Editorial


ESG is in Our Future

02/22/2021

The concept of applying Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in corporate culture and execution will progressively drive the relationship between producers and customers over the next ten years.  An interview with Kathleen McLaughlin, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for Walmart provides a road map of what lies ahead.

 


Kathleen McLaughlin. EVP Walmart

Walmart as with many multinationals and U.S.-focused companies has developed their "ESG investment theses".  It is now held that not only does a company have to provide a satisfactory return on investment but it should do so sustainably with concern for social issues and demonstrate strong ethical values.  Based on trends in the E.U., investors recognize that the long-term growth and continuity of dividends will be dependent on adherence to the principles of ESG especially as governments are demanding compliance in environmental and worker issues.  McLaughlin notes that "customers, investors, employees, community leaders all expect businesses to be part of the solution - to bring their particular capabilities to bear on the social and environmental issues most relevant to them and their stakeholders". 

 

Walmart is committed to reduce emissions through a program of investment, supplier engagement and innovation in product supply chains.  This approach implies that success achieved by Walmart will be linked to the achievements of suppliers.  Accordingly, greater pressure will be placed on broiler and turkey producers to conform to the principles of ESG. 

 

Walmart intends to apply a science-based approach to environmental stewardship and will set an example that will of necessity be followed by suppliers.  Conservation of energy, improved efficiency throughout the chain of production from brooding, grow-out, processing and delivery will all be scrutinized. The use of renewable power will be first encouraged and then mandated requiring the use of wind generators and solar panels.  There will be significant changes in packaging, emphasizing conservation and recycling capability.  Greater cooperation between supplier and customer will be evident with increasing consultation and participation in joint projects to conserve resources.  Companies applying ESG will have to develop quantitative goals and measure progress.  A review of corporate reports issued by EU-based companies demonstrates the extent to which ESG data is presented along with traditional financial performance.

 

The social component of ESG presumes development of human capital.  Producers will have to demonstrate equity in recruitment, employment, promotion, education and health services.  Walmart has established programs to create opportunities for employees and will expect similar initiatives from their suppliers.  Philanthropy will also be regarded as a positive expression of social responsibility and will become more structured, assuming a greater role in interaction with communities where companies operate.

 

Walmart established the Center for Racial Equity in 2020 with a commitment of $100 million through 2025.  Large customers practicing ESG will expect comparable efforts by their suppliers and will provide guidance on relevant activities contributing to social equity.

 

Based on the inevitability of compliance with customer ESG requirements, the following areas should be considered by suppliers who will compete over the next decade:-

 

  • Improved management of land holdings to promote sustainability
  • Reduction in energy demands and converting from power generated by fossil fuels
  • Enhanced feed efficiency through precision nutrition, more advanced equipment and management
  • Conservation of water and greater attention to processing and recycling of animal waste  and plant effluent
  • Programs to advance the knowledge and capabilities of employees
  • Evaluation of wage rates, fringe benefits, health, worker accommodation and social support systems
  • Rationalization of product delivery to reduce energy consumption
  • Concentration on recycling of water, packaging and other resources

 

ESG is not a fad or a concept that can be faked.  ESG will determine the relationship between suppliers and customers and will represent a new competitive component in the chain extending from producer to consumer.  Companies that fail to recognize the importance of ESG will be at a disadvantage with respect to their more progressive peers.  Producers are advised to become acquainted with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and the intended requirements of their major customers in order to plan compliance.  Failure to recognize the importance of ESG and to implement programs will represent a major strategic deficiency, threatening the growth of an enterprise, brand image and long-term survival.


 

COVID Vaccination - A Multinational Imperative

02/19/2021

The editorial last week dealt with the need to immunize as high a proportion of the U.S. adult population as possible.  Current projections, given availability of vaccines and logistic restraints to administration suggest that all who are willing to receive a vaccine will be immunized by June.  The rate of administration of the two mRNA vaccines now available is increasing and despite the temporary problems caused by inclement weather, as many as two million doses can be administered per day.

 

The broader issue in relation to suppressing COVID is the need to vaccinate as many of the World’s population as can be accomplished.  The longer that populations are susceptible, the faster the spread of COVID-19 and the greater is the probability that variants will emerge.  Dense populations in urban areas in India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria represent an extreme risk of encountering variants, some of which may be refractory to immunity stimulated by existing vaccines. 

 

COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the differences between industrialized and developing nations.  Countries in the E.U. and the U.S. have implemented various levels of lockdown to reduce transmission.  China imposed draconian restrictions on regions where COVID-19 emerged during the first quarter of 2020, successfully reducing spread and suppressing infection.  This action, only possible in a non-democratic society, contrasted with the rapid dissemination of virus, soaring incidence rates and high mortality in many E.U. nations including in the U.S.  Developing nations cannot afford to impose lockdowns, practice social distancing and implement expensive measures possible in industrialized nations.  Accordingly, universal vaccination will be critical to reducing the worldwide incidence of COVID-19, the emergence of variants, and reintroduction of the infection into nations where infection will be reduced to low levels. 

