Imminent Federal Shutdown: What will be Impacted?


Unless a legislative miracle reverses the trajectory towards a shutdown of the federal government on Saturday at midnight there will be serious repercussions. The shutdown will affect those that are most in need of support and with the least political influence.


In the absence of statesmanship, moral courage, pragmatism and sheer patriotism the House has stumbled towards the deadline without concern for the consequences. Those whom we send to Congress and entrust with the management of the nation have precipitated a potential wave of hardship and inconvenience affecting us all. In an interview one holdout acknowledged that most Americans were living from paycheck to paycheck but failed to comprehend that a shutdown would deprive the military and essential workers of pay. He condoned this by stating that they would eventually receive back pay. His illogical standpoint is especially galling given that he will be receiving his Congressional salary and benefits.

Failure to compromise and to recognize the harm and inconvenience to both workers and users of government services is inexcusable. Unless a continuing resolution is passed as in previous years, many government functions will cease with considerable disruption to essential services.


Some of the impacts will include:-


  • Suspension of benefits to seven million mothers and 39 percent of U.S. infants under the Special Supplementary Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).


  • Essential services will continue but the government employees and service people responsible will not be paid.  Active-duty U.S. military personnel will continue to serve at their posts but civilian employees will be furloughed.  The FBI, DEA, Secret Service and federal prison employees will continue to work without pay. Criminal cases will continue although civil litigation would be deferred.

  • Farmers will not be able to obtain services from the USDA as FHA offices will be closed.


  • The Department of Homeland Security will continue to provide essential activities including border control and airport security screening but at a lower level of efficiency due to sick-outs and demotivation. 


  • The Department of Transportation will maintain air traffic control but delays will occur with protest and stress-induced absences.


  • The USDA will cease all research activities, disrupting or terminating experiments in progress and delaying publication of results. Diagnostic services by NVSL will be delayed, if it all available, with a slow recovery as the backlog is processed.


  •  Reports from the ERS, FAS and NASS that form the basis of agribusiness decisions on trading and investment will be terminated for then duration of the shutdown. Weekly and monthly statistical postings on both EGG-NEWS and CHICK-NEWS will be curtailed. 


  • Research and related activities at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will almost completely cease as the majority of employees are subject to furlough.  Activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will continue in the areas relating to ongoing outbreaks, but research and non-essential functions will be halted for the duration of a shutdown. 


  • Regulatory agencies including the FTC and SEC will only respond to emergencies with most employees standing down.  The Federal Reserve will continue operations.


  • Meat inspection by FSIS will continue and AMS will maintain egg inspections in plants as these activities are supported by user fees.



  • An important consideration at a time of increased union militancy is that the National Labor Relations Board will not be able to participate in mediation of labor disputes. 


  • The U.S. Postal Service that is mostly self-funded and will continue operation but the Agency is dependent on periodic Congressional infusions of working capital.


In decades to come political scientists will study and publish on how our Nation, with the largest economy in the world and as the leading democracy became the thrall of a handful of extremist members of the House exercising their own narrow political agenda and protecting their prospects for reelection, only to gain a pyrrhic victory. To avert the annual exercise in continuing resolutions that simply kick the can representing the budget further down the road there will have to be procedural changes especially in the House. With competent leadership it should be possible for two parties, even with polarization, to negotiate in good faith and to exercise compromise early enough in the fiscal year to reach agreement on required services and level of spending. We deserve better from our incumbent legislators.



Consumer Motivation Evaluated


The August 2023 issue of Consumer Food Insights from the Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability at the Purdue University, College of Agriculture provides a valuable analysis of factors motivating purchase of food products over time and by demographic category.


The results from the latest survey based on 1,200 participants from across the nation was conducted from August 21st through August 25th.  The survey incorporated a weighting method termed iterative proportional fitting to ensure balance among respondent groups including gender, age, race, region, income and SNAP participation.  The results were also classified according to political persuasion according to the broad categories of “liberal”, “moderate” or “conservative”. 


The survey considered food satisfaction, security, expenditures, beliefs and trust as the major response categories with appropriate data and interpretation relating to each of these factors.  With regard to consumer behavior, responses were graded on a scale of 1 (= never) to 5 (= always).  Among the moderate respondents, a score 3.2 was assigned to choosing generic foods over brands; 2.9 for local foods over non-local foods; 2.7 to cage-free eggs over conventional eggs; 2.6 for organic foods over conventional foods and 2.2 for plant-based proteins over animal proteins.  These relatively low scores incorporating the “rarely” to “sometimes” responses suggests indifference to the claimed health and other benefits claimed for organic and local food production.  There was no material difference between the “liberal” and “conservative” respondents and overall results were not different from the survey conducted in 2022. 


The section on animal welfare is regarded as important with regard to consumer perceptions and motivation to select foods.  Given concern over the 2023 SCOTUS decision upholding Proposition #12 and the evident implications for the pork industry, respondents were specifically asked to quantify their preferences, expressed as a percentage, over a range of seven attributes. Price was the highest-ranked factor with a score of 23.  This was followed by Taste at 22, Freshness at 18, Nutrition at 14, Appearance at 11, Animal Welfare at 7 and Sustainability at 6.  There was no material difference between the points assigned to Welfare that ranged from 7 to 10 among income demographics and Price that ranged from 18 to 27.  Naturally, Price scored higher among respondents with annual incomes below $75,000.  Within the income range of $75,000 to $100,000, Price outranked Welfare four-fold.  Understandably, those with a “liberal” leaning were slightly more willing to pay extra for pork produced either more sustainably or with a higher level of welfare. Even within this demographic, Price and Taste combined at 40 percent outranked the combination of Animal Welfare and Sustainability scoring 19 percent.  Among the “moderates”, 30 percent indicated that they would decrease their consumption of pork with a general price increase, almost equivalent to the 28 percent that indicated that they would reduce pork consumption based on a price increase attributed to Proposition #12. This suggests that price is the principal motivating factor and that welfare as a contributor to the purchase decision was subordinate to other attributes of pork.


