Editorial


SPECIAL EDITORIAL

04/16/2018

Salmonella Braenderup Responsible for Substantial Recall of Eggs and Disruption of Operations

The FDA press release over the weekend concerning an apparent outbreak of salmonellosis attributed to a specific complex owned by the second-largest egg-production company in the U.S. raises issues extending beyond the enterprise concerned. The outbreak and investigation required application of sound epidemiology, use of highly specific whole genome sequencing of isolates from patients and the implicated flocks. The significant question is whether The FDA considered the financial results of their action on the Company and egg industry, whether justified scientifically or not, with the low impact of the outbreak.

Not all the facts are known as of today but it is hoped that transparency will be demonstrated by both the Agency and the Company concerned in the interests of knowledge and the imperative to introduce corrective action across the Industry if required.

Simon M. Shane,  Editor, EGG-NEWS 

 

Rose Acre Farms has voluntarily recalled approximately 200 million eggs from their Hyde County, NC. complex (P1065) following an FDA investigation. The outbreak involving 23 cases identified to date over a three to six month period from 2.4 million eggs per day over a conservative period of 45 days of consumption does not suggest either a high transmission rate or extensive contamination of eggs after washing.

Salmonella enterica Subspecies enterica Serotype Braenderup  (S. Braenderup) belongs to the C1 Serogroup expressing O:7 antigen. Previous documented outbreaks due to the pathogen have included meat pies in Switzerland (1993); chicken in Wisconsin (2001); tomatoes in a U.S. multistate outbreak (2004 through 2005); lettuce in the U.K. (2011); mangoes in a U.S. multistate outbreak in 2012 and nut butter in a U.S. multistate outbreak in 2014. 

In order to demonstrate an epidemiological relationship between the patients and the implicated complex FDA would have to establish:-

  • That all or an overwhelming proportion of the 23 patients were infected with the same strain of S. Braenderup using whole genome sequencing.
  • That the S. Braenderup isolates if present in samples taken from the farm (drag swabs, fan blades, egg belts and conveyors, cloacal swabs from hens, wash water, plant effluent) are homologous with the outbreak strain applying whole genome sequencing
  • That there is a plausible relationship between the cluster identified and the farm with respect to possible transmission.

 The voluntary recall represents the output of approximately 3 million hens or approximately 2.4 million eggs (6,600 cases) per day  extending from Julian Dates 011 (January 11th) to 102 (April 12th) 2018. It is self-evident that all but potentially a third of these eggs have been consumed.
Implicated product was distributed to ten states including the Carolinas, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. Eggs packed with the USDA AMS code of P1065 were marketed to both retail and food service customers. Brands identified included Food Lion, Great Value (Walmart), Sunshine Farms, Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Crystal Farms among others.


The recall resulted from investigation of a cluster of Salmonella Braenderup isolations from patients in the Northeast with records assembled on March 5th. The cases were identified over a number of months which creates doubt as to a point source. In contrast the 2010 S. Enteritidis outbreak attributed to two affiliated farms with approximately 300,000 hens operated by Jack DeCoster in Iowa generated an epi-curve with thousands of cases over two to three months. There was a rapid drop in incident cases after diversion of eggs to pasteurization. Environmental samples and eggs from the farm yielded a high proportion of S. Enteritidis isolates.  


The FDA report indicated eggs as a potential vehicle of infection with P1065 as the probable common source. On-farm investigations by the FDA in late March and early April apparently yielded “a sample containing Salmonella Braenderup from the Hyde County Egg farm facility which matched patients” It is understood that the FDA have not as yet isolated S. Braenderup from egg pools. Data relating to whole genome sequencing including homogeneity among patient and farm isolates has not been disclosed.


The identity of samples was not specified in the FDA release dated April 14th. It is important from an epidemiologic perspective to confirm that the pathogen was present in the interior of eggs denoting vertical transmission as with Salmonella Enteritidis (a Group-D serogroup). Alternatively it should be established whether the S. Braenderup was an environmental contaminant as with numerous Salmonella serotypes including Typhimurium, Hadar, Mbandaka and others which are not generally regarded as vertically transmitted. Washing of eggs in accordance with USDA protocols should remove surface contamination on the shell provided the process is carried out before penetration through the pores by motile Salmonella.


