Shane Commentary

Political Fallout from Calgary Daycare STEC Infection


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


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


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


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


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 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


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


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


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?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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’


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


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


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


The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2023 introduced by Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a reintroduction of a Bill considered in 2013.


The proposed Food Labeling Modernization Act will require front-of-package labeling specifying nutrients but also regulating visual imagery and text that could be regarded as deceptive.  Nutritional, ingredient and allergen information will be mandatory for the benefit of consumers.


Predictably the legislation is supported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest with the president of the activist group Dr. Peter G. Lurie stating, “Tackling our nations enormous burden of diet-related disease will require a whole-of-government approach.  With the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2023 Congress joins the White House and Federal agencies in taking steps to improve the health of our nation’s food supply and in turn promote the health of our population.”


While detractors may point to a “nanny-state” approach to this legislation, there could in theory be benefits from enhanced nutritional labeling.  The problem is that those who are most at risk for obesity and metabolic disease neither read labels nor understand the significance of specific values. At the end of the day this demographic rejects the need for dietary understanding and moderation in favor of gratification. Unfortunately well-meaning legislators believe that human needs and behaviors can be altered by enacting laws and regulations. The changes contemplated will only be of value following extensive education of the target population over an extended period with multigenerational acceptance. As framed the Food Labeling Modernization Act will not have any beneficial effect and will cost manufacturers more than at present and will ultimately be passed on to all consumers. 


There is no evidence that either statutory or voluntary disclosure of caloric and other nutrient content of foods either on packaged labels or menu boards has any effect on obesity.


Consumer Freedom Highlights Radicalization of ASPCA


Washington, D.C.-based public relations group, the Center for Consumer Freedom, is focusing on the activities of ASPCA with respect to the upcoming Farm Bill and increasing radicalization through recent appointments.  The ASPCA has recently embraced extreme activists within the organization that have a decidedly pro-vegan orientation. These include a legislative aid to Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).  There also appears to be closer cooperation between the ASPCA and the HSUS.


The ASPCA Farm Bill platform includes a moratorium on CAFOs with eventual closure and eliminating or reducing the impact of check-off programs to promote livestock commodities.   Eventually, ASPCA contemplates a complete phase-out of intensive livestock production, although the Association does not indicate how they intend to replace the food currently derived from current efficient farms and plants. The poultry industry including eggs, broilers and turkeys will come under increasing opposition and proposed restrictions purported to be based on considerations of either “welfare” or “sustainability”.


The ASPCA is regarded as a formidable opponent with 75 percent of the public unjustifiably holding a positive image of the Association.  Consumer Freedom and the Center for the Environment and Welfare, a newly established think tank has mounted an aggressive campaign to discredit the ASPCA. This organization does little for domestic animals and spends a disproportionate amount of donations received on fundraising, salaries and benefits for executives and management.



The Economist “Banana Index” to Compare ‘Sustainability’ of Foods


Both governments and activist organizations are attempting to classify foods according to their relative environmental impact from emission of carbon dioxide.  The Economist has created a comparison among foods to relate the relative potential climatic impact based on the weight, caloric content and protein content.  To facilitate comparisons, The Economist selected the banana as the benchmark based on known nutritional value, widespread cultivation and generally accepted as being moderate in climatic impact.


Based simply on greenhouse gas emission expressed as the quantum of carbon dioxide released per unit weight of  a food,  it was determined that ground beef produces 109 times the amount of carbon dioxide as an equivalent weight of bananas.  By comparison, chicken meat scores 11 in comparison to bananas on the basis of weight.


When caloric content is compared, ground beef falls to a score of 54 from 109 that was calculated on the basis of weight alone.  Chicken meat drops from 11 to a score of 4, emphasizing that nutritional content is a more realistic criterion by which to evaluate food sources. When the protein content of foods is compared to bananas, chicken and eggs score higher with 40 percent less emissions than from bananas.


Applying the “banana index”, the common assumption that locally-produced foods are more sustainable cannot be supported.  Evaluation on the basis of energy or protein content shows that transport contributes less than ten percent of the carbon dioxide emission associated with a range of foods.  The Economist noted that for beef, transport is only one percent of the emissions associated with this product.


The ”banana index” created by The Economist is an attempt to place the sustainability characteristics associated with specific foods in perspective. Unfortunately a third of respondents to a recent U.K. survey could not make logical decisions regarding the sustainability of alternate foods.  This raises the question of sustainability indexes on labels.  Basing a scale on carbon dioxide emissions per unit of weight will disfavor meat and poultry and provides a distorted indication of environmental “friendliness” in relation to nutritional content.


The food and livestock industries should oppose simple but inappropriate ‘sustainability guides’ proposed by various governments and some food chains. These will mislead consumers as to the environmental impact to the detriment of high protein foods.


China Ambivalence Over Wild Animal Trade a Danger to the World


During February 2020, after the emergence of COVID in Wuhan, with a possible link to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the Government of China permanently banned consumption of meat from wild species.  In May 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs allowed 16 animal species that could be ‘farmed’ to be eligible for consumption, including native deer, ostrich and emu.  In December 2022, the Government amended the law that prohibits consumption, hunting, trade and transport of mammals that grow and breed naturally in the wild. 


With the recognition that wild animals sold in public wet markets in 2020 were a source of SARS, the Government temporarily banned the sale of exotic species over a decade ago.  Following the disappearance of this infection among the population of China and the world, this regulation was ignored, and markets were once again stocked with exotic species, including palm civets, raccoon-dogs and pangolins.


The deficiency in the current law is that farmers may propagate mink, foxes and raccoon-dogs for fur but not for meat.  This relaxation is intended to support the growing pelt industry that produces in excess of 30 million hides, annually. It is however self-evident that meat from these animals will continue to be consumed. The reality that COVID and more recently, H5N1 avian influenza, can infect mink represents a danger.  The exclusion extended to ‘farming’ perpetuates the risk of mutation with the emergence of zoonotic pathogens. Exemptions are also allowed for propagation of endangered species raised for traditional Chinese medicine. It is evident that wild caught animals and reptiles will attain clandestine legal status through introduction into farming operations.


The failure of China to meaningfully address the problems of emerging viral diseases and the continued tolerance and support of consuming non-conventional domestic species and wild animals, represents a danger not only to the nation but to the world.


U. K. Farm of the Future Features Sustainability-Implications for U.S. Producers


The Moy Park Subsidiary of Pilgrim’s Pride, Inc. has unveiled a prototype farm with resource-saving innovations.  Located in Lincolnshire, the Beech farm is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to operate “off grid”. Innovations include ground-source heat pumps, heat exchangers, and solar installations capable of generating 1Mw with lithium-battery storage.


A spokesperson for the company stated, “Beech farm is a first for the poultry sector through well thought-out innovations we have created, an incredible 100 percent reduction in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions representing a saving of 900 tons of CO2, annually.”


The Company press release did not indicate the cost of innovative technology neither did it provide details as to how contract growers could recoup their potential investments.  It is presumed that U.K. government incentives were offered to the developer of Beech Farm that may not be available for additional new farms or for conversion of existing units.


If chicken or eggs produced in accordance with higher standards of sustainability has a higher shelf price, the question arises as to the size of the market willing to pay for the attribute of sustainability.  Given the intermediate fiscal problems facing the U.K. government and the declining standard of living, consumers will be more inclined to consider price as the primary determinant in the purchase consideration.


Given the high level of publicity afforded global warming, retail chains will continue to impose progressively more stringent limits on greenhouse gas emissions and to demand ever increasing intensity of sustainability.  Will retailers expect producers to burnish the environmental image of their chains without compensation to provide a fair return on “green investment”?  Increased levels of sustainability that may benefit the environment are supported but only if the burden is born equitably by producers, retailers and consumers.


FDA Commissioner Defends Food-Related Activities of the Agency


Using social media, Dr. Robert Califf is responding to criticism of the FDA with respect to food- related issues that occurring before and now during his tenure.  In a recent post he stated, “There should be no question in anyone’s mind that the FDA is a top priority for me.  We have accomplished a tremendous amount in the last ten years to make the American food supply safe as it has ever been and improve the nutritional quality of foods.”


These self-adulatory statements are at variance with facts that indicate a lack of concern over regulation of food.  These include:-

  • Past outbreaks of salmonellosis and colibacillosis associated with leafy greens grown in California and Arizona.  It is obvious that irrigation water is contaminated with ruminant  feces and that there is no positive kill step required to prevent infection of consumers. Resolution through prevention is not being directly addressed by the FDA.


  • Revelations that fruit juices contain violative levels of heavy metals.


  • Failure to conduct field inspections of food plants during the 20-month COVID period

  • Neglecting oversight of the few large plants producing a high proportion of the Nation’s infant formula.  The FDA delayed responding to a whistleblower’s document alleging concealment of contamination and falsification of records.


  • The FDA has been passive in promoting healthy food options including restrictions on levels of salt and fat in processed foods.


  • The Regan Udall Review demonstrated serious deficiencies in the organizational structure of the food-related missions within the FDA.  Despite recommendations to centralize responsibility and authority, Dr. Califf has proposed an organization structure that is inappropriate to the challenges facing the Agency. Irrespective of his social media posts, widespread criticism of his management is mounting and his requests for additional funds will generate resistance from both sides of the aisle in Congress.



EGG-NEWS joins many commentators including Attorney William Marler in calling for a separate food safety agency that should combine the currently split functions of the FDA and FSIS.





Attorney Bill Marler Campaigning for Food Related Activities to be Split from the FDA


An experienced food safety attorney and recently a critic of the FDA, Bill Marler is openly calling for food related activities to be split from the Food and Drug Administration.  His campaign has adopted the theme, Get the F Out of the FDA. 