Given that eggs, pork and chicken compete as protein sources, it is not unreasonable to accept that the results of the Consumer Insight Study on pork are also applicable to eggs.  Over the past two decades, animal rights activists through slanted surveys of dubious statistical relevance have made unjust demands for improved welfare.  In recent years, sustainability has entered the picture with common cause between environmental and welfare activists. These groups have a joint commitment to displacing intensive livestock production but offer no practical alternative to the current ample, reliable, quality and inexpensive supply of protein. In reality, consumers are largely discounting sustainability and welfare as motivators in their purchases of specific animal products. 


During 2020, retail chains and restaurants were coerced into making commitments to transition from sourcing eggs from caged hens to alternative systems including aviaries and barns by 2025.  At the present time, 5.8 percent (18.9 million hens) of the nominal national flock of 325 million hens produce under the USDA Certified Organic seal and 106 million representing 32.5 percent of the national flock are producing eggs in other than cages.  The rate of conversion has slowed with many large producers replacing cages only in those states that have mandated alternative housing systems.  Many chains have reneged on their commitments to source eggs only from cage-free systems or have extended their compliance dates. 


The findings of the Purdue Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability are essentially similar to the results obtained by Caputo et al. in their study published in February 2023 entitled The Transition to Cage-Free Eggs.  The approach used in this study to evaluate consumer preferences, applied conjoint analysis to determine motivation to purchase eggs requiring consumers to make tradeoffs among price, welfare and sustainability. More than half of those surveyed were primarily concerned over shelf price per dozen.


Most of the surveys conducted by welfare groups are simplistic and designed to elicit a desired outcome.  They rise to the level of asking seven-year-olds whether they are in favor of ice cream.  Structured surveys using accepted principles of market research are able to quantify a range of attributes. Results suggest that consumers, even if aware of welfare and sustainability considerations, regard price and taste as important motivators to purchase protein foods of animal origin. Put another way, everyone is in favor of welfare and sustainability but only a small proportion of consumers are either able or willing to pay for these attributes.


Suppliers Sue Eat Just for Non-payment Under Contracts


Eat Just Inc., the cell-cultured meat enterprise established by entrepreneur Josh Tetrick, is being sued by suppliers ABEC Inc. and CRB Builders for breach of contract including non-payment for services, equipment installations and structures intended to produce Eat Just products.


In early 2022, Eat Just and its Good Meat subsidiary entered into a seven-year contract with ABEC to design, manufacture and install ten reactors that would have been necessary to undertake commercial production of cell-cultured meat at the scale designated by Eat Just. The complaint alleges that although ABEC delivered on its commitments including construction of pilot scale bioreactors in the U. S. and Singapore, Eat Just has ignored invoices to the value of $30 million. ABEC claims that they committed $280 million to purchase orders placed by Good Meat through the end of 2022.  By early March, ABEC was pressing for payment.


In the case of CRB, Eat Just and its subsidiary agreed to pay for design and construction work but had only paid $760,000 with the plaintiff claiming it is owed $4.3 million for services, deliverables, expenses and interest.


Perhaps both ABEC and CRB bear some blame for their respective situations since they were embarking on multi-million dollar projects without assurance that funding or guarantees were available.


A spokesperson for Eat Just claims that the company has to date raised more than $850 million including $270 million for Good Meat.  If this is, the case, it would have been easy for the company to have written a checks to creditors without suppliers having to resort to litigation.


In legal parlance, the cases of ABEC, Inc. v. Eat Just and GOOD Meat, filed in the U.S. Eastern District of Pennsylvania and CRB Builders v Good Meat filed in U.S. Western District of Missouri are classic cases of caveat venditor (seller beware). It should have been incumbent on ABEC and CRB to have undertaken an evaluation of the potential for profit from large-scale production of cell-cultured meat.  The suppliers should also have investigated the business history of the founder, Josh Tetrick, with his pattern of successively raising funds from cupid venture capital investors based on hype regarding welfare, sustainability and the prospect of displacing conventional livestock production. It is questioned whether they considered the return (or loss) on investment in his ersatz mayonnaise and egg substitute businesses over a two-decade period. Whatever happened to “Character, Capacity and Collateral as determinants of creditworthiness? Have elaborate slide decks and spread sheets replaced common sense and business acumen?


The Catch-22 situation with vegan egg and cell-cultured meat is that there is a small potential market comprising only the affluent and curious for these high-priced products manufactured in limited quantities. The capital cost of transition from pilot to commercial production to achieve economies of scale mitigates against the prospect of a return on investment due to the limited future market, notwithstanding greater output. This reality is reflected in the published losses generated by Beyond Meat and Maple Leaf Foods for their meat alternatives. Plant-based substitutes for real meat and eggs are less capital intensive and technically complicated than cell-cultured meat and poultry representing higher risk.


It is evident that he business of cell-cultured meat is not producing cell-cultured meat for sale.  It appears to be an exercise in hyping sustainability to raise funds from gullible investors.


Mexico-U.S. Corn Dispute Could Disrupt USMCA.


