Editorial


Fifteen Years of the RFS

08/09/2020

The Renewable Fuels Association is commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a legacy of the George W. Bush Administration, creating and mandating the Renewable Fuels Standard.  This legislation was signed on August 8th and is a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.  A boom to corn producers and the ethanol industry, the RFS has distorted the economics of corn production, raised the cost of refining gasoline, raising livestock and poultry and ultimately serves as a tax on all who eat and drive to the benefit of a narrow sector of the economy.

 

Enacted at a time when the U.S. was dependent on unfriendly nations for energy, the original justification has become obsolete and it is now time to depoliticize energy and reject the self-serving tyranny imposed by corn-state legislators on both sides of the aisle.

 

It should be remembered that corn-based ethanol representing fuel from food was regarded as an interim measure.  The great myth was that cellulosic ethanol from plant waste would represent the major source of ethanol.  Technical and financial factors have clearly demonstrated the fallacy of cellulosic ethanol despite billions of dollars invested in research, pilot plants and other subsidies. 

 

The plight of the ethanol industry is exemplified in mothballing of plants, laying off lobbyists and losses sustained by ethanol producers despite CAFP funding as COVID-19 has reduced fuel consumption.  It is estimated that ethanol demand will be lowered by 1.5 to 2 billion gallons during 2020 as a result of reduced gasoline demand.  Ethanol was priced at $1.11 per gallon on August 7th, down six cents per gallon from the previous week and compared with the five-year low of $0.92 per gallon on March 26th during the most severe period of COVID restrictions.  Gasoline was priced at $1.20 per gallon, New York harbor, 8.1 percent more expensive than ethanol but with a 63 percent higher BTU rating. 

 

Ethanol offers no tangible environmental advantages over gasoline. The immense requirement of water required by plants and carbon dioxide evolution (producers are effectively ‘legal moonshiners’) is invariably omitted from the biased e`valuation of so-called benefits of ethanol disseminated by proponents of the industry.  Ethanol addition to gasoline is effectively a dilution of energy content.  Without federal mandates, the ethanol industry would not exist. A free market would then dictate the quantity of corn to be cultivated in relation to actual domestic and export demand.


 

The Need for Rapid COVID Tests

08/04/2020

With the ongoing surge in incidence of COVID cases affecting both rural and urban areas, it is considered essential that the U.S. should have available a rapid home-deployable, inexpensive test kit to provide results within minutes, without requiring any form of reader or equipment other than perhaps a cell phone.

 

In recognition of the imperative to have rapid tests available, the National Institutes of Health is investing $250 million in technology to detect SARS-CoV-19 the virus responsible for COVID-19.  This is in recognition of the futility of having potentially exposed individuals in a community having to wait for up to to three days for a test and then enduring a turnaround time of 3 to 12 days.  The purpose of testing is to identify potentially infective individuals, irrespective of systems so that they can be quarantined and their contacts can be traced.  This is especially relevant given the imminent reopening of schools, businesses and entertainment.

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), within the National Institutes of Health, is tasked with developing and accelerating the application of biomedical technology.  The NIBIB will undertake implementation of the RADx Advanced Technology Program coordinating federal agencies and industry.

 

Recently Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, stated, “RADx has moved quickly to select promising technologies through its ‘Shark Tank’ approach investing in technologies that could boost America’s COVID-19 testing capacity.”  He added, “These technologies will help deliver faster results from labs and more and more test results within minutes at the point of care, which is especially important for settings like schools and nursing homes.”

 

Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the NIH, commented, “The RADx initiative has enabled some of the nation’s most creative biomedical device inventors to ramp up development of their testing technologies at unprecedented speed.”

 

Current tests under development are classified according to point-of-care or laboratory-based systems.

 

The point-of-care devices comprise:

  • Mesa Biotech has developed the Accula SARS-COV-2 test using RT-PCR that can detect viral RNA using a removable cartridge with a 30 minute response time.
  • Quidel will market the Sofia SARS antigen lateral flow immunoassay kit requiring an analyzer, but providing results within 15 minutes. Sofia analyzers are currently in use.
  • Talis Biomedical point-of-care kit uses a multiplex cartridge detecting viral antigen applying isothermal amplification of viral RNA through an optical detection system, yielding a result in 30 minutes.

 

The laboratory-based tests include:

 

  • Ginkgo Bioworks applying next-generation sequencing technology.  The company intends providing seamless sample collection and reporting of results within 48 hours with a projected throughput of 100,000 tests per day by December.
  • Helix OpCo will apply next-generation sequencing to process up to 100,000 samples per day by December with a 48 hour turnaround.
  • Fluidigm, their BioMark HD microfluidics employs an integrated fluidic chip.  Existing fluidigm instruments are installed in research laboratories and it is anticipated that the company will be able to process 100,000 tests per day by the fourth quarter of 2020.
  • Mammoth Biosciences Inc applies CRISPR technology to provide faster assays compared to PCR.

