Shane Commentary

 

Consumer Responses to Surveys Are Influenced by How Questions are Phrased

Feb 4, 2016
    

Dr. William Hallman, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University has conducted research on consumer preferences with respect to labels.  When his survey subjects were asked to specify what label information they desired, seven percent noted GMOs, six percent wanted information on where food was grown or produced and two percent were concerned over chemicals or pesticides.  This data was validated by a survey conducted by the International Food Information Council in 2014.

When consumers were asked whether specific ingredients or additives should be noted on labels, 80 percent said it was “somewhat” or “extremely important” that GMO content be declared.

Hallman clearly demonstrated that responses can be elicited by how questions are phrased.

Food evangelists as defined by public relations group Ketchum, appear to be increasing in the population and as a group are leading consumers of USDA Certified Organic foods.  Despite the large year-on-year increases in sales of organic products, this category currently represents five percent of the total food market.  Purchasing food which is locally produced also comprises a small proportion of total purchases amounting to about one percent or $6 billion annually.  Sales of produce and locally-grown items at farmers’ markets attained a plateau in 2007 despite USDA incentives and support. According to a report in the Washington Post on January 26th, local producers are now channeling products through high-end restaurants and specialty retail stores.

If investigators wish to evaluate the motivation to purchase foods with specific attributes, simple questionnaires provide misleading data.  Conjoint analysis must be used to evaluate the trade-offs applied by consumers in deciding to purchase an item.  Applying this technique, it is possible to characterize and assign levels of importance in the buying decision. Consumers consciously or otherwise take into account price, nutritional attributes, prejudices for and against production systems, packaging, and labels in their purchase decisions.

   
 

LABORATORY REPOSITORIES OF VIRUSES A DANGER

Jan 22, 2016
    

CHICK-CITE has previously commented on the dangers of accidental release of pathogens from the repositories of laboratories including diseases such as smallpox which have been eradicated.  (See editorial posting  on July 10th 2015).  In addition to accidents following noncompliance with standard procedures, there is also the danger of agro-bioterrorism. The case in point is Rinderpest a catastrophic disease of cattle which has been responsible for epidemics, famine and sociopolitical impacts in Asia and Africa since biblical times.

The disease was declared eradicated in 2011 but 24 members of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) hold samples of Rinderpest virus.  The OIE recently distributed a survey on stocks of this virus but it is acknowledge that in some cases, national authorities may not hold records of repositories of virus in all laboratories and some institutions might not even be aware of the existence of old or mislabeled specimens.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has urged destruction of remaining virus samples noting “the only way a Rinderpest outbreak could occur today is if the virus escaped from a laboratory as a result of an accident, negligence or a deliberate act”.

   
 

U.S. exports of shell eggs

Jan 15, 2016
    

U.S. exports of shell eggs should not in practice have been adversely affected directly by avian influenza outbreaks since the epornitic did not materially affect complexes producing for this segment of the industry operating in non-affected states. Export volume was however depressed going forward from May 2015 as shell eggs previously consigned to export were retained for more profitable domestic markets.

The USDA Combined Region Large attained $2.51 per dozen for the week preceding August 31st but fell sharply to $1.57 during the last week of October. Price increased during the pre-Christmas period to $2.05 during the second week in December 2015 before a precipitous drop in price to below the 3-year average, attaining $1.14 per dozen at the beginning of January 2016. Due to a higher unit revenue at a time of shortage, coincident with losses in the large in-line breaking units in Iowa and Nebraska, shell eggs were diverted to breaking stock during June through August when prices attained a range of $1.84 to $1.91 per dozen.

The price for breaking stock fell to $1.17 cents per dozen during the last week of October due to some restocking of depleted complexes. By the end of December 2015 Central States Breaking stock had declined to $0.48 per dozen. Weekly imports which peaked at 150 containers per week in October, representing the equivalent of 8.5 million hens in production, have now declined to a value corresponding to 2.4 million hens and will shortly cease due to the price differential between the Midwest and the EU.

Exports of egg products should not have been embargoed in terms of OIE Requirements as a result of HPAI, since liquids are pasteurized and egg powders are dried, effectively inactivating virus. The problem facing exporters relates to the loss of about 35 percent of flocks producing for this market by mid-2015, profoundly reducing supply.

