Shane Commentary

 

FDA Warning Letter to Whole Foods Market

Jun 24, 2016

    

On June 8th, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter, Reference CMS 492729, addressed to Co-Chief Executive Officers of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey and Walter Robb concerning the North Atlantic Kitchen in Everett, MA. Inspections carried out on February 10th and 16th 2016 disclosed numerous deficiencies relating to physical installations and operational procedures.  

  

The list of contraventions of Title 2, Code of Federal Regulations Part 110 ran to 3 pages. A major defect related to contamination of foods with ceiling condensate (although this was presumably non-GMO condensate!).  A number of other defects cited included failure by employees to apply accepted hygienic practices such as hand washing and separation of decontaminated soiled dishes and implements from clean utensils. In the present situation, Whole Foods Market should consider themselves fortunate that they are only dealing with the FDA and not in addition, the CDC following a disease outbreak.  The fact that the FDA was able to isolate non-pathogenic Listeria welshimeri from equipment suggests that there are deficiencies in decontamination with the potential to harbor and disseminate Listeria monocytogenes which has profound implications for public health.

As with Chipotle Mexican Grill, Whole Foods Market has generated a superior image of wholesomeness for their products, emphasizing organic and non-GMO as attributes reflecting quality.  Both companies have failed to understand the basic principles of food handling in relation to public health. A preoccupation with self-promotion and puffery has not been balanced by acceptable food preparation practices or ethical marketing.  Neither company saw fit to integrate experienced professional food scientists in their management ranks who would have been capable of compiling appropriate procedures and implementing training and supervisory activities.

Whole Foods Market was previously forced to recall chicken and pasta salad as a result of Listeria contamination emanating from the implicated Massachusetts facility which supplies 74 stores in New England and Mid-Atlantic states.

Apart from the responsibility to their consumers who pay over the going rate for products             based on perceptions of quality and wholesomeness, the Board and officers of Whole Foods Market have a responsibility to shareholders to maintain the integrity and image of the company.  The 52-week range in share price for Whole Foods Market has ranged from $41 to $28. Following the FDA release on June 8th WFM fell 11 percent erasing $1.1 billion from market capitalization. The significant drop in the share price of Chipotle (52-week range $759 to $385) should be a salutary lesson for all food companies, confirming the need for proactive control measures to prevent food- borne disease.

   
 

Hampton Creek Seeks Investment Capital

Jun 24, 2016

    

According to a May 24th 2016 article by Olivia Zaleski in Bloomberg Technology, Hampton Creek is negotiating with potential investors to raise $200 million. If successful this would value the company at $1.1 billion. The tone of the article suggest that this is highly speculative given the limited range of Hampton Creek products on the market coupled with as yet non-quantified demand for vegan meat and egg substitutes. 

  

Industry observers question whether Hampton Creek is in reality an innovator with the ability to develop new products or simply an opportunistic marketer relying on existing technology and manufacturers to provide products.  Hampton Creek has announced intentions to increase product offerings to more than 600 items and has aspirations to compete with major food producers. 

Although the investment community has favored food start-ups, Bloomberg notes that the food-tech sector attracted only $680 million during the first quarter of 2016 constituting the lowest level of funding since 2014.

Hampton Creek has stated that it wishes to erect a 95,000 square foot research and development laboratory. Why? Are there not adequate laboratories staffed by distinguished faculty and competent technicians at Land-Grant Universities?  Are there not any commercial contract facilities in operation? The comment that the “scientists will analyze over 960 plant samples per week” taken with previous statements relating to extensive databases on plants appear to be at variance with established industry practice.  In fact the comments by entrepreneurial founder of Hampton Creek and its previous iterations, Josh Tetrick raises images of an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters in the hope that the exercise will produce a sonnet.

Hampton Creek has made use of existing technology, apparently supplied by a contract laboratory to produce an egg-free mayonnaise substitute now competing with a nationally branded product.  Hampton Creek also produces a range of plant-based substitutes for eggs in cookies and baking dough.

There has been little in the way of innovation and product development to date to justify previously claimed tranches of capital.  The disconnect between publicity relating to supplanting eggs and animal products and the reality to date is eerily reminiscent of Theranos which promised to be a “disruptor” of the industry providing clinical-pathology assays. The parallels include

  • A heavy emphasis on publicity featuring the founder,
  • The extravagant claims for innovative products unsupported by established publications in peer-reviewed food science journals,
  • The absence of endorsement of Hampton Creek technology by respected academics or industry figures
  • A high burn rate of funding with operating losses.

These should be warning signs to the investment community. 

   
 

UEP Commitment on Gender Separation

Jun 17, 2016

    

The Board of the United Egg Producers released a statement on disposal of cockerels following the May 2016 meeting.  The statement released on June 9th reads:-

“United Egg Producers and our egg farmer members support the elimination of day-old male chick culling after hatch for the laying industry.  We are aware that there are a number of international research initiatives underway in this area, and we encourage the development of an alternative with the goal of eliminating the culling of day old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible.  The U.S. egg industry is committed to continuing our proud history of advancing excellent welfare practices throughout the supply chain, and a breakthrough in this area will be a welcome development.” 