 

Point-of-care tests are acceptable for hospitals, physicians’ offices, and senior homes.  Laboratory assays require collection and submission of specimens and a system to inform patients of their results.  Both approaches presume either presentation at a medical facility, or a delay following submission of a specimen.  The obvious advantages of a low cost test are self -evident even if it lacks sensitivity,.  It is indeed disappointing that NIH, through the NIBIB, has not seen fit to allocate part of the $1.5 billion received to develop a lateral flow immunoassay kit, similar to a pregnancy or influenza test.  It is hoped that this deficiency will be overcome either by government support or entrepreneurial initiative.


 

House Approves Package of Four Appropriation Bills

07/25/2020

According to The Hill, the House passed a $260 Billion package comprising four spending bills on Friday, July 24th. The package was approved on a 224 to 189 vote with seven Democrat representatives and all Republicans voting against adoption.  Spending bills would fund the Department of State, the USDA, the EPA, the Department of the Interior, Veteran's Affairs and Military Construction during the 2021 fiscal year.

 

Contentious items that will be contested by the Administration will include:-

  • Allocations to the Environmental Protection Agency restoring the cuts proposed by the Administration
  • Inclusion of foreign aid to Israel, Egypt and the Ukraine in the Foreign Operations Bill
  • Expansion of nutritional assistance programs managed by the USDA
  • Providing the FDA with mandatory recall authority for both prescription and OTC drugs
  • Funding arts and humanities programs including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts in the Interior Bill.  The Administration proposed restricting funding for these and similar agencies and museums.
  • The House package allows funding for the World Health Organization and blocks restrictions on U.S. funds for foreign health organizations that support abortion rights
  • The Bill places restrictions on the EPA to reject specific science-based approaches in rule-making
  • Military construction funds would not be provided to construct a Southern border wall

 

Of specific importance to the poultry industry is a block on Presidential emergency authority to mandate that meat plants should remain functional as an essential service.

 

The House will consider seven additional spending bills including the Homeland Security bill dealing with immigration, domestic deployment of personnel and border security during the coming week.

 

In commenting on the package, House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) stated, "this appropriations packages addresses urging national priorities".  She added "I am proud that the package also includes strong emergency appropriations to confront coronavirus and support economic recovery with investments in critical infrastructure and coronavirus preparedness response and relief domestically and globally".

 

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee objected to previsions relating to immigration and abortion, but was in favor of support for veterans, diplomats and farmers.

 

Conservatives will balk at the $140 billion off-book spending and the addition of $250 billion in emergency spending. The package of four bills will have a difficult passage given the highly politicized environment in Washington and inclusion of obvious hot-button issues that have divided the nation.

 

The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to introduce any spending bills for the coming fiscal year. It is anticipated that even if modified versions of the House appropriations bills are passed by the Senate, which appears unlikely, they will most certainly be subjected to Presidential veto. 

 

Failure to pass eleven of the twelve appropriations bills will require continuing resolutions to ensure that the government functions beyond the October 1st deadline. In all probability, the question of spending and policy will not be resolved before the November election, creating uncertainty at a time when the nation requires harmony and non-partisan agreement on many issues to respond effectively to the challenge of COVID-19 and its effect on the economy.


 

The Effect of COVID-19 on the Egg Industry - What Can We Expect

07/20/2020

Recent mildly optimistic projections by economists regarding the future are based on the improvement in late May and June characterized by job gains.  Dan Kowalski of CoBank has warned that the recovery will be fragile.  The July upsurge in COVID-19 incidence following the relaxation of control measures including home confinement and closing of restaurants and retail stores unfortunately confirms that the virus is still with us and will persist.  Until the U.S. uniformly adopts realistic and proven methods of suppression of the infection, we will continue to record both rising morbidity and regrettably concurrent mortality.  Recent daily totals of 70,000 confirmed incident cases and a cumulative mortality approaching 150,000 confirm the severity of COVID-19. 

The Administration and acknowledged specialist in epidemiology are at odds over the severity and course of the infection resulting in a lack of coordination and effective application of control measures.  For the immediate future we could drive down the incidence rate if we wore masks in public, avoided large gatherings, practiced social distancing and donned PPE in factories and plants.  We would also have to be supported with an effective testing program yielding results within 24 hours to allow for quarantine and tracing,

The expedient of an effective vaccine is not going to be a solution before the summer of 2021.  Despite promising Phase-1 trials, producing and administering an effective and safe vaccine that will be adopted by the majority of our population is an elusive goal. Even if effective and assuming no adverse side effects and requiring at least two doses, we probably cannot expect more than a 60 percent compliance rate through 2022. This will leave a significant proportion of our population to be susceptible contributing to persistence of the virus. 

