Studies on Western African H9N2 AI Strains Suggest Pandemic Potential


Viruses isolated in Burkina Faso in West Africa were studied at the International Influenza Reference Laboratory of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie in Italy*.  Thirty tracheal swabs and ten organ samples collected in January 2017 from an egg-producing farm in the country were submitted to the laboratory in Italy with a provisional field diagnosis of infectious bronchitis.

Phylogeographic analysis of the H9N2 subtype indicated an origin in Morocco.  Sequencing showed insertion of leucine at position 226 of the hemagglutinin receptor binding site which is associated with an affinity for the α-2, 6 sialic acid receptor.  Changes were observed in the acidic polymerase protein which also increases specificity for infections of humans.  This mutation is common to viruses isolated in Morocco and Dubai.

The significance of the presence of H9N2 viruses with an affinity for mammalian receptor sites relates to the potential for emergence of reassortant strains of AI. Monitoring has demonstrated that H5 strains of avian influenza have been circulating in poultry populations in West Africa since 2015.  Reassortment between H9N2 and H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza has been reported from China and Bangladesh raising the possibility of emergence of a pandemic strain.

The authors of the study counseled for increased surveillance of AI in West African nations and awareness of the possibility of emergence of a pandemic reassortant strain with co-circulation of influenza virus in poultry populations.

*Zecchin, B. et al Influenza A (H9N2) Virus, Burkina Faso Emerging Infectious Diseases. 23: 2118-2119 (2017)

(SMS 018-17 January 2nd 2018)


ISE Foods Intends to Initiate Egg Production in India


In their intent to enter into egg production in India, ISE Foods of Japan has established a joint venture with Suzuki Motor which has a considerable manufacturing and distribution presence in the Nation.  With a saturated egg market in the home country of Japan and facing increasing competition, ISE has commenced exports to Thailand and Vietnam and hopes to establish joint ventures in other Asian nations including the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh. In commenting on the proposed venture, the president of ISE, Hikonubu Ise stated, “I think India will reach in about 15 years the level of the culinary lifestyle it took Japan 40 years to reach.”

The intended entry of ISE into India was noted previously on October18th 2017 by Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, following a promotional visit to Japan. He commented on the intended venture in Agro and Food Processing, an Indian publication.

Reference to FAO data and USDA GAIN Report IN-6151, indicate a consumption of 84 billion eggs annually by a population of 1.25 billion in India.  This represents a crude per capita consumption of 65 eggs.  Effectively, the commercial industry supplies 70 percent of eggs with the remainder from subsistence and backyard production. Realistic consumption of eggs by the economically active population especially in urban areas is however in excess of 125 per capita. This reduces the potential for expanding production. It is also noted that consumption is seasonal with reduced demand during summer months and fasting periods. Foreign investors frequently underestimate the profound variation among diverse demographics in India influencing the purchasing power through cultural, political, ethnic and economic variables.

The model proposed by ISE will be to construct in-line operations with an eventual output of upwards of 4 billion eggs annually, corresponding to a hen population of 14.6 million, applying reasonable production parameters.  Initially two complexes will be erected each holding 300,000 hens near the city of Surat in Gujarat State. It is intended that the base will form the nucleus of a production and marketing enterprise relying on local franchisees and partners under the ISE- Suzuki India joint-venture.

ISE plan to reproduce intensive production technology as used in Japan, the U.S. and the E.U. with cage-housing, controlled environment buildings and establishing a cold chain from production through to distribution.  The high capital cost will be reflected in non-competitive fixed costs of production. It is unclear how ISE will be able to compete with local eggs from relatively unsophisticated housing operated by individual farmers with units of 10,000 to 15,000 hens. Flock operators receive working capital in the form of feed and pullets from feed mills which usually undertake distribution through a cascade of middlemen. Since the 2010s a measure of vertical integration has emerged with entrepreneurs owning feed mills extending forward into packing and breaking plants. The U.S. GAIN report indicates that the average wholesale price of eggs during 2016 was in the region of 66 US cents per dozen.  According to the ISE release, their evaluation of the proposed project in India projected a retail selling price of eggs from an ISE complex to be $3.00 per dozen applying an exchange rate of Rs1=1.6 U.S. cents.