 

Accordingly, vaccines must be manufactured and administered at rates consistent with control.  It is estimated that more than 300 COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development and evaluation.  Eight products have received regulatory approval by the U.S., the U.K., the E.U., and by the WHO.  These include the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, the AstraZeneca adenovirus-vectored product two vector vaccines from China, the Sputnik V adenovirus-vectored vaccine from Russia, and soon to be approved Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson products in the U.S. and elsewhere.

 

The February 13th edition of The Economist documented the quantum of doses ordered by major nations and regions classified as to manufacturer.  The analysis also calculated the number of ordered vaccines in relation to adult population.  It is clear that the U.S., the E.U., U.K., Japan, Australia, and Canada have committed to purchase more vaccines than will be required by their respective populations, even assuming universal uptake and eventual administration to children.  In contrast, many nations have yet to select or order vaccines and may well fail to accomplish acceptable levels of protection imposing a risk for the entire world.  Nations in deficit include Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Paraguay, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

 

Covax, an international consortium working in cooperation with the WHO, intends to source and distribute vaccines.  It is expected that close to two billion doses will be allocated to 90-low income nations during 2021 based on population.  Covax will rely heavily on AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that do not require a low temperature for storage and distribution. 

 

In evaluating current orders for vaccines, the 54 richest nations with 18 percent of World adult population have ordered 40 percent of available vaccine representing 2.5 two-dose regimens per individual.  Russia and China are considered to be in balance with their domestic production but many nations will be in deficit with has few as 0.2 doses per person ordered. It is apparent that China and Russia are applying ‘vaccine diplomacy’ to gain favor in nations devoid of vaccine. 

 

Organizations such as the International Chamber of Commerce have pointed to the need to expedite worldwide vaccination.  The interconnectivity of trade presumes that factories, many of which are located in high-risk nations with susceptible populations, must continue to export.  The recent need to suspend automobile assembly in the U.S. as a result of a shortage of microchips illustrates the interdependence of industrialized and developing nations.  International trade and shipment of manufactured goods presumes movement of commodities, products and people, adding to the risk of transmission.  The fact that a U.K. variant appeared and was widely disseminated  in the U.S. within a short time of being identified illustrates the futility of imposing rigid travel restrictions.  Although some nations such as New Zealand have achieved success in closing borders, introduction of variant strains of SARS-Cov-2 will be inevitable in the nations of the E.U. and in the U.S., given the extent of international travel.

 

Vaccination is ultimately the only practical method of suppressing COVID-19 on a worldwide basis.  Policies previously implemented by many nations involving travel bans from specific countries are an exercise in futility. Attempting to restrict vaccines to a specific nation is regarded as both morally indefensible and ultimately self-destructive. Residents of Kalamazoo are biologically more connected to citizens in Kabul than they would like to think.  Until the world achieves acceptable herd immunity through vaccination, no nation is safe.


 

The Need to Achieve Herd Immunity

02/15/2021

In order to resurrect our economy, it will be necessary to reduce the impact of COVID-19.  To effectively suppress the infection, including emerging variants it will be critical to achieve a level of immunity approaching 75 percent of our entire adult population.  Phase-3 trials in the U.S. and in other nations have demonstrated that the two mRNA vaccines now deployed in the U.S. suppress clinical signs and almost eliminate hospitalizations.  It is less clear whether immunized individuals are capable of transmitting the virus.  Preliminary data from Israel where 80 percent of those over the age of 65 have been vaccinated and 40 percent of the entire population received at least one dose of vaccine, indicate a lower incidence rate in the non-vaccinated cohort.  This suggests that increasing the proportion of immune individuals in the population through vaccination is actually reducing transmission rates as predicted by established epidemiologic theory.

 

Despite approval of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during November and December 2020 respectively, both supply of the products and more important their administration, even to priority groups was initially beset with logistic restraints due to an obvious lack of planning and direction by federal authorities.  As of February 12th, 3.6 percent of the U.S. population has received two doses of either of the vaccines and 11 percent have received the first dose. Effective February 15th, 70 million doses have been delivered and 52 million administered.  It is evident that many of the logistic restraints to administration of vaccines are being resolved and the rate of vaccination attained 2.2 million on each of February 13th and 14th.

 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, previously Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration noted that the availability of vaccines will soon exceed the potential rate of administration even without the introduction of a third or fourth vaccine which in all probability will occur in March.  Dr. Gottlieb correctly points out that "vaccine hesitantly" will soon be a restraint to attaining a level of immunity that is necessary to suppress the incidence rate in the U.S.   The February 13th edition of The Economist considers the origin of vaccine hesitancy with specific reference to both industrialized and developing nations. Reluctance to receive a vaccine is based on a number of fears.  These include concern over safety, evident from the Phase-3 trials; denial concerning the pathogenicity of COVID-19, with close to 500,000 fatalities denoting the severity of the infection; and group-sentiment fostered by mischievous, misleading and mendacious postings on social media.

