Editorial


Green Party Matures in Germany. Harbringer of an EU Trend

01/20/2020

Mid-January marked the 40th year since the foundation of the Green Party in Germany. Originally an “eccentric band of environmentalists, peaceniks, and anti-nuclear activists” according to The Economist, the Greens have matured and now support policies combining ethics with realism and a commitment to the EU. From minitority outsiders, the Greens have emerged as the second largest party in Germany and may govern the nation following the Fall 2021 election, given the decline of the grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD. The Greens serve in coalitions in 11 of the 16 German states, forming bonds with diverse political groups including both conservatives and ex-communists as expedient.

 

The Green Party intends to phase out coal power and internal combustion engines in automobiles by 2030. They intend imposing duties on carbon emissions but will pursue climate-friendly growth that supports industry and employment.

Implicit in the eco-friendly approach to government is an avowed opposition to intensive livestock production. The Greens have been instrumental in banning conventional cages, beak trimming, and destruction of egg-strain cockerels. Like-minded politicians in other EU nations are clearly following the lead of the Greens in Germany. A 40-year record of slow, but significant, acceptance suggests that Green populism moderated by practicality will be the dominant feature of EU politics through the present decade. Many of the principles advocated by the Greens resonate in the U.S. This has implications for the egg-production industry both with respect to policies and standards required by multi-national customers and the design of equipment.


 

Effect of New SNAP Rules

01/16/2020

In December 2019, Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Sonny Perdue announced that the Department would cease allowing waivers extended by states to unemployed able-bodied recipients between the ages of 18 and 49. It is estimated that approximately 700,000 citizens will become ineligible for SNAP benefits. These include 400,000 in California; 100,000 in Pennsylvania, and the remainder spread among states with depressed economies including Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Nevada.

 

Campbell Robertson, writing in The New York Times on January 13th, cited a study in Cabell County in West Virginia where there is extreme poverty are there are few jobs to maintain eligibility.

 

Restrictions imposed during the recent past have resulted in greater demands on homeless missions and food pantries. The need for assistance will only increase despite limited resources and donations. In 1996 Federal law placed a limit on SNAP support for able-bodied adults who were restricted to benefits for three months in a three-year period if not working or in training for 20 hours per week. Many states, including California and Pennsylvania, have operated under a USDA waiver allowing relaxation of requirements in case of need. This concession will be now be withdrawn.

 

In announcing the USDA policy on SNAP, Secretary Perdue justified the decision as an effort “to restore the dignity of work”. Given the non-availability of jobs and training programs in depressed areas of the nation including Eastern Ohio, West Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado among others, the social experiment to be enacted by USDA will have no direct benefit on dignity, but will impose suffering on the poor and especially children. Regrettably, what may be considered beneficial within the confines of the DC Beltway, may not be practical in the mountains of Appalachia and the deserts of the far west where vulnerable populations face challenges to survival.

 

Structured studies have shown that reducing SNAP benefits has no effect on employment rates in many areas where there are no job opportunities available.

 

Removing 700,000 recipients of SNAP benefits from the USDA roll will also have an indirect impact on demand for agricultural products. This indirect consequence has been highlighted by the American Farm Bureau Federation and other commodity associations.


 

The Need to Prevent Barn Fires

01/07/2020

The recent unfortunate conflagration on a farm in Western Michigan resulting in the loss of a cage-free unit with 300,000 hens stimulated a review of fires on egg-production units both in the U.S. and the EU. During 2017 about 1.4 million hens were lost to fire in three incidents in Pennsylvania, Utah and Indiana.  In addition to fires involving older high-rise houses there have been a number of incidents involving destruction of newly completed barns and units under construction.

 Canada documented the loss of half a million hens in a series of barn fires from 2015 through 2018.  It must be remembered that the Canadian controlled marketing system restricts the number of hens on a farm and barns seldom house more than 20,000 birds, suggesting a relatively large number of fires.  Between 2017 through late 2019 the Netherlands recorded fires resulting in the loss of 500,000 hens.  Again, farms have relatively small barns as producers belong to horizontally integrated cooperatives.  In contrast, Germany did not record any losses of hens due to fire.  This may be attributed to the fact that fire alarms and sprinklers are mandatory in livestock buildings in this nation.

