Conversion to Cage-Free in Australia Has Lesson for the U.S.

Feb 17, 2017


In recent weeks, commentators have questioned the extent and rate at which the U.S. egg industry will convert from conventional cages to alternative housing systems, presumably with aviary units predominating. Reference to conversion in other egg industries can provide perspective relevant to our own situation.

In an article which appeared in an Australian publication The Weekly Times on January 5th, the Australian Egg Corporation indicated that the proportion of caged and non-caged eggs is now at parity representing a change from 75 percent caged-eggs marketed in 2007.   


Virtually all the supermarket chains in Australia (Aldi, Coles and Woolworths) have committed to sourcing cage-free eggs, paralleling commitments from QSRs (Subway and McDonald’s) and food service providers. The rate of conversion is expected to accelerate through the remainder of the decade. It is estimated that the Australian population of 23 million annually consume 270 eggs per capita representing a potential hen population of 22 million.

This will require re-housing of 11 million hens to either barns or range this decade. Given previous exposure to LPAI H7N2 avian influenza, carried by migratory birds affecting a NSW free range farm in 2013, (See EGG-CITE October 18th 2013), the popularity of non-confined flocks may evaporate in the event of introduction of HPAI H7N6 or other Eurasian strains.

he second issue of concern relates to confusion in labeling of eggs in Australia with conflicts over the definition of “free-range” (See EGG-CITE December 23rd 2016) with the Federal government imposing a national standard of 11 foot2 per hen. (See EGG-CITE April 8th 2016). The CEO of the RSPCA of Australia, Heather Neil stated “international experience shows it’s only a matter of time before battery cages are relegated to the past.”

It is clear that standard nomenclature will have to be applied to U.S. eggs derived from flocks housed under a variety of systems.  This question of labeling should not be delayed as egg producers transition to alternatives from cages. The industry should take the lead in defining specific terms including “free-range”; “aviary”; “pastured”; “barn-housed” and other appelations. 

Not only the descriptive terms but the artwork on cartons will require regulation.  A number of years ago a broker in New England, sourcing eggs from conventional barns, labeled product as “free roaming” When combined with label graphics depicting hens on pasture, any reasonable consumer would assume that eggs were from a “free-range” flock. The intent was to deceive purchasers at the expense of competitors.  In Australia there is currently a six to ten fold difference in actual space requirements for hens, all legally described as “free-range” with the lowest outside space allowance of eleven foot2 per hen.

We can guide our trajectory on conversion from conventional cages by observing the rate of adoption of alternative systems in other industries. We need to analyze and understand the capital and operating costs of production, market demand, price differentials at the shelf, and price elasticity and relative volumes associated with different systems of housing and equipment.


Egg Industry News


CME Prices

Feb 21, 2017


On February 16th close of trading trading on the CME, yielded the following rounded quotations for corn, soybeans and soybean meal.

Values for corresponding months as quoted for the previous week are indicated in parentheses:-


Corn (cents per bushel)

March ’17   368    (365)

May ’17     376  (   373)  

Soybeans (cents per bushel)

March ’17  1,035  (1,031)

May ’17  1,046  (1,042)  

Soybean meal ($per ton)

March ’17   341     (333)   

May ’17     345   (  336)   


Changes in the price of soybeans and soybean meal this week were:-

  • Corn:                     March quotation up by 3 cents                      (+0.8 percent)
  • Soybeans:            March quotation up by 4 cents.                     (+0.4 percent)
  • Soybean Meal:    March quotation up by $8/ton                      (+2.4) percent)

For each 10 cent per bushel change in corn :

  • The cost of egg production would change by 0.45 cent per dozen
  • The cost of broiler production would change by 0.25 cent per pound live weight

For each $10 per ton change in the price of soybean meal:-

  • The cost of egg production would change by 0.40 cent per dozen
  • The cost of broiler production would change by 0.25 cent per pound live weight

See posting on the February 9th USDA-WASDE Report #562 for a review of price projections and quantities of commodities produced in the 2016 season.


USDA Weekly Egg Price and Inventory Report, February 15th 2017

Feb 20, 2017



According to the USDA Egg Market News Reports posted on February 13th Midwest-wholesale prices for Extra Large and Large decreased by 20 percent this past week reverting to the prices pertaining four weeks ago. The progression of prices during 2017 is depicted in the USDA chart reflecting three years of data, updated weekly.


The USDA Egg Market News Report (Vol 64: No. 08) released on February 13th documented a USDA Combined Region value of $0.81 per dozen delivered to warehouses. This price lags Midwest Weekly values by one week, and is compared to a peak price of $2.20 per dozen in late November 2015.  The USDA Combined range for Large, in the Midwest was $0.75 per dozen. At the high end of the range, the price in the South Central Region, attained $0.85 per dozen. The current USDA Combined Price was approximately 63 cents per dozen below the three-year average. In early 2016 the average was inflated by the rise in prices attributed to the post-HPAI shortage of all eggs.

