Shane Commentary


U.S. Agricultural Productivity Dependent on Research and Technology

Oct 2, 2015

A recent publication from the USDA Economic Research Service* summarized an econometric study to quantify growth in productivity.  The publication differentiated between Partial Factor Productivity (PFP) and Total Factor Profitability (TFP) as measures of efficiency.  Partial Factor Productivity considers single inputs such as yield per acre. Total Factor Productivity relates all inputs involved in production. This criterion incorporates land, labor, capital and intermediate goods (consumables such as seed, fuel, fertilizer and pesticides and machinery) in determining the efficiency of output over the long term.


Was the Salmonella Rule Oversold?

Sep 25, 2015

Randall Lutter recently published a discussion paper entitled How Effective are Federal Food Safety Regulations? issued by a public advocacy group, Resources for the Future

The Food and Drug Administration developed the Salmonella Prevention Rule in 2009 which was based on a series of projections justified by the benefit over cost ratio. These were developed using assumptions relating to incidence rate attributed to eggs, the cost of infection and the expense involved in implementing the proposed Rule.  It is the contention of Dr. Randall Lutter that rules which are based on epidemiologic and financial projections should be subject to review a number of years after implementation to determine whether projections of cost and benefits were valid and whether the rule is justified.

When the FDA proposed the Salmonella Prevention Rule, they had access to data from the UK which had experienced a high prevalence of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  A marked reduction in the incidence rate occurred in 1993 following the introduction of vaccine for breeder flocks. The number of chicken-related cases dropped from 800 to 200 within two years.  Following the routine introduction of vaccine for commercial egg production flocks in 1997, a further reduction occurred with an incremental drop in cases of SE phage type 4 by 1999.  The situation was further improved in 2001 with the introduction of live vaccines which preceded the national Lion Brand control plan initiated in 2008.  By the time the EU introduced statutory restrictions to control SE in eggs in 2009, the number of human cases in the United Kingdom had fallen from approximately 17,000 in 1990 to a few hundred in 2010.

In 2009 the Food and Drug Administration estimated that the proposed rule would result in an annual cost of $88 million, would avert 69,000 cases annually and would accrue a net benefit of $1.1 billion.  The 90 percent confidence interval relating to the number of human cases of SE extended from 30,000 to 191,000.  The “Egg Rule” was expected to reduce the National incidence rate of SE by 37 percent.

Inherent to the projection of benefits was the assumption that for every laboratory-confirmed case, thirty-eight patients would contract undiagnosed SE.  The FDA in applying quality adjusted life-days including the value for mortality, projected that each case of SE would cost $17,900 with a range of $7,600 to $49,500 per case.


Russia Equates Smuggling Food with Arms Trading

Sep 25, 2015

Just when I run short of topics for editorials Russia comes to the rescue with an outlandish proposal exemplifying a distorted view of the World according to Tsar Putin.  Recently CHICK-CITE commented on the wanton destruction of food by Russian authorities on the grounds that it was illegally imported from the EU.  Since mid-2014, Russia has banned the introduction of food from the U.S., Canada and the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed following the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

A draft bill will be introduced in Duma in September increasing penalties for food smuggling since the current fine of $4,500 per incident does not appear to be a deterrent. The Federal Customs Service, feigning a straight face suggested that banned foreign foods be reclassified as “strategically important”. This category currently covers armaments, radioactive material and toxins.  Those found guilty of contravention of the proposed legislation would be liable for imprisonment of up to seven years.  In the context of the Russian penal system this is virtually a death sentence based on the harsh conditions of incarceration and the prevalence of tuberculosis.

There appears to be little concern for the citizens of Russia who are facing severe inflation and shortages of food.  Bulldozing cheese, incineration of meat and pouring chlorine bleach over produce will not materially advance the economy of Russia or the happiness of its population.  The proposed reclassification of food as strategically important, appears to be a desperation measure reflecting the dictatorial tendencies of the absolute ruler who has morphed from an elected president into a virtual dictator-for-life, given the sequential flip-flop with Prime Minister Medvedev.

Although Russian insanity will continue to provide commentators and comedians with an ongoing stream of material, Russian reliance on oil revenue, rampant corruption and the blunders perpetrated by their rulers are creating dissention and privation.