Given that COVID-19 is here for the intermediate term, we should review impacts on the egg industry:-  

 

  • The food service sector that depends on universities, schools, institutions and corporate dining will only return if COVID-19 is effectively controlled.  Restaurant dining will be restricted both from fear of contracting infection and the severe recession (if not a depression) that will persist for years.  Although losses in food service will be partly compensated by increased home consumption of eggs, total demand will decline.  In 2019 per capita U.S. consumption was 293 eggs.  In the current year this will fall to 282 eggs although USDA ERS forecast a slight rise to 285 eggs in 2021.  This figure may well be optimistic given the persistence of COVID-19. 
  • Economists are projecting an unemployment rate ranging from 11 to 22 percent by the end of the year. The wide range indicates uncertainty relating to control and how the disease will affect our economy.  Despite the $2.2 trillion distributed under the CARES Act, of which $670 billion was in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program, vast sums denominated in the trillions will still be required to maintain a semblance of normality although creating a burden for future generations.
  • An inevitable increases in taxes irrespective of which administration is in office in 2021.
  • A marked deterioration in municipal services and an increase in cost as local authorities lose tax revenue  through default.
  • An erosion of infrastructure including road maintenance, the waterway system and the power grid all of which have direct and indirect implications for egg production
  • The disparity between current egg production capacity and predicted demand will reduce prices to a point at which the least efficient in terms of production and marketing will be forced to either consolidate or fail.
  • Trained and reliable labor will become progressively more expensive even with high unemployment. Higher levels of mechanization and automation applying robotics will be required to achieve cost efficiency.
  • Loan capital for either expansion or conversion from conventional cages to alternative systems will be unavailable despite low interest rates based on concerns over capacity to service debt.
  •  Given high unemployment and correspondingly low spending even on necessities, concepts such as sustainability and welfare will be superseded by consumers opting for low-cost foods.  An inevitable down-cycle in protein consumption will occur from beef to pork to chicken and will ultimately favor eggs based on nutritional value relative to cost and availability. 
  • Kowalski warns that "economic scars from COVID-19 will be with us until 2030".  Accordingly, we will have an industry with fewer hens and producers will have to consolidate to achieve pricing power relative to the supermarket chains that in turn will downsize.

Some of these trends are emerging but have been temporarily obscured by infusion of aid through the federal CARE Act aid. We can neither deny COVID-19 nor expect a miraculous resolution.  We have it within our capability to suppress and contain the infection. This will require a concerted national effort with leadership at the highest level coordinating the resources and activities of states, counties and local authorities.  Unless we collectively appreciate the severity of the infection and its economic consequences in order to apply science-based solutions, industry and agriculture will suffer with the egg industry severely challenged. Let us face the most likely outcomes and plan accordingly.


 

Questions on the Origin of COVID-19 Must Be Resolved

07/14/2020

It is clear that unless both industrialized and developing nations can effectively control COVID-19, economic recovery will be prolonged.  Progressive nations that have "flattened their curves" have employed a combination of home confinement, restrictions on large gatherings, extensive testing with quarantines and tracing, increased social distancing, mandating face masks and promoting personal hygiene and handwashing.  It is evident that the most effective programs have owed success to strong central leadership and coordination and also a receptive and compliant population. In contrast, nations without clear directives from the central government, failure to impose national standards for compliance including rigorous testing and quarantine of the infected and tracing of contacts have seen escalating incidence rates and elevated mortality.  Premature relaxation of effective control measures if applied, results in resurgence in the incidence rate.

It is axiomatic that learning how COVID-19 emerged and the events and circumstances promoting dissemination of the virus early in the outbreak in Hubei Province in January and February 2019 will be critical to establishing policy and action to prevent the next pandemic.  Unfortunately, the current world situation has obscured an understanding of the origin of the infection. Investigating the emergence of COVID-19, that should essentially comprise a disinterested academic endeavor, has been ‘weaponized’ for political purposes. Relevant information has been obscured by injudicious, inflammatory and unscientific political pronouncements and accusations.

In an attempt to determine facts, the World Health Organization (WHO) from which the U.S. has unilaterally withdrawn, is establishing a program to determine how SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, emerged and how it was disseminated. The virus apparently emerged as a clinical entity in Wuhan a metropolis of 11 million in Hubei Province in China during late January and early February 2020.

John Cohen writing in Science on July 10th established the questions that must be addressed in understanding the origins of the infection.

  • Were the U.S. 2018 warnings concerning defects in the maximum-security Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory valid and was coronavirus research conducted in the laboratory?
  • Did the Wuhan Institute of Virology conduct "gain-of-function" experiments to develop a strain of coronavirus transmissible among humans?
  • What experiments conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have contributed to an accidental release of SARS-CoV-2 virus as has occurred with diverse human and animal pathogens from many prestigious facilities.
  • Is there any Provincial or Central epidemiologic information or clinical or other diagnostic evidence that COVID-19 was present in Hubei prior to December 2019?
  • What was the role of Wuhan Seafood Market in the emergence and dissemination of COVID-19?
  • Could examination of any stored sewage samples from centers in Hubei Province from late 2019 (if available) indicate the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus?
  • Could evaluation of data relating to serum surveys be correlated with the presence of bat-related coronaviruses in humans, livestock and wildlife?  A comprehensive and ongoing study on bats conducted by Eco-Health Alliance and funded by NIH was cancelled by the White House in April
  • Have phylogenetic analyses been conducted on stored sera of humans, their pets and on wildlife been conducted to establish how the virus evolved and the temporal relationship with the emergence of COVID-19 including the early cases diagnosed in Wuhan and other hospitals in Hubei and adjoining provinces? There is considerable evidence that SARS-CoV-1 responsible for SARS in 2004 was present in humans and animals before the emergence of the infection. Antibody surveys implicated civets as an intermediate host between bats and humans with SARS and dromedary camels with MERS.
  • What evidence supports the contention that authorities in China or in Wuhan were  reluctant to report the existence of an emerging infection to the WHO and as a corollary was there an inappropriate response by the WHO on the basis of the information received?