On December 31st 2020, the Government of Mexico announced that it would ban importation of GM corn and end the use of glyphosate as an herbicide, with a target date of January 31st 2024.  Given that the U.S. exports approximately 17 million metric tons (669 million bushels) of yellow corn to Mexico annually valued in 2022 at $4.8 billion, the implications for U.S. corn growers were immediately self-evident.  The U.S. invoked USMCA rules and engaged in negotiations with the Government of Mexico dealing with the Departments of the Environment, of Health and Agriculture


As a result, Mexico conceded and dropped the ban on the application of glyphosate and GM cultivars of corn imported for animal feed.  Mexico firmly retained a requirement that only non-GM white corn could be imported since this product is the basis of tortillas and for white corn flour both food staples. In mid-2023 Mexico imposed a 50 percent tariff on the importation of white corn to stimulate domestic production.


Failure of the government of Mexico to rescind the 2020 decree left no other option than for the U.S. Trade Representative to initiate a dispute panel on August 17th 2023 under Article 31of the USMCA Charter.


Mexico justifies opposition to GM corn on the potential impact on the biodiversity of native corn cultivars and the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate.  For any of the three USMCA nations to ban a product it is necessary to demonstrate that action is based on relevant international standards and guidelines supported by a valid risk assessment.


The carcinogenicity of glyphosate is subject to question.  The issue arose in March 2015 with the publication of a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that considered glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic for humans”.  It is noted that the principal author of the report was at the time and then subsequently serving as a technical expert supporting tort claims against the manufacturers of glyphosate. He provided an opinion that that the compound could be responsible for lymphoma basing the conclusion on his own meta-study.  His involvement of the IARC report representing the cornerstone of litigation was clearly a conflict of interest and draws into question the validity of the findings based on a subjective review of published literature.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, notwithstanding the contentious label warning required by the state of California.


It is evident that Mexico will rely on a provision of the USMCA that restrictions can be imposed to “protect human, animal or plant health” as the justification for the 2020 decree.  Mexico will however be obliged to defend their position since USMCA stipulates that restrictions should “not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail.” 


The second concern expressed by Mexico is that importation of GM corn may in some way be deleterious to the numerous strains of native corn. This is a highly speculative and scientifically unjustifiable position. Predictably, negative propaganda was circulated, creating extensive antagonism to imported GM corn among farmers that represent an important voting bloc supporting the left-of-center government.  Small-scale farmers who are inherently inefficient with respect to yields are obviously concerned over competition from imported U.S. corn whether for livestock, industrial or human consumption.  The populist government of President Andres Moreno Lopez Obrador (‘AMLO’) is evidently responding to this groundswell.


The review by the USMCA dispute panel will be a drawn-out process.  The panel when formed must provide an initial report within five months and then allowing a subsequent two months to receive and consider comments before issuing a final decision.  Even if the panel rules in favor of the U.S., Mexico is not obliged to respond before 45 days and protracted appeals will ensue.  Failure to conform to the dispute panel final ruling will oblige Mexico to compensate the U.S. in some way possibly through imposition of tariffs on Mexican products.


The subject of trade and its regulation within nations including the three members of the USMCA has recently been complicated by tension between the U.S. and China.  In a move to displace imports of manufactured good from China, the U.S. has encouraged production in Mexico, with offshoring in Mexico by Chinese-owned companies.  The supply chains of the U.S., Canada and Mexico are closely intertwined, especially within the auto industry. There is considerable pressure to maintain the current level of trade within the USMCA since the alternatives to harmony would be economically devastating to Mexico and damaging to the economies of the U.S. and Canada.


In recognition of the consequences of an adverse ruling by the dispute panel based on the flimsy justification of the 2020 decree, Mexico has proposed a joint consultation between the U.S. FDA and the Federal Sanitary Commission of Mexico. This offer was rejected, since the U.S. and many other nations consider that the carcinogenicity of glyphosate is unproven.


If Mexico imposes additional restrictions on importation of yellow GM corn from the U.S., corn growers will lose a significant market, further complicated by decreasing purchases by China currently the leading importer of the commodity.  This in turn would lead to a sharp decline in the ex-farm price of corn, benefiting domestic livestock producers.  Alternative supplies of non-GM yellow corn for livestock production would be difficult if not impossible to obtain at prices consistent with exports from the U.S.  This in turn would deprive Mexican consumers of supplies of chicken and eggs creating problems for consumers and indirectly for the Government.


The position adopted by Mexico with regard to GM is contrary to the acceptance of approved GM cultivars by China, currently a major importer of GM corn and soybeans from the U.S. According to recent reports China has evaluated and is now moving towards domestic production of GM cultivars to improve yields and move towards self-sufficiency.  The E.U. continues to import GM corn and soybeans and individual nations in Europe are considering domestic cultivation.


It is apparent that the 2020 decree by Mexico was based on a Presidential whim influenced by misinformed advisors.  The implications for the economy of Mexico and obligations to the UMCA were obviously not considered in the from-left field edict.  It would be advantageous for the U.S. and Canada to establish a negotiating strategy that will allow the Government of Mexico and President AMLO to withdraw from their opposition to GM corn imports and save political capital through a phased reversal of their position. AMLO should heed the advice expressed by the character Fagin in the Broadway show Oliver who when confronted with a dilemma sings, “I think I better think it out again”


U. S. FDA Appoints Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods


Following the report of the Reagan-Udall Foundation, Independent Expert Panel for Foods, the FDA embarked on a review of all food-related activities.  A major recommendation of the Panel was the appointment of a qualified and experienced Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods within the Food and Drug Agency (FDA). The position was intended to be responsible for all food related aspects of research, regulation and enforcement of food safety and human nutrition in a single structural entity within the FDA.