Results of the Migratory Bird Influenza Surveillance Project?

Sep 24, 2015

On July 8th 2015 EGG-CITE posted a report of the “U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan for Early Detection and Monitoring for Avian Influenza of Significance in Wild Birds and the 2015 Surveillance Plan for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Waterfowl in the United States.” 

These programs were developed by the Interagency Steering Committee for Surveillance for HPAI in Wild Birds and involved USDA-APHIS, the Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies.

It is now mid-September and the project should have been in operation for at least nine weeks.  Regulatory authorities and producers would obviously benefit from preliminary information on the antibody status and shed-rate of influenza virus among migratory and endemic waterfowl and shore birds sampled to date. The situation with regard to waterfowl in the Atlantic flyway is of specific importance. States with significant commercial poultry populations that were not affected by the 2015 Spring HPAI epornitic would be at great risk if it were to be shown that some species or populations acquired infection by cohabitation in northern nesting grounds with birds migrating along the Mississippi Flyway.

This information could be applied to forwarding planning especially for the approaching Fall of 2015 and indirectly for the anticipated reintroduction of HPAI in the spring of 2016.


USDA Perpetuates Myth of Pervasive Hunger

Sep 24, 2015

An incisive article by James Bovard in the September 10th edition of USA Today takes issue with the USDA definition of “food insecurity”.  This statistic as defined by USDA involves “uncertainty of having or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all family members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food”.  Food insecurity involves concern over not being able to buy food at any point in a year but may only be a single day according to the USDA definition. The misuse of the statistic leads to an over-estimate of hunger in the U.S.

Bovard makes the case that the Administration should be more precise in their definition of hunger and take steps to alleviate malnutrition.  Increasing spending and failure to differentiate between quantity and quality of food in programs such as SNAP are not improving the healthfulness of diets for those receiving aid. Efforts should be redirected towards achieving a healthier low-income population.

According to published research, seven times as many low income children are obese compared to those that are below weight standard.  Forty percent of food-stamp recipients are clinically obese.

Eggs, fruit and fresh produce have an important contribution to dietary needs irrespective of income.  The most immediate step which the government could take would be to disallow the use of food stamps for drinks containing high levels of sugar (“empty calories”).  Given the efforts of the First Lady, the USDA and academia to improve nutrition it is unfortunate that there are so many vested interests in the business of food insecurity each with an agenda benefitting some segment of cultivation, processing or distribution of food. At least the egg-production industry has made noteworthy contributions to alleviation of hunger through donations to food banks over the years.


Hampton Creek CEO Complains of AEB Actions

Sep 24, 2015

In press releases and interviews characterized by their cynicism, Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek Inc. has called for an investigation by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review the activities of the American Egg Board (AEB) whom he alleges opposed his company and product.

EGG-CITE has previously considered the questionable actions of the Board in opposing the unwarranted publicity generated by Tetrick in favor of his mayonnaise substitute devoid of egg yolk, marketed as Just Mayo™.  (See posting on September 4th 2015)

Irrespective of whether the AEB was justified in its actions, by law Hampton Creek Inc. cannot represent that its product is in fact mayonnaise, a deception which is self-evident in the trade name used.  As a lawyer, Tetrick should recognize that the legal definition of mayonnaise includes a product containing eggs and he should therefore cease using the deceptive trade name and to continue defying the FDA to promote his product.  (See posting on August 26th 2015)

The actions by the AEB are a distinct and separate issue from non-compliance by Hampton Creek Inc. with FDA regulations including accurate labeling. His current bluster and publicity have been generated to divert attention from the basic non-compliance by Hampton Creek Inc. with the statutory definition of mayonnaise.


USDA to Subsidize Multi-blend Gas Pumps

Sep 23, 2015

In an end-run around the previous action restraining the Department of Energy from subsidizing multi-blend gas pumps spearheaded by Senator McCain (R-AZ), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that 21 states are to receive grants for 5,500 new gas pumps.  At issue is to facilitate delivery of E15 and higher blends of ethanol. It is understood that multi-blend pumps may cost as much as $55,000 each so the Vilsack initiative will carry a cost of $30 million. 