The prospects for lower export of shell eggs and products for the immediate and interim future will create problems for our NAFTA trading partners who have become dependent on the U.S. for a proportion of their requirements.

 There have been no further cases of HPAI reported since mid-June but exports will be impacted for at least five months going forward as repopulation will be a lengthy process even if no further cases of HPAI emerge in the Spring of 2016. The ongoing deficit in production is due to the loss of about 30 million hens and 3 million replacement pullets supplying about 7 major breaking operations, coupled with the time which was required to effectively decontaminate and re-stock affected mega-complexes holding more than 3 million hens. The process of re-stocking is advancing with a concurrent improvement in Structural and Operational biosecurity. This should prevent both introduction and dissemination of HPAI virus if introduced in the Spring by migratory waterfowl.

   
 

Physicians’ Committee Opposes Deletion of Cholesterol Limits from the Dietary Guidelines

Jan 8, 2016
    

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on reducing total fat, lowering total caloric intake especially from sugar and reducing salt intake. The upper limit for cholesterol intake was removed from the 2015 Guidelines.

Immediately following the release of the USDA/HHS U.S. Dietary Guidelines, an organization termed the “Physicians’ Committee” filed lawsuit concerning the deletion of cholesterol from the Guidelines.  The organization which has strong vegan and environmental overtones has previously opposed aspects of the livestock industry.

They maintain that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was unduly influenced by the American Egg Board in developing recommendations.  The organization claims that the American Egg Board nominated one individual to the DGAC and that the decisions and deliberations of the DGAC were tainted by grants intended to demonstrate a lack of a clinical effect of dietary cholesterol on cardiovascular disease.

A meta-analysis of available literature by a faculty member at Tufts University included studies showing that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern and that available evidence showed no direct relationship between dietary consumption of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. 

The Physicians’ Committee lawsuit claims “abundant scientific evidence shows that cholesterol is a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease the leading killer of Americans.” This contention is not supported by responsible peer-reviewed literature. The Physician’s Committee represents a partisan, narrow and fringe opinion inconsistent with current perspectives on nutrition held by mainstream associations representing cardiologists and internists.

The cholesterol issue is thankfully dead from a scientific standpoint as is total fat intake per se in relation to cardiovascular disease.  The Physicians Committee maintains that the Secretary of the USDA, Tom Vilsack and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell removed “disease-preventing” cholesterol warnings from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines following industry-funded pressure. 

   
 

Most Cited OSHA Violations in 2015

Jan 8, 2016
    

Writing in Henning News for January 2016, Lisa Beohm listed a series of situations leading to OSHA sanctions which should be of concern to egg producers.  The major items enumerated are amplified based on direct observations over the past 15 years of auditing farms and complexes:-

  • Failure to provide protection for workers against falls during construction.  In the context of the egg industry, workers may be at risk for falls especially when inspecting flocks in the upper tiers of cage installations that are not equipped with secure gantries.  Enrichable and enriched cage systems are considerably higher than conventional cages increasing risk and severity of falls. Installation and supervised use of appropriate equipment and training of personnel will prevent accidents.
  • Respiratory protection was regarded as an important factor leading to citations.  Workers handling chemicals during decontamination of houses and equipment or operating in dusty environments including barns and feed mills require protective gear.
  • Lockout and tag-out is frequently overlooked in feed mills, egg packing plants and barns.  OSHA issues standards and performance requirements for potentially hazardous equipment. Workers in plants should wear protective headgear (snoods or caps) to prevent entanglement of hair in moving machinery during operation and cleaning. A few cases of de-scalping injury have occurred in the egg industry in recent years.
  • Electrical wiring – In many old houses and plants, wiring may be below state or local codes. Imperfect repairs can create a hazard especially with respect to effective grounding of equipment.
  • Machine guards – generally equipment supplied by reputable manufacturers incorporates protective guards to prevent injury during operation.  Observations during routine audits frequently disclose deliberate removal or loss of protective guards on installations in feed mills, packing plants and barns.