On Wednesday, August 24th, Dr. Robert M. Califf, Commissioner of the FDA announced the appointment of James Jones to serve as First Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods.  In his position, Jones will set priorities for a unified human foods program aimed to improve food safety, reduce diet-related diseases and improve health equity.  His term of office will commence on September 24th. In this position, Jones will be supported by a leadership team and will work closely with other FDA executives to ensure coordination.  He will not have oversight over the Center for Veterinary Medicine or the Office of Regulatory Affairs.


Jones earned baccalaureate and Master’s degrees in economics. He gained over 30 years of experience mainly with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency where he was involved in the impact of chemicals and pollution on the food supply.  He was responsible for the 2016 update of the Toxic Substances Control Act and was concerned with regulation of pesticides and chemicals.


In announcing the appointment, Commissioner Califf stated, “Our proposed reorganization is the largest undertaking of its kind in recent history for our Agency.  I am confident that under Jim’s leadership we will build a stronger organization that will be integrated with other components of the FDA and focused on keeping the foods we regulate safe and nutritious.”


EGG-NEWS expresses concern that the incumbent, despite his administrative experience with the EPA, is not a physician and has no formal training in appropriate biological sciences. Surely a national search could have identified a recognized leader in food safety and nutrition with credentials in human medicine, epidemiology and food safety and with appropriate experience in administration. Perhaps qualified potential candidates were identified but declined based on the organizational structure established by the present Commissioner that deviated from the recommendations of the Panel established by the Reagan-Udall Commission.


Ultimately more radical restructuring will be necessary involving separation of the food-regulatory and nutritional aspects of the FDA into a separate Agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. This will be motivated by a probable future health crisis relating to imported or domestic foods or a repeat of the infant-formula debacle as predicted by previous senior FDA administrators in Congressional testimony.


China Will Ultimately Influence Feed Price in 2024


China is a significant importer of U. S. agricultural products.  Demand from this trade partner supports the market for soybeans and corn, maintaining relatively higher prices than would otherwise prevail, reflected in feed cost and hence margin.  In contradistinction, China imports poultry, pork and beef from the U.S., reducing supply relative to demand and thereby maintaining revenue and margin based on domestic prices for livestock products.  For U. S. fiscal 2022, all agricultural exports to China attained $36.4 billion. The major exports included:-

  • Soybeans, $16 billion out of total imports by China of $32 billion.
  • Corn, $5 billion out of $20 billion imported.
  • Beef, $2 billion out of $12 billion.
  • Pork, $1 billion out of $7 billion.
  • Poultry, predominantly feet (66 percent) and leg quarters, $1 billion out of $6 billion.


For comparison the USDA-WASDE #639, released on August 11th, projects soybean exports to attain 1,825 million bushels representing 40.6 percent of total supply for the 2023 harvest.  Total corn exports will rise to 2,050 million bushels corresponding to 12.4 percent of total supply.


The economy of China as a “Communist Peoples Republic” is controlled by the central government. Bureaucrats in large measure determine the volume of imports and their origin with emphasis on needs, price and political considerations.  China has yet to recover from the extreme COVID restrictions and will not achieve the previously stated and aspirational GDP growth target of 5 percent during 2023.  In contrast to the developed world, China is experiencing deflation with consumer prices 0.3 percent lower in July compared to the corresponding month in 2022. The Producer Price Index has declined on an annual basis for ten consecutive months. 


Export value declined by ten percent in July and the Goods and Services Index fell by 1.4 percent in the second quarter compared to a year previously.  Property sales in the 30 largest cities fell by 28 percent in July compared to 2022. Major property developers that operate government-tolerated Ponzi schemes including Country Garden and Evergrande have experienced cash flow crises with the former company facing meltdown and the latter defaulting on loan repayments.


Faced with the realities of a faltering economy and with prospects for public disaffection, the Government has unveiled measures to improve consumption.  Private enterprise will again be encouraged, and labor mobility will be eased.  Unfortunately, the central bank of China is not aggressively trimming interest rates and is maintaining an unrealistic short-term value of two percent.  This contrasts with the period of COVID restrictions when real interest rates were at a negative three percent and consumer prices were up by five percent.  The gross domestic product for China is estimated at 6.3 percent for the second quarter, down considerably on an earlier anticipation of a recovery following COVID restrictions.  Over 52 weeks, Chinese currency has declined by 6.9 percent against the U.S. dollar.


The decline in growth and economic opportunity is reflected in the rise in youth unemployment estimated at over 20 percent with more than half of those seeking work comprising recent graduates of universities.  This situation is so embarrassing to the Government that the Bureau of Statistics has stopped publishing data on unemployment for those under 30 years of age and has ceased releasing consumer-confidence indexes since mid-year.  Domestic tourism is at a low level despite government stimulus and foreign tourism has evaporated.  In the absence of well-paying jobs, young citizens of China are unable to afford housing and are delaying marriage.  This has exacerbated the decline in population.  Couples are reducing family size based on the high cost of raising and educating children especially in cities.  It is estimated that currently the average of 1.1 births per woman of childbearing age is far below the 2.1 required to maintain a working population over the long term.


