Editorial


USDA Edging Inexorably Towards AI Vaccination

02/19/2024

In a statement issued on February 14th, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated, “The USDA is 18 months or so away from identifying a vaccine for the current strain of bird flu and is developing a process to distribute it.” This Orwellian “officialspeak” was also entered into testimony before a Congressional hearing. 

 

For the record:

 

  • The current H5N1 strain of avian influenza, is essentially a pandemic strain prevalent North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe for over three years. The strain is responsible for losses of over 100 million commercial poultry and has made severe inroads into the populations of susceptible marine and migratory birds.

  • Vaccines are available off-the-shelf. The major multinational biopharmaceutical manufacturers could, subject to authorization and in the absence of bureaucratic restraints supply the needs of the U.S. poultry industry within weeks. There would be sufficient vaccine to implement regional vaccination programs for required egg production flocks, turkeys, and broiler breeders in areas at risk.

 

  • The USDA does not have to “develop a process to distribute vaccine”.  Competing poultry health companies have the capacity to supply vaccines that would conform to international and U.S. standards of safety and efficacy.

  • The USDA has been attempting to eradicate what is essentially a seasonal and regionally endemic disease since early 2022. The Department now recognizes the futility of eradicating an infection that is introduced and disseminated by millions of migratory birds.  The most effective biosecurity is less than absolutely effective given the growing reality that the infection can be transmitted over relatively short distances by the aerogenous route.

 

During the 2024 IPPE, reports were received on studies conducted by the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA on evaluating alternative vaccines. The presentation by the senior ARS scientist concerned was pitched inappropriately and delivered at a level defying comprehension by members of the United Egg Producers. This commentator, who was also bemused by the rapid series of power points and considerations of complex molecular biology, was reminded of the statement by Albert Einstein “if you can’t explain what you are doing to a ten-year old, maybe you do not know what you are actually doing.” 

 

A recurrence of HPAI that is almost inevitable in the spring of 2024 and probably later in the fall suggest that an 18-month period to “identify a vaccine” is an unconscionable delay and will cost both the USDA (i.e. taxpayers), producers and above all consumers many billions of dollars if flocks are unprotected.

The USDA is “planning to discuss poultry vaccinations with trading partners amid concerns that other countries could restrict imports of vaccinated U.S. poultry”.  There has been a groundswell supporting vaccination including endorsement by the World Organization for Animal Health. The World Health Organization is expressing concern over possible emergence of zoonotic avian influenza given the duration of the panornitic and the extension to a wide range of terrestrial and marine mammals.

 

Clearly the USDA has been negligent in not preemptively pursuing agreements relating to certification of products from vaccinated flocks destined for export as being free of avian influenza at the time of slaughter.  PCR is readily available, and it is now possible to differentiate between vaccinated and infected flocks since there is no imperative to rely on serology as in decades past.  Unfortunately, administrators are congenitally incapable of adapting policy to new technology or reversing positions in the face of new evidence.

 

It is questioned who is advising Secretary Vilsack and whether he is obtaining the best possible information based on current scientific and economic realities. It is possible that APHIS administrators are stuck in a 1990’s time warp and are hidebound by precedent and policy that inhibits consideration of practical and realistic alternatives. To their way of thinking, adoption of a limited industry-segment and regional vaccination program would represent a denial of previous decisions encompassed in the ‘whack-a-mole approach to control of HPAI applied during the 2022-2024 epornitic.


 

Governor Jim Pillen of Nebraska Reverses Position on Summer Feeding

02/14/2024

Governor Jim Pillen of Nebraska has reversed his previous decision and will now accept federal funds to assist families in need to feed children during the summer school vacation.  His recent decision to accept $18 million in federal funds represents a reversal from his previous position.  Governor Pillen stated previously that he did not believe in “welfare” which is somewhat hypocritical since according to news reports he accepted federal funding during the COVID pandemic for his hog plant.

His acceptance of federal funding for supplemental feeding was in part attributed to a campaign in the Nebraska Legislature led by Senator Jen Day to override the decision by the Governor. In addition he was confronted by a petition signed by over 6,000 citizens of the state, protest vigils outside his residence and scathing criticism on social media.

 

Nebraska now becomes the 37th state in the Nation to accept funding that will benefit 150,000 children who qualify for reduced cost and free meals when school is in session.

 

Governor Pillen has apparently turned the situation to his advantage by announcing his flip-flop at a press conference joined by 21 state senators representing his party affiliation.

It is difficult to reconcile his statement that “children are the future of Nebraska” with a politically inspired refusal to accept Federal funds to alleviate hunger in a needy population. The question remains as to what motivated the original decision that appeared firm at the end of 2023?  A disinclination to accept that there were needy children in Nebraska?  A reluctance to accept funds from the Federal government perceived as politically inappropriate in a politically polarized environment?  A realization that recipients would be from families denying him political support and therefore inconsequential?

Irrespective of motivation, it is evident that Gov. Pillen has now made the correct decision having consulted with a range of advisors and visited with constituents. He may have been influenced by a recent poll showing state Senator Tony Vargas (D) runing neck-and-neck with incumbent Representative Don Bacon (R)  who was previously considered to be a winner for reelection the right-leaning 2nd Congressional District. Whatever the influences on Gov. Pillen his reversal on supplemental feeding  of children is correct and pragmatic. More power to him.

 

It is a primary responsibility of governors, mayors and other elected officials to use the powers of their office to benefit all of their citizenry and to pay special attention to the less fortunate. Children need adequate food to grow and learn. Stunting physical and mental development through deprivation will in the long term be more expensive to communities than providing adequate nutrition.


 

The Kipster Concept – Applicability to the U.S. ?

02/05/2024

In 2017 entrepreneurs in Holland led by Ruud Zanders established the Kipster concept to enhance both sustainability and the welfare of laying hens.  The company established a supply agreement with Lidl to exclusively market eggs produced under the system. Market demand in the Netherlands at the time and the perception of required egg-attributes by the founders influenced the design of housing and the procedures selected to produce Kipster eggs.  The prototype house incorporated solar panels, skylights and a combination of indoor aviary modules, and an “indoor garden” Two “outdoor gardens” on either side of the building allowed liberal space requirements. Design features in the building and equipment were incorporated to conserve energy. 

 

In keeping with the intent of the founders of Kipster, available recycled ingredients were specified for inclusion in feed for laying hens. This involved substitution of bakery waste for a proportion of corn and also meat and bone meal as a protein source (in the U.S.), sparing vegetable protein. In western Europe conventional diets include combinations of domestic and imported soybean meal, canola meal and sunflower meal as contributors to protein and hence amino acid requirements. 