For some considerable time, the ethanol industry has lobbied for increases in the allowable inclusion of ethanol in gasoline above the current 10 percent value which appears to be an economic and technical ceiling for blending.

National Chicken Council commented that ethanol futures are trading above unleaded gasoline reducing the incentive to blend more than the statutory 10 percent.

Since only vehicles manufactured after 2013 can use E15, and the average age of U.S. automobile exceeds 12 years, it is difficult to envisage how expenditure of public funds will benefit drivers. New autos and flexi-fuel vehicles will benefit from the availability of multi-blend pumps although the price of fuel will not be lower than pure gasoline. Cost of various grades will be proportional to prevailing prices of gasoline and ethanol, influenced in turn by the removal of excess supply from the market through unjustified exports. Incorporation of ethanol in gasoline is in the final analysis a process of dilution resulting in a proportional deterioration in fuel consumption efficiency.

This action is yet another example of a handout by the USDA to maintain the viability of an industry which could not survive without mandates and supports.


USDA to Subsidize Multi-blend Gas Pumps

Sep 23, 2015

In an end-run around the previous action restraining the Department of Energy from subsidizing multi-blend gas pumps spearheaded by Senator McCain (R-AZ), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that 21 states are to receive grants for 5,500 new gas pumps.  At issue is to facilitate delivery of E15 and higher blends of ethanol. It is understood that multi-blend pumps may cost as much as $55,000 each so the Vilsack initiative will carry a cost of $30 million. 

For some considerable time, the ethanol industry has lobbied for increases in the allowable inclusion of ethanol in gasoline above the current 10 percent value which appears to be an economic and technical ceiling for blending.

National Chicken Council commented that ethanol futures are trading above unleaded gasoline reducing the incentive to blend more than the statutory 10 percent.

Since only vehicles manufactured after 2013 can use E15, and the average age of U.S. automobile exceeds 12 years, it is difficult to envisage how expenditure of public funds will benefit drivers. New autos and flexi-fuel vehicles will benefit from the availability of multi-blend pumps although the price of fuel will not be lower than pure gasoline. Cost of various grades will be proportional to prevailing prices of gasoline and ethanol, influenced in turn by the removal of excess supply from the market through unjustified exports. Incorporation of ethanol in gasoline is in the final analysis a process of dilution resulting in a proportional deterioration in fuel consumption efficiency.

This action is yet another example of a handout by the USDA to maintain the viability of an industry which could not survive without mandates and supports.


Canadian Supply Management Drives Shoppers Southward

Sep 16, 2015

The Canadian managed supply system for dairy and poultry products is responsible for wide differentials in price between Canada and the U.S.  Those Canadians living within easy driving distance of the border are shopping in the U.S. despite the rise in value of the U.S. Dollar against Canadian currency.

A study from the University of Manitoba shows that on eggs and poultry alone, consumers in Canada spend from $340 to $550 extra per year with the higher cost attributed to restricted supply.  Recently due to outbreaks of avian influenza in the upper Midwest and previously in the Northwest, importation of eggs and uncooked poultry was embargoed from specific states.  Accordingly Canadians are purchasing cooked rotisserie chicken from club stores and are awaiting the lifting of the 90-day quarantines during mid- to late September to resume their purchases.


Johns Hopkins Policy Manager Beats HPAI Drum

Sep 11, 2015

Mr. Bob Martin Director of Food System Policy at Johns Hopkins University and previously the Executive Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farming and Production who proudly claims to be neither a scientist nor an academic (non-credentialed self-ordained “expert”?) uses unsupported theory to implicate both the porcine epidemic diarrhea outbreak and the more recent HPAI epornitic to condemn large scale (“industrial”) systems of livestock production.

The Pew Commission highlighted costs associated with disease outbreaks in large-scale livestock production and suggested that our current livestock-systems represent “serious public health concerns”.

In effect PED and HPAI cause serious losses to the swine and the poultry industries respectively over the duration of outbreaks. With this acknowledgement it is firmly stated that there was absolutely no adverse human health outcome from either infection.