Answers to the series of questions will obviously not be resolved in a single interaction between international epidemiologist and their counterparts in China. Establishing an impartial investigation and determining the scientific facts involved in the emergence of COVID-19 may not be helpful in controlling the present outbreak, but it will most certainly help in identifying and controlling the next pandemic.  We have endured SARS, MERS, Nipah and Hendra viruses, Ebola, H5N1 avian influenza, H1N1 human influenza and now COVID-19 over the past two decades.  The next pandemic is probably developing in some species somewhere in the world as this editorial is posted.  Let us hope with the knowledge gained from an impartial scientific review we will be better prepared to respond and that we will be able to detect and confine a regional outbreak before it becomes a pandemic.


 

Transparency and Honesty in Product Designation

07/06/2020

There is no Federal standard to distinguish among cage-free, aviary, barn, free-range and pastured housing of flocks.  Welfare certification based on EU or U.K. standards can be assigned to specific categories and is presumably monitored by audit.  The difference in unit revenue between either brown or white eggs derived from cages or alternatives to cages may exceed $1.50 per dozen at retail.  The difference between eggs obtained from flocks held in barns or allowed access to pasture is even greater.  The same is true for conventional and organic eggs. Large differences in value create an incentive to cheat by upgrading the designation of an egg. Product from alternatives to cages appeal to affluent and more selective consumers although sentiment is the only attribute distinguishing a cage-free egg from a pasture-derived product.

 

There is no practical analytical procedure to differentiate between eggs derived from cages as compared to alternative systems. After the 2013 EU cage ban came into effect, a scandal occurred in the U.K. when a major supermarket chain marketed eggs from Spain as cage-free despite the fact that they were derived from caged hens.  Since eggs in the EU are not generally washed, it was possible by microscopic examination of shell surfaces to distinguish between eggs derived from cages and those on litter.  Following washing as in the U.S. this distinction is not possible.

 

The incentive to cheat is intensified under conditions of high demand.  In reviewing IRI data, a specific U.S. producer of free-range and pastured eggs was able to increase sales within a week from approximately 400,000 dozen to close to 600,000 dozen and to maintain this level through the period of high demand from mid-March through April.  It is possible to achieve an increase in sales within a week providing the producer concerned drew on a substantial inventory. To sustain output over a number of weeks presumes that flocks in production were placed at least 30-weeks previously.  No one could have predicted the COVID-19 surge in demand back in August 2019.  Producers can increase sales of a specific brand by purchasing eggs from other producers at relatively short notice, providing supplies are available.  This would not have been the situation in mid-March given demand for eggs of all categories from generic through pasture- reared.

 

Based on experience in the industry it is accepted that producers conform to an acceptable level of ethics.  Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals have indulged in deceptive marketing practices.  In the early 2000's, eggs from barn-housed flocks were marketed by one producer as "free roaming", an acceptable if non-defined descriptor.  The deception however related to the label that depicted hens on pasture. The combination of the “free roaming” descriptor and the visual image on the carton created the impression that hens were actually allowed extensive outside access that was not the case.

Recognized and enforced standards are required to maintain the confidence of consumers paying a premium for eggs obtained from specific types of housing. This is only fair to the producers who invest capital in facilities, labor and incur other costs to produce cage free, free range and pastured eggs priced according to housing system.

 

The certifying agencies providing logos based on standards with audits could form the basis of national standard.  Unless the industry conforms to uniform standards, a patchwork of alternatives will be a disservice to consumers and allow unscrupulous producers and packers to perpetuate scams based on misrepresentation.  Given clearly defined statutory standards with auditing and confirmation, the Federal Trade Commission should have the authority to sanction and fine producers deviating from ethical principles.


 

Protectionism to Impede Progress on UK Trade Agreement

06/30/2020

In January, negotiations were initiated between Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and his U.K. counterpart, Minister Elizabeth Truss.  Intensive discussions to develop a bilateral trade agreement are in progress with dedicated task groups considering aspects of a comprehensive pact. 

 

It is evident that protection of U.K. farmers will be an important obstacle to achieving an agreement.  Feeding beta-agonists and related compounds to cattle and hogs will obviously be a barrier as well the U.S. practice of immesing broilers using chlorine or other compounds, long restricted in the U.K.  Eggs have emerged as a factor with a specific emphasis on housing system.