Hen numbers continue to rise relative to demand attaining approximately 310.8 million in production. Hens in lay increased from 303 million in early December 2016. For the past week the number of hens increased by 0.7 million. The total egg-flock comprises 315.9 million including hens in molt and small flocks. Generic shell-egg stock increased by 0.1 percent reflecting the balance between demand and production. Dried-egg inventory of 30.1 million pounds as of January 31st is extremely high, as is the National stock of frozen egg products at 35.8 million pounds.    



Feb 17, 2017



Comments supplementing the production summary tables for the latest series reflecting USDA January 2017 statistics and prices made available by the EIC on February 15th 2017, are tabulated together with comparison values from the previous January 12th 2017 posting.

EGG-CITE summarizes weekly USDA data on egg production and prices in each edition.


January 2017 Cost and Revenue Data

The USDA reports data for six regions, respectively comprising the Northeast, South East (Mid-Atlantic), South Central, Midwest, Northwest and California (NW and California combined in some tables)

  • The USDA ex farm benchmark blended egg price in January 2017 fell 34 percent to 48.2 cents per dozen, compared to December yielding a negative margin of 12.1 cents per dozen as delivered from the laying house. The January 2017 value should be compared to 91.7 cents per dozen for the corresponding month in 2016 and 88.2 cents per dozen in January 2015. It is noted that from November 2014 through March 2015, prices were inflated in anticipation of implementation of California Proposition #2 effective January 1st 2015 and then at the end of this period by the seasonal pre-Easter rise. Thereafter prices responded positively to shortages caused by HPAI in the upper Midwest with a peak in August 2015.
  • During January 2017 feed price averaged 32.4 cents per dozen. Feed cost during 2015 averaged 34.9 cents per dozen. The average feed cost in 2014 was 43.2 cents per dozen in contrast to 2013 which was considerably higher at 50.12 cents per dozen, reflecting the drought-affected crop of 2012.
  • Combining data from the USDA and the EIC (formerly data from the University of California), producers recorded a negative margin of 12.1 cents per dozen at farm level for flocks in January compared to a positive margin of 12.1 cents per dozen in December. The algebraic average margin for 2016 was -9.6 cents per dozen with losses experienced for eight consecutive months.  Ex-farm margin for 2015 amounted to a monthly average of 74.5 cents per dozen. For 2014, average ex-farm contribution margin was 33.9 cents per dozen with all months positive. During 2013, a monthly algebraic positive average margin of 15.3 cents per dozen was earned.
  • The simple average price of feed for January 2017 over 5-regions was $206.30, 1.7 percent higher than in December. The Southeast recorded the highest cost among five regions at $238.44 compared to the lowest region, the Midwest at $175.77 per ton. The average figure includes ingredients plus milling and delivery at approximately $10 per ton. The price of corn was $151 per ton in January. An increase of 3.8 percent in the price of soybean meal from $338 per ton in December to $351 per ton in January contributed to the rise.in the cost of feed There was a $71 per ton differential in corn price between the Midwest and the Southeast in January 2016. Feed price will continue to be the major factor driving production cost and hence margin. Each $10 per ton difference in feed cost represents 1.75 cents per dozen.
  • The EIC-calculated the 6-Region total nest-run production cost in January to be 60.33 cents per dozen, 1.0 percent higher than 59.73 cents per dozen recorded in December. Production costs during January ranged from 54.88 cents per dozen in the Midwest up to 76.26 cents per dozen in California which was higher than the Midwest region by 21.4 cents per dozen. The differential in feed cost between the extremes, the Southeast and the Midwest regions was 9.8 cents per dozen in January.
  • Retail egg prices as determined by the Department of Commerce for December 2016 averaged 138.3 cents per dozen, down by 4.7 percent or 6.2 cents per dozen compared to November. During December 2015 and 2014 retail prices were 275.1 cents per dozen (post HPAI) and 221.0 cents per dozen respectively in the run-up to implementation of California Proposition #2. During 2016 retail prices did not decline in proportion to ex-farm prices allowing higher margins at retail depressing demand.

Aspen Hills Closes as a Result of Listeria Contamination

Feb 17, 2017


Previously CHICK-CITE and EGG-CITE reported on outbreaks of listeriosis involving Blue Bell ice cream contaminated with dough supplied by Aspen Hills Inc. and the previous 2015 outbreaks of listeriosis associated with multiple plants operated by Blue Bell, a national brand.