There is some weak evidence that S. Braenderup may be vertically transmitted*. In a published study  conducted on two egg-production farms in Guangdong Province S. Braenderup  was isolated from 23 of 126 environmental samples including cages, egg belts and conveyors, wash water the packing plant environment and feces. The organism was recovered from the shell and contents of eggs in the plant and at retail.


According to CDC reports S. Braenderup was isolated from children infected by day-old chicks purchased by hatcheries supplying the backyard chicken market. This suggests indirect vertical transmission most likely from fecal and hatchery contamination but not necessarily by the trans-ovarial route.


Definitive proof of transovarial transmission of S. Braenderup would require controlled studies as with Salmonella Enteritidis and the negative results with S. Heidelberg as documented in the literature. If the FDA wish to establish vertical transovarial transmission it is hoped that hens vaccinated with S. Typhimurium mutant vaccine should be used and that realistic challenge doses (102  to 10 3 CFU) should be administered.


The role of vertical transovarial transmission in this case would have to be derived from examination of egg pools form specific flocks of various ages on the implicated complex together with a structured study to demonstrate the presence of S. Braenderup in the ovary and or oviduct of a statistically relevant sample of hens shown to be intestinally colonized with the potential pathogen. 


The question of how to respond to the situation is of financial importance to Rose Acre farms. It is evident that in the short term eggs from the complex will have to be diverted to breaking and pasteurization until the extent of environmental contamination and prevalence in specific flocks is established from manure swabs and egg pools. It is known that Rose Acre Farms has breaking and pasteurization capability but not in Hyde County. This presumes transport of eggs from North Carolina to Indiana and a reverse shipment of shell eggs to the Mid-Atlantic market.


 The longer term response to the problem is more challenging.
 


Tetrick Reinvents His Company

04/12/2018

In an address to the Future Food-Tech Convention on March 22nd, Joshua Tetrick the controversial founder and CEO of a company with serial iterations (Beyond Eggs, Hampton Creek Foods, Hampton Creek) announced that the new name will be Just Inc. Traditionally strong on hype and promises, Tetrick apparently presented a more moderate tone in his address admitting to “colossal mistakes” and attempting to introduce too many products.

He still has pretentions of changing what food the world consumes, claiming that eating well is a basic right. An avowed vegetarian, he is basing the future of his re-born company on mung beans.

Tetrick appears to be moving offshore for investors and customers with recent publicity related to a vegetarian-egg substitute offering from Hampton Creek in Hong Kong. Now a West African porridge product has surfaced. Tetrick also dangles the prospect of his company producing large quantities of cell-cultured meat. In this respect, he is far behind established, credible companies including segment leader Memphis Meats. This enterprise has earned support from venture capital providers through transparency and by demonstrating technical feasibility to produce laboratory-level quantities of a beef alternative, albeit at an exorbitant price.

Despite establishing his enterprise in 2011, Tetrick has very little to show commercially for his efforts other than ersatz mayonnaise. More importantly, what return has he produced for the hundreds of millions of dollars of claimed investment over six years?

Three years ago, EGG-CITE, the predecessor of EGG-NEWS, commented on the parallels between Tetrick and the various evolutions of his company and the fate of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Both company founders promised to “disrupt” their respective markets. Tetrick promised to displace hens and enhance welfare and sustainability. Seven years later we still have 320 million hens in production. The black box “Edison” blood analyzer of Theranos was intended to make phlebotomy obsolete but proved to be a scam. The pronouncements of both founders were accorded considerable publicity and articles by fawning journalists emphasized the personalities, claimed supporters and the unconventional approaches of the founders. Both companies were characterized by executive and employee churn and secrecy with respect to R&D and proof of principle. Neither Hampton nor Theranos were willing to subject their claims to third-party scrutiny. In the case of Theranos, reality came home in a blizzard of Federal actions and shareholder claims of deception as the Company was shown to be a sham. To quote the late Bernie Cornfeld, founder of Investors Overseas Services, Theranos was an enterprise “based on a firm foundation of quicksand and hype”