 

Some of the nonsense currently circulating include claims that the vaccine will allow mind control by sinister forces, that the vaccine will affect fertility, that vaccines are derived using fetal material or potentially rejecting the halal status of vaccines.  There has also been a concerted attempt to devalue the advice of public health officials, hinting at untrustworthiness and ulterior motives.  According to The Economist, The Center for Countering Digital Hate has tracked 425 anti-vaccine accounts on four major social medial platforms with close to 60 million followers. It emerged that 80 percent of the organizations that promote an anti-vax message have a financial justification for their opposition, since they promote and sell nostrums and remedies with unfounded claims for efficacy.  A published research study has documented 1,300 Facebook pages opposing vaccination intertwining pseudo-scientific messages with conspiracy theories. Facebook has indicated that it will henceforth remove posts opposing vaccination. In a recent move, Instagram banned Joseph F. Kennedy Jr., a notorious opponent of all vaccinations from the platform, although his Facebook account remains active.

 

Public health authorities are currently analyzing and characterizing demographic groups opposed to vaccination and are attempting to develop countermeasures by specifically addressing their concerns.  A history of exploitation characterized by the infamous Tuskegee Experiment and chronically inferior medical services has created hesitation in the black community that has suffered disproportionately from COVID-19. It is hoped that reluctance to be vaccinated will be remedied by responsible civic associations and greater accessibility to health services. Vaccination is receiving the endorsement of major black political, entertainment, academic and sports figures who serve as positive role models. 

 

Some resistance to vaccination is inexplicable.  A December 2020 survey among healthcare providers in Pennsylvania demonstrated a 45 percent reluctance to be vaccinated.  These individuals including RNs do not lack education relating to how the virus is spread and how protection can be effected.  In early December their concerns were based on the rate at which the vaccine was developed and the perception that approval by the FDA was rushed for political purposes in late October.  Progressively, the sample of 16,000 healthcare workers has moved from a 45 percent level who were either disinclined to be vaccinated or elected to wait, to more than 75 percent agreeing to be vaccinated. By early February only five percent were implacably opposed to vaccination.  The undecided group of healthcare workers is clearly diminishing as more of our population is vaccinated without adverse effects. In contrast workers in red-meat packing plants where vaccine has been made available have enthusiastically accepted immunization with or without financial inducements.

 

Recognition of the extent of vaccine hesitancy should now guide public health officials in developing promotional campaigns to encourage acceptance.  With the greater availability of vaccines and improved logistics, over 200 million eligible members of the U.S. population could be vaccinated by late spring.  The hard task will be to reach and vaccinate those over 16 who are either outright vaccine deniers, comprise the wait-and-see members of our population or for various reasons are inaccessible to health services. It will require a concerted program of public service campaigns to encourage acceptance of COVID vaccination to protect both individuals and the community.  Some large companies are providing financial and other incentives to workers to be vaccinated.  Other concerns and industries are actively pressing for their workers to be protected with the cooperation of state governors and health departments.  It will be necessary to make vaccination successively more convenient and accessible following immunization of the first 200 million. 

 

It is possible that resuming activities such as travel, attendance at crowded events and even community gatherings that we took for granted in 2019, will in future be contingent on proof of vaccination. As we roll out vaccines and effectively immunize an increasing proportion of our population, we hope that those who hesitated will join the mass and receive protection.  If we end up with a 10 to 12 percent hard-core cohort of vaccine deniers, they will benefit from herd immunity. 

 

With the emergence of variants and waning of immunity, it is inevitable that COVID will persist in our society requiring annual or biannual booster vaccination, much as we have accepted annual influenza “shots”. This will be a small price to pay for restoring our way of life and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.


 

Congressional Investigation Reveals Heavy Metal Contamination in Baby Foods

02/08/2021

According to a February 4th Congressional Report from the Sub-Committee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, baby foods marketed in the U.S. contain unacceptable levels of arsenic and in some cases contamination with lead, mercury and cadmium.  The report was requested in November 2019 and followed a review of data obtained by the Food and Drug Administration relating to heavy metal contamination of baby foods. 

 

During November 2019, the Sub-committee on Economic and Consumer Policy requested documentation and assay data from seven manufacturers.  The companies included Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial Group, Gerber, Walmart Inc, Sprout Foods Inc, Campbell Soup Company and Nurture Inc.  Only Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber cooperated with the Sub-committee with the remainder refusing to comply with the investigation.  The report documented high levels of arsenic in company-assayed samples, ranging from 60 ppb to 200 ppb.  Lead was present at levels over 10 ppb in 20 percent of baby food samples tested with one as high as 641 ppb. A specific company detected 5 ppb cadmium in 65 percent of samples assayed and the same company marketed baby foods containing up to 10 ppb mercury.

 

It was evident that from the data reviewed, that manufacturers ignored high levels of heavy metals in raw materials used to prepare baby food.  Arsenic contamination of rice and cadmium contamination of carrots were obvious contributors to heavy metal contamination of the final products.

 

The recommendations in the Report included:-

  • FDA should develop standards specifying maximum levels of organic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in baby foods
  • Mandatory testing of both ingredients and finished products
  • Compulsory reporting of levels of heavy metals to FDA

 

Encouraging parental vigilance regarding heavy metal contamination of baby foods based on mandatory testing and labeling.