 

The U.K. has a commercial egg population of approximately 38 million hens.  Currently 42 percent are housed in enriched colony modules installed in anticipation of the January 1, 2013 deadline for elimination of conventional cages.  Collectively the U.K. industry invested $400 million in conversion to a system which now appears obsolete from the standpoint of presumed market demand. The U.K. leads Europe in free-range production with 54 percent of table eggs derived using this system.  Barn housing is currently only approximately one percent of egg production but as enriched colony systems are replaced with aviaries and technical problems and the profitability of free-range declines, more eggs will be derived from barns by 2025, the projected  conversion deadline.  Organic production, which requires free-range management in addition to feeding organic feeds, represents three percent of production.

 

The U.K. is 85 percent self-sufficient in eggs and egg products. The majority of imports are in the form of liquid egg from Poland and the Ukraine.  For the first quarter of 2020, the U.K. industry produced 7.8 million cases of shell eggs, one percent down from the corresponding quarter of 2019.  The May U.S. 91cent per dozen nest-run price paid to contract farmers and independent suppliers in the U.K. was up nine percent from the first quarter of 2020.  Egg products attaining 22,000 tons, were approximately six percent lower than the corresponding quarter of 2019.

 

EGG-NEWS is indebted to Dean Hughson for a June 27th article in the U.K. Daily Mail expressing concern over the vulnerability of the domestic egg industry valued at $1.2 billion annually.  The article is replete with errors aimed at influencing consumer opinion against U.S. eggs.  The article maintains that “95 percent of America’s 280 million chickens live in battery cages.”  The May 2020 USDA report on cage-free production recorded a population of 76.8 million hens housed in other than cages, representing 23.6 percent of a nominal 325 million total hens, but 34.9 percent of an estimated flock of 220 million producing for the shell-egg market. 

 

Mark Williams, a spokesperson for the British Egg Industry Council, cites the investment by U.K. producers to satisfy welfare, food safety, and environmental considerations.  Williams can be assured that U.S. farmers endure similar cost burdens and effectively there is very little commercial advantage enjoyed by U.S. producers over their U.K. counterparts.

 

Aimee Mahony, an advisor to the National Farmers Union, expressed concern that a trade deal that allowed the importation of eggs produced according to standards below those prevailing at the U.K. would adversely impact domestic farmers.  She stated that “It is crucial that the Government does not agree to any trade deal that could see imports of food that will be illegal for our farmers to produce here.”

 

The problem faced by U.K. egg producers is that at the farmer-to-supplier level, margins vary from a negative return to moderately positive, mainly influenced by feed cost and supply-demand considerations.  Introduction of U.S. shell eggs into the U.K. market would seriously disrupt the tenuous equilibrium experienced by their industry.

 

Ambassador Lighthizer recognizes the political power of the U.S. agricultural industry and has clearly stated that unacceptable restrictions on U.S. commodities would be a major obstacle to a free-trade agreement.  It is evident that there will have to be compromises on both sides.  Larger issues including the purchase of technology and equipment from Huawei, feed additives for beef and hogs and chlorine immersion for broilers, appear to be significant items to be negotiated. 

 

For the first four months of 2020 U.S. shell egg exports attained 38.7 million dozen, approximately 1.5 percent of production.  The two current importers, Hong Kong and Mexico combined, represented 70 percent of volume and 57 percent of the total value of $43.2 million.  Prospects for export of shell eggs to the U.K. are minimal at best. In all probability there will be negligible trade based on the relative pricing in the U.S. and the U.K., coupled with the cost of freight.  If comparable housing standards are imposed, export of cage-free eggs from the U.S. would be a nonstarter.  In the event of some catastrophe, such as extensive HPAI or a recurrence of the fipronil episode in the U.K. or the E.U., the U.S. would be able to ship egg liquid to supplement domestic production.  Again, it is recognized that E.U. nations and the Ukraine would have a cost advantage over the U.S. with regard to ocean freight.

 

Following the decline in transitory COVID-19 demand in the U.K., paralleling the U.S. situation, producers have now reverted to a state of mild oversupply, depressing nest-run and farm-gate prices.  In the scheme of things, eggs will probably not be a major consideration in the bilateral trade negotiations in progress as there are more important issues.  The Save Our Family Farms Association has little to fear from U.S. egg producers despite the dire predictions expressed in the Daily Mail article.


 

A Rediscovery of Eggs

06/15/2020

A rediscovery of eggs has emerged from our collective two month home confinement.  According to Bee Wilson in her Table Talk column in The Wall Street Journal on June 13th she cites Google Trends as recorded a substantial number of requests for egg recipes.  An interesting observation is the popularity of egg salad as an easy to prepare, nutritious, and enjoyable dish suitable for lunches and snacks.  Wilson recounts the observations of a restaurant operator observing the satisfaction displayed by diners at a New York City restaurant conuming his egg dishes.  She relates this to a reminiscence of a sense of contentment and security when consuming eggs in childhood.

 

Eggs are exceptionally versatile and can cater to the most exotic of tastes, featuring in the cuisines of most nations including Oriental and Latino dishes.  Eggs are associated with a sense of satisfaction, both from a recollection of less stressful times and from pleasant associations and family interactions.