Questions swirl around Hampton Creek and Just, Tetrick’s newly-hatched entity. Who actually owns the company? Does it still have connections with HSUS which provided seed funding? Have funds raised by Tetrick ever been used to benefit either HSUS or its discredited executives? Tetrick has a lot to explain over and above technical claims and promises to revolutionize food production and to make livestock obsolete. Investors and industry observers need more than excuses, a mea culpa and explanations for the deviations from accepted business practice. The outstanding imperative is to explain how millions of dollars of venture capital was expended and what Beyond Eggs/Hampton/Just has to show for the seven-year claimed research and development program.


 

Did We Dodge the AI Bullet in 2018?

04/09/2018

As we move through April there have been only two reported cases of low pathogenicity avian influenza in 2018, involving a turkey flock in Missouri and a broiler breeder flock in East Texas respectively.  Industry observers attribute the absence of outbreaks to a low carrier rate among migratory waterfowl and enhanced biosecurity.

 

It is too early to ascribe the exceptionally low incidence of avian influenza in commercial flocks to the fact that migratory waterfowl are not shedding AI virus.  Structured surveys conducted by Federal and state agencies have yet to be released but in all probability recovery of diverse H5 and H7 strain influenza viruses will not attain the levels, albeit low, recorded in the 2015 epornitic.

 

The second component of the apparent absence of avian influenza relates to biosecurity.  From recent experience, the level of protection deployed by egg producers is highly variable.  One large egg company affected by HPAI in the 2015 epornitic committed considerable capital to upgrading biosecurity in 2016.  Structural biosecurity was enhanced by the erection of vehicle wash modules with commercial installations capable of applying detergent and a disinfectant to rinse semi-trailers in an enclosed module.  This company also erected biosecurity modules for personnel facilitating strip-shower-change procedures.  Operational biosecurity for the complexes is documented in a manual describing procedures for entry and exit, the use of personal protective clothing and self-sufficiency of farms with respect to equipment. 

 

A Midwest operation which was not affected in 2015 also addressed both structural and operational biosecurity.  Investments were made in fencing, blacktop and concrete which can be decontaminated, biosecurity modules for personnel and vehicle wash stations.  These changes were complemented by upgraded operational biosecurity with an emphasis on preventing introduction of virus on clothing and footwear with mandatory showering and providing a complete change of clothing to be worn in the area within the line of separation.

 

In contrast, there are operations which despite having been infected in 2015 have paid only lip- service to biosecurity.  In one instance, a two million bird operation in a Midwest state has only a prefabricated shed as a gesture to creating a barrier against introduction of disease.  Personnel coming into contact with flocks are required to pass through a cramped “Danish entry” module.  Street footwear is removed on one side of a bench and personnel don a company-provided coverall over their street clothing.  Each employee has a set of boots worn within the line of separation. 

 

Danish entry systems if properly designed and managed are adequate for contract units with 10,000 to 20,000 hens.  Usually only the farm family is involved in management of these flocks and service people are able to change in the module.  There are few farms in Denmark with more than 20,000 hens so the Danish system is appropriate.  It is however inadequate for a one to two million bird in-line operation where the risk of infection may be relatively low but the consequences of exposure to avian influenza are catastrophic.  In addition to deficiencies in structural and operational biosecurity on the complex the operation in question receives feed from a common feed mill supplying other poultry farms.  Given that the management of the feed mill has no training in biosecurity and little incentive to either invest in structural biosecurity or implement operational biosecurity, the in-line complex functions at high risk.

 

Based on experience in Pennsylvania following the 1984 avian influenza outbreak it would appear that like certain isotopes, biosecurity in the absence of re-infection has a half-life approximating two years.  Despite initial enthusiasm and commitment to biosecurity, management practices erode and the level of vulnerability increases with time especially when there are no sporadic cases reported.

