Shane Commentary

 

Canadian BSE Case Denotes Value of Traceback

Feb 25, 2015
    

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is investigating circumstances relating to a single breeder cow in Alberta which was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).  The affected animal was calved in 2009, approximately two years after the ban on feeding recycled animal protein was introduced in 2007.  This is the first diagnosed case of BSE in Canada since 2011.

The important lesson from this unfortunate episode is that it was possible to trace the birth-farm of the approximately 6-year old cow based on an ear tag and accompanying records.

Traceability has emerged as a significant food safety and trade issue during the past two decades. Identifying the source of a food-borne infection can limit losses and resolve an issue rapidly, thereby limiting negative publicity, public concern, erosion of brand loyalty and costs.

   
 

Motley Fool Defends Image of Monsanto

Feb 10, 2015
    

Motley Fool a reputable and well-recognized organization circulating newsletters to the investment community, recently commented favorably on the Monsanto Company, headquartered in Greater St. Louis, MO. The company was recently accorded a low rating for public acceptance in a Harris Poll. This is attributed to the involvement of the Company in supplying defoliants during the Vietnam War and the fact that Monsanto is a leading developer and distributor of GM cultivars.

It is interesting that Motley Fool wished to amplify the advantages of GM technology, pioneered by Monsanto.  They made special mention of improved yields and hence alleviation of hunger and improved income to farmers World- wide.  Reduced use of pesticides and herbicides contributes to the health of the environment and sustainability is enhanced by superior productivity compared to conventional strains of corn and soybeans. Motely Fool highlighted  “designer crops” which carry genes to improve nutrient content.

   
 

Conflict Between the Cornucopia Institute and the Organic Trade Association Continues

Feb 10, 2015
    

According to provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, the USDA has authority to organize a vote on a check-off for organic products.  This parallels the situation with other commodities including  eggs, milk and almonds.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union has rejected the concept of a check-off as advocated by the Organic Trade Association.  It is anticipated that up to $30 million could be raised for research and promotion.  Any decision to introduce a check-off scheme would require a 2/3rd vote of registered organic farmers.

The success of check-off funding for research and promotion is evident in the egg production industry. Consumption has increased in recent years especially due to dispelling the “cholesterol myth” and promotion of sales to the food service industry. Efforts by the American Egg Board have effectively increased consumption with positive benefit to producers.

   
 

Response to Posting on a Separate Food Safety Agency.

Feb 10, 2015
    

The Editorial on the merits of a separate Food Safety Agency posted on February 4th elicited a detailed response from an unexpected source. My son Jeremy based in DC who has developed a strong sense of how politics functions in Washington from his contribution to two Presidential campaigns, starting at an early age and his involvement in the healthcare industry, advocated a contrary opinion which is shared to stimulate additional dialogue over an important issue.      

He writes:

First, I think the chances of stripping food inspection from the USDA in a Republican Congress are low.  The department’s services are used predominantly in rural constituencies, which tend to be represented by Republicans.  Amidst so much work to be done on budgetary and tax policy, I doubt the House or Senate leadership would make this a priority.

   
 

Protest over Possible Imports of Biodiesel from Argentina

Feb 6, 2015
    

In terms of current legislation, exporters of biofuels to the U.S. must certify that feedstock was not cultivated from land made available by deforestation after 2007.  The EPA will allow certification using a survey approach which will benefit exporters such as Argentina. Domestic producers of biodiesel maintain that the verification process could be subject to manipulation.

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) has criticized the EPA decision to import biodiesel under the Renewable Fuels Standard. Anne Steckel the Vice President of Federal Affairs for the National Biodiesel Board stated “this is incredibly damaging, particularly in light of the continued delays in establishing RFS volumes.”  She added “the Obama Administration has effectively run the U.S. biodiesel industry into a ditch over the past year.”

   
 

Differences Between Scientists and the Public on Critical Issues

Feb 6, 2015
    

A recent Pew Research Center study highlighted the differences in opinion and perception between scientists and the public.  This survey was based on 3,750 scientists affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The responders representing public opinion included 2,000 U.S. adults nationwide.

   
 

California Prices Move Sharply Down

Feb 4, 2015
    

The fundamental relationship of supply and demand determines the equilibrium price for a commodity. A shortage of product, part real and part perception, resulted in an unprecedented escalation in the price of eggs as delivered to stores in California following the advent of Proposition #2 at the beginning of January. Through the first 11 months of 2014 the differential in price between California and the Midwest averaged between 15 cents and 20 cents per dozen using rough approximations.