Marler recently stated, “Each year, millions of Americans are sickened and thousands die from foodborne illness.”  He added, “The leadership of the FDA continues to be preoccupied with drug oversight and to give short shrift to food safety.”  Along with associations concerned with public health, Marler criticizes the proposal to restructure food aspects of FDA function ignoring the advice of previous administrators and the Reagan-Udall panel. All advocate for a unified structure under a competent administrator.  Marler stated, “The changes the Commissioner has proposed, stand no chance of fixing the systemic problems within the Agency.  It simply exposes the flaw of having drug experts oversee the Nation’s food supply”.


In a recent statement, Marler averred “My goal in launching this campaign is to say let’s make this happen now.  I don’t want the failures of the FDA to create new victims I will need to represent.  Create a new Food Agency and put me out of business, please!” 


Establishing a new food safety agency will only be half the solution.  To be effective, it will be necessary to merge the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA with the new proposed food safety entity to create a seamless entity responsible for all aspects of food, both imported and domestic, whether animal or vegetable in origin.


Mandatory Hepatitis A Vaccination for Food Service Workers


In a letter to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, functioning under the umbrella of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Attorney William Marler is advocating for mandatory vaccination of all food service workers against Hepatitis A. It is noted that a significant proportion of Hepatitis A outbreaks are linked to infected food handlers. This source of infection could be sharply reduced by vaccination. It is a clinical reality that a quarter of Hepatitis A cases are asymptomatic meaning that a food-handler shedding the virus can unknowingly transmit the infection to patrons of restaurants.


In his letter, Mahler noted, “Over the past several years there has been an ongoing outbreak of Hepatitis A in the United States.  As of February 2nd 2023 there have been a total of 44,779 cases with a 61 percent hospitalization and a death toll of 421.  Since the currently outbreak commenced in 2016, 37 states have reported cases to the CDC.


Clark County Nevada implemented mandatory vaccination program for food service workers in 2000, resulting in a significant decline in infection rates with historic lows in 2010.  Subsequent to removal of the mandatory vaccination rule, outbreaks have increased in this entertainment center with many U.S. cases now traced back to Las Vegas.


Attorney Marler point to the Famous Anthony’s cluster in and around Roanoke, VA.  This outbreak involved 49 primary cases with 31 hospitalizations and four fatalities attributed to a single infected cook who circulated among four company restaurants during late August through October 2021.


In many nations, workers in the food industry are obliged to undergo regular sampling for Salmonella and other foodborne infections. Where tuberculosis is prevalent, regular screening of food workers is required.


The benefits of mandatory vaccination against Hepatitis A are self-evident and the request for either CDC to advise or mandate vaccination is strongly supported. William Marler deals constantly with the suffering and losses associated with severe foodborne infections. His approach to the prevention of Hepatitis A and protection of patrons of restaurants and institutions is sincerely in the public interest despite the fact that it may ultimately deprive him of clients.



Commentary on the March 2023 APHIS Report on HPAI



This special edition of EGG-NEWS is circulated following the belated release by APHIS of an epidemiologic report on the 2022 HPAI epornitic. The Report  is both unsatisfying in scientific content and devoid of practical recommendations to prevent infection of commercial poultry farms and complexes. Failure of APHIS to adopt a proactive approach to HPAI since the U.S. 2015 epornitic and the progress of the H5N1 strain in Europe, Asia and Africa since 2021 is evident  in the Report. The Commentary below evaluates the backdated report and identifies deficiencies in conceptual planning and abrogation of responsibility by administrators of the USDA-APHIS



For many months, EGG-WEEK has urged the USDA-APHIS to release an evaluation of epidemiologic questionnaires prepared following outbreaks of HPAI that commenced in February 2022. During the first week of March 2023, the USDA released a backdated report entitled, Epidemiologic and Other Analyses of HPAI Affected Poultry Flocks, July 2022, Interim Report


At the outset USDA-APHIS Administrators should explain why an obviously incomplete, uncoordinated and fragmented report dealing with the data collected through May 2022 and involving various related epidemiologic studies, was released only at the beginning of March 2023.


EGG-NEWS and industry associations have urged USDA-APHIS to release preliminary guidance on preventive measures based on an analysis of the epidemiologic investigations they conducted. The industry required recommendations based on completion of phylogenetic analysis and field studies including case-control comparisons. These were necessary to establish relative risk factors relating to infection among the initial twelve large egg-production complexes that were infected. These farms required depopulation of 24.8 million hens with diagnoses extending from February 22nd through April 25th and spread over seven states incorporating the Atlantic (DE, MD, PA); Mississippi, (IA, WI, NE) and Central, (UT), Flyways. A report by mid-2022 was not an unrealistic request. An initial interim report by July 2022 would have been more valuable than the anticipated comprehensive document scheduled for mid-2023 or later. 


The most recent APHIS Report deals with the Spring wave of infection extending through May 31st.  Information relating to the modes of transmission of HPAI and possible deficiencies in biosecurity would have been valuable in potentially preventing subsequent cases. Large egg complexes in Nebraska and Colorado involving 5.0 million hens were infected through mid-2022.  The Fall wave involved depopulation of an additional 14.2 million hens in ten large complexes in six states extending from September through December 2022


In the event, the belated USDA-APHIS Report simply catalogued the epornitic involving cases in 35 states affecting 130 turkey farms, 55 chicken complexes, 11 duck production units and 137 backyard flocks through the end of May 2022. Total losses to date amount to approximately 44 million egg production hens, of which 95 percent were affected on 22 large complexes each holding from 0.5 million to 5.0 million hens; 9.8 million turkeys on 229 farms in seven states and 3.2 million broilers on 18 farms in seven states with 0.3 million broiler parents on 11 farms in six states. The simple listing of cases by species failed to differentiate among “chicken” cases involving a range of diverse production types and systems.


In reviewing the report, including the “Initial Contact EPI Report Form”, there is not a single fact that is not generally known by poultry health professionals.  There are no constructive recommendations that can be applied by a table egg producer to reduce the probability of introducing HPAI onto a complex.


The take-away messages from the report include:-

  • Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus strain H5N1 clade, expressing Eurasian genes was introduced to the U.S. as a single major introduction via the trans-Atlantic route. It is presumed but not stated in the report that diverse migratory bird species transported the virus by inter- and intra-species contact successively westward from northern Europe through Iceland, Greenland and then to Labrador with subsequent transit of the Atlantic flyway southward to Florida.
  • The virus responsible for the 2022 cases and the ongoing epornitic differed from the 2015 H5N1 strain characterized as clade
  • Of individual outbreaks investigated, 84 percent were associated with wild bird introductions based on phylogenetic analysis, an original and valuable component of the Report. This finding indicates the possibility that obvious deficiencies in biosecurity as disclosed in the 2015 U.S. epornitic were not primarily responsible for introduction of HPAI onto large in-line complexes in 2022. This presumption is based on the intensive application of structural and operational biosecurity since 2015. Required case control studies on selected in-line egg production complexes were not performed in 2022 depriving producers of counsel concerning risk factors. The Initial Contact EPI Report forms were reproductions of those used for turkey farms during the 2015 epornitic. This one-size-fits-all approach failed to consider specific routes of infection relevant to high capacity complexes essential to have identified pertinent risk factors. The questionnaires excluded metrological data preceding outbreaks that may have indicated aerogenous transmission.
  • In contrast to the 2015 epornitic, more backyard farms were infected in 2022 suggesting widespread dissemination of virus by migratory birds and possible infection of domestic bird species and small mammals.
  • Backyard flocks that were infected, effectively served as sentinels and were not associated with lateral transmission of HPAI to commercial farms.
  • Incubation periods extending from introduction of infection to confirmation of a diagnosis were quantified denoting differences among species. This was not of direct benefit to preventing infection but could be valuable information for additional epidemiologic investigations.


It is evident that field sampling of free-living birds concentrated on migratory anseriforms.  Sampling of relatively low number of birds other than waterfowl was based on the availability of clinically affected and dead free-living birds submitted to diagnostic laboratories. Raptors were in all probability infected by predation or consumption of dead anseriforms.  Structured field survey of passeriformes and other families that may have been involved in dissemination of H5N1 virus were apparently not conducted since there is little mention of this aspect in the report.  Although the APHIS document makes mention of infection in mammalian species, this aspect of the epidemiology of HPAI was not subjected to any structured evaluation.


The section on risk factors merely listed a series of events prior to the recognition of outbreaks.  There was no attempt to determine the relative risk associated with specific activities for the large egg-production complexes that represented the bulk of losses and expediture. The Report is abysmally deficient in its failure to differentiate among commercial operations that were affected.  It is obvious that risk factors relating to contract turkey-growing farms in the Dakotas are vastly different to the structural and operational factors that may predispose to infection in-line egg production complexes with over a million hens in Iowa or Colorado. For example, 53 of the 88 responses noted feed delivery within 21-days prior to detection. Why did 35 farms apparently not receive feed for 21 days? Large complexes are essentially self-sufficient with respect to feed with on-site mills. Did these units represent the non-recipients of delivered feed? Combining available data into a table that listed 46 activities was effectively a meaningless exercise. How possibly could a list of proportions be of any value in assessing risk for widely different poultry enterprises and specifically address the need to develop appropriate preventive measures?

Concentration on the first twelve large egg production complexes and the first twelve turkey growing farms, applying a case-control approach would have been productive.  This would have required more specific and relevant Initial Contact EPI Report forms allowing the collection of data to be subjected to subsequent statistical analysis. A one-size-fits-all EPI Report questionnaire represents an oversimplification and denotes a lack of familiarity with the operations under investigation. An approach that neglects differentiation of types of poultry operation predicates failure to identify applicable risk factors.


Poultry health professionals are aware of outbreaks in farms with superlative structural and operational biosecurity.  There is a gathering presumption based on informed anecdotal reports and observations that HPAI may have been introduced into large egg production complexes by the aerogenous route. This especially the case in Weld County, CO. and Buena Vista County IA. Newcastle disease most certainly can be transmitted over at least a mile as demonstrated in the Essex 1972 outbreaks in the U.K.  Accepting that the infection can be acquired from the local environment including introduction on dust and soil entrained by high winds appears to be beyond the current perception of APHIS and contrary to their playbook. From the onset of the initial outbreaks, APHIS should have investigated the probability of aerogenous transmission. 