 

Based on prevailing sentiment in 2018, the Kipster concept required grow-out of cockerel chicks that would otherwise have been destroyed at the time that sister pullets were hatched.  This requirement is now unnecessary in the E.U. given the advent of commercial gender-sorting of eggs bearing either male or female embryos at or before nine days of incubation.  The requirement for grow-out of cockerels imposes additional cost and is contrary to optimal sustainability but is retained in the U.S. model.

 

 In 2020, the Kroger Company obtained a franchise for the Kipster model in the U.S. Whether the Nation’s second-ranked retailer in egg sales actually evaluated the financial aspects in addition to marketing considerations is doubtful for other than a specialty niche. The question arises as to whether the claimed sustainability and welfare aspects are in reality recognized by consumers who will be willing to pay a premium for these non-quantifiable attributes. Will the Kipster image generate a preferential margin over the long term in comparison to available specialty eggs including nutritionally enriched, free range, pasture-reared and other variations?

 

The Purdue University Consumer Food Insights (Volume 2, issue 8) recently conducted a survey involving 2,500 respondents on their ranking of motivation to select specific food products.  The Purdue University investigators applied conjoint analysis using orthogonal comparisons to differentiate among attributes and establish a real understanding of motivation.  Using pork as an example, the relative weighting among 100 points leading to a purchase decision included:-

 

  • Price, 23;
  • Taste, 22;
  • Freshness, 18;
  • Nutritional value, 14;
  • Appearance, 11;
  • Welfare, 7;
  •  Sustainability, 5.

 

While it is acknowledged that the study was conducted on pork and not on eggs, the low ranking of both welfare and sustainability in relation to price and taste are noteworthy. Is it questioned whether Lidl in Holland or Kroger in the U.S. consider that a limited but affluent demographic will preferentially adopt the Kipster Brand that offers claimed welfare and sustainability in preference to competitive cage-free production systems. A second consideration is whether the presence of Kipster eggs in a store cooler provides a halo effect, extending the perception of added welfare and sustainability to conventional store-branded eggs?

 

The impression gained from the Kipster website and the history and adoption of the Kipster model suggests that a bottom-up approach was used by the developers to maximize sustainability and welfare as the bedrock of the concept.  In contrast, a more realistic approach for the U.S. would have been to determine the needs of a broad range of consumers and adopt a system that satisfies the desired attributes of price, taste, freshness and nutritional value. This was the basis of the Nation’s widely accepted nationally distributed brand over 30 years ago.

 

In 2019 Kroger approached MPS Egg Farms, a large and progressive existing egg supplier, to establish a Kipster production unit in the U.S.  The basic house as designed and erected in Holland was slightly modified. MPS erected and now operates four houses in North Manchester, Indiana.  It is noted that in Holland there are only three Kipster houses currently producing eggs with the initial house on one farm and two houses on a second.  The MPS farm with four houses effectively exceeds the number erected in Holland over a five-year period.  This raises the question of whether the concept provides a satisfactory return that would have encouraged individual farmers and investors to adopt the model. The Kipster concept is reminiscent of the 2009 Rondeel Concept developed jointly by Vencomatic and Wageningen University. The system was widely promoted and supported by the Albert Heijn supermarket chain, a subsidiary of Ahold-Delhaize. Only a handful of Rondeel units were erected and placed into production.

 

The MPS Kipster complex comprises four houses each holding 24,000 hens. Each house comprises two longitudinal ‘night-time’ areas with total of 24,212 square feet allowing 1.01 square foot per hen. An “indoor garden” 358 by 33 feet allowing 1.00 square foot per hen is located midway in the house between the night-time areas. Drop-down doors can be closed to confine flocks to the two “night-time” areas The ‘indoor garden has skylights for natural daylight and incorporates artificial trees for roosting, hay-bales and other enrichments on a base of wood shavings. Two “outdoor gardens” are provided each 32 feet wide parallel with each side of the house providing 1.0 square feet of exterior access per bird.  The enclosed area of a Kipster house provides 1.61 square feet per hen and the outside area comprises 0.94 square feet. 

 

The ‘night-time’ areas are equipped with Big Dutchman Natura® Step Cages equipped with feeders and nipple drinkers. The communal nest system incorporates tilting floors, center rollaway collection and additional side belts for system-laid eggs to optimize the yield of clean shells. Big Dutchman provided an OptiSec Manure Drying System that contributes to sustainability by reducing the moisture content of manure to 10 to 15 percent depending on ambient temperature.  Big Dutchman also supplied an Innoplus Exhaust Air Scrubber to remove dust and odors from the exhaust stream consistent with western European requirements, although of questionable need for the U.S.

 

According to Sam Krouse CEO of MPS, performance from the initial placements is comparable with aviaries and other cage-free systems. With acceptable U.S. production parameters, average output is 200 cases per day. Neither capital investment per hen nor production costs including feed, labor and power have been disclosed.  Estimates of capital costs suggest a higher unit price per hen compared a conventional aviary system operated at UEP density. Any differential will be reflected in the fixed component of production costs.  It is noted that the entire farm of four houses is effectively equivalent to one level of a typical U.S. multi-level (two to four) aviary house with a single foundation and roof.  Labor cost is proportionately higher with four relatively small houses compared to an in-line aviary house.  There is no indication of the price of feed that is a major component of variable cost. Bakery waste with xylanase and amino acid supplementation would probably be equivalent in price to corn. Animal byproduct meal is included in laying diets based on the need to incorporate “recycled ingredients”.  There is a decided consumer preference for all-vegetable diets that has become the standard for U.S. specialty eggs.

 

It is frequently difficult to transfer concepts that may be acceptable and financially beneficial at a point in time in a nation to a completely different operating and marketing environment without considerable adaptation and a required degree of flexibility. A few years ago the significant U.S. marketer of specialty eggs was approached by a consortium of Japanese producers to license the concept for their nation.  Investigation of the needs of the market in Japan, prevailing production costs and numerous technical restraints that emerged required such extensive modification of the U.S. program that the initiative was abandoned.