 

The presence of heavy metal contamination of food is unacceptable. That arsenic, cadmium and mercury are knowingly present in baby food is criminal and the fact that household brands are involved speaks volumes for the mendacity and wanton disregard for the health of our Nation. We can and must do better.


 

Mission Metamorphosis the Reinvention of the American Humane Association

01/27/2021

Dr. Robin R. Ganzert president and CEO of the American Humane Association (AHA) recently released Mission Metamorphosis detailing the restructuring and redirection of the organization.

Our industry recognizes the AHA as a responsible voice in livestock welfare with a multifold mission serving as an admired and prominent charity with high ethical standards.  Egg producers interact with the AHA through the American Humane Certified Program that provides an assurance that eggs are raised humanely and in accordance with standards based on science and quantitative evaluation. 

 

When Dr. Ganzert was appointed to her leadership role in October 2010, she was unaware of the rapidly deteriorating financial reserves, lack of leadership and diffusion of purpose threatening the very existence of an organization that had provided service to the community and to animals for close to 150 years.

 

Mission Metamorphosis describes a stepwise reevaluation of the AHA conducted in less than 60- days. The review identified primary and consequential problems and deficiencies that were prioritized for resolution. Responses to the situation facing management required cancellation of many non-productive programs, downsizing staff and a decision to sell the relatively lavish Colorado headquarters and move to Washington DC. These actions placed the AHA on a path to solvency. 

 


Dr. Robin Ganzert

 

The book clearly illustrates the need for nonprofits to define their mission, develop a suitable structure, appoint competent leaders and to maintain a program of ethical fundraising. In her initial approach and then subsequently Dr. Ganzert applied sound business principles to establish financial stability, without which AHA would not have been able to expand programs that have relevance to contemporary society.

 

During fiscal year 2010 preceding her tenure the AHA ran a deficit of close to $6 million.  By trimming programs and redirecting efforts, the AHA established a small surplus in 2012.  Through her efforts Dr. Ganzert increased revenue from $15.7 million in fiscal 2010 to $44.7 million in 2019 allowing the AHA to attain a $1.4 million surplus.  The initial year of her direction involved a $16 million reduction in budgeted expenses, downsizing 60 percent of staff positions and revamping programs for relevance and efficiency. In 2010, Dr. Ganzert determined that fundraising and general administration respectively absorbed 14.4 percent and 6.6 percent of revenue, leaving 79 percent for programs.  Ten years later under her guidance, fundraising and general administration were reduced to 6.0 percent and 2.6 percent of revenue allowing 91.3 percent of income to be directed to programs.  In practical terms, program funding increased over threefold from $12.4 million in 2010 to $40.7 million in 2019.

 

Apart from the American Humane Certified Program activities that have generated public support include emergency response to disasters including floods and hurricanes, world wide species preservation and conservation, pet facilitated therapy, military dog retirement, the Humane Hollywood program, support for animal rescue shelters, recognition of service animals and Pups-4 Patriots support for veterans.

 

Bringing back AHA from the brink of bankruptcy, Dr. Ganzert reestablished the creditability and function of the Association.  Consumer Reports regards American Humane as the best U.S. charity deserving of support; AHA has earned anr‘A’ rating from Charity Watch and Gold-level status from Guidestar USA.  Charity Navigator awarded American Humane 4-stars, the highest for any humane group. The AHA ranks in the top one percent on the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance list.

 

Mission Metamorphosis serves as a text on how to rejuvenate a non-profit functioning with good intensions but subject to incompetent management.  Our industry that preferentially supports AHA through the Humane Certified program should be assured of the contribution that the Association makes to society. 

 

The only prospective negative from Mission Metamorphosis is that a Board of another non-profit may recognize the skill, creativity and communicating ability of Dr. Ganzert and induce her to accept  a new and larger challenge.


 

Restoration of Extensive Outside Access for Organic Certification Likely

01/23/2021

With the restoration of Tom Vilsak to the position of Secretary of the USDA, there will be a reevaluation of outside access requirements for egg production under the USDA Certified Organic program.  It will be remembered that in 2017 on the last day of the Obama Administration, Secretary Vilsak approved the rule mandating minimum outside access. This would have effectively disqualified in-line barn and multi-level aviary units.  Then Secretary Dr. Sonny Perdue rescinded the rules allowing sun porches to substitute for outside access.


Hens with outside access to soil

With the inception of a new Administration it is obvious that animal rights groups including HSUS and representatives of organizations representing small-scale organic egg producers will agitate for restoration of the previous housing requirements.

 

It is therefore expected that if the outside access requirement is mandated, that a new category of eggs distinct from but parallel to organic regulations will emerge. Eggs will be derived from flocks housed in barns or in building fitted with aviaries, fed GMO feed and complying with most organic requirements with the exception of outside access.  It is anticipated that under the rules as proposed in 2016, certified organic eggs derived from hens allowed outside access and  the new category of GMO-free/humane-housed hens would be positioned below current organic prices.