In reviewing specific cases, malfunction of electrical equipment including overheating motors and substandard wiring are responsible for fires in older high-rise houses.  A few cases of losses in newly constructed buildings are attributed to deviations from acceptable structural and electrical codes and defective circuit breakers.  It is considered significant that most fires occur at night resulting in total loss of at least the house involved in addition to death and depressed egg production due to smoke inhalation in adjacent houses located on in-line complexes.  This obviously points to defective or absent alarm systems or a delay in the response of managers.

The large capacity and hence cost of multi-level cage-free aviary housing elevates the financial consequences of a fire.  At a nominal $30 per hen housed, a structure and equipment involves an investment approaching $10 million if only one barn is impacted.  The value of the flock, depending on age and hence amortization, may range downwards from $1.2 million.   To this must be added the loss of income and the costs of disruption and temporary repairs to continue operation. 

With increasing capital cost and consequential losses associated with a single incident, insurance companies are reassessing risk.  As with floods and hurricanes, any upsurge in claims will result in a reevaluation of premiums and deductibles, placing a greater burden on the insured.

The welfare and public relations aspects of fires which may result in the loss of 300,000 hens in a single barn have yet to be evaluated.  In the past, extensive mortality from heat prostration associated with climatic extremes generates considerable criticism of “factory farming”, detracting from the image of the egg industry.

It is axiomatic that the time taken to respond to a fire especially at night in a rural area results in the loss of at least the affected barn.  All that first responders can do is to contain a fire and prevent spread to adjacent buildings frequently located too close to prevent secondary loss.

Prevention of fires requires a coordinated approach to the design of buildings and selection of fire-proof construction materials.  Wood and pressboard are inexpensive but are inflammable and as a complementary issue are impossible to decontaminate.  Given that electrical wiring and installations are the major cause of fires, all new buildings should confirm to the National Fire Protection Association, Fire And Life Safety Animal Housing Facilities Code.  This Manual is available from the NFPA at a cost $52 by accessing <www.nfpa.org>.


 

“We the People are Pissed” – END in Southern California

01/06/2020

A mid-2019 article in the LA Times by staff writer Jaclyn Cosgrove, confirmed antagonism towards the California Department of Food and Agriculture in response to the ongoing control measures to eradicate exotic Newcastle disease (END). The appellation "exotic" is a misnomer with regard to the outbreak in the three contiguous counties of San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles in Southern California. Any outbreak that resists control and eradication for twenty months cannot in fairness be regarded as exotic. To accept reality, the outbreak may be considered contiguous with the endemic status of poultry in northern Mexico.

 

The classic approach to eradication of END in commercial farms involves rapid identification of infected flocks, euthanasia and disposal followed by thorough decontamination of premises. This approach is obviously coupled with quarantine and surveillance within a two-mile zone around the index farm and monitoring flocks within a wider zone. Following an outbreak, all commercial farms should apply enhanced biosecurity involving personnel, feed delivery vehicles and intra-company bird transfer.

 

The approach to backyard flocks is entirely different. The whack-a-mole approach to eradication involving euthanasia of infected small flocks and preemptive depletion in areas with a high incidence of infection has not worked since May 2018. Forced depletion of small flocks of unaffected domestic chickens and other galliformes that are confined to their premises creates antagonism among owners. In the case of Southern California the approach of depletion of infected flocks is justified. Preemptive euthanasia of small and uninfected flocks is clearly ineffective.

 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture must recognize that there are differences among so-called "backyard and exhibition flocks" so dutifully recorded each week. This designation represents at least two distinct sub-populations. Backyard chickens kept for egg production or as pets or hobby birds are far less important in the epidemiology of END than fighting cocks. This category is subject to frequent movement in accordance with their function, and owners will not respect quarantines. Since it is now illegal to engage in cock fighting, participants will clearly not comply with restrictions on movement as the activity is now 'underground. The threat of preemptive slaughter will simply encourage dispersal of birds. This factor was probably responsible for extension of END from Southern California to isolated outbreaks in Alameda County and to Utah and Arizona during 2019. The fact that a marked increase in incident cases was recorded in December 2018 and in all probability has repeated in December 2019 extending through January and possibly February 2020 should direct the attention of the CDFA towards fighting cocks in dissemination of infection. Backyard hens maintained as pets or for table eggs do not move from their premises although they are held under conditions of low biosecurity. Exotic show birds will be confined by their owners if shows are cancelled as a component of a regional quarantine.