The report does not address the possibility of infection of passeriform birds and their potential role in disseminating virus.  The possible involvement of both domestic birds and aerogenous infection were raised during the 2015 epornitic and APHIS should have been prepared to evaluate these routes of infection from March 2022 onwards.


The modeling of avian influenza transmission and the analysis of eBird and BirdCast migration data are interesting but heuristically academic. There are neither conclusions nor recommendations advanced in the report arising from these studies that could be applied to reduce the probability of infecting commercial flocks. It is self-evident that the risk of infection in commercial and backyard farms relates to the quantum of migratory waterfowl that are shedding virus. What is required is an indication of the mechanisms by which virus passes from wild birds to farms in order to implement preventive action.


As a practicing poultry health professional, this commentator is deeply disappointed in the inability of APHIS to plan and execute a series of relevant epidemiologic studies of an infection attaining catastrophic proportions. The 2022 epornitic has cost the public and private sectors in excess of $2 billion to date without achieving control and with eradication an unattainable aspiration.  Based on the consumption of 288 eggs per capita and a price differential due to HPAI of $2 per dozen, the incremental cost to consumers for table eggs and liquids was close to $15 billion during 2022.  The magnitude of losses associated with HPAI should be reflected in a commensurate effort to understand the epidemiology of the infection and develop appropriate, preventive measures. Little appears to have been achieved in this respect since 2015.


What is not included in the backdated report is the reality that HPAI is now seasonally and regionally endemic in the U.S.  Recognition that the infection may be transmitted by the aerogenous route negates a great deal of the accepted structural and operational biosecurity procedures promoted by APHIS and exercised by most segments of the poultry industry with varying efficiency. The 2022 epornitic highlights the vulnerability relating to conceptual biosecurity. Large egg-production complexes with two to six million hens are concentrated in areas along flyways that attract migratory waterfowl. The heightened risk has now become evident as migratory birds are disseminating a novel strain of avian influenza virus of extreme pathogenicity and wide species infectivity. Given these realities limited application of effective vaccines should be considered and evaluated for long-lived breeding and egg-production flocks at risk by virtue of location or probability of infection.  


The APHIS Report confirms an obvious lack of involvement and deficiencies in conceptual planning and imagination by APHIS administrators. It is evident that they have concentrated on reacting to HPAI requiring rapid diagnosis followed by depopulation and disposal, both essential activities. Reading into the report suggests failures in proactive activities including motivation of USDA scientists, providing funding for molecular and field epidemiologic studies and cooperation with academia and industry. Basically APHIS has failed the U.S. poultry industry by neglecting to address the critical questions of what risk factors are contributing to infection of diverse commercial operations and what practical cost-effective and appropriate measures can be applied to reduce the probability of exposure of flocks.


The virus has changed, the epidemiology has changed but APHIS has not adapted to realities.  The Agency is slavishly following a pre-1984 approach that would probably have been effective in stamping out an exotic infection in a limited area introduced by a single illegal importation of a contaminated product.  Circumstances change but administrative mindsets are refractory to realities that are discordant with their established doctrine. 


The backdated July 2022 Interim Report apparently rapidly assembled in response to industry pressure reflects an inability by APHIS to appreciate the magnitude of the 2022 (and ongoing) HPAI epornitic and its impact on the poultry industry and consumers. It is questioned as to what planning and forward thinking emerged from the 2015 epornitic? Obviously APHIS is just better at diagnosing outbreaks due to advances in PCR technology and more efficient in depopulating farms and disposing of dead birds. As an industry we deserve better!


As with all editorials USDA-APHIS Administrators, poultry health colleagues and producers are welcome to respond. Constructive responses and suggestions will be posted for the benefit of subscribers.


Vertical Farming Fails to Deliver a Return on Investment


Heralded as a disrupter of conventional field cultivation of lettuce and other leafy vegetables, vertical farming has absorbed vast amounts of venture capital without any prospect of generating a return on investment.


Advantages claimed for the vertical intensive system over conventional field cultivation include a reduced labor, freedom from pesticide and pathogen contamination, more efficient use of water and proximity to markets.  These benefits come with high fixed costs including depreciation, interest, expensive management and fixed maintenance.  Utility costs are extremely high, given the need to provide light for growing plants in addition to chemical additives for the substrate and high maintenance.


When I visited my first vertical farm in an industrial area near the metro area of a Southern city the installations and technology including racks, lighting and plumbing appeared impressive. A few questions relating to capital cost, utilities, yield, labor, unit revenue and volume of sales demonstrated non-viability. It appeared that the producer was operating on the old Henry Ford dictum of “losing money on every Model-T but making it up on the volume” My purpose in visiting the operation was to determine whether vertical farming could be applied to obsolete high-rise layer houses. The complexity of systems required confirmed that this would be infeasible. The question now is what use can be made of buildings designed and equipped for vertical farming. Unfortunately not for pullet or layer housing.


A study in 2020 by agronomists and agricultural economists at Cornell University projected that cultivating lettuce in an urban vertical farm generated a cost twice that of produce grown in Arizona and shipped to East coast metro areas. Informed observers consider that at present vertical farming companies are unprofitable and are surviving on injections of venture capital.


During recent weeks, Fifth Season in Pennsylvania has ceased operation and has cancelled plans for a facility near Columbus, OH.  App Harvest is in danger of collapse and Aero Farms has withdrawn from a listing based on losses that attained $39 million last year with only $5 million in revenue.  In France, Agricool filed for bankruptcy protection and In Farm in Germany has reduced operations and furloughed personnel. It is becoming apparent that an estimated $2 billion invested to date in U.S. vertical farming may have been based on unrealistic projections of revenue and cost. Ultimately the market serves as the determinant of viability of a concept or innovation. 


There is, however, an ongoing demand for specialty vegetables and greens cultivated in both conventional and advanced greenhouses. Modern facilities that incorporate efficient ventilation offer most of the advantages of vertical farming without the high initial capital cost and the fixed and variable expenses.


Gene Deletion Induces Resistance to PRRS in Swine -Potential for other species?


Acceligen Inc. has created a gene-edited pig using CRISPR-cas9 technology.  By deleting specific genes, modified pigs are resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).  The technology has the potential to prevent a disease that potentially causes in excess of $500 million in annual losses. The technology is based on deletion of specific genes and does not involve insertion of genetic material.


The overarching question is whether consumers will accept pork products from a hog modified by gene deletion, even if approved by the USDA.  It is presumed that Acceligen has carefully evaluated the concept with appropriate consumer surveys and in consultation with major retailers.   


The significance in the presumed acceptance of gene deletion may open up possibilities for egg production.  Of three technologies capable of resolving the problem of unwanted cockerel chicks, genetic marking of the Z chromosome of hens with a green fluorescent protein appears to be the most simple and elegant method of gender separation.  The EggXYt technology is, however on hold since primary breeders are reluctant to allow genetic modification of a great- grandparent line necessary to implement the program.  Alternatives, including assay of estrone, as used in the SELEGGT system, DNA analysis as in the PlantEgg system, hyperspectral analysis (Cheggy System) are all commercially practical modalities but requiring capital investment in hatchery installations. 


If genetic modification of hogs is accepted by consumers, advancement in efficiency may be expedited with benefits to both producers and consumers in terms of cost and sustainability.  Perhaps the success of the Acceligen gene-edited strain resistant to PRRS may provide impetus for acceptance in other livestock and poultry industries.


Consumers Not Benefiting from Lower Wholesale Prices for Eggs


During the past six weeks, the Midwest Large price has fallen by 50 percent.  In contrast, shelf prices remain high ranging from $4 to $5 per dozen and have yet to demonstrate the effect of lower prices paid to producers.  It is critical that supermarket chains should maintain realistic margins to support consumption that is now adversely affected by prolonged high prices.  Production is limited by the fact that the National flock in production is approximately 20 million hens below pre-HPAI levels and is not increasing at the rate demonstrated after the 2015 epornitic.  Notwithstanding the limits to production, shell egg stock is rising denoting a drop in consumer demand. 


EGG-NEWS maintains that the current benchmark price discovery system works to the disadvantage of both producers and consumers by amplifying upward and downward swings.  A CME quotation for Midwest Large would be a more equitable indicator of price providing the category was actively traded.  Corn and soybean meal are the major variable costs input in production and are subject to CME quotations.  Accordingly, eggs should be traded on the exchange to avoid the distortions associated with the current price discovery system.


USDA-APHIS Support Fails to Control African Swine Fever in the Caribbean-Lessons for HPAI


Haiti in the west and the Dominican Republic on the east of the Island of Hispaniola have experienced outbreaks of African swine fever since 1978.  Since this time the infection has become endemic in both nations despite attempts at eradication with the technical and financial support of the USDA-APHIS.  The program in the Dominican Republic involved an attempt to eradicate all swine by 1980.  The exercise was understandably and predictably rendered futile by the persistence of African swine fever in neighboring Haiti that shares a porous border.  The attempt at eradication in the Dominican Republic cost $15 million. Over $25 million was expended in Haiti in an attempt at eradication with as many as two million hogs depopulated.  In addition to the losses accruing from removal of commercial and subsistence hogs, there was considerable disruption of traditional agriculture and hardship for the majority of subsistence  farms relying on home-produced grain and hogs for family consumption.


African swine fever was never completely eradicated in either nation and resurfaced in 2021, despite assistance provided by the U.S. in the form of technical expertise, diagnostic resources, training and cooperation with international organizations.


The major involvement of the U.S. should be to encourage containment of African swine fever to Hispaniola and prevent extension to Puerto Rico with the evident potential to extend to the U.S.  This is exemplified in the efforts of Dr. Amy Delgado, Director of the APHIS Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health and her team.


The infection has resulted in the Dominican Republic, previously 60-percent self-sufficient in pork production having to import 70 percent of requirements following loss of a substantial portion of the Nation’s herd. Despite the superior organization and veterinary resources in the Dominican Republic compared to neighboring Haiti, ASF is impossible to control. Eradication is only a distant aspiration.