  

The question of embryonic gender determination was reviewed in postings on September 30, 2015, December 24, 2015, March 25, 2016 and April 22, 2016.

Various avenues of research are currently underway which include:-

  • Ramen spectroscopy on three-day old embryonated eggs in Germany but requiring removal of a quadrant of the shell
  • Transgenic modification of male chicks in Australia to introduce a fluorescent protein to allow removal of eggs containing male embryos at the time of transfer
  • Technology developed on an experimental basis by a start-up, inOVO located in the Netherlands This company has indicated that additional research and proof of concept will take at least a year.  

It is evident that to be successful a system which will differentiate between eggs bearing male or female embryos will have to be effective with at least 95 percent accuracy by no later than the 9th day of incubation.  Speed of operation should be consistent with current rates of chick service and capital and operating costs should be acceptable to the industry.

The UEP has committed to an implementation date of approximately four years in the future.  This may be optimistic given the state of development of alternative technology.

In the interim, the industry could project a welfare-oriented image by instituting carbon dioxide anesthesia before maceration or grinding as practiced in the EU in some hatcheries and currently under experimental evaluation in the U.S. This inexpensive and practical expedient could diffuse some of the opposition to intensive egg production since the image of grinding conscious day-old cockerels is unacceptable to reasonable consumers.

   
 

Chipotle Facing Lawsuits in California

Jun 17, 2016

    

Steve Ells, founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill has repeatedly implied that all food served in his restaurant chain was derived from animals raised on GMO-free feed and that cheeses and other dairy products were sourced from herds fed GMO-free diets. 

Justifying his position, Ells stated in an interview with the New York Times “Just because food is served fast it doesn’t mean that it has to be made with cheaper ingredients, highly processed with preservatives, fillers, stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors.”

  

Since Chipotle Mexican Grill has allegedly not complied with the claim of GMO-free sourcing, a series of lawsuits have been filed in California claiming violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California False Advertising Law and the California Unfair Competition Law.

In commenting on the ongoing litigation, Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy at the University of California stated “I believe the greatest scrutiny will be applied to GMO-free claims.”  He added “It is likely that this will lead to further suits against not just Chipotle but others as well.”

The prior success of Chipotle Mexican Grill is based on unsubstantiated claims for superior quality, taste and safety.  There is no evidence that poultry, red meats and dairy products derived from flocks and herds fed non-GMO diets are in any way more nutritious or provide higher levels of safety than their conventional counterparts.

Claims of deceptive advertising will most certainly impact the already tarnished image of Chipotle Mexican Grill as it struggles to regain market share after a series of foodborne infections involving three separate pathogens across wide areas of the U.S. in 2015.

   
 

Publix Subjected to Activists’ Pressure over “Cage-Free”

Jun 17, 2016

    

During the past few weeks, EGG-CITE has commented on supermarket chains, QSRs and food service companies committing to sourcing from cage-free flocks over a ten-year period.(See postings March 9 and April 29)

In an article by Kyle Arnold in the May 4th Orlando Sentinel, Publix with 1,100 stores in six states and 765 in Florida, has yet to make a statement on their intentions. Accordingly Compassion in World Farming is apparently placing pressure on the company.  As with many home-grown and contrived campaigns, individuals can initiate petitions using change.org.  In this case, 115,000 signatures have been collected to influence Publix to commit to selling eggs from non-caged flocks.

  

Maria Brous a Company spokesperson stated “Publix would not make a promise or agree to a timeline if we did not think it was feasible.”  She added “We have met with our suppliers and talked about the feasibility of going cage-free.”  Justifiably Publix is concerned as to actually what customers want and also whether there is a willingness to pay for a total commitment to cage-free eggs.  Currently Publix offers organic, cage-free, nutritionally enhanced and conventional eggs to allow consumers to select products according to their specific needs and budgets.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply conducted a comparison of egg production in enriched colony cages, aviaries and floor housing systems and projected costs based on production parameters.  Regrettably this study was seriously flawed with respect to the aviary evaluation due to high mortality caused by mismanagement which distorted results. (See posting February 27th 2015). The Coalition failed to adjust their data and an incorrect characterization of aviaries has unfortunately become entrenched in the literature documenting alternative systems.

 The frequently quoted value of an incremental 15 cents to produce cage-free eggs compared to product derived from conventional cages is also highly questionable since conversion to an alternative system is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation.  The actual differential is considerably higher if all fixed and variable costs are included in the calculation. We should not be led astray by spurious projections such as those publicized by the HSUS leading up to the vote on California Proposition No. 2 in 2008. Consumers in the state have learned that the “Pacelle Tax” is in the region of four to five times the claimed “cent per egg” figure used to justify support for the initiative and will have to be paid for years to come.

There is no evidence that hens produce more eggs under non-confined conditions than in cages and there is no difference in either quality or nutritional content of eggs according to housing system.  Given appropriate management and disease control, eggs derived from aviaries and slatted floor systems should be equivalent in safety to conventional eggs derived from cages providing that eggs are subject to washing in accordance with USDA specifications.

The comment by Rachel Dreskin Food Business Manager for Compassion in World Farming that the price for cage-free eggs will drop as supply increases is wishful thinking based on a combination of sentiment and ignorance of the economics of egg production.