Antagonism between the U. S. and China in geopolitical competition is impacting sales of U. S. agricultural products due to the round of countervailing import duties imposed by both nations.  Availability and price of soybeans from Brazil and grains from Russia are landed at lower prices than U. S. equivalents.  This trend will persist.  The fact that Cargill disposed of poultry assets in China and that Tyson Foods is following a similar path and lower revenue and earnings posted by the WH Group suggests that the decline in the economy in China confirms an unprofitable future for livestock production.



For the first six months of 2023, broiler exports to China were down by 13.2 percent by volume and 29.5 percent by value compared to the first half of 2022.  Volume and value of broiler exports to China represented 13.2 percent and 16.8 percent of U.S. shipments respectively.  The average unit price for all broiler exports to China in 2022 was $1,747 per ton compared to $1,638 per metric ton for the first half of 2023.  For the first six months of 2023, China imported 244,982 metric tons of poultry products valued at $401,295.  These values were down 22.5 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively from the first half of 2022.  Of the 2023 first-half total value of broiler exports, 65.7 percent comprised feet and paws with a unit price of $1,804 per metric ton, down 11.6 percent from $2,041 per metric ton in 2022.


Clearly, the economy of China over the proximal three years will have a considerable impact on U. S. agriculture and the broiler industry.  Decreased demand for corn and soybeans will reduce domestic production cost to the advantage of U. S. integrators.  Unfortunately, reduced demand for pork and broiler meat in China will accelerate the decline in exports requiring compensatory increases in supply to existing and new import customers.  This will, however, necessitate a radical approach to product scope extending beyond bulk leg quarters. But that is a topic for a subsequent editorial.


Progress in Facilitating Poultry Exports


Dr. John R. Clifford, former Chief Veterinary Officer for the USDA and now Chief Trade Policy Advisor for the USAPEEC recently commented on progress in facilitating exports in the face of HPAI. Since the 2015 epornitic, The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has negotiated agreements with 80 nations to apply regionalization (zoning) in the event of outbreaks.  Notwithstanding the acceptance of World Organization of Animal Health principles and policy, China has continued to impose widespread restrictions on both regions and facilities without regard to scientific reality and inconsistent with other importing nations.


In his position as an advisor to USAPEEC, Dr. Clifford is obviously influenced by the relative magnitude of broiler exports relative to eggs and turkeys that were the most severely affected segments in the 2023 epornitic. Dr. Clifford notes that effective biosecurity is the only current preventive measure. There is anecdotal evidence that egg-production complexes were infected in 2022 despite high levels of structural and operational biosecurity with the implication of aerogenous introduction over short distances that currently is impossible to interdict. Dr. Clifford stated “It (biosecurity) will not eradicate HPAI by itself. It will help reduce HPAI, but it will not eradicate it. The best way to eradicate it is prevention,” It is impossible to eradicate an infection carried by and introduced by migratory free-living birds on a seasonal basis. Neither will mass depopulation that serves as a control measure to limit lateral dissemination to adjacent farms. If the objective is “prevention” then surely creating an immune population in susceptible regions coupled with biosecurity would represent an advance over the current costly “whack-a mole” approach to control.



He is clearly and justifiably concerned over the implications of applying vaccination as an adjunct to existing prevention measures.  Given that HPAI has become regionally and seasonally endemic in many nations, vaccination is now applied in many locations and situations affected by the H5N1 strain. His diplomacy, scientific knowledge and credentials could be used to gain acceptance for more extensive vaccination among importing nations.  Irrespective of vaccination status it should be possible given the availability of PCR technology, to certify flocks or even an entire complex as being free from avian influenza prior to shipment.


Dr. Clifford points to the potential loss of revenue from the export of broiler leg quarters.  He should, however, consider the cost to the U.S. public sector resulting from an epornitic. More importantly, additional expenditure by consumers in the event of restricted supplies of broiler and turkey meat and eggs is an overlooked burden.  During 2022, a doubling in the retail price of eggs cost consumers close to $15 billion.


Dr. Clifford also warns of the potential for a mutant strain of avian influenza becoming zoonotic for which there are precedents.  The World Health Organization has also expressed concerns over the possibility of a recombinant event involving H5N1. This strain is now panornitic in distribution on six continents with dissemination of the pathogen facilitated by migratory waterfowl and marine birds with the possibility of mammal reservoirs.


Opponents of vaccination are advancing extremely dubious justifications to support their position. Requiring a large number of untrained personnel to depopulate commercial farms affected with HPAI represents a far greater danger to the industry than using crews to vaccinate long-lived flocks applying appropriate biosecurity.  In any event, the administration of inactivated vaccine for long-lived would be performed at the same time as existing multivalent products and would not represent a high incremental cost.  For short-lived birds including broilers, vaccine could be administered in hatcheries using HVT-vectored in-ovo products.


In the event that North America is subjected to an extensive outbreak of HPAI in the fall of 2023 or subsequently in the spring of 2014, available avian influenza vaccines similar to those in use in numerous nations, should be considered as a tactical measure complementing biosecurity for specific regions and production systems. 


APHIS Publishes on 2022 HPAI Epornitic


The long-awaited publication on the epidemiologic investigations carried out by USDA-APHIS,  confirmed that wild migratory and possibly domestic birds were the source of HPAI H5N1 strain virus in the 2022 epornitic.  The study does not specify how virus was introduced onto commercial farms, but it is possible to draw conclusions that can be used to enhance protection.


