Independent Public Health Agency Proposed


In an incisive article in the New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM)* legal scholars affiliated with the Harvard Law School and the Boston University School of Law proposed the establishment of an independent agency to coordinate all aspects of public health including planning responses to disease outbreaks, acquisition and management of resources and communication.


CDC Campus

The article cites what in retrospect, appear to be politically inspired decisions that may have exacerbated the impact of COVID during 2020.  The authors maintain that interference in the tenure of senior officials in agencies including the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disruption could have been prevented had there been a strong independent agency operating with a charter similar to the Federal Reserve, independent of political pressure.  The authors maintain that the Federal Reserve was able to resist political pressure during the past four years since it was structured and chartered as an independent agency. 


In the article the authors attribute the high incidence rate and fatalities associated with COVID to defects in the structure of core public health institutions that were subject to political interference and lack of coordination. Despite the accusatorial tone of the NEJM article, it must be recognized that the previous Administration embarked on Operation Warp Speed that resulted in three vaccines that received emergency use authorization at the end of 2010. This made possible mass vaccination during the first four months of 2021 under the present Administration.  The successful immunization of approximately 150 million U.S. residents by June 2021 was only possible due to the foresight, Federal investment and activities of scientists in existing government agencies including the NIH, cooperating with their counterparts in industry.


The authors emphasized that leaders of independent agencies including the proposed public health entity should be immune from removal on political grounds. Generally independent agencies have five commissioners but in the case of the Public Health Agency nominees should possess appropriate qualifications and experience and be subject to Senate confirmation.  It is however recognized that agencies can be hamstrung by deliberate failure by an administration to appoint commissioners thereby depriving the entity of a quorum or alternatively the agency can be “eviscerated” by eliminating or severely restricting the budget.


The authors of the article cite legal experts who maintain that the Constitution foresaw the creation of long-standing stable institutions serving public interest beyond politics. Although a legal case can be made to establish an independent public health agency, is believed that this would be exceptionally counterproductive. Currently the principal entities involved in public health include the Department of Health and Human Resources and their subsidiary agencies the NIH and CDC, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. The article did not take into account the resources of states that operate in conjunction with federal agencies or academia and industry that have established relationships that would be seriously impacted if not destroyed by creating a new unified and independent health agency.


Our best action going forward is to encourage collaboration among existing agencies, develop a greater degree of bipartisan cooperation in Congress, especially with respect to public health. We should rely on the electoral process to ensure a rational Administration working for the benefit of its citizens as a co-equal branch with the Judiciary and Legislature.


*Salwa,T. and Robertson, C. (2021) Designing an Independent Public Health Agency. NEJM 384:1684-1687

NIH Campus


Job Creation and Employment as the U.S. Recovers From COVID Restrictions


On Thursday June 3rd the Department of Labor reported initial jobless claims amounting to 385,000 for the week ending May 29th, lower than the previous week but below the consensus estimate of 400,000.  This contrasts to the week of March 14th 2020 when 256,000 initial jobless claims were filed.  With the advent of COVID the number spiked to three million during the following week and claims peaked at 6.1 million in early April 2020.  Job creation during April 2021 was disappointing with only 266,000 new positions reported. Effective June 1st 2021, 15.4 million U.S. workers were receiving benefits, approximately half of the number recorded during mid-March 2020.

The Friday, June 4th data on job creation indicated that 559,000 new positions were created in May 2021 and that the unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent.  Although the U.S. economy has come a long way from the corresponding period in 2020, new job creation in May was lower than an expected value of 671,000.  The current enigma is that employers in service industries including recreation, restaurants and health care are currently paying premiums and bonuses to recruit workers while unemployment remains at a disproportionately high level.


Commentator Michael Smerconish in his Saturday, June 4th CNN program questioned whether the American work ethic is dying.  Currently unemployment benefits with added Federal assistance of $300 amount to $618 per week. this represents slightly more than $15 per hour for a 40-hour work week.  Accordingly, it is claimed that many workers have no incentive to return to their previous employment even if it exists.  Acting on this presumption, sixteen states have decided to cut the $300 weekly benefit at the end of June in an attempt to restore the workforce.  This change will impact close to 600,000 who are currently unemployed and drawing benefits.  To date thirty-five states have imposed a requirement to actively seek work to receive unemployment benefits. 