 

Given the demise of the “cholesterol myth” not only are eggs now regarded for their nutritional content, but also for their intrinsic value.  New attitudes towards eggs among consumers is generated by the activities of the American Egg Board through promotions and adept use of social media.  Concurrently, consumption is advanced by the introduction of eggs by the food service industry.  All-day breakfasts owe in part their acceptance by customers savoring egg dishes beyond the conventional breakfast meal time.

 

When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and hopefully as our society returns to a new normal, eggs will remain a staple in our diets.

 

Over the past five years since the precipitous 2015 fall in per capita consumption due to avian influenza, consumption has risen on an annual basis.  Data for the remainder of 2020 will denote the extent to which eggs will be adopted by families and single-person households. Casting forward to 2021 we will determine whether the trend towards increased consumption during the March surge in demand will persist.


 

CDC Response to COVID Criticized

06/08/2020

Fatalities numbering 110,000 to date and unprecedented damage to all sectors of the U.S. economy including the poultry industry by COVID-19 demand an understanding of the cause, response and reaction to the pandemic.  We have relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect public health over the past 74 years.  The Agency is the model for all modern national public health agencies and has trained three generations of epidemiologists working in the U.S. and the World. The CDC functions as a research institute, an organization to investigate disease outbreaks in the U.S. and internationally and is a resource to help formulate national policy on health.  Notwithstanding innumerable significant achievements, the CDC is now receiving criticism for its performance during the COVID-19 crisis.

 


Dr. Robert Redfield

The New York Times recently completed an extensive investigation on the response of the CDC to COVID-19, preempting a formal Congressional investigation expected in early 2021. According to the New York Times the problems at CDC that affected the National response to COVID-19 included:-

 

  • An outdated and inappropriate system to capture data from diverse sources including state and regional public health departments, received by the Agency as E-mails, faxes and telephone reports.  In turn there were lacunae in communication between hospitals receiving patients and state health departments.  Essentially CDC lacked the ability to appreciate the magnitude of the outbreak during the critical early weeks when community transmission occurred but was not recognized.

 

  • There was a failure in both communication and mutual understanding between the White House and the CDC.  It is evident that ideology and political considerations gained precedence over scientific fact at an early stage in the outbreak. By late March, probably three months into the event it was questionable as to who was in control of the public health emergency that should have been addressed aggressively by the CDC.

 

  • The New York Times suggests and possibly with good reason, that the culture within the CDC favored inaction without absolute knowledge.  It is possible that the Administration appointee to the Head of CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield lacked the support of his immediate subordinates. This may have arisen from the perception that Dr. Redfield was “an administration man” unsympathetic to the mores and traditions of the Agency.  It is also possible that despite his technical and administrative qualifications and experience gained in the military, Dr. Redfield lacked the ability to lead a team of experienced and dedicated scientists, field investigators and public health specialists to develop a coherent and appropriate strategy.  The vacuum created by inaction by the CDC allowed conflicting opinions to be expressed regarding the epidemiology of COVID-19 from both academia and government. Ultimately pronouncements at variance with scientific fact and based on political expediency created confusion and distracted from required declaratory messages from the CDC.  Eventually amid the negative publicity and inappropriate statements hyped by talk-show hosts and the web, more authoritative voices achieved prominence including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIAID and Dr. Deborah Birx of the Presidential Coronavirus Task Force. During March Dr. Redfield provided scientific input to decisions but his television presence lacked conviction to the detriment of the image of the CDC.

 

  • The CDC failed in the initial attempts to develop and deploy a suitable laboratory procedure to identify COVID-19 antigen. Restrictions placed on independent university and state laboratories and poorly defined and constantly evolving criteria to clinicians to test patients minimized the true incidence rate and delayed implementation of preventive measures during the early critical weeks.

 

  • Recommendations based on science and emerging information on the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, that eventually were issued by CDC with respect to reopening the economy were modified and diluted by the White House based on political and economic consideration.  Again this caused confusion among state and regional health authorities and the general public, adding to general concern and reducing confidence in the CDC.

 

We apparently learned a considerable amount from the SARS and Ebola outbreaks in 2003 and 2014 respectively. Due to reorganization in the White House in 2018, personnel in the Directorate for Global Health, Security and Biodefense within the National Security Council, effectively the Nation’s pandemic planning and response group, were reassigned. Absent critical personnel and an appropriate structure, the Government apparently failed to recognize or accept the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in late January extending into February 2020. Accordingly, recommendations and preparations arising from previous disease outbreaks were not implemented.

 

It is hoped that a detailed investigation will be forthcoming when we have eventually controlled COVID-19 through applying public health measures and deploying an effective vaccine. A body of scientists and public policy specialists must evaluate what was effective and what went wrong within the CDC, the response to the outbreak, interaction with the White House, the NIH, the FDA and state agencies. Unless a comprehensive review is undertaken our Nation will not be able to correct deficiencies before being confronted with a subsequent emerging pandemic.