The publication* released on July 25th provided a statistical analysis of the case-control study conducted by APHIS epidemiologists.  Data was obtained by telephone survey conducted from September through December 2022 on 18-case farms and 22 controls located in eight states. By early June, the winter through spring phase of the 2022 H5N1 epornitic had resulted in depletion of 31 million hens or pullets.  The study did not encompass the subsequent fall phase of the 2022 outbreaks.


An interim report on epidemiologic investigations was released during the first week of March 2023.  This document was inexplicably backdated to July 2022.  The report provided neither conclusions nor recommendations and was the subject of a critique in EGG-NEWS on March 8th.  A subsequent webinar presented preliminary findings on May 31st with expansion in the number of cases in the eventual publication.  The results were both intuitive and expected but again APHIS did not provide any new recommendations other than intensification of basic and applied structural and operational biosecurity.


The publication incorporated a statistical analysis of data collected in the survey identifying factors that were in all probability associated with infection based on the magnitude of calculated odds ratios.  These included: -

  • Location of a case farm in an existing control zone (odds ratio 8.0)
  • The presence of wild waterfowl or shore birds in proximity to the case farm prior to onset of mortality (7.6).
  • Wild birds having access to feed on a farm (6.2).
  • Wastewater lagoon or drainage ditch visible within 350 yards of farm (3.3).
  • Mowing or bush hogging prior to onset of infection (2.6).


Given that wild birds and specifically migratory waterfowl and shore birds are known to disseminate H5N1 virus, the findings relating to their presence prior to an outbreak are not unexpected.  Proximity to water or drainage ditches is also indicative of the role of free-living waterfowl in exposing commercial farms to infection.  Attracting birds onto commercial farms by allowing access to feed is also self-evident. Investment in structural biosecurity and application of operational biosecurity contributed to a reduction in the probability of infection with specific reference to vehicle washing (0.3 odds ratio below unity, denoting protection).  The presence of a farm gate was associated with a 0.2 odds ratio, with this factor presumably serving as a composite for structural biosecurity.


The hierarchy of biosecurity extends from conceptual biosecurity at the apex through structural and then down to operational components of biosecurity.  Each is dependent on the previous level for efficacy in preventing introduction of disease.  It is an unfortunate defect in conceptual biosecurity that many large integrated complexes are located in the Mississippi and Central Flyways. Large complexes that are frequently sited in close proximity to rivers and wetlands invariably predicates direct or indirect contact between migratory waterfowl and commercial flocks. Structural biosecurity requires capital expenditure and operational biosecurity is based on the provision of consumables and ongoing management with both providing variable levels of protection. Current levels of even extreme biosecurity do not address the challenge of contact between migratory waterfowl and high concentrations of commercial poultry. The emergence of clade with wide host-species susceptibility and an apparent change in the migratory patterns of marine birds since 2021, predicate in favor of recurring infection along U.S. flyways.


The major deficiency of the APHIS publication relates to a failure to identify how HPAI virus that is carried and shed by migratory waterfowl and shore birds actually entered farms.  There is adequate anecdotal evidence that wind dispersal can occur over relatively short distances.  It could be hypothesized that virus is shed by waterfowl attracted to retention ponds, dams and drainage areas adjacent to farms.  High wind could transfer virus entrained on dust into houses containing flocks.  The fact that most layer or pullet barns in the affected states, even during winter, operate with negative ventilation at high rates (1 million cubic feet per minute for 250,000 hens) would facilitate introduction of infection.  Newcastle disease was shown to be wind-transmitted from affected to susceptible farms over distances of up to two miles during the Essex 1972 outbreaks in the U.K.  Mowing and cultivation of fields adjacent to farms may aerosolize virus shed by free-living birds contributing to aerogenous spread.  Although strict structural and operational biosecurity reduces the probability of introducing infection, it is obviously not absolute, given the number of outbreaks recorded despite documented high levels of biosecurity on some of the farms that were infected.


USDA- APHIS can be faulted for not aggressively attempting to apply known epidemiologic principles of investigation to the outbreak at an early stage in the epornitic.  Experience gained from the 2015 outbreak should have resulted in preemptively establishing programs of investigation involving both field and molecular evaluation. If pre-planned, appropriately funded studies with adequate personnel could have been activated during the first quarter of 2022 during which close to 19 million hens were depleted. 


The case farms ranged in size from 50,000 to 5 million hens.  There are many differences in structure and operation between small contract egg supply farms and large mega-complexes with a feed mill, packing plant and service infrastructure. Combining farms with widely different capacities and facilities introduces confounding since activities and operations are different invalidating direct case-control comparisons.


An additional deficiency in the study related to the use of a 26-page questionnaire based on the 2015 investigation that was administered by telephone, in many cases months after an outbreak.  Telephone surveys obviously suffer from the deficiencies of responder fatigue and recall failure.  Competent investigators acquainted with U.S. egg-production practices and procedures should have been deployed to case and control farms as soon as possible after confirmation of a diagnosis in order to verify levels of biosecurity and to identify factors that may have contributed to infection.  An obvious example relates to whether vehicle wash stations were effective on a specific case farm.  Six months after the event, a responder will confirm that they were present but there is no indication as to their efficacy.  There are many cases of malfunction of vehicle wash stations including failure due to icing during periods of low temperature, blocked nozzles or inadequate design that could confound the relevance of a factor as assessed remotely months after an outbreak.


Public funds in excess of $1 billion were incurred through activities to suppress secondary outbreaks of avian influenza including indemnity and logistic costs for depopulation, disposal and decontamination. Expenditure on personnel to conduct real-time and intensive field and laboratory epidemiologic investigations would have provided an immeasurable return by identifying both predisposing and protective factors by the end of the first quarter of 2022.


