs and a contribution to satiety.

In a statement, the FDA stated that the definition of healthy is undergoing review and the Agency is considering “a large body of information and analyses”. The FDA may be out of step with current knowledge of nutrition and is apparently still under the influence of the studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s which demonized fat. Subsequent investigations have revealed that many of the trials were directly supported by associations and companies marketing sugar and sugar-containing products introducing bias and distortion.

The difference in approach between the FDA and federal departments with respect to eggs is further evidence of incoordination and suggests that consumers would be better served by a single Food Agency staffed by experts with a commitment to safety, quality and nutrition.


ICE Raid On Plant Nursery In Ohio


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) recently carried out a raid on a large flower and garden center in Sandusky, OH. The current policy of strict enforcement of immigration regulations is justified in law and is politically acceptable to the Administration and supporters.

The problem of illegal immigration and the arrest-and-deport approach is analogous to trying to maintain the level in a leaky bucket by adding more water. All the time there is a demand for labor and a ready supply of willing workers, simple economics will perpetuate a system of illegal employment.

It is high time that the Government recognizes the realities including a disinclination by U.S. citizens with deficient skills and no prospects in cities to undertake agricultural employment. It is absolutely necessary for the proposed temporary H visas to be issued to foreign agricultural workers under the control of the Department of Agriculture.

Although many large egg producers have stabilized their labor by employing citizens and legal alien workers, there are many operations not in compliance and are vulnerable to raids and disruption. Employers must transition to the E-Verify system. This will preclude the problem of fraudulent documents in circulation.

The use of employment agents who round up illegal workers is strongly condemned and should cease. These coyotes function at the interface between a willing workforce and potential employers under pressure to fill labor complements.

In reviewing farm operations and in conversation with owners and managers, it is evident that there is a disinclination for native-born citizens to demonstrate required reliability, diligence and responsibility. Drug use and alcohol abuse are responsible for absences from work, failure to follow biosecurity procedures and operational procedures. The problem is especially evident when a farming operation is in proximity to a large industrial enterprise that can afford to pay higher wages for workers who are prepared to be productive, abstain from substance abuse and conform to work routines.

Building border walls, stricter enforcement of immigration laws and restricting social benefits for unemployed citizens are not practical solutions to a long-standing problem. U.S. agriculture, and specifically, the poultry industry require workers available and willing from our southern neighbor. The Administration and Congress should face reality and provide requisite visas to maintain the efficiency of operations. This implies that acceptable wage rates will be offered including appropriate housing, health and other benefits. In the short term, all producers should transition to legal compliance and conform to the DHS rules incorporating E-Verify.


South African Manufacturer Demanding Listeria Standard


The dust has not settled on the extensive outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa claiming close to 1,100 victims with 200 fatalities. The outbreak was traced back to a plant operated by leading food manufacturer Tiger Brands with a sausage product termed “polony” as the vehicle of infection.


Currently South Africa operates on a standard of 100 cfu per 100 grams in contrast to the U.S. and the E.U. which have imposed a zero tolerance for Listeria monocytogenes in food products and especially ready-to-eat items.


According to the CEO of Tiger Brands, Lawrence MacDougall, the Government of South Africa should be responsible for establishing a standard, in accordance with the formation of a food safety council. This self-exculpatory attempt has the apparent intent of absolving his Company of an independent and meaningful response. An apology would seem to be more in order. This will presumably be left to his successor.


Following outbreaks of listeriosis traced back to their plants, Maple Leaf Foods in Canada, Blue Bell Creamery and the Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Growers Association immediately announced conformity to the zero tolerance standard and established preventive measures based on HACCP principles.


MacDougall stated that, “Enterpise has not seen anything that would indicate negligence.”  Although conceding that the implicated Listeria monocytogenes ST6 strain was present in both the Polokwane plant and in Enterprise products. Lawyers will have no problem invoking the principle of res ipsa loquitor. Wake up Mr. MacDougall, take your head out of the sand or wherever it might be and acknowledge responsibility and commit to following world trends. 