There are in fact factors other than unemployment insurance payments that are contributing to the disinclination of workers to return to their previous or alternative positions.  In many cases, closed schools present a problem of childcare with the burden falling heavily on women.  There is still a fear of COVID especially in minority groups that have found difficulty in receiving a vaccine.  In the absence of summer school programs and required remedial education that should be scheduled this summer, many workers will be unable to return to the workforce as a result of family obligations.  Employers may well consider providing supplementary pay to compensate for childcare as an alternative to increasing wage rates.  In the case of large plants and factories, on-site childcare may well be a future trend representing a tangible benefit for employees and engendering company loyalty.  There may be many other benefits and in-kind inducements for workers including commuting allowances, providing van transport and predictable work schedules.  Employers previously operating with a plentiful availability of workers have been reluctant to provide adequate sick, vacation and parental leave.


Prior to the advent of COVID there was considerable national debate over a $15 per hour minimum wage rate.  The advent of COVID essentially rendered the question of raising the federal minimum wage moot given that the laws of supply and demand established realistic wage rates in diverse areas of the nation.


COVID clearly demonstrated an inequality among our workforce.  College-educated white-collar workers were able in large measure to work from home and to keep their jobs.  The trend towards work-from-home will probably intensify after relaxation of COVID restrictions. 


Working from home allows for inexpensive childcare and home schooling to be integrated with job requirements.  Studies have shown that employers actually benefit in terms of hours devoted to work through remote employment in addition to saving on office space and overhead.  In contrast, after the advent of COVID, hourly-paid workers were either required to report to their place of employment or lose their jobs.  Generally hourly-paid workers were concentrated in healthcare and other essential services including agriculture, hospitality, restaurants and the processing, distribution and sales of food.


In coming months, as our economy returns to pre-COVID levels, we will be faced with retraining redundant workers, providing new wage and benefit packages and modifying employment policies that encourage loyalty and commitment. 


Plastics Manufacturers Establish Fund to Promote Recycling


Major plastics manufacturers and materials science companies have jointly established the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund to promote recovery and recycling of plastics in the U.S. and Canada.  Initial participants include Dow, LyondellBasell and Nova Chemicals.


The Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund, initially receiving $25 million, will address three areas to promote practical recycling:-

  • Intensified collection of polyethylene and polypropylene requiring advanced collection systems, transportation and logistics
  • Upgrading recycling systems to aggregate, classify and sort waste plastics for remanufacturing food and medical packaging
  • Investing in plants and equipment to manufacture finished products using recycled content


This initiative is regarded as a sincere attempt to address the problem of accumulated plastic waste. It is estimated that less than ten percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. The remainder lies in our oceans and in dumps and landfills especially in under-developed nations.


Previous programs to ‘recycle’ plastics were essentially an exercise in public relations. The classification of plastics by class was created to assuage the concerns of consumers through the illusion that plastic items embossed with the three-arrow triangle and placed in recycling bins would be processed into new containers and packaging. The reality is that current ‘recycling” is only a collection activity and that municipalities have a limited and shrinking market for a few types of plastic waste. This is due to the failure of manufacturers of plastics to develop recycling technology and to invest in plants capable of processing waste into reusable material.


In recent years concern over the detrimental effects of plastic waste on terrestrial and marine environments has resulted in a backlash against plastics. This is evidenced by legislation restricting the distribution of single-use plastics, commitments by food manufacturers to phase out non-biodegradable packaging and negative publicity on social media. Concern expressed by governments, enterprises and consumers has stimulated belated action by the manufacturers of plastics to develop meaningful programs of recycling. It is to the credit of these major petrochemical companies that they recognize that they cannot continue to erect manufacturing plants for plastics without the need for recycling of their products. To date there has been every incentive to continue to manufacture virgin plastics and no financial benefit from recycling. With appropriate demand for a closed loop system from governments, customers and consumers we can expect progress in meaningful recycling.  Not only must we collect and process what we use but we must address the disposal of accumulated plastic worldwide. 


