Shane Commentary


Iowa Egg Company Receives FDA Warning Letter

02/21/2024

A December 15th 2023, warning letter to the Iowa Egg Company located in Osage, IA. confirmed a wide range of deficiencies in conforming to the FDA Final Rule on Salmonella. Effectively product is technically “adulterated” under section 402 (a) (4) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act Section 21 U.S.C. 342 (a) (4) as potentially injurious to health.

 

The warning letter followed issue of a FDA Form 483 following a June 2023 inspection of the complex by the Iowa Department of Agriculture, acting on behalf of the FDA.

 

The warning letter was issued since the company did not respond within the statutory period acknowledging deficiencies and providing an action program for remediation.

Defects noted by the Iowa Department of Agriculture included:

 

  • Failure to have available a written Salmonella Enteritidis Prevention Plan as required.

 

  • Failure to document that pullets were monitored for SE prior to transfer.

 

  • Failure to maintain an acceptable program to suppress rodents and flies and evident structural defects allowing entry of rodents.

 

  • Failure to document or implement appropriate holding temperatures for eggs.

 

  • Failure to comply with required ages for drag-swab screening of flocks for environmental SE contamination.

 

  • Failure to register a farm as required.

 

The delay between the FDA Form 483 in June 2023 and the warning letter in mid-December raises questions of timing in the response to obvious public health-related issues. Given the date of the original report documenting multiple defects relating to testing and other requirements, the FDA was negligent in waiting 21 weeks before issuing a warning letter.  Had flocks on the operation been infected with SE, product would have been released to the market with the potential for human infection. Any egg-borne outbreak of SE results in degradation of the image of the egg industry indirectly affecting all compliant farms.

 

If the FDA is sincerely interested in protecting the food supply then a 21-week delay in follow-up is unacceptable.  This situation appears to be a replay of the infant formula crisis but on a much smaller scale. Failure by the FDA to inspect major production facilities and a lack of response to evident problems of contamination led to a debacle characterized by a shortage of product with economic, political and social implications. It remains to be seen whether organizational changes at the FDA will improve concern within the Agency for food-related risks.


 

Opposition to the EATS Act

02/11/2024

The Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act was drafted in response to the May 11th decision by SCOTUS upholding Proposition #12. It was the intent of the promoters of the Bill to incorporate the EATS Act into the 2023 Farm Bill that has been delayed to at the earliest, mid-2024.

 

The intent of the proposed legislation would be to prevent individual states from placing restrictions on systems used to rear and process livestock intended for sale in their states.

 

The U.S. egg industry has long since complied with Proposition #12 and Massachusetts question #3. There is an adequate supply of cage-free eggs to satisfy California and other states that have enacted legislation restricting the sale of eggs from conventional cages.

 

A number of companies involved in organic and premium meat production are opposed to the EATS Act and have addressed an open letter to Congress expressing their concerns. Signatories to the letter stated, “while some companies remain silent in the name of cheaper production cost we believe it is our responsibility to amplify the concerns of our customers and businesses partners through our platforms.”

 

Informed observers and jurists have opined on the direct and unintended consequences of the EATS Act over and above the welfare aspect.  The broadly framed act could invalidate a number of necessary state regulations and would be contrary to existing laws relating to methods of production, including suppression of livestock and poultry diseases.

 

The EATS Act was introduced to invalidate Proposition #12 that currently impacts a segment of the pork industry still using gestation crates for sows. The case is advanced by industry associations representing pork producers that the EATS Act would obviate the requirement for farmers to invest in group-housing for sows.  Economists at the University of California-Davis ascertained that there is adequate pork available from sows housed in compliance with California Proposition #12. The economists presented data to show that there would not be any restriction on states imposing sanctions against gestation crates and that no further investment is needed in the U.S. 

 

The problem facing the pork industry is that major retailers and food service operators are committed to source pork from piglets bred from sows maintained under group housing. As has been frequently stated in CHICK-NEWS, as far as the need for conversion is concerned the train left the station years ago.  Irrespective of legislation, public pressure and the policies of retailers will determine the extent of alternatives to gestation crates. Most major pork producers have recognized this reality and over the past decade have progressed in transitioning to alternative housing systems leaving those who would ignore the realities of the marketplace to rely on exports and low-price accessible markets.

 

It is ironic that lobbying by pork associations scuttled the “Egg Bill” that would have created a uniform Federal housing standard for hens. Now when their backs are against the wall a segment of pork producers are seeking Federal relief through legislation. 


 

South Dakota Senators Opine on AI Vaccination-Reason now Emerging

01/25/2024

Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Rounds, (R-SD) have commented on control of HPAI that has severely affected turkey production in their state.  Noting that the USDA is “testing” vaccines, the legislators point to the more important aspect of trade.  In their letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Senators Thune and Rounds state, “We recognize that without updated trade agreements, the use of HPAI vaccination can put our poultry and egg industry at a disadvantage.  So, now is the time to begin the tedious work of talking with our trading partners to solidify agreements that reflect the new reality.”

 

An obvious starting point is to rescind the ban on importation of poultry products from France based on the spurious justification of protecting the U.S. industry.  Limited use of HPAI vaccine on a seasonal and regional basis for specific segments of the industry at risk in France will have no deleterious effect on the U.S. This is based on the reality that HPAI is introduced seasonally and disseminated along four flyways by migratory waterfowl and marine birds.

 

An additional question relates to why the USDA is “testing” new vaccines given publications confirming relative efficacy of commercially available products as a practical control measure along with biosecurity.  It appears that the fall-winter phase of the 2023-2024 epornitic is waning and will cease as it did at the end of 2022.  The USDA has until spring to determine the efficacy and safety of both HVT-vectored vaccines for day old chicks and poults and inactivated oil emulsion vaccines for older birds.  Concurrently, as noted by the Senators, negotiations must be initiated with trading partners citing the World Organization of Animal Health endorsement of vaccination as an adjunct to biosecurity, quarantine and surveillance as control measures.

 

HPAI is the Newcastle disease of the 2020s. We learned to co-exist and maintain production despite persistence of the infection from the 1970s onwards by applying vaccination. So it should be with HPAI. This infection will never be eradicated and poses a threat of severe economic harm using current unsuccessful control measures.


 

Philippines Bans U.S. Imports from California and Ohio

01/21/2024

Based on diagnoses of highly pathogenic avian influenza in California and Ohio, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Philippines has banned importation of live poultry and products including meat and eggs effective January 15th or processed two weeks before diagnoses were made in the states concerned.

 

Importation by the 5th-ranked Philippines for first eleven months of 2023 amounted to 156,526 metric tons with a value of $163 million and at a unit price of $1,041 per metric ton, below the average value of $1,306 per metric tons for the period.    

 

This blanket ban of a U.S. state represents a 1980’s approach to prevention of highly pathogenic avian influenza.  Nations such as the Philippines should adhere to WOAH policies that recognize regionalization (zoning).  Banning of exports from entire states is not beneficial in terms of protecting flocks of the importing nation from a disease such as HPAI that is carried by migratory birds.  Importers should rely on certification of freedom from HPAI (avian influenza strains H5 and H7) as determined using PCR screening and zonal surveillance.

 

Unless the USDA-APHIS recognizes the realities of HPAI epidemiology relevant to the 2020’s and amends current regulations it will be impossible to demand or request concessions from importing nations.  APHIS currently labors under the misapprehension that HPAI could be eradicated through a program of flock depopulation. This conveniently ignores the reality of seasonal reintroduction by migratory waterfowl and marine birds.  This inappropriate approach to HPAI is exemplified by a ban on importation of poultry products from France following introduction of vaccination in that nation.  This is a totally illogical knee-jerk response conditioned by decades of misunderstanding and a disinclination to recognize the changing epidemiology of HPAI.

 

The Philippines will be no more protected against HPAI after the blanket California and Ohio bans than they were before their edict.  Bureaucrats believe in bans. No one was ever fired or censured for adhering to an obsolete policy. By adherence to the status quo bureacrats are absolved from having to question entrenched policies or to adapt to changing realities.


 

Minnesota Records Uptake of School Meals

01/17/2024

Following passage of Minnesota House Bill HF5 funding free universal meals, the State will serve an additional one million school lunches and breakfasts per month compared to January 2022. The editorial last week commented on the summer EBT program that provided an allowance of $40 per child over the three-month summer recess.  In addition, states offering or planning free or subsidized meals were mentioned.

 

Governor Tim Walz (D) noted, “In Minnesota we’re not splitting students into the have’s and have-not’s, we are feeding all our children and saving hard-working families thousands of dollars a year on our way to making Minnesota the best state to grow up in.”

 

The School Nutrition Association revealed that 87.4 percent of respondents to a recent survey in nine states reported an increase in school meal participation after free meal service was initiated.

 

School feeding is beneficial to all students since programs provide balanced nutrition.  Children from low-income households will benefit most through school feeding since they will be able to more adequately learn in the absence of hunger.   This in turn, will contribute to their future socio-economic advancement making them responsible and productive, members of the community.  School feeding should be regarded as an investment in the future, limiting subsequent expenditure by judicial and health systems.

 

In a similar approach, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will distribute $1 million to help 30 colleges in the state to alleviate food insecurity.  It is apparent that problems experienced by school children extend into community colleges and universities in the state.  The recipient colleges are members of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Hunger-Free Campus Initiative.  Governor Josh Shapiro commented, “Students of all ages learn best when they start the day with a full stomach and are better prepared to succeed when they have access to nutritious healthy food.”  He added, “This Administration fought for and delivered universal free breakfast in K-12 classrooms and this is why we are fighting against hunger on our college campuses.”  The problem of food insecurity on college campuses became apparent during the COVID period and persists to the present time.

 

School feeding is beneficial for recipients, administrations and ultimately for food producers including our industry.


 

Cost of U.S. HPAI Response

01/14/2024

In accordance with documents released, the USDA has spent $715 million on indemnity to integrators and growers since February 8th 2022.  In addition, $183 million has been expended to dispose of infected flocks and $130 million has been allocated to personnel and related costs.

 

The USDA draws funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), an Agency established by C in1933 during the depression to “stabilize, support and protect farm income and profit” Activities of the Agency are authorized under the CCC Charter Act of 1948. Use of funds to support control of a disease may or may not fall within the remit of the CCC that serves as a potentially bottomless piggy bank for the USDA but ultimately subject to Congress that has the option to increase the reserve of $30 billion. Requests for a financial transfusion may elicit opposition in both houses especially as some senators are opposed to intensive livestock production based on personal antipathy and environmental considerations. It is evident that HPAI is a panornitic, present on six continents and is both seasonally and regionally endemic in many nations including the U.S. Since prospects for eradication are remote, given that HPAI is introduced and disseminated by migratory marine birds and waterfowl, alternative modalities including vaccination should be considered in addition to biosecurity as a preventive measure.