 

Although we appear to have dodged the bullet in 2018 it is a biological probabability that the U.S. poultry industry will be exposed in 2019 and every spring thereafter. Since there is no way of effectively predicting the strains of avian influenza carried by free-living birds, production units should maintain vigilance and a high level of biosecurity especially from early February through late March of every year.


 

California OEHHA Defends Position on Glyphosate

04/04/2018

CHICK-NEWS has frequently commented that banning or limiting the use of glyphosate herbicide is effectively an indirect method of interdicting the use of GMO crops. Opponents of the technology maintain that glyphosate is carcinogenic. They have received an exceptionally welcome response in California where idealistic, biased and overzealous administrators justify their existence and salaries by adding chemicals to the list requiring precautionary labeling in terms of Proposition 65.

 In a recent rebuttal to a justified editorial on March 15 in The Wall Street Journal, Alan Hirsch of the State of California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) defends the 2017 decision of the Agency to add glyphosate to the Proposition 65 list. Hirsch states “We used studies cited in the 2015 glyphosate monograph by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).” Very predictable.

 Hirsch maintains that the IARC is a “respected authority”. The monograph in question led to extensive and emphatic opposition by the scientific community on both sides of the Atlantic. It was later disclosed that the principal author responsible for the monograph had an undeclared conflict of interest in that he was serving as an expert witness for a legal firm bringing suit against the manufacturers of the herbicide. Subsequent inquiries led to the resignation of the Director of the IARC and a reassessment of the function and operation of the Agency which is a subsidiary of the World Health Organization.

 If Hirsch wishes to justify the decision of his Agency by relying on the conclusions in the 2015 glyphosate monograph, subsequently reversed, he is on very thin ice. The decision by the California OEHHA was taken without consideration of a longitudinal environmental study conducted by the EPA over a number of years which failed to reveal statistical evidence of carcinogenicity among farm workers exposed to glyphosate.

Since inception of Proposition 65 in 1986 a large number of chemicals and products have been added to the list of potential carcinogens. There is no evidence that the actions of the OEHHA have influenced the incidence rate of cancer in the State. There is clearly a cost involved in mandatory labelling both for manufacturers and consumers. It is impossible to quantify the cost of anxiety and concern among the citizenry of the State attributed to unjustified demonization of products and compounds.

What is required is a structured study to evaluate the effect of the designation of compounds as carcinogenic, how decisions were made to establish the claimed mutagenesis or carcinogenesis and most important, whether there is any statistical supportable evidence that Proposition 65 has in any way reduced the incidence rate of specific cancers. The cost of specific labeling in terms of Proposition 65 has never been established but this will naturally be ignored as a valid consideration give the pseudo-science and nanny-state mentality prevailing in Sacramento. 


 

A Tariff War Will Benefit No One

03/26/2018

President Donald J. Trump has directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to assemble a list of tariffs amounting to $60 billion annually to be imposed on China.  The intent is to punish the Nation for alleged unfair trade practices and claimed illegal use of intellectual property which the Administration maintains has led to the loss of U.S. jobs. Predictably, China reacted with a list of U.S. products which will be subject to punitive or retaliatory duties.  These include a wide range of commodities including pork.

 

Lighthizer concedes that retaliation against the U.S. agricultural sector of our economy is a “serious problem”. In his zeal he considers that the U.S. cannot avoid taking a broader stance on a critical trade issue simply because of the prospect of retaliation.  This statement could be interpreted that the Administration is willing to throw the agricultural community” under the bus” to reverse a trade imbalance which most economists believe has no impact on our economy. The prevailing economic thought is that the rush to impose tariffs is the product of ill-informed, narrow, simplistic and naïve cause-and-effect theories based on intuition and devoid of analytical support.

 

USAPEEC is justifiably concerned over the trend as expressed in comments posted on MondayLine. At this time the U.S. does not export poultry products directly to China given their strong protectionist stance.  Notwithstanding a recent WTO decision that China was unjustified in imposing dumping duties on U.S. broiler parts, other obstacles remain to oppose restoration of trade.