Rabobank Executive Comments on Future Trends in Agriculture


In a recent interview with Jim Sutter of the U.S. Soybean Export Council, Berry Marttin, a member of the Rabobank, Executive Board since 2009, shared his views on current and future trends in agriculture.  Marttin was born in Brazil of Dutch immigrant parents and has worked for Rabobank in many locations in Asia, the Americas and the E.U. rising to his current position. He has earned degrees in Brazil and Canada and has extensive experience on four continents. He is multilingual and to quote The Economist speaks ‘Davos’ as a complement to his native Portuguese and Dutch in addition to English and other languages.  

Berry Marttin

One of the important take-home messages from the discussion with Jim Sutter is that consumers are becoming more concerned as to how their food is produced.  Sustainability is an attribute of growing importance that encompasses activities to maintain productivity and concurrently reverse environmental degradation.  Marttin observes that intensive agriculture has successfully applied technology to enhance productivity over past decades. In the future, independent farmers and agribusiness companies will have to balance output with sustainability.  As a farmer and businessman, Marttin appreciates shifts in consumer motivation that are influenced by social media and the involvement of both the public sector and private investors. 


Agriculture can make a major impact on sustainability by sequestering carbon dioxide.  Currently with depleted soils, farmers rely on fertilizers derived from fossil sources to obtain acceptable yields requiring application of herbicides and pesticides.  Achieving the genetic potential of GM seeds adds to the cost of production and creates a cycle of chemical dependence and net release of carbon dioxide.


Progressive farmers are now recognizing the need to employ regenerative agricultural practices to enrich soil, enhance yields over the long term and reduce carbon dioxide release.  It is estimated that ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were derived from agriculture.  It is possible to sequester from 0.2 to 3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per acre using a combination of no-till cultivation and planting a cover crop following harvest, a practice termed ‘regenerative agriculture’.  Since 2017, five percent of farmers have adopted cover crops that may include triticale, wheat, cereal rye, white clover, annual rye grass, buckwheat, millet or sorghum.  Selection of a cover crop depends on season, climatic conditions, soil type and the potential for grazing or cropping. Some operations in the U.S. have used regenerative systems since 2017.  It has been shown that almost all farmers applying soil-health management practices, achieve higher net income than their peers using conventional cultivation.


Francis Childs a proponent of regenerative agriculture in Western Iowa harvested a record 440 bushels of corn per acre in 2020.  Other farmers are following his lead and will profit from increased yield, lower application levels of fertilizer and the possibility of selling carbon credits. A progressive farmer n Iowa estimates an annual potential income of $150,000 from participation in a program managed by Locus Agricultural Solutions. This company undertakes the certification of carbon sequestration and markets credits to carbon emitters including IBM, Marathon Oil, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase and others.  A commercial rate for soil sequestration is now in the region of $20 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent.


The Administration has incorporated carbon dioxide sequestration in soil as a part of the U.S. contribution to reducing global warming.  Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Senator Mike Brown (R-IN) have introduced the Growing Climates Solutions Act, designated S.1251, to establish a standardized private carbon credit market.  Concurrently USDA will use the Conservation Reserve Program to reduce carbon dioxide emission.  It is estimated that this program offsets the release of the equivalent of 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. By expanding the program an additional three million metric tons could be retained in soil.  The USDA is also creating a carbon bank by drawing on the $30 billion administered by the Commodity Credit Corporation.


It is essential that standards should be developed to ensure that regenerative farming practices are beneficial and to quantify the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered.  A carbon credit program organized by the Chicago Climate Exchange that operated for seven years in the 2000s foundered due to a lack of credible standards.  Rabobank has established a carbon bank as a pilot scheme that clearly defines procedures and measurement to be applied to sequestration.  With the prestige of Rabobank, investors and contributors will be assured of value from their contributions that will be carried over to their products and company image.