 

While it is too early to evaluate the Kipster concept with respect to the U.S. it certainly has not blown out the doors in Holland over the past five years. Development of the system in a highly competitive market such as the U.S. will probably confine adoption to a specific niche.  Based on current consumer motivation, any novel U.S. egg concept would rank price, commensurate with quality and freshness above the attributes of sustainability and welfare. Nutritional value and safety would also be highly ranked. Accordingly, the structure of an enterprise, the design of housing, specification of equipment, formulation and sourcing of feed and selection of packaging would all be conditioned by the needs of the market. 

 

At the end of the day Kroger could not have picked a better partner than MPS to develop the first Kipster operation in the U.S. The question remains as to how both Kipster and their licensee Kroger, will expand the concept to supply other U.S. regions with eggs. There is no indication of how Kroger will promote sustainability and welfare against USDA certified organic and other cage-free and pasture-housed products. It is also questioned whether Kroger will be willing to pay a premium to producers to cover the additional fixed and variable costs of nest-run production in comparison to alternative cage-free housing systems. Certainly if margins justify the difference over the intermediate term but unless either Kroger or Kipster are willing to spend on promoting the concept on mainstream and social media growth will be limited in a competitive market.


 

Corn Ethanol is a Wasteful Source of Energy

01/31/2024

Tom Philpott writing in the January 19th edition of The New Republic documented the fallacy of corn-based ethanol as a sustainable source of energy. During the energy crisis of the 1970’s, the concept of using corn as a substrate to produce ethanol was initiated.  The industry grew slowly given that ethanol had to compete with petroleum products on a level playing field.  In 2007, the Renewable Fuel Standard was developed essentially to make the U.S. independent of oil supplied by ‘unfriendly’ nations.  According to Philpott, in 2004 eleven percent of corn was converted to ethanol and byproducts. This proportion has increased to a projection of 32 percent of the 2024 crop.

 

There is no issue that unites both Republican and Democratic legislators from corn-producing states than preserving and extending the Renewable Fuel Standard.  Without the mandated diversion of approximately 5 billion bushels of corn to ethanol, the price for the commodity would be far lower, possibly under the cost of production and accordingly reducing output in addition to maintaining the artificially high value of cropland.

 

Every bushel of fermented corn produces one-third each of ethanol, dried distillers solubles and carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.  At this time, carbon dioxide should be sequestered on site subject to suitability of the ground on which the plant is located.  Plans to install a web of pipelines to transport carbon dioxide from plants to a disposal site in North Dakota have been scuttled by the very farmers who benefit from ethanol production but reject the environmental effects of their crop. 

 

Although ethanol is quoted on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, it does not trade due to indifference to the commodity.  Exports represent less than ten percent of production amounting to approximately one million barrels per day.  Attempts to increase demand by marketing higher gasoline blends exceeding ten percent would appear to have languished due to the high cost of installing multi-blend fuel pumps at filling stations and the inability of older vehicles to run on more than a ten percent ethanol content.

 

The ethanol industry is justifiably concerned over the rise in EV adoption although sales of these vehicles have leveled in the U.S.  As more charging points are installed in both homes and for public use in accordance with current federal climate-mitigation policy, the demand for ethanol will shrink.

 

Claims that ethanol is “clean burning” are fallacious.  Even with E-15 blend, 85 percent of fuel used to power a vehicle comprises gasoline.  Studies that take into account all of the energy inputs to grow and harvest corn and convert the product to ethanol suggest that there is no net energy saving but that carbon dioxide produced is detrimental to the environment if vented. The quantity of water required for cooling bioreactors is immense, occassionaly depleting aquifers in the vicinity of plants.

 

 

 

According to the 2023 Iowa Climate Statement accepted by 200 scientists in over 30 colleges and universities, a one-acre solar farm produces as much energy as 100 acres of corn-based ethanol.  The problem of large arrays displacing corn production relates to deficiencies in the grid.  If energy from solar arrays is available to charge EV’s energy utilization is highly efficient since electric vehicles convert over 90 percent of energy to motion compared to internal combustion engines with an efficiency of less than 25 percent.

 

Government policy on ethanol that may have been justifiable at the turn of the century is now a liability.  The RFS represents an indirect tax on all who travel and eat.  In millennia to come, archeologists will wonder at the inhabitants of the Midwest who apparently worshiped large tanks much as the Druids erect Stonehenge and the ancient Egyptians erected their pyramids and obelisks. 

 

Unfortunately, ethanol has acquired a momentum that is now impossible to restrain notwithstanding distortion of the agro-economy. Ethanol is maintained by the mendacity of politicians supported by the ethanol industry and their constituents at the cost of all consumers  in common with livestock and poultry producers.

 


 

Intensive Livestock Agriculture Faces Opposition over Environmental Concerns

01/22/2024

The recent COP 28 Environmental Conference held in the United Arab Emirates generated a declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action signed by 150 nations.  The declaration included, “Maximize the climate and environmental benefits while containing and reducing harmful impacts associated with agriculture and food systems---and shifting from higher greenhouse gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption approaches.  The Food Agriculture and Water Day, a component of COP 28 specifically addressed, “high consumption of food products with high GHG footprints in some locations contributing unnecessarily to the emissions by agrifood systems.”

 

The conclusion of the COP 28 Conference was encapsulated in a letter signed by 250 environmental groups and scientists urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “immediately make meat and dairy reduction a key part of climate strategy.”  Under the current administration we have a paradoxical situation with the Department of Agriculture openly assuming some of the responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Agency and establishing policies that are contrary to the best interests of agriculture.  Hopefully reason will prevail under a subsequent Administration under a Secretary with a balanced perspective.

 

In previous decades, opposition to intensive livestock production of both meat and dairy products was predicated on considerations of welfare.  Advocates of a vegan lifestyle based their attacks on animal agriculture on philosophic grounds, relating to the morality of raising and slaughtering of herds and flocks.  Opponents of meat and dairy production have now merged with the environmental movement claiming that meat consumption is a major contributor to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Signatories to the January 11th letter to the Secretary of Agriculture note that meat and dairy products contribute materially to the one-third of global greenhouse gases generated by all food and agricultural activities.  The emphasis on protein production and the demonization of meat and dairy consumption was a cynical attempt by the organizers of COP 28 to divert attention from the impact of petroleum sources of energy representing the income of the host Nation.  Naturally those in favor of a vegan lifestyle cited the high level of meat consumption in the U.S. and advocated replacement with plant-based foods. Presentations and communiqués from the COP 28 Meeting equated projected savings in greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating meat consumption with the enforced obsolescence of automobiles powered by internal combustion engines.