 

Hong Kong which functions as an Autonomous Administrative Region has been used as a conduit from the U.S. to China. Since the UK ceded sovereignty to China, the influence of the Mainland on Hong Kong has increased and it is possible that pressure may be exerted on Hong Kong authorities to follow the policies of the Central Government.

 

Trade wars are analogous to the biblical principle of “an-eye-for-an eye and a tooth-for-a- tooth”.  Given enough time, we could all end up blind and toothless.


 

Food Waste Emerging as an Investor Concern

03/15/2018

ReFeed has estimated that food wastage in the U.S. amounts to $54.7 billion annually. The Wall Street Journal apportions losses due to wastage to the retail sector ($18 billion), fast food restaurants ($9 billion), casual and fine dining restaurants ($16 billion) and food service contributing to $11 billion. The emerging involvement of shareholders in limiting food wastage is indicated by the action of Green Century Capital Management. This investment group has advanced a shareholder resolution to compel Amazon to disclose its plans to mitigate the environmental impact of wasted food. Amazon holds 18 percent of the online food and beverage s market, which in turn is two percent of the total food market. The Company has responded by stating that it is committed to reducing costs and improving efficiency, although it has requested the SEC to reject the Green Century proposal.

Companies responding positively to shareholder and consumer requests to eliminate wastage include Walmart Stores, issuing a 2016 comprehensive strategy to reduce food waste. Food-related businesses receiving requests to disclose their programs to mitigate waste include Dunkin’ Brands, Costco Wholesale Corporation, Target Corporation and Chipotle Mexican Grill. These companies along with Hilton Worldwide Holdings are cooperating with activist groups since they recognize value in reducing waste, beneficial in a competitive environment.

Amazon continues to be unresponsive to shareholder resolutions challenging initiatives on proxy access, packaging, welfare and the environment. In contrast it is evident that donations by egg and chicken producers, supermarket chains and restaurants directed to food banks and charities are growing in volume. EGG-NEWS has documented regular contributions to food banks by members of the UEP. Effective programs are characterized by motivation, logistics and commitment. Given the extent of food insecurity in the U.S., wastage is iniquitous.


 

Budgetary Restraints Force CDC to Downsize International Programs

03/08/2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been forced to reduce international epidemic detection and prevention programs. For many decades, the CDC has maintained a presence in as many as 49 nations to work with local health officials and to monitor outbreaks of disease. According to Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the CDC Center for Global Health, the agency will have to scale back the Global Health Security portfolio to focus efforts based on existing resources. Addressing her colleagues in an internal CDC E-mail, Dr. Martin noted “Faced with this anticipated fiscal reality, we have to make some very difficult decisions.”

The wind-down will commence in October 2019 unless additional funding is provided. The CDC was a recipient of a five-year supplemental grant following the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

Short changing the CDC is unjustified. It is far better to recognize and address a serious epidemic in the nation of origin and interdict spread before it extends to the Homeland. Stationing and rotating CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers and research workers in countries with the likelihood of emerging serious diseases with epidemic or even pandemic potential provides experience which may be required to control naturally-occurring diseases or bioterrorism in the U.S.

There are limits to what the CDC can accomplish in Atlanta despite personnel and laboratory resources. A viable and extensive outreach program is necessary for surveillance, training and acquisition of field experience, all of which provide a higher level of security for our citizens.


 

Egg Farmers Concerned Over Trade Pacts

03/05/2018

Now that the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a reality, farmers in Canada and Australia, signatories to the trade pact, are concerned over competition from imports. Egg producers in the U.K. are also worried following a statement that Britain may wish to join the CPTPP after Brexit.

Egg producers in Canada and to a lesser extent in Australia who have enjoyed protected status and are generating higher margins than in a competitive environment such as the U.S. are claiming that “quality” will decline as a result of imports.