 

An Obvious Contrast in Tone of Publicity for Just

06/07/2020

It is noteworthy that vegan-oriented web publications have recently posted laudatory comments on Just and its founder Josh Tetrick.  Articles appear in waves and show close similarity in content and syntax as though they were reproduced from a company release.  In contrast Bloomberg published a June 4th article in their Business Week platform.  Apparently Tetrick is pitching his egg substitute to companies in China with the intention of distributing through online companies. 

 

While China represents an attractive market with a current shortage of protein and a vast population it is evident that Just lacks penetration in his home base of the U.S. Despite an apparent distribution agreement with Michael Foods, he claims to have sold egg-substitute liquid and derived products representing the equivalent of 40 million eggs.  This may sound impressive to the uninitiated, but over a year, this represents the production of a flock of 140,000 or less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. population of laying hens.  This claimed volume of sales is the record of an entrepreneur who boasted over a decade ago that his products would displace conventional egg production. 


Josh Tetrick in his Mayo Phase

 

The Bloomberg article recounted the history of Hampton Creek, the predecessor to Just, documenting the lapse in ethics related to deceptive repurchase of fake mayonnaise and the subsequent investigations in 2016 by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice.  Neither Agency issued sanctions or initiated criminal action, but in mid- 2017 his entire Board resigned.

 

There is little substantiation that Just Egg is “sold in 10,000 U.S. supermarkets and is served in a thousand restaurants”.  Tetrick commented in the article that the product is available as a $5 to $8 liquid that can make about eight eggs worth of scramble.  This corresponds to $9 per dozen for real eggs and obviously is uncompetitive.  Recently Jacob Robbins formerly with the Coca Cola Company has joined Just and is advising Tetrick on sourcing ingredients and distribution of product. 

 

If Tetrick wishes to sell Just egg liquid through Alibaba in China, he will have to compete with conventional eggs that sell for approximately $1.20 per dozen.  Given the markups by Alibaba and JD.com, a single container of the product supplying the same volume (but not nutrient content) as eight eggs will cost the equivalent of $14 or $21 per dozen or between 15-17 times the price of conventional eggs in China.  The product may register initial purchases based on curiosity but given the price differential there does not seem to be any prospect for long-term market penetration. 

 

The biggest problem that Tetrick will face in China is the low barrier of entry for ersatz egg products given that his technology is not especially unique and that his brand would soon be copied and undercut.  If Just cannot establish a market niche in the U.S. or in the EU based on taste, quality, sentiment and a competitive price Tetrick will have to continue generating cash infusions from cupid Venture capital investors to survive.  He would naturally have to provide a business plan to justify additional infusions of capital.  As he burns through investment financing his claimed company valuation of $1.2 billion is fading.

 

Obviously Tetrick is entranced by the initial success of the Beyond Meat IPO. Emerging post-COVID competition will ensure that profitability of plant-based meat substitutes will be less than stellar. It is an observation that a flurry of adulatory articles appears prior to Tetrick passing the hat.  He has probably exhausted his credibility on websites disseminating pro-vegan material. He and his Company were certainly not accorded any favors in the Bloomberg article that should be read with careful attention to what is inferred between the lines.

 

As with previous commentaries and editorials on Josh Tetrick and his constantly changing corporate iterations, he is welcome to respond with facts and figures to support his claims and aspirations. His rebuttal will be posted if considered realistic and substantial. Any aspirant investor is also welcome to revert for a short primer on the realities of opportunities in the food business, ethics and related considerations.


 

Concern Over Untested COVID Therapies

05/31/2020

The World Health Organization has clearly stated that there are at present no therapeutic agents shown to prevent or cure COVID-19. Officials in Madagascar, including the President, claim that an extract from Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) an anti-malarial, is both a preventive and therapeutic for COVID-19. Publicity generated by the government elicited considerable interest especially in African nations, prompting the WHO to issue a statement on May 4th stating caution must be taken against misinformation, especially on social media, about the effectiveness of certain remedies.  Many plants and substances are being proposed without the minimal requirements and evidence of quality, safety and efficacy.  The use of untested products can put people in danger, given a full sense of security and distracting them from handwashing and physical distancing that are cardinal in COVID-19 prevention

 

It appears that Andry Rajoelina the President of Madagascar is promoting the domestic product  termed COVID-Organics as a therapy despite having no scientific evidence to substantiate the claim. There are obvious questions as to who might be profiting from what appears to be a scam promotion of a quack “cure”.

 

Dr. Shabir Madhi. Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa noted "there is no evidence that COVID-Organics has cured anything, noting that noting that Madagascar has only confirmed 405 cases and it is impossible to assess efficacy on twenty patients".  Madhi added "the majority of people who have this virus show no symptoms; of those who develop symptoms 85 percent of them have mild illness.  You can treat them with water, and it would have the same effect". 