Recognizing a market opportunity, Pete and Gerry's Organics LLC introduced the Consider Pastures™ brand as a specialty egg.  Contract suppliers will be required to follow regenerative practices as advocated by the Savory Institute under their Land-to-Market program. Consider Pastures™ eggs are derived from free-range flocks and the combination of USDA certified organic status, access to pasture and regenerative certification. Initially Consider Pastures™ are marketed to a demanding but limited demographic at a shelf price of $6.50 in New England states.


Marttin considers that multinational retailers and food manufacturers will progressively require higher levels of sustainability in their supply chains.  As corn and soybeans are derived from certified programs incorporating cover crops and no-till cultivation, egg producers may well derive a valuable premium from sourcing feed ingredients conforming to accepted standards of regenerative cultivation. This approach if it receives consumer acceptance may result in horizontal integration between agricultural enterprises and existing specialty egg producers.


Consumer Preferences in a Post-COVID Environment


During the year of COVID restrictions, consumers developed new patterns of eating.  Dining out was sacrificed in favor of home-cooked meals. Casual-dining restaurants and QSRs were able to function only with drive-through, pickup and delivery. According to the National Restaurant Association 110,000 locations closed during the pandemic resulting in a loss of revenue of $240 billion.  In contrast, supermarkets and meal-kit suppliers benefited from home consumption with significant improvements in both top and bottom-line results in 2020 and Q1 of 2021. 


The question now facing the food and restaurant sectors is how consumers will respond to the lifting of restrictions. Acosta, a market research company studied consumer intentions in March with the findings published in COVID Dining Journey: Eating at Home and Away from Home.  During the pandemic, 65 percent of shoppers cooked at home with family meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Pre-COVID, 26 percent of adults consumed lunch at home but during 2020 this increased to 40 percent.  The differential was even greater for children who were not at school during the COVID shutdown with more than half consuming lunch at home.  Pre-COVID, 18 percent of families reported eating dinner together compared to 31 percent since the outbreak of COVID.  Before the pandemic, 18 percent of families surveyed consumed dinner at home every day compared to 31 percent of families during the outbreak. 


It is apparent that habits developed during the COVID period will persist at least through 2021.  Seventy-two percent of responding families will continue to eat together and 68 percent will cook meals at home.  More than three quarters will continue purchasing food at the same rate as during COVID restrictions.  The proportion of respondents intending to decrease or cease eating together as a family or cooking meals at home is in the high single digits. In contrast approximately 20 percent intend increasing the frequency of family meals and continuing home cooking with the remainder continuing at the COVID rate.


Despite the increasing proportion of vaccinated individuals in our community, there is a reluctance to dine inside at a restaurant. Only a quarter of respondents plan to eat at a restaurant within a week and 14 percent within a month.  The same proportion will probably wait six months with 16 percent uncertain as to their future patronage of restaurants.  Respondents expressed the view that preparing meals and eating at home represented a challenge based on variety and planning of meals.  Time spent in preparation and cleaning was acceptable during COVID shutdown, but as people return to work, school and university, time will become a limiting factor in the tradeoff among home cooking, eating out and purchasing pre-prepared food.


It is evident that the factors that maintained the balance between home cooking and dining will probably be restored to post-COVID levels with clear distinctions among age demographics. 


The takeaways from the Acosta survey suggests:-

  • Supermarket sales will be maintained at a high level
  • The range of prepared foods at supermarkets including roasted chicken, salads, and pizzas will be in demand
  • Restoration of restaurant patronage will probably be slow, with lower-cost informal dining and high-end formal dining showing the highest rates of recovery
  • Providers of meal kits will maintain the higher levels of demand experienced during the COVID shutdown, but will be reliant on relatively low cost, variety and innovation
  •  Drive-through lanes at QSRs will supplant in-store eating
  •  Home meals may include a combination of store or QSR-purchased center-of-plate items with home cooked sides


It is obvious that restaurants, supermarkets and QSRs will vie for consumers as the Nation transitions from COVID. Sectors that can identify, interpret and respond to trends in their areas of operation will acquire competitive advantages to be reflected in increased sales and hence profit.