 

   
 

Guest Commentary by Senior Veterinarian Advisor to the American Humane Association

Jun 10, 2016

    

Dr. Donald Hoenig, a friend and colleague who serves as the Senior Veterinarian Advisor to the American Humane Association (AHA), Humane Heartland Program, submitted a commentary on a recent posting on  EGG-CITE concerning the transition by the U.S. egg-production industry to “cage-free” housing for hens.

He correctly notes that there is no accepted standard or definition of this term which is loosely applied. In the interest of free discourse, his commentary is posted presenting the views of the AHA and defining the standards required by the Humane Heartland Program.  

  

As the U.S egg industry transitions toward cage-free layer housing over the next 5 to 10 years, there is need for clarity, consistency and standardization in terminology relating to production systems. The list of companies subscribing to the replacement of conventional cages has been documented by the United Egg Producers, the association recognized as representing the U.S. egg-production industry.

An April 19, 2016 article in Fortune magazine pointed out what many within agriculture already know, that consumers are confused when it comes to the term “cage-free.” As the author states, “Consumers have been demanding changes to the food system, but it’s unclear if they know what they are getting.”

Even within the egg industry terminology can be confusing. Phrases and words such as cage-free, free range, aviary, pasture-raised, multi-tier, combination litter and slatted floors, slatted floor platforms and enriched colony housing have different meanings according to the perception of the manager.

Created in 2000, the Humane Heartland program is the Nation’s oldest third-party farm animal welfare program and is based on the U.K. Farm Animal Welfare Council Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare principles.  For the American Humane Association, Humane Heartland Farm Animal Welfare Program, the independent  Scientific Advisory Committee has defined “cage-free” as conforming to the following   standards:-

  1. Hens must have access at all times to a well-maintained litter area
  1. Hens must have an allowance of 1.5 square feet  in barns with all-litter floors; in multi-tier houses or houses with a perching area over a droppings belt the requirement is 1.2 square feet per hen for brown-feathered or 1.0 square feet for white-feathered strains respectively.
  1.  Nests must be provided
  1. Hens must be allowed 6” of perching space.

Access outside the house is not required for the AHA cage-free standard but is necessary for the specific AHA Free-Range and Pasture standards.

The Cage-Free and all other AHA species-specific standards require:-

  • A company policy emphasizing high standards of welfare;
  • An employee code of conduct;
  •  An animal health plan developed and reviewed annually by the flock veterinarian;
  • Additional elements including considerations such as adequate nutrition, air quality, accss to feed and water and welfare-compliant management procedures.
  • Producers certified under AHA Programs must  pass an annual third-party audit by a qualified evaluator.

The AHA believes that consumers deserve financial and ethical choices in their purchase decisions, which is why AHA has established standards for four different production systems for laying hens:-

  • Cage-free;
  • Enriched colony housing (ECH);
  •  Free-range;
  •  Pasture.

Each of the systems focuses on the welfare of  flocks and meets the criteria of the Five Freedoms. Consumers have choices among intensive indoor production using enriched colony modules or cage-free housing or alternatively less confined systems allowing outdoor access to either circumbscribed range or pasture.

Both egg producers and equipment manufacturers need predictability and standardization, as the conversion from conventional cages will take time and involve substantial capital expenditure.  Retailers, quick service restaurants and food service businesses can rely on the widely recognized AHA standards.

Further information about the Humane Heartland program and the AHA farm welfare standards can be found at <www.humaneheartland.org>

   
 

PCRM PLACES ANTI-EGG BILLBOARD IN COLUMBUS, OH.

Jun 9, 2016

    

The so-called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) under the leadership of a Dr. Neal Barnard has placed a billboard opposing consumption of eggs in Columbus, OH. 

The PCRM is a non-profit advocacy organization promoting a vegan agenda, cessation of animals in research and is opposed to intensive livestock production and the QSR industry. Dr. Barnard is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and is the founder of the non-profit Barnard Medical Center.  He is regarded by Quack Watch as a “promotor of questionable methods and or advice”. 

  

In 17 books and 70 published papers on nutrition including contributions to “Naked Food magazine he has opposed diets containing animal products. In addition to deprecating eggs, PCRM also regards dairy products as deleterious referring to cheese as “dairy crack”.

Although the PCRM has consistently criticized the nutritional guidelines of the USDA the contentions of the organization are not supported by mainstream nutritionists and health professionals.  The American Medical Association has criticized PCRM physicians and in 1990 adopted a resolution condemning activism against animals in research.  The American Medical Association regards PCRM as a “pseudo-physicians group”. 

Barnard has ties to PETA and his organization has received funding from the Foundation to Support Animal Protection which is opposed to using animals in research.  Barnard has affiliated his organization with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty an extremist group characterized by the Department of Justice as a “domestic terrorist threat”.

The Ohio Poultry Association (OPA) responded to posting of the misleading billboard with the statement, “Eggs are a nutritious part of a healthy diet and a source of high-quality lean protein and in many cases eggs are included in a diabetic meal plan.  This has been affirmed numerous times by credible scientific studies, as recently as 2015 and by dieticians and medical professionals alike”.  The OPA statement continued, “The fear-mongering by this activist group does a disservice to Ohio egg farmers who work each day to produce safe, wholesome, high quality eggs”.