An injury associated with a defect in safety or training will result in a workman’s compensation claims and a civil lawsuit.  In the event of serious injury or even a fatality, OSHA may elect to investigate specific cases and conduct an on-site audit. This might prove to be expensive in terms of the number and severity of defects.  Both civil and criminal action may have repercussions in the marketplace given the sensitivity of large customers to legal sanctions against their suppliers and the resulting negative publicity.

   
 

AMERICAN HUMANE ASSOCIATION SUPPORTS MILITARY DOGS

Jan 8, 2016
    

The involvement of the American Humane Association (AHA) in protecting animals both on the battlefield and home front goes back to 1916 when the U.S. Secretary for War asked the American Humane Association to assist in rescuing wounded horses in Europe.  The AHA attended to more than 68,000 war horses each month under the banner of the Red Star Animal Relief effort. 

Recently in response to new challenges, the Association has established a number of initiatives under the guidance of Captain Jason Haag USMC (Ret) appointed as the National Director of Military Affairs. 

Programs include:

  • K-9 Battle Buddies™: A program to provide for the care of workings dogs which are involved in detecting explosives and providing companionship.  The Association is also working to reunite military dogs with their handlers who have returned stateside.  The Association is also assisting with medical care for dogs since there is no DOD care program for canines after demobilization.
  • The Wags4Patriots™ Program: The Association is linking returned veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with service dogs and is assisting with their training and care.  Veterans with service dogs have reported improved sleep, decreased startle- responses and lower need for pain medication. 
  • Operation Purple: American Humane Association is providing therapy dogs, miniature horses and other companion animals to the children of military families with a member deployed overseas.  The program is especially helpful for children who demonstrate anxiety and fear alleviated by contact with an animal.
  • Red Star®:  Red Star Rescue participates in disaster relief missions and shelter and has aided 80,000 animals affected by disasters during the past 10 years.  The Red Star for Warriors program places veterans in situations applicable to their training and experience to help in times of crisis.  The Association presents a Basic Animal Emergency Service Course over a two-day period to teach responders to care and shelter for animals.  The program is approved by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The American Humane Association has functioned since 1877 to protect both children and animals from cruelty, abuse and neglect.  The Association is monitored by Charity Watch and has received the Best in America Seal from the Independent Charities of America Organization and is recognized as an accredited charity by the Better Business Bureau and by Charity Navigator.

Unlike other organizations which purport to represent the interests in animals and livestock, the American Humane Association has a strong track record of achievement. This is in contrast to clones that play on the AHA name and reputation to raise money which is applied to fundraising and lobbying with the intent of promoting a vegan agenda.

   
 

FINANCIAL PLIGHT OF SMALL SCALE FARMERS

Jan 8, 2016
    

EGG-CITE is indebted to industry veteran Dean Hughson for referring an article in Salon entitled  What Nobody Told Me About Small Farming, I Can’t Make A Living. www.salon.com/2016

The article is in the form of an essay written by a couple farming in Northern California on a ten- acre leased farm.  The enterprise cultivates certified organic vegetables and flowers.  The author notes that the enterprise relies on a regular infusion of earnings from the partners working as a carpenter and a baker respectively. Although the operators gain personal satisfaction from growing organic vegetables they recognize that their farm is financially unsustainable.

The USDA documented that in 2012, farms grossing more than $10,000 but less than $250,000 obtained 90 percent of household income from an off-farm source.  Most small farms actually lost money.

The question arises as to whether retail establishments such as Whole Foods Market and others are in fact paying their local farmers a reasonable consideration given the effort and working capital required to produce food.  Is it that the boutique markets are paying just enough to keep the farmers in business knowing that outside sources of revenue actually contribute to their continuity?  Would the retail stores manage to maintain customer loyalty and survive if they had to pay a realistic price for the organic produce which is then sold with an appropriate markup?  If a head of conventional lettuce cost $1 at a mainstream supermarket would customers be willing to pay $5 for the same product without any measurable attribute other than sentiment?  Is the grant-in-aid program run by Whole Foods Market a cynical attempt to induce small-scale farmers to enter the hamster-wheel of production? Are small farms supplying specialist retailers inherently inefficient by virtue of scale?