ISE will have to develop a very specific market with a willingness to pay for a premium egg.  Many companies have incorrectly assessed the market in India for food and consumer products. Business plans have underestimated the demand from affluent consumers and largely ignored the delays, cost and restrictions associated with myriad regulations imposed by overlapping state and Union agencies. Many foreign investors have experienced the crippling restraints on free enterprise inherent to a socialistic nation with a sclerotic and borderline corrupt legal system and limitations on inter-state shipment of food and consumer products. The Suzuki connection may help initially but the challenges imposed by corruption, bureaucracy and xenophobia may defeat a program of simply transferring a model which is functional in Japan to India.

(SMS 001-18 January 1st 2018)


Traditionally EGG-NEWS publishes an end-of-year wish list. Here’s what we would want in 2018:-

  • Freedom from AI. Not even a few insignificant outbreaks, which would have implications for domestic production and exports. At least most of the nations importing eggs and products from the U.S. have now accepted regionalization for shipments and also compartmentalization for the supply of breeding stock.

  • Favorable resolution of NAFTA and in addition a series of bilateral, if not multilateral, trade agreements with nations importing U.S. agricultural products including shell eggs and derivatives.

  • Complete, or at best some resolution of uncertainty over transition from conventional cage housing. Members of the FMI, NCCR and NRA appear to be wavering in their hasty commitments to source eggs and products from non-caged flocks. Until there is a higher level of certainty based on market realities the industry cannot commit billions to transition to alternative housing. According to the HSUS “everyone” is in favor of cage-free housing but experience shows that consumers are not willing to pay at the check-out counter for the sentiment! We need structured, quantifiable and professional market research on the willingness to pay for attributes of eggs including housing systems for producing flocks.

  • Adoption of standard descriptions for eggs and products reflecting housing and management including but not limited to “Cage-Free”, “Free-Range”, “Pasture-Housed” and other descriptors which confuse consumers and allow cynical deception by unscrupulous producers.

  • An increase in domestic consumption of shell eggs which would raise margins and justify responsible expansion.

  • Continued stability in the cost of feed ingredients presuming a bountiful harvest in 2018 with early planting and well-timed rainfall.

  • Satisfactory passage of the 2018 Farm Bill benefitting all U.S. agriculture on an equitable basis.

  • Relaxation of the RFS which disfavors livestock producers to the benefit of corn producers, their politicians and the so-called Renewable Fuels Industry.

  • An acceptable regulatory environment, with continuing progress in removal of irksome and non-constructive restraints imposed by GIPSA, OSHA and the EPA.

  • The emergence of new egg-products acceptable to consumers and the food service market to enhance sales volume and margins.

  • Conservation of energy, promoting sustainability and elimination of waste.

  • Resolution of our immigration policy with availability and stability of labor.

EGG-NEWS wishes our industry leaders and associations including the AEB, USPOULTRY, UEP, EIC and UASPEEC, a prosperous and harmonious 2018. We expresses our sincere thanks for support extended by Sponsors and the interest of Subscribers in 2017.

(SMS 2,104-17 December 25th 2017)


Simon and Barbara


Proposed Withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Final Rule


The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Final Rule published in the Federal Register on January 19th 2017 in the declining hours of the previous Administration will be set aside. A notice to this effect was published in the December 18th Federal Register which solicits comments over a 30-day period.

The USDA determined that the OLPP Final Rule exceeded the authority of the Department. The proposed effective date of March 20th 2017 was cancelled by a “regulatory freeze pending review” in accordance with a White House memorandum issued on February 9th 2017 by the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff. Delays to May 19th and then subsequently to November 14th extended the proposed date of implementation of the OLPP.

Poultry organizations have expressed concern over the requirements of the OLPP which mandated outside access for both broilers and egg producing flocks. There are profound biosecurity and welfare considerations involved in requiring outside access in terms of the proposed Organic regulations especially with regard to avian influenza.

The National Organic Standards Board moved ahead with framing the OLPP since it effectively disqualified approximately 50 percent of organic egg production concentrated among a number of family-owned enterprises and one public-quoted company. The action was taken to benefit small-scale producers who are unable to complete financially or in scale with in-line operations using aviaries and sun porches. The previous Administration was obviously sympathetic to the intent of the National Organic Standards Board and neglected the interests of the complete spectrum of organic egg producers and consumers of organic products.