Ready-to-eat meats especially when derived from off-cuts and low-value pork, beef and chicken ingredients are highly susceptible to contamination with Listeria. Plants producing deli cuts and ready-to-eat meats have comprehensive programs to ensure that machinery and work surfaces are thoroughly decontaminated with routine disassembly. HACCP programs incorporate a structured program of monitoring.  Anything less will result in a reoccurrence of infection.In the absence of effective control and detection programs, Tiger Brands operated the plant negligently and will be responsible for both criminal and civil penalties.


As with Chipotle Mexican Grill in the 2016 and 2017 multiple foodborne outbreaks, causation involves both incompetent top management and a lack of knowledge at the middle levels of the company involved in production and quality control.  Failure to run a food company in accordance with international standards and demonstrating willful unconcern for the operational procedures applied by companies in the E.U. and North America effectively represents negligence.


Tiger Brands does not have to conduct a “root cause analysis of the outbreak” as suggested by the GM. Enterprise should appoint knowledgeable QC personnel and the Company should just knuckle down and follow the example of successful companies producing ready-to-eat foods.


Rebuttal of the Food Safety News Posting on Salmonellosis


The May 26th edition of Food Safety News issued by the law firm of Attorney Bill Marler includes a commentary by Roy Costa.  A practicing sanitarian and professional expert witness, Costa is apparently out of his depth in commenting on the epidemiology of foodborne Salmonella infections. The topic is a lot more intellectually challenging than counting cockroaches and rodent droppings under the sinks of restaurants. His article denotes a non-objective bias against commercial egg production exemplified by his opening sentence, “The disgusting truth about industrial egg production is it stinks”.


The article contains numerous inaccuracies and misconceptions in relation to the recent case of Salmonella Braenderup infection among consumers involving 35 diagnosed cases over a three month period. The cluster of cases has been attributed by the FDA correctly or otherwise to a North Carolina complex holding three million hens. 


Costa should differentiate between vertically transmitted egg-borne infections such as SE and non-group D Salmonella serotypes which have an entirely different epidemiology. It is important at the outset to recognize that there is no epidemiologic commonality between the 2010 outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) and the 2018 case involving Salmonella Braenderup. In the 2010 SE outbreak approximately 2,000 cases were diagnosed within a two month period and the incidence rate declined precipitously within a week of the mandatory recall. The Iowa flocks in question had at least a five-year history of infection with SE, a Group-D serotype known to be vertically transmitted from the reproductive tract of hens to their eggs.  The outbreak was probably amplified by improper handling of product including failure to maintain storage temperatures below 45F. A second possible contributory factor was extended storage suggested by evidence of illegal misstatement of use-by dates for both packed product and graded-egg and nest-run sales.  A combination of prolonged storage and thermal abuse will increase the quantum of infection transmitted vertically from the hen to the consumer. A proportion of eggs may have only 102 CFU per egg at the time of lay but proliferating to 108 CFU within ten days under suboptimal conditions of storage.


In the case of the Salmonella Braenderup trace-back study, there is some question as to the source of the pathogen among specific cases which were apparently related by whole genome sequence assays performed by the Food and Drug Administration.  Given the initial laboratory findings by the FDA, and a site visit by FDA inspectors, the company concerned elected to withdraw shell eggs from the market, initially dumping 2.4 million eggs each day in landfills. It is understood that more recently eggs are transported to a USDA-FSIS approved and inspected plant for breaking and pasteurization.


Costa apparently believes or implies that Salmonella infection originates from rodents and flies.  This is totally incorrect.  In the case of Salmonella Enteritidis, the infection is vertically transmitted from parent stock to commercial progeny.  Admittedly mice are susceptible to SE and the survivors become carriers and can disseminate SE infection among houses on a complex but they are not intrinsically responsible for introduction of infection.  Mice on a farm with flocks shown to be free of SE will not introduce infection and cannot influence the prevalence rate of the pathogen in eggs irrespective of the level of rodent infestation. If the flock is free of infection neither mice nor flies will have any role in dissemination of SE. In the case of the North Carolina complex the FDA has not released any data relating to the prevalence of Salmonella Braenderup in flocks, environmental samples from houses and the packing plant, presence of the pathogen in reproductive tracts of hens of various ages, egg pools or recovery from rodents, flies or manure or from workers on the farm.