On a recent drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from Ventura through Oxnard, CA I was struck by seemingly boundless acres of strawberries and green produce.  There is no way that small farmers can compete with the large producers given their respective levels of mechanization, bulk purchase of seed and fertilizer, irrigation and efficiency.  The same could be said for pasture-raised eggs from flocks under 5,000 hens.  A recent evaluation of the system actually disclosed that eggs cost in excess of $7 per dozen to produce, again without measurable attributes compared to commercial eggs derived from non-caged hens. 

Much of the small farm movement is driven by locavores that somehow believe that locally- grown produce is more sustainable, safer and environmentally friendly than commercial equivalents. Nothing can be further from the truth. Detailed studies of energy and resource requirements in addition to generation of carbon dioxide, demonstrate the advantages of intensification of production.

   
 

Vital Farms Posting-A Follow-up

Jan 8, 2016
    

On December 23rd EGG-CITE posted a Commentary questioning statements attributed to Matthew Hayer, CEO of Vital Farms by the Austin Business Journal. EGG-CITE stands by the facts in the posting relating to claimed attributes of eggs including taste and nutritional content irrespective of the production system used to house hens.

Subsequent to release of the December 23rd Edition of EGG-CITE I had the opportunity to discuss with Matthew the comments attributed to him. In an E-mail he stated that he was misquoted and that the article which formed the basis of the post contained “incorrect information not fact-checked by me”.  Matthew confirmed that hens producing under the Vital Brand are fed diets formulated by experienced nutritionists. He conceded that claims regarding the taste of Vital Brand eggs “were purely anecdotal and are based on unsolicited feedback from over 100 loyal customers over the past seven years”  

EGG-CITE has extended to Matthew the opportunity to provide a rebuttal to the December 23rd posting.   

   
 

Selective Genetic Engineering Offers Benefits

Jan 8, 2016
    

Julie Kelly in an opinion article in the Wednesday, December 30th 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal commented on potential benefits from genetic engineering (GE) as applied to food production.  She makes specific reference to Crispr technology to edit a genome by deletion of specific DNA sequences.  Crispr was named as the 2015 “break-through of the year” by the journal Science published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  During the past year, a team at the University of Missouri has developed piglets with modified DNA which are refractory to the corona virus responsible for porcine infectious diarrhea.  A similar technique has been applied by molecular biologists at Cambridge in the UK to develop chickens which are resistant to avian influenza.

Other GE innovations include Innate® potatoes which do not undergo browning and bruising and have lower asparagine content and therefore produce less acrilamide when fried. The immediate reaction by McDonald’s Corporation, one of the largest users of potatoes in the U.S. as a carrier for salt was to announce that it would not use the product despite the fact that the Innate® variety has a lower potential to produce the carcinogenic compound when deep fried.  Arctic® apples which are resistant to bruising and browning are also available but it is questionable whether the food distribution industry will embrace commercialization.

Kelly notes that more than 300 cases of food-borne infection have occurred following consumption of “natural” and “non-GMO” foods served by Chipotle Mexican Grill which has consistently implied that GE technology is in some way harmful despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.  In contrast to the oft repeated innuendos by Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells, there is no reputable research suggesting that GE-derived foods are in any way deleterious to consumers.

Despite the obvious advantages of GE technology, application has been constrained by naysayers through deliberate falsification of research data and presentation of spurious information on social media and in the mainstream press.  Recent the Hershey Company announced that it would cease using sugar derived from GE beets and transition to conventional cane sugar as virtually all beets grown in the U.S. are modified to resist glyphosate which increases yields and eliminates the use of environmentally deleterious herbicides. 

Despite the optimistic tone of her article entitled “The March of Genetic Food Progress” the Genetic Literacy Project to which she is a contributor will have a prodigious effort to alter the negative image created by opponents of GE. Three responses to the Kelly article were published as letters to the editor on January 5th. They contained the usual canards relating to glyphosate carcinogenicity and residues in food.

Naturally the issue of compulsory labeling was raised. The pressure to label GE-derived foods is a thinly veiled attempt to demonize the technology hiding under the principle of the ”right to know” Why not enforce the labeling of all foods containing dihydroxy oxygen (water). With sufficient intake this compound can be lethal!