The influential agricultural periodical FARMINGUK noted that egg industry leaders have already expressed their fears over the possibility of the U.K. market being opened to what they characterize as “low quality food imports” as a result of any post-Brexit trade deals negotiated by the Government. The article in the periodical continued “Egg industry leaders have warned that U.K. producers would be unable to compete with imported egg products produced to lower quality and lower animal welfare standards.” An interesting disclosure from the current debate over protection is the statement by Mark Williams, CEO of the British Egg Industry Council, that 16 percent of the cost of egg production in the E.U. results from compliance with legislation on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. This would place U.K. and E.U. producers at a disadvantage compared to countries without similar restrictions. He urged preemptive mitigation to ameliorate possible impacts on egg producers as a result of free trade

Producers in Canada are especially concerned given their protected status. Roger Peleissero, Chairman of the Egg Farmers of Canada, stated “The outcome of the CPTPP agreement means difficult challenges for Canada’s egg farmers.” He added “Once fully implemented, Canadian egg farmers will have lost the right to produce close to 291 million dozen eggs.” Since the inception of a controlled production system the approximately 1,000 egg producers in Canada have enjoyed a privileged status which has ensured high margins supported by consumers who pay approximately twice the price for eggs compared to the U.S.

It appears that egg farmers in Australia, Canada and possibly Britain may be thrown under the bus by their respective governments since the benefits of free trade far outweigh the adverse impact on a narrow sector of the agricultural community.


 

FDA Faced with Dilemma of Defining “Natural”

02/23/2018

Faced with consumer confusion and label hype, the FDA solicited feedback from the food industry and consumers concerning regulation of the descriptor “natural”.  According to a New York Times article by Julie Creswell posted online on February 17th, more than 7,600 comments were submitted.  Some of the respondents considered that the word “natural” should be banned.  Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the Commissioner of the FDA recognizes the obligation of his Agency to define the term and accordingly a directive or action is anticipated by mid-2018.

 

Absent a definition, tort-lawyers specializing in food claims, designated “the food bar” (to distinguish these bottom feeders from their cousins in “trip-and-slip” practice) are churning out class-action lawsuits, especially in California.  Approximately 100 lawsuits were filed in 2017 with the number having increased annually over the past three years.  Most of the claims revolve around the label term “natural” which may be regarded by consumers as a misrepresentation if additives, usually beneficial, are present.

 

Consumer rights organizations including, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, (which is in itself an oxymoron since science is generally disregarded) considers that these “shakedown” lawsuits protect consumers.  Effectively, money awarded by juries or more frequently from settlements, enrich the legal fraternity at the expense of producers and ultimately consumers. 

A plaintiff lawyer Kim Richman (appropriately named) quoted in the New York Times article stated, “consumers and nonprofit groups, engage in socially conscious litigation to level the playing field against corporate America as government oversight increasingly falls short.”  If there is a Pulitzer Prize for hypocrisy and mendacity, Richman will be in strong contention.  To date, Federal courts have been logical in their judgements concerning misrepresentation especially when the allegations are stretched to the elastic limit of credence. 

 

A New York District Federal Court recently dismissed a lawsuit against Dannon Yogurt which claims to be “natural”.  The Plaintiffs maintained that the product could not be “natural” because the cows producing the milk from which yogurt was manufactured were fed GM grains. There is no nutritional or otherwise detectable difference in eggs, pork, beef, or dairy products derived from flocks or herds fed either GM or non-GM ingredients.  The roughly two-fold difference in cost of non-GM feed ingredients is attributed to inferior yield, post-harvest segregation and handling and super-profits based on high demand for certified organic or non-GM ingredients. Non-GM foods offer no quantifiable advantage in terms of health or quality over conventional equivalents.

 


Dr. Scott Gottlieb

 

The USDA organic certification program which allows producers to apply the organic seal to packaging has a legal basis and is supported by documentation and audits, albeit of questionable or inconsistent rigor, especially with imported items.  In contrast, “natural” can mean many things to producers and consumers.

 

There is a general perception that a product described as “natural” is devoid of artificial or synthetic additives and coloring agents. Again the term “artificial” is subject to speculative interpretation. There is no structural difference between methionine derived from a commercial fermentation process or the equivalent amino acid extracted from plants.  The structure is the same and irrespective of source, whether “synthetic” or plant-derived methionine, both are absorbed and metabolized through the same biochemical pathways.