From presentations at national and regional meetings, APHIS appears to have embarked on a victory lap during early 2023 given the absence of incident outbreaks. This had little to do with the depletion of up to 44 million hens on 22 large complexes each with more than 500,000 hens but with a total of 41 commercial egg-production facilities in 11 states.  The end to the epornitic can be attributed to the fact that in early 2023, wild birds were presumably no longer moving from their breeding grounds to disseminate virus. The discrepancy in incidence rates of HPAI between the first quarters of 2022 and 2023 have not apparently been investigated but are worthy of study.


The preliminary epidemiologic investigation of the 2022 epornitic, suggests aerogenous introduction of infection onto farms from migratory waterfowl. This invalidates the whack-a-mole approach by APHIS to “eradication”.  The reality based on persistence of infection in Europe, Africa and in wild birds in North America suggests that H5N1 avian influenza is both seasonally and regionally endemic.  This realization coupled with the possibility of aerogenous transmission over short distances presumes that tactical vaccination should be considered as an adjunct to biosecurity as an added measure of prevention. 


Opponents of vaccination are primarily confined to the broiler segment, justifiably concerned over obstruction of trade.  It must be remembered that the 2022 epornitic resulted in a two-fold increase in the retail price of eggs as a result of the disruption in the supply to demand equilibrium. The HPAI epornitic of 2022 cost consumers $15 billion and contributed to food inflation that became both economic and political issues transcending the narrower considerations of one sector of the U. S. poultry industry.


The authors of the USDA-APHIS study and the subsequent publication ought to be commended for their efforts.  They could have made a greater and earlier contribution had they been provided with more support. The responsibility for this deficiency lies with administrators obviously lacking in knowledge and vision. The policy of APHIS during 2015 and 2022 was based on the inappropriate concept of “eradication” This resulted in simply refining the procedures and responses that were relatively ineffective in controlling the Pennsylvania 1984 outbreak.


It is hoped that APHIS recognizes the need to provide the industry with science-based recommendations to prevent HPAI.  This presumes prompt collection and analysis of field data and molecular studies.  HPAI will in all probability return in the fall and APHIS should be prepared to respond not only with traditional depopulation but with practical measures to reduce the economic impact.  A limited study on vaccination efficiency, as conducted in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Holland would be appropriate if not already planned.


*Green, A. et al Investigation of risk factors for introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus onto table egg farms in the United States, 2022: a case-control study. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. Doi: 10.3389/vets.2023.1229008


Implications of the Six-Week House Recess


The House has adjourned for a six-week recess and will reconvene in mid-September with  limited time to conclude business before the end of the fiscal year.  The House should have passed twelve appropriation bills but managed to approve just one for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and military construction.  It is noteworthy that the only appropriations bill passed in July was by a 219-211 vote.  This does not auger well for rapid passage in September.  Failure to pass the appropriation bills will result in a government shutdown, placing the economy and government functions in jeopardy.


Speaker Kevin McCarthy believes that an effort to engage members to pass eleven appropriations bills and consider other House business during the second half of September will be achievable. Given both intra- and inter-party dissension with conflicting interests including the so-called “culture wars”, passage of spending bills appears problematic.


The appropriations for the Department of Agriculture and the FDA are especially of concern to the poultry industry.  Normally these spending bills are noncontroversial.  Considerations extraneous to food production including blocking of racial equity programs, policy over gender-affirming therapy and the sale of oral abortifacients that are irrelevant to agriculture will obviously delay passage of the USDA spending bill and will predispose to a shutdown.  Termination of some services may not directly impact farming over a short period.  Interruption of essential activities such as control of catastrophic diseases will have serious repercussions.  Waterfowl will commence migration in the fall and laboratory services and field control measures will be necessary in the event of outbreaks of avian influenza.


The 2018 Farm Bill expires on September 30th and the need for an extension appears inevitable.  The House Agriculture Committee Chair, Glenn Thompson (R-PA), intended to present a Farm Bill in September but the passage of spending bills will take precedence. Aside from the restraint of a crowded legislative calendar, there is considerable dissension over aspects of the 2023 Farm Bill with conflicting demands from both sides of the aisle but also within the majority party in the House. This does not take into account the wide gulf between House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill of 2023


As with many of my peers growing up in the post WWII years, we were obliged to complete family chores and homework before going out to play.  It seemed tough at the time but created a sense of responsibility and commitment to objectives.  It is unconscionable that elected Representatives have abandoned their place of work for a six-week recess without having completed their obligation to fund the government and conduct the “peoples business”.  This is no time for political posturing and engaging in parochial activities that are intended to favor reelection in November 2024.  The most important considerations are the well-being of our nation with economic stability and progress.  This can only be achieved by rational decisions and mature interaction under decisive leadership.  The American people including our farming community deserve better from the legislative branch of government.


Hope for Restoration of Grain Shipments from Ukraine


The U. S. has invited Tang Renjian, Minister of Agriculture of the People's Republic of China, to the August 3rd meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).


This would provide an opportunity for ministers of agriculture to interact with their counterparts to address pressing issues.  The most important is withdrawal by the Russian Federation from the Black Sea Grain Initiative followed by deliberate bombardment of the three major export ports, Odesa, Chonomorsk and Uchny over a five-day period.  Damage to export installations is extensive according to the Ministry of Agriculture for Ukraine. Even if the BSGI is resuscitated, shipments will be restricted.  In addition, Russia has threatened to regard any vessels sailing to the ports as “hostile” subject to attack and has allegedly mined the approaches to the major ports.