Overcoming COVID Vaccine Hesitancy


During the first week in May, it was estimated that 34 percent of the U.S. population have been fully vaccinated against COVID.  Approximately 150 million have received their first dose and 70 percent over the age of 70 are fully vaccinated.  The Administration has set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the U.S. population by July 4th since in the region of 75-80 percent of our population should be immune to the predominant strain and variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Experience in South Africa, India and the E.U. has demonstrated that a population with a high level of susceptibility and with an increasing incidence rate will result in the evolution of mutants. These may be more infectious and have greater pathogenicity than the original January 2020 strain thereby delaying effective control of the pandemic.


A number of surveys have been conducted to determine the acceptability of the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and the adenovirus-vectored single-dose J&J product.  Among all three major ethnic groups, 13 to16 percent have stated that they absolutely are unwilling to  receive the vaccine.  Approximately 25 percent of our population is following a wait-and-see approach and about 15 percent, especially those under 30 years of age will receive a vaccine ‘when convenient’.  It is apparent that a relatively high proportion the black population is hesitant to receive any of the vaccines.  Rural residents are more likely to be opposed to vaccination, as are male members of the Republican Party. The FDA has approved vaccination of children 12 years of age and up, but it is evident that approximately a third of parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated over the short term. 


Vaccine reluctance is evident in the declining number of vaccinations on a daily basis.  At the peak, three million doses were administered in a single day, mainly through mass vaccination sites.  The Administration is now relying on approximately 40,000 pharmacies and primary care facilities including rural clinics and mobile vaccine units.  Given the number of those categorically opposed to receiving vaccine, children under the age of 12 and individuals who are ineligible for vaccination based on health considerations, it appears doubtful that herd immunity will be achieved by the end of summer unless those not wishing to be vaccinated can be convinced to transition to the recipient column.


In a recent interview, the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy provided a perspective on how the Administration will convince the hesitant to receive a vaccine.  He believes that it is important to de-politicize vaccination.  To this end, it would be extremely beneficial for President Biden to credit former President Trump and his Administration with the foresight to establish Operation Warp Speed. This made vaccine available at the end of December 2020 and contributed to an adequate supply by the second quarter of 2021.  Concurrently it would be helpful for former President Trump to encourage the hesitant, especially among his supporters to receive a vaccine as a patriotic and public-spirited gesture to expedite control of infection.  A joint statement appears unlikely, but separate messages of encouragement in the form of alternating sequential public service announcements on mainstream and social media would be extremely helpful in defusing opposition to vaccination.


It is pointed out that 90 percent of the Congressional Physicians’ Caucus has been vaccinated along with the former President and First Lady and members of both Administrations.  All living former Presidents received their vaccines in public and have consistently promoted acceptance.


It is generally considered that establishing trust in the three vaccines that have received emergency use authorization are all safe and effective.  Previously EGG-NEWS listed reasons advanced for COVID vaccine hesitancy with appropriate counter arguments based on established and incontrovertible scientific knowledge


It is important to recognize that although we have made progress in reducing the impact of COVID over thirteen months, on May 9th there were 41,000 new cases diagnosed although this figure was a 30 percent reduction over April 25th, two weeks previously.  On May 9th one million COVID tests were administered with the national positive rate below five percent although regional ‘hot-spots’ persist.  Notwithstanding progress in control there are still 39,000 in hospital being treated for acute COVID and 667 people died on May 9th adding to the total of 581,000 confirmed deaths from COVID, although it is recognized that this figure is an underestimate.


It is to the credit of poultry processors and red meat packers that vaccination campaigns have been completed in plants resulting in high levels of acceptance.


Despite relaxation of masking and other social modalities, COVID must be regarded as a serious disease given the number of cases and fatalities and long-term effects. The disease will not simply disappear and with the emergence of variants COVID will persist with continuing impacts on our way of life and economy.