The presence of endemic ASF in the Dominican Republic should serve as a lesson to APHIS that it is impossible to eradicate an endemic highly infectious disease of livestock. Including vaccination as a component of control will reduce the risk to the U.S and Caribbean nations. Vaccines against ASF are now deployed in Vietnam, the Philippines and China among other nations. It is questioned why a USDA- ARS vaccine was not deployed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 


It is difficult to understand why the USDA is reluctant to consider vaccination as a component of control of a catastrophic disease and is so intent on following a playbook that is inappropriate to the real world situation.  Creating a solidly immune population of hogs within 100 miles of the common border with Haiti and implementing region-by-region quarantines in the Dominican Republic with extension of vaccination through the entire nation will be less expensive and hopefully more productive than eradication over and over again.


Middle East nations are now deploying vaccination to control foot and mouth disease and Mexico, Egypt, France and the Netherlands are using available avian influenza vaccines as components of their respective programs. The U.S. poultry industry and APHIS had best get their figurative ducks in a row and reconsider introducing alternatives to mass depopulation as the current sole control measure for avian influenza.



Was the Chinese Balloon Effectively a ‘Trial Balloon’?


Media was dominated this past week by the appearance and then destruction of the mystery balloon launched by China that floated across our Nation in the high stratosphere.  Most of the questions and commentary related to the information gathering potential of the 200 foot diameter (31,400 cubic feet capacity) balloon with attached solar array, propulsion system and an instrument package.  The belated explanation from China that the balloon was for meteorologic research is obviously fallacious.  Examination of the debris recovered off the coast of South Carolina should indicate the purpose and capabilities of the craft.


China can survey the U. S. using satellites.  So, the mid-week contention that the balloon and its electronic package represented no adverse affect is acceptable only at face value. The purpose of the craft raises questions as to motive, since China does nothing of this intrusive nature by accident and the purpose of the incursion has yet to be explained.


With the preoccupation over the craft gathering information, one must also consider the balloon as a potential weapon delivery system.  China has now effectively demonstrated that it can deploy a transport device that will generally follow the jet stream, in a path that is entirely predictable over a short period of time and can also implement limited maneuverability, especially in the vertical plane.  This said, the balloon represents an outstanding delivery system for a biological weapon with implications for the health of humans and livestock.  A controlled balloon could descend from the stratosphere to a lower altitude and release one or more biological agents.


Given the current situation, China and some of its allies are now somewhat confident that a balloon can be weaponized at low cost to deliver a radiologic or biological package that extends beyond the capability of a low-orbit satellite.  Setting aside the national pride and military readiness aspects of intrusion into U.S. air space, sophisticated balloons emanating from China represent both the potential for gathering information but also delivering a weapon.


Students of military history will recollect the effort by Japan during the waning years of WWII to deploy 9,000 balloons with incendiary devices with the objective of igniting forest fires in northwest states.  The crude weapons were decidedly ineffective, having killed one a family in Oregon and started a few fires but they established the functionality of a low-cost remotely deployed unmanned weapon.


Lest we become too self-righteous over aerial surveillance in our air space, it must be remembered that in 1960 a U-2 aircraft piloted by Francis Gary Powers, a CIA employee, was shot down over Sverdlosk while undertaking a secret spy mission gathering information on Soviet missile installations. The incident resulted in the cancellation of a bilateral summit in Geneva, reminiscent of the decision by Secretary of State Blinken to delay a scheduled visit to China.


There is speculation as to whether balloons have previously entered U.S. airspace. Emerging reports suggest that China has conducted over-flights in 40 nations as part of a comprehensive and aggressive program of surveillance. Irrespective of whether or not baloons from China have passed over U.S. territory, the U.S. must now enhance NORAD capabilities to detect and destroy any future craft launched by China the instant they enter U.S. airspace. China is an adversarial nation in the context of defense and national security


Iowa to Amend SNAP Food Purchase Regulations


The Iowa Legislature has vacillated over a range of proposed restrictions on food purchased by SNAP recipients.  Originally fresh meat, butter, sliced cheese and bagged salads were among the list of restricted products.  Following protests, the House Health and Human Services Subcommittee amended the proposal to remove many of the illogical and onerous restrictions.  The current proposal is that food purchased under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would match approved foods for the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC).  There was general agreement that candy and soda should be excluded from SNAP eligibility in the interest of promoting healthy eating.


The intent of Iowa legislators is to place restrictions on SNAP and Medicaid benefits and also require Medicaid recipients to work 20 hours per week.


The proposals to restrict benefits are strongly opposed by advocacy organizations that have identified unintended consequences and obvious hardships to recipients with specific disabilities.  Proposals will be reviewed by the Iowa House Health and Human Services Committee and appropriate amendments are anticipated.


The issues raised in Iowa will be revisited in other states and ultimately in Congress in framing the Farm Bill. In some states with both chambers and the governorship controlled by one party modifications to rules can be decided upon with a minimum of debate. The situation in an almost evenly divided Congress will require diplomacy, concessions to political doctrine and time to achieve consensus.


Grizzly Bears Infected with Avian Influenza


The Montana State Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently announced that three immature grizzly bears in separate locations were euthanized as a result of infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus.  The bears demonstrated neurologic signs including disorientation and partial blindness resulting in starvation.  Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been described in a skunk and fox in Montana during 2022 and has been diagnosed in raccoons, black bears and a coyote in other states.  HPAI was diagnosed in a bear in Quebec in 2022 and has been isolated from marine mammals along the coast of Maine, the Canadian Maritimes and in Norway.


Identifying an emergent pathogen such as Avian Influenza in wild mammals is difficult, given scavenging and destruction of carcasses.  Dr. Jennifer Ramsey, Wildlife Veterinarian for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, stated, “When you get that first detection you tend to start looking harder and you are more likely to find new cases.”  She added “While it is unknown just how prevalent the virus is in wild birds, we know that it is active basically across the entire state due to the wide distribution of cases of HPAI mortality in some species of wild birds.”


35 states, 12 months, 44 million hens, wild domestic birds and wildlife. Suggests HPAI is endemic


Traditionally, USDA surveillance for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is largely concentrated on hunter-killed waterfowl that serve as an early warning system for the presence of virus in an area.  Given the widespread occurrence of H5N1 HPAI in backyard farms and reports of mortality in other than waterfowl and shore birds, it is most probable that the pathogen has now adapted to a wide range of domestic birds. This represents a heightened risk of introduction of infection onto commercial farms by direct contact or even by the aerogenous route.  Evidence of widespread HPAI in wild bird populations as predicated by mortality and isolation of the virus from raptors, corvids and other species presumes endemnicity of the infection in regions of the U.S.  This is borne out by ongoing cases in backyard flocks and commercial farms, unlike the previous 2015 and 1984 epornitics that reflected migration of waterfowl.  Presence of the virus in 35 states and outbreaks extending over 12 months belies the contention that HPAI is an exotic infection.   Accordingly attempts by the USDA-APHIS to control the disease by a traditional approach involving depopulation and disposal of infected flocks and surveillance will ultimately be futile. Other modalities including immunization as applied in other nations should be considered for incorporated into programs to control and prevent HPAI.


Environmental Groups Sue Danone Over Plastic Waste


In accordance with the Duty of Vigilance law pertaining in France, three NGO’s have sued Danone over the use of plastic for packaging and generation of waste. The initiative is led by ClientEarth.  The representative of the organization noted the momentum around plastic litigation has been building fast, and it’s only the beginning.”  Attorney Rosa Pritchard continued, “Companies across the plastic value chain, from fossil fuels companies to consumer goods giants and waste management companies, should be on high alert.”  Pritchard accused Danone of “trudging ahead without a serious plan to deal with plastics.”


In defense, Danone noted “We are implementing a comprehensive framework of action aimed at reducing the use of plastic, developing reuse, strengthening collection and recycling schemes and developing alternative materials.”  Yousef Chtourou, Global Circular Economy Director for Danone noted, “ Putting a name to plastic pollution can not come from a single company and requires the mobilization of all players, public and industrial while respecting the imperatives of food safety.”  He added, “Our net-zero target is aligned with improving our packaging circularity.”


Major companies including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola company and Mars have made extensive progress in recycling, and their efforts should be encouraged not deprecated. It appears that NGO’s including ClientEarth and Zero Waste-France appear to select as their opponents large companies with extensive brand recognition. In most cases these companies are leaders among competitors to marshal efforts and expend capital and resources on reducing plastic waste. Lawsuits and protests against large manufacturers may generate revenue for activists organizations but ultimately will do little to alleviate the accumulation of plastic in the environment.


Reducing the quantum of plastic to the environment is a function of collaboration extending from consumer through local collection systems, recycling depots and plant capable of degrading and re-manufacturing plastic feedstock for new products.


Nearer to home U.S and European equipment suppliers will demonstrate advances in recycling and sustainability at the 2023 IPPE. TekniPlex will demonstrate PET egg cartons manufactured with a high content of post-consumer material. Gi-Ovo incorporates recycled plastic in their Eggscargo™ pallets and trays.


It is evident that action by environmental groups will intensify, resulting in negative publicity and legal costs. It would be preferable for producers to preemptively adapt packaging and embark on positive campaigns to promote achievements in sustainability, recycling and conservation than await the inevitable social media and legal conflicts.


Increased Soy Oil for Biodiesel Will Reduce the Availability of U.S. Corn


The demand for biodiesel using soy oil as a feedstock has the potential to disrupt the relative proportion of acreages planted for corn and soybeans in the U.S. The proposed program would impact the availability and cost of soybean meal.  According to the American Soybean Association, crushing capacity in the U.S. will increase in 2023 by 34 percent, equivalent to 750 million bushels per year, compared to the current capacity of 2.2 million bushels per year from 60 plants.  Increased capacity will be derived from 13 new plants and the expansion of ten existing facilities. 