Information on eggs and nutrition are available on www.eggnutritioncenter.org established and maintained by the American Egg Board.

   
 

FDA Relents Over “Healthy” Claims on Snack-Bar Label

Jun 3, 2016

    

Following an appeal by Kind LLC the FDA has reviewed regulations which prevented the company from using the term “healthy” on snack bars.  In May 1994 the FDA ruled that the term “healthy” is a nutrient content claim and can only be applied to foods containing 3 grams or less of total fat per serving and 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving.  Fish and meat were required to have 5 grams or less of total fat per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

  

The restrictions effectively disqualified some foods including nuts, avocados and salmon from being labeled as “healthy” while permitting cereals containing sugar and other high-calorie products to be so labeled.

In commenting on the FDA action Dr. David L. Katz director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center noted “The current regulatory definition of healthy is inconsistent with federal guidelines and scientific research.” He opined that “the problem of course is that the foodscape can change quickly but FDA regulations change very slowly”

In a response to the company, FDA noted on April 20th that corrective action including removing nutrient content claims on product labels addressed violations contained in the previous warning letter.  Terms such as “healthy” and “tasty” can be presented as a component of “corporate philosophy” but not necessary representing a nutrient content claim and should be separated on labels from nutrient information. 

The FDA included in their closeout letter to Kind LLC the statement “Consumers want to make informed food choices and it is the FDA’s responsibility to help them by ensuring labels provide accurate and reliable nutritional information”.  The letter continued “In light of evolving nutrition research forthcoming Nutrition Facts labeling final rules and a citizen’s petition we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrition content claims including the term healthy.”

   
 

Unfair Criticism of Cage-Free Production

May 27, 2016

    

Egg Farmers of America represents a relative minority of U.S. egg producers intent on maintaining the status quo with respect to caged housing of hens. The Association has mounted a public relations initiative organized by their spokesperson Ken Klippen. 

Articles are popping up in agricultural magazines and newsletters the most recent of which was published in Ag Week on May 5th.

  

The National Association of Egg Farmers claims:-

  • The caged system is more humane than alternatives.  Given that virtually the entire egg distribution system comprising QSRs, restaurants, institutions, retailers and food service companies have committed to converting to cage-free housing by 2025, any unsubstantiated opinions on the relative welfare of caged or cage-free housing are moot.  The train has left the station and there is no stopping it.
  • Cage-free eggs are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria due to prolonged exposure from litter and manure in nest boxes. This is an unsubstantiated claim.  Approximately nine percent of U.S. eggs are produced in other than cages.  Since 2011 here have been no reports of SE associated with commercial organic or barn-housed flocks on slats or in aviaries.  Although there have been some cases of SE reported, these have been in small flocks under the 3,000 cut-off imposed by the Food and Drug Administration as designated under the Final Rule to Prevent Salmonella Infection.
  • Workers in cage-free barns will be hurt by dust which can transport pathogens.  This is a spurious claim since there is no data relating to environmental health problems among workers in barns with either conventional cages or alternative systems.
  • The cost of building cage-free farms will be too high for some existing producers especially ones with smaller operations. All business should set aside a depreciation provision to replace equipment.  Buildings and farms undergo both time-related and technical obsolescence and should be replaced at intervals.  The companies transiting to cage-free production have allowed a ten-year period although most concerns will require substantial progress towards conversion.  If some small family-operated farms find it impossible to market their product in ten years so be it.  Producers must always adapt and respond to market needs.  When cages that are now five to ten years old reache 2025they can be replaced by floor systems. Owners will benefit from increased unit revenue associated with a production of a non-confined egg.  They can either market directly to boutique stores producing either organic or cage-free product, contract to a larger producer or join a cooperative.

The consistent drumbeat of criticism of cage-free production from the National Association of Egg Farmers is disingenuous and self-serving. Promoting spurious objections to cage-free production represents some vain hope of a re-reset on policy of sourcing eggs over the next decade.  Simply disparaging cage-free production runs counter to the interest of the mainstream egg-production industry which has recognized the need to follow market demand and is responding accordingly.

   
 

INCREASED INVOLVEMENT BY THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OVER FOOD-BORNE DISEASE OUTBREAKS

May 20, 2016

    

Dole Food Company Inc. has confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Listeria outbreak emanating from a Springfield, OH. plant preparing and distributing packaged salads. 

From May 2015 to February 2016, 33 patients who contracted listeriosis were all hospitalized and 4 fatalities were recorded.

  

At issue is the fact that the problem of Listeria contamination was of long-standing with documentation showing positive isolations of the pathogen on nine separate occasions in 2014 and 2015.  In January and February 2016, the FDA inspected the plant and isolated Listeria monocytogenes which was homologous with pathogens isolated from a number of the patients infected, thereby confirming the source.

It is apparent that if management is aware of the presence of  a serious pathogen such as Listeria, Salmonella or E.coli 0157 in plants or products and no action is taken, they will be held criminally liable. 