 

Based on experience in the control of Newcastle disease in tropical countries, the following suggestions are provided for consideration by CFDA:

· Hyperimmunize at least 95 percent of backyard chickens using available live and inactivated vaccines.

· Encourage or otherwise oblige owners of backyard hens and other galliformes to confine their flocks under cover to avoid contact with free-living birds. In this respect is the State or regional authority not following the same conditions that are required for dogs and cats mandating licensing, vaccination and confinement

· Apply what little credibility and cooperation that remains between the Department and the owners of backyard hens to enhance biosecurity including restrictions on inter-property movement.

· Suspend all bird shows in the State until the outbreak is officially declared at an end. This will require 13 week from depletion of the last diagnosed case.

· Direct resources and control activities to the high-risk sub-population of fighting cocks. In the 2003 outbreak, the Department together with USDA-APHIS established rapport with the communities owning fighting cocks. It is not clear whether there is any goodwill remaining or whether current policies have alienated owners of game fowl who are not reporting illness in their birds. Again hyperimmunization of this sub-population should be encouraged.

 

The contention that it is necessary to euthanize asymptomatic and non- infected hens in order to end the END outbreak is fallacious. Twenty months of effort confirm the futility of the current program of attempted eradiation. There is concern that eradication efforts are directed towards a "soft-constituency" comprising homeowners. It may be that for various reasons the CDFA is avoiding the epidemiologically significant fighting cocks and the demographic owning them.

 

Coexistence of flocks of susceptible backyard hens and fighting cocks in close proximity to commercial farms inevitably results in emergence of END in large units. This was the case in the 2003 outbreak and with the Riverside County cases in mid-December 2018 affecting approximately 350,000 chickens on three farms. The CDFA must recognize that they are now operating in the era of social media that has considerable influence over politicians at the state and national levels. Antagonizing owners of backyard hens through a program of preemptive depopulation will effectively extend the duration of the outbreak and encourage movement of fighting cocks out of quarantined areas to the detriment of the commercial industry.

 

The advent of the New Year would be an opportunity to pause and reflect on what has been accomplished and how a program could be modified or improved to achieve the objective of eradication. It is possible that the endemic status of END in the three contiguous Southern California counties will persist given movement of live birds, contaminated vehicles and personnel northwards from Mexico. It is indeed fortunate with respect to exports that our southern neighbor has accepted the OIE principle of regionalization and has not imposed blanket bans on individual states. To paraphrase Einstein, continuing to pursue an ineffective program and expect a positive outcome is illogical. To put it another way if you are in a deep hole, stop digging.


 

Demographic Reality – Is the U.S. Following Japan?

01/02/2020

Growth of 0.5 percent in the U.S. population from 2018 to 2019 representing 1.5 million people was the slowest annual rate since 1917 according to the Brookings Institution. This belies the claim that “we are full”. For the first time in decades the number of births minus the number of deaths did not exceed one million according to Fortune. The Boomer generation is aging and their mortality rate will surely increase despite advances in medical care.  In the case of West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, deaths outnumbered births.  There is a clear trend of migration to southern states with population losses in New York, Illinois, West Virginia and Connecticut.  Overall, the northeast states lost 0.1 percent of their population from migration with southern states gaining 0.8 percent.

 

Demographic changes have implications for food consumption, industrial productivity and above all maintaining the integrity of the Social Security system.  Fewer contributors supporting an ever-increasing number of dependents will ultimately require a substantial infusion of public funds to maintain solvency.  The system was established during the FDR Administration when life expectancy was considerably shorter, the average age of the population was lower and the ratio of contributors to dependents was higher than during in the third decade of the current century. 

 

It is evident that the deficit in U.S. births can be compensated by immigration.  Unfortunately the last decade saw a decrease in migrants due to the great recession through the mid-2010s and more recently the consequence of restrictive immigration policies.  Migration dropped from approximately one million in 2016 to 600,000 in 2018.  Dr. William Frey of the Brookings Institution correctly observes that “immigrants tend to be younger and have children and they can make a population younger.” 