   
 

JOHN MACKEY, WHOLE FOODS CHAIRMAN, BACKS SPIRITUAL ADVISOR OF QUESTIONABLE INTEGRITY

Jan 1, 2016
    

John Mackey Co-founder of Whole Foods Market serves as the Chairman of the Executive Board for the Center for Integral Wisdom.  This organization founded and managed by Marc Gafni promotes “the understanding that evolution in itself is an expression of a spiritual universal force of creation embodied in each one of us” The association was highlighted in an expose in the December 26th edition of the New York Times.

As with many charismatic leaders of cults and “movements” Gafni apparently has a checquered past and questionable morals.  Undeniably brilliant, Gafni in a previous life was Mordechai Winiarz an ordained Rabbi, a distinction which has since been rescinded.  Gafni has a history of molestation of female students in youth outreach programs with which he was affiliated in the U.S. In Israel he founded, ran but was then forced out of an organization termed New Home as a result of multiple infidelities with women in his community.  He is also been accused of serial plagiarism, suggesting questionable ethics.

The reality that John Mackey who describes Gafni as a “bold visionary” advocates for this organization raises questions as to judgement and perception.  These qualities should be strongly developed to guide a major public traded food retailer in a competitive environment. 

Details of the Center for Integral Wisdom and the involvement of John Mackey can be accessed at www.ievolve.org

   
 

ARE WE FACING A La Nina EVENT?

Jan 1, 2016

CHICK-CITE and EGG-CITE have reported on the Southern Oscillation giving rise to the current El Nino which is the most severe since the 1997-1998 event.  According to meteorological data, the sea temperature in the Eastern Pacific Ocean has risen by more than 4F in 2015.  Since El Nino events are cyclic, it is expected that there will be a gradual reduction in intensity through mid-2016 before being replaced by a La Nina event. (For reports of the El Nino see postings of July 27th, September 9th and October 21st 2015. For a detailed description of El Nino and La Nina see the posting of August 6th 2015, by accessing the SEARCH tab on the upper right side of the tool bar). 

Approximately 70 percent of El Nino events are followed by the La Nina counterpart. This phenomenon is initiated by strong Easterly trade winds moving water from the coast of Latin America westward into the central Pacific resulting in a decline in surface temperature as cold water wells upwards from the Humboldt Current.  This results in profound changes in weather worldwide.  During La Nina events, nations in the southern hemisphere experience heavier rainfall and flooding contrasted with droughts in the northern latitudes.

In the event of a severe La Nina following the current El Nino it can be expected that production of wheat, soybeans and corn will be severely depressed in North America. The event occurring from 1998 to 2000 brought unprecedented high prices for corn and soybeans.  Poultry producers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico should carefully monitor meterologic data since a developing La Nina will presage rising commodity prices.  With a severe event we could revisit $8 corn and $450 to $500 soybean meal. The drought will be coupled with extremely low winter temperatures requiring greater use of natural gas and propane to heat houses.  Although gas prices are at a multi-decade low, increased demand will result in a spike possibly during the winter of 2017.

CHICK-CITE and EGG-CITE will report on trends in Pacific Ocean temperature and will interpret reports on the NOAA website<www.noaa.gov> which updates the status of La Nina. This information will be provided as a guide to future planning and expansion.

   
 

IDAHO TO APPEAL ADVERSE RULING ON “EGG-GAG” LEGISLATION

Dec 28, 2015
    

In March 2014, a law was enacted in Idaho which enjoins animal activists from clandestine surveillance of farming operations. The statute has now been declared unconstitutional.  A  Federal District Court ruled that the law violated the First Amendment, allowing free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment dealing with the Equal Protection Clause.  In the opinion of the court, the presiding judge wrote, “The effect of the statue will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistle blowers concerning topics of great public importance including the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agriculture workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment”.  The law in the opinion of the Court was motivated “by disposition towards animal welfare groups and impinges on free speech, a fundamental right”.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed a motion asking for more than $250,000 to cover fees and costs associated with the action.