 

The signatories to the letter call on the USDA to make dairy and meat reduction a significant component of USDA climate strategy.  Specifically, the signatories requested USDA to increase “healthy, plant-based foods in school meal programs.”  It was also suggested that sustainability should be incorporated into the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, emphasizing plant-based consumption.

 

Since 2021, the USDA has attempted to dismantle the current structure of the meat and poultry industry. This has involved an emphasis on the risks associated with centralization and consolidation and consistently demonizing the four large meat packers. Concurrently the USDA   has attempted to develop regional small-scale production at great cost to taxpayers. None of these initiatives have influenced either the scale of domestic production or volume of exports. The USDA has expended billions in public funds on capricious projects, mostly directed to cooperatives, the alleged disadvantaged and minority farmers but with negligible controls and an inability to measure return on expenditure.

 

Organizations representing intensive livestock production should take heed of the shifting approach of opponents and preempt adverse publicity through proactive social and mainstream media campaigns. These will be required to demonstrate the benefits of balanced diets, advances in sustainability and of economies of scale in production.


 

Prospect of SCOTUS Overturning the 1984 Chevron Decision

01/21/2024

On Wednesday January 17th SCOTUS heard oral arguments in related cases Relentless v Department of Commerce and Looper Bright Enterprises v Raimondo, arising from similar decisions handed down by the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.  These cases strike at the heart of Federal agencies to interpret law, issue regulations and impose constraints on industry.  At issue is the decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service to require monitors on fishing boats to ensure compliance with catch sizes of herring and also for boat operators to pay for the service. 

 

The two cases considered by SCOTUS have the potential to reverse the 1984 Chevron USA Inc. v Natural Resources Defense Council decision that serves as the foundation of the powers exercised by administrative agencies.  The Court held that “Where a statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to a specific issue before an agency, courts may not substitute a construction of a statutory provision for a reasonable interpretation made by an agency.” Essentially courts are currently subservient to decisions made by agencies, based on the apparent superior knowledge and understanding of specific technical issues leading to bureaucratic overreach. 

 

Opponents of the Chevron decision consider that the framers of the Constitution vested the judiciary with the power to interpret law.  This position is held by the current conservative majority of SCOTUS. Opponents of the 1984 Chevron decision consider that it violates due process and removes from Federal courts their obligation to apply independent judgment.

 

The Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that Congress could delegate authority to agencies, given the restrictions imposed by the Administrative Procedure Act that guards against capricious and arbitrary decisions.  The Solicitor General pointed to decisions in favor of administrative agencies in more than seven cases that were decided on the basis of Chevron.  She noted, “Overruling a precedent as foundational as Chevron should require a truly extraordinary justification and petitioners do not have one.”

 

Should Chevon be overturned, Federal agencies would have significantly less power despite the claimed expertise required to interpret law that may not be within the province of Federal judges, especially with regard to emerging technology.

 

In recent years SCOTUS has deviated from precedent with respect to Roe v Wade in addition to established policies on admissions standards for universities. This suggests that Chevron may be viewed by SCOTUS as an outmoded principle in establishing judicial deference to administrators.  Overruling Chevron will severely limit the powers of Federal agencies consistent with a bias towards limiting bureaucratic regulation of society, industry and agriculture.  The area of environmental regulations that impinge on intensive livestock production will be the most important with respect to the poultry industry. Other areas in which regulations may be eased include road transport, regulation of waterways, health and safety requirements for workers and mergers and acquisitions. These restraints would all be challenged in a post-Chevron reality.


 

Broad Support for Summer EBT Program

01/15/2024

To date, 34 states serving as many as 21 million children have opted into the Federal Summer EBT program for 2024.  The program will distribute $2.5 billion as benefits among eligible recipients providing up to $40 per month per child for the summer period when schools are in recess.

 

The program is an extension of the Pandemic EBT program that was established to provide food for needy children when schools were closed due to COVID.  Almost all states have programs providing free or subsidized meals for children of families who are financially challenged.  The Summer EBT program would fill the three-month gap left during summer school recess.

 

A USDA demonstration program has shown that children receiving summer EBT benefits received diets of higher quality and were subject to a lower level of food insecurity.  The Summer EBT program was strongly endorsed by professionals attending the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health and the program was enacted through bipartisan support in 2023.

 

According to USDA Deputy Secretary, Xochitl Torres Small, “No kid should have to spend their summer hungry without nutritious food.”  She added, “Summer EBT is a giant step forward in meeting the needs of our nation’s children and families throughout the year and especially during the summer months.” 

 

Notwithstanding broad support for the program with demonstrated advantages in health and development, Governors of 15 states have spurned federal funds, declining to participate.  Governor Kim Reynolds (R) of Iowa stated, “Federal COVID-area cash benefit programs are not sustainable and don’t provide long-term solutions for the issues impacting children and families.”  Governor Jim Pillen (R) of Nebraska commented that his state did not need the aid and could tackle hunger by operating feeding sites.  Texas has not planned to participate in the Summer EBT program claiming that there was no final rule from the USDA on administration of the program for 2024. Texas suggested that it might consider providing benefits in a subsequent year.  Governor Kevin Stitt (R) of Oklahoma noted that his state would not participate in Summer EBT in 2024 based on “technology and staffing issues” but would contemplate future involvement.  It is noted that within the state of Oklahoma, the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations with Federal recognition will be participating on behalf of their children.  According to Chris Bernard, President and CEO of Hunger Free Oklahoma, “Our state is always in the bottom ten in the country in terms of food security, families and kids are struggling and the summer food program was something we’ve supported for a long time.”

 

Apart from improving child nutrition that has lifelong benefits, the summer EBT program will increase consumption of foods including eggs that are permitted under USDA SNAP-WIC rules.

 

The Summer EBT program that was introduced to cover the summer school recess is complementary to a move to serving universal free school meals.  States that have introduced or have expanded access to school meals include New Jersey. Children from families in this state with an income of up to twice the federal poverty level will receive free meals. 

 

Oklahoma, despite the rejection of 2024 Summer EBT funding, is considering free school meals statewide with an income restriction.  South Dakota will subsidize breakfast and lunch servings at schools.  Florida is considering free school meals regardless of income.  States including Arizona, Ohio and Louisiana have programs subsidizing meals during school terms.

 

The USDA will continue to provide support and training for states, territories and tribes intending to implement Summer EBT in 2024 and in subsequent years.