 

It is evident that if the U.S. continues to have an aging population, apart from the issue of social security, we will have insufficient children to fill our schools and then universities and there will be a disinclination for our younger citizens to engage in manual labor, trades and the multitude of jobs required to maintain our society.  Japan serves as a clear example of the result of a declining birth rate complicated by xenophobia and ethnic discrimination.  The nation is forced to now take in temporary workers from Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines to perform manual work in industry and agriculture. 

 

In a recent visit to egg-packing plants in Japan, I was intrigued by notices in Portuguese affixed to doors and walls. It was only after an hour spent in the first plant that it was recognized that many of the ethnic Japanese were in fact the third-generation of immigrants from Japan to Brazil. They had returned as guest workers and hopefully immigrants. These workers are apparently acceptable since they are regarded by the domestic population as being Japanese whereas society would reject Brazilians without this ethnicity.

 

It is evident that to maintain population growth the U.S. cannot rely only on the birth rate. We require a regular and steady infusion of immigrants preferably with skills and the ability to assimilate into our population. Even if the first generation reflects a different culture and lacks other than manual skills succeeding generations will take advantage of our free-enterprise and democratic system and demonstrate upward mobility. We obviously must do more to integrate immigrant minorities into the mainstream of U.S. agriculture and industry through incentives and training programs.

 

 Japan and the Federation of Russia have declining and aging populations with attendant undesirable outcomes extending over the intermediate and long term. We should look to the nation of Israel that has welcomed migrants and refugees from their unfriendly and discriminatory home nations to be melded into a nation that stands out as a progressive and homogenous democracy unique on the subcontinent.

 

If we look back on our own history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. received the poor and oppressed of Europe.  The second generation became Americans in every sense and so it must be going forward to the middle of the current century.  Unfortunately there are no longer available Norwegians displaced from the rural areas of their native country willing to settle on the plains. There are no immigrants from Ireland forced to leave by famine and poverty to dig our canals and build our bridges as they did in the mid-19th century. To maintain population growth and an acceptable distribution of ages in our population we will have to be more accepting of qualified immigrants from Latin America and Asia to balance the disparity between births and deaths.


 

What We Wish For In 2020

12/25/2019

As 2019 draws to a close we should reflect on our good fortune and count our blessings as we

anticipate a new year. This is our wish list for 2020.

 

  • Implementation of the Phase-1 agreement with China raising the prospect of restored

     exports with positive implications for domestic prices

  • Expeditious ratification of the USMCA that will replace NAFTA. Maintaining duty-free

     trade with our neighbors benefits exports of shell eggs and products

  • Resumption of duty-free trade with Japan, a major importer of egg products and other

     nations with whom we can negotiate bilateral trade agreemennts

  • Absence of any catastrophic disease and effective control of erosive infections including

      coryza and colisepticemia that detract from livability and quality. More effective

      vaccines are required.

  • Rational decisions by regulatory authorities concerning environmental and procedural

     regulations, imposed by the FDA and USDA. Appointment and confirmation of

     competent scientists and administrators in regulatory agencies.

  • Market stability and firming of prices reflecting a growing economy, low unemployment

     but with minimal inflation. Profitability in the egg-production sector will be dependent

     on restoring the balance between supply and demand with more attention to the left

     side of the equation as prospects for increased consumption are limited.

  • Stable feed prices contributing to beneficial margins
  • Finalizing legislation leading to improved availability of foreign workers through a revised

     H3B visa program.

EGG-NEWS wishes subscribers and the industry it serves a prosperous 2020. Gratitude

is extended to our sponsors who have supported the weekly newsletter.


 

Restrictions on Agriculture in the Netherlands

12/12/2019

Erik Stokstad writing in Science commented on legal challenges to the 2015 Nitrogen Permit system in the Netherlands. The Government has imposed rigid restrictions on building permits to restrict expansion of dairy, hog and poultry farms. The most recent edict has frozen $17 billion worth of projects and has severely impacted agriculture. Effectively Holland has too many animals relative to the capacity to handle and dispose of manure.  Dutch agriculture produces half of the nitrogen liberated in the nation with the remainder from transport, power generation and industrial activity.

