Shane Commentary


Welfare Issues Reviewed at IEC Conference

May 18, 2015

The emerging issues of beak trim and disposal of cockerels were reviewed at the International Egg Commission Business Meeting in Lisbon.  A number of EU nations have banned any form of beak trimming despite concerns over cannibalism in non-confined hens.  For some time, the NovaTech™ Infrared System has been regarded as a “bridge technology” in the EU to treat the beaks of chicks at the hatchery.  By 17 weeks pullets have beaks of normal length and the IP process only removes the maxillary “hook” which is responsible for injury from aggression.

Histological examination shows retention of neural tissue and the beak still serves as a sensitive organ for prehension of food and preening.  Speculation over breeding more placid chickens which are less susceptible to cannibalism and aggression is wishful thinking for even intermediate-term commercial application.  Although primary breeders are evaluating absence of aggression and fear response as traits, incorporating this characteristic in an index selection program without sacrificing performance will be difficult to achieve.


Mintel Reports on Attitudes Towards Organic

May 18, 2015

Mintel, a prominent market research agency has reported on the attitude of U.S. consumers towards the “Organic” label.  According to the principal investigator Bill Roberts, Senior Food and Drink Analyst, consumers are confused over the claimed benefits for “Organic”.  There is a perception that the “organic” appellation is a justification to increase price.

Highlights of the survey include:-

  • About 70 percent of respondents considered that organic products were “healthier”
  • About 70 percent of purchasers taken to account environmental, ethical (sustainability or welfare?) in their purchase decision.  There is a difference between male and female shoppers. Only 20 percent of women and 16 percent of men purchase organics because they believe that flocks and herds are treated more ethically.
  • Half of consumers surveyed consider that the organic label is “an excuse to charge more”.  The “Swing Generation” (aged over 65) recorded a 57 percent level of cynicism regarding organic status and price.
  • A third of consumers regard “organic” as a marketing term with no real value or definition.
  • Only 39 percent of Generation X (38 to 48 years of age) considered that organic-labeled products are actually organic.
  • A third of respondents (33 percent) indicated that they purchased an organic product (food or beverage) during the previous three months.  Organic purchases were higher among the Millennial (20 to 32 years of age) at 49 percent.  More than half (58 percent) of the Swing Generation consume no organic products.

International Outbreaks of HPAI

May 18, 2015


With our preoccupation with HPAI in the upper Midwest, it is natural that we have shifted attention from outbreaks in other parts of the World. The following declarations to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have appeared on ProMED in recent weeks:-

Israel reported an outbreak of H5N1 involving 13,000 turkeys, confirmed on May 8th in Bezet near the border with southwest Lebanon.  Eight previous cases occurred in this area in January but all were eradicated by February 11th.

Palestine reported H5N1 HPAI in both Gaza and the West Bank in late March but only recently reported to the OIE.

Mexico reported H7N3 strain HPAI isolated from endemic wild birds (a chacalaca, Ortalis vetula and a thrush Turdus grayi).  Isolates were made from dead birds in a nature reserve in the state of Chiapas.  Active surveillance was implemented.

Burkina Faso reported highly pathogenic avian influenza on a farm located in Tangora in the central region of the Nation.  Avian influenza has been diagnosed in nine areas of the West-central African countrysince March.  Neighbours including Cote d’ Ivoire, Mali, and Togo have banned imports from Burkina Faso.

Turkey reported an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in the northern province of Kastamonu with action taken by the Government on Sunday May 3rd.  Apparently as many as 40,000 chickens have died in the Province of Bandirma over the past three months.


AEB Circulates Information on HPAI Media Coverage

May 12, 2015

In a May 5th release, the American Egg Board noted continued restraint on publicizing HPAI in mainstream media. 

  • Reuters commented that as a result of representation by the Chairmen of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, $330 million was transferred from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to the USDA-APHIS to supplement $85 million assigned to the 2015 outbreak required for logistics and indemnity.
  • The National Geographic published an article by Karen Weintraub which incorporated quotations from scientists affiliated to schools of Public Health. Andrew Pekosz of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health opined that the probability of extension of the H5N2 virus to humans was “small”. His comments on the method of transmission from wild waterfowl reservoirs to the interior of chicken farms were less than illuminating. 
  • Steven Morse of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health apparently does not know that the 2015 strain of H5N2 is genetically different from the H5N2 responsible for the 1983/1984 outbreak in Pennsylvania and adjacent states.  Dr. Morse was however confident that control measures applied by USDA will eventually end the outbreak although he commented “any predictions are really hard when it comes to influenza, but I do anticipate it will come under control if they follow current measures.”