 

There are obviously many entrepreneurs in companies, some of them good people and evidentially well intentioned, who are promoting cures for COVID.  Many claims are based on anecdotal reports or preliminary studies with defective designs and lacking statistical evaluation.  Despite early claims for the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, when subjected to double-blind evaluation, the potentially toxic effects of the drug became evident without demonstrating any therapeutic advantage.

 

Until an effective and safe vaccine and proven therapeutic compounds become available, the world will have to endure basic preventive measures including social distancing, wearing face masks in public and avoiding crowds.

 

 COVID-19 will not miraculously disappear, neither will an effective therapeutic compound be developed in the immediate future.  Even if a limited number of the 100 vaccines under development are  proven to be effective by the end of this year, deployment to achieve immunity in at least 60 percent of our population will extend into mid -2021.

 

The reality of COVID-19 is that the food industry must accept a realistic timeline and plan accordingly with regard to production capacity, inventories, personnel and distribution.


 

Determining Actual COVID-19 Incidence Rates Requires a Sensitive Screening Procedure

05/26/2020

It is axiomatic that decisions relating to operation of plants in the current COVID-19 era and assessing the effectiveness of preventive measures should be based on real-time evaluation of the incidence rate of the infection. By definition incidence is the number of new cases in a population identified within a specific time period. 

 

Questions have arisen as to the sensitivity and specificity of the Abbott ID NOW® system approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization. The kit relies on immuno-based technology to detect nucleic acids from SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19.  The intended use of the Abbott ID Now® assay is to rapidly screen large numbers of individuals either in the community or working in plants for the presence of virus in their upper respiratory tract.  Effective suppression of COVID-19 requires that infected individuals should be quarantined, and contacts should be traced. 


ABBOTT ID-NOW

 

During the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak, antigen tests were in short supply. Healthcare providers restricted their use to those presenting with symptoms consistent with the infection especially in patients not demonstrating positive influenza assays.  With the realization that asymptomatic carriers are responsible for dissemination of virus, possibly with an R0 of 2 or more, infections can spread quickly when susceptible individuals are in close proximity to either symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers.  The “super spreader” situation is evidenced by cruise ships, mass gathering, nursing homes, prisons and more recently in packing plants where infection rates of 25 to 50 percent have been recorded.

 

Any diagnostic test has two major characteristics that define whether it is suitable for a given application:- 

  • Sensitivity is the ability to detect the pathogen of interest

 

Test with low sensitivity provide false negative results.  Test with high sensitivity should detect most if not all infected individuals.

  • Specificity is the ability of a test to distinguish between related pathogens.

 

A test with low specificity may not be able to distinguish between the SARS-CoV-2 virus and an unrelated coronavirus such as that causing the common cold. Assays procedures with low specificity will yield a high number of false positives.  In contrast high specificity presumes that the test can successfully identify the pathogen of interest to the exclusion of related or even unrelated disease-causing organisms.

 

Abbott has indicated that under controlled testing conditions the ID Now® test kit correctly identified 30 out of 30 viral samples indicating 100 percent sensitivity. The test identified as negative, 30 out of 30 known negative samples confirming 100 percent specificity.  Generally, a test is inclined either to sensitivity or specificity and only very rarely is it both highly sensitive and specific.

 

In contrast to the data generated by Abbott, a study on one hundred patients at New York University, Langone-Trisch Hospital determined that in practice the tests demonstrated low sensitivity generating an unacceptable level of false negative results. Similar lack of sensitivity was recorded in other centers using the Abbott procedure, which has the decided advantage of providing a diagnosis within five to twenty-minutes.

 

The Abbott assay is used extensively in screening programs despite numerous respected health care organizations abandoning deployment.  Both CVS and Walgreens are however using the test for mass screening and in some cases, hospitals are verifying negative results in patients with clinical symptoms using more specific secondary assays including the Abbott RealTIME® rt-PCR assay that detects RdRp and N-genes.

 

Patient literature provided with the Abbott tests note "that in the event of a positive test result it is very likely that you have COVID-19.  The literature also states that a negative test means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the sample".  Abbot acknowledges the possibility of false negatives in the statement "this means that you could possibly still have COVID-19 even though the test is negative".

 

Extensive deployment of the Abbott test may be underestimating the true prevalence of COVID-19 in specific populations.  This is important when making decisions as to whether plants should be closed and whether preventive procedures should be intensified.  Perhaps the highest-visibility application of the test is in the White House.  Although two Administration officials have been diagnosed with COVID-19, there have been questions as to why positive and negative results were obtained on consecutive days.  Evidently even with the most meticulous and professional sampling of individuals, the test will generate inconsistent results.  The Abbott test has the advantages of speed, compactness with respect to equipment and is deployable at any site obviating the need to submit specimens to a remote diagnostic laboratory.

 

Accepting the low sensitivity of the test, it has an important role to play in screening among confined populations such as in prisons, nursing homes and packing plants.  Obviously, clinicians in hospitals must be guided by clinical presentation in patients and submit questionable results to their diagnostic laboratories for validation using more sensitive and specific PCR assays to accurately determine a diagnosis to guide in the selection of treatment options.


 




























































































































































































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