Since the late 1990’s, breeder flocks at the Great-grandparent, Grandparent and Parent levels have been free of SE infection with primary breeders and multipliers conforming to the statutory  NPIP Salmonella Enteritidis prevention and detection program. Rarely “breaks” occur but these are detected in parent stock by repetitive and routine environmental drag-swab litter assays usually at three-week intervals preventing delivery of infected chicks. At the commercial level, consignments of day-old pullets are assayed by examination of chick-box papers collected at the time of delivery. 


There is little known about the epidemiology of Salmonella Braenderup in livestock and poultry.  This pathogen is not generally regarded as associated with eggs and previous limited outbreaks documented in the literature have been attributed to contaminated meat pies and fresh produce.  While investigations are in progress any comments as to the origin of Salmonella Braenderup and possible dissemination among flocks on the implicated complex are speculative.  It is possible that the infection could have been introduced through contaminated animal by-product meal if this ingredient was in fact incorporated into diets fed to the hens or it the pathogen may have been tracked on to the complex through deficiencies in structural or operational biosecurity involving defective decontamination of personnel, vehicles or equipment.


Costa is reminded of the ongoing FDA Final Rule on the Prevention of Salmonella and the numerous state EQAP programs and individual company initiatives to prevent and detect SE involving biosecurity, vaccination and monitoring which have proven to be decidedly effective.


There have been no documented cases of egg-borne SE attributed to a farm complying with the FDA program or an industry or state EQAP since the 2010 outbreak.


Including the implicated company alleged to be responsible for the 2018 Salmonella Braenderup cases and the extensive SE outbreak in 2010 in the same sentence is a disservice to breeders and commercial egg producers.  The limited outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup does not necessarily indicate a “failure of the food safety system”. In contradistinction the diagnoses among consumers serve as a confirmation of the sensitivity of data-based detection systems introduced by the CDC including FoodNet and PulseNet (now using whole genome sequencing). It is an achievement to detect an outbreak of 53 cases in a multi-state population of 100 million at risk over a period of three months.


 It is hoped that if Roy Costa is to serve as an expert witness in any action brought by his Client, Marler Clark, that he should at least become familiar with the epidemiology of vertically transmitted Salmonella Group D serotypes and the obvious distinction in transmission and detection of Group B and C Salmonella serotypes.  It would behoove him before submitting to a deposition to be more familiar with aspects of commercial production, industry standards and preventive practices employed. Above all if he is to serve as an expert in relation to a disease outbreak he should refrain from broad generalizations which demonize an industry and generate concern among consumers. The U.S. egg production industry with 315 million hens is responsible for producing a wholesome, nutritious and inexpensive food product.


Food Safety News is generally a factual and informational web-si

Transmission and Survival of Salmonella Oranienburg in Hens


Following an egg-borne outbreak of Salmonella Oranienburg (SO) in Midwest states in 2015, researchers at the U.S. FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition conducted trials to ascertain whether the pathogen could be vertically transmitted through consuming table eggs.*


Twenty-eight week old laying hens were challenged with an oral dose of SO ranging from 107 to 109 CFU and were evaluated over the subsequent four weeks.


Although S. Oranienburg was isolated from spleen, liver and the reproductive tract, vertical transmission was a rare observation.  The immune system appeared to inactivate infection after four weeks.


The authors concluded that infection with Salmonella Oranienburg did not result in contamination of eggs by the vertical route and that colonization of the ovary and oviduct was of short duration.  Limited survival but not proliferation of the organism in eggs stored at 42F to 46F for weeks is expected.


As with studies conducted at the USDA-ARS laboratory in Athens, GA high levels of challenge were used.  Under practical conditions, hens acquiring infection from fomites including mouse droppings in feed would probably ingest 101 to 102 organisms.  Salmonella Oranienburg is a serotype C1 and it is doubtful whether S. Typhimurium mutant vaccine would provide protection.  It is presumed that the hens used in the FDA study were not vaccinated.