 

Depriving children of necessary food on philosophical or political grounds is unconscionable.  The attitude expressed by apparently well-fed Governor Jim Pillen of Nebraska, who is on record of stating “I don’t believe in welfare” is both inhumane and neglects reality. Similar sentiments expressed by other politicians denote a streak of cruel indifference that ultimately will be counterproductive in terms of long-term expenditure of state funds.  EGG-NEWS strongly supports investment in school feeding, providing that programs are operated with a high standard of nutrition and devoid of waste and are administered equitably with transparency and efficiency.


 

USDA Must Provide Accurate Flock Numbers

01/11/2024

The report on the Monthly Cage-Free Egg Flock, retrievable under the STATISTICS tab, and the EGG-WEEK report in this edition question the accuracy of USDA data on flock numbers. For many months, USDA has reported almost consistent small increases in the size of the national flock as new pullets attained maturity and were placed in laying houses.  The number of hens in the total flock and the national flock have also corresponded closely on a weekly basis. 

 

Over the past twelve weeks, 13 million hens were depleted of which approximately 47 percent were classified as cage-free including approximately four million hens in California.  The estimated six million cage-free hens known to have been depopulated through informal collection of data by the UEP are not adequately reflected in the Monthly Cage-Free report covering December 2023, Total cage-free hen numbers for the three months of the fourth quarter, were respectively, 126.2 million, 125.1 million and 123.9 million.  Given a fairly constant number of pullets placed 22 weeks before the given monthly flock figures, and the fact that cage-free hens are generally not molted, values posted by USDA cannot be reconciled with estimated numbers based on flock depletions and pullet replacements. The overestimation of flock numbers may be the reason for the unrealistically high average hen-month production data noted on the monthly Cage-Free Reports during the fourth quarter of 2023.

 

Given the importance of weekly flock numbers, discrepancies distort prices and detract from rational decisions on molting and age-related depopulation. USDA should provide an explanation for evident discrepancies and should display more transparency in how they arrive at numbers for cage-free and conventional hens in the total and producing flocks.


 

Confirmation of Aerogenous Shedding of AI Virus by Migratory Birds

12/31/2023

A recent publication* from Taiwan confirmed that concentrations of migratory birds on wetlands excrete avian influenza virus that can be detected by air sampling.  In the study, 357 ambient air samples were collected seasonally between October 2017 and December 2019 and were analyzed using rtPCR assay.

 

Strain H7 was detected in 12 percent of the air samples, H5 in 8 percent and H9 in 10 percent.  The frequency of isolation was related to low temperature and the concentration of birds including common teal, spot-billed ducks, Eurasian widgeons, spoonbills and cormorants.

 

The authors proposed that air sampling could be a predictive technique for outbreaks of avian influenza.

 

Apparently, this publication was the first to demonstrate airborne avian influenza in the vicinity of wild birds.  The observation lends support to a frequently expressed opinion in EGG-NEWS that HPAI can be spread by the aerogenous route over distances of up to a mile depending on wind direction, cloud cover, ambient temperature and humidity.  Avian influenza virus shed by migratory birds is obviously deposited on soil and vegetation and in theory can be aerosolized on dust and be transmitted by wind currents. Houses with negative-ventilation contain flocks that are vulnerable to infection by the aerogenous route given the large volume of air extracted by fans.

 

The implications from the observations in Taiwan are self-evident.  Even with extreme structural and operational biosecurity, complexes cannot be absolutely protected from introduction of HPAI virus.

 

Given the recent series of outbreaks involving depopulation of 12 million hens and a history of seasonal waves of infection on a regional basis since 2021 and the evident futility in attempting eradication, protection in the intermediate and long term will have to incorporate vaccination as an adjunct to biosecurity.

 

The previously stated maxim, Avian influenza is the Newcastle disease of the 2020’s suggests the approach to control going forward.  Newcastle disease was as commercially significant and as catastrophic in the 1960s and 1970s as avian influenza at the present time.  It is questioned as to how long APHIS can pursue a program of “whack-a-mole” control without accepting the necessity for vaccination on a regional basis for turkeys and egg production flocks.

 

 The needs and concerns of the broiler industry over exports are justifiable considerations. Given that HPAI is now worldwide in distribution and with more nations adopting vaccination as a preventive measure and with the recent endorsement by the WOAH, serious consideration should be accorded to establishing immune populations in high-risk states.  To their credit, APHIS is initiating field trials on vaccination but this should not be regarded as a delaying tactic. Costs to the public sector for indemnity and control and to consumers who will pay more for eggs are also financial considerations in developing a national strategy to suppress HPAI with no prospect of long-term eradication.

 

*Zhang, J. L. et al. (2022).Airborne avian influenza virus in ambient air in the winter habitats of migratory birds. Environ. Sci. Technol. 56:15365-15376.


 

Responses Required to Organizations Opposed to Intensive Livestock Production

12/23/2023

Emily Ellis, Manager for Communications at the Animal Agricultural Alliance provided a valuable summary of relevance to Subscribers concerning recent meetings of organizations opposed to intensive livestock production.  It would appear from her report that 2024 will bring “more of the same” with respect to action by our opponents. 

 

Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) will continue with intrusions onto farms with the expressed intention of “rescuing animals and birds”.  The livestock that they pretend to care for are not really the significant issue but their intent is to generate publicity in order to attract donations for their cause.  Basically if the media documents their actions they are heroes.  If they are arrested then they are martyrs.  Any organization that regards “animal agriculture as a complex machine refined over centuries and designed to torture and destroy all the living being within it” has a decidedly distorted view of the world and food production.  If livestock producers were “torturing” their herds and flocks they would not achieve the excellent production results necessary to survive in a competitive market and to supply our nation and those that import our products with inexpensive protein.

 

The Humane Society of the United States has emphasized the SCOTUS decision to uphold California Proposition #12.  This ruling has more impact on the hog industry with their recalcitrance over gestation confinement than on egg production.  There has been adequate transition from conventional cages to alternative systems to supply states that have mandated cage-free egg production.  On the flip side, HSUS and kindred organizations are extremely worried over the proposed Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act (EATS).  This legislation would effectively negate required standards arising from voter initiatives with respect to interstate commerce.  The EATS Act is framed too broadly and will require considerable modification to eliminate provisions that are contrary to existing federal laws. The question is now one of timing as to whether a more focused version should be considered as a free-standing bill or incorporated into the much-delayed 2023 Farm Bill

 

Organized agriculture can expect more intensive efforts to engage legislators in issues relating to livestock welfare.  Attempts will be made to link livestock production with sustainability and climate change and plant-based alternatives will be promoted to displace red meat, milk and eggs.  Legislation will be directed to choke points in the chain of production by imposing unnecessary restraints.  An example was concerted opposition to the New Swine Inspection System that contributed to efficiency by increasing line speed and rationalizing inspection. The prolonged litigation associated with this issue illustrated the apparent commonality of purpose among diverse activist groups. There was common cause among labor unions, opponents of intensive livestock production and environmentalists attempting to block an advantage for packers and ultimately consumers. Similar cooperation is evident in opposition to serving whole milk in schools with dieticians, public health advocates and anti-dairy activists joining forces to promote alternatives. Proposed restrictions on CAFOs with a focus on waste treatment has engendered collusion among environmentalists, welfare activists and public health advocates to lobby the EPA and Congress for upgraded standards that will be expensive and technically challenge to meet. 