Demand for soybeans to produce soy oil for biodiesel, domestic food and the export market will obviously increase the price of soybeans unless there is a marked reduction in shipments to existing overseas customers.  This situation might in any event arise if political conflict between the U.S. and China erupts as a result of overt support for Russia over the surrogate war in Ukraine. 


According to the December USDA- WASDE report, 44.1 percent of the 4.3 million bushels of soybeans produced will be exported from the 2022 crop.   If demand increases by 30 percent over a three-year period, and exports remain at the current level, corn will have to be displaced to allow production of the required incremental quantity of soybeans. The 2022 soybean crop was harvested from 86.6 million acres with corn from 80.8 million acres. Conversion of 24 million acres currently planted to corn would result in a shortfall of 4,169 million bushels, assuming the 2022 yield of 172 bushels per acre.  Given that domestic use of corn is 12,025 million bushels and exports will attain 2,075 million bushels, a 30 percent reduction in production would have a profound effect on domestic price.  Although soybean meal may fall in price based on availability, corn would be proportionately higher.


It is recognized that diversion of at least one third of the corn crop to ethanol, resulted in higher prices to the livestock feed industry. Increased production of soybeans to produce soy oil for biodiesel has the potential to also escalate the cost of livestock production.


The biofuels program is an immense boondoggle created at a time when the U.S. was reliant on unfriendly nations for importation of hydrocarbon energy.  The U.S. is now a net exporter of crude oil and LNG.  Biofuels have long since exceeded their economic justification, other than to the favored few. The row crop community, their commodity associations and the renewable fuels industry with their influence on both parties in Congress have perpetuated an artificial demand through mandates. This has effectively imposed an indirect tax on all who eat, drive or purchase any item that is transported.


The Fallacy of the Dual-Purpose Chicken


A project is in progress in Germany to develop a dual-purpose chicken.  The objective is to eliminate killing day-old cockerel chicks from egg production strains with the intention of rearing them as meat-producing birds.


This exercise in futility runs against commercial realities.  Meat-type chicken hybrid strains and their counterparts for egg production have been subjected to at least six decades of selection for commercial traits and the divergence is evident in growth rate and conformation in the case of broilers and egg production and feed conversion efficiency for laying strains.


To reverse decades of selection in pursuit of a narrow goal of eliminating the disposal of commercial-level cockerel chicks in laying strains runs counter to sustainability and economics.  Producing a dual-purpose chicken for industrialized nations is as logical as an automobile that can fly.  Inventers have developed dual-purpose vehicles but they do not fly very well nor do they provide comfort, convenience and speed as road vehicles.  This is evidenced by the lack of commercial acceptance and the fact that if any of these dual-purpose vehicles currently exist, they are in barns or in museums as oddities.  The development of flying cars was more a function of “can it be done” than “need it be done”.


The dual-purpose chicken project is based on the English Ixworth strain but the three German universities involved are introducing genes from current broilers and egg production lines to create the RegoHuhn.


Apparently, those involved, including the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture, are apparently unaware of the existence of commercial gender determination systems that will become more precise and achieve greater acceptability over the next five years.  These systems depend on assay of reproductive hormones from a sample of allantoic fluid extracted from an egg and can be regarded as bridging technology to satisfy current retail demand.


Subsequently, depending on consumer acceptance, more advanced technology involving an optogenetic system should (or may) be adopted. This elegant approach requires genetic modification of the female parental Z chromosome but may be unacceptable to primary breeders or to the Birkenstock clan who agitated against the disposal of cockerels in the first instance.


In the interim, it appears that a number of geneticists and poultry scientists at E.U. institutions consider themselves meaningfully employed. They are attempting to produce a strain that will not be commercially viable for other than a limited number of small-scale farmers who can obtain a premium based on sentiment, but at a price that will be unacceptable to major retail chains. Developing a dual-purpose strain, for the edification of those involved is analogous in the context of Germany to creating a Zeppelin that can achieve supersonic speeds


These scientists would be more meaningfully employed if they applied their knowledge and used their facilities to improve the productivity and welfare of commercial hens in aviary systems. The egg-production industry is currently attempting to optimize egg production, livability and shell quality from hens that have been bred for over fifty generations in cages and require adaptation to aviaries, barns and pasture.


Our 2023 Wish List


As we approach 2023 we should be thankful for the positive events over the past year and recognize the challenges ahead. We have overcome obstacles, striven to defend what is right and ethical and have overcome many obstacles imposed on us by extremes in weather, international turbulence and economic pressures.


During the coming year the poultry industry and interconnected agricultural sectors should benefit from: -

  • A decline in the incidence rate of HPAI in the U.S. and neighboring nations. A realization that the infection is de facto endemic should result in a reappraisal of limited evaluation and application of immunization of long-lived flocks applying advanced vaccines.
  • Immigration reform is needed. We require foreign workers and more important their children who will be raised as U.S. citizens, enriching our diverse culture and offsetting the inevitable ageing of our population.
  • Rapid passage of the 2023 Farm Bill with strong constructive bipartisan support within the House and Senate
  • Resolution of conflict in the Ukraine to end human suffering and to restore supply of commodities, stabilizing ingredient prices and allowing diversion of resources to peaceful and constructive endeavors.
  • Curtailing inflation to allow the Federal Reserve and other central banks to lower interest rates and stimulate consumption and the expansion of our industry.
  • A greater sense of community is needed in our Nation with mutual understanding and rejection of extremes. We need to reduce inflammatory rhetoric and parochial divisions in our society with a return to political civility and a commitment to progress and prosperity.  


  Barbara and I wish all our sponsors, Subscribers and friends in the industry a peaceful and productive 2023. We all look forward to meeting at the IPPE.


Attorneys Challenging Promotional Claims


In her review of significant litigation during 2022, Texas A & M Extension attorney Tiffany Lashmet posted on ‘greenwashing’ in a recent edition of her Texas Agricultural Law Blog.


A number of lawsuits have been filed alleging misrepresentation of products advertised as being “environmentally friendly” or applying terms such as “humanely raised”.  Usler v. Vital Farms considered whether that the terms, “ethical” and “certified humane” on packaging and on websites were false and misleading.  The court ruled against Usler but only on the basis of the plaintiff’s standing. 


It is inevitable that lawyers will continually push the envelope and create class action lawsuits that in all probability will never be tried but will result in a settlement.  Some of the animal rights activists’ groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, have infinite resources and will become more aggressive in their activities opposing intensive livestock and egg production.    


The designation “Certified Humane™”, is awarded following audit to demonstrate compliance with predetermined standards and should be an acceptable claim. Simply using “humane” without reference to a certification process may be considered a non-substantiated claim. Terms such as “ethical” or “sustainable” are subjected to interpretation and could be the subject of litigation.  In any event, for an individual company to claim that their products are “ethical” implies that competitors operate at a lower standard of ethics.  Likewise, eggs produced by a company that is “bird-friendly” suggests that products from other companies are possibly “bird unfriendly”.  Obviously, producers should avoid hype and above all, making label or promotional claims that cannot be verified or independently supported.


Elevated Prices Will Respond to Increased Production


A recent posting by Brian Earnest of CoBank indicated that egg prices would remain high for a considerable period.  He based his conclusion on the current reduced flock size following depletion of close to 42 million laying hens.  Prices are also fueled by increased demand as consumers move down the protein chain and find value in eggs, even at current prices. Earnest correctly cites current USDA data, including the Weekly Shell Egg Demand Indicator, monthly stock levels and the trend in prices.

Based on USDA hatch figures, the U.S. laying flock will soon increase since there are approximately 4 million pullets each week ready to commence production, hatched between five and six months ago.  The rate of losses attributed to HPAI fluctuates as documented each week in the EGG-NEWS Weekly Egg Price and Inventory Report but has now moderated in the egg sector.


Reviewing the recovery of the U.S. flock after the 2015 epornitic suggests that a similar situation will be repeated in 2023 as pullets commence production, laying cycles are extended and a higher proportion of hens are molted providing that housing is available. Reference to USDA data shows the effect on wholesale price of an increase in production in accordance with the law of supply and demand.


Currently, there are between 18 and 20 million fewer hens in the national producing flock.  If losses, due to HPAI remain at the current incidence rate, the industry could easily compensate for past losses through placement of pullets already in the pipeline and from ongoing placements by mid-second quarter. Restoration and even overcompensation could be achieved with careful control of flock size and through application of molting as occurred in 2016. The current nosebleed prices will soon respond to increased production, amplified downward by the benchmark pricing system that will be exploited by buyers.


Restaurants Anticipate Lower Traffic Based on Reduced Consumer Spending


The Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics determined that grocery prices were higher by 12.4 percent in October compared to the comparable month in 2021.  Concurrently, year-over-year restaurant prices were up 8.6 percent.  The differential is narrowing and consumers searching for value are anticipated to eat more meals at home than they obtain from QSRs and casual dining restaurants.


Restaurant operators have successively raised menu prices to compensate for higher ingredient and labor costs.  This strategy is now in conflict with a reluctance to spend by consumers concerned over rising fuel, energy, housing and medical expenses. Most QSRs are evaluating specials, value meals and coupons to avoid the downward spiral of decreased traffic and increased costs.


During COVID restrictions, consumers ate at home and the food habits developed during this period will persist.  This is evidenced by supermarkets competing with restaurants for available expenditure on food.  The promotion of house brands to reduce cost and offers of prepared meals especially in upscale “destination supermarkets” will be attractive to frugal consumers searching for value.


Perceptions of Health Effects Influenced by Questionable Research


A series of articles of questionable validity during the 1970’s created a false association between dietary intake of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.  Published epidemiologic studies have also implicated consumption of red meat in the incidence of colorectal cancer, ischemic heart disease and breast cancer.


The fact that articles are published in prestige journals and authored by faculty at prominent and respected universities provides a justification for opponents of intensive livestock production to demonize animal protein.  More recently, those opposing meat, eggs and milk have found common cause with environmental activists to create a unified front that effectively reinforces a vegan agenda.