Laws to limit intrusion and subsequent release of publicity alleging deviation from acceptable welfare standards and housing have been overturned in a number of states.  The Idaho Law follows the general premise of legislation passed in Iowa, Utah, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas.

EGG-CITE has maintained that “ag-gag” laws are not generally viewed favorably by consumers since there is the perception that the industry has something to hide and that the rights of farmers are being protected by legislation.  The concerns of consumers are further exacerbated by negative publicity associated with legal action brought by animal welfare groups with deep pockets and extensive legal resources. 

The best defense against intrusions and subsequent negative publicity is to maintain housing and production practices which are defensible.  Appropriate training and supervision of workers is critical and a proactive program of cooperation with the media, creating a favorable image could preemptively blunt the impact of an intrusion video.

Traditionally the industry has hidden behind the “biosecurity barrier” preventing access by media to farms.  In view of the fact that effective Structural and Operational biosecurity should allow authorized and selected visitors to don outer clothing to access the restricted perimeter of the farm with or without showering, surely could permit visits by impartial and informed reporters, legislators and those guiding public opinion.  A complete barrier to any outside observation is an absolute magnet for welfare groups to either break into facilities with an obvious risk of introducing disease (as has occurred in California, Ohio and New York) or to encourage the infiltration by agents who will document real or contrived mismanagement and housing of flocks (as in Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states).

   
 

Just Mayo – Semantics of Marketing

Dec 23, 2015
    

According to Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek, his Company has apparently negotiated an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to retain the trade name Just Mayo subject to specified label changes. The Company was the subject of an FDA complaint in August 2015 as reported in the media. In a statement issued by Hampton Creek, the words egg-free will be printed larger on the label and spread and dressing will be added to describe the product. (see existing and proposed labels)

The road to acceptance of the Just Mayo brand has not been easy.  In 2014 Unilever, owners of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise filed a lawsuit claiming that the trade name was misleading. The lawsuit was dropped after considerable support for Hampton Creek exploded in the social media. The Food and Drug Administration noted that the term Mayo was misleading in that by legal definition mayonnaise must contain eggs and that pea protein and starch were unacceptable additives, although the Agency has allowed an exemption in this case. 

Hampton Creek was assisted in its representation to the FDA by Stuart Pape a former attorney with the Food and Drug Administration who deals with labeling and regulatory issues for the Polsinelli Law Firm in the Washington DC. office. It is presumed that as part of the agreement, Hampton Creek will remove unsubstantiated health claims from their website.

The issue of the “Mayo” appellation became mired in controversy when it was disclosed that Joanne Ivy intervened in her position as President and CEO of the American Egg Board to attempt to block the purchase of the Hampton Creek product by Whole Foods Market.  The USDA is currently investigating the activities of the American Egg Board. The Board is a statutory body under the jurisdiction of the USDA Agricultual Marketing Services, since funding for the promotional, educational and research activities is derived from check-off payments based on eggs marketed.

   
 

DOES VITAL FARMS REGARD CHICKENS AS RUMINANTS?

Dec 23, 2015
    

In a comment relating to arranging an $8 million finance package, Matthew O’Hayer, CEO of Vital Farms Inc., overstated his company reliance on flocks having outside access. He stated, “Instead of corn or soy, company chicken live outdoors and are fed pasture grass”. 

As a poultry nutritionist of over 46-years standing, I was unaware that domestic chickens can survive and also produce eggs on what they can scavenge on pasture.  Come on Matthew--- they are monogastric and require grain to provide energy, amino acids, calcium and phosphorus for egg shell formation and micronutrients including minerals and vitamins.  If you scratch around in your accountant’s files you will find a lot of invoices for feed delivered to your operations.  If you are to make public statements at least conform to some semblance of reality.

O’Hayer also stated, “Living outdoors and feeding on pasture grass makes the eggs healthier and tastier”.  You might want to substantiate your claims with regard to taste.  There are a number of Land-Grant and endowed universities with research laboratories using standard techniques and trained taste panels well-equipped to provide data to either substantiate or negate what you claim. 