(SMS 2,095-17 December 22nd 2017)


Possible Bias in Subjective Evaluation for Organic Certification


An article “Failing the Smell Test” in the November 25th edition of The Economist highlights problems of bias in subjective evaluation of product attributes and possible conflicts of interest among auditors and inspectors.  The article deals with the grading of herring, a national dish in Scandinavian and Northern European nations.


In Holland, a small group of judges is responsible for assigning scores to herring offered for sale based on both objective criteria such as size and fat content and subjective values reflecting taste and odor.  A national newspaper the Algemeen Dagbald commissioned an economist at Tilburg University to evaluate scores assigned by judges to fish markets and fishmongers.  The study showed that there was a statistically significant bias towards a specific supplier of herring. The difference among scores was associated predominantly with the subjective component.  Among the small number of judges assigning biased scores it was determined that one individual served as a paid consultant for a major fish distributor representing a conflict of interest.


The situation in Holland brings to mind the multiplicity of certifiers under the USDA Organic program who perform annual audits and evaluations on participants in the Federal program administered by the AMS.  There is considerable variation as to what individual certifying agencies will accept in interpreting standards and also in subjective evaluation of flocks, their housing and equipment. In discussion with inspectors assigned by certifying agencies it is apparent that they do not have to undergo special certification as with PAACO welfare auditors. From experience there is a considerable difference in approach as to what individual inspectors regard as either acceptable or contrary to somewhat poorly defined Organic standards.


On a number of occasions this commentator has had to refer auditors to the National Organic Standards Board rules on aspects such as vaccination and outside access. Bias against large-scale family-owned enterprises is evident among some inspectors. The National Organic Program has established a system by which organic certifiers employ part-time auditors who are paid by those requiring certification. This has inevitably led to “certifier shopping” which is prima facie evidence of a potential conflict of interest among agencies who effectively rely on the goodwill of those whom they audit to continue to provide services. The current system inherently creates a situation in which condoning deficiencies will lead to a continuing revenue stream for the certifiers. There is obvious potential for commercial competition among certifying agencies on the basis of either over-or under-interpretation of somewhat loosely defined rules.  The situation is even more complicated with certification in nations other than the U.S. where agencies are reliant on local agents with different ethical standards and economic incentives compared to our own.


The integrity of the National Organic Program is further weakened by the fact that certification is based simply on a review of documents and subjective physical inspections of facilities.  There is virtually no statistically relevant chemical or DNA analyses to substantiate the organic status of products whether imported ingredients or finished products.  The difference in cost between certified organic ingredients and their generic counterparts is an obvious incentive for deception and fraud as evidenced by recent revelations on imported grains from the Ukraine.


While the USDA through the AMS is evaluating standards it should obviously examine how these standards are assessed and ensure that there is a level playing field among producers.  Deviations from accepted practice will inevitably degrade the image and acceptability of the USDA Certified Organic seal and create uncertainty among the demographic committed to the purchase and consumption of organic products.


(SMS 2,065-17 December 18th 2017)


Ron Shaich of Panera Bread Condemns Short Term-ism of Activist Investors


In a Wednesday, December 6th interview on CNBC Mad Money, Ron Shaich, Founder and outgoing CEO of Panera Bread told host Jim Cramer that the market is dominated by investors exercising a preoccupation with short-term results. He expressed a worry that “pervasive ‘short term-ism’ in the public market is deleterious to the future of the food industry.” He claims that this characteristic of the market was a motivation to recently take Panera Bread private after 26 years as a public company.

Shaich noted “What’s driving today’s shareholders are traders on the market. We had large shareholders like Capri, Goldman Sachs and Baron Funds, but the reality is that they don’t drive the price. What drives the price are the traders who are betting on next week’s comp. and that affects the entire organization”. Shaich noted that Buffalo Wild Wings was the subject of Mercato, an activist investor group who initiated a proxy fight that ended with the retirement of Sally Smith, the CEO of the chain.

Shaich pointed to the fact that during the past year, half of the stock of Panera Bread traded each month. Over the years, he achieved a 9,400 percent appreciation in stock value, but he attributes this to the progressive changes that were made as a private company. He maintains that even as a public company, Panera Bread acted with the long-term in view. The influence of institutional investors and a preoccupation with quarterly earnings and same store sales inhibits innovation and investment over the long term. Shaich noted that a lot of CEOs are “running scared”.

Instability in the QSR and casual dining sector has implications for egg and poultry meat producers, since a high proportion of what is sold passes through the take-out windows over the counter or is delivered to tables.