Vaccination not only effectively protects the recipient, it reduces the possibility of spreading infection to family members and the community.  The virus does not respect location, political or religious persuasion or ethnicity.  We have a collective responsibility to be vaccinated and in the intermediate term to practice common sense measures to prevent dissemination of virus.  Adherence to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and following the advice of responsible physicians will hasten the end of this disease that represents the worst public health crisis in 100 years.


European Commission Reviewing Policies on GM Crops and the Precautionary Principle


Faced with increasing costs of ingredients and food, the European Commission is reassessing a long-standing approach disfavoring biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops.  A recent study conducted by the European Union disclosed that restrictive legislation effectively preventing the use of GM crops should be reevaluated.  In a radical departure from two-decade opposition, the Commission has concluded that anti-GM legislation passed in 2001 has been without benefit.


Sustainability is now the catch word among strategists and decision makers and has taken precedence over unsubstantiated philosophical opposition to GM.  The EU Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, recently promoted GM as a means to achieve greater sustainability in agriculture. The Commissioner did however note that consumer safety and the environment are important considerations in amending existing legislation.  Supporters of GM technology can point to over two decades of improved crop yields, reduced water use, beneficial traits, insect and pest resistance all achieved without any compromise in food safety.


The volte face by the European Commission has initiated an outpouring of condemnation by organizations such as Friends of the Earth and kindred organizations that have opposed GM by publicizing false claims and coercing legislators.  A spokesperson for the organization noted that permitting GM crops in Europe would contravene the “precautionary principle”.  This ill defined concept has been used to block adoption of GM technology despite successful adoption in the U.S. for corn, soybeans and also for cotton.  Numerous other GM crops have been developed such as rice and bananas with high levels of Vitamin A that would benefit consumers in developing nations.  The precautionary principle has provided administrators with cover to justify inaction over the safety of GM crops.


We cannot expect that the EU will adopt GM technology over the short term.  The acknowledgement that GM contributes to sustainability and will be instrumental in feeding burgeoning populations is a first step in a process of reversing decades of misinformation, suspicion and unjustified concern.  The immediate challenge will be how to assure consumers that GM products are safe and that advantages accrue to society from planting GM crops.  We must progress from the stage of major biotech companies telling consumers “our products are safe, so no objections, just eat up” to demonstrating benefits to all stakeholders.  Regrettably opponents of GM have had two decades to poison the well.  It may emerge that the convergence of a new respect for scientists and their credibility over control of COVID and the realization that global warming is accelerating will allow for a reevaluation of GM technology at both consumer and political levels.


Walmart Introduces Pollinator Requirement


As part of the increasingly evident environmental and social activism demonstrated by Walmart, the Company will be introducing a requirement that suppliers support honeybee and other insect populations responsible for pollination.


The intent is laudable and Walmart as a major customer of agricultural producers has an obligation to encourage suppliers to make changes that benefit the environment and ultimately humanity.  Walmart is asking suppliers of fresh produce and floral items to apply integrated pest management programs by 2025.  Changes will include elimination of chlorpyrifos, (that in any event will be justifiably be banned in the near future in the U.S.) and to cease using specific neonicotinoid pesticides. Compliance will be subject to audit and annual progress reports.  To increase the population of pollinators, Walmart is urging suppliers to restore or establish pollinator habitats by 2025, extending over at least three percent of their owned or operated land area.


Walmart has undertaken to avoid selling invasive plant species and to cooperate with local organizations to establish pollinator habitats.  The future Walmart headquarters will incorporate plant-pollinator areas including meadows planted near lakes to provide an environment suitable for insects and birds.  Walmart intends to combine sustainability and environmental advocacy by recommending that pollinator habitats be established around arrays of solar panels, installations representing yet another step towards sustainability. Walmart recently provided funding to the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology and the Cornell Atkinson’s Center for Sustainability to encourage training of citizen scientists to monitor the population of pollinators and to provide assistance in planning farms and future landscape practitioners.