The scientific literature generally is unable to document any meaningful differences in nutrient content of eggs derived from hens which are confined to barns and those that have outside access.  The only difference may relate to yolk color but intense pigmentation can be achieved using natural extracts of marigold petals and peppers. 

As far as “health” claims are concerned, again you will have to justify how housing on pasture enhances safety.  In fact the opposite is probably true since free ranging hens are exposed to a wide range of parasites and pathogens, some of which are potentially egg-borne.

You have a unique niche in that you are producing USDA Certified Organic products but promoted and marketed with unsubstantiated claims. Vital brand eggs are no different from any other organic product with respect to nutritional content or taste.  In point a fact there is also no difference between organic and conventional eggs with regard to taste, nutrient content or residues other than labeling and the difference in price.

You might be well advised to learn from the current discomfiture of Steve Ells who for 20 years has made unsubstantiated claims to support the image and sales of Chipotle Mexican Grill and the menu items his company serves.  To claim attributes which can be measured and exist in fact is entirely acceptable.  To promote unsubstantiated and non-quantifiable claims, especially when by implication, they disparage competitive products is unethical and ultimately self-destructive. 

Your Brand equity could crumble overnight with any food-borne incident, not necessarily confined to SE or contamination by ingestion by flocks of a chemical compound. After all, when did Vital Farms institute a structured program of toxicological screening from your diverse production centers? Or conduct routine assays of nutrient content? Or monitor serologic response to vaccination? Or regularly audit producers using qualified, doctoral-level reviewers?

To make verbal claims is simple, to back them up with science and documentation takes commitment and investment.

   
 

BACKYARD CHICKENS AND INFANTS

Dec 18, 2015
    

The dangers of exposing infants to backyard chickens in relation to specific infections such as salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis are well known.  A new condition described in a recent article in Maternal and Child Nutrition correlates intimate contact of infants and chickens with stunting. 

A study conducted in Zimbabwe showed that stunted growth and a delay in subsequent physical and mental development could be attributed to causes other than malnutrition.  The field study conducted by Faculty at the University of California, Davis, concluded that stunting is multifactorial and in fact was associated with changes in the intestinal tract of children exposed to chicken droppings.  These included shortening of intestinal villi decreasing the absorptive surface of the intestine together with inflammatory changes in the mucosa.

The results of the study in Zimbabwe as described in the December 12th edition of The Economist also cites research in Ethiopia which showed that children in households keeping poultry indoors showed a higher rate of stunting than in families which confined birds outside the living area of the home.

The University of California group suggested that chronic exposure to chicken droppings resulted in intestinal infection stimulating the production of cytokines which are antagonistic to somatotrophic  (growth) hormone.

   
 

CDC Replaces Lab Manager

Dec 16, 2015
    

On July 10th EGG-CITE posted an editorial relating to a series of laboratory incidents involving Federal agencies including the CDC, which could potentially have led to outbreaks of infection.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has named a new acting Director of the Select Agent Program.  The previous manager of the program Dr. Robbin Weyant has been appointed as a Senior Advisor in the office of the Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety.  As a result of initial disclosures of deviations from accepted safety procedures, Dr. Stephen Monroe was appointed as the Associate Director of Laboratory Safety reporting directly to Dr.Thomas Frieden, the Director of the CDC,.

According to the CDC release, Dr. Daniel Sosin is serving as the Acting Director of the Select Agent Division.  This unit within the CDC is responsible for developing regulations relating to pathogens and toxins with significant potential for harm and also for investigating any cases of incorrect procedures.

It is hoped that the organization changes and the emphasis on laboratory safety and procedures will avert any future mishandling, or worse, a release of pathogenic agents.

   
 

Pivotal Freedom of Information Act Appeal by Animal Rights Organization

Dec 11, 2015
    

According to a press release dated December 2nd from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Organization will soon present their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue is an action to compel the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to release details of inspections of egg-production farms performed in accordance with the 2010 Salmonella Prevention Rule. When inspections were initiated in 2011 the question of confidentiality of the extensive data collected by the FDA was raised as an issue. The FDA makes public copies of Form 483, relating to violations. These are posted on the FDA website.

   
 

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Report

Dec 11, 2015
    

On November 4th EGG-CITE posted an editorial and a guest commentary on the World Health Organization “International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Report which implicated glyphosate as a potentially carcinogenic compound.