The situation at Dole closely parallels the ongoing Department of Justice investigation at Blue Bell Creamery since the company’s product precipitated an outbreak of listeriosis in 2015.

We are also reminded of the Peanut Corporation of America case in which management knowingly released product contaminated with Salmonella and even falsified documents, resulting in long prison sentences for the owners and subordinate managers.

The implication for officers and senior management of food and agricultural companies is self-evident.

   
 

Organic Certified Grain

May 13, 2016

    

A recent industry periodical noted an increase in imports of corn mostly as “organic certified” grain. The April 12th USDA-WASDE Report confirmed an increase in imports from 32 million bushels in the March projection for 2016 to 50 million bushels in the subsequent April report.  Although this percentage appears large, 50 million bushels only represents 0.3 percent of the total corn supply. This said the total value of imported specialty corn and soybeans in 2015 amounted to $350 million.  Corn is imported from Romania, the Ukraine and Turkey with extremely high increases in volume over the past two years.

  

There is concern regarding the use of imported ingredients which are available at a lower cost than domestic certified organic corn.  Over 94 percent of U.S. corn and soybeans are derived from GM seed based on superior yield, lower cost of production and superior sustainability. The higher costs for production of Certified Organic corn are associated with lower availability and the need for segregation in the supply chain. This more than doubles the price of the commodity compared to conventional product without any tangible or quantifiable benefits.

It is questioned whether a consignment of corn from the Ukraine, China or any third world country can be regarded as “organic” with any degree of confidence.  Countries supplying these ingredients are responding to the price differential which will always encourage falsification and deception.  Some exporting nations have a reputation for corruption and with the use of local certifiers, there is no assurance, absent rigid and consistent structured assays, that these products are truly “organic”. 

Since certified organic products must be cultivated without the use of pesticides or herbicides, the question arises whether there is any program administered by the USDA-AMS to collect samples and subject them to GLC assay. Without a structured program there is no deterrent to deception. Any corn kernel with a paper “pedigree” looks like any other kernel.  President Reagan was an exponent of “trust but verify” A program of surveillance and laboratory assay using available test kits is required to confirm that both domestic and imported ingredients are truly organic.

Relying on a paper trail is patently inadequate given the incentives for deception and the reputation of supplying countries.  Heaven forbid that a “foodie” inadvertently consume a GMO-containing ingredient at twice the price of a conventional product. Perhaps it is expedient to work on the “don’t look-don’t know” system.

Any spokesperson of the USDA-AMS or an Organic Certifying Agency is welcome to respond to this editorial to address the issue raised.

   
 

Two Decades of GE Technology

May 6, 2016

    

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) recently released an annual report on the advances in adoption of biotechnology crops entitled The 20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops.  Since 1996, the land area sown to genetically engineered (GE) seeds has increased from 4.25 million acres to 450 million acres.

Over the same period collectively 5 billion acres of arable land have been planted to GE crops representing twice the land mass of China.  The benefit derived by farmers from GE technology has exceeded $150 billion since 1996 and GE crops have improved the diets of over 65 million people.

  

Approximately a third of all GE cultivars have multiple (“stacked”) traits with over 130 million acres planted.  These varieties have more than one improved attribute such as drought and insect resistance or the ability to withstand specific herbicides.

Clive James, Founder and Emeritus Chair of the ISAAA noted “more farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously tested option for improving crop yields.”  Developing nations now plant more GE crops than in industrialized nations with the proportion of 54 to 46 percent.

India and China have both benefited from GE cotton and in India alone, 29 million acres are planted to two GE varieties with benefits achieved by nearly 8 million farmers producing 95 percent of the Nation’s cotton crop in 2015.

Many new GE varieties are non-transgenic and are developed applying gene deletion. The United States has approved Innate™ Generation 1 potatoes with low levels of acrylamide and resistance to bruising.  Subsequent second generation Innate™ potatoes are resistant to blight.  The U.S. has also approved Arctic® apples refractory to bruising and browning.  SU Strain Canola™ has been planted for first time in the U.S. 

The ISAAA report indicated that more than 85 potential new GE products are undergoing field testing including a drought resistant corn for Africa, golden rice in Asia and fortified bananas in Africa both with high vitamin A content to prevent blindness.

It is expected that application of CRISPR technology which allows gene editing will accelerate advances in developing new strains and increased crop productivity on available land to feed burgeoning populations.

   
 

Wal-Mart to Discontinue Wild Oats Brand

Apr 29, 2016

    

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced that it will discontinue marketing the Wild Oats range of organic product which was introduced in 2014.  With a much-heralded introduction, Wal-Mart claimed that it could provide center-of-the store staples including pasta sauce at prices equivalent to conventional products.  The Wild Oats Brand was licensed to Wal-Mart in 2012 by Yucaipa Companies controlled by entrepreneur Ron Burkle of Los Angeles.  The brand was acquired when the Wild Oats chain of stores was acquired by Whole Foods Market but was spun-off in terms of an antitrust settlement. 

  

It is anticipated that Wal-Mart will begin sourcing organic products from a range of suppliers marketed under their Great Value private label.  Currently the sales of organic food attained $13.4 billion for the year ending April 2nd compared to all food sales valued at $468 billion for the same period.  The rate of growth in organic label products was 16.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent for all products according to Nielsen data cited in an April 26th article by Sarah Nassauer in the Wall Street Journal.