It can be expected that currently the FDA is repeating the evaluation with S. Braendrup isolated from a North Carolina farm and apparently responsible for 35 cases of salmonellosis associated with egg consumption.  Irrespective of the potential vertical transmission, there is no accepted eradication or NPIP Certification program at the breeder level as with Salmonella Enteritidis. 


Obviously effective biosecurity procedures, inclusion of acidifiers in feed where appropriate, feeding all-vegetable diets and rigorous suppression of flies and rodents are appropriate preventive measures. Given that the U.S. industry does not use antibiotics routinely in rearing or in laying flock, the possibility of inducing drug resistance is extremely remote.


It is presumed that primary breeders are actively monitoring for the presence of Salmonella, and feeding pasteurized diets to GGP and GP level breeders if not to parents. Breeders and multipliers apply strict preventive measures to interdict exposure to Salmonella which could result in intestinal colonization.


*Babu, U.S. et al.(2018) In vivo and in vitro Evaluation of Tissue Colonization and Survival Capacity of Salmonella Oranienburg in Laying Hens. Poultry Science May 25: 1-6 (doi.org/10.3382/ps/pey189)


FDA Unable To Determine Source of Infection Romaine Lettuce


Although lettuce would appear to be far removed from eggs, both produce growers and our industry fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA. An outbreak of E.coli 0157:H7 infection attributed to Romaine lettuce which commenced in mid-March and continued through early May has claimed at least 125 victims with one fatality in 29 states. The outbreak is characterized by an approximately 40 percent hospitalization rate with 10 percent of the patients developing hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Organizations including the United Fresh Produce Association are frustrated in that their offer to assist the FDA has apparently been spurned. Clearly the FDA does not understand the practices involving the growing and distribution of produce. The Agency is now confronted with a poorly documented system of tracing the supply chain inhibiting identification of the source.

The FDA appears to be concentrated on unraveling the supply chain to determine the source of the affected chopped and whole Romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ region. The Agency is however aware through an epidemiological happenstance that inmates in a prison in Alaska affected by the implicated strain of E.coli consumed Romaine lettuce heads from a specific farm.

It would behoove the FDA to quit temporizing over a fruitless trace-back and evaluate the methods of production including irrigation, harvesting and processing since the Yuma season for production, if not over, is drawing to a close. In three weeks’ time, the FDA will still be no further in their investigation given the opacity and convolution of the supply chain, but will have missed the opportunity to survey fields and packing plants both in Yuma and also in California which will soon be the principal supplier to the U.S.

Now returning to eggs, it is evident that the FDA does not understand the industries under their jurisdiction. This can be discerned by reading between the lines of the FDA 483 Document served on a large egg producer arising from an inspection following a limited outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup. Deficiencies in understanding were in any event glaringly evident in 2010 with the introduction of the FDA Final Rule on Salmonella Prevention. Wasting time in trying to pinpoint a specific farm or farms in the Romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak is really an exercise in futility. Ascribing an outbreak of salmonellosis to the presence of flies or a few mice or workers in a plant scratching their noses or “gluteal clefts” is equally inane. A thorough and structured field investigation carried out by trained professionals of the Epidemiology Intelligence Service of the Centers for Disease Control would be more appropriate and productive.

It is evident that produce growers should get their house in order and establish a system of trace-back. Given the introduction of blockchain technology, this may be an opportune time to move from paper and pencil records to electronic data.

FDA should confine itself to drugs and medical devices where it has expertise albeit with insufficient field staff to monitor pharmaceutical plants in Asia and leave eggs and produce to agencies with appropriate technology and experience.

The solution to the problem of enhancing food safety does not lie in a complicated Food Safety Modernization Act and the derived regulations but in the development of a new food safety entity paralleling agencies in the E.U.


What Is In A Raspberry?


The SC Johnson Company spent upwards of $100,000 for a full-page advertisement in the May 3rd edition of The Wall Street Journal. The diagram noted 68 organic structures found in a raspberry. The compounds include lipids, minerals, flavanones, vitamins, sugars, and other nutrients all by definition “chemicals”.