 

EGG-NEWS has continuously advocated for adoption of preventive vaccination in high-risk areas and for susceptible segments of the industry including egg production and turkeys along the four U.S. flyways.  Vaccination can serve as a means of reducing the financial and production-related costs of the infection if applied with existing structural and operational biosecurity.  The obvious restraint of limited vaccination relating to export of broiler products may not be insurmountable. It will be necessary for importers to recognize the WOAH principle of regionalization (zoning) in addition to certification based on PCR assay, that flocks contributing to a consignment were free of infection at the time of processing.

 


 

Bill to Allow Sale of Raw Milk in Wisconsin

01/09/2024

Wisconsin, the “Nation's Dairyland”, has strong laws that prohibit sale of unpasteurized (raw) milk and forbids the direct sale to consumers of other than fluid milk conforming to Grade A. Currently all state dairy farmers are licensed with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

 

State representative, Elijah Behnke, has pre-filed Senate Bill 781 to allow for the sale of raw milk.  The proposed legislation would require quarterly sampling of milk only for coliforms and annual testing of the herd for tuberculosis and brucellosis. This is completely inadequate since a flick of a tail can contaminate an entire lactation with a range of pathogens at any milking.

 

Wisconsin has a lot at stake given that it is the largest producer of milk and inevitable outbreaks of milk-borne infection from unpasteurized dairy products will detract from the image of state producers. 

 

Regrettably, the sale of raw milk has become a “freedom issue” rather than a public health imperative.  In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covering 1993 through 2006, 121 outbreaks linked to dairy products were identified.  Areas where raw milk is sold legally have more than three times more outbreaks of bacterial infections than regions where the sale of raw milk is illegal or restricted.  Areas where raw milk is sold at retail had close to four times more outbreaks than areas where sales were restricted to farms.  This data relates to a period when raw-milk consumption was rare. More recent incidence rates of milk-borne infection are rising sharply in response to increased availability of raw milk.

 

As noted in a recent ProMED release, the CDC published a report in 2012* citing “121 foodborne outbreaks with 4,413 cases of reported illness caused by contaminated dairy products. Of these, 73 (60%) were involved with unpasteurized dairy products. A total of 65 (54%) involved cheese (42% made from unpasteurized milk) and 56 involved fluid milk (82% involved unpasteurized milk). In these outbreaks, Campylobacter spp. were responsible for 54% of the outbreaks, followed by Salmonella spp. (22%), E.coli (13%), Brucella spp. (4%), Listeria spp. (4%), and Shigella spp. (3%). Pasteurized milk can also transmit disease, and 48 outbreaks were reported. The source of contamination was reported in only 7 (14%) outbreaks, of which at least four resulted from post-pasteurization contamination by an infected food handler”. 

 

Infants and children are disproportionately affected by consuming raw milk and develop complications including hemolytic uremia syndrome that may be life-threatening or life-altering. 

 

There is epidemiologic evidence that liberalizing the sale of raw milk results in a higher incidence rate of milk-borne infections including salmonellosis, listeriosis, campylobacteriosis and colibacillosis.  It is estimated that less than one percent of dairy products, including fluid milk, are consumed as non-pasteurized.  The relative risk of acquiring a bacterial infection from raw milk is, therefore high.

 

What are legislators trying to achieve with their “freedom to infect” state legislation? Who will benefit? Are the non-existent claimed benefits for raw-milk worth the societal costs of treating and responding to outbreaks of inevitable milk-borne bacterial infection? Supplying raw milk to minors is essentially a form of child abuse.

 

*Ayers T, Grass J, et al. Nonpasteurized dairy products, disease outbreaks, and state laws -- United States, 1993-2006. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012; 18(3): 385-391;


 

Preventing Aerosol Transmission of Livestock and Poultry Diseases

12/31/2023

A recent review article* considered available and prospective technology intended to limit the introduction of viruses of livestock and poultry into housing by the aerogenous route. This article, although not providing any specific solutions to the current problem of HPAI, may stimulate creativity among agricultural engineers to adapt or modify available modalities.

 

Existing methods include filtration that has limitations with respect to fan capacity considering the volume of air that has to be moved to support large flocks. Application of HEPA filtration may be effective with small units housing specific pathogen-free stock or elite-level breeders.  Unfortunately, the ventilation requirements for a compartment of a house holding upwards of 100,000 laying hens requiring as much as 500,000 cubic foot per minute of air displacement at 0.25” swp. resistance could not function adequately with ultra high-efficiency filtration.

 

Emerging technologies include electrostatic precipitators with and without ultraviolet irradiation could in theory be used. Again, these systems are suitable for medical facilities, pharmaceutical and high-technology manufacturing plants but adaptation to poultry and hog housing is beyond current capability to achieve efficient destruction or inactivation of viruses.

 

Advanced technologies that may be used in industrial and medical applications again would be difficult to apply in livestock housing.  These include microwave inactivation and generation of reactive oxygen compounds.

 

The recognition that the virus responsible for HPAI can be transmitted by air entrained on dust particles suggests that some combination of filtration and electromagnetic inactivation could be possible.  Unfortunately, HPAI is very much an all-or-nothing situation.  Introduction of even a small quantum of virus into a susceptible, closely confined flock will result in propagation of the pathogen and the emergence of the disease.  Unfortunately a small quantum of virus does not produce only a limited infection.  Once introduced, the entire susceptible flock will be exposed and given the pathogenicity of H5 and H7 viruses, mortality in excess of 90 percent will occur. In reality authorities in most industrialized nations adopt a policy of depopulation immediately following a diagnosis. Recognition that HPAI is transmitted through air does not necessarily invalidate biosecurity since there are other more obvious routes of infection.  The converse is that even the most extreme biosecurity procedures approaching the envelope of practicality will not provide absolute protection in the event that a large quantity of virus is shed by migratory birds in the vicinity of a complex.

 

*Ouyang, H. et al. Control Technologies to Prevent Aerosol-Based Disease Transmission in Animal Agriculture Production Settings:  A review of established and emergent approaches.  Front.Vet.Sci.doi:10.3389/fvets.2023.1291312


 

Premature Optimism over HPAI Expressed by APHIS

12/26/2023

Dr. Rosemary Sifford, Chief Veterinary Officer for the USDA, recently commented on the declining number of recoveries of avian influenza virus from migratory birds.  According to the USDA data-base, 2,600 isolations were recorded in 2023 compared to 6,000 in 2022.  It is clear that the number of isolations is directly attributed to the intensity of surveillance but the rate of recovery at any comparable time and from a species in a region is the determinant factor relating to outbreaks.

 

Notwithstanding the prevalence in either mature birds or their progeny, outbreaks of avian influenza attributed to H5N1 strain  continue both with respect to numbers of commercial flocks affected but also the geographic spread involving all four U.S. Flyways.

 

Dr. Sifford considers that, “The viral load in the environment is less”  without substantiation for this opinion. To date the USDA has not published information on the possible genetic relationship among isolates from wild birds and from affected commercial flocks.  Molecular epidemiologic data is critical to an understanding of the source of viruses responsible for outbreaks in commercial flocks. The source is generally presumed to be migratory waterfowl based on temporal and spatial associations between migration and outbreaks. 

 

The critical question is how virus, apparently shed by migratory birds enters farms.  There are numerous cases in which large complexes with high standards of structural and operational biosecurity have been infected, accompanied by anecdotal evidence of airborne spread.  If in fact the virus can be disseminated over even short distances by the aerogenous route, higher standards of biosecurity will be ineffective in absolutely protecting flocks. 

 

With the realization of regional and seasonal endemicity and airborne infection, vaccination is obviously a necessary adjunct to biosecurity as a method to prevent HPAI and also to facilitate control.  Basing a prevention program on the hope that a decline in shed rate by migratory birds, is not a viable strategy. Free-living birds will continue to migrate either northbound or southbound annually, presumably shedding the current H5N1 strain or a mutation or alternatively a newly emerged influenza virus strain with altered pathogenicity or even zoonotic potential.


 

Wayne Hsiung of DxE to Raise Legal Issues Involving Intrusion in Appeal

12/12/2023

Wayne Hsiung the founder and leader of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) was convicted of a felony counts of conspiracy to trespass and was sentenced to 90-days in jail.  The charges arose from 2018 and 2019 intrusions at Reichardt Duck Farm and Sunrise Poultry Farm in Sonoma County, CA. 

 

 

Hsiung will base his appeal on California legislation providing Samaritans with the “right to rescue”.  Hsiung is no Samaritan, he is in fact a zealot.  The right to rescue law provided protection to citizens who respond appropriately to obvious situations such as a dog locked in a car in danger of dying hyperthermia within a short time unless released.

 

The actions taken by Hsiung, and his followers were premeditated, planned in advance, were intended to elicit publicity and in no way could have represented “rescue” for birds and flocks that were apparently not subjected to cruelty or were in imminent danger.  DxE supporters egged on by leaders such as Hsiung are willing to sacrifice their liberty in a cult-inspired series of demonstrations and farm intrusions.  Their actions effectively represent a win-win situation for the animal liberation movement.  If they “rescue” birds they are regarded as heroes.  When they suffer the inevitable retribution of the law they become martyrs. Either way they attract recruits and financial support.

 

If Hsiung places reliance on the contention that flocks on the two farms were subjected to cruelty he will be contradicted by dispassionate opinions offered by specialists in poultry production attesting to adherence to accepted standards of housing and management.  The appeal will be confined to matters of procedure and law not justification.  The videos submitted by DxE in the trial of Mr. Hsiung were disallowed by the Judge as being prejudicial.  This may represent grounds for either a reversal or for a retrial. Previous appeals have been granted based on First Amendment rights.

 

In a statement prior to sentencing, District Attorney Carla Rodriguez of Sonoma County stated, “The First Amendment is not a license to commit crime.  Mr. Hsiung went beyond mere activism and decided to engage in unlawful, reckless and potentially dangerous behavior putting farms, their employees and flocks of birds at risk of harm by his conduct.”

 

Within past weeks, both the multi-generation owned Reichardt Duck Farm (November 27th) with 169,000 birds and Sunrise Poultry Farm (December 7th) with 85,000 hens were diagnosed with HPAI and were depopulated.