(SMS 2.022-17 December 12th 2017)


GAO Evaluates Check-off Programs


The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study of eight check-off programs out of 22 in operation.  Total check-off funds in 2016 amounted to $885 million.  The study was conducted at the request of House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).  The check-off program is administered by the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS).

  • The GAO recommended that subcontracts must conform to 2012 regulations issued by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General.  It was determined that AMS does not consistently review subcontracts.
  • The AMS should be required to develop appropriate follow-up systems with commodities boards to confirm that management review recommendations are implemented.
  • AMS must ensure that annual independent audits which are carried out include statements of assurance as required in standard operating procedures.
  • The AMS should ensure that standard operation procedures including annual reports and evaluation of economic effectiveness are posted on program websites.
  • Independent evaluations of the effectiveness of checkoff programs are required for each commodity group at five year intervals.  For the eight evaluations, the GAO determined positive benefit-to-cost ratios ranging from $2 to $17 for every dollar invested.
    Since economic evaluations may be inconsistent among the checkoff programs, the GAO recommended that the AMS should develop criteria to ensure that standard methodology is applied.
    Our industry is well served by the American Egg Board under current management and direction. In 2016 the AEB posted revenues of $23.7 million, 99 percent derived from check-off payments by U.S. producers. Total expenditures in 2016 amounted to $$21.7 million with the following expenditures by proportion (percentage) on the major categories:-
  • Consumer marketing  48.2%
  • Nutrition                     16.1%
  • Egg products                9.6%
  • Food service                 8.1%
  • Administration             7.6%
    Since 2012 per capita consumption has increased from 255 eggs to a projected value for 2017 of 275 eggs. Over the period egg servings in restaurants have increased by 10.3 percent to               7.05 Billion with 80.6 percent through QSRs in 2017 compared to 75.7 percent in 2012. Hard-Cooked Peeled Eggs will attain a volume of 47.8 million in 2017 (19.2 million in 2013) valued at $103 million ($46.7 million in 2013). Eggs served in schools increased 16.2 percent during 2016/2017 compared to the previous fiscal year attaining a volume of 105 million.                          
    (SMS 1,969-17 December 1st 2017)


U.K. Free Range Egg Industry Incorrectly Blames Backyard Farms for AI Risk


During 2016, farmers producing free-range eggs were obliged to hold their flocks indoors to prevent exposure to avian influenza virus carried by migratory birds. U.K. veterinary authorities were extremely strict in imposing quarantines and enforcing the “indoor regulation”.

At a recent U.K. Egg and Poultry Industry Conference, representatives of the “British Free Range Egg Producers Association” pressed for a change in government policy. They quoted alternative approaches applied in Holland allowing free-range farmers to release flocks notwithstanding the presence of avian influenza in an area.

The major complaint from the free-range commercial producers is that they are obliged to follow biosecurity procedures, including enclosing flocks if a backyard location in the area is diagnosed with AI. If free-range flocks are held in barns for longer than a specified period, they lose their free-range status according to E.U. regulations.

In considering the epidemiology of avian influenza, it would appear that free-range farmers are more of a danger to themselves than from backyard producers. Large numbers of hens allowed access to pasture represent a greater risk of acquiring infection from migratory waterfowl than semi-confined backyard birds. This is especially the case if free-range flocks are provided with food and water outside their barns.

Since the emergence of reassortant strains of avian influenza, clinically innocuous to most waterfowl (except swans) but highly infectious to commercial poultry, the anachronistic system of free-range production has the makings of its own demise. The risk of introducing avian influenza into a complex through individual contractor or farmer-owned flocks is extremely high during seasonal migration. This is especially the case if farms are located under flyways or near rivers and wetlands where migratory birds congregate. 

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association should not be looking for relaxation of justifiable veterinary regulations. They should instead be realistically appraising the risks and consequences of contracting avian influenza using a management system inherently vulnerable to infection. The Chairman of the Poultry Health and Welfare Group addressed the issue of prolonged confinement with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA, roughly equivalent to the USDA) noting “We feel that a different approach to zones is necessary to help movement and to avoid trade impact without compromising the ability to stamp out the disease.”