The European Food Safety Authority has declared that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.  This official position is also held by the U.S. EPA which considers the herbicide safe if as used as directed.

Following publication of the adverse IARC report, Monsanto, the largest manufacturer of glyphosate in the form of Roundup® assembled a panel of 16 scientists under the direction of the Intertek Scientific and Regulatory Consultancy.  Preliminary findings which failed to disclose any evidence of carcinogenicity in an evaluation of mainstream peer-reviewed literature will be presented at a meeting of the Society of Risk Analysis.  The study will be subsequently published following pair review.

It is noted that 10 of the 16 members of the panel have consulted for Monsanto and 2 others are former Monsanto employees.  This does not necessarily imply that the deck was stacked in favor of the company and its product. It is hoped that the opinions of the Panel, based on a review of published literature will be valid and incontrovertible despite their associations.

Essentially the attack on glyphosate is an indirect challenge to GM crops.  Over decades, farmers have adopted GM cultivars of corn and soybeans that are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.  If farmers are deprived of glyphosate, the justification for the GMO cultivars which are being developed falls away.  The result would be lower crop yields and ultimately higher prices for grains and livestock.

   
 

ROCHE WITHDRAWS FROM  JV ANTIBIOTIC DEVELOPMENT

Dec 4, 2015
    

Roche Holdings has announced that it will discontinue involvement with their partner Polyphor in the development of an investigational antibiotic for the treatment drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection.  Roche had agreed to pay $485 million for rights to the product.

Acknowledging the problems associated with multi-drug resistant organisms including the agents causing tuberculosis and gonorrhea, Roche will continue with research. According to a spokesperson the Company made the decision to terminate the arrangement with Polphor on the basis that “the streamlined development path originally planned is no longer an option for Roche”.

The WHO and national agencies have repeatedly called for accelerated development of new classes of antibiotics to compensate for the loss of activity against current strains of multi-drug resistant pathogens responsible for nosocomial infections.

   
 

FDA Approves GM Salmon

Dec 4, 2015
    

An article authored by Gautam Naik in the November 20th edition of the Wall Street Journal confirmed that after twenty years of review and masterful inactivity, the FDA has finally approved the application by AquaBounty Technology to reproduce and market a GM Atlantic salmon. This is the first modified food animal approved by the FDA

Genes regulating secretion of growth hormone were transferred from Pacific Chinook salmon and Atlantic Pout to the slower growing Atlantic species.  AquaBounty claims that the modified fish requires up to 25 percent less feed to reach the same weight as conventional Atlantic salmon and grows to market weight in half the time required for conventional Atlantic salmon.

Although this is both a scientific and a regulatory achievement, commercialization may be slow.  AquaBounty projects that the GM salmon will only be available in retail coolers in late 2017 since it has been in a holding pattern awaiting the decision of the FDA. 

Naturally the approval has aroused the ire of the scientific Luddites who are congenitally opposed to any GM technology.  The Center for Food Safety which is in itself an oxymoron has indicated that will sue in Federal court to block the action of the FDA.  The organization bases their opposition on the risk of escape of modified salmon which would interbreed with the conventional wild population.  This is not possible since AquaBounty will only produce modified salmon in land-based farms and all modified salmon will be sterile females.

The more important question is whether supermarkets and restaurants will accept the product.  A number of chains including the Kroger Company have pledged not to stock GM salmon. By a similar token commercial acceptance of GM apples and potatoes has been disappointingly slow despite the advantages offered with respect to both health and quality.  For two decades we have consumed GM corn and soybeans without any untoward effect other than having to tolerate the misinformation and sophistry of the naysayers and opponents of all GM technology irrespective of merit.

If there is limited commercial acceptance of GM salmon, the road towards more extensive use of either gene-deletion or trans-genesis will be facilitated.  Genetic modification of small ruminants has been carried out to produce specific proteins in their milk with direct therapeutic application for humans.  William Muir, Professor of Genetics at Purdue University noted “For twenty years the regulatory process was broken.”  He added “This opens the gate for other similar ventures to proceed.”