Speculation over Spread of H5N2 is Unproductive

May 8, 2015

A May 5th 2015 article by Rob Schultz in the Wisconsin State Journal commented on the incident cases of H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza in his State. 

The opinions of John Brunnquell the President of Egg Innovations were quoted as to possible mechanisms of transmission of HPAI.  His statement that “the virus has mutated so it can stay active on feathers, dust and manure long enough to reach a poultry barn by air as it is blown out of another facilities exhaust system” is correct with respect to the physics involved but there is absolutely no evidence that the H5N2 virus has undergone mutation.  This would have to be verified by gene sequencing. 

It is evident that defects in biosecurity are responsible for introduction on to some farms. Most U.S. facilities have been configured to function in the absence of exotic catastrophic diseases. Structural biosecurity including vehicle wash stations, fencing, staff change rooms, secured gates and other installations designed to prevent introduction of viral pathogens are lacking.  In the absence of effective structural biosecurity it is difficult if not impossible to implement operational biosecurity which involves procedures necessary to exclude viral and bacterial infectious agents.

The State Veterinarian of Wisconsin Dr. Paul McGraw accepts that high winds could carry virus on feathers and debris but he is of the opinion that there are other causes based on the pattern of outbreaks in his state.


Michael Greger Continues to Spread Falsehoods Over HPAI Epidemiology

May 8, 2015

Michael Greger, MD., affiliated to the HSUS as Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture, wasted little time in diverting his attention from promoting a vegan agenda to disparaging the egg production industry with falsehoods and half-truths. Greger, is the author of  “Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching” issued by the HSUS in 2006. This publication was largely discredited by avian health professionals and epidemiologists. 

In his recent statement he opines “The poultry industry looks for easy scapegoats such as wild ducks and geese even though these animals have flown over North American for millennia”. True, but they never carried the novel H5N2 strain pathogenic to chickens and turkeys previously. It is an incontrovertible fact that the H5N2 virus affecting flocks in Western Canada in 2014 and in the U.S. in 2015 is a novel reassortant incorporating both galliform and anseriform-origin genes from two continents. Accordingly his assertion that farmers are in some way responsible for the 2015 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks in Midwest states is totally wrong and he should know it.

There is no evidence that “confinement is associated with stress which weakens the immunity of hens”.  It is in fact accepted that hens in small social groups are more placid and demonstrate less aggression than under non-confined conditions. Enigmatic, but a reality. Sorry Michael, your anthropomorphic inclinations appear to override fact.

Greger cites “overcrowding vast numbers of animals beak-to-beak in their own waste” as a major cause of or as a contributory factor to the current HPAI outbreak.  For his information the largest three farms which have been affected in Iowa are equipped with modern belt-manure batteries which effectively separate hens from their excreta. It is acknowledged that over 90 percent of hens producing eggs are maintained under confinement.  If this is a predisposing cause for highly pathogenic avian influenza why have we not had an HPAI outbreak since 1983?


Misstatements on HPAI by Analyst

May 1, 2015

During the past few weeks, analysts have commented both accurately and erroneously on the ongoing HPAI situation affecting turkeys and egg-producing units in the Midwest.  Following the announcement on April 20th of a positive diagnosis on a complex housing approximately 4 million hens in Iowa, Dennis Gartman, author of the Gartman Letter and a frequent commentator on CNBC opined that the corn price would drop sharply as a result.

In the event, ten days later, 15 million hens have been or are in the process of depletion in Iowa and Wisconsin.

The collective consumption of these flocks assuming a daily intake of 0.22 pounds per day and 70 percent inclusion of corn and DDGS in diets would represent 15.8 million bushels of corn annually.  This represents 0.1 percent of the anticipated 2015 crop of 15,473 million bushels or 0.9 percent of the projected ending stocks of 1,828 million bushels.

Although publicity relating to the 2015 HPAI outbreak has been relatively muted both in the mainstream press and in the social media, balance and accuracy are required to maintain perspective. 