Laura Kennedy an analyst at Kantar Retail, a consulting group noted “Wal-Mart’s move to drop Wild Oats is an odd step to take when we know that they are trying to increase private-label penetration and trying to target the higher-income consumer.”  She added “If Wal-Mart was losing money to a middle- man this is not a time Wal-Mart would want to be losing anything.”

The reference to a middle- man calls to mind the relationship between Wal-Mart Stores and CCF Brands which serves as an intermediate between egg producers and Wal-Mart Stores.  The specific advantages associated with the intermediary have yet to be explained to the industry.  Surely Wal-Mart is capable of drawing up specifications and negotiating with suppliers concerning pricing, quality parameters and delivery schedules?  Either Wal-Mart Stores or CCF Brands are welcome to respond and justify their respective positions in what would appear from the outside to represent an anomaly in the supply chain. As Alice would say, “curiouser and curiouser!”

   
 

USDA-AMS Reports on Organic Compliance and Enforcement

Apr 29, 2016

    

The published appeals summaries posted by USDA-AMS for the reporting period January 2016 to May 2016 yielded 97 complaints with 93 completed reviews and investigations. 

The National Organic Program issued 6 cease and desist orders, 32 warnings and 16 investigative referrals. 

Two settlement agreements were concluded and civil penalties were imposed in some cases.

  

For the period October 2015 through December 2015, civil penalties amounted to $929,750 with 8 cease and desist orders, 22 warnings, 7 investigative referrals and 5 settlement agreements.

The question arises as to whether the administrators of the NOP are zealous in pursuing the integrity of the “organic” brand or whether they are picking the easy cases. There did not appear to be any action against large Asian exporters who have both the incentive and opportunity to cheat. They function in the absence of a structured assay program for contaminants and freedom from GM adulteration. A paper trail from China might be valid or it may be creative fiction.

   
 

Senator Stabenow “Justifies” Position on GMO Labeling

Apr 29, 2016

    

U.S. Senator Deborah Stabenow (D-MI) recently addressed food policy during her keynote address to the 2016 National Food Policy Conference held in early April under the auspices of the Consumer Federation of America. 

Senator Stabenow believes the food industry should be transparent and accordingly supports GMO labeling however “not in a way that penalizing food and agriculture businesses”. Despite believing in science and her conviction that genetically modified foods are safe, Stabenow wants it both ways! Although she purports to adopt an advocacy position regarding GM ingredients she effectively scuttled the federal Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Act S.2609 which passed out of committee in mid-April but failed to gain sufficient votes in the Senate to avoid cloture.

  

This was possibly the last chance to impose a federal standard to override the Vermont Act mandating labeling as to GM-content. It is ironic that a state with a population of 600,000 representing less than 0.3 percent of the U.S. population can impose its Ben and Jerry-like philosophy on the entire Nation. One characteristic of socialists is that they are ever ready to spend other folks’ money to advance their environmental, welfare and lifestyle proclivities.  In this they are abetted by wishy-washy politicians like Senator Stabenow and activists like Bernie Sanders. 

   
 

UEP Issues Statement on Undercover Intrusion Videos

Apr 22, 2016

    

According to a press release from the United Egg Producers on April 13th, Chad Gregory, president and CEO noted “For America’s egg farmers, egg safety and hen care are the utmost importance at all times.  Egg farmers across the U.S. recognize and embrace the responsibility to produce safe, high-quality eggs while providing proper care for their flocks and ensuring hen health and well-being.”  He added “We are aware that the activists group Mercy for Animals has released an undercover video that they claim was taken at an egg farm in Pennsylvania.  While images in the video are troubling they do not reflect standard practices on U.S. egg farms.”

  

Gregory reiterated previous UEP statements that the organization which represents over 95 percent of shell egg producers supports all methods of hen housing for egg production which assure proper hen well-being and meets or exceeds food safety requirements.  The UEP Certified Program with standards for both conventional and cage-free housing in place for more than a decade provides comprehensive, science-based hen welfare guidelines developed by an independent Scientific Advisory Committee.

Your commentator regularly visits egg production units in about 30 states in the U.S. and the practices and images depicted in the Mercy for Animals video absolutely do not represent current practices in the industry.  Previously, independent veterinarians and scientists with experience in welfare have reviewed videos purporting to show unacceptable production practices. They have consistently determined that clandestine videos involved editing and an undue concentration on specific hens with abnormalities selected from among very large flocks. In some cases depictions may contain simulated footage intended to create deception in the interest of raising funds.

   
 

IMPACT OF DISPLACING GMO CROPS

Apr 22, 2016

    

Environmental activists and those opposed to intensive livestock production are also congenitally resistant to any form of genetic modification.  There is no justification for their position since two decades of consuming GMO corn and soybeans has failed to show any deleterious effect on livestock or human health. It is ironic that the most vociferous antagonists of GM technology have no objection to using GM-derived insulin!