 

Livestock producers house four-times the level of biomass per unit of area in Holland compared to the average for the EU. Although soil injection of liquid manure and removal of ammonia from exhaust air of hog and poultry barns has reduced emissions, excess airborne nitrogen is responsible for smog, soil acidification and damage to the environment.

 

The proposal to move to “circular agriculture” limiting holdings by the capacity to spread and dispose of manure has the potential to reduce the livestock population by half in Holland.  Production efficiency would also be limited by imposing maximum levels of protein in animal feed.

 

The plight of farmers in Holland should carefully monitored by the intensive livestock industries of all industrialized nations.  Politicians respond to voter demands for improvements in environmental quality without understanding the implications of restrictions in terms of availability and cost of food.


 

Bailouts Under MFP Exceed Farmers’ Losses

12/10/2019

According to a December 4th posting on Bloomberg the $28 million farm bailout program extending over 2018 and 2019 represents a gross overpayment.  At the outset it must be recognized that “China is not paying for the tariffs” as is claimed by the Administration.  The cost is effectively borne by importers and consumers.

 

The actual loss experienced by soybean farmers, most directly affected by the sharp drop in exports to China, represents 50 percent of the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) fund payments. Although actual quantification of losses varies according to the models used by various teams of agricultural economists, according to Dr. Joseph Glauber, the USDA former Chief Economist, “It is clear that the payment rates overstated the damage suffered by soybean growers”.  He added, “Based on what the studies show, the damages were about half that”. 

 

A team of agricultural economists at the University of Kentucky led by Dr. Yuqing Cheng calculated that the loss of exports to China represented 36 cents per bushel during 2018 compared to MFP compensation of $1.65 per bushel.  Dr. Pat Westoff, Director of the University of Missouri Food and Agriculture Quality Research Institute considers that the trade dispute caused U.S. soybeans to drop by 78 cents per bushel.  A team at the University of Georgia led by Dr. Michael Adjemian estimated that the loss was 52 cents per bushel based on export prices through the Port of New Orleans.

 

For the current year, the USDA estimates that the loss to soybean farmers was $2.05 per bushel.  The sharp escalation of the USDA figure was based on export sales extending over a ten-year period compared to 2018 that was considered to be the base year of the trade dispute.

 

Agricultural economists point to the flaw in USDA calculations that excluded the emergence of new markets.  Effectively the share of the market lost by the U.S. in China was supplied from Brazil.  This in turn created new markets for U.S. soybeans albeit at a lower price but still far below the MFP value.  It must also be remembered that the total soybean requirement by China was reduced by the loss of hog herds affected by African swine fever.  Dr. Pat Westoff stated, “USDA projections do not consider the impact of exports to other markets, considering only the negatives and not the positives.”

 

The question arises as to whether the more than liberal compensation extended to farms was due to political considerations or was the result of incompetence among agriculture economists affiliated to the USDA. It could be speculated that the forced relocation of the Economic Research Service from Washington D.C. to Kansas City, resulting in mass-resignation among experienced staff economists may have been a factor in assessing the discrepancy between actual loss and compensation. A further area of concern expressed by farmers and their associations relates to the fairness in distribution of MFP payments.  The Environmental Working Group has pointed to the disproportionate amount of compensation received by large-scale farmers.

 

In mitigation, Dr. Robert Johansson the Chief Economist for the USDA stated, “Compensation was based on gross trade losses rather than net losses. This approach was used to ensure uniformity across all commodities.  The gross-damages method was used as it is used by trade negotiators with respect to the World Trade Organization”.

 

Irrespective of how the quantum of compensation was determined consumers will ultimately pay the price for the trade dispute with China. With no prospect of a settlement of countervailing tariffs it seems certain that MFP will extend into 2020


 

Tracking the Trade Conflict with China

11/28/2019

Keeping up with the statements, activities and events relating to the ongoing trade dispute with China requires considerable effort since the objective of concluding any agreement is essentially a moving target. China appears implacable in maintaining the status quo on structural issues. Theft of intellectual property, coercive trade practices and state support for their industries were the genesis of the dispute even more than the negative trade balance. From the U.S. perspective, tolerance and acceptance came to an end with the Administration of President Trump who is relying on tariffs to achieve a settlement on favorable terms to our nation and economy. Predictably China imposed retaliatory tariffs and sharply reduced imports of agricultural commodities impacting the farming community and the industrial sector.