On April 24th Gartman commented in his newsletter “but the biggest threat to corn is the recent avian flu outbreak”.  He noted “what’s really interesting is the psychology in avian flu.  If the avian flu continues to break out it means there are migratory birds moving avian flu from one flock to another in a confined area that will ultimately make the consumer very hesitant to buy poultry and poultry is a very big user of corn and that’s terribly bearish”. This represents at best casual subjective comment at variance with the epidemiology of HPAI and without consideration of the volume of corn consumed by a given quantity of hens in relation to the anticipated harvest.


Is Wisconsin Governor Over-reacting?

Apr 24, 2015

On Monday April 20th Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker declared a “state of emergency” following outbreaks of H5N2 avian influenza involving 125,000 turkeys on a farm in Barron County, confirmed on the 16th of April and concurrently a backyard flock in Juneau County. Previously a flock of 200,000 layers on a cage-free confined farm in Jefferson County was confirmed with H5N2 on April 11th

Walker has activated the state National Guard to “fight the infection”.  For the benefit of Governor Walker, the USDA-APHIS is capable of establishing quarantines, depopulating the affected flocks and initiating surveillance in the infected zone and the control area.  The only feasible application for the National Guard would be to assist in imposing quarantines by road blocks unless they have specific expertise in poultry veterinary medicine or decontamination. 

In his statement announcing the state of emergency Walker stated “we must act quickly and efficiently to contain the outbreak and protect domestic poultry”.

Could it be that Governor Walker in advancing his presidential aspirations is demonstrating to his constituency that he is ready to respond to real or contrived emergencies or is he protecting the best interest of the relatively small poultry industry of 5 million hens in his state.

It would be unfortunate if the serious issue of avian influenza becomes clouded by political grandstanding.


Wisconsin HPAI Break—Cause for Concern?

Apr 17, 2015

The announcement on Monday 13th April that a 200,000- hen table-egg flock in Jefferson County, WI.  was diagnosed with strain H5N2 HPAI is a cause for concern but not panic. The fact that a reservoir of virus exists in the Mississippi flyway state is evidenced by subsequent “breaks” in a backyard flock in Juneau County and a 130,000-bird turkey farm in Barron County revealed on April 16th.

From the perspective of commercial egg production the greatest vulnerability is from the trade and movement of nest-run eggs. Introducing unwashed eggs into a plant on a complex also packing for an in-line complement of 1 million or more hens represents a danger of infection. The return of imperfectly washed or even unwashed egg trays and racks will effectively disseminate infection among off-line supply farms in a complex. Many producers are using old plywood spacer sheets on racks which are impregnated with yolk and egg remnants and are impossible to decontaminate.

A  solution would be to invest in Structural Biosecurity, purchasing washable plastic flats and  rack systems coupled with effective mechanical equipment to wash and dry them. Coding racks and trays to specific farms is also advisable. Wash stations are required to decontaminate egg-collection vehicles. Sure we did not have to worry about Structural Biosecurity and could function with low capital and operating costs before the advent of HPAI. Now the environment has changed. Risks of infection are immeasurably higher and the consequences of introducing infection onto a 1 million-hen complex may exceed $10 million. Given that we will be challenged with HPAI seasonally for the foreseeable future, investment in upgraded equipment is justified by even a simple net present value analysis.


Sentencing of Jack and Peter DeCoster

Apr 15, 2015

On April 8th, EGG-CITE posted an editorial calling for a prison sentence for Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter.  This followed a previous analysis posted on October 31, 2014 concerning the circumstances leading to the 0.5 billion egg recall in 2010.

In the event, the DeCosters were sentenced to three months in jail and paid over $7 million in fines on their company and as individuals. In imposing the sentence U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett, cited in an NBC News report, averred “there is a litany of shameful conduct in my view that happened under their watch”.

The uncontested allegations included knowingly distributing eggs from flocks infected with SE, misrepresenting date of pack and lay and bribing an AMS Grader. These gross deviations from industry norms were directly and indirectly responsible for 50,000 cases of SE among consumers according to the CDC. In addition extensive negative publicity caused an estimated loss to the industry of close to $100 million following a precipitous drop in demand for eggs.

To merely adopt the attitude that “this is an old story and should be forgotten—let’s move on” is initially comforting but unsatisfactory. This is a learning moment. As an industry we should regard DeCoster as a pariah, unworthy of acceptance as representing U.S. egg producers. What he has done as an exploiter and scofflaw over five decades is apparently in his scale of questionable values an issue between himself and his deity. Apparently his ostentatious, hypocritical religious piety allows selective rejection of at least two of the Ten Commandments and the entire “Golden Rule”.