A recent article published in Nature Medicine* represented the application of sophisticated and advanced epidemiologic analytical techniques to establish whether any relationship exists between unprocessed red meat and specific health outcomes.  These included breast cancer, colorectal cancer, type-2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease and both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.  Available literature was critically reviewed to determine the strength of association between unprocessed red meat consumption and the selected health outcomes applying burden of proof risk function methodology.


The paper established a weak association between unprocessed red meat consumption and colorectal cancer and ischemic heart disease.  There was no evidence of an association between unprocessed red meat and either ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke.  The authors noted considerable uncertainty attributed to evident between-study heterogeneity with daily intakes of red meat ranging from zero to 200 g.  The authored concluded that although some evidence existed that unprocessed read meat consumption may be associated with a risk of disease it was weak and inadequate to make conclusive dietary recommendations.  It appears therefore that meta-analysis on dietary effects relating to disease should not be regarded as inconclusive and should not form the basis of national dietary recommendations.  This reasoning was possibly responsible for deletion of a maximum daily intake of dietary cholesterol in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.


Notwithstanding the validity of scientific data, opponents of intensive livestock production will  cherry pick medical literature and amplify aspects and findings to support preconceived concepts and form the basis of postings on websites.


*Lescinsky, H. et al. Health effects associated with consumption of unprocessed red meat: a Burden of Proof study. Nature Medicine. 28: 2,075 to 2,082 (2022)


The Need to Reduce Methane Emissions


Methane represents twenty percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.  Although relatively short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, methane has almost 100 times the global warming potential compared to carbon dioxide.


Although agriculture is blamed for methane emissions, the petrochemical industry is the largest emitter of methane and possibly the easiest to constrain.  During the COP27 Climate Conference in Egypt, the President announced higher emissions standards and penalties for methane release by the oil and gas industries.  This action is reinforced by similar restrictions to be imposed by fifteen nations.


With regard to intensive livestock industry and the release of methane by CAFOs, biodigesters will be funded by the Inflationary Reduction Act.  These installations will be capable of converting livestock waste from dairy and hog operations into biogas that can be used to generate power.


Intensive livestock production has come under extreme pressure from environmental groups and there is now common cause among welfare, vegan and environmental activist organizations. They have obviously generated synergy in their lobbying and public relations efforts to demonize milk, pork, beef and egg production by creating a sense of guilt over environmental degradation among consumers.


Even if we concede that intensive livestock production has a quantifiable deleterious effect on the environment, opponents cannot provide an alternative to the protein food produced by the intensive livestock industries that is currently required to satisfy nutritional needs.


Inordinate Publicity Devoted to Indiscretion by CFO


The recent, “Goldilocks in Arkansas” event has generated considerable publicity far beyond the impact of the charge of public intoxication.  The fact that the perpetrator was the newly appointed CFO of a major protein company, and the son of the Chairman, certainly did not warrant the coverage afforded, not only by general media but specifically poultry-related magazines and websites.


The fact that the individual involved bore the name of his company and brand and that he is the fourth-generation family member in an executive position is immaterial but apparently considered newsworthy.


The facts concerning the event have yet to be disclosed but since the alleged intoxication did not involve a vehicle and the only damage was the possible psychological trauma to the owner of the home finding the person asleep in a bedroom, the case should be resolved with the utmost dispatch.


The reporting on this incident demonstrates more than a hint of schadenfreude, that unique Teutonic characteristic of enjoyment at the expense of another person. This is evident in both  detail and repetition, including the publication of a mug shot.


The person involved is obviously highly intelligent, academically accomplished but possibly under extreme pressure to perform in business and within the family.  We each respond individually to the stresses of life and sometimes we make inappropriate decisions.  The person involved has received a severe shock to his reputation and status, but the event has apparently led to counseling and rehabilitation.


EGG-NEWS extends a measure of understanding to him and sympathy to the homeowner and it is hoped that the event and its aftermath will be transitory.  There are times when journalistic discretion is appropriate.  Repetition of the event on poultry industry websites and in magazines was unnecessary.  As the company release stated, “This was a personal matter and in no way reflected on the management and performance of the company”.  The CFO concerned has endured humiliation based on press reports and accordingly it is now time to move on.


Avian Influenza Diagnosed Among Poultry Workers in Spain


Two poultry workers were apparently infected with H5N1 strain Avian Influenza following exposure while depleting an infected farm.  There was no evidence of subsequent person-to-person transmission. The workers were in contact with an infected flock in Guadalajara Province in late September. 


Three days after commencing the project, 12 workers were sampled by nasopharyngeal swabbing with the virus detected in two workers.  Samples from close contacts of the first affected individual were negative by RT-PCR assay.  The second worker yielded a positive nasopharyngeal swab on October 13th, three weeks after participating in cleaning and disinfection.  Two contacts of the infected individual tested negative on sampling. 


The two asymptomatic cases in Spain are reminiscent of the single case reported in the U.S. in a worker participating in depopulation and disinfection on an infected farm in the Midwest. These rare cases indicate the need to immunize all people coming into contact with poultry by administering the current seasonal influenza vaccine. Workers should be screened daily for any febrile reaction in order to prevent a possible gene interchange between avian and human strains of influenza virus with the potential for a zoonotic strain of avian influenza.


USDA Provides Grants for Urban Agriculture


The USDA intends to disburse $14.2 million to 52 recipients to support urban agriculture using  funds derived from the American Rescue Plan Act.  The intent is to allow recipients to “expand access to nutritious foods, foster community engagement, increase awareness of climate change and mitigate the effects within urban areas”.  Studies have shown that throwing money at urban projects does not materially increase the quality of nutrition in the area served.


This initiative is yet another example of USDA largesse and the intent by USDA administrators to alter the structure of U.S. agriculture, detracting from traditional farmers irrespective of their scale of their operation.


The press release is replete with buzzwords and homilies but short on specifics.  The announcement manages to touch all the bases including “new farmers”, “underserved communities”, “sell locally”, “job creation”, “reducing the climate impact on food supply” and “economically distressed neighborhoods”.


Grants will be provided for either planning or implementation projects.  The current tranche of funding extends to 18 planning projects and 34 implementation projects.


The USDA characterizes the $14.2 million in grants as an “investment”.  If this is the case, the USDA should be obliged to provide a report on the actual financial return on this investment, since public funds are involved.


Holland Evaluating Vaccines Against HPAI


In a recent announcement Wageningen Bioveterinary Research, a component of Wageningen University will evaluate three commercial vaccines against H5N1 HPAI in laying hens.  These products will be compared with experimental vaccines developed using advanced molecular technology. The E.U. is actively evaluating vaccination as an adjunct to biosecurity and depopulation of affected flocks as a coordinated approach to controlling HPAI.


The evaluation will be conducted over three months and vaccines will be compared as to their ability to suppress mortality and clinical signs and more important, to reduce virus shedding.  To be acceptable to E.U. regulators, vaccines must prevent multiplication and excretion of virus that would be responsible for persistent infection. This is especially important in areas with a high concentration of domestic poultry as in the Netherlands, and regions of Germany, Poland, the U.K. and in the U.S.


In past years, Avian Influenza was a sporadic disease introduced by migratory waterfowl and was justifiably regarded as exotic in most industrialized nations.  Accordingly, an approach involving rapid diagnosis and depopulation with quarantine restrictions was and is appropriate.  Since 2020, the H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza carrying Eurasian genes has proven to be more extensive in geographic distribution.  The current panornitic has affected a wide range of migratory and domestic birds, resulting in prolonged and recurrent outbreaks extending from November 2021 through the present.  The experience in the E.U. is reflected in outbreaks in the U.S., dealing with essentially the same viral pathogen.


Clearly the results of studies in the E.U. and in other areas where HPAI can now be regarded as either seasonally endemic or de facto endemic will be of value to regulators in the U.S.  Given the severity of the current U.S. epornitic and with poultry industries facing a worldwide panornitic, vaccination must be considered as an option.  This will require relaxation of trade restrictions, modifying bans on importation to the county or regional level in nations experiencing outbreaks. 


EGG-NEWS maintains that Avian Influenza is effectively the Newcastle disease of the 2020s.  With the exception of Scandinavia, the disease is effectively controlled by applying a range of live attenuated, inactivated and vectored vaccines.


Time to Repeal the Jones Act?


In discussion with Michael Sencer, Senior Vice-president of Hidden Villa Ranch, and the EVP representative for Villa Rose, LLC, the operator of Waialua Egg Farm, it is apparent that the landed cost of feed contributes to high price and is a deterrent to greater consumption of eggs in Hawaii.  The principal reason for the disproportionate price of feed on the West Coast and in Hawaii relates to ocean freight rates attributed to the Jones Act. 


Introduced during the early 1920s following WWI, this legislation was intended to create self-sufficiency with respect to shipments between and among U.S. ports, especially in times of war.  The Jones Act specifies that shipments must be on vessels constructed in the U.S. owned by U.S. shareholders and manned by U.S. crews.  The Jones Act is an anachronism, since the U.S. does not have a maritime ship-building industry and the requirements of the Jones Act represent non-competitive advantages for both shippers and marine-trade unions to the disadvantage of consumers, especially in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.  By restricting competition, the Jones Act facilitates high prices verging on exploitation.  Although waivers are possible under emergency conditions such as recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico, they are seldom issued by the White House and are based on individual vessels. 


Repealing the Jones Act would allow foreign vessels to convey containerized feed from the West Coast to Hawaii at a cost lower than at present.  With competition from lower-priced U.S. mainland eggs, shelf prices for mainland and domestic production would be reduced, and consumption would rise, benefitting both the producers and consumers in Hawaii. Given vested interests and lobbying by domestic ocean freight companies and the seafarers’ union  prospects for change are currently remote.