 

Food producers invariably settle nuisance claims which allege misrepresentation since they are costly to defend.  A second justification for settling is to avoid an adverse judgement which may establish a legal definition of “natural” which becomes entrenched in case law.

 

In the absence of a definition of “natural”, consumers who are passionate over health and nutrition, (characterized by epidemiologists as the “worried well”), should resort to reading the fine print including the list of ingredients.  If consumers are in doubt or unable to pronounce the names of additives, either the “Food Babe” or preferably the “Science Babe” will be able to provide an opinion. The alternative would be to pay for more expensive USDA Certified Organic products---probably cheaper than psycho-analysis.


 

Studies on Motivation to Purchase Dairy Alternatives - Are there Messages for the Egg Industry?

02/18/2018

A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults who consume alternatives to dairy products at least three days per week was conducted by Comax Flavors.  At the outset it is evident that the study was biased in that the survey was initiated and conducted by a supplier of products to the dairy-alternative industry and that the requirement for participation involved regular consumption of alternatives to dairy products. The results of any consumer study should be evaluated in the light of the questions asked. Comax Flavors obviously has “skin in the game” in wishing to sell products to their customers.  Notwithstanding the possible influence of bias and simplicity associated with a presumed questionnaire-style survey, attributes of interest to regular consumers of alternatives to dairy were determined. These included flavor by 47 percent of respondents, price by 37 percent, perceived health benefits by 36 percent and an “all-natural” claim by 30 percent. Millennials and Generation Z were concerned over sustainability and welfare to a higher extent than Baby Boomers.

 

Examples of inherent bias in consumer surveys are indicated by a 2006 poll which identified 3.3 percent of adults in the U.S. as self-described ‘vegetarians’.  This survey was conducted by a publication Vegetarian Resource.  In 2014 a study conducted by Global Data determined that six percent of U.S. consumers were “vegan” which appears to unacceptably high. In the absence of clear definitions of the categories of dietary persuasion among consumers results must be held in question.

 

The conclusion from various studies employing simple questionnaires is that the attributes favored by consumers appear to be multifactorial. The Comax study indicates that the population responding to the survey apparently “wanted it all” In contrast Conjoint Analysis of consumers purchasing eggs would allow rating of attributes and consider trade-offs with respect to price, quality, organoleptic properties, welfare and sustainability.  With simple surveys, everyone rates common attributes equally irrespective of price. With more sophisticated market research techniques, consumers will denote, even if unintentionally, the motivating factors leading to a purchase decision.  This is illustrated by the fact that in 2008 consumers in California when questioned in HSUS-motivated surveys overwhelmingly were in favor of cage-free eggs but without any consideration of price. 

 

We now have approximately 24 percent of the national shell-egg flock housed in non-caged systems but with demand plateauing at current prices in relation to generic eggs derived from caged flocks.  Had surveys been conducted using appropriate methodology, the willingness to pay for perceptions of enhanced welfare would have become apparent among consumer demographics.  It was not in the interest of the welfare organizations opposed to cages to either determine or disclose that only an affluent majority were willing to pay for enhanced welfare.

 

When basing $10 billion decisions on replacing housing going forward 10 years, it is advisable to understand consumer motivation and to make appropriate decisions.  The move to displace conventional cages with alternatives including aviaries and floor systems was promoted on the basis of sentiment, ignoring economic realities. The campaign was conducted with a strong element of coercion of QSRs, members of the FMI and the NRA by the HSUS and kindred activist associations. These groups are less concerned over flock and herd welfare than promoting a vegan agenda, generating funds, self-aggrandizement and apparently an undercurrent of unethical and hypocritical practices including harassment.

 

The message from the dairy-alternative and animal-confinement surveys is that any slipshod research can be manipulated to achieve any desired outcome. Victorian Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli stated “there are lies, damn lies and statistics”. The same holds true for surveys. If we are to base multi-billion dollar decisions on surveys of consumer perceptions of need and wants at least let us apply advanced and reliable techniques of market research.