Events over the past 20 months belie the assertion that trade wars are “quick and easy to win”. For those keeping score we have disbursed $28 billion in Market Facilitation Program support to farmers, our negative trade balance with China persists ($40 billion in October 2019) and importers, and consumers alike are bearing the cost of tariffs.

It appeared that we were approaching an agreement after high-level negotiations in Washington DC. on October 10/11. All that was needed according to a White House statement was a “papering” of the decisions. The signing of what is now referred to as the “Phase-1 Agreement” was tentatively scheduled for a meeting in December. In the event civil disturbances in the host nation Chile led to a cancellation of the Conference to have been attended by President Trump and Premier Xi Jinping. Since the October meeting the Phase-1 Agreement has been in limbo with conflicting comments from both Beijing and Washington.

In a Cabinet meeting on November 19th the President threatened to raise tariffs on imports from China unless a suitable deal is concluded. He stated, “If we don’t make a deal with China, I’ll just raise the tariffs even higher”.

The Commerce Ministry of China had expected both nations to cancel some existing tariffs concurrently with signing of an agreement. This understanding was negated by the President who confirmed that he had not agreed to reduce tariffs stating, “They’d like to have a rollback. I haven’t agreed to anything.”

It is understood that “constructive discussions” have taken place by telephone between Vice Premier Liu He and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer assisted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The U.S. trade representatives elected not to travel to Beijing in mid-November for face-to-face negotiations since there was no assurance from China that concessions on structural issues would be made.

More recently Larry Kudlow, White House Economic Advisor implied that China and the U.S. were “getting close to reaching a trade deal”.  On November 25th The Commerce Ministry of China suggested that the two sides had reached “a consensus on properly resolving related issues”. Senior officials in China have apparently agreed to strengthen intellectual property rights. Both China and the U.S. appear more amenable to an agreement of sorts. This would probably involve rolling back some existing tariffs and the U.S. suspending imposition of additional duties on imported consumer goods valued at $150 billion scheduled for December 15th. This requirement would be necessary for Premier Xi Jinping to sign any agreement.

Without a detailed knowledge of the topics under review it is difficult to comment on the benefits. Some critics including Stephen Roach of the Yale University Jackson Institute regard a proposed Phase-1 agreement as “hollow” and “flawed” representing a political win for the President without addressing the structural issues that are disadvantageous for the U.S over the long term.

A possible complication with regard to relations with China concerns the legislation supporting human rights in Hong Kong and the open criticism of the response to pro-democracy protests. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act now passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives and has receivd a Presidential signature.

At this time a Phase-1 agreement, however thin and focused on issues will be welcome. This would thaw the conflict between the U.S. and China, reduce some tariffs, restore export of agricultural commodities and lower the cost of imports for consumers. Above all it would create an atmosphere for ongoing negotiations conducive to a series of agreements of mutual benefit to both nations. This approach is predicated on the reality that the U.S. cannot simply force a “Grand Bargain” on China irrespective of good intentions and the power of tariffs.


 

EPA Disclosure Requirement Opposed by Scientists

11/27/2019

The Administration will introduce a proposal entitled Strengthening Transparency and Regulatory Science that would have the effect of suppressing valid scientific research in developing policy and regulations. The proposal would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data including confidential medical records before an academic study could be considered.

Scientists and physicians in research maintain that the proposed rule would reduce the contribution of scientific studies to developing policy. The EPA justifies the decision on the basis of “transparency”. Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the EPA noted “We are committed to the highest quality science” In testimony before a Congressional committee in September Wheeler stated “Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny. That is why we are moving forward to ensure that the science supporting Agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”

The measure to be adopted by EPA is a thinly veiled attempt to exclude politically embarrassing studies from consideration in reviewing clean air and water rule making. The EPA is well aware that disclosing raw data would be contrary to maintaining confidentiality. This measure if adopted would be yet another obstacle in denying science to establish policy and regulations.