Internal FDA Report on Infant Formula Debacle—Need for Radical Change


The September 20th internal FDA report Evaluation of Infant Formula Response identified five areas that require attention to ensure a safe food supply:-


  • Introduction of modern information technology and exchange of data.
  • Adequate staffing, training, equipment and regulatory authority for the FDA.
  • An updated emergency response system.
  • Additional knowledge concerning the epidemiology of Cronobacter contamination and control measures.
  • Evaluation of the infant formula industry with specific attention to concentration of production facilities and response to contamination


According to the self-serving commentary, “There was no single action to pinpoint as the cause of the events that occurred but the prolonged production and distribution of potentially contaminated product demonstrated vulnerabilities in the control of food safety”.


The immediate response of FDA to any problem usually manifested by an extensive food outbreak resulting in Congressional scrutiny is to demand more funding and greater authority.  Given the infant formula problem, the FDA possessed sufficient power and resources to have predicted and proactively averted the problems that occurred. Not that the infant formula event was either unique or unprecedented.


Instead of temporizing and diverting responsibility to both internal and external reviews, Dr. Robert Califf the newly reappointed Commissioner of the FDA, should simply fire the senior managers who sat on a whistleblower’s credible report for a number of months.  Administrators who suspended routine plant audits and evaluations on the flimsy grounds of COVID infection should be disciplined for dereliction of duty.  The structure of the FDA with relation to responsibilities and actions should be seriously analyzed, given credible press reports on protecting turf, dissension and lack of cooperation among senior managers. Inevitably it is not worth trying to fix something that is irretrievably broken.  A new structure will not change culture that is deeply ingrained in the FDA favoring drug and device oversight to the detriment to food safety. 


Again, EGG-NEWS advocates for an independent food safety agency paralleling the EU Food Safety Authority or the Canadian Food Safety Agency. An independent U.S. entity should be totally committed to enforcing appropriate standards to prevent food borne disease and toxicity. An effective agency would be staffed by dedicated professionals with expertise in epidemiology, manufacturing practices, surveillance and enforcement and would be coordinated by administrators capable of operating within the DC executive and legislative jungle. Additionally to be effective, a national U.S. food service agency should incorporate the current responsibilities of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure a seamless approach to food safety.


 Given any prospect of reorganization, commissioners and directors circle the wagons, sign memoranda of agreement and promise to play nice with each other then simply revert to this status quo.  How many more food-related disease outbreaks or disruptions do we endure before concerted action is taken? Congress needs to establish an agency that can be proactive, aggressive but constructive in establishing and enforcing a comprehensive food-safety program benefitting consumers and our export market.


US POULTRY Soliciting Pre-proposals on HPAI Research


In a September 26th release, US POULTRY and the US POULTRY Foundation requested research pre-proposals to conduct research on aspects of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).


Suggested areas of investigation included:

  • Evaluation of shedding of virus from flocks infected with HPAI and persistence of the virus in houses following depopulation.
  • Humane and effective methods to depopulate caged layer and aviary flocks.
  • Possibility of inter-farm transmission of HPAI virus on dust entrained by wind.
  • Surveillance of wild birds, presumably both domestic and migratory waterfowl and small mammals for the presence of AI virus.
  • Enhancement of biosecurity.


The topics enumerated in the request for pre-proposals are all relevant but omit vaccination that inevitably will be a necessary component along with biosecurity to prevent outbreaks of HPAI. These items in addition to field and molecular epidemiology should have been investigated by USDA-ARS immediately after the 2015 outbreaks and during the 2022 epornitic. 


The initiative by US POULTRY is commendable but the need for action by an industry association denotes a lack of initiative and imagination by USDA either in internal research or funding studies by academia.  The Department and its APHIS Agency appeared to be stuck in a 1985 mode of attempting to “stamp out” what they consider to be an exotic disease.  Uppermost in the epidemiologic investigations should be a realistic determination of whether HPAI is exotic, seasonally endemic or de facto endemic.  Obviously, the actual status of HPAI in the U.S. and Canada is pivotal to developing appropriate control and prevention measures.  These will rely on a more detailed knowledge of the routes of infection for egg production complexes and turkey grow-out farms. An understanding is required concerning the risk factors for infection and the respective interactions among wild migratory and domestic birds, backyard flocks and commercial operations.  An intriguing question is why broiler grow-out farms remained relatively unscathed during the 2022 epornitic.


It is hoped that the Research Committee, in reviewing pre-proposals, will fund projects based on their individual and collective contribution to resolving issues.  Coordination of research activities to prevent duplication and to promote a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of HPAI will be necessary.


Internal FDA Report on Shortage of Infant Formula Released


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a long-awaited internal report on the infant formula crisis.  The report was authored by a team headed by Dr. Steven Solomon, Head of the FDA Veterinary Division. The report identified a number of areas of concern involving delays in communication, obvious operational failures and “general lapses”. Recommendations by Dr. Solomon included improved information. technology, intensified training of staff and an updated emergency response system to deal with food safety issues as they arise.


Predictably, there will be little retribution for incompetence or dereliction of duty and the crisis will “be handled through the personnel process”. The culture of the FDA is characterized by the public statement by the Director, Dr. Robert Califf, who stated, “We are not going to spend a lot of time going back, we are going to spend our time taking into account what happened and move forward.” Dr. Califf considers that the report provides a “clear road map for the infant formula issue and provides a nice bridge to the overall food program’s evaluation”.


In contrast a more detailed and incisive report on the issue was published in Politico entitled, “The FDA’s Food Failure” by Helena Bottemiller Evich on April 8th to which readers are referred.


The shortages that emerged still persist with many stores and outlets having 20 percent out-of-stock rates. The FDA may well wish to bury failures at numerous levels leading to the crisis, including the glaring lack of response to a whistle-blower report over three months together with a de facto moratorium on plant inspections attributed to the COVID crisis. 


The Administration was obliged to arrange for military transport aircraft to bring in supplies of formula from overseas plants that were hastily approved.  Obvious problems identified in the internal FDA report and by media include extreme concentration of production among a few plants. The Evich exposé identified a preoccupation with achieving production goals and maximizing profit at the expense of quality and safety by Abbott Nutrition, the largest manufacturer of a range of specialty and conventional formulas.


Given the self-serving internal FDA report and the disinclination to hold managers within the Agency responsible for lack of response to a potential crisis and dereliction of duty, it is inevitable that a similar food-related crisis will occur in the future.


EGG-NEWS has consistently advocated for a dedicated U.S. food safety agency since the best interests of consumers would be served by a single entity suitably funded and staffed and provided with the authority to concentrate on the safety of domestic and imported foods.


Extensive International Reach Of The Chinese Communist Party


Egg-NewsAttorney Dan Harris, of Harris Bricken LLP, recently published a commentary on the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on students, citizens and defectors in the U.S.  This caution is especially important in the context of protecting intellectual property.


The CCP is intent on extending its influence over Chinese citizens living abroad for both political and commercial benefit.  The CCP employs commercial pressure and intimidation to coerce students and citizens to assist the government. 


Harris cites the significant reduction in the importation of canola oil from Canada in 2018, shortly after the arrest of Ms. Meng Wenzhou daughter of the founder of Huawei at the behest of U.S. authorities.  Pressure was placed on state-affiliated importing companies not to purchase Canadian canola oil. 


There is extensive evidence that agents of the Communist Party have infiltrated nongovernmental organizations, including business and cultural groups.  Newsweek, after an extensive investigation, determined that the CCP has operated through various channels to influence decisions at the federal, state and local levels to benefit their political and economic interests.  Social media and messaging apps and organizations and academic institutions are involved in promoting activities that benefit China.


Agents of the Chinese Communist Party frequently coerce highly trained Chinese citizens living in North America to return to the homeland using threats of retaliation against relatives, including violations of parental custody.  China has established a secret police presence in 54 nations on five continents to extend the reach of the central government designed to intimidate expatriate nationals of China and to exert pressure through harassment, intimidation and threats of retribution with the intent of acquiring intellectual property.


The unfortunate corollary of the expanding policy of control exerted by the CCP is that it creates  suspicion for loyal U.S. scientists, academics, businesspeople and employees of Chinese ethnicity in the U.S.


The take-home message from Dan Harris is to maintain ever-increasing levels of protection over intellectual property and to be aware of the constant attempts at intrusion to obtain possession of information that could benefit the Communist Party and Nation.


California Department Of Food And Agriculture Belatedly Releases Proposition #12 Rules


Proposition #12 was passed by ballot initiative in November 2018.  The law created by voter adoption prohibited confinement of farm animals, including egg-laying hens, veal calves and breeding sows “in a cruel manner” and prohibits the sale of products in California from farm animals so confined.  The final regulations were released in early September 2022, nine months after the proposed date of implementation of January 1, 2022.  A previous court decision extended a grace period of six months to producers after the rules with respect to Proposition #12 were issued.


The requirements that all producers selling livestock products in California comply with the CDFA rules was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that is now the subject of a scheduled hearing by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)


The regulations are now due to take effect on January 1st 2023. In the interim, the National Pork Producers Council and other agricultural associations, supported by numerous states Attorneys General, have petitioned SCOTUS to rule on the constitutionality of Proposition #12 that may conflict with the Dormant Commerce Clause by interfering in interstate commerce.  The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation will present oral arguments before SCOTUS on October 11th, although a ruling is not expected until the spring of 2023.


At issue is the effective banning of gestation crates for sows since this system of housing conflicts with the space requirement of 24 square foot of usable floor space with unrestricted movement that can only be provided applying group housing.


The CDFA requirements for egg-laying hens state, “The enclosure shall allow the egg-laying hen to lie down, stand up, fully extend limbs and turn around freely.”  In addition, “The enclosure shall be an indoor or outdoor controlled environment within which hens are free to roam unrestricted.”  This provision presumes either barn housing or aviaries and effectively precludes enriched colony modules.


At the present time 34 percent of the national flock has transitioned to housing systems for egg-producing flocks that are compliant with Proposition #12, more than adequate to supply California. The pork industry has attained about 25 percent conversion to group housing of sows and accordingly could provide pork that satisfies California regulations. The U.S. egg industry will not be unduly affected by the outcome of the appeal to SCOTUS irrespective of the ruling. What is more important will be the policies of the major chains, food service providers and ultimately consumers who will have to pay for enhanced welfare.