 

During 2024 associations representing animal and poultry producers will be faced with negative publicity in both mainstream and social media. Appropriate rebuttals and where possible preemptive positive material should be developed and posted to counter attacks on the existing and efficient protein supply chain.

 


 

Impossible Foods CEO Gets it Wrong

12/18/2023

In an address to the Ad Week Conference, Peter McGuinness, CEO of Impossible Foods, attributed the dismal market growth of plant-based meat alternatives to inappropriate positioning of the product.  He commented that the challenge for his industry is to “try to convince the meat-eating public to sample alternative protein”.  Reference to the financial reports of competitors Beyond Meat and Maple Leaf Foods dispels this idea.  Both companies showed high rates of initial growth followed by a plateau and a decline in sales volume.  This indicates that people tried and rejected the products based on quality, price and lack of culinary versatility.  Essentially products from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat imitate ground beef as ersatz products of questionable organoleptic quality.  In many cases, one try was enough to satisfy curiosity.  As for those committed to consuming real meat and chicken, the unfavorable price differential and appearance are turn-offs in a cost-conscious economy.

 

McGinness considers that the manufacturers of plant-based meat alternatives stressed sustainability and environmental advantages as the major attributes of their products.  He stated, “There was a wokeness to it and a bi-coastalness to it and that pissed most of America off.”  If it were that simple, the situation could be corrected.  Unfortunately, McGuinness is attempting to sell an inferior product at a higher price than the real product it has attempted to displace.

 

All consumers are in favor of welfare, environmental sustainability and other feel-good attributes but when it comes to the check out line, they’re not willing to pay for nonquantifiable claimed advantages--especially with defective quality.

 

There will always be a limited market for alternatives to real meat among affluent health and environmentally conscious consumers who are willing to pay more and enjoy the self-satisfaction associated with consumption of alternatives to real meat and poultry.  McGuinness needs to look elsewhere for the poor performance of his segment other than inappropriate positioning and promotion.


 

Collective Responsibility to Limit HPAI

12/18/2023

As the fourth quarter total of layer hens depopulated as a result of HPAI passes the ten-million mark in eight weeks, there is concern that the infection is now both seasonally and regionally endemic.  USDA-APHIS has demonstrated variable efficiency in response to outbreaks with delays in depopulation and disposal evident in California albeit with a quicker response in the Midwest.  Rapid depopulation of affected farms within high-risk areas is essential to prevent multiplication and dissemination of virus either through defective biosecurity or most likely by the airborne route over distances of up to a mile depending on weather conditions. 

 

The critical period relates to immediate post-incubation, approximately five days after introduction of infection, encompassing the period before onset of high mortality. Failure to suspect or recognize an infection requiring an immediate imposition of a quarantine may have serious implications for regional spread. Delay in confirming a diagnosis of HPAI sharply increases the possibility of dissemination of virus and possible infection of farms in close proximity. Prompt diagnosis using available PCR assay now offered by all poultry-state diagnostic laboratories is essential to contain the infection. This is especially important in areas with a high population of laying hens either as self-contained complexes or more importantly  contract farms receiving feed and supplying eggs to a packing plant.  In the case of in-line egg production complexes, their structure with an on-site packing plant and a feed mill might reduce the risk of both introduction and dissemination of infection when operated with high standards of structural and operational biosecurity. In contrast, contract farms supplying eggs to a packer or breaker are at a higher risk due to the frequency of feed deliveries, egg collection and visits by flock service persons.

 

A recent outbreak highlights the need for constant monitoring of production parameters to recognize the emergence of HPAI at an early stage in the progress of an infection. On suspicion of an outbreak, daily PCR assays of cloacal and tracheal swabs from recently dead or moribund hens or pullets should be submitted to either confirm or eliminate the diagnosis.  In the specific case, a contractor with two houses with a total capacity of 500,000 hens reported elevated mortality to the integrator on December 2nd.  A Company service person obtained swabs from a few dead birds for submission to a state diagnostic laboratory with a negative diagnosis for HPAI.  This farm was, undergoing an outbreak of coryza that was previously confirmed by PCR.  Mortality in the house containing 150,000 hens continued to escalate and water consumption dropped successively by 25 and then 50 percent over the period extending to December 7th.  Mortality increased from 3,600 hens (2.4 percent per day) on December 7th  to 8,000 (6 percent of the remaining flock) on December 10th.  The integrator who supplied feed and owned the flock, was informed of the status of the flock each day by the contractor who expressed concern over rising mortality.  On December 12th, a service person collected tracheal swabs that were submitted to the state diagnostic laboratory yielding a positive diagnosis of HPAI. This resulted in State and Federal control measures including quarantine and depopulation.

 

The integrator displayed an egregious level of negligence. They were aware that their affected contract farm was in close proximity to other poultry farms some of which held up to a million hens and were operated by different farmers and companies.  Failure to rapidly respond to the outbreak by obtaining a diagnosis and initiating depopulation placed at least eight million hens in contiguous counties at risk.  At the time of writing, other farms in the area are apparently unaffected, but the understandable level of anxiety and concern is self-evident. APHIS is coducting surveillance testing within the control area. Management on nearby farms are conducting diagnostic swabbing of representative dead hens at daily intervals and have intensified their existing levels of operational biosecurity

 

Precautions suggested to protect flocks under conditions of high risk include:-

  • Shower-in-shower-out procedures, with on-site laundry of protective clothing. This presumes appropriate prior investment in structural biosecurity.
  • Donning site footwear from the exit of a biosecurity module with a change on entry to houses to prevent tracking of virus that might be deposited on roadways. Again this presumes prior investment in impervious roads, drains and parking areas.
  • Cessation of mowing or soil cultivation within or in the vicinity of the perimeter of the farm
  • Daily monitoring of mortality, water and feed intake with prompt evaluation to detect deviations from normal patterns,
  • Thorough decontamination of dedicated feed delivery trailers or egg-collection vehicles in purpose-designed or commercial vehicle wash. Simply rinsing the outer wall of tires or "sprinkling" trailers with disinfectant is essentially ‘make-belief’ biosecurity
  • Appropriate biosecurity procedures for drivers of feed delivery and egg-collection vehicles is required to prevent introduction of infection or dissemination of virus from infected but non-diagnosed flocks before onset of appreciable mortality.