The September 2016 determination that Listeria monocytogenes was present in cookie dough supplied by Aspen Hills to be added to Blue Bell ice cream, resulted from enhanced quality control by the ice cream producer acting in compliance with the FSMA. 


The finding resulted in an investigation revealing problems in the Aspen Hills’ Iowa plant during a late September FDA inspection. This resulted in the Agency issuing a Form-483.  The FDA carried out a subsequent inspection at the plant and on January 10th 2017 issued a further warning letter documenting continuation of serious violations.

The owners of the plant failed to correct deficiencies and to respond adequately to the September warning letter. The January communication stated, “The frequency of these environmental findings in conjunction with your finished product finding indicates that your firm is not taking aggressive action to identify harborage sites for L. monocytogenes, to deep clean your facility effectively, and to prevent finished product contamination.”

The FDA applied whole genome sequencing (WGS) to 15 isolates to demonstrate that they were genetically identical.  Based on deficiencies in the plant and an apparent inability to rectify the problems relating to equipment, procedures and training as detailed by the FDA, the owners elected to cease production and wind up the company.

Listeria can become a persistent infection in food plants and requires diligent hygiene and decontamination of equipment and work surfaces at regular intervals coupled with effective quality control as part of a HACCP program.


Whole Genome Sequencing Reviewed at IPPE

Feb 17, 2017


USPOULTRY in conjunction with the North American Meat Institute organized a symposium “Whole genome Sequencing – Food Safety Implications” during the 2017 IPPE.  Dr. Haley Oliver, Associate Professor of Food Science at Purdue University provided a description of the process and how it can be used to alert public health officials regarding the presence of a common-source infection.  Dr. Oliver also noted the value of public-access databases reviewable by researchers and public health officials in their investigations.


Dr. Matthew Wise, director of the Outbreak Response Team lead-investigator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that food production and distribution have undergone substantial change over twenty years and that ready-to-eat food is now consumed more frequently.  Whole Genome Sequencing can be applied to definitively determine if bacteria isolated from patients and an implicated food are identical.  Wise considers that sequenced-based surveillance will result in the detection of new outbreaks allowing quicker control and reducing the incidence rate for outbreaks.

It is evident that the food industry will have to become acquainted with WGS, how it can be applied and the implications in terms of liability.  Dr. Rafael River, Manager of Food Safety and Production at USPOULTRY noted, “We need industry concerns addressed before we can proceed with any activity related to WGS. Most importantly, we need the time and space to learn how to use WGS to improve public health and protect our industries.”


Webinar on HPAI Outbreak Response

Feb 17, 2017


The Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center at the University of Nebraska arranged a webinar on response to avian influenza. 

The program was aired on February 17, 2017.

An archived version will be available subsequent to the webinar at www.extension.org/54317



Aldi Embarks on Store Upgrades

Feb 17, 2017


Aldi announced on Wednesday January 8th that it will spend $1.6 billion remodeling U.S. stores.  The program will increase selling space by 20 percent to 12,000 square foot for an average store.  The upgrades will include 1,300 stores to provide extended displays for perishable products, with the program completed by 2020.  In addition the Company will invest $3 billion for 615 new locations over a five-year period.


The changes are believed to be a preemptive measure to compete effectively with Lidl also a deep discounter operating in the EU although according to analysts, the upgrade will affect existing supermarket operators rather than a direct confrontation with Lidl.

In a related matter, the Schwarz Group, the parent company of Lidl has named Dane Hojer as the CEO following the resignation of Sven Scidel previous incumbent.


Whole Foods Market Reports on Q1 of FY 2017

Feb 17, 2017


In a press release dated February 8th after the market closed, Whole Foods Market (WFM) announced results for the 1st Quarter of Fiscal 2017 ending January 15th.

The following table summarizes the results for the period compared with the values for the corresponding quarter of the previous fiscal year (Values expressed as $ x 1,000 except EPS)


Eating a Breakfast Meal Lowers Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Feb 17, 2017


According to dietary guidelines prepared by Columbia University Medical Center, consuming a breakfast meal rather than snacking during the day leads to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

The report was endorsed by the American Heart Association. The study demonstrated that 30 percent of U.S. adults skipped breakfast. 

Those that do eat breakfast each day usually have lower serum cholesterol and lower blood pressure compared to subjects deferring the first meal of the day.

Subjects who did not eat a breakfast meal were found to be overweight and prone to diabetes and other metabolic complications associated with over- consumption of calories and poor food choices.


The American Egg Board through the Egg Nutrition Center has demonstrated the benefits of consuming an egg at breakfast.  It is now up to the industry to engage with consumers and produce convenience foods that suit the lifestyles of the 30 percent that cannot accommodate a conventional breakfast into their routines and lifestyles.