The initiative by the EPA is in some respects analogous to the suppression of politically unpalatable results of studies conducted by scientists affiliated to the USDA or funded by the Department that quantify the deleterious effects of climate change.

Ignoring scientific findings in the interest of political expediency is irrational and does not alter reality. Inappropriate decisions made by regulatory agencies based on deliberate suppression of scientific facts will only exacerbate the outcomes of environmental degradation to achieve short-term parochial advantages.


 

Impasse over Phase One Continues

11/19/2019

To determine progress on concluding a Phase-1 trade agreement between the U.S. and China it is necessary to weigh the conflicting comments from both the White House and Beijing. Since the conclusion of the October 10/11th negotiations in Washington the White House has projected optimism over rapid conclusion of a Phase-1 agreement noting that details not released following the bilateral discussions, only required “papering”. It was the intent of the U.S to sign the “agreement” during the Asian-Pacific Cooperation Summit in Santiago in mid-November.  In the event, unrest in Chile resulted in cancelation of the agreement. It is doubtful in retrospect that an agreement would have been signed at this time. There is evidently an impasse over rescission of tariffs and reluctance by China to concede on structural issues.  As yet, neither venue nor date has been set for signing of any agreement and China recently invited U.S. negotiators to Beijing to continue talks.

 

It is instructive to review comments by Gao Feng who has emerged as an important spokesperson reflecting the position of China on the trade dispute.  It appears that rescission of tariffs will be a prerequisite for China accepting any partial agreement.  Gao stated, “The trade war was begun with adding tariffs and should be ended by canceling these additional tariffs.  This is an important condition for both sides to reach an agreement.”  He added, “If both sides reach a Phase-1 agreement the level of tariff rollback will fully reflect the importance of this agreement.”  

 

In contrast Larry Kudlow, White House Economic Advisor commented at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting that Washington and Beijing were “close to a deal” He added “The mood music is pretty good and that has not always been so in these things” Despite obvious conflict within the Administration, Kudlow apparently based his optimism on the outcome of recent telephone discussions between U.S. Trade Representative Amb. Robert Lighthizer in consultation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with their counterparts in China led by Vice Premier Liu He.

 

On Friday November 8th November, the President categorically stated that he had not agreed to remove tariffs on imports from China.  This is consistent with the belief that tariffs provide the leverage to induce China to make structural changes that were the genesis of the dispute in 2017.  The Department of Commerce specifically emphasizes reluctance of China to commit to importation of agricultural commodities.  After the October discussions, the President quoted  that purchases of $40 to 50 million would be made although this was subsequently denied by China.

 

The Administration points to the more than $5 billion monthly in tariffs accruing to the Treasury.  On the distaff side, over $28 billion will be disbursed to farmers over two years to compensate in part for losses associated with sharply lower prices for agriculture commodities including soybeans, corn, sorghum, fruit and nuts.  Recently China announced increased imports of U.S. pork and lifted the embargo on poultry.  This is less a concession to the trade dispute than a reflection of basic need given the reduction and availability of domestic pork as a result of African swine fever which may have resulted in the death of up to 40 percent of the national herd.

 

China is playing a long game. They have no intention of abandoning past practices including neglect of intellectual property rights, coercive joint-venture practices and state support for industrial enterprises. These strategies are pivotal to achieving the “Made in China 2015” initiative. To make meaningful concessions at this time would be detrimental to growth that is lagging and would be a manifestation of loss of “face” It is also evident that China is keenly aware of political considerations in the U.S. and consider that they can, through prolongation of the trade dispute, influence the 2020 election to their advantage. 

 

Farmers, manufacturers and investors need clarity on the state of negations and above all a phased resolution of the dispute leading to restoration of trade for the mutual benefit of both nations and the world economy.


 

Free-Range Does Not Mean Wholesome

11/11/2019

EGG-NEWS is indebted to the Food Safety newsletter distributed by attorney William Marler for a reference to an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium attributed to consumption of free-range eggs that were washed on the farm.  The outbreak was limited to the Australian Capital Territory and involved three confirmed cases in May 2018.  Molecular biological evaluation of the common isolate revealed a rare MLVA (Multiple Locus Variable-number Tandem Repeat Analysis) confirming the single source.