It is incontrovertible that large-scale disease outbreaks are exacerbated by concentration of animal species in limited geographic areas. A high density of populations in individual complexes results in either significant mortality, depending on the virulence of the agent or may require depopulation to eradicate an exotic disease.  We are all too aware of the direct and indirect costs of HPAI in 2015 and the disproportionate contribution of a few large in-line breaking units to the total loss of hens, resources and money.  The industry is intensively reviewing causation and risk factors and will make appropriate changes to avoid a repetition of the delays in addressing euthanasia, depletion and disposal of large flocks.

Unfortunately Dr. Martin and his cohorts at Pew and Johns Hopkins University do not provide any economically viable and practical alternative to intensification of livestock production.  At the end of the day, we have to feed a population in excess of 320 million in the U.S. and export our surplus products to importing nations which depend on our efficiency in converting agricultural resources to protein.


Target Stores to Test New Food Products

Sep 4, 2015

USA Today recently reported that Target will soon release the Freshii concept in nine stores.  The company will also introduce Pizza Hut restaurants in three stores as a trial.  The initiative was developed by Brian Cornell, the new CEO, who recognized the need to replace traditional nachos, popcorn and hot dogs with more upscale fare.  It is estimated that 40 percent of Target customers visit an in-store café while shopping.

On a more fundamental and serious note, Cornell cannot expect to retain customer loyalty or to compete against other stores until he effectively fixes the IT components of his business.  While visiting a Target Superstore on a Saturday morning recently, customers were stacked up six-deep behind the few checkout counters operating with delays of up to 15 minutes.  The manager of the store said she could not open more checkout registers due to defects in activating systems, which is a longstanding problem. 

Delays in checkout coupled with reports of intrusion into the Target client database and failure to read Target cards, the expedient of upgrading food service would appear to be analogous to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


Outlandish Prediction on Price based on HPAI

Aug 28, 2015

According to NBC News, Bret Hundley of BB&T Capital Markets commented on the rise in price of eggs occasioned by the recent HPAI outbreak.  This is very perceptive and obviously confirms his acumen and expertise which allows him to hold down a responsible position with a leading financial institution.  Where Hundley and I differ is his outlandish forecast of $6 per dozen in the event of subsequent outbreaks of HPAI. The $6 per dozen figure is presumably for generic eggs although he makes no distinction among categories of shell eggs. His prediction is contingent on “if bird flu gets closer to home for Cal-Maine Foods.”


Transition by McDonald’s to Offset Sales Decline

Aug 28, 2015

EGG-CITE and the financial press have reported extensively on the sequential-quarterly decline in U.S. same-store sales announced by McDonald’s Corporation.  Efforts to revitalize the company by incoming CEO Steve Easterbrook have received considerable publicity but it is evident that his efforts will take time before they are reflected in the significant operational and financial parameters. (see Q2 Results posted on July 27th 2015)

Press reports some time ago noted that McDonald’s was introducing a “create your taste” customization effort for their sandwiches.  When first proposed under the previous CEO, Don Thompson the initiative was roundly criticized as it was unworkable for a chain heavily committed to drive-thru window sales.

Aware of the trend towards “healthier” and “natural” menus as promoted by Chipotle, Panera Bread and smaller chains, McDonald’s is trying to emulate their successful competitors.  The “create your taste” concept was reworked, and will be tested in New York allowing customers to order using touch-screen pads and kiosks to select from among toppings and sauces some of which are new to the McDonald’s menu.  Whether this concept is applicable to as many as 3,000 restaurants is questionable.

As a gentle suggestion, McDonald’s may wish to apply consumer segmentation to their approach.  If a proportion of McDonald’s restaurants have menu items and décor to attract millennials, will I as a traveler know what to expect when I select a McDonald’s store?  After all the selling point for McDonald’s over the past four decades has been consistency in quality (or otherwise) cleanliness (or otherwise) service (or otherwise) which one expects of a name-brand franchiser.  By altering the ambiance and menu, in selected stores McDonald’s may end up with worst of all possible worlds. They may lose existing clientele with a suitably adapted intestinal flora and enzyme secretions to competing chains offering uniform products. Concurrently they may fail to attract fickle millennials who in any event are patronizing more upscale QSRs.