National Restaurant Association Releases December Performance Index

Feb 17, 2017


The Restaurant Performance Index declined slightly in December to 100.5 from the November value of 100.7.

The Current Situation Index which measures same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditure declined slightly to 99.5 in December mainly as a result of depressed same-store sales and traffic.


The Expectations Index was unchanged in December at 101.6.  This parameter was associated with a “cautiously optimistic outlook for the economy.”

Approximately one-third of restaurant operators expect an improvement in the economy within the coming six months which is an improvement from 2016 with eleven straight months of negative expectations.  More than half of the restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure in equipment, expansion or remodeling within the next six month.  This may be due to increasing labor rates predicating modern equipment to achieve efficiency in food preparation and serving.


Supermarket and Restaurant Industries Support Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act

Feb 17, 2017


According to a press release from the Food Marketing Institute on February 3rd, the Association will strongly support the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 772/S. 261). 

The legislation would allow the use of a menu or menu board in prepared foods areas, declassifies advertisements and marketing materials as “menus” and allows the use of a website to comply with the FDA nutritional labeling requirements which would be onerous for both restaurants and supermarkets.


The Food and Drug Administration was inflexible in establishing a Final Rule on nutritional labeling and the proposed legislation would clarify many aspects neglected and deferred by the Agency to the benefit of both retailers and consumers.


Sysco Reports on Q2 of FY 2017

Feb 17, 2017


In a press release dated February 6th Sysco (SYY) announced results for the 2nd Quarter of Fiscal 2017 ending December 31st 2016.

The following table summarizes the results for the period compared with the values for the corresponding quarter of the previous fiscal year (Values expressed as $ x 1,000 except EPS).



Ayers Rock, Northern Territories, Australia

Feb 16, 2017

Dr. Simon Shane and Dr. Barbara Shane visit
AyersRock, Northern Territories, Australia


Shane Commentary


U.S. Children Derive Calories from Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Feb 17, 2017


Data derived from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published in NCHS Data Brief #271, released in January 2017 disclosed that almost two-thirds of boys and girls in the U.S. consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage each day.

They obtained on average 7.3 percent of total daily caloric intake from these drinks.  Non-Hispanic Asian boys and girls consumed the least calories and the lowest percentage of total calories from sugar-sweetened beverages compared to non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic boys and girls.

Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and dental decay, obesity, Type-2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, and fatty liver disease.

In a related nutrition and health topic, The Union of Concerned Scientists petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to establish “disqualifying levels” of added sugars that would prohibit the use of “healthy” in labeling.  Generally, “healthy” foods should contain 3 grams or less of total fat per serving and 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving.


FDA has received citizen petitions requesting that the definition of “healthy” should be reevaluated in the light of current knowledge. The term “healthy” as applied in labeling of food  has not been changed since 1994 when funded research and lobbying by the sugar industry distorted public policy on consumption of fats. This directly impacted the egg-production industry.

The FDA has now been requested to set disqualifying level” for added sugars.  The topic will be reviewed by the FDA at a March 9, 2017 public meeting on the term “healthy” in food labeling.


FDA Negligent in Inspecting Foreign Drug Plants

Feb 17, 2017


It would appear that the FDA is ignoring “Drugs” in their Agency title.

A report in the January 30th edition of Chemical & Engineering News cites a Government Accountability Office report which documents that the Agency has failed to inspect 1,300 drug-manufacturing facilities in foreign nations exporting to the U.S.  A total of 243 of  535 pharmaceutical facilities in China have yet to be inspected. 


Approximately one-third of 600 pharmaceutical plants in India have not been evaluated by FDA personnel.  The report noted that 90 percent of 171 facilities in South Korea have not been reviewed in on-site visits.

Apparently, the FDA uses a risk-based system to prioritize visits but the agency is chronically under-staffed.

Peter Saxon, president of a consulting group with extensive ties to foreign manufacturers indicated that most of the uninspected plants produce over-the-counter (OTC) products.

If the FDA can expend time and energy in inspecting egg-producing farms following the implementation of the Salmonella Prevention Final Rule and finding virtually no SE even in 2011. The Agency should have the resources to audit manufacturing facilities manufacturing both generic and OTC drugs.

EGG-CITE has frequently noted the deficiencies in establishing priorities and execution of responsibilities for protection of consumers. The FDA as presently staffed and structured cannot do justice to both food and drugs. The U.S. would be better served by separate Food Safety and Drug Agencies with concentration on their specific areas of concern.


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Industry Prices: Wed Feb 22
 Corn3.97 $/bu
 Soybeans10.14 $/bu
 Soybean Meal333.80 $/ton
 Eggs, Producer38  ¢/doz
 Eggs, Warehouse 56-59  ¢/doz