 

USDA- APHIS has been negligent in failing to release reports on structured epidemiologic investigations of outbreaks on laying complexes in 2022. The Agency has not shared their interpretation of the molecular assays conducted on isolates from commercial flocks and migratory birds to date. Notwithstanding a lack of guidance from USDA-APHIS there is sufficient knowledge regarding how HPAI is spread and its effect on flocks to have resulted in a more appropriate and positive response by the integrator to a report of mortality on the contract farm.  The integrator concerned employs veterinarians and according to information provided none of them visited the farm to clinically evaluate the severity of the situation. Neither did they contact the contractor remotely on a regular daily basis to monitor and assess mortality and water consumption or order additional assays for AI. This lack of professional diligence is inexcusable given the potential for extensive infection of flocks in the county.

 

Egg producers, packers, integrators and breakers have a mutual obligation to detect and respond to outbreaks of avian influenza.  Allowing birds to die at high level over seven consecutive days without availing of available diagnostic resources represents negligence and could result in subsequent civil litigation.

 

As we go forward into 2024 with continued risk of HPAI, all stakeholders in egg production have a collective responsibility to ensure that outbreaks are detected quickly in order to limit lateral spread.

 

 

 

 


 

Recycling PET -Obstacles and Opportunities

12/13/2023

As Republic Services announces the opening of a polymer recycling center, there is concern whether this project and similar initiatives in the U.S. and the E.U. will be financially viable.  The process of recycling requires closely interlinked components.  Consumers have to aggregate their plastic waste, a system of collection, assembly and transport to a facility is required and a technologically efficient process should turn waste into re-useable plastic flakes.  Above all, the price of recycled material, incorporating collection costs and margin with processing and detoxification should be cheaper than virgin flakes.

 

The U.S. generates approximately 50 million tons of plastic waste annually of which less than ten percent is recycled.  Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is widely used in bottles for soda, egg cartons and the ubiquitous clamshells for fruit and small food items. This volume represents a potential source of recyclable material, limited only by the need for each of the stages in the cycle to be linked.  Recycling is now mandated in a number of communities and even states. Taxes on containers and incentives to reuse content are in response to demands by environmentally concerned activists and consumers.

 

Manufacturers of beverages and food are actively sourcing recycled material in order to substantiate claims for sustainability.  One large multinational beverage manufacturer is responding to lawsuits from a state attorney general regarding ‘greenwashing’ over claims that targets to achieve predetermined levels of recycling are consistently extended into the future with minimal current and near-term progress.

 

The fact that Republic Services has seen fit to invest $70 million into a plant to process plastic waste is an encouraging sign. Republic Services is a large company concerned with hauling trash and with connections to municipalities. This represents an advantage with respect to collection and assembly of waste products and subsequent differentiation into categories of plastic that require specific methods of processing.

 

At the end of the day, any form of recycling must be financially viable.  Recyclers must compete with cheap virgin flakes from Asia and from Mexico in the case of the U.S. Financial considerations also determine the acceptability and use of recycled plastic.  Material from bottles and food containers are diverted to carpets and textiles.  Although this removes plastic from landfills and waterways, it is not true recycling in the context of re-incorporation into similar containers in a continuous cycle.

 

Stung by criticism and legal action, Coca-Cola has partnered with Republic Services in a new venture with a goal to achieve 50 percent recycled content for bottles by 2030.  If the Republic Services venture is successful, it may attract competitors, establish economies of scale and promote the development of new technology for collection and sorting.  Manufacturers have an obligation to harmonize their packaging requirements since different colors in waste and diverse specifications for plastic impose complications and hence, expense for recyclers.

 

Recycling will require the commitment of consumers to positively recycle containers.  Municipalities will have to accept and sort recycled material or make use of contractors at the local level.  Supermarkets and groceries have a role to play in serving as collection points especially if local or state agencies introduce incentive programs for recycling.

 

Environmentalists claim that recycling is nonviable and are pushing for outright banning of single-use plastics.  This is unacceptable, as plastic packaging adds to convenience and food safety and ultimately reduces the cost of many items.  By closing the ring on recycling, consumer items and food can be packed without conscience or damage to the environment.


 

APHIS Response to HPAI

12/05/2023

During the past two weeks, the U.S. poultry industry lost 188,000 turkeys and breeders in seven outbreaks in three states.  The egg segment lost a total of 1.7 million hens in two outbreaks in California and Iowa.  Since the onset of fall 2023, USDA has depopulated close to six million egg production hens together with at-risk pullets, 1.5 million broilers and breeders, 2.7 million turkeys and breeders and 600,000 other commercial species.  This dismal record presumes a repeat of 2022 that was devastating to turkey and layer producers, the public sector and above all, for consumers. 

 

From informal and anonymous conversations with middle-level APHIS professionals, it is apparent that senior administrators are committed to a perpetual cycle of diagnosis, depopulation and surveillance over the long-term.  If we knew more about how infection is actually introduced onto farms, we would be in a better position to protect flocks.  The delayed and incomplete epidemiologic studies on 2022 cases with reports delayed by a year have not helped in identifying factors leading to outbreaks on farms and complexes. In the absence of an understanding of how avian influenza virus travels from the cloacas of migratory waterfowl to the nares of  confined hens we are unable to implement definitive action to reduce the incidence rate.  It is self-evident and confirmed by preliminary studies that proximity of migratory waterfowl and possibly infected domestic birds to farms represents a risk factor. This is supported by surveys confirming shedding of H5N1 avian influenza virus.  It is also evident that specific counties in Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota among others are vulnerable to both infection and reinfection due to their proximity to wetlands and expanses of water that attract migratory waterfowl.