 

State Legislators Calling for Support of Organic Dairy Production-Justified?

12/11/2023

Representatives and Senators from Maine, California and Wisconsin have called on the USDA to provide additional support for dairy farmers producing organic milk. Funding is required as producers face environmental and financial challenges. In the letter to the USDA signed by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) the legislators urged that $83 million in unspent funds should be made available through the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP).

 

The letter included “We must support the small family farms that are the foundation of the organic dairy industry and many of our rural economies.”  The letter added, “Whether it is updating the calculations for the program payment rate, initiating a sign-up for another year’s projected future marketing cost or some other mechanism to improve coverage results, the remaining funds dedicated for ODMAP should be distributed promptly.”

 

In 2022, USDA made available $104 million to organic dairy operations to maintain operations.  It is questioned whether public funds should be used to support what appears to be a non-viable industry.  It is evident that the cost of organic feed and other requirements to comply with the Certified Organic Program detract from attaining positive margins. This is a reflection of the pricing structure for organic dairy products given demand for the organic seal in competition with conventional milk and plant-based substitutes. If organic dairy farmers cannot make a profit they should revert to conventional dairy production or develop a suitable business model that does not require public support.  There is no nutritional or health benefit from organic milk over conventional milk and accordingly taxpayer funds should not be used to support a component of production that has a self-imposed cost burden. 

 

Producers of organic eggs have never requested support despite high prices for non-GMO feed and mandated outside access. Although organic eggs have a shelf price considerably higher than conventional cage-free equivalents, there is adequate consumer support to sustain this segment of the industry.  According to the December 1, 2023, USDA Cage-Free Report, the flock held for organic production has been fairly constant at 19 million hens for successive quarters.  This compares to 106 million hens held for cage-free production other than under the USDA Certified Organic Program.  Given a national producing flock of 320 million at present, organic hens represent six percent of the total industry.  Production appears to be in balance with demand but with limited scope for expansion. This is due to the cost of production mostly attributed to the non-GMO feed requirement that is devoid of any scientific substantiation and that effectively doubles the cost of production.

 

Collectively numerous small-scale organic dairy farmers are producing in excess of demand and accordingly there has to be rationalization and a contraction of supply. It is contrary to a free-enterprise economy for an inherently unprofitable and non-essential segment of livestock agriculture to be sustained by taxpayer support. So if USDA Secretary Vilsack disburses $83 million to needy organic dairy farmers, how long will it take before the constituents of the legislators concerned renew their Oliver Twist request of “please can I have some more”?  


 

USDA Regional Agricultural Promotion Program

12/05/2023

USDA will make available $300 million in funding to support new projects intended to open new markets and to expand existing markets under the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program. The intended allocation is from the $1.2 billion available over a five-year period from the Commodity Credit Corporation.

 

Secretary Vilsack stated, “It takes significant investment to open and develop new export markets and this new fund will be dedicated to helping provide start-up capital so that American exporters can diversify their markets and create new opportunities.”

 

Funding under the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program is available to agricultural trade organizations, U.S. agricultural cooperatives and state regional trade groups operating approved market development activities. In order to concentrate funding on new markets and opportunities, the nations of the E.U. and China, Canada, Mexico will be ineligible for funding.  In contrast, emphasis will be placed on Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.

 

Trade promotion involving undifferentiated commodities can evolve into an exercise of pushing a piece of string.  Commodities are purchased in a competitive market environment based on landed cost and the needs of the purchasing nation.  For many years, this commentator along with colleagues undertook promotional seminars in Asia and the Middle East on behalf of the American Soybean Association.  The premise was that promoting domestic production of eggs and broilers through technology transfer would create more viable poultry industries, creating a demand for soybeans.  In many cases, the information did, in fact, help develop industries in India, Pakistan, Thailand, China and the Middle East. The activities of speakers and experts did little to generate goodwill that translated to preferences for the U.S. Importers in host nations understandably sourced soybeans from the best available and cheapest supplier with FOB price, sea freight and seasonal availability being the principal determinants of the purchase decision. An unintended consequence of promotional activities was the inevitable decline in chicken exports to many countries that imposed barriers to imports to protect their emerging industries. The situation was further complicated when U.S. experts were sponsored by commodity associations to present programs on further-processing and packaging thereby creating competition for U.S. exporters in many regional markets. This was ironically to the detriment of the associations’ best customers, the U.S. domestic broiler industry.

Funding the promotion of an undifferentiated commodity by an association may create awareness for a product but this will not necessarily establish a preference for a national supplier. The major U.S. commodity associations have been unsuccessful in identifying superior attributes for GMO corn, soybeans or wheat or establishing quantifiable product differentiation for their commodities among the competing major world exporters.

 

Considerable progress has been made by industry organizations such as USAPEEC that together with USDA-APHIS have worked to remove artificial trade barriers and to update unrealistic regulations that represented restraints to trade.  Local product demonstrations and promotions have increased awareness and demand for turkey, duck and broiler products in Latin America and the Caribbean and in some cases in Asia. This is reflected in direct and indirect benefits for some segments of the industry.

 

 It is hoped that USDA will be able to monitor and quantify the effect of their “investment” in promotion.  Public funds are easy to disburse, especially when vast sums of money, that add to the national debt, are made available.  USDA intends that the regional agricultural promotion programs should be confined to nonprofits and commodity associations. A more effective and less expensive approach might be to grant tax concessions and other incentives to the private sector to stimulate exports.  At the end of the day, neither the U.S. Soybean Association nor the U.S. Grains Council actually sell a single bean or kernel. This is the province of the big five multinational agribusiness conglomerates responsible for the bulk of world trade in commodities. 

 

Is it the intention of the USDA through regional agricultural promotion programs simply to increase the sale of dairy products, endives or similar minor agricultural commodities to Costa Rica and other nations? Is the U. S. taxpayer going to recognize a return on the considerable amount to be assigned to this program? How will it be measured? Who will take responsibility if there is no positive return? Inquiring minds want to know!


 

Demise of Vertical Farming?

11/27/2023

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by AeroFarms and AppHarvest highlight the problems experienced by high-tech agriculture.  Along with similar companies, indoor cultivation of leafy greens offered the promise of year-round availability, proximity to high-density centers of consumption and freedom from pathogens. Profitability of vertical farming was based on over-optimistic assumptions of implementation and volumes of production coupled with inappropriate levels of consumer demand given high and non-competitive shelf prices. The exponential rise in vertical farming emerged from a concordance between enthusiastic proponents of high-tech agriculture and the desire of venture capital (VC) investors to generate high returns over short periods by disrupting existing production systems. Between aspiration and an overabundance of capital, the common sense evaluation of production costs and margins was ignored. Dr. Ari Ginsberg of New York University noted,  “VCs didn’t do their homework on the economics and how long it would take to reach profitability.” 

 

When this commentator visited a newly erected vertical farming operation in 2022 in an industrial complex adjacent to Atlanta Airport, the overwhelming impression was an inordinately high capital cost for equipment and installations required to create an environment suitable to propagate relatively low volumes of lettuce.  It was evident that a high level of technical knowledge was necessary to achieve production. Maintenance and operation of equipment was evidently incurring high variable costs and above all, considerable energy input was necessary to illuminate racks of plants and to constantly circulate aqueous solutions of liquid fertilizer.  The impression gained was that the enterprise represented technology for the sake of technology.  The product still required high labor input for packing. Containers of immature lettuce in PET clamshell packs were essentially less attractive and more expensive than far larger heads trucked to distribution centers from Arizona and California or derived from conventional greenhouses.

 

Escalation in the cost of energy and capital destroyed the validity of spreadsheets created three years previously when capital was assigned to many of the emerging enterprises.  Venture capital companies quickly soured on vertical agriculture, terminating cash spigots that maintained operations until promised scale of production could be achieved.

 

Some businesses in this aspect of intensive agriculture will survive and even prosper.  They are characterized as smaller operations, offering a diversity of products and enjoying close relationships with supermarket chains.  Survivors will concentrate on product quality and efficiency while maintaining a balance between traditional and high-tech systems.

 

In contrast, the egg industry has evolved over decades with adoption of technology consistent with practicality and an anticipation of profitability.  Certainly, mistakes have been made along the way including adoption of high-rise housing as a successor to lagoon systems. Storing manure in pits inevitably led to difficulties in current disposal in the face of increasing environmental restrictions.  High-rise housing also led to the emergence of SE as an industry problem.  Transition to multi-tier aviary housing was a response to the need to transition from conventional cages. Time will be required to overcome inherent difficulties in management of flocks and to establish whether the cost differential compared to conventional cages will be offset by higher unit revenue over the long term.

 

In order to feed burgeoning populations of the world, agriculture must adopt higher levels of efficiency through genetics and management while maintaining sustainability and compliance with environmental regulations.  Moving forward at a slower pace provides an opportunity to identify and correct unpredicted but inevitable difficulties and to adjust to market demands.  The rise and demise of vertical farming should serve as a lesson to agriculture limited by biological realties in addition to production and marketing pressures.


 

NY Attorney General Sues PepsiCo over Single-Use Plastic

11/22/2023

On November 15th National Recycle Day, the Attorney General of the state of New York Letitia James filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo alleging “harm to the public and the environment through single-use plastic packaging”.  The lawsuit is intended to restrain PepsiCo from the sale and distribution of products packed in single-use containers without adequate information to consumers.

 

The lawsuit is loosely based on the “Green Amendment” approved in New York in 2021 requiring that “each person shall have a right to clean air and water and to a healthful environment.”

 

Studies have disclosed that plastic waste along the Buffalo River in NY. contains a disproportionate amount of plastic waste derived from PepsiCo products.  This assertion is also supported by a 2018 study conducted by environmental activist organization Break Free From Plastic that determined that PepsiCo was the second most prevalent producer of branded plastic waste and was the top producer between 2020 and 2022.

 

The complaint alleges that PepsiCo “failed to warn the public or consumers of its potential to contribute to plastic pollution in waterways.” The New York attorney general states that PepsiCo uses refillable and returnable glass and plastic in international markets but has failed to use alternatives to single-use plastic in the U.S.

 

Documentation submitted to the Courts stated that PepsiCo established goals to incorporate recycled plastic but has made little progress in reducing virgin content.  In 2019 PepsiCo announced that first-use plastic would be reduced to 35 percent in bottles by 2025. It was stated that the company has made little progress in introducing recycled content and has adopted a policy of simply extending the year for compliance.