 

Impressions from the VIV-Middle East Exhibition

02/15/2018

The VIV-Middle East Exhibition which ran from February 5th to 7th contrasts sharply with the 2018 IPPE which preceded the event by less than a week.  Admittedly smaller in extent and more focused than the IPPE, the World’s premier poultry event, the VIV-Middle East exhibition serves a similar purpose. VIV has proliferated a series of annual and bi-annual regional exhibitions in Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia, diluting the impact of these events, albeit reducing travel costs and visa problems for attendees. Poultry was obviously the focus of the VIV-Middle East event with some crossover to cattle and even camels, attracting feed ingredient, biologics and additive suppliers. 

 

The obvious differences in equipment, services and supplies compared to the Atlanta IPPE included:-

 

  • A total commitment to cages for laying hens to the exclusion of aviaries or floor systems.  This reflects the current absence of welfare as an influence on consumption.
     
  • Multi-tier broiler growing modules with trampoline mesh floors were apparent, with all of the European manufacturers demonstrating their models.  Broiler growing modules are suitable for the Middle East based on the extremely high cost of housing, non-availability of litter and the need for labor efficiency in both growing and harvesting.  Growing modules are highly effective to produce broilers of up to an average weight of 3.5 pounds at depletion without breast blisters.
     
  • The need to raise broilers and to hold laying hens under extremely hot conditions places an emphasis on insulation in house construction, efficient ventilation and control systems and evaporative cooling as evident in walking the aisles. 
     
  • The range of European and U.S. equipment suppliers, familiar to U.S. producers were represented at the VIV Exhibition.  In addition companies located in Eastern Europe, Turkey and Southeast Asia demonstrated well-designed and fabricated cage systems and equipment for broiler-growing and egg production.
     
  • Disease is far more important in the Middle East than in the U.S. due to the presence of endemic avian influenza, velogenic Newcastle disease, variant strains of infectious bronchitis, virulent infectious bursal disease and mycoplasmosis.  The respiratory disease complex comprising concurrent infection with respiratory viruses and opportunistic secondary bacterial infection represents a challenge to producers, many of whom operate multi-age farms with suboptimal biosecurity.  Besides the major multinational biologics companies, all of whom were represented at the VIV-Middle East Exhibition, local suppliers of vaccines in Asia have access to the market given the specific registration requirements which are less comprehensive than the standards of efficacy and safety imposed by the USDA and E.U. Agencies. 

 

  • The need to control secondary bacterial infection has resulted in extensive use of a wide range of antibiotics since the restrictions imposed in the E.U. and the U.S. do not apply in the Middle East market.  It is enigmatic that suppliers promote both antibiotics many of which should never be used in livestock, concurrently with alternatives including botanicals, essential oils and “immune boosters”.  Again in the absence of regulations establishing efficacy and safety, medication assumes the proportions of a “wild-west” show.
     
    Frequently what is absent is more noteworthy than the obvious.  There was very little evidence of either welfare or sustainability among the exhibitors. Disposal of waste does not appear to be an issue of concern.
     
    An educational and informative program was presented concurrently with the exhibition.  In the absence of industry associations, all of the programs were presented by manufacturers and suppliers and in large measure were infomercials, although well attended.  Presenters were generally employees of companies although there was a fair contribution from academics affiliated with EU research institutes and universities.  The general impression was that technical presentations reflected an applied focus with a strong emphasis on promoting new and existing products.
     
    Traditionally production in the Middle East has relied on wide margins between production cost and selling price which has accommodated extremely low productivity. Oversupply through injudicious expansion and a decline in petroleum revenue has created a new imperative for efficiency. There is a current trend towards integration as the less-efficient and smaller family-owned and operated farms cease production.  The model involving broiler farms purchasing chicks and feed and relying on middlemen to distribute live birds is no longer viable in many nations.  Saturation of markets especially in Saudi Arabia has led to rationalization.  Prospective purchasers kicking tires and gathering information generally represented the emerging group of integrators with a progressive move towards the tried and trusted U.S. models of production but with more emphasis on Company ownership of farms compared to the U.S. contractor system.

 




































































































































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