 

Admittedly, conceptual biosecurity is compromised by locating vulnerable poultry flocks in flyways that place them in contact with shedders of virus. There are evidently deficiencies in both structural and operational biosecurity over and above the basic flaw of location represented by conceptual biosecurity. The USDA continually promotes generic biosecurity in general terms without identifying specific deficiencies in any of the installations or procedures that have contributed to infection of commercial flocks.  Factors including feed supplied from common mills, especially in the turkey segment and obvious deviations from high levels of operational biosecurity have probably contributed to outbreaks.  In specific cases during 2022, some large egg production complexes were inexplicably impacted. These farms were known to exercise extreme levels of biosecurity and with anecdotal evidence of airborne transmission of virus. This route of infection may have extended for distances of up to a mile but most likely was measured in hundreds of yards between the perimeters of farms and adjacent waste lagoons or wetlands colonized by migratory birds.

 

EGG-NEWS has consistently and repeatedly urged APHIS to mount an intensive epidemiologic evaluation of risk factors contributing to outbreaks.  Surely experience in 2015 should have predicated preemptive planning for investigations in anticipation of a likely series of future outbreaks. These occurred in 2022 with continuation through the present year and with the prospect of seasonal continuation through 2024.  What is needed is to immediate deploy a team of trained personnel to investigate outbreaks as they occur.  Epidemiologists conversant with practices used in both the egg and turkey industries should be sent to selected farms immediately a diagnosis is confirmed.  Appropriate questionnaires should be developed that relate specifically to turkey and egg production units respectively.  Recollection by managers and possible recognition of factors contributing to infection would be obtained reliably in real time.  Attempting to identify risk factors months after an event using a generic 20-page questionnaire administered by telephone is an exercise in futility.   

 

Evaluation of airborne transmission of H5N1 virus should be undertaken over the 2-to-5-day period required to depopulate a one million-hen or larger egg production complex.  We need to know the level of airborne virus in the vicinity of concentrations of waterfowl that are congregating in high-risk counties in the states that have been seriously impacted.  We need to know the duration of persistence of infectivity of virus excreted by waterfowl.  We need to understand the effect of weather conditions including temperature, humidity, wind velocity and direction in relation to outbreaks.  We need to establish factors contributing to vulnerability including the apparent high incidence rate among in-line or hybrid breaking operations.

 

APHIS can draw on hundreds of millions of dollars for depopulation, indemnity and cleanup.  Surely, money should be made available to investigate why and how farms are infected with avian influenza?  Colleagues in APHIS have both the desire and the ability to conduct structured epidemiologic investigations as a Departmental initiative especially in collaboration with specialists at Land Grant Universities in the states that are most affected.  To date, many field veterinarians are functioning with minimal incentive and negligible support from their superiors.  Allocation of funds to study why and how farms are infected in both the turkey and egg production sectors of the industry will be critical to developing future strategy for prevention.

 

There is a growing sentiment both within APHIS and the industry that if in fact avian influenza virus is introduced onto farms by the airborne route, then even the most intensive and efficient biosecurity will not be protective.  Are we emulating the Aztecs by figuratively throwing virgins into a volcano to ensure its quiescence by analogy adhering slavishly to isolated aspects of biosecurity but ignoring the most important mechanism of infection? APHIS administrators are both intelligent and educated and must have considered airborne transmission as has been proven for Newcastle disease.  Paramyxoviruses and orthomyxoviruses are not that different in their ability to survive in the environment and should have similar routes of transmission.

 

As noted in weekly postings, EGG-NEWS urges APHIS administrators to allocate resources to conduct epidemiologic investigations to be conducted in real time, with rapid analysis in order to provide the industry with practical and applicable procedures to protect flocks.

 

Unfortunately, if it is demonstrated that airborne transmission is a reality, and that even extreme biosecurity fails to provide absolute protection then additional protective modalities will be required. Regional, seasonal and segment-specific immunization emerges as a rational and potentially effective method of prevention. Vaccination as an adjunct to existing measures to protect flocks must lose its taint of heresy and undergo dispassionate scientific and economic evaluation based on sound epidemiologic investigations.


 

Unjust and Surprising Verdict on Alleged Egg Collusion Case

11/27/2023

A jury in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs in Kraft Foods Global, Inc. v United Egg Producers, Inc. et al. Plaintiffs included General Mills, Inc., a subsidiary of Kraft-Heinz Company, the Kellogg Company and Nestle SA. The most recent verdict relates to egg products as used by manufacturers. It was alleged that welfare standards for hens introduced by United Egg Producers in 1998 represented collusion among the major egg producers intended to reduce the size of the national flock thereby disturbing the supply to demand equilibrium resulting in overpayment for eggs over the period 2004 through 2008. 

 

The Defendants in the case filed in 2018, included Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Foods and industry associations United Egg Producers (UEP) and U.S. Egg Marketers, Inc.  With the introduction of enhanced welfare standards, stocking density in cage systems was reduced over successive years, back filling was abandoned along with starvation molting that resulted in a transitory decline in national flock size. Two previous cases alleging conspiracy to reduce supply with plaintiffs representing direct consumers and retailers respectively were unsuccessful although many of the Defendants settled out of court for substantial damages without admitting liability. 

 

The verdict will obviously be appealed with the Defendants’ legal teams reviewing procedural aspects of the case. U.S. District Judge, Steven Seeger, complimented the level of advocacy by lawyers representing both Plaintiffs and Defendants questioning possible grounds for an appeal.

 

The case will create problems for all food producers and for that matter, manufacturers of products and their trade associations.  Legal fees, based on a percentage of generous assessment of damages assigned by juries, are an incentive for legal firms to initiate class action suits that are difficult to defend and inevitably drive up the price of products.  This is especially the case with pharmaceuticals and medical procedures that include provisions for high insurance premiums that are in turn linked to the prevalence of malpractice claims of dubious authenticity.

 

It must be remembered that the industry was under considerable pressure to introduce an acceptable welfare program in response to consumer and customer demands.  The egg industry was in a situation of being damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.  There was obviously no obvious intent to reduce production and hence, increase prices for eggs.  It is regrettable that certain injudicious memoranda were discovered that created the impression that there was collusion obviously influencing the jury. The sole saving grace was the discharge of many of the Defendants and the period covering the allegations of collusion was reduced to four years, eliminating the period 2009 through 2012.

 

The case demonstrates the vulnerability of food producers necessitating careful evaluation of the potential legal perils resulting from any joint initiative taken by producers. 

 

The verdict rendered in Kraft Foods Global v United Egg Producers was unfair and hopefully will be reversed.  At best, Plaintiffs will be hard pressed to justify damages given the dynamic state of the market.


 




























































































































































































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