 

The nonprofit Beyond Plastics has called on Attorneys General of other states with problem of waterway pollution to take legal action against manufacturers using single-use plastic containers.

 

This action by the Attorney General of New York State has implications for the egg industry that uses both styrofoam and PET containers for eggs.  There is growing international and national concern over plastic pollution given recent findings that microplastics cause adverse health effects in addition to cleanup costs. Manufacturers of other than fiber and other biodegradable egg cartons should consider programs to recycle containers and to incorporate additional second-use plastic in the interest of health and sustainability.

 


 

USDA Continues to Disperse Funding to Underserved Communities

11/16/2023

In a November 9th release, USDA announced that $1.2 billion will be provided in loans and grants to rural cooperatives in 36 states and Puerto Rico.  The announcement was made by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during a roundtable with rural community and business leaders held in Colorado.  The $1.2 billion is intended to support 112 projects in diverse communities in 36 states.

 

In commenting on the grants, Vilsack stated, “The cooperative business model has been integral to rural advancement and the American economy and today accounts for more than two million jobs across the country.  The investments we are announcing today will ensure that cooperatives continue the important work of serving the unique needs of their communities.”

 

USDA provided examples of grants including a $10 million loan guarantee to build a hospital in Mohave County, AZ; a grant to Wayne-White County electric co-op to replace drainage water pumps to protect 9,000 acres of farmland from flooding and a grant to the Mississippi Minority Farmers Alliance to assist farmers to develop business plans among six counties.

 

The USDA under the present Administration regards loans and grants as “investments”.  In the business sense, this is an inappropriate definition since investment implies a tangible, financial return.

 

It is obviously too much to expect the USDA to account for the grants and loans in years to come quantifying benefits in terms of jobs created or increased productivity.  To equate giveaways with “investment” is a misnomer and distortion of reality.


 

Texas Vehicle Safety Inspections Ceases but with Ongoing Delays

11/02/2023

On September 20th, Governor Greg Abbott imposed a mandatory safety check on all semis crossing into the U.S. from Mexico at major border points of entry. The Texas Department of Public Safety was incapable of conducting brake and other safety inspections at a rate that would allow constant passage of vehicles and their northbound cargos. Delays exceeding a day were encountered, disrupting the flow of transport. The action by Texas added to cost and created a problem for manufacturers using just-in-time inventory control systems. Although the misdirected and mischievous program of obstruction was cancelled, following both diplomatic and industry intercession, it is estimated that 19,000 trucks carrying $1.9 billion in goods were delayed. Manufacturers and trucking companies on both sides of the Southern border are resolving backlogs in transport. 

 

The action by Governor Abbott was in essence “Border Theater” intended to enhance his image since it had no effect on deterring illegal immigration. Department of Public Safety inspectors had no authority beyond assessing roadworthiness. They did not open trailers to inspect for contraband or trafficked migrants.

 

The diversion of customs agents to immigration duty in response to the migrant surge is an added complication contributing to delays at border crossing points in both Texas and Arizona. During the second weekend in October, pedestrian crossing was delayed four-fold from the normal one hour wait.

 

Deploying additional DHS agents to the border, extending barriers by incremental lengths and implementing periodic photo-op gestures will not resolve the mounting problem that cannot be blamed on any of four successive administrations. The U.S. requires a rational, practical and comprehensive immigration program and a complementary guest worker scheme. This will require bipartisan cooperation in Congress. This is a commodity in short supply in both chambers of the legislature, reflecting a polarized electorate.


 

BlueNalu, Inc. Raises Venture Capital Funding

10/17/2023

BlueNalu, Inc., a subsidiary of Agronomics, has raised $35 million in a Series B funding.  In February 2020, the company raised $20 million through a Series A funding to develop a pilot production facility in San Diego to prepare cell-cultured seafood. The recent injection of capital will be used to scale up cell-cultured seafood production to commercial capacity.  BlueNalu intend launching a bluefin tuna product.

 

BlueNalu, along with numerous aspirant producers of cell-cultured protein, have collectively raised over $2 billion in venture capital funding over the past two years. As yet there is no viable commercial production of cell-cultured protein either beef, chicken or seafood. 

 

Based on revelations concerning alleged unfounded claims by Upside Foods and their problems scaling up from roller bottle production to 500-liter reactors, there are question as to whether cell-cultured meat and seafood production is simply a promise or is a practical alternative to conventional livestock and aquaculture.

 

Venture capital funds may soon tighten their purse strings unless one or other of the well-funded companies in either Europe or North America manages to demonstrate a potential for return on investment. This will only eventuate through actually marketing an acceptable and realistically priced product that gains consumer acceptance.  The time for hype has long since passed. More experienced investors imbued with a sense of realism will replace the unfounded optimism of newly hatched MBAs believing their spreadsheets and entranced by welfare and sustainability.


 

Genetic Modification Offers Advantages to Swine Producers-but tor Chickens?

10/15/2023

At this time, primary breeders of egg production and broiler stock have collectively rejected genetic modification based on the obvious potential for consumer rejection of products.  This has limited research into prevention of disease in chickens and turkeys by applying gene deletion. There is even less motivation to achieve advances in productivity through introduction of xenogenes as with the AquaBounty™ salmon.

 

Gene deletion applying CRISPR technology offers benefits from creating strains that are refractory to disease.  Genus plc (LSE: GNS) in the U.K. is a major supplier of genetics for the swine and dairy industries recently obtained approval from Colombia to market a genetically modified strain of hogs resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).  Genes encoding for a protein necessary for the PRRS virus to enter host cells and replicate was removed.  Modified pigs are resistant to the disease responsible for serious losses in reproductive efficiency and depressed growth rate in weanlings.

 

Genus has submitted an application to the FDA and anticipates approval for their genetically modified strain of hogs during 2024.  Although there is a vaccine available to suppress PRRS using a strain that is genetically resistant offers advantages to producers given that the deletion of the specific gene does impair performance.

 

The commercial availability of PRRS-resistant hogs can be related to the work conducted in the U.K. to produce a strain of chickens resistant to avian influenza.  This was accomplished by deleting genes encoding for three proteins designated ANP 32A, B and C that are necessary for avian influenza virus to replicate in host cells.  Preliminary experiments demonstrated that of ten gene-deleted chickens only one could be infected by inoculation with avian influenza virus although this subject did not transmit the virus to contact birds. Genetically modified chickens are infected when subjected to high doses of avian influenza virus.

 

This study appears to be more of academic than potentially commercial significance since it is unknown whether the deletion of the genes coding for the protein will have other effects including growth and reproduction.  Virologists have also raised concerns over the ability of avian influenza virus to develop new mechanisms to overcome the genetic modification.  There is also concern that mutations in avian influenza viruses as a result of gene deletion in the primary avian host may result in a strain capable of infecting humans.

 

Notwithstanding potential advantages from gene deletion to create disease resistance, it will still be necessary to overcome consumer concerns over perceived risks as evidenced by a three- decade rejection by consumers and government regulators of GM crops. For the foreseeable future, genetic modification offers no commercial advantages for the world’s poultry producers with respect to suppression of avian influenza, gender regulation or enhanced growth. This reality should influence journalists hyping “the next big thing” and their editors posting misleading headlines.


 

USDA Awards $23 Million to Dairy Producers

10/08/2023

On October 3rd the USDA announced awards totaling $23 million under the Dairy Business Innovation Initiative Grant Program.  Directed support was established in 2019 and has funded a total of 441 projects.  The purpose of the program is to provide the dairy industry with resources to maintain a supply of dairy products to consumers.  Given available market intelligence, the dairy industry is suffering from competition from plant-based alternatives and is subject to constant criticism from animal rights and welfare advocates.

 

Funds will be allocated to California State University at Fresno, the University of Tennessee, the Vermont Agency for Agriculture, and the University of Wisconsin. Funds will allow agencies and universities to provide technical support including business development, marketing and branding.

 

Given that the initiative has been in operation for four years, the USDA owes taxpayers an accounting of how funds that have been spent to date have resulted in benefits to both producers and consumers.  The dairy industry receives considerable support from the USDA, unlike the egg industry in which producers are obliged to operate in a free-market and highly competitive economy.


 

USDA Restricts Import of Poultry and Products from France

10/04/2023

France has elected to vaccinate commercial ducks against Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza after experiencing successive annual losses in the foie gras segment of their extensive poultry industry.  Accordingly, the USDA has banned importation of all poultry including eggs and untreated duck products from the European Poultry Trade Region as defined by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  Although excluding Great Britain, E.U. nations are included in addition to Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. 

 

The action was taken to “Reduce the risk of introducing Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) into the U.S”.  Current USDA regulations disallow importation of poultry and products from nations that have reported HPAI to the World Organization for Animal Health or that have initiated a vaccination program against avian influenza.

 

This is sheer bureaucratic overreaction that flies in the face of reality.   For the edification of decision makers at APHIS, HPAI will inevitably be introduced into the U.S. and Canada by millions of migratory waterfowl and marine birds. The infection should be regarded as both seasonally and regionally endemic.  In relation to the risk of wild birds, there is a disproportionately infinitesimal probability of introducing HPAI on poultry or products from France. This also applies to any exporting nation certifying that product was derived from either a region or even a flock free of HPAI.  The outdated presumption that vaccination “masks HPAI virus circulating in poultry” is inconsistent with the availability of PCR to detect HPAI antigen.

 

It is understood that APHIS is discussing HPAI vaccination programs with the European Commission.  What the world’s poultry industries require is universal acceptance of vaccination to establish poultry populations with a sufficient level of immunity to obviate mass depopulation.  This could be predicated only on acceptance of vaccination and the introduction of appropriate diagnostic protocols and surveillance to maintain trade.

 

Based on over 50 years experience in poultry veterinary medicine on four continents, it can be stated with the weight of hindsight that “HPAI is the Newcastle disease of the 2020s”.  During the 1960s, velogenic viscerotropic Newcastle disease (vvND) threatened the world’s industries until vaccination was adopted as a universal preventive measure.  Denmark is the only nation with an established poultry industry that has periodic problems with Newcastle disease due to a policy of not vaccinating flocks.  The U.S. vaccinates against Newcastle disease and we have an extensive export market due to universal acceptance of vaccination against ND.  Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is a serious financial issue for the public sector in addition to both producers and consumers.  The implications of HPAI should not be exacerbated by bureaucratic intransigence and clinging to established policy that restricts flexibility and realism in accepting the benefits of vaccination.