During November and December there was a progressive linear increase in the differential in price to about 100 cents per dozen. At the beginning of 2015 a sharp decline in supply of “California Compliant” eggs coupled with transitory panic buying resulted in a 230 cent difference between the prevailing wholesale price in the Golden State in comparison to the Midwest.

This situation could not last as both sides of the equation were subject to responses by suppliers and consumers. The volume of eggs sold was depressed by high prices. Supply increased as more supply farms could legally ship to California, replenishing the pipeline. The net effect has been a 100 cent per dozen fall in the wholesale price over 5 days as noted by Urner-Barry in their February 3rd report. Further declines will follow as hens are re-caged at compliant cage density and numbers. Ultimately the differential will stabilize at about 30 cents to 40 cents per dozen, reflecting higher production costs for 116 square inches in addition to expenses associated with compliance and transport.

 

   
 

Milk Producers Facing Opposition and Competition

Feb 4, 2015
    

The Milk Processor Education Program funded by processors has initiated a promotional program to offset a potential decline in consumption of fluid milk. This action follows recent publications in peer-review scientific journals questioning the nutritional value and health effects of milk.

The social media has been active in recent months commenting on welfare issues especially in relation to large dairies. Press reports of alleged cruelty in husbandry and handling have detracted from the wholesome image of milk. The industry is also beset with competition from soymilk. This substitute appeals to vegans and those opposed to intensive livestock production.

   
 

Warnings to California Producers Regarding Avian Influenza

Jan 23, 2015
    

Avian Health Professionals at the University of California at Davis are promoting intensified biosecurity to prevent extension of avian influenza strains H5N2 and H5N8 to the commercial poultry population.  Their efforts are also being directed to poultry enthusiasts and operators of backyard farms.

The advent of avian influenza in British Columbia followed by isolation of the virus from migratory waterfowl and from backyard farms in Oregon, and Washington suggests that changes have occurred in the prevalence rate of these strains in migratory birds resulting in increased risks to domestic poultry.

Backyard flocks with outside access are an ongoing danger to all commercial poultry operations.  Since these potential amplifiers of influenza virus are a fact of life, it will be incumbent on commercial producers to exercise a level of separation through enhanced biosecurity commensurate with the risks and consequences of introducing AI infection. 

There is concern that when backyard producers find that on reporting flock mortality to diagnostic labs or to state veterinary authorities that their flocks are depopulated, some will tend to hide outbreaks increasing the risk of dissemination of HPAI.  Although a compensation program to facilitate eradication of exotic diseases is practical for commercial farms, the amounts offered to operators of game fowl flocks and fancy breeds is inadequate relative to their live intrinsic value.

The major issue confronting medium and large-scale egg producers in California is the distinct divergence between what is required for optimal biosecurity and what is considered a reasonable investment in money and time for effective structural and operational improvements. Delay in upgrading facilities and procedures will perpetuate vulnerability.

   
 

Intrusion Video at Petaluma Egg Farms

Jan 23, 2015
    

Petaluma Farms was apparently the subject of intrusions, effectively burglaries, over a series of nights in 2013 and again in recent weeks.

The alleged findings by the intruders affiliated with Direct Action Everywhere founded in Berkeley, CA. in early 2013 were posted on the website of the organization.  Compared with previous intrusion videos this version is well narrated and graphic but includes irrelevant material relating to unconnected events.

Petaluma Farms is run by the Mahrt Family and produces organic, and non-confined (“cage-free”) eggs.  Their organic eggs are sold by Whole Foods Market under the 365 Brand and the Organic Valley label.

According to press reports including a detailed expose in The Press Democrat Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is responsible for organic certification of flocks although the certification had lapsed due to an administrative error. The press report, quoted Adele Douglas, of the HFAC, claiming that the organization was not responsible for certifying the hens depicted in the video.

   
 

Response by Richard Berman

Jan 22, 2015
    

The January 15th Editorial considered progress in converting from individual gestation crates for sows to non-confined alternatives. Richard Berman of his eponymous company based in Washington D.C. responded with the following comments which are reproduced as a courtesy to him and for the consideration by subscribers and readers:-

Dr. Shane overstates his case that public concern initiated by the HSUS has driven retailers and restaurants to demand a dramatic shift on housing of pregnant sows. 

We have tracked the positions of the largest 50 grocers and 100 restaurants in the United States. About 75 percent of each category have not made any pledge regarding sourcing of pork through their supply chains. Of those that have, most have made weak pledges with promises to “strive” or “plan” to procure only group-housed pork in two to seven years.

As Chipotle shows, there is a supply shortage of pork produced using “alternative” methods to the point where Chipotle simply has stopped serving pork because a supplier didn’t meet its pledge. Most companies, however, are more practical. It’s unlikely that they will be interested in taking losses just to tout sow-housing demands, especially if the executives and the public are well educated on the issue.