Once upon a time the industry simply sold eggs to supermarket chains at the best price that could be negotiated with concern only for quality, safety and adherence to federal, state and local regulations. Now capital investment, time and resources are progressively required to comply with welfare, environmental and sustainability requirements. These enhancements ultimately burnish the reputation and image of the chain. Accordingly producers should be fairly compensated in price for their additional costs. If Walmart wishes to adopt the policies of an up-market chain in the E.U. then they deserve the support of their suppliers but at a price commensurate with the incremental expenditure involved. Walmart cannot build a reputation as a progressive, environmentally and socially conscious company, satisfying the altruistic inclinations of the Family-controlled Board while implementing a “how-low-can-you-go below the price discovery quotation’ approach to pricing. Chains such as Marks and Spencers in the U.K. and Albert Hein in the Netherlands impose high standards on their suppliers but pay reasonable compensation for compliance. The emerging problem with Walmart is that they aspire to a Whole Foods image but are principally selling at low prices to a demographic that is more concered with their budgets than concepts such as welfare, sustainability and the environment. Walmart cannot realistically expect to enhance their image and increase EPS on margins supported by the efforts and expenditure of their suppliers.


HSUS Reviving Coercion Tactics


According to recent press reports and a media release by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the organization is attempting to coerce QSRs and casual dining restaurants into  renewing welfare commitments made two years ago.  It is possible that the HSUS and other activist organizations are now realizing that there is considerable demand for reasonably-priced eggs from caged flocks and that the goal of completely eliminating cages by 2025 is unrealistic.  Industry observers estimate that 30 to 40 percent of all U.S. hens will still be in cages in 2026.  Complete conversion and supply from cage free systemswill only occur in states that have mandated cage-free production and sale of eggs derived from production systems corresponding to state standards as mandated by their legislatures or by ballot.


Consumers deserve choice

Following the cascade of commitments from food manufacturers, restaurants, and institutions in 2019 and 2020, cage-free sourcing was anticipated by 2025 but with the proviso that individual egg suppliers would make progress in implementing the transition to cage-free housing. The response by producers has been to satisfy demand but to adopt a wait-and-see response before committing capital to conversion.


The HSUS is now monitoring the sourcing of major QSRs and restaurant chains. As with their 2020 playbook they will be attempting to shame companies that they consider to have reneged on their commitments.  It appears that IHOP, a chain under the Dine Brands ownership,  regarded as a soft target, is in the crosshairs. HSUS is now attempting to force the chain to comply with both cage-free requirements and also to exclude suppliers of pork that house sows in gestation crates.


We have seen this movie before.  HSUS will pick the most vulnerable companies and will apply intense pressure through social media to elicit a re-commitment. This will then be used to pressure the next in line until all companies re-confirm their promises to source only cage free eggs or pork from sows held in group housing.


It is evident that there will be a clear difference in the response between the retail food segment  and the food service and restaurant sectors. Members of the FMI are intensely sensitive to margins and obviously need to stock a range of eggs reflecting prices that correspond to production systems.  Customers are offered choice in accordance to their willingnes to pay for intangible attributes such as welfare and sustainability. In contrast, restaurants can afford to pay more for cage-free eggs since it is relatively easier to add the incremental cost to the price of a menu item.  Also in the food service sector, the difference in price between cage-free and conventional eggs is less significant than it is to supermarkets.  The administrator of a dining facility at Harvard University would be more concerned over student acceptance and avoiding protests than the owner of a tienda or grocery in a low-income area.


Consumers in California pay what EGG-NEWS refers to as a “Pacelle Tax” that was added to food budgets following the implementation of Proposition #2 that was enacted in 2008. The “Pacelle Tax” represents the differential in price between cage-free eggs as mandated in California and the price paid for conventional eggs in states without mandates. 


EGG-NEWS has consistently advocated for consumer choice. It is iniquitous for any group or organization to promote regulations or laws based on sentiment that detract from the availability or add to the cost of food without an understanding of the issues and consequences of ballot initiatives. We do not need HSUS and their ilk deciding how we spend our food budgets.


Oregon Legislature to Review Ban on Mink Farming


State Senate bill 832, introduced by Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), would phase out mink farming in Oregon within a year of enactment with compensation to the five remaining mink pelt producers.