 

Political Fallout from Calgary Daycare STEC Infection

09/19/2023

The STEC infection potentially affecting eleven daycare centers in Calgary, Alberta has become a political issue.  As of September 15th, public health authorities have identified 337 confirmed cases of E.coli infections with the majority of patients under five years of age.  There were 26 secondary cases, mainly among the siblings of those affected.  Of the confirmed cases, 37 required hospitalization with 11 developing hemolytic uremic syndrome and six children underwent dialysis.

 

The Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith, organized a press conference on September 15th in response to widespread negative publicity and a petition with more than a thousand signatures protesting lack of transparency.  The outbreak was recognized on September 4th, but provincial authorities did not respond with a public meeting until Friday, September 15th.  The position of the Government is that they responded quickly through Alberta Health Services, contacting parents as the outbreak progressed. 

 

The kitchen, recognized as the source of infection, Kids U Centennial Inc. was closed along with the six affected and five related daycare centers. On September 4th, inspectors observed violations including insect infestation, accumulation of water on floors and other deficiencies in the kitchen. A factor contributing to the extent of the infection was that food was distributed from the central kitchen to daycare centers in a non-refrigerated vehicle with transit times of up to 90 minutes. Thermal abuse of a contaminated food item obviously promoted proliferation of the pathogen.

 

The Alberta Minister of Health, Adriana LaGrange, defended the Provincial Program of Disease Prevention noting the extent and frequency of inspections of kitchens and daycare centers.

 

As a concession to affected families, the Province will make a one-time compassionate payment of C$2,000 per outbreak patient.  Children who developed HUS will require extensive medical surveillance through adulthood and in some cases children requiring dialysis may at some stage in their future require kidney transplantation.

 

The literature contains many examples of foodborne infection in schools and daycare centers attributed to E. coli O157:H7.  The extent of the Calgary outbreak points to the risk associated with central catering facilities.  As with outbreaks investigated in a retrospective study in Switzerland, it was determined that benefits accrue to placing an emphasis on high-risk kitchens and commissaries with frequent in-person inspections and enforced high standards of cleaning of work surfaces, utensils, equipment and with appropriate training.  The Calgary daycare center outbreak represent an opportunity for the FDA and CDC in addition to local health authorities to review regulations and inspection procedures including frequency of inspections , monitoring of cold chains and sampling food ingredients for wholesomeness.


 

Congressional Opponents of Meat Industry Consolidation Intensify their Efforts

09/18/2023

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MI) has introduced the Strengthening Antitrust Enforcement for Meat Packing Act.  This in response to the announcement by Tyson Foods that plants in Dexter and Noel, Missouri will be closed along with plants in north Little Rock, AR and Corydon, IN.  The Missouri closures will affect 2,000 of Senator Hawley’s constituents, although many, being Hispanic, are probably not voters.  The proposed legislation would amend the Packers and Stockyards Act to allow antitrust action that results in market concentration.  The second objective of that the Act would be to restrict the ability of existing packers and poultry producers from acquiring competitors.

 

In 2000, Senator Hawley, who is facing reelection in 2024, urged the Federal Trade Commission to “investigate the growing concentration in the meat packing and processing industry and any anticompetitive behavior resulting from this concentration”.

 

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is concerned over concentration in the red meat industry, pointing to the disruption caused by a transitory cyber-attack impacting JBS.

 

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) questioned the acquisition of Sanderson Farms by a consortium of Cargill, Inc. and Continental Grain with the subsequent merger of Sanderson farms with Wayne Farms.  Since the transaction, there has been no evidence of “an impact on consumer choice and price of poultry products”.  The concerns of Senator Grassley that “continued mergers and acquisitions in an already concentrated poultry industry” have not deleteriously affected prices or availability.

 

As we move into election mode, politicians in the Senate and all those in the House will become more voluble over the perceived but unproven allegations of the evils of consolidation that effectively are reflected in operational efficiency and competitive prices for consumers.


 

Program to Improve the Integrity of Hen Keel Bones Initiated

09/04/2023

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and Open Philanthropy, together with other supporters are funding the Layer Hen Keel Bone Health Program.  The objective is to establish causes of sternal (keel bone) damage in pullets and laying hens and to implement corrective action. Currently the relative contributions of genetics, nutrition and housing or their interaction have not been defined.  Nikki Dutta, Director of Scientific Programs with FFAR, stated, “Improving the welfare of animals is a critical component of animal husbandry and keel bone damage is a serious threat to the wellbeing of layer hens.”

 

The program will award grants totaling $3 million to be shared by scientists at the University of Edinburgh and the University of California, Davis.  Matching funds to support research will bring the total to $7 million.

 

Professor Ian Dunn of the University of Edinburgh, stated, “The project seeks to enable genetic selection directly for the keel bone itself as well as novel nutritional approaches and the influence of the timing of when hens start to lay on their bone quality.”

 

The research team is using x-ray images and machine learning to refine when and how keel damage occurs in relation to management especially at onset of production, and to investigate nutrition and genetic predisposition.

 

It is evident that keel damage has become a significant problem following the transition from cage rearing and laying to the use of aviary and floor systems.

 

Until results are available from research that has been initiated, producers can apply observation and experience to reducing injury to the sternum..  Appropriate measures include: -

  • Ensuring that pullets are reared in aviary systems that are compatible with their eventual housing during the laying cycle. 
  • Selecting strains that are placid under aviary conditions.
  • Ensuring that light levels do not lead to excitation and excessive movement across aisles.
  • Habituating flocks to the movement of workers along aisles.
  • Providing adequate nutrition with specific reference to calcium phosphorus and micro-mineral content in both rearing and laying phases of production.
  • Applying appropriate stocking density and management practices that contribute to flock uniformity.
  • Selecting a biological rather than chronological age to initiate onset of laying by photo- stimulation.
  • Ensuring that rearing and laying aviaries have adequate and functional perches, ramps and landing areas.
  • Limiting the height of rearing and laying aviaries to two tiers and reducing the width of aisles to a level consistent with the ability of pullets and hens to successfully move between rows of aviary modules.

 

USDA Office of Inspector General Review of Organic Enforcement

08/30/2023

The Office of Inspector General of the U. S. Department of Agriculture has reviewed the National Organic Program with respect to the proposed Strengthening Organic Enforcement Final Rule.  This measure includes

 

  • Requiring risk-based oversight and enforcement;
  •  Protecting intellectual property;
  •  Mandating National Organic Program import certification;
  •  Enhancing record keeping and supply chain traceability
  •  Encouraging interagency coordination in enforcement of organic trade.

 

Since inception, the National Organic Program has relied on documentation and audits of paper trails.  A number of high-profile cases involving deception and misrepresentation have arisen in past years.  The difference in value between conventional and certified organic ingredients is an incentive for illegal claims but with minimal opportunity for detection.

 

The National Organic Program would be well advised to establish an assay program to detect non-GM contamination and to certify products as free of pesticides and disallowed chemicals and additives. In the absence of a structured sampling and laboratory assay program, the USDA is reliant on paper and electronic records that may be subject to fraud.

 

Over three decades there has been no definitive evidence that GM ingredients are deleterious to health or are less nutritious than conventional analogs. The price differential for USDA certified organic products is only justified by consumer perception based on misinformation and demonization of GM technology.

 

The USDA-AMS has been remiss in marketing the value of the organic seal to egg consumers. This may be attributable to the fact that there are no inherent or quantifiable attributes differentiating organic from cage-free eggs.


 

Concern Over Zoonotic Potential for HPAI in Fur Farming

08/27/2023

Following an initial isolation of H5N1 HPAI virus from foxes in a fur farm in Ostrobothnia, Finland, surveillance has identified infection on an additional 25 farms located in close proximity in the Kausti locality. Approximately 120,000 foxes have been euthanized on ten farms with depopulation proceeding at an additional three facilities. The molecular characteristics of the virus from foxes is common to the isolates from sea gulls in the area. The Food Authority of Finland is closely monitoring the infection in farms raising foxes and other species for the fur trade.

 

Concentration of fur-bearing animals including mink, represent a potential for mutation of the H5N1 virus to become zoonotic.  For a clade 2.3.4.4b avian influenza virus to become pathogenic to humans, a number of mutations are required.  It is presumed that the first of these involving the PB2 gene coding for polymerase activity has occurred. The E627K mutation involving substitution of glutamate for lysine is necessary for the avian virus to reproduce in mammalian cells.  Amino acid substitutions associated with mutations Q226L and G228S in hemagglutinin are also required to allow an H5N1 avian virus to attach to mammalian host cells. 

 

It is unlikely that the two mutations could occur simultaneously in nature although concentration of a susceptible species such as mink or foxes in close proximity would exert selection pressure leading to a virus that could be pathogenic in humans and also be sufficiently stable for airborne transmission.  A further mutation that would favor pathogenicity would be a genetic change to allow the virus to evade an intracellular protein termed MxA that activates the immune system against an influenza virus.

 

Through increasing knowledge of the molecular virology of influenza viruses and the immunology of infections, it is evident that H5N1 is currently not pathogenic to humans. This is evidenced by the low number of cases diagnosed with H5N1 infection despite extensive exposure.  The possibility of sequential mutations occurring in H5N1 in large populations of birds such as a farm with two to five million hens or in mammalian populations on fur-production farms increases the opportunity for mutation. 

 

The risk of a recombinant event with an individual infected with a human strain of influenza coming into contact with an infected flock or herd could theoretically occur and might lead to a novel zoonotic strain.  Accordingly, all personnel coming into contact with flocks of poultry or concentrations of fur-bearing animals should be immunized against circulating strains of human influenza.

 

Farms housing mink, foxes and other fur-bearing animals represent a potential danger to human populations.  Production of pelts is intended to satisfy vanity and serves no practical purpose while representing a potential risk to humanity. Fur production should be phased out in the U.S. as has occurred in many nations in Europe.  This does, however, not obviate risk since the demand for pelts persists with a shift in production to nations including China, the primary source of zoonotic viral pathogens with pandemic potential.


 

Agency Jurisdiction over Genetically Modified Animals

08/13/2023

There is a current turf conflict between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA concerning regulation of genetically modified animals.  To date the FDA has been responsible but has a poor record of expediting review and approval.  The AquAdvantage® salmon took 20 years before receiving a green light.  The FDA inactivity has emboldened non-profit activist organizations including the Center for Science in the Public Interest that generate their funding by frightening consumers and serving as contemporary scientific Luddites.