Not coincidently, the corporate pledges have slowed down since the industry started educating in 2012. Similarly, no state bans on IMPs have gone into law since 2012 as legislators have also been educated.  

Although EGG-CITE disagrees with some of the contentions expressed by Richard Berman his rebuttal is posted in keeping with a policy that responsible, factual opposing views should be posted.

The thrust of the EGG-CITE Editorial related to the fact that public perception of welfare coupled with the sensitivity of members of the NCCR, the NRA and the FMI has a profound influence livestock housing and welfare standards. The editorial was not intended to consider the relative merits of housing sows or to comment on the involvement of the HSUS regarding the issue. These are more germane to Richard and his Clients.

   
 

New York City to Ban Plastic Foam in Food Service

Jan 16, 2015
    

One of the few issues that previous Mayor, Michael Bloomberg and the present incumbent Bill DeBlasio agree on is the apparent need to ban plastic foam (expanded polystyrene) cups, clamshell containers and plates in New York City.  Although these products can be effectively recycled or combusted in municipal incinerators to generate power, disposal on landfills which is the easy way out, adds to the mass of non-biodegradable material deposited.

In December 2013 the NYC City Council agreed that a moratorium of one year would be allowed during which time proponents of foam containers would be given the opportunity to demonstrate that these products could be effectively collected and recycled.  Under the new restriction, effective July 1st 2015, restaurants, food carts and take-out establishments would be enjoined from using plastic foam containers. It is intended to strictly enforce the ban in January 2016.  Non-profits and businesses with less than $500,000 in annual revenue will be eligible for exemptions if they can prove undue financial hardship.

   
 

Federal Government to Manipulate SNAP Program to Benefit “Local” Farmers

Jan 16, 2015
    

According to informed sources, the USDA intends doubling the value of SNAP benefits (“Food Stamps”) if used to purchase locally produced fruit and vegetables.

A similar program of short duration commenced in 2005 in New York City operated by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  At this time, administrators of the New York program introduced the scheme to encourage consumption of produce among communities disinclined to eat fresh vegetables based on cultural factors and restricted availability.

   
 

Consumer Perceptions Influence Taste

Jan 14, 2015
    

According to a survey conducted by Technomic, it is apparent that consumers perceive taste and the potential contribution to health of foods from menu and label information claiming attributes such as “freshness” or “natural state”.  It is also evident that details of nutritional content may enhance perception of taste. 

Sarah Monnette, Senior Director, Consumer Insight and Innovations at Technomic stated “menu transparency is imperative and can help drive sales of healthy options.”  She added “telling an ingredient story whether it’s farm-raised, local or GMO-free can directly impact consumer decisions.”

   
 

Is there a Lesson for Big U.S. Supermarket Chains from the UK?

Jan 9, 2015
    

The “Big Four” UK supermarket chains, Tesco, Asda, J. Sainsbury and Wm. Morrison are expected to report declining same-store sales and correspondingly low profits for the Fourth Quarter of 2014.  It is estimated that the four major grocery chains are using only six percent of available land under contract or purchased for construction of new supermarkets.  Sainsbury has announced that it will no longer build 40 large stores which had been planned. 

It is expected that Tesco will report a five percent decline in same-store sales with Sainsbury falling to between two and three percent lower. The major chains will also take charges on the lower value of their property holdings with Sainsbury writing down $1.0 billion and Tesco as much as $1.7 billion.

   
 

Acts of Community Charity by Farmers

Jan 9, 2015
    

With so much of our news reporting strife, disharmony and confrontation it is heartwarming to learn of acts of community solidarity and kindness which restore faith in humanity.  Two examples stand out during the past week which was dominated by news from the Middle East and acrimonious politics.

In Yorkville located in Racine County, WI, farmers in the community came together to harvest the crops on the farm of the late Arthur Green who was killed when an auger fell on him.  More than fifty farmers, family and friends gathered at the Green farm to harvest his 200 acres which was completed in a day bringing in 35,000 bushels of corn.

In a second incident, neighbors of the Schaumburg family in Watseka IL gathered to bring in corn from the 2,000 acres of their land.  The parents of Hayden Schaumburg were at his bedside in a Chicago hospital where he was recovering from a fractured neck, the result of a football accident.  Hayden, aged 16 was active on the farm, is the school chapter president of the FFA, a star athlete and an honor student.

In commenting on the community action, family friend Shawn Peters commented “in this case there was something we could do and it seemed so clear and obvious and nobody in town remembers who came up with the idea.”  He added “it just kinda happened – that is what a farming community does.”