  

Purdue University recently published a study in AgBio Forum quantifying the effect of a reversion to non-GM cultivars.  Corn yield would decline by 11 percent and soybeans by 5 percent.  In addition there would be a 19 percent reduction in cotton production from the acreage currently planted to this crop. Collectively, the deficit would require planting an additional 255 thousand acres of land in the U.S. and approximately ten times this area on a global basis.

In the U.S. the price of corn would rise by 17 to 30 percent and soybeans by 11 to 23 percent.  Purdue economists predicted a 1 percent increase in annual food costs with an amount ranging between $7 to $14 billion per year or on average $45 per capita

Environmentalists opposed to GM might contemplate the fact that conventional cultivars are less “sustainable” then their GM counterparts.  Reversion to conventional crops would produce between 500 and 800 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The Purdue University study did not take into account the lower application of insecticides and herbicides following the introduction of GMO cultivars.  The fact that U.S. farmers have opted for GM for over 94 percent of corn and soybeans produced confirms the technical and economic benefits.  The grain storage and distribution infrastructure is now dedicated to GM products.  The small quantity of non-GM and specifically, organic corn and soybeans require segregation and specific handling with full traceability.  This adds materially to the costs of these ingredients which are approximately double the price of GM counterparts, without offering any tangible advantage.

   
 

SE Case in Denmark Raises Questions

Apr 15, 2016

    

EGG-CITE is indebted to Dr. Eric Gingerich for circulating a report on a case of Salmonella Enteritidis pt21 infection in a large flock (60,000 hens) in Denmark.

An interesting observation from this report relates to the fact that the flock was clinically affected, demonstrating elevated mortality with peritonitis on post-mortem examination.  Generally with the exception of pt4 strain SE, infection does not produce any obvious clinical signs or post mortem lesions especially in mature chickens.

  

The second observation is the high prevalence of SE antigen in eggs derived from the flock.  It is a regular observation in the U.S. that flocks which are positive on environmental sampling denoting intestinal colonization, fail to yield SE from 1,000-egg sample pools. This confirms the absence of infection of reproductive tissues which leads to vertical transmission of SE to eggs.

A possible explanation for both anomalies lies in the documented history of the flock.  According to the description, the flock successively demonstrated both coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis which is an unusual observation in replacement egg-strain pullets.  Experience has shown that replacement broiler breeder flocks demonstrating both NE and chronic coccidiosis are usually immunosuppressed due to early exposure to infectious bursa disease as the principal contributory factor.

In 1995 Dr.Michael Opitz and his then graduate student Dr. Rick Phillips demonstrated that infection of pullets with an intermediate strain IBD vaccine at day-old increased susceptibility to exposure to SE at the time of sexual maturity*.

Unfortunately there is no information relating to whether the pullets in Denmark were reared on litter or on wire and whether they were vaccinated (or actually immunized) against IBD and SE.  There was no attempt made to determine the serologic response to other vaccines including IB and ND which may have denoted immunosuppression.

In his covering memo to members of the AVEP Dr. Gingerich correctly noted that there is a fairly board differential diagnosis for peritonitis which is usually associated with E. coli (APEC) infection in the U.S.  Case reports describing low-pathogenicity avian influenza confirmed a fairly consistent finding of peritonitis in flocks exposed to LPAI H5N2 infection in Pennsylvania in mid-1983 and LPAI H6 in California during the early 2000’s.  Peritonitis is also encountered in floor-housed egg production flocks especially in converted broiler breeding units and also aviaries as a result of pasteurellosis.

*Phillips, R.A. and Opitz, H.M. Pathogenicity and persistence of Salmonella Enteritidis and egg contamination in normal and infectious bursal disease virus-infected Leghorn chicks. Avian Dis. 39:778-787 (1995) 

   
 

ROSLIN INSTITUTE PURSUING GE STUDIES ON CHICKEN EMBRYOS

Apr 8, 2016

    

Noted for creating Dolly, the first cloned domestic animal in 1996, The Roslin Institute is currently investigating genetically engineered chickens.  As a research project, Roslin studies are commendable as they contribute to basic research.  A direct application of GM chickens including transgenesis could be acceptable only to derive specially tailored biopharmaceuticals from eggs. 

  

From the perspective of enhancing commercial performance, GE chickens are a non-starter.  The world’s leading broiler, turkey and egg primary breeders have agreed not to apply transgenesis or any form of GE technology since this would have an immediate adverse consumer reaction, affecting the entire poultry industry.  It is however acknowledge that the advanced molecular techniques including work with SNIPs can be used to select lines with specific traits and accelerate the rate of improvement applying conventional breeding using index selection.  Introducing new genes or deleting genes is considered to be unacceptable although offering potential benefits in terms of enhanced performance.

In justifying the GE work on chickens, Dr. Ian Dunn refers to vertically transmitted E.coli and Salmonella infection and osteoporosis as problems which may be solved applying GE technology.  He may be too introspective in ignoring consumer-acceptable alternatives including vaccination, enhanced housing and management, conventional breeding and nutrition.  Cobb-Vantress invested $1 million into a three- year research program at Roslin to investigate the possibility of producing a chicken resistant to avian influenza.  Since the company is a signatory to the industry agreement not to apply GE technology, Cobb-Vantress will not pursue commercialization of any developments which may have been derived from their funding.