 

In early August, representatives from USDA and the FDA discussed their relative potential contribution in regulation of GM animals in a White House meeting although no decisions have been announced. It is noted that the FDA and the USDA did cooperate in their respective areas of competence to develop regulations to approval cell-cultured meat.

 

Other nations including the U.K. are advancing genetic modification considered necessary to create disease-resistant livestock and to enhance efficiency necessary to feed burgeoning populations.

 

The USDA has the resources including personnel to evaluate genetic modifications based on extensive experience with plants that fall within its jurisdiction. Accordingly the broader issue of genetic modification of poultry, hogs and cattle should logically fall under the responsibility of the USDA.


 

FDA Structure in Relation to Food Oversight

08/03/2023

Three former senior officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) including Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Dr. Michael Taylor and Dr. David Acheson submitted written and oral testimony to Congress relating to restructuring of the Agency. Collectively the three officials tasked with food safety served from 2007 through 2018 bracketing enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011.

 

Numerous observers have supported the Reagan-Udall Foundation recommendation to appoint a Deputy Commissioner of the FDA responsible for all aspects of nutrition and food safety including R&D, inspections, compliance and enforcement.

 

The current Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Robert Califf, has opted not to follow recommendations to consolidate food within his Agency based on the fact that this would require profound changes to culture and interaction along existing functional (or dysfunctional) components. Industry and consumers need a cohesive agency that will address challenges and implement the Food Safety Modernization Act.

 

The three previous FDA Deputy Commissioners regard the proposed restructuring as perpetuating the “fractured structure and divided lines of management accountability we know will not work”. The alternative of moving the food-related activities under a separate Commissioner within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would require Congressional approval and would encounter a delay before implementation. 

In the event of a serious food safety issue reflecting the magnitude of the infant formula crisis or following a widespread food toxicity or foodborne infection, Congress may move with haste to rectify obvious problems that stem from an inappropriate structure and neglect of oversight.  An example of a rapid reorganization is the creation of the Department of Homeland Security that combined agencies and functions in the aftermath of a national tragedy.  Congress should act to separate all food-related activities from the current FDA to be placed under a qualified and motivated Commissioner establishing a parallel to what would remain as the Federal Drug Agency. As the Washington observers remark, the ‘F’ in FDA is silent!


 

Russia Urged to Cease Hostilities in Ukraine and Restore BSGI by African Leaders

07/31/2023

A recent conference involving leaders of African nations in St. Petersburg evidenced discontent with disruption of grain supplies from Ukraine rather than engendering goodwill for the Russian Federation.

 

The president of the Congo Republic called for a restoration of peace and was supported by the president of Egypt who called for restoration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The leaders of African nations have crafted a peace proposal that will inevitably be unacceptable to both belligerents

 

President Vladimir Putin maintains that rising prices of grain was a consequence of “western policy mistakes that long predated the Ukraine war”.  This assertion is contradicted by documented increases in the prices of commodities following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. He pledged 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain as a donation to six nations in need and offered to cancel debt that could not be repaid in any event.

 

Putin maintained that Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative because “It was not getting grain to the poorest countries and the West was not keeping its side of the bargain.”  Russia used the BSGI and world hunger as leverage in attempting to force E. U. nations and the U. S. to withdraw or ease sanctions imposed on Russia.

 

Putin has resisted entreaties by African nations to reach an accord with Ukraine and it is apparent that the St. Petersburg meeting failed to strengthen ties with Africa and to establish a more benevolent image of the Russian Federation.

 

It is apparent that Russia intends to annex the four Ukrainian regions in the east that were occupied 17 months ago and representing close to 20 percent of Ukrainian territory over and above Crimea that was annexed in 2014. Understandably the Ukraine is rejecting a cease-fire or peace agreement that would cede the four occupied regions and Crimea. The nation is resisting a cease-fire that would enable the Russian Federation to re-arm. Even if the GSBI were to be renewed with immediate effect, the damage caused by deliberate destruction of grain storage and port infrastructure would continue to restrict supply of grain to African nations.


 

Delaware Valley University to Establish Poultry Science Center-Is this Duplication?

07/23/2023

Based on a partnership with Mountaire Farms, Inc., Delaware Valley University will establish a Poultry Science Center on their main campus at Doylestown, PA.  According to Dr. Broc Sandelin, Dean of the School of Agriculture Environmental Sciences, “The new state-of-the-art facility will provide the opportunity for hands-on education in all stages of poultry production as well as providing space for industry driven research projects.” Phillip Plylar, President of Mountaire Farms, stated, “We are excited about the opportunity to work directly with Delaware Valley University to ensure that the poultry industry will have a well-educated and trained workforce moving forward.” The Company is commended on their philanthropy.

 

Although the majority of Land Grant colleges and agricultural institutions have consolidated poultry, dairy and livestock programs into single animal science departments, there are still an adequate number of separate and dedicated poultry programs that will provide educational opportunities at the baccalaureate through doctoral levels.  Consolidation is not necessarily deleterious to advance technology relating to poultry production and processing.  A concentration of academics with diverse specialties attracts both extra mural funding and hence opportunities for students. 

 

It is seriously questioned whether the industry could benefit from a proliferation of new programs or whether strengthening existing institutional centers of excellence would be more productive.   Given proximity to and contact with industry segments, midwest Land Grant universities have expertise in egg production and southeastern universities are concerned with broilers and turkeys. There is an understandable level of overlap given advances in biotechnology, environmental management, flock health, cooperative research, extension and teaching. Interaction among appropriate disciplines can provide for balanced baccalaureate program and opportunities for continuing research.  This is best achieved at major Land Grant universities.  Community Colleges and small universities have a role to play in educating the next generation of poultry production personnel as feeder institutions. The heavy lifting will continue to be conducted by the major Land Grant institutions with funding, facilities and qualified faculty.


 

Fairness in Farming Act Intended to Control Commodity Board Expenditures

07/18/2023

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (OFF) introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is a response to ongoing complaints by beef and dairy farmers concerning expenditures by their respective Commodity Boards. Matt Barron a dairy industry veteran writing in the Greenfield Recorder, noted that the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board operated with limited transparency and oversight over questionable expenditure of check-off revenue amounting to $364 million in 2021.  Despite promotional expenditures to encourage consumption, the dairy industry is losing farmers with 20,000 family-farms ceasing operation between 2010 and 2020. This is not as a result of any overt neglect or adoption of inappropriate policies by the Board. Sales of fluid milk has encountered extensive competition from plant-based alternatives over the past ten years, prices are accordingly low and small family farms lack economies of scale allowing them to compete with mega-producers.

 

According to public records, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board contracts with Dairy Management, Inc., a lobbying organization that received $110 million in 2021. This company enters into partnerships with large corporations with questionable value for the promotion of milk and to the benefit of farmers who provide the check-off funds.

 

The Department of Agriculture appears to be at fault for failing to provide Congress with reports on Board expenditures.  Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has been singled out since reports were not submitted between 2012 and 2016 under his previous tenure as Secretary in the Obama Administration.  Reports have also not been submitted from 2020 to 2023 with respect to disbursement of dairy check-off funds.  The most recent report was submitted in 2019 documenting $400 million in expenditures.

 

Matt Barron suggests a connection between lack of oversight over the Dairy Board and the fact that over the period when Secretary Vilsack was out of office, he was CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council with a salary and benefits reported to exceed $1 million annually. An audit would probably disclose similar deficiencies with respect to other boards administering check off funds for agricultural commodities invalidating any deliberate neglect or impropriety by the USDA Secretary.

 

The OFF Act, intended for incorporation into the 2023 Farm Bill, would enforce transparency and accountability. The legislation is supported by the National Farmers Union, the National Dairy Producers Association, the Organization for Competitive Markets, the Farm Action Fund and dairy associations in New England states.

 

The American Egg Board appears to be beyond reproach with respect to use of check-off funds for their intended purpose. These include promotion to consumers and the food industry; research on new products and scientific nutrition emphasizing the benefit of eggs and discretion in funding legitimate administrative expenses.  The only discordant note is their adoption of new terms that are somewhat meaningless with respect to categories of expenditure.  In the interest of transparency, those responsible at the AEB should revert to standard nomenclature so that the industry can meaningfully read a statement of income and expenditure and recognize specific purposes to which funds are allocated.


 

Basis of Nonsusceptibility of Humans to H5N1 Investigated

07/06/2023

Scientists at the University of Glasgow, Center for Virus Research have evaluated the genetic factors associated with resistance of humans to avian influenza viruses.  It was established that a gene designated BTN3A3 expressed in mucosal cells of the human respiratory tract are responsible for a protein that blocks replication of many strains of avian influenza in vitro in cell indicator systems. Human strains of influenza are unaffected by the presence of the gene as was the case with the virus responsible for the 1918-19 pandemic. Despite the ongoing panornitic of H5N1 avian influenza there have been few documented cases of infection in humans and no evidence of human-to-human spread.

 

The H5N1virus has been isolated from terrestrial free-living mammals contracting the disease, presumably from consuming dead infected wild birds.  More recently, there is evidence that mink-to-mink transmission occurred on a farm in Spain and there is also a presumption that cat-to-cat transmission may be occurring among feral cats in Poland given the extent of infection and the incidence rate. At this stage there is no explanation for high mortality in marine mammals along the coast of Peru or for the sporadic cases on the shores of three continents

 

Examination of H5N1 isolates indicates that half of the strains evaluated are resistant to proteins coded by BTN3A3.  This situation represents a potential risk of H5N1 becoming a zoonotic infection should additional mutations occur in the H5N1 genome.

 

Given that wild migratory birds serve as both reservoirs and disseminators of the virus that has been identified on five continents since 2020, suppression of the infection in commercial poultry is considered necessary to prevent a potential zoonosis. The traditional approach to control  of avian influenza involves rapid diagnosis, flock depletion, quarantine and surveillance. These measures have been unsuccessful in eradicating avian influenza in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. It is becoming apparent that avian influenza is seasonally and regionally endemic in many regions with large commercial poultry populations. Alternative strategies incorporating immunization should be adopted as an adjunct to biosecurity to control persistence of infection in poultry and to prevent the possible emergence of a zoonotic infection.


 

2022 Egg Industry Center P/C/T Report

07/05/2023

On June 28th, the Egg Industry Center released the 2022 U. S. Egg Processing, Cartoning and Transportation Costs Report (P/C/T).  The document compiled by Maro Ibarburu, Lisa Vold and Richard Gates of the EIC incorporates input from Alejandro Plastina of the Department of Economics at Iowa State University.