 

Growth in organic egg production has stalled over many months based on price relative to alternatives including cage-free and even generic product. Imposing an excessive outside access requirement would disqualify a high proportion of current organic egg supply to the benefit of smaller-scale producers. This would satisfy the original intent of the extended outside access requirement.  Producers advocating outside access may be disappointed if their wish is granted as they will be supplying a smaller market with more intense competition, albeit at a higher price.


Organic egg complex with sun porches

 

E.U. Trends Likely to Influence U.S. Agriculture.

01/16/2021

According to USDA-FAS GAIN report E42021-0007 released on January 12th 2021, a number of trends affecting E.U. agricultural policy emerged from the Farm to Fork Conference held in mid-October 2020.  The objective of the meeting was to create an international alliance and to develop global standards on sustainability and welfare.  The Conference was strongly supported by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and by the Agricultural and Health Commissioners of Germany and other prominent EU states.  Items considered by the Farm to Fork conference that have relevance to the U.S. include:-


E.U. nations before BREXIT

 


E.U. Commissioner Ursala von der Leyden
  • The European Green Deal

This initiative to be enacted in the proposed Climate Law will be legally binding for all 27 European Union member states. The proposal will establish carbon neutrality by 2050 and progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The outgoing U.S. Administration has consistently denied the reality of climate change and has relaxed environmental regulations contrary to movements in the Europe and Asia.  This was exemplified by withdrawal from the Paris Accords and characterizing coal as “beautiful and clean”.  It is anticipated that the incoming Administration will reverse many of the policy decisions of the past four years and move towards commonality with the E.U. as a condition for trade.  On December 17th, all 27 E.U. Ministers of the Environment adopted the European Council position on the Climate Law incorporating a target of 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to the 1990 base.

  • Mandatory Nutrition Labeling

The E.U. will harmonize front-of-pack nutrition labeling by the end of 2022.  The intent is to provide consumers with information enabling health-conscious choices with adoption of the Nutri-Score labeling as introduced in France and since adopted by Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany.  Given that many U.S. producers of food products are subsidiaries of multinational corporations such as Nestle and Danone, it is anticipated that the front-of-pack nutrition labeling will eventually be adopted in the U.S.

  • Establishing Nutrient Profiles

The restrictions on salt, sugars and fat established by Regulation #1924 in 2006 will be fully implemented before the end of 2022. It is anticipated that there will be harmonization of nutritional specifications among industrialized nations of the northern hemisphere motivated by trade and health considerations.

  • Animal Welfare labeling

 A November 3rd 2020 meeting of the E.U. Platform on Animal Welfare announced a committee to produce a report by mid 2021 to evaluate consumer awareness and the economic impact of mandatory welfare standards. Julia Kloeckner, the German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture stated, "a common E.U. label for animal welfare would increase credibility and transparency in our markets and would enable consumers to make more informed choices and would help reward producers who comply with standards”.

  • Country of Origin Labeling

The European ministers of agriculture considered Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in mid-December 2020. Given a number of foodborne health incidents associated with certain E.U. producer nations, this provision that could be regarded as discriminatory and possibly in contravention of WTO Regulations indicates concern among member nations. 

  • Product Dating

The EU will propose revisions to existing rules relating to use by and best before dates.  An improvement of presentation format or wording will be developed possibly abandoning the best before descriptor.

  • Chemical-based Pesticides

The European Commission will take action to reduce the application and by extension, exposure of consumers to chemical pesticides.  A target of 50 percent reduction by 2030 is envisaged.

  • Feed Additives

The Commission will consider the adoption of sustainable and innovative feed additives by revising current legislation.  Additives will be promoted on the basis of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to sustainable farming.

  • Promoting Organic Farming

As part of the Biodiversity Strategy, the European commission set a goal of 25 percent of agricultural land for organic farming by 2030, up from the current eight percent.  Well-meaning legislatures will have to reconcile the need for food with the inherent inefficiency of organic farming as we know it.  A legislative proposal relating to the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy is expected by the end of the current year.

The EU has a long history of advancing welfare, sustainability and reducing the impact of agriculture and industry on climate change. The E.U. comprises close to 500 million in population (including the UK) and is the world's largest trading group with defined rules and procedures. Accordingly the U.S. cannot ignore trends in agriculture if we are to trade freely and enjoy political and cultural relations to our mutual benefit.


 

Highly pathogenic avian influenza in the E.U. During 2020

01/10/2021

A moderator for ProMed Mail described the sequence of HPAI outbreaks attributed to H5N8 during 2020. Clearly the infection was introduced and disseminated by migratory waterfowl. The implications for the U.S. are self-evident despite the fading recollections of 2015. The description of the sequence of two distinct outbreaks is reproduced below for the benefit of subscribers:-

"During 2020, 2 distinct epidemic seasons of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were observed in the European Union. The 1st HPAI epidemic season started on 31 Dec 2019, with the 1st outbreak in poultry confirmed in Poland. A new HPAI virus of subtype H5N8 (2020) was involved in the outbreak. By March [2020], the disease was  confirmed in Poland, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania.