Although Russia claims that cancellation of the BSGI was in retribution to an attack on the Kerch Causeway, the reality is that international sanctions have created financial problems for the Russian Federation.

The entire world will suffer if corn, wheat and oil seeds from Ukraine, fail to reach markets. China would be especially impacted as it is a major purchaser of wheat from both Ukraine and Russia.


If Russia attacks merchant vessels in international waters of the Black Sea, NATO may intervene to create free passage from the area east of the three ports where convoys can assemble southward to the Bosphorus.  A clash between naval vessels of NATO and the Russian Federation would certainly broaden the conflict with serious implications for peace in Europe. Given the current situation of the belligerence, Russia is in no position to embark on a major continental war.


Since the United Nations arose from meetings in San Francisco in 1945, it is hoped that a gathering of APEC members, 78 years later would still carry the same spirit of international cooperation. The task of participants will be to resolve a major issue that will impact the price of agricultural commodities and influence the standard of nutrition in both industrialized and developing nations.


U. S. Susceptible to Zoonoses-Avian Influenza High on the List of Potential Pathogens


A July 7th article in The New York Times highlighted the risk of zoonosis emerging in the U. S. The article suggested, with justification that the U.S. population is as vulnerable as those in Africa and Asia, given the volume of importation of live animals, the presence of live-bird markets in urban areas and the scale of intensive livestock production.


During the 20th century, significant diseases transmitted from animals to man including anthrax and tuberculosis were controlled by the efforts of federal and state officials.  A major advance was pasteurization of milk that limited transmission of tuberculosis, brucellosis, campylobacteriosis, STEC and salmonellosis.  Regrettably, in recent years, state legislatures embracing the principle of “freedom to become infected” have allowed the sale of raw milk that will, inevitably, result in infection among consumers and regrettably, children.


The New York Times article reported on studies conducted by the Harvard Law School, Animal Law and Policy Program that is decidedly opposed to intensive livestock production.  This group cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as determining that “Seventy five-percent of new and emergent infections are zoonotic in origin”.  Although the source of COVID is obscured by deliberate suppression of information by the Government of China, it is evident that recent emergence of coronavirus infections, including SARS and MERS were associated with animal reservoirs. SARS-CoV-19 was diagnosed in mink farms with obvious animal-to-animal transmission and mutation in Denmark, Holland and the U.S. shortly after initial outbreaks were recognized among humans. 


During the past three years, the World’s poultry industry has contended with the emergence and depredation of H5N1 avian influenza on five continents.  This infection is unfortunately not confined to free-living and domestic avian species.  Epidemiologic studies have confirmed that a wide range of mammals are susceptible to H5N1, including many carnivores that either acquire infection through predation or from scavenging dead infected birds.  Mutation of the virus has increased the range of host susceptibility to H5N1 although at the present time there is no evidence that infection is transmitted among free-living animals in the U.S.  It is of concern that an outbreak that occurred on a mink farm in Spain during October 2022 demonstrated obvious animal-to-animal transmission.  Mortality among marine mammals off the coast of Peru and Chile also suggests animal-to-animal transmission given the magnitude of losses. Given the numbers of birds held in close proximity on large farms in areas of high population density there is concern over the probability of emergence of mutant strains with pandemic potential. This view is accepted and promoted by the World Health Organization. The Agency is a proponent of “One Health” principles that recognizes an epidemiologic commonality among free-living animals and birds, domestic herds and flocks and human populations.


Fortunately to date, there have been only a handful of confirmed cases of zoonotic transmission of H5N1 to humans but as yet no evidence of human-to-human transmission. In contrast hogs that are susceptible to avian and mammalian strains  of influenza transmit specific serotypes to humans and may serve as “mixing vessels”  for the emergence of recombinant influenza strains that could be pathogenic for humans.


Cases of H5 and H7 avian influenza in humans occur sporadically in Asia and are associated mainly with live-bird markets.  In the event of a series of cases in an area, regulatory officials in China close markets for a limited period. Tradition, especially in rural areas, results in resumption of operation after a short duration.  Following the occurrence of H7N9 avian influenza in humans, China initiated a program of vaccination of broilers destined for live markets with apparent benefits in lowering the incidence rate.


With respect to live-bird markets, there are close parallels between the U.S. and Asia.  The Center for Environmental and Animal Protection at New York University determined that at least 130 live-bird markets operate in the Northeastern United States alone.  This represents an unconscionable risk with negligible material benefit to society.  Isolation of avian influenza from live-bird markets is more a function of surveillance than actual prevalence.  The fact that low-pathogenicity avian influenza virus can be isolated from birds and the environment of these store-front markets irrespective of sanitation, suggests infection derived from the multi-age farms of origin.  Live-bird markets represent a point of contact between poultry and humans in a setting that favors transmission.  All that is needed is a virus that has undergone mutation to precipitate a public health problem.


With respect to commercial poultry, egg production complexes with more than 1.5 million hens create the possibility of point mutations.  The program of depopulation “stamping out” in an attempt to eradicate avian influenza has proven to be unsuccessful in Western Europe and North America.  Given the fact that migratory birds continue as reservoirs and disseminators of virus, perpetuating infection, avian influenza H5NX strains may now be regarded as seasonally and regionally endemic in many nations.  Since the whack-a-mole approach to control is both expensive and ultimately ineffective, mass immunization should be considered as an adjunct to biosecurity in reducing the probability of avian strains of H5 and H7 becoming zoonotic.


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