McDonald’s might well be advised to follow the attempts by Target, Walmart and even Whole Foods Market and develop a different store concept with a modified name to create a brand appealing to a defined demographic.  It is absolutely impossible for McDonald’s to become Chipotle in the same way that Texas Steakhouse could not aspire to become a one-star Michelin restaurant. I remember the failure of the McCafé concept in the early 2000s when McDonald’s tried to become Starbucks. They just could not transfer the ambience of an upscale coffee shop to a hamburger QSR. Now the McCafé is reduced to a machine or two somewhere down on the right side of the counter where the staff trip over each other working the drive-through delivery window.


Controversy over Labeling of GMO Foods Continues

Aug 21, 2015

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is gaining support.  In a recent address to farmers, Rep. Pompeo confirmed that there is no need to label GMO foods since there is no substantial nutritional or other biologically detectable difference between GMO and conventional ingredients.  Labeling should be reserved for unsafe products including tobacco where there is clear scientific evidence of a deleterious health effect.

The proposed Federal legislation would impose a national standard for labeling and would obviate a patchwork of state and local regulations. This requirement would ultimately add to the cost of production and distribution and will ultimately be borne by consumers.  Pompeo noted “it is important that there be a single set of rules for the food chain in the United States and it is equally important that the set of rules be grounded in science and not in someone’s emotions or political agenda”.

Pamela Bailey, President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) considers GMO labeling as a significant priority.  In an interview for Food Business News she outlined action taken by the GMA to oppose a state law passed in Vermont, requiring labeling of all products made with GMO ingredients effective July 1st 2016.  The U.S. District Court has denied the request for preliminary injunction to halt implementation although the issue is now subject to appeal.

Food manufacturers are concerned that the Vermont law will seriously impact supply chains given the volume of shipment of products in the Northeast quadrant requiring expensive segregation of identical products.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, designated a H.R.1599 requires labeling of a food product containing GMO ingredients only if the Secretary of Health and Human Services determines that there is a material difference from comparable generic products.

The GMA is satisfied with action in the House of Representatives but is eagerly awaiting resolution of the issue in the Senate. Ms. Bailey stated, “we are working with a very large coalition and that is one of the reasons this legislation has been so successful.  These efforts represent a farm-to-fork coalition including farm groups, food processors, retailers and restaurants”.


Concern over Imported Eggs

Aug 19, 2015

Discussions with producers during the past two weeks have evinced questions relating to the source and quality of imported eggs.  Mexico and the Netherlands are the principal suppliers although other EU nations have consigned shipments of breaking stock to the U.S. 

The first concern relates to introduction of disease.  Since nest-run eggs are imported from Mexico, it is possible that either END or HPAI could be introduced on contaminated product.  This problem could be obviated by insisting on washed eggs shipped on new packing material and transported in decontaminated trailers. The destination of some shipments is also a matter of concern as one breaker is importing eggs from Mexico into North Central Georgia which has a high concentration of broiler production.


French Activists Agitate for End to Disposal of Cockerels

Aug 14, 2015

According to a report in Poultry World, the Association Ethique et Animaux, L214 has petitioned the Government of France to eliminate hatchery disposal of surplus cockerels.  Brigitte Gothiere a spokesperson for the Association, as quoted in Poultry World, stated “everyday thousands of newborn chicks are shredded alive because they are considered as mere waste.  This cruelty has lasted too long.  The Civil Code now recognizes animals as sentient beings and it is time to act accordingly”.

The action follows release of a video showing cockerels subjected to grinding in macerators and suffocation in plastic bags.

Similar action has been instituted in Germany. Officials have announced their intention of banning the killing of cockerels by 2017.  This nation is currently investigating gender determination in embryos.  This technology was in fact developed in the U.S. at Embrex by a team led by Dr. Catharine Ricks during the late 1990s, previous to the purchase of the company by Zoetis.  The original objective was to install equipment in broiler hatcheries to differentiate between male and female chicks to be placed for separate-sex growout.  It would now appear that this technology could be revisited. The installation was accurate but at the time was not commercially applicable in the U.S. broiler industry which predominantly places straight-run chicks.  If required, newly-hatched broiler chicks can be separated according to gender by applying feather sexing.