AquaAdvantage®  salmon were modified by AquaBounty Technologies by insertion of genes for somatotrophic hormone from fast-growing fish species. The “brand” was approved by the FDA in late 2015  but have yet to be introduced into the U.S., awaiting changes to FDA regulations relating to GE animals. Notwithstanding the approval based on studies conducted over 15 years  failing to show any difference between the genetically engineered salmon and non- modified species, there is considerable opposition from activist groups which has resulted in rejection by the restaurant and supermarket industries.

 The entire question of GE/GM labeling has yet to be resolved in the U.S.  At present, Vermont has mandated labeling of any food product containing ingredients of GM origin but a Bill is before Congress to prevent states and local jurisdictions from imposing label regulations which would impede interstate commerce.

The Roslin studies on chicken GE may be scientifically productive but offer little if any prospects for commercialization.

   
 

Des Moines Register Draws on DeCoster 2010 Outbreak

Apr 1, 2016

    

Delving back five years, the Des Moines Register continues to dwell on the Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak (SE) emanating from farms in Iowa operated by Jack DeCoster and his son Peter. Their company, Quality Egg Farms (an oxymoron if there ever was one!) was identified as the principal source of the widespread infection resulting in about 2,000 confirmed cases. 

 

DeCoster was an aberration who did not reflect practices in the industry at any time during his multi-decade involvement in egg production. Perhaps the only failing of the U.S. egg industry was not to publicly disavow his methods and expose him as a scoff-law, exploiter of workers and architect of deceptive ownership, questionable ethics and illegal practices.

At issue is the complaint that state inspection of Iowa farms has not resumed after the 2015 HPAI outbreak. The Des Moines Register incorrectly claims that this omission places consumers in jeopardy.  The evidence belies this contention since there have been no documented outbreaks of SE by the CDC from any commercial egg farm functioning in accordance with the 2010 FDA Final Rule on Salmonella Prevention. 

One of the reforms proposed in the editorial was more stringent oversight of farms with fewer than 3,000 hens.  This is in fact the only part of the article supported by EGG-CITE.  The UK cut-off for flock size is in the region of 250 hens.  The value of 3,000 allowed by the FDA is far too high as noted in a previous posting.  The recent SE outbreak associated with a backyard farm in Ohio, responsible for approximately 50 cases of salmonellosis is a point in fact since this farm had between 150 and 250 hens.

The additional reforms noted in the Des Moines Register article included:

  • Accreditation and certification standards for laboratories.  These are in effect as any journalist should be able to determine.
  • State-mandated reporting by testing laboratories and egg producers.  Environmental assay of manure at specified flock ages has been required since 2010.  Effectively there have been no incident cases of SE in consumers due to the combination of vaccinating pullets, enhancing biosecurity, refrigeration of product from production through distribution and placing chicks free of SE in accordance with the National Poultry Improvement Plan.  Flocks which were infected with SE prior to 2005 and in a few cases up through 2010 have long been cycled out of production and their housing has been subjected to appropriate decontamination.  The FDA Final Rule clearly designates procedures required in the event of an environmental positive.  It is emphasized that colonization of the intestinal tract with SE will in all probability result in a positive environmental test but this does not necessarily mean that systemic infection has occurred, a precursor for SE to be transferred vertically from reproductive tissues to eggs.
  • Creation of a state mandated Salmonella Detection and Prevention Program. This may be a deficiency in Iowa but there are numerous Egg Quality Assurance Programs in egg-producing states in addition to surveillance by companies marketing branded eggs.
  • Creation of a new funding stream to support the implementation of a statewide egg-safety program.  This may in fact be a suitable initiative for Iowa which has 52 million hens of which less than one-third are maintained for shell production.  The remaining flocks produce egg liquid which is subject to pasteurization and would therefore not represent any potential problem.

The article cited a website posting on Food Control which is a medium for opinion and does not have the creditability or status of mainstream scientific journals with peer review.

The Des Moines Register is banging away at a nonexistent problem as evidenced by epidemiologic data.  If there were cases of egg-borne SE among U.S. consumers, FoodNet and PulseNet would detect outbreaks even if they involved a few cases spread over many states as with the Chipotle Mexican Grill situation.  The concern over SE expressed by The Des Moines Register might have been appropriate in the late 1990’s.  There is adequate scientific evidence to show that the incidence rate of egg-borne SE among consumers started to decline in the late 1990’s coincident with the introduction of state Egg Quality Assurance Programs and the UEP Egg Safety initiatives together with advances made by primary breeders and large producers.

  Perhaps suggestions to enhance surveillance of egg safety made by ex-governor Chet Culver in 2010 have not been implemented because there is in fact no reason to do so at this time. What is applicable in 2010 would now be an anachronism.  This view is shared by current legislators including Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) who is aware of the requirements of the FDA Final Rule and its implementation.

 The Editorial Board of the Des Moines Register should reassess their position based on a sound evaluation of the current epidemiology of SE. The opinions of ambulance-chasing lawyers and those congenitally opposed to intensive livestock production should have less impact on their depiction of food safety than the reasoned counsel of elected legislators, responsible scientists and administrators of state and federal agencies.