This is wishful thinking analogous to wanting to have the cake but also to eat it. Free-range poultry producers want to penalize owners of backyard flocks who are probably less significant in the epidemiology of avian influenza than much larger free-range flocks. Many producers are calling for compulsory registration and licensing of backyard flocks. This in itself is not a problem since knowing the location of all poultry in an area with appropriate GPS location is essential in establishing control zones and implementing a surveillance program.

Given events during the past four years, avian influenza can be regarded as seasonally endemic in most E.U. nations and the disease is no longer a sporadic event as it may have been decades ago. DEFRA lifted housing orders during spring 2016 following successive outbreaks during winter months, but then encountered sporadic outbreaks in chickens and geese on small farms in early June.

There is no place for free-range management of commercial poultry flocks in any nation or location under migratory flyways. There is no quantifiable advantage with respect to nutrition from eggs derived from free-range flocks. The system is less sustainable than barn housing and is associated with a lower level of welfare as evidenced by comparable mortality rates. Backyard farms are not the problem; exposing large populations of birds to AI exposure inherent to the free-range system represents “infectious roulette”.

(SMS 1,938-17 November 26th 2017)


The Industry Must Balance Supply With Demand-Or Suffer the Consequences!


The Egg Weekly report this week documents a 5.8 million increase in the national producing flock to a level of 212.6 million and a total of 318.6 million hens in all stages of production and molt. The past two weeks have witnessed declines in stock levels and a commensurate rise in price. This is clearly a seasonal effect and it is anticipated that there will be a rise in generic stock since the retail pipeline is full and sales will decline during the last week of November and into early December.

Experience has shown that apart from the seasonal pre-Easter, pre-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas surges, egg consumption is fairly constant. Accordingly placing more eggs on to the market will depress price. Unfortunately the appropriate studies to determine price elasticity of generic and specialty eggs have not been conducted. The data relating shell-egg and liquid production through the pre-AI epornitic, then the catastrophe and thereafter during re-stocking and overproduction relative to demand in 2017 could provide more than “seat of the pants” guidance to decision makers regarding placement of pullets, molting and depletion.

The industry will have to face the reality that promotion by the AEB although intense and now effective is supporting consumption but is not moving the needle upwards to any extent either in domestic or export markets. We have for too long followed the principle of “Don’t cut him and don’t cut me just cut the guy behind the tree”

The Industry must establish market intelligence to allow rational decisions on flock sizes. Even the most distant hint of collusion to restrict supply is out of the question, as recent experience has shown. Given appropriate data and models, production levels can be planned and implemented by individual companies based on their markets and product scope.  To fill houses to capacity in the hope of an upturn in demand leads to prolonged periods of negative profitability as we experienced during the first eight months of 2017.  Henry Ford ran his company into the ground pursuing the principle that he lost money on every Model-T but made it up on the volume!


(SMS 1,923-17 November 24th 2017)


WHO Guidelines on Medically Important Antimicrobials Elicits Response from USDA Acting Chief Scientist


On November 7th the World Health Organization issued guidelines on the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animal production. Essentially the recommendations follow FDA releases including Guidance Document 152 listing antibiotic classes, Guidance Document 209 eliminating claims for growth promotion, Guidance Document 213 concerning judicious use principles and the Veterinary Feed Directive effective January 1st 2017.

The WHO suggests:

  • Restriction of all classes of antibiotics common to human medicine for food-producing animals.
  • A complete ban on all classes of medically important antimicrobials to promote growth.
  • Restriction on the use of antibiotics of human medical significance to prevent infectious diseases.

The WHO is of the opinion that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance. According to Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the WHO Department of Food Safety and Zoonosis, “The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.”

The WHO is concerned that antibiotic resistance among bacterial pathogens is increasing. Although there is evidence that in specific cases, livestock production may be responsible, it is accepted that misuse of antibiotics by the medical profession is the major contributor to the problem of emerging antibiotic resistance. This is specifically the case with treatment of tuberculosis, gonorrhea and Klebsiella pneumonia, none of which have anything to do with livestock. It is however evident that the emergence of the mcr-1 gene transmitted by plasmid transfer originated in China due to inappropriate overuse of antibiotics by the hog industry. This situation is regarded by many epidemiologists as a “smoking gun”.