This is the first bill aimed directly at mink production in the U.S. and follows action taken by Denmark and the Netherlands.  Following the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in mink in Denmark, intensive surveillance was initiated revealing the presence of a variant subsequently isolated from human contacts on farms and in distant communities.


The Netherlands, previously the World’s fourth largest mink producer, has banned all fur farming bringing forward the date to cease production.  This action was taken on the basis of a high infection rate among mink farmers and their families in the nation.


Although extensive outbreaks have occurred among mink farms in Utah, Wisconsin, Oregon, and possibly other states, there has been no federal intervention and state departments of agriculture have tended to protect their mink producers minimizing risks of COVID to the human population and concealing epidemiologic data.  EGG-NEWS has previously documented the spurious and misleading statements by spokespersons representing the Oregon Department of Agriculture with regard to incidence, location and significance of COVID in mink.


The hearing on Oregon Senate SB832 involved testimony by Dr. James Keen.  He was previously a USDA veterinary epidemiologist with extensive experience dealing with epidemics of animal disease including foot-and-mouth outbreaks in the UK in 2001 and African swine fever in Asia.  Since his retirement from the USDA Dr. Keen has been an outspoken opponent of intensive livestock production and is allied with activist organizations including serving as a whistle blower exposing irregularities at the USDA U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska in 2015. 


Some of the testimony Dr. Keen presented is valid in that mink are the only farmed animals that are extremely susceptible to COVID and are capable of infecting humans.  In addition there is evidence that escape of mink from farms could result in exposure of wildlife to COVID with the potential of creating a reservoir of infection.  That mink are susceptible to COVID is understandable in that a closely related species, the ferret, is used as a research model for a range of human infections including coronaviruses and orthomyxoviruses. 


Dr. Keen is however stretching scientific reality by implicating mink farming as a possible link between bat coronaviruses in China and the emergence of COVID.


This commentator does however agree with Dr. Keen that a vaccine against COVID-19 for mink, even if approved by USDA on the basis of efficacy and safety, will not ameliorate risk. Widespread application of a specific vaccine in a highly susceptible species and may complicate the issue of mink-related COVID by exerting evolutionary pressure on the virus resulting in the possible emergence of variants.


If mink were a critical food producing animal or had some purpose other than contributing to an outmoded and now discredited fashion, there may be some justification for perpetuating production.  The risk of COVID and the obvious opposition to confinement of a sentient mammal suggests that mink farming in industrialized nations such as the U.S and in the E.U. is an anachronism.  It is time that legislators recognize that the interests of the population at large far exceeds the personal benefits enjoyed by the few remaining mink farmers in a limited number of states.  The U.S. should follow the example of European nations and eliminate this unnecessary agricultural activity. Unique among farmed animals mink are involved in a disease that has plunged the U.S. into the worst public health crisis of the past century and has directly and indirectly cost trillions of dollars.  Mink production is not even a rounding factor in U.S. agriculture and probably contributes less to the economy than puppy mills.


Federal Government Must Accelerate Hiring of Scientists


At a March 17th hearing before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Dr. Candice Wright, Acting Director for Science Technology Assessment with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, reviewed the need to accelerate hiring of scientists and technical specialists in their respective fields.  Loss of critical personnel was evident in many government departments including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy during the previous Administration. The situation with regard to the USDA Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has been extensively reviewed since these vital agencies were subjected to forced attrition. In addition, many scientists in governmnt service are approaching retirement age.


ERS Staff Protest relocation from DC to Missouri

Dr. Wright emphasized the need to recruit from a wider base of universities, including minority-serving institutions and to deemphasize contract positions. 


Dr. Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists informed the House Committee that agencies place bureaucratic obstacles in the path of prospective employees with delays of up to three months before making formal job offers during which time the best prospective candidates find alternative employment in industry and academia.


If the U.S. is to maintain a position of dominance in agricultural technology science must drive policy. Administrators of agencies should be willing to empower ther research teams and encourasge achievement free of political restraints. Human capital is difficult to quantify but must be nutured in an environment that stimulates  creativity


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