 

According to the article, fecally soiled eggs were soaked in a chlorine solution of variable concentration and were washed and sanitized in an obsolete bucket-type washer.  Inspection confirmed that the grader, the environment of the packing shed and personal hygiene were all deficient.

Hens that are colonized with intestinal Salmonella will deposit bacteria on the shell during oviposition.  Improper washing subsequently facilitates penetration of the pores of the shell and the absence of refrigeration will contribute to proliferation of the pathogen within the egg.  Cooking at a temperature exceeding 165F through to the center of the yolk for at least 30 seconds is necessary to inactivate Salmonella.

 

Approximately 50 percent of eggs marketed in Australia are derived from small to medium-sized flocks allowed access to pasture.  A number of packers collect eggs from contractors and independent farmers and subject these eggs to appropriate shell decontamination using equipment similar to those in use in the U.S.  From personal observation, eggs are not refrigerated from the time of packing through purchase even in large chain supermarkets.

 

A number of cases of Salmonella Enteritidis infection in consumers have been reported from  various states in Australia.  Elimination of SE in pasture-maintained flocks is impossible and modalities including vaccination and post-pack refrigeration can only suppress vertical transmission.  Accordingly, a number of producers in Australia are considering in-shell pasteurization using microwave treatment that has been successfully employed in the Republic of South Africa.  Thermal immersion has a higher capital cost and is associated with significant shell damage in addition to deterioration in internal quality.  This is reflected in the fact that less than one percent of shell eggs in the U.S. are subject to thermal-immersion pasteurization.

 

*Sloan-Gardner, T. S. et al  Free range eggs does not mean safety eggs: an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium linked to free range eggs. Commun.Dis.Intl. 43: doi.org/10.33321/cdi.2019.43.52


 

USDA IG to Inquire into Suppression of Research Results

11/01/2019

Following representations by a dozen Democratic Party Senators, the Ranking Member of the Agricultural Committee Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), requested an investigation into deliberate suppression of research results relating to the effect of climate change. The Inspector General (IG) of the USDA was asked to specifically examine “potential instances of suppression and alteration of scientific reports, documents or communications generated by USDA”. The investigation to be carried out by the IG will determine whether any changes in policy influence publication of scientific articles or communications resulting from USDA research.

According to a recent report in Politico, an author of an accepted peer-reviewed manuscript on the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on nutrient content of rice was allegedly subjected to coercion to withdraw the paper. The crop scientist concerned apparently resigned from the Department.

Phyllis Fong, the USDA IG commented on concerns over the relocation of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City. The move resulting in mass resignation of senior economists and scientists was justified by extremely flimsy justifications. An October 21st letter to Fong from Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) requested that the broad probe could examine whether the relocation was “used as a means to suppress research on controversial topics such as climate change”.

It is understood that USDA currently has 60 percent of ERS positions vacant. This represents not only a loss of personnel, but also collective wisdom, experience and cohesion in areas critical to evaluation and planning of future food supplies. Farmers and the public are entitled to the results of scientific research to enable adaptation to whatever environmental changes may or may not be occurring irrespective of how unpalatable this may be from a political perspective.


 

American Policy towards China on Trade and Structural Issues

10/31/2019

Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center this past week, Vice President Mike Pence averred “the U.S. seeks engagement with China in a manner consistent with fairness, mutual respect and the international rules of commerce.”  Pence noted, “The United States does not seek confrontation with China.”

 

The Vice-President however noted that ongoing negotiations with Beijing would address the disparity in trade, disregard for intellectual property rights and coercive relationship with foreign companies intending to invest in China.

 

The remarks from the Vice President obviously raise the underlying structural issues that form the basis of complaints by the U.S. and which generated the trade of war exceeding18-months in duration. The October 10-11th negotiations and the proposed subsequent discussions leading to a Phase-1 agreement on trade apparent skirt the basic structural issues.

 

CHICK-NEWS has consistently observed that there cannot be a comprehensive and all- encompassing agreement on trade and structural issues in 2019 and possibly not before the 2020 election.  In the interim, it would be in the interest of both nations to resolve the trade issue involving mutually destructive tariffs and to address the more fundamental disputes on an individual basis over an acceptable time period.


 




































































































































































































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