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, currently the USDA Acting Chief Scientist, released a statement on Tuesday, 7th noting “The WHO Guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science.” She added “The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals.” In the opinion of this commentator the summary of the WHO recommendations are clear and concise and the comments by Dr. Jacobs-Young are inappropriate. Perhaps in her defense, Dr. Jacobs-Young, who holds a Ph.D. in wood and paper science, does not understand the realities of flock health involving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The Veterinary Feed Directive and the preceding FDA Guidance Documents are comprehensive and have been accepted by the Veterinary profession. In normal practice, appropriate antibiotics are selected and administered in accordance with judicious use principles by duly licensed veterinarians applying professional discretion and on the basis of familiarity with flocks, experience and aided by laboratory isolation of pathogens and determination of antibiotic sensitivity .

The WHO recommendations generally conform to U.S. legislation and practice and were issued as a guide to veterinary practitioners worldwide and especially in India and China where profound abuse of antibiotics is a reality of everyday production.

In any event, much of the debate over antibiotics is moot given the marketing imperative towards antibiotic-free production. The majority of broiler companies have introduced either specific brands or have adopted company-wide programs eliminating antibiotics even before the restraints imposed by the Veterinary Feed Directive.

The only discordant aspect of “antibiotic-free” in the U.S. is the fact that ionophore anticoccidials are erroneously included in the category of “antibiotics” by consumer groups. This is not the case in E.U. regulations restricting antibiotic use introduced from the early 2000s onwards, culminating in the ban on performance enhancers in 2006.

The U.S. egg industry is effectively prevented from using antibiotics in flocks in production. The turkey industry is required to follow the same restrictions as the broiler industry although it is accepted that turkeys show greater susceptibility to a number of bacterial infections.

The poultry industry of the U.S. has made extensive progress in replacing antibiotics while controlling most bacterial and protozoan parasites through immunization, enhanced management and biosecurity. Consumer Acceptable Performance Enhancers (CAPES) including probiotics, prebiotics, mannanoligosaccharides, botanicals and short chain fatty acids are rapidly displacing antibiotics.

(SMS 1,854-17 November 15th 2017)


Stop Press


The following items will receive broader coverage including commentary in upcoming editions of EGG-NEWS and CHICK-NEWS:


  • USDA-AMS Delays Implementation of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule:
    Originally published in the Federal Register on January 19th 2017 the Final Rule was then delayed to May 14th It has now been suspended subject to review and revision.
  • Realization that NAFTA may not Continue Gaining Ground:
    Commentators are predicting failure of negotiations to preserve NAFTA. Contingency plans are now being considered by the USDA, in addition to crop and livestock producers. 
  • Slow-Growing Broilers not Sustainable:
    A study conducted in Germany disclosed that transition to so-called “slow-growing” broiler strains would add $3.6 Billion annually to production cost and would require an additional 1.1 million acres and considerably more water compared to conventional broiler strains.
  • NCC Honors Michael Welch as Honorary Lifetime Member:
           Distinguished broiler industry veteran, Michael Welch former
           president and CEO of Harrison Poultry and past Chairman of the NCC
           was elected as an Honorary Lifetime Member for his contributions to
           the industry and his community.
  • Chicken exports January through September 2017 Increased Over 2016
    The NCC citing USDA data indicated an increase in volume and value of 1.8 and 8.7 percent respectively for all chicken products (predominantly parts) for the first three quarters of 2017 compared to the corresponding period in 2016.
    (SMS 1,730-17 November 9th 2017)


Whole Genome Sequencing Evaluated During USDA Conference


Dr. Alex L. Brandt Chief Science Officer for Food Safety Net Services (FSNS) summarized the major findings of an October 26th UDSA meeting on Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) in a Company newsletter. Previous articles in EGG-CITE, predecessor of Egg-News have commented on the advantages of WGS over conventional pulse-field gel electrophoresis with regard to specificity in identifying bacterial isolates responsible for food-borne infections.

Based on the sharp decline in the cost of preforming WGS assays, agencies including the FDA, USDA, CDC and state public health departments are transitioning to this new technology.

It is clear that WGS allows investigators to discriminate among strains of a specific pathogen.  This enables field epidemiologists to ascertain the source of an infectious agent responsible for a food-borne disease outbreak.

It is intended that data obtained from WGS assays will be entered into the Genome Trackr Database.  This initiative will be undertaken by the Food and Drug Agency and will be hosted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

It is also intended to relate WGS data to antimicrobial resistance through recognition of specific genes responsible for non-susceptibility.  The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System will now collect data from WGS assays given that results are highly correlated with conventional wet microbiology.