There have been a number of instances involving fire or severe weather impacting egg-production complexes during the past five years.  Competition was set aside to assist the affected operations with feed, transport or packing. While we hope that no untoward events will occur and although we develop contingency plans we should also understand that we are willing to provide and to receive help from our fellow producers.

   
 

Suggested New Year resolutions For People We Know:-

Jan 2, 2015
Josh Tetrick

To actually make a real fake synthetic egg in 2015—with the amino acid, vitamin, mineral and caloric content of a real egg, after all $50 million raised in venture capital must be able to do it!

Secretary Tom Vilsack

To recognize that large-scale Family-owned and operated row-crop and egg production farms are responsible for feeding the U.S. not the subsistence units which survive on USDA benefit programs.

The First Lady Micelle Obama  

To ease off on manipulating the USDA to impose unrealistic food standards for school meals which have resulted in higher cost and wastage.

Dr. Oz

To return to his basic roots as a scientist and surgeon and quit huckstering on his TV show including unjustified condemnation of meat and eggs and providing a platform for other personalities advocating “back-to-nature food production.

Dr Michael Greger

To enjoy being a vegan but to curb his desire to convert the World to his lifestyle by distorting science and condemning livestock production.  Perhaps try a scrambled egg or a steak now and then—skeletal does not equate to being healthy!

Nicholas Kristof
 

To exercise the “investigative” in investigative journalism to avoid repeating the hatchet job on Perdue Farms and other excursions into unsubstantiated commentaries in the New York Times.

Vani Hari

To learn some basic nutritional biochemistry so that she can actually post authoritatively to her followers who deserve better.

Wayne Pacelle

To explain to the citizens of California why they are paying 40 percent more for eggs because of false and misleading publicity sponsored by the HSUS running up to the 2008 Proposition #2 vote.

Gina McCarthy

To impose some realism on the zealots and activists she inherited at the EPA.



 

   
 

Will there Be a Shortage of Eggs in California come January?

Dec 23, 2014
    

The December 19th Edition of EGG-CITE featured an editorial questioning whether there will be a shortage of eggs in California on January 1st 2015 as the provisions of Proposition #2 and California Law 1427 take effect.  It was the contention of the editorial that news reports forecasting shortages were exaggerated and based on either fragmentary or faulty information. 

A welcome comment was received from a producer in South Dakota with a contrary viewpoint.  He invoked the California Department of Food and Agriculture statistic that the 38 million population of California needs 33 million birds to supply eggs to be consumed in the State. This number is regarded as being too high. It can be assumed for the purposes of argument that consumption in California is similar to the national average of 260 eggs per capita.  Applying standard parameters applicable to production of white-shelled eggs, and assuming that one third of egg consumption will be derived from liquid products, the actual number of hens required would be 23 million, lower than the CDFA projection.

The second presumption was that only eight million hens were held in California at 116 square inches in November. It is accepted that the number of hens has steadily declined in California from July 2013 (17.3 million) to October 2014 (15 million) and that further culling will have to take place in late December after the Christmas demand has ceased.

Suppliers into California have had considerable notice of the January 2015 deadline and have reacted accordingly, notwithstanding late attempts at suspending the regulations by legal action.  There has been widespread placement of California-compliant flocks in Texas, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and some Midwest states to supply the State come January.  If we accept that 10 million hens will be compliant within the state of California, an additional 12 to 14 million hens will be required to supply the differential between in-state production and interstate shipment. 

When the editorial was drafted in mid-December, producers both in and out of California responded to my inquiry on the condition of anonymity.  Other sources included equipment manufacturers who have been steadily supplying both enrichable and enriched cage installations for new houses and retrofits.

   
 

HSUS Spokesperson Deprecates Eggs 

Dec 17, 2014
    

Dr. Michael Greger who circulates a blog promoting veganism, posted an item on November 27th entitled How Avoiding Eggs Could Help You Avoid Diabetes.  At the outset it is noted that Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States.  He is an avowed vegan and despite his medical qualification from Tufts University there is no evidence that he has ever conducted research on human metabolism and clinical nutrition or has held an appointment at a teaching hospital.  Dr Greger has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show which is effectively “guilt by association”.

   
 

Drug Resistance as a Health Problem in India

Dec 12, 2014
    

An article by Gardiner Harris appeared in the December 3rd edition of the New York Times dealing with the problem of pediatric infections with drug-resistant bacteria.

While the administration of antibiotics in medical facilities and the number of prescriptions issued by practitioners have declined in the U.S. and industrialized nations over the past three years, sales of antibiotics for human consumption in developing nations rose by 36 percent during the period 2000 to 2010.  Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa accounted for 75 percent of the increase.