The H5N8 (2020) subtype of the HPAI virus was responsible for all of these outbreaks. The most affected Member State was Hungary, after the virus entered in the area with a high density of duck and geese holdings. Outbreaks of HPAI were also detected in Bulgaria between March and June 2020, but the virus involved was of subtype H5N8, which also circulated in Bulgaria in 2018-2019. The last outbreak in poultry related to the 1st epidemic season of HPAI was confirmed on 5 Jun 2020”.

 

"Only 3 wild birds were found infected with HPAI during the 1st half of 2020 (in Germany and Poland). The virus involved was the same as the one detected in the poultry farms”.

 

"The 2nd HPAI epidemic season started at the end of October 2020 when the 1st cases were reported in wild birds in the Netherlands. Again, the 1st HPAI virus detected was of H5N8 subtype, different from the one that circulated in the 1st half of the year [2020]. Since then and until the end of 2020, a high number of dead and sick wild birds, mostly of migratory species, were found to be infected with HPAI viruses of subtypes H5N8, H5N5, H5N1, and H5N3 being detected by several EU countries and the United Kingdom. The largest number of cases in wild birds were reported in the northern part of Germany,  in Denmark, and in the Netherlands. Between October and end of December 2020, the disease was also confirmed in poultry in Croatia, Denmark, France, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom”

 

Lessons can be derived from the unfortunate experiences with HPAI in the E.U.

  • Since wild birds are carriers waterfowl hunting by personnel in the poultry industry should be prevented
  • Free-range and backyard flocks are the link between migratory birds and large commercial farms and complexes
  • Commercial waterfowl and turkeys appear to become infected in affected regions before chickens
  • Solid biosecurity is an effective preventive measure.
  • Constant surveillance of wild birds is necessary with appropriate molecular characterization.
  • Most governments impose “stamping out” programs to control outbreaks of HPAI. Most Governments in the E.U. effectively eradicate HPAI every year!
  • We need effective broad spectrum H5 and H7 vaccines to create immune commercial poultry populations so as to limit mass dissemination as was observed in the 2015 U.S. epornitic and the biphasic E.U. ongoing event.
  • Recognition of the OIE principle of regionalization is a tacit recognition of the extent, distribution and periodicity of HPAI.

 

Comments and contributions are solicited to establish an industry dialog.

 


 

Concern over SARS-COV-2 Variants

12/29/2020

With the increased frequency of sequencing isolates of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 in many nations, it is apparent that mutations are occurring that enhance infectivity. Mutations may affect response to antibody therapy and effectiveness of a range of vaccines based on mRNA, adenovirus-vectors and nanoparticle subunit technology. 

 

The variant VOC (variant of concern) 202012/01 also termed variant B.1.1.7, and a similar variant in South African both carry mutation N501 that enhances infectivity.  The UK variant has acquired 17 mutations affecting both the spike protein and nucleoprotein.  The concurrent N501mutation increases the ability of the virus to bind to human ACE receptors.  The mutation in this variant was recognized in early September in the U.K. but since November has become the predominant virus in Southeast England accounting for 60 percent of infections. 

 

A variant with the 69-70 del mutation involves deletion of two amino acids allowing the virus to be refractory to an immune response.  This change is also observed in the variant mink virus first identified in Denmark.  Mutation P681H occurs at the cleavage site of the spike protein and may be associated with increased pathogenicity.  Insertion of basic amino acids at the cleavage site of the hemagglutinating surface protein of avian influenza viruses is associated with increased pathogenicity relating to the ability of the virus to enter host cells.  It has yet to be shown that the variants carrying P681H are in fact more pathogenic in humans.


Dr. Anthony S Fauci

Dr. William Haseltine

An observation of concern is that where sequencing studies are carried out on a routine basis, variants are documented with increasing frequency.  The U.K. variant is now present in France and Belgium despite border and travel restrictions imposed in late December that basically represented closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.  Simultaneous emergence of variants in the Republic of South Africa and Nigeria, apparently showing greater infectivity reflect the innate ability of single-stranded RNA viruses to undergo mutations many of which are beneficial to the pathogen through infecting a greater number of hosts.

 

Dr. William Haseltine, president of Access Health International, a think tank, formerly a Professor at Harvard Medical School and a renowned educator, author and philanthropist, correctly notes that COVID-19 in various forms may be with us for many years to come. This will be despite the adoption of vaccines directed against the spike protein of the virus.  He notes that the mRNA vaccines including the Pfizer and Moderna products that received emergency use authorization in December in addition to the adenovirus vector vaccines including the AstraZeneca-Oxford and the Sputnik-5 product from Russia are all directed against spike protein.  In contrast, China has developed vaccines based on inactivated whole virus that may in the long term be more effective in suppressing SARS-COV-2 by stimulating a broader antibody response.