 

The report is an update of the previous 2021 survey.  The most recent report includes grade yield loss but these values reflected the confounding arising from high differentials in cost among sizes in 2022 due to HPAI.

 

Of the 100 surveys sent to producers, 18 were returned that is in itself problematic. In some cases, only 7 to 9 responses were used in calculations.  Since the surveys were anonymous, the claim that the limited number of responses represented 124 million layers or 37 percent of the pre-HPAI hen population is speculative and self-serving. If the U.S. egg industry expects the Egg Industry Center to provide accurate and representative results, then they have the obligation to support the staff of the Center with comprehensive and detailed data as requested.

 

There is obviously concern that because the data is submitted to a Land Grant University, accessibility is possible through the Freedom of Information Act.  The University of Minnesota overcame this problem by having the principal investigator of a project quantifying antibiotic use having to register an LLC that issued the questionnaires and collected the results.

 

The usable highlights from the 2023 EIC survey include: -

  • With respect to packaging, the median cost of cartons was 12.6 cents per dozen for 12-egg packs and 12.3 cents per dozen for 18-egg packs. Outer packaging added 4.7 cents per dozen for 30-dozen cases (rounded to 0.1 cent) with additional finishing costs of 1.5 cents per dozen.  These costs are generally in-line with accepted commercial values assumed to be either fiber or polystyrene foam packs with cardboard outer containers.  Obviously, the cost for packaging specialty eggs in PET or custom-designed packs would be higher.  It is noted that the cost of outer packaging for 15-dozen outer containers was 4.9 cents per dozen compared to 5.2 cents per dozen for reusable (presumably plastic) containers. Instead of relying on a constant or diminishing 9 to 15 responses for packaging costs, EIC could obtain prices directly from manufacturers with an indication of delivered cost against volume allowing insertion of more representative values for each of the major categories of packaging. 
  • The median cost of processing for gradable nest run class-1 eggs was 19.3 cents per dozen based on 16 usable responses. There was no breakdown of this significant component as to fixed and variable cost in relation to volume processed or plant location.    
  • Transportation costs were based on cartoned eggs.  The median cost for direct store delivery was 9.4 cents per dozen and to a warehouse, 6.3 cents per dozen.
  • Transport cost over 200 miles was 6.1 cents per dozen rising proportionately to 10.6 cents per dozen for 700-mile delivery.
  • The estimated median cost of processing eggs sourced in-line and delivered to warehouses was 56.3 cents per dozen, 21 percent higher than the value derived in 2021.

 

It is reiterated that cooperation from the industry is critical to obtaining accurate and representative data to be incorporated into reports.  If the industry does not cooperate, then the Egg Industry Center has little option other than to project costs based on best available information. This would include prices supplied by manufacturers of packing equipment that will probably be more representative than through surveys, projection of fixed and variable operating costs for processing plants based on known capital costs of buildings, installations, graders and equipment, age of plants with prevailing interest rates. Variable operating costs could be based on known labor, power, water, packaging and maintenance values weighted among the six production regions and taking into account the relative numbers of dozens packed. Projections of cost derived from prices from suppliers and USDA sources would be more comprehensive than the current approach using surveys. Cost projections should be duly reviewed and validated by knowledgeable and disinterested representatives from among the production and allied industries. This approach would be more accurate and representative than undertaking surveys requiring statistical manipulation of limited data including trimming of means derived from a handful of responses. The limited number of returns implies potential bias based on the willingness or reluctance to supply data.

 

The EIC can and should do better to serve the industry. More meaningful reports will however require ingenuity, imagination and above all an appreciation of the needs of end-users.


 

Opposition to VSD

06/22/2023

The Animal Welfare Institute has petitioned the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to “to exercise its authority to require emergency action plans to depopulate laying flocks” some of which are housed in complexes with more than three million hens.

 

Based on experience gained during the 2015 HPAI epornitic in the U. S., APHIS set a target of 48 hours to depopulate a complex to limit lateral spread of the infection.  Accordingly, the previous program of using “kill carts” flushed with carbon dioxide was frequently abandoned during the 2022 outbreak. Ventilation shutdown with or without heat or carbon dioxide was applied to expedite depopulation. According to the Animal Welfare Institute, 37 outbreaks on large complexes required at least three days extending upwards to more than a week.

 

The petition submitted by the Animal Welfare Institute demands more humane methods of mass depopulation.  Unfortunately, they fail to suggest alternatives or how this can be achieved.  Since 2015, depopulation of floor-housed flocks of broilers, laying hens and turkeys has been accomplished using carbon dioxide foam that is rapid and humane although requiring special equipment manufactured and deployed in anticipation of an outbreak.  The problem of depopulating large flocks in cage housing and aviaries remains unsolved, hence, the adoption of ventilation shutdown.

 

Apart from the Animal Welfare Institute, organizations opposed to intensive livestock production have used avian influenza and mass depopulation as an issue and it is inevitable that public sentiment against contrived suffocation will increase. It is noted that a welfare bill introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) both VSD and foam depopulation would be banned.

 

Opposition to VSD that appears to be the only current practical method of depopulating large cage and aviary complexes since whole-house hypercapnic killing is ineffective. This is due to an inability to adequately seal most houses coupled with the cost involved in attaining an adequate concentration of carbon dioxide in a building with a capacity approaching 300,000 cubic feet.

 

Mass depopulation might not be required if veterinary regulators were to reevaluate their King Canute approach to stamping out a virulent infection introduced seasonally by migratory birds and possibly transmitted by the aerogenous route.  Events in the U. S. during 2022 and ongoing in the E.U. suggests that alternative approaches to prevention including mass immunization may be more efficient, reducing the need for VSD and the direct and indirect costs of mass depopulation.

 

Events in 2022 and possibly what is yet to come in the fall, demonstrate the fallacy of attempting to eradicate what may be considered as a seasonally and regionally endemic disease.  Avian influenza may be regarded as the “Newcastle disease” of the 2020s”.  This catastrophic disease was effectively controlled by vaccination, not by ‘stamping out’.  The World’s poultry industries coexist with Newcastle disease through effective vaccination complemented by biosecurity.


 

Rabobank Reviews World Egg Situation

06/21/2023

In a recent review of World egg supply, prices and trends, Nan-Dirk Mulder, Senior Analyst, at Rabobank considered the extent and causation of price volatility in eggs. Mulder noted that during the past year, egg prices have exceeded the FAO Food Price Index.  The expectation is for prices to remain high through the remainder of 2023 but at a lower level than the peaks recorded during the first quarter of the year. 

 

The Rabobank report did not address the precipitous decline in egg prices in the U.S. as the market entered the second quarter of this year.  The decline cannot be attributed to a rise in supply since hen numbers have not increased by more than ten million from a constant deficit of approximately twenty million hens or about seven percent of the pre-HPAI population. Losses occurred as a result of a second wave of avian influenza during the fall of 2022, ending in December.  An increase of approximately ten million hens in the producing flock should not have depressed wholesale prices from $4 to less than $1 over a five-week period.  Despite the accepted price elasticity of eggs, it is evident that other factors including the distorting effect of the prevailing price discovery system, amplifying peaks and troughs may have played a role.

 

On a world basis, Mulder is correct in attributing price volatility to factors other than those currently influencing the U. S. market: -

  • He attributes higher feed and other input costs including labor and energy as being responsible.  Generally, cost of production and the retail price are not directly connected.  Price is a function of demand in relation to supply.  He is correct in noting that the viability of small-scale producers in emerging markets has deteriorated but this would not have had more than a local effect.
  • Supply was severely constrained in many E.U. nations and in North America by the H5N1 panornitic in 2022 with prospects of resurgence in the fall. Although 44 million hens were depleted in the U. S., outbreaks occurred in two waves and in effect, approximately 20 million hens or approximately seven percent of the population were not producing on a constant basis during the year.  Japan was severely affected with the loss of 17 million hens representing nine percent of the laying flock and in South Africa with a loss of close to three million hens, supply was lowered by ten percent.

 

It remains to be seen whether outbreaks in Latin America will severely impact supply including the potential to devastate areas of high-density egg production in Brazil.

  • Demand increased in 2022 as a result of lifting COVID restrictions with a consequential increase in demand by the food service sector.
  • Inflation has raised the price to consumers of all animal proteins.  There has been evident substitution of red meat by chicken and an increase in demand for eggs that represent value especially for in-home meals among lower economic demographics.
  • Rabobank attributes a ban on the culling of cockerels for producing shortages in Western Europe.  Apparently, the producing flock in Germany has dropped by 20 percent and this nation will evidently be obliged to import more eggs.  Local factors such as the banning of conventional cages in New Zealand has disrupted supply resulting in a 10 to 15 percent deficit in the national flock.  Government intervention placing ceiling prices on eggs in some nations has contributed to volatility. This strategy is invariably ineffective since small-scale farmers reduce their production as they are unable to generate positive margins in the face of increased costs. Government intervention placing a ceiling price on eggs and other foods converts a low-price policy into a no-food situation The opposite occurs when subsidies are provided resulting in an over-supply in the intermediate term generating volatility.

 

The conclusion of the Rabobank report is that prices will follow a cyclic pattern as flocks are replaced. In some cases, large flocks that produce in excess of demand can create market distortions as happened in the U.S. during 2016 following recovery from HPAI.

 

Mulder correctly indicates that the unknown factor in future egg prices will be the incidence rate of avian influenza.  This is a function of a series of H5Nx viruses persisting and undergoing drifts and shifts in migratory and marine wild-bird populations.  Stability in prices will only be achieved with control of HPAI through deployment of an effective and extensive program of immunization as an adjunct to biosecurity.


 

EATS Act an End-Run Around SCOTUS Proposition #12 Decision

06/18/2023

In the majority decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), it was stated that if state legislation having an effect on production systems in other states was undesirable, then it was the role of Congress to enact legislation to that effect. Accordingly the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act addresses the challenge presented by SCOTUS.  The Act is co-sponsored by Senators Roger Marshall (R-KS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Kevin Kramer (R-MD), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Eric Schmitt (R-MO), Ted Budd (R-NC) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN).

 

The proposed EATS Bill states, “The government of a State or unit of local government within a State shall not impose a standard or condition on the pre-harvest production of any agricultural products sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce if the production occurs in another state.” 

 

The EATS Act would effectively limit the impact of California Proposition #12 with regard to housing systems with specific reference to gestation crates. With respect to egg production the situation regarding Proposition #12 is moot, since approximately one third of all U.S. hens are housed in other than conventional cages.