In the interim, a major U.S. egg-producer has developed a prototype chamber to allow for humane carbon dioxide euthanasia of cockerels prior to maceration.  It is predicted that if this technology is universally applied, much of the public antagonism towards disposal of cockerels would be reduced. Obviously animal rights organizations would not be able to claim that the U.S. industry was grinding conscious chicks.


Center for Food Integrity Survey

Aug 12, 2015

EGG-CITE has previously commented on the disingenuous and blatantly false statements by Dr. Memhet Oz to promote products on his television show.

According to a press release by the Center for Food Integrity, an advocacy organization representing food producers and commodity groups, Oz is not regarded as being a reliable or trustworthy commentator.  In a survey entitled “Cracking the Code on Food Issues: Insights from Moms, Millennials and Foodies” Oz was ranked second to last among eleven sources of information.  Among millennials and foodies, Oz was ranked last.

Family physicians were regarded as the most trustworthy source followed by university scientists with Oz once again at the bottom of the pack.  Charlie Arnot CEO of the Center for Food Integrity stated “It goes to show that celebrity does not equal creditability, you don’t need a national TV show to be a trusted source when it comes to how food is produced today.”  He added “The voices of farmers, mom, and university scientists matter.  The research is clear: consumers are looking to creditable sources for balanced information so that they can make informed decisions.”

A number of commentators including those in the medical profession have criticized their colleague Dr. Oz for his outlandish claims obviously influenced by his commercial interests.  He has descended from the status of a highly respected thoracic surgeon to the ranks of pseudo- scientist, sophist and a manipulator of the visual and social media. His cohorts include the self-styled “food babe” Vani Hari, Dr. Michael Greger of the HSUS and anti-GMO-activist Vandana Shiva.


Consumers Concerned over Dietary Choices - Opportunity for Eggs?

Aug 12, 2015

An informational article circulated by the American Egg Board confirmed that surveys conducted by Sloan Trends determined that 53 percent of U.S. adults are “watching what they eat and what they are watching, are nutrients”.  According to the research organization, calorie count is less important than the nutritional value of the calories consumed. This reality plays directly to eggs with their inherent high protein, balance in amino acids, essential fatty acids together with minerals and vitamins relative to available calories. 

A second trend involves an increased interest in the breakfast meal whether at home or purchased from QSRs. A number of chains have recognized the value of serving breakfasts and eggs have become the mainstay of menu options despite transitory high cost.  As part of their attempt to limit the decline in same-store sales, McDonald’s is testing all-day breakfasts in a small proportion of their U.S. stores. This is a belated attempt to catch up with Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway which are offering egg-white sandwiches for health-conscious consumers over extended hours during the day.

For home-breakfast meals, the American Egg Board has worked with media to publicize other than conventional scrambled, fried and boiled dishes. The promotional material from the AEB features toppings and by combining with vegetables, salsas and cheeses, consumers can now enjoy the benefits of either home-cooked or store-purchased meal kits and microwaveable egg dishes. 

Among the many brands featuring eggs for breakfast, Morning Star and Jimmy Dean, are prominent in the breakfast cooler aisles.  The trend even incorporates ethnic foods with hearty American and Latino-styled products in both vegetarian and meat combinations.


Interpretation of Scientific Studies at Variance with Reality - Revisited

Aug 12, 2015

EGG-CITE is indebted to Dr. John Dunn of the USDA-ARS Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory (ADOL) for information on the scientific distortions in reports leading to the Commentary posted on Friday August 7th. As documented by Dr. Dunn, an acknowledged expert in the molecular biology of Marek’s disease virus, the postings appeared in  the following  sequence:-

  • Publication of the Read et al. article which was factual and scientifically sound
  • Presentation of the PBS item on July 27th authored by Nsikan Akpan describing the Pirbright study but mentioning in passing avian influenza and human childhood infections, which on balance could be regarded as irrelevant. This elicited reader’s comments on their interpretation of concepts of immunology with contributions and opinions from the “anti-vaccination” fraternity
  • Posting of an article in the vegan-leaning website “Munchies” on July 29th which amplified aspects of the PBS broadcast.
  • A posting on August 3rd on Global Meat News under the title “U.S. Battles Poultry Sickness Rivalling Bird Flu” which absolutely misquoted the PBS  broadcast and web posting by claiming that Marek’s disease was more deadly than avian influenza.
  • The ADOL responded factually to requests from the media placing the issue in perspective.