Opposition to California a Minimum Wage Law


Restaurant operators are reviewing options after Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed the FAST Act on Labor Day, September 5th following passage by the Legislature on Monday, August 29th. The FAST Act establishes a Council that will determine wage rates that may exceed $20 per hour for QSR workers in certain regions of the state. The Council will comprise ten members with representatives of workers, unions, and employers selected by the Governor. The Bill includes a sunset provision for the Council that will take effect in 2028 unless renewed.


A coalition termed “Protect Neighborhood Restaurants” presumably formed from the California Restaurant Association has proposed a referendum to overturn the law. This will require collection of at least 623,000 valid signatures by December 4th to place the issue on the 2024 ballot. Restaurant interests spent over $1 million on lobbying against the Act resulting in some modifications to the final version including a $22 per hour wage cap.


The Act will have a disproportionately negative effect on chains that own their own locations including Chipotle and Starbucks compared to competitors operating with a franchise model.


If the revocation becomes a Proposition the resulting outlay on advertising to attract support by both organized labor and the restaurant industry may exceed $100 million. About $220 million was expended on Proposition #22 in 2020 involving the employment status of ride-share drivers.


Eggs Responsible for SE In Europe; 2015-2019


A recent article in the International Journal of Food Microbiology* reviewed available data associated with the incidence of salmonellosis in Europe.  The rate remained fairly static from 2015 through 2019 at approximately 20 cases per 100,000 population. A total of 1,508 outbreaks in 34 nations were included in the survey covering the five-year period. Among the geographic regions Europe, Eastern Europe led with 48 percent of outbreaks, Southern Europe, 26 percent, Western Europe 18 percent and Northern Europe 8 percent.


Of the outbreaks in which a vehicle of infection could be identified, 33 percent were attributed to eggs, 14 percent to pork and other red meat and 3 percent to chicken and other poultry.  Of the isolates that were serotyped, 62 percent were Salmonella Enteritidis.  Salmonella Typhimurium represented 11 percent of all isolates from outbreaks with a known source, predominantly from pork.


In reviewing the reasons for the high prevalence of SE in Eastern Europe, it is noted that Poland, a large producer and exporter of table eggs, recorded seven percent of layer flocks (169/2,362) as SE positive in 2016.  Given that veterinary authorities were negligent in establishing standards for sampling and laboratory examination, the proportion of SE positive layers was probably in excess of the official value. Additional contributory factors affecting the supply chain in Europe include failure to wash eggs in a sanitizer and the absence of refrigeration from pre-packing storage through to point of sale as in the U.S.


It is also noted that in many nations in Europe, consumption of raw and undercooked eggs is common.  This practice, coupled with SE positive flocks, will contribute to outbreaks. Consumption of undercooked eggs was an important risk factor for outbreaks in the U.S. prior to the introduction of EQAPs and then, subsequently, the Final Rule on Salmonella Prevention issued by the FDA in 2009.


*Pinedo, L. C. et al, Sources and Trends of  Human Salmonellosis in Europe, 2015-2019: An Analyses of Outbreak Data, International Journal of Food and


H5N8 Avian Influenza Diagnosed In Germany


On Thursday, August 11th, the authorities in Germany confirmed H5N8 Avian Influenza on an egg production farm in Langwege, in the District of Vechta in the state of Lower Saxony.  A total 110,000 egg-producing hens on the farm were depopulated and control measures in accordance with WOAH recommendations were applied. 


The District of Vechta has a high density of chickens, apparently with 350 farms within a six-mile radius of the index unit. This represents the potential for dissemination of virus and major disruption of the supply chain from farms to packing stations and then onwards to supermarkets.


The H5N8 serovar differs from the H5N1 isolate predominating in previous EU outbreaks and is an indication that AI viruses are circulating in wild but non-migratory birds with serious implications for an area of high poultry density.


Taking an intermediate term view, with HPAI becoming endemic in many regions, non-confined poultry production will be unsustainable without effective vaccines and programs given that avian influenza infection is now the “Newcastle disease of the 2020s”.


JUST Egg Claim Over Egg Price Parity Refuted


According to an article by Mary Emmon Shoup in the August 15th edition of FOOD Navigator, Josh Tetrick claims that his JUST synthetic vegetable-based product has reached price parity with real eggs. He does not specify the type of egg or the time period for the claimed comparison. In reality the JUST product even at a reduced selling price is three times the cost of liquid from conventional eggs at current prices.


According to the USDA Egg Markets Overview, the national average retail price for the week ending August 12th was $2.14 per dozen for large white-shelled eggsA dozen, large eggs will yield 22 oz. of liquid at a unit price of 9.7 cents per oz.  JUST Egg, at $3.99 for a 12-ounce container has a unit price of 33.3 cents per oz.


Notwithstanding the price differential JUST Egg has an inferior amino acid profile and vitamin content compared to real eggs that have pristine ‘clean’ labels.


Josh Tetrick claims that the reduction in price for JUST Egg substitute is the result of economies of scale and more efficient processing of the mung bean isolate.  This may be a valid explanation but previous claims by Tetrick have demonstrated his style of hyperbole. It is questioned whether in fact the lack of demand in an inflationary environment and the consequential need to move more product to offset fixed costs may be the motivation for the price reduction.


Reference to a national retail database shows a 21 percent year-over-year increase in sales for JUST over the past four weeks through multi-channel outlets including club stores and 16 percent for conventional supermarkets and grocery stores. These increases were based on sales of approximately $3.2 million for the four weeks preceding July 7th 2021. For 2022 it is noteworthy that sales demonstrated a plateau during the 1st quarter at $992,000 per month and showed a small decline to $986,000 for the four weeks to July 7th.  The JUST product has not demonstrated growth in 2022 and will inevitably follow the classic parabolic demand cycle of a generic product and volume will decline due to consumer fatigue and price inequality with competing alternatives. The reduction in price from $4.55 to $3.99 per 12 oz. container may have some short-term effect on sales but the actual disparity in cost in relation to real eggs will not materially increase sales. This based on the presumption that JUST has a narrow consumer base comprising the affluent who are concerned over welfare and sustainability and are willing to pay for their principles. The majority of price conscious consumers do have calculators.


Persistence of H5N1 in Europe


ProMed reported on outbreaks of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in Poland and Germany during mid-July. The first recent outbreak was confirmed on a farm on Gizyce in the Province of Wielkopolskie in Central Poland.  Close to 40,000 birds (type not specified) were depopulated.  The case in Germany involved 13,000 geese on a farm in Beverstedt near Cuxhaven in the State of Lower Saxony.


The 2021-2022 epornitic now includes 2,398 confirmed outbreaks in commercial poultry resulting in the depopulation of 46 million birds.  Diagnostic laboratories have confirmed H5N1 in 2,733 cases involving wild birds in 36 European nations. 


It was determined that 86 percent of the outbreaks in commercial poultry were due to farm-to-farm spread. This was especially evident in France that recorded 68 percent of outbreaks and also  in Hungary with 24 percent of cases in commercial poultry.  Wild bird isolations were most frequently reported by Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  The fact that there was a negative correlation between the number of wild bird isolates and commercial outbreaks in the same region may relate to selection bias or the intensity of surveillance of wild birds compared to the protective effect of high levels of biosecurity applied to confined commercial flocks.  All E.U. H5N1 isolates examined belong to clade and were identical to isolates from wild mammals including foxes in Canada, the U.S. and Japan.


The persistence of H5 avian influenza in Europe and the most recent cases in turkeys in Utah during mid-July suggest dissemination of the virus by  domestic wild birds since there is minimal movement of migratory waterfowl at this time.  This reality presupposes an alternative to traditional methods of control given that H5 avian influenza is no longer an exotic infection in many countries with intensive poultry populations.  Persistence of infection requires a high level of biosecurity guided by evaluations of outbreaks. The application of both classical epidemiology and molecular analysis could identify routes of introduction of virus onto commercial farms.  Surveillance of wild birds should now be an ongoing exercise no longer restricted to seasonal evaluation of migratory waterfowl.  A range of birds under surveillance should be extended to domestic species.  It is evident that highly pathogenic avian influenza and specifically the H5 clade now prevalent on four continents has become the Newcastle disease of 2020’s requiring a different approach to prevention.


Store-Brands Gaining at the Expense of National-Brands


The recent spike in inflation has increased consumer demand for store-brands according to IRI.  Prior to the onset of COVID, store-brands were growing at twice the rate of national-brands.  For the four weeks ending July 10th, store-brands represented 21.6 percent of grocery sales. This increase more than compensated for the losses that occurred during the COVID period when consumers preferred national-brands.


During 2020 and extending into 2021, manufacturers of national-brands were able to maintain volume by reducing the range of products and shoppers were less concerned over price than at present.  Since the advent of inflation initiated by COVID spending, subsequent supply-chain disruption and the recent invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, consumer preferences have shifted in favor of lower-priced items.  Since there is little difference if any in quality attributes, many consumers will continue to buy store-brands when inflation is anticipated to moderate in the fourth quarter.


A wide range of lower-priced store-brands is now available, especially from the Kroger Company, Walmart, Costco and other big-box club stores and the deep discounters, including Aldi and Lidl. Availability, positioning on shelves, lower prices and equivalent quality are generating loyalty to house-brands. The recent optimistic statements by spokespersons representing major food companies predicting a return to national-brands suggest a measure of concern. 


The shift in consumer preference towards house-brands will further reduce the margins generated by the manufacturers of branded products. They will be obliged to cut wholesale prices while facing inflation in raw materials, labor and transport. Concurrently manufacturers of national- brands are under pressure from the major chains.  This is evidenced by recent events in the U.K. with disputes between manufacturers such as Kraft-Heinz and major supermarket chains including Tesco.  Although this specific dispute was settled, it is presumed to have been to the disadvantage of the manufacturer.