 

Passage of the EATS Bill through the Senate is questionable given support of the objectives of Proposition #12 and eventual enactment, may be years in the future.  Irrespective of the well-meaning intentions of the sponsors representing hog-producing states, pork producers are now facing the court of public opinion.  Although existing producers and packers can satisfy the requirements of Proposition #12 with regard to California and states with similar legislation, antipathy towards gestation crates is extensive.  Many food retailers and restaurants have committed to sourcing pork from systems using group-housing of sows.  In response, major hog producers and packers, including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Hormel Foods, Niman Ranch and others, have either converted or are in the process of phasing out gestation crates in their supply chains.

 


 

Opponents of Livestock Production Focusing on Environmental Issues

06/13/2023

For decades, opponents of intensive livestock production and those promoting a vegan agenda relied on welfare issues and sentiment to promote their cause. It is now apparent that welfare and environmental groups are collaborating in an attempt to demonize intensive livestock and poultry production by emphasizing environmental concerns.

 

According to press reports, Humane Society International, of which the Humane Society of the United States is a member, will participate in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference. Humane Society International will actively lobby for major changes in global food production.  Activities by groups opposed to meat and poultry production include presentation and dissemination of distorted and misleading information. For example, it is claimed that greenhouse gas emission attributed to food production could be halved by converting to plant-based foods.  In addition, recent unsubstantiated statements suggest that land use would be reduced by 75 percent and freshwater uptake by 20 percent.  Another contentious statistic is that meat, dairy and aquaculture production use 83 percent of the world’s farmland but provide 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein. 

In addition to placing pressure on governmental agencies and buttressing the political influence of Green Parties in the E.U., there is considerable pressure on commercial entities in the food chain to promote plant-based diets. Sodexo a multinational is an especially compliant company, supplying universities, schools and institutions with catering services. Imposition of “meatless days” and manipulation of menus by the Company is advancing a vegan agenda in a susceptible market.

 

The egg industries in the U.S. and in the E.U. have experienced the pressures placed on the food retail and restaurant sectors of the U. S. food industry. Welfare groups have demanded commitments to transition to sourcing cage-free eggs by 2025.  Although a number of companies using or marketing eggs have either reneged on their promise or extended the projected time for compliance, the collective effect of concerted pressure has moved the needle to 33 percent of U.S. hens as it will do with gestation crates for sows.

In order to counteract the pseudo-scientific environmental attacks on intensive livestock production, it will be necessary to marshal facts and statistics and establish reputable sources of information. This will be required to refute false claims and to convince consumers that they need not alter their diets by excluding meat products.


 

Influenza Expert Sounds Alarm over the Possibility of Zoonotic Avian Influenza

06/08/2023

Dr. Richard Webby

Dr. Richard Webby, Head of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Influenza at St. Jude Childrens’ Research Hospital, has expressed concern over the prolonged 2021-2023 panornitic of H5N1 avian influenza that is affecting flocks and migratory birds over five continents.  He recently published on the evolution of the virus with specific reference to the susceptibility of an extensive range of terrestrial and marine mammals. 

 

Laboratory infection of ferrets confirmed susceptibility resulting in a high concentration of virus in the brain and nervous system.  Outbreaks of avian influenza in mink and especially a 2023 case in Spain where intra-herd transmission was demonstrated, represents a risk to commercial livestock, wildlife species and humans.  At the present time, the virus can be regarded as non- infectious to humans. This is based on the limited number of cases recorded among workers having close contact with flocks infected with H5N1 avian influenza during depopulation and disposal.

 

According to Dr. Webby “it would take two or three minor changes in one protein of the virus to become more adapted to humans”.  Accordingly, reference laboratories worldwide are maintaining surveillance over avian and mammalian H5N1 isolates to detect possible point mutations applying whole genome sequencing.

 

The recognition that H5N1 avian influenza is now seasonally and regionally endemic in many nations and is maintained in free-living mammalian and avian populations questions traditional biosecurity procedures as a means of protecting flocks.  This realization is prompting veterinary authorities to evaluate immunization as an adjunct to prevention and control.  Dr. Webby is firmly in support of vaccination as practiced in China, Egypt, Viet Nam and Mexico.  In coming months, France and Italy will commence vaccination of commercial waterfowl and turkeys, respectively. Dr. Christine Middlemiss, the Chief Veterinary Officer for the U. K., recognizes limitations on the effectiveness of traditional inactivated vaccines but suggests that immunization should be considered.

 

Vaccination of poultry flocks is supported by Dr. Monique Eliot, the Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health.(WOAH)  Dr. Eliot stated, “Everyone now knows a pandemic is not just a fantasy-it could be a reality.”  Accordingly, the World Health Organization and some nations are developing and stockpiling H5N1 vaccines suitable for humans.  This involves propagation using SPF eggs but imposes delays before availability.  Hopefully, by applying new vaccine technology, mRNA products will become available in the unfortunate event that a vaccine will be required to control a human pandemic.  Fortunately, a portfolio of vaccines, including oil emulsion and HVT-vectored products are marketed commercially. Sufficient quantities will be required to commence immunization of breeding flocks and high-risk turkey and layer birds in areas where exposure is likely. Poultry health professionals are aware of risks associated with the presence of migratory waterfowl and the environmental conditions that predispose to infection despite appropriate biosecurity measures.


 

A Federal Standard Proposed for Sow Housing. Echoes of the ‘Egg Bill’

05/31/2023

Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX) has introduced H.R. 2939 the Pigs in Gestation Stalls (PIGS) Act of 2023.  The objective would be to establish a Federal national standard for sow housing consistent with California Proposition #12 and Massachusetts Question 3.  Following the SCOTUS ruling on the constitutionality of California Proposition #12, it would appear justifiable to consider a federal standard establishing a level playing field for the entire industry.  Obviously, the PIGS Bill will be met with strong opposition from legislators representing hog-producing states. This ignores the reality that major packers and producers including Hormel, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods and Niman Ranch, the subsidiary of Perdue Foods have either committed to transition or have already complied with California Proposition #12.  Although the SCOTUS decision upholding California and Massachusetts legislation enacted by ballot reflects a limited number of states, numerous customers represented by retail chains and restaurants have committed to sourcing pork compliant with Proposition #12.

 

It is ironic that the pork industry is now facing the possibility of a national standard given their intense lobbying against the “Egg Bill”.  This would have established a national standard for housing of laying hens using enriched colony modules as the preferred alternative to conventional cages. Due to opposition by pork producers the Egg Bill was not incorporated into the 2018 Farm Bill. Subsequently egg producers have invested close to $4 billion to convert one-third of total production to aviaries, barns and free-range systems as alternatives to conventional cages.  A University of Minnesota study estimated the cost to convert gestation crates to group housing to between $2 billion to $3 billion.

 

It would appear that the pork industry has exhausted legal remedies and will be forced by law, customer demand and public sentiment to abandon gestation crates. Considerable expenditure on legal expenses, time and effort would have been saved had the pork industry recognized the writing on the wall and accepted the inevitability of change. They should have joined the egg sector in 2016 in crafting an acceptable national livestock housing standard.


 

American Egg Board Releases 2022 Financial Report

05/22/2023

For Fiscal Year 2022, the American Egg Board posted revenue of $23.04 million of which 98.5 percent was derived from check-off assessments.  Total program expenses exceeded income by $340,000 or 1.5 percent of program expenditure. The various programs, the names of which are ‘cutesified’, include:-

 

  • Egg’s Story represented 44.9 percent of expenditures
  • Spark Innovation, 21.9 percent,
  • Check-Off Awareness, 12.4 percent,
  • Farmer’s Story, 11.1 percent,
  • Consumer Insight, 7.8 percent
  • Operational Excellence, 1.9 percent.

 

In future years, the American Egg Board should consider reverting to straightforward nomenclature identifying expenditures using conventional and familiar terms such as consumer promotion, industry outreach, research and development so that there is common understanding and the ability to compare with previous years.

Total administrative expenses amounted to $421,206 or 1.8 percent of total revenue representing careful control of industry funds. This amount obviously does not include the quantum of salaries that should be a line item as in any non-profit. From recent press releases confirming appointments this expenditure category will be considerably higher in FY 2023

 

Previously the AEB presented data derived by a commissioned consultant demonstrating the benefit to cost ratio for promotional expenditures and other activities undertaken by the Board.  The most reliable indicator of the value of activities is the domestic per capita increase in egg consumption that reflects consumer and industrial demand for shell eggs and egg products.  Numbers of impressions and engagements, social media activities and data on public perceptions demonstrate that the expanding staff of the AEB is active on behalf of the industry. Over the intermediate term the actual increase in egg consumption as quantified by the USDA-ERS is the critical parameter representing value from the check-off program.


 

Egregious Exploitation of Children in QSRs

05/07/2023

The editorial on May 5th described the ongoing and apparently widespread problem of exploitation of minors in agriculture and the food and restaurant industries. In a recent release by the U. S. Department of Labor, franchisees of the McDonald’s Corporation were fined $212,000 as a civil penalty for violation of child labor laws.  The Bauer Food, Archways, Richwood and Bell Restaurant Group were substantial franchisees with more than 60 McDonald’s locations in four states.  According to an investigation by the Department of Labor, 305 minors worked more than the legally permitted hours and performed tasks that are disallowed for young workers.  In one case, two children aged 10 years were working at a Louisville, KY restaurant until 02H00.

 

Karen Garnett-Civils, Director of the Wage and Hour Division for the district, noted, “Too often employers fail to follow the child labor laws that protect young workers.”  She added, “Under no circumstances should there ever be a 10-year-old child working in a fast-food kitchen around hot grills, ovens and deep fryers.”

 

The question arises as to the complicity of McDonald’s Corporation.  Obviously, they cannot deny responsibility for the actions of their franchisees.  Since brand image is involved, management has an obligation to franchisees, workers and most importantly, shareholders to ensure that all operations are in compliance with federal, state and local laws and ordinances.

 

The situation is analogous to the revelations arising from the Poultry Sanitation Services Inc. case that involved exploitation of minors.  Packers including JBS and others simply abrogated responsibility by assigning cleaning operations to a contractor.  They should have been responsible for monitoring that contractors complied with laws. In the event JBS cancelled contracts with PSSI and has established an in-house cleaning subsidiary to service poultry and meat plants in accordance with relevant laws governing labor rates, eligibility for employment and FSIS compliance.


 

Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2023 Will Elicit Opposition

05/04/2023