 

In past weeks, studies of the sequences of SARS-COV-2 have disclosed a lack of information regarding the molecular composition of current viruses in circulation.  The number of sequence assays of isolates in the U.K. is infinitely higher than in the U.S. Accordingly we have yet to detect the altered viruses that in all probability are undergoing community spread. The proportion of 0.5 percent of isolates sequenced the U.S. compares unfavorably with the U.K. with a rate of five percent. Of isolates from patients Information on the virus strains present in sub-populations allows health authorities and epidemiologists to identify the emergence of variants and their mode of transmission.  The need for greater surveillance of isolates from patients using a structured program is advocated by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the  NIAID -NIH. His promotion of sequencing isolates is justified by the December 29th recognition of the U.K. variant in a patient in Colorado with no history of travel, suggesting community transmission.

 

The expedient of requiring a negative PCR or antigen assay for intended visitors to the U.S. is at best a “feel-good” measure since an air traveler with a negative test conducted three days before entry to the U.S. may still permit introduction of a variant of SARS-COV-2.as has occurred in Canada. Without detailed and structured sequencing, we do not know whether variants carrying the N501 and P681H mutations are in fact present in the U.S. and are undergoing community spread. We do not have adequate information on how U.S. variants are emerging nor have we monitored possible changes in infectivity and pathogenicity. Hopefully additional funding will be available through the Covid relief package to be assigned by the incoming Administration.

 

With recognition of a similar variant in the U.S. this past week we can expect that community transmission during  Christmas travel will have disseminated this strain widely. It is only the dearth of sequencing assays that has failed to reveal the problem of emerging variants. "Seek and ye shall find" is the applicable catchphrase.


 

A New Year’s Wish List

12/27/2020

By any standards 2020 was an annus horribilis.  Without recounting the tribulations of the past twelve months, we could rather turn to an anticipation of 2021.  Our wish list includes the most desired changes from 2020:

  • Uppermost will be control of COVID-19.  We now have two mRNA vaccines available and we trust that the acceptance of these vaccines and their deployment will be rapid, free of complications and above all effective.  Concurrently we anticipate compliance by our population in public health measures extending through summer that will be necessary until an acceptable level of immunity is attained in our population.
  • A restoration of the economy is anticipated.  We have incurred a high level of public sector and private debt as a result of COVID. Our economy has, with the rest of the World, been seriously impacted.  We earnestly hope that sound fiscal management will prevail to restore the previous way of life we enjoyed before the advent of COVID-19.  Restoration of the economy accompanied by relaxation of COVID restrictions should alleviate hunger and misfortune among so many of our fellow citizens. Teaching through K-12 and university instruction will resume, although it is recognized that disruption in 2020 will have placed many of our students behind their anticipated development levels, requiring remediation.
  • We look forward to a smooth transition between the outgoing and the incoming Administrations with continuation of programs that were beneficial and support for American traditions.  Extremism from both the right and left must be discouraged and complete acceptance of the integrity of our Constitution must be maintained. 
  • We hope that extremes of weather, related to climate change will be less evident in 2021.  With the anticipation of the decline in La Nina that has apparently peaked, we hope to have fewer hurricanes and more even distribution of rainfall, preventing both flooding and drought.  The epidemic of fires west of the Rockies should hopefully abate, allowing restoration of the ecology of seven states.
  • We look forward to better relations with our allies and respect from our adversaries.  Restoration of our participation in international bodies, such as the WHO and improved interaction in the WTO and multinational trade agreements will benefit both our industrial and agricultural sectors.
  • It is hoped that catastrophic livestock diseases, including avian influenza, African swine fever, and foot and mouth disease, will spare our herds and flocks despite their prevalence in other nations.
  • We wish our row-crop farmers bountiful harvests. This should restore income, since farmers were dependent on government programs for 40 percent of revenue in 2020. Higher yields will lead to lower ingredient prices that spiked during the last quarter of 2020 and are still rising.
  • We wish our elected representatives and senators at the national level, and our state and local legislators, wisdom, objectivity, and freedom from the strictures of parochialism in their deliberations and decisions.  We hope for a new spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation rejecting the coercion and divisiveness that were apparent in 2020.

 

With restoration of our economy following control of COVID, we can look forward to improved purchasing power of our consumers and more favorable production margins.  We hope to release the inherent creativity and productivity of the U.S. poultry industry for the mutual benefit of our companies, their workers, and our consumers.

 

As I dictate an editorial on Christmas Day in 2021, I look forward to reflecting with you on an annus mirabilis, encompassing our current hopes and aspirations.

 

Barbara and I extend to you, your families, and colleagues

our warmest wishes for health and prosperity in the coming year.


 

Moderna COVID Vaccine Deployed-Vaccination Encouraged

12/23/2020

According to General Gustave Perna, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed, more than six million doses of the Moderna mRNA vaccine were shipped to 3,200 sites during the week beginning Monday, December 21st.  During the previous week, 272,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered according to the Centers for Disease Control.  It is noted that the Moderna vaccine that does not require the rigorous -90 F storage and transport temperature for the Pfizer product can transported at regular refrigeration temperature will be more acceptable for rural areas and small vaccination centers.