There are concerns that the sensitivity and specificity of WGS could represent a legal liability if applied and interpreted inappropriately by quality control personnel employed by the processor.  It is evident that linkage between isolates matched by WGS should be correlated with epidemiologic data.  There is also concern that in the course of routine investigation, authorities may identify persistent pathogens such as Listeria in the environment of a plant or restaurant kitchen. The pathogen must be destroyed to prevent food-borne infection.

Dr. Brandt summarized the challenges raised during the meeting as:-

  • Sharing of WGS data between collaborating agencies will continue
    There is need for standardization and harmonization of data across all WGS databases
  • Bias in compilation of databases must be avoided by ensuring that collected genotypes are representative of isolates from both food and clinical samples
  • Legal aspects relating to liability must be resolved given the power of WGS to implicate ingredients and food plants in disease outbreaks 

Food Safety Net Services has additional information on Whole Genome Sequencing including the full report prepared by Dr. Brandt available by accessing www.fsns.com



(SMS 1,832-17 November 9th 2017)



Ag-Biotech Forms Coalition to Promote CRISPR Technology


Following the introduction of GM seeds over two decades ago, the major ag-biotech companies incorrectly identified farmers as their customers. Effectively, it was consumers who were the ultimate users of the technology. Opponents of intensive agriculture soon contrived to elicit concern and suspicion over GMO which persists to the present time.

Above drawing courtesy of Cancer.gov

With the introduction of CRISPR* technology, it is possible to edit the genome by removing specific genes to achieve a desirable effect. Accordingly, major seed producers and biotechnology companies have formed the Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture. The CEO of the organization, Bill Evan, stated “The food industry missed a chance to assure customers of the safety of GM when the earlier wave of genetically engineered food made it to the market.” He added, “There was never any conversation with consumers about what it is and what it meant.”

Charlie Arnot, who leads the Coalition and is CEO of the Center for Food Integrity noted that to be acceptable, CRISPR technology will have to be transparent and it will be necessary to engage the public at an early stage in development. Arnot stresses trust as an important component of public acceptance. He stated “If people trust you, science doesn’t matter. If people don’t trust you, science doesn’t matter.”

The Coalition will stress the message that CRISPR isn’t like other forms of genetic engineering according to the publicity to be generated. Herein lies a potential danger. By claiming that CRISPR, as the “new biotechnology” is safe and does not involve insertion of genes, there is a risk that existing GM technology and products may be demonized.

The activities of the Coalition are already under fire from activists including Friends of the Earth. This group opposed to intensive agriculture, claims that CRISPR is de facto genetic engineering and is already gearing up to oppose the technology.

A further complication is that regulation of CRISPR has not yet been defined. There are profound differences in approach by the FDA and USDA which will result in confusion, duplication of submissions, delays in approval and a dearth of confidence.

Let us hope that if advantages can be achieved through CRISPR technology that it will be rapidly adopted and commercialized with accompanying positive publicity accepted by consumers and the food distribution industry.

*Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats

(SMS 1,810-17 November 5th 2017) 


Conflict of Interest Disclosure Calls into Question IARC Classification of Glyphosate


EGG-CITE and CHICK-CITE, predecessors of EGG-NEWS and CHICK-NEWS have commented over the past year on the March 2015 decision by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a subsidiary of the World Health Organization, to declare glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. The finding made by the ARC was soundly disputed by scientists in academia and industry and the published monograph was questioned as to scientific integrity.

A recent disclosure has cast a shadow over the IARC which has displayed a blatantly anti-industry approach to what should be regarded as an exercise in scientific evaluation. At issue is the disclosure that Dr. Christopher Portier who advises the International Agency for Research on Cancer and participated in compilation of the monograph had an undeclared conflict of interest. While advising IARC, Portier was also an expert witness for Lundy and Lundy, a major U.S. law firm pursuing litigation against Monsanto, a manufacturer of glyphosate. It was disclosed through a review of depositions that Dr. Portier was paid $160,000 for services to the law firm.

Portier defended his substantial remuneration in the statement “My only defense is should I work for free? I have expertise and years and years of experience.” He added “I probably should have declared the link with the law firm in an open letter sent in November 2015 to the Commissioner of the E.U. Food Safety Agency.   