In recent years, exponents of “clean labels” have railed against additives including those approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These compounds most of which have natural analogues are included in formulations to enhance keeping qualities, shelf-life, flavor and to protect against pathogens.

A leading adversary of additives has been the self-styled Food Babe who earned a degree in computer science and has no formal training in either biochemistry or medicine. She has initiated campaigns directed against QSRs and food processors through dissemination of false information and innuendo. The criterion which she applies to the acceptability of additives is whether or not she can pronounce the name. Given this crude and simplistic approach, she would obviously be opposed to docosahexaenoic acid and beta cryptoxanthin. These compounds are respectively the essential fatty acid DHA and a pigment related to Vitamin A. The former is required for cell membrane structure and function especially relating to the development of the brain. The latter metabolite is involved in various metabolic pathways at the cellular level. The Food Babe would probably reject phylloquinone also known as Vitamin K and epigallocatechin 3-gallate a flavan.

Unfortunately the web has given a large megaphone to well-meaning but ill-informed commentators promoting fad diets and distorted science which appeal to the affluent “worried well” The web has also provided a platform for the unscrupulous purveyors of misinformation who generate a following to sell books, CDs and “ systems” based on fear and uncertainty.

The SC Johnson Company is commended for introducing realism into the appreciation of chemicals since no one can have any complaint with the composition of a raspberry. Unfortunately the advertisement in The Wall Street Journal will not reach the demographic where it will do the most good. As with the agribiotech-industry which imperfectly promoted GM technology two decades ago, food manufacturers have been stampeded into the so called “clean label” movement. Hopefully there will be a reversal of the trend with an improved understanding of biochemistry and nutrition. 


Adverse Judgement Against Smithfield May Have Implications For The Egg Industry


A jury in Bladen County, NC awarded ten plaintiffs $50 million following a trial alleging nuisance from odor and depreciation of property values. The verdict was rendered against Murphy-Brown-Smithfield Foods with respect to the hogs they own at Kinlaw Farm in the County. The contractor operating the farm was not a defendant.

The award to each plaintiff in the class was based on $75,000 for substantial and unreasonable interference with use and enjoyment of their property. The additional $5 million for each plaintiff represented punitive damages. The magnitude of the award will be reduced since the case was held in Federal court which limits the ratio of compensatory to punitive damages to a ratio of 1 to 10. Had the case been held in a North Carolina state court, compensatory damages would have been limited to $225,000 per plaintiff. The Defendant claims that the trial was unfair as the jury was not allowed to visit the plaintiff’s properties or hear expert evidence on odor-monitoring procedures.

Civil rights organizations have hailed the verdict as a “significant victory for community members who live next to factory feed lots”. Michelle Nowlin, a Professor of law and a supervising attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University noted “The plaintiffs have suffered indescribable insults not just from the immediate impacts of the feed lots themselves, but also from decades of government failure to come to their aid.”

The case has obviously established a precedent and attorneys may well be attracted to the prospect of large jury verdicts against intensive livestock facilities including egg production complexes. Variations on the complaints of odor, flies, dust and environmental impact will obviously be raised. Even if cases are dismissed or if juries reject the plaintiffs’ allegations, the costs to of defend lawsuits will be substantial whether settled or tried.

Hog producers are obviously in a more vulnerable position than egg producers based on systems of manure handling. The North Carolina use of lagoons is the obvious source of nuisance as liquid hog waste is sprayed on land adjacent to residential areas. In the case of the egg production industry, flush systems and lagoons were abandoned decades ago to be replaced by high-rise houses. These 1970 and 1980-vintage systems present problems of flies and odor compared to the later belt-manure systems with on-farm drying or composting.

The Smithfield verdict should evoke contemplation of risks of lawsuits and the costs associated with defending these actions and the expense of settlements or adverse verdicts, even if punitive damages are not levied.


E. coli Outbreak from Romaine Lettuce Discloses Deficiencies in Traceability


Epidemiologists are frustrated by the absence of traceability documentation in their investigation of the source(s) of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 with severe complications.  To date over 100 patients have been diagnosed in 22 states. More than half the cases have required hospital treatment with 10 developing kidney failure.