 

The initial vaccinations were administered to frontline healthcare workers.  On Sunday, December 20th the CDC AdvisoryCommittee prioritized adults 75 and older and frontline service workers to receive vaccines.  In the subsequent phase, adults between 65 and 75 and those between 16 and 64 with high-risk predisposing conditions and other essential workers will be vaccinated. 

 

It is anticipated that 20 million doses of  vaccine will be distributed by the end of 2020, although it is recognized that an equivalent volume has been held in reserve for the essential second dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The rollout of vaccine has demonstrated a slower rate of administration compared to availability even though the first recipients have been in hospitals with optimal resources. Logistical problems will obviously be resolved with resourcefullness and experience during the early weeks of 2021.

 

Health authorities, including Dr. Carlos del Río, Associate Dean of the Emory University School of Medicine, have warned that precautions to prevent transmission must be maintained as it will be a number of months before adequate numbers of the U.S. population achieve immunity. The U.S. has recorded almost 18 million confirmed cases with 320,000 fatalities since COVID-19 emerged.  On Friday, December 18th almost 250,000 new infections were recorded with an average of 2,500 deaths per day during the preceding week.

 

There is guarded optimism over acceptance of COVID vaccines.  Despite mischievous and misleading negative comments, the approval of the vaccine and initiation of administration have resulted in an increase in the number of citizens indicating their intent to be vaccinated. A concerning proportion of the population of western European nations and the U.S. still have reservations as to safety. This is in part due to the speed at which the vaccines were developed, distrust of governments and the pharmaceutical industry in general and a concerted campaign by anti vaxxers using the internet.

 

Commentators have suggested that opposition to vaccination, extending back to the 18th century was essentially based on religious views that vaccination was contrary to “God’s will”.  As noted in the Charlemagne column in the December 12th edition of The Economist,  Laurent-Henri Vignaud, a historian at the University of Bourgogne, observed that opposition to vaccination is now based on political considerations with a “strong correlation between doubting vaccines and voting for populist parties”.  This sentiment is supported by Dr. Jonathan Kennedy of the Queen Mary University of London.  News reports suggested that a high proportion of workers at homes for the elderly are disinclined to be vaccinated, this is unfortunate since this cohort is dealing directly with the most vulnerable members of our population and could serve as asymptomatic spreaders. Surveys show that 40 percent of those interviewed in Poland and Hungary and 46 percent in France stated they would reject a COVID-19 vaccine if offered. Health authorities expect that the increasing incidence rate of COVID accompanied by restrictions on normal social and economic activity will encourage acceptance of vaccination. It is hoped that with appropriate leadership and example, vaccination will be adopted by a high proportion of eligible recipients.

 

The Charlemagne column concludes that “the most effective vaccine against anti-vax nonsense would be for governments to roll out their COVID-19 vaccination programs as quickly and smoothly as possible with a minimum of disruption.  When elites do their jobs well populists and cranks have less to froth about”.


 

Tom Vilsack to be Nominated as USDA Secretary

12/09/2020

According to news reports President-elect Biden intends to nominate Tom Vilsack as Secretary of the USDA based on his experience, prospects for easy conformation as a non-controversial nominee. Vilsack is a known quantity having served previously as Secretary of the USDA for eight years. He is expected to bring stability to the Department and reduce uncertainty experienced by a stressed agricultural community facing the challenges of COVID-19, a depressed economy and trade disputes.

 

Based on previous actions and decisions the following can be expected of a Vilsack tenure at the  helm of the USDA:


Secretary-Designate Tom Vilsack
  • Continued support for ethanol production

 

  • Revival of regulations framed in 2017 under GIPSA, favoring contractors and family farms.
  • Implementing the recently enacted Farm Bill and to initiate consultations with Congress to frame legislation leading to the next farm Bill

 

  • Maintain crop insurance programs

 

  • Adopting a more active role in advancing sustainability and averting climate change through application of proven science

 

  • Restoring Obama-era nutritional standards for school feeding

 

  • Engendering bipartisanship in Congress to the benefit of his farmer constituency

 

  • Continuing a Departmental focus on farmers in comparison to a consumer-oriented approach as promoted by the left-wing of the Democratic Party

 

  • Moderation in trade disputes and restoration of levels of commodity exports that pertained prior to the advent of the 2017 trade war with China

 

  • Appointment of competent and experienced subordinate undersecretaries and deputy secretaries, coupled with a higher degree of professionalism in decision-making. The programs and policies of the USDA will be more influenced by science than by political considerations as compared to the previous Administration.

 

  • Promote a rational immigration policy providing security for both farmers and workers

 

Secretary Vilsack will approach the position with considerable experience as a previous two-term cabinet member and will have the support of the President, having campaigned for Candidate Biden. Secretary-Designate Vilsack has the expressed support of Senator Chuck Grassley, a past-Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a force in U.S. agriculture. He has already received indications of support from the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union.

 

Immediate challenges will be to fill vacant positions with suitable nominees who can be confirmed, address the issue of food insecurity exacerbated by COVID-19 and to wean producers from Government support that represented 40 percent of agricultural income in 2020.


 








































































































































































































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