The IARC has come under considerable criticism from the scientific community for outlandish declarations including the finding that coffee was as toxic as plutonium which is errant nonsense. IARC also created concern over the alleged carcinogenicity of red meat.

                                                                                                                  Chris Portier, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The apparent alarmist nature of IARC statements has been raised in Congress with the House of Representatives questioning why the National Institutes of Health continues to fund the Agency.

A major complaint relating to the 2015 declaration on glyphosate was that it completely (and most probably deliberately) ignored the results of a USDA investigation which failed to demonstrate any evidence of carcinogenicity among farm workers exposed to the chemical.

The timing of the 2015 report on glyphosate was less than coincidental. At the time, authorities in the E.U. were reviewing renewal of the license for the compound. It is generally recognized that if glyphosate were to be banned, there would be a severe impact on the economic justification for GM cultivars of corn and soybeans. Essentially the campaign against glyphosate using supporters at IARC was a contrived and cynical attack directed against the application of GM technology in crop production.


(SMS 1,778-17 November 1st 2017)


Humane League in U.K. Pressuring Noble Foods


Noble Foods the largest egg producer in the U.K., has approximately 11 million hens in production supplying 60 million eggs per week. The Company houses approximately 4.3 million hens in enriched colony cages in accordance with E.U. and U.K. regulations. Following the principle of choice, Noble Foods supplies eggs from enriched colony modules, barns and from free-range systems.

In November 2016, Noble Foods received the “Good Egg Award” from Compassion in World Farming for their commitment to provide “humanely raised free-range eggs” to the U.S. market. Noble has committed to floor and free range systems for 70 percent of flocks by 2020. Predictably the campaign opposing Noble Foods emphasizes the “cage” aspect of housing.

As in the U.S., it appears that major supermarkets in the U.K. are demonstrating increasing reluctance to follow through with commitments to totally convert their sourcing of shell eggs to non-confined flocks. The reality is that consumers are all in favor of hens having floor space in which to exhibit natural behaviors including dust bathing, (despite disease, cannibalism and parasitism), but at the end of the day, are apparently not willing to pay for sentiment.

In many respects, the cage-free movement has been spearheaded by a number of welfare activist organizations on both sides of the Atlantic that have made common cause with food service companies such as Sodexo, the Compass Group and Aramark in addition to high-end casual dining restaurants and cruise lines which are able to pass on increased costs to their consumers.

It appears that most of the activist organizations are employing a duplicitous reciprocal strategy of claiming that both U.K. and U.S. consumers demand cage-free eggs and that food retailers and food service companies have totally committed to conversion to cage-free sourcing. Affiliate organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. are using announcements and trends to pressure the food retail industries in both countries.

Given the immense investment required for transition from conventional cages to alternative systems, egg producers are justifiably sitting on their wallets when it comes to commitments to erect new facilities or converting existing complexes in an industry characterized by low prices.

(SMS 1,758-17 October 30th 2017)


Risks Associated With Farmers Markets


A recent near-death experience by a colleague who consumed cooked oysters at a Farmer’s Market in the Triangle area of North Carolina prompted consideration of food safety and health-related issues surrounding these venues.

During the past eight years under the previous Administration, USDA funding for farmer’s markets resulted in a proliferation of locations where consumers can purchase both produce and prepared foods.

In recognition of risks associated with farm and home-prepared foods, the Province of British Columbia has developed standards based on risk assessment. Potentially hazardous foods are usually associated with low acid content (below 4.6) and available water content above 0.85. These conditions will allow proliferation of potential aerobic pathogens. Obvious foods representing health risks include:

  • Eggs from potentially infected flocks under 3,000 hens exempted from the FDA Final Rule to prevent Salmonella infection
  • Cheese prepared from raw milk which may be associated with listeriosis, salmonellosis, campylobacterosis and even brucellosis depending on the health status of the herd and processing of the product
  • Handling, preparation, packaging and storage of products
  • Prepared salads which may be contaminated with Listeria spp. Salmonella spp. or E.coli

The Province of British Columbia has developed a code of practice including MarketSafe education, good farmer’s market practices and banning specific high-risk foods. Trained environmental health officers are available to advise vendors and to disapprove of products considered to be a risk.

We need similar precautions in the U.S. to ensure that products offered at Farmers Markets conform to minimal standards of safety as required of companies with whom they compete

(SMS 1,697-17 October 24th 2017)


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