All that the CDC and health authorities can offer in the way of advice to prevent the condition is to refrain from eating Romaine lettuce derived from the Yuma Valley in Arizona. This based on retrospective surveys disclosing that all but eight patients ate chopped Romaine lettuce in restaurant or home-prepared salads prior to onset of symptoms. The eight cases in a prison in Alaska consumed Romaine lettuce from a specific farm near Yuma. Investigations to confirm the presence of the outbreak strain on this unit and from neighboring area farms are in progress. The outbreak was first identified during the first week of April.  New supplies of lettuce should now be sourced from California. Incident cases are expected over the next two weeks until lettuce from the Yuma area is removed from the supply chain


Following the 2006 outbreak of E.coli due to contaminated leaf spinach the produce industry established a traceability initiative. Growers and intermediates in the supply chain have not adopted the system as an industry. Apparently the cost of labels, non-standardization of recordkeeping and disinclination to innovate have served as barriers to application of traceback. Successive, and in some cases extensive, outbreaks of foodborne disease attributed to produce and uncooked foods cries out for application of blockchain technology.


Contrary to the situation in the U.S. egg production industry there is no identification of green produce and many other uncooked foods, complicating the identification of potential sources of infection.  A specific restaurant chain in New Jersey was identified as the immediate source of infection of some patients and traceback to a distribution center in Ohio was established. Tracing further back the chain becomes murky with multiple distribution channels consistent with the extent of the outbreak.  A spokesperson with the FDA stated, “We are tracing back from multiple groupings of people reported ill that are located in diverse geographic areas.  The reason for this is to avoid redundant distribution channels that converge on a single source of grower.


The CDC efforts to identify cases through reporting systems appears to have functioned well. The ability of the FDA to mount an intensive and rapid field investigation is questioned. This outbreak and similar episodes suggest that consumers could be best served by a single comprehensive food safety agency analogous to the EPA with scientific and field operatives trained in prevention, investigation and suppression of foodborne disease.


Progress in Suppressing Antibiotic Resistant Pathogens


The Centers for Disease Control issued an update on the prevalence of drug resistant pathogens in their Vital Signs report.  The CDC operates the Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network (ARLN) established in 2016 to detect and monitor antibiotic resistance with specific reference to carbapenemase genes. At the present time the ARLN coordinates 56 state and local cooperating laboratories.


There are presently five known carbapenem-resistant (CRE) genes:


  • Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase gene (KPC)
  • Imipenemase (IMP)
  • New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM)
  • Verona Integron-Encoded Metallo-beta-lactamase (VIM)
  • Oxacillinase-48 (OXA)

Screening of 1,489 contacts of infected patients in 50 medical facilities yielded pathogens carrying one of the five carbapenemase genes in 11 percent of the isolates.
The National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) has monitored resistance genes over ten years through 2015 in Enterobacteriaceae with either carbapenemase or extended-spectrum beta-lactamase genes.  It was determined that Klebsiella pneumoniae and E. coli with an ESPL phenotype remain stable at a level of approximately 17 percent of isolates.  A proportion of isolates with a CRE phenotype declined from 10 percent in 2007 to 3 percent in 2015.
The difference is attributed to proper identification of pathogens carrying resistance genes followed by intensive measures to suppress environmental contamination.
When a specific gene (IMP) was identified in Proteus sp. isolated from urinary tract infections affecting residents in a nursing home, prompt corrective action was implemented.  Patients carrying the bacteria with the resistance genes were isolated and treated. Procedures were modified to reduce cross-transmission.  This action reduced the incidence rate within the facility with no additional cases after a few weeks.
According to Dr. Arjun Srinivasan Associate Director for Healthcare-associated Infection programs at the CDC “One of the messages we want to send with this report is that no provider has to work in isolation.”  He added, “Once a problem is uncovered resources are available to suppress infection.”
The CDC report indicates the role of medical facilities and current approaches to antibiotic therapy in the emergence, spread and persistence of antibiotic resistance in pathogens. This is a human medical problem unrelated to livestock production.


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