A review of the relevant postings suggests that the PBS article included opinions from a highly technical on-line publication which were borderline in their validity. The Global Meat posting included conclusions which were totally unwarranted and were obviously sensational.

Nothing in the EGG-CITE posting was factually incorrect although the responsibility for the egregious distortion must be assigned to the writer of the article and headline posted on Global Meat.

Based on current field experience and studies conducted at the ADOL, Marek’s disease is an erosive infection currently suppressed by effective vaccines and administration. The issues raised by the scientists at the Pirbright Laboratory are valid but at this time are more of academic concern then a commercial challenge.

The August 7th posting is reproduced verbatim.

A number of poultry magazines have publicized the results of a study conducted at the Pirbright Institute in the UK on Marek’s disease virus. The study co-authored by Dr.Venugopal Nair, Head of the Avian Viral Diseases Program suggests that current vaccines used against Marek’s disease will lead to the development of more virulent strains of virus.  The article refers to “leaking vaccines” pathogen transmission and persistence in populations.

Expressing a contrary opinion, Dr. Phillip Minor head of the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control, Division of Virology notes that “as far as I am aware there is no evidence that this has actually happened in the field”.  He added “these risks were already carefully considered in implementing new human vaccine programs”.

The dire predictions of the authors of the paper are at variance with a recent study. An EGG-CITE posting on July 27th reported on Project #F051 funded by USPOULTRY in which Dr. John R. Dunn and Dr. Hans H. Cheng of the USDA-ARS Avian Diseases and Oncology Laboratory surveyed Marek’s disease viruses isolated from field cases submitted by members of the AAAP.  This was a follow-up from the previous survey in 2000.  It was concluded that the “virulence of field strains has plateaued in recent years”.

The simple reporting of scientific results in or out of context without relating interpretation of data to the realities of production and also concurrent research represents a disservice to readers.  This deficiency could be obviated by balance in reporting and reference to production statistics.  The low condemnation rates due Marek’s disease in processing plants and the excellent livability of replacement pullets in the U.S. suggests that despite the theoretical consideration raised by the Pirbright workers, in practice our vaccination programs against Marek’s are effective.

*Read, A.F. et al Imperfect vaccination can enhance a transmission of highly virulent pathogens. PLoS Biol 13(7): e1002198. Doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002198.


2015 H5 HPAI Viruses No Risk to Humans

Aug 7, 2015

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a study which appeared in the Journal of Virology confirming that the H5N8 and H5N2 HPAI viruses isolated on the West Coast and Midwest respectively were highly unlikely to affect humans.  This study involved evaluation of these viruses in animal models and lung tissue-culture.

Tests were carried out in mice to determine the severity of disease and in ferrets to assess potential spread. The tissue culture assays were conducted to ascertain whether the viruses could infect and reproduce in human lung and airway tissues.

Compared to the Asian H5 virus which has been associated with human infection, the U.S. H5 strains were relatively innocuous to mice.  It was not possible to demonstrate transmission among comingled infected ferrets with non-infected contacts.  Illness in infected ferrets was mild and was generally restricted to specific organs.

The H5N2 and H5N8 viruses replicated at an extremely low level in human airway cells compared to Asian H5N1 strains.  The level of replication for the 2015 H5 strains was comparable to seasonal H1N1 influenza.

The CDC now has a scientific basis to assert that the 2015 H5 viruses pose a low risk to the general public. This is a reassuring finding and serves as a rebuttal to opponents of intensive production who erroneously and without justification claim that episodes of catastrophic disease such as the 2015 Spring epornitic of H5N2 HPAI have dire human-health concerns and could lead to a pandemic.

It is however prudent to recognize that mutations can occur despite the fact that the 2015 novel reassortants in avian species were proven to be innocuous to humans. Eradication of the epornitic was achieved by mid-June with no evidence of transmission to the thousands of workers in contact with infected flocks.

Pulit-Penaloza, J. A. et al Pathogenesis and transmission of novel HPAI H5N2 and H5N8 avian influenza viruses in ferrets and mice J. Virol posted online July 29, 2015, DOI:10.1128/JVI.01438-15.abstract.