Our customers and consumers must realize that DeCoster is an anachronism. He and his son are not an example on how me care for our flocks, operate our plants, manage our workforce, interact with the environment and ensure the safety and wholesomeness of table eggs and derived products. Not to speak out on the issue is to condone what has happened and will create an opportunity for others, similarly devoid of humanity and morality to be tempted to emulate his approach to food production.


White House Nominee Disseminates False Information

Apr 10, 2015

Anti-GM activists have attacked glyphosate through a bogus organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  Gary Hirshberg the CEO of Stonyfield Farms, committed financially and philosophically to the production and sale of high-priced organic foods, is currently a nominee to the Trade Advisory Committee. Evidence of his bias and lack of concern for scientific realities are expressed in his comment that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”.  He added “even if it’s in debate and even if it’s in dispute, consumers have a right to know.” 

The EPA in 2013 determined that glyphosate “does not pose a cancer risk to humans”.  The United Nations WHO stated “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”  In addition the WHO determined “the presence of glyphosate in drinking water does not represent a hazard to human health.”  The German Risk Agency stated “in epidemiological studies in humans there was no evidence of carcinogenicity and there were no effects on fertility, reproduction or development of neurotoxicity attributed to glyphosate”


Additional HPAI Outbreaks Reported in Minnesota Turkeys.

Apr 10, 2015

Additional HPAI Outbreaks Reported in Minnesota Turkeys.

Sister website <> reported on April 8th on the succession of eight outbreaks of H5N2 avian influenza in turkey farms in Minnesota, requiring depletion of 180,000 birds.

The latest releases from the USDA-APHIS confirm three incident cases during the past few days:-

  • Cottonwood County 3 barns  with a total of  48,000 birds
  • Lyon County            3 barns  with a total of  66,000 birds
  • Meeker County      12 barns   with a total of 310,000 birds (Hormel)
  • Stearns County         4? barns with a total of   45,000 birds
  • Watonwan County   1? barn    with a total of 15,000 birds

There are numerous questions as to why outbreaks are occurring in turkey farms in the State and adjoining South Dakota where two outbreaks have been diagnosed.

The first reality is that migratory waterfowl are the reservoir of infection and are evidently shedding virus. The infective agent is obviously being tracked into commercial grow-out units suggesting defects in the prevention of disease. Anecdotal reports confirm a variable to low standard of both structural and operational biosecurity which has now allowed a new infection to enter flocks.


Wal-Mart Seeking Lower Prices from Suppliers

Apr 8, 2015

In an April 1, 2015 article circulated by Dow Jones Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has called on suppliers to cut the price of their products.  The Company has also cancelled joint marketing including advertisements and point-of-sales displays.

This initiative follows an obvious trend in declining sales and eroded profit margins.  Company CEO Doug McMillon and his deputy, U.S. CEO, Greg Foran recognize that they are facing increased competition and have lost the image of the U.S. price leader.

During past years, Wal-Mart has imposed additional costs on suppliers, demanding improvements in sustainability, welfare and attributes which are inconsistent with a low-price chain.  With respect to eggs, Wal-Mart could purchase directly from suppliers without any intermediary which adds to the cost of acquisition with no tangible benefit to either supplier or the Company.  A second factor relating to eggs would be more careful handling from DC to the shelf to prevent damage.  Some time ago Wal-Mart evaluated in-store rework of cartons containing cracked eggs. This exercise proved to be inefficient and expensive even with the then prevailing wage rates.

Wal-Mart must decide whether it wants to regain its previous mantle as a low-price chain as it appears to have now accepted or whether it wants to move up-market with organics and other attributes associated with boutique and specialty food stores.  Wal-Mart cannot be all things to all consumers.  The Company cannot expect specialty products at generic prices.


 German Scientist Awarded Prize for Identification of Embryo Genders

Apr 1, 2015

Dr. Maria-Elisabeth Krautwalt-Junghanns of Leipzig, was recently awarded the Felix Wankel Animal Protection Prize by the Ludwig Maximilian University. The award was based on gender determination of avian embryos allowing differentiation between a cockerel and pullet prior to hatch.I

It is noted that during the 1990’s Exmbrex Inc. in Durham, North Carolina (now Zoetis) developed a gender-sorter which could differentiate between male and female embryos by assay of hormones in allantoic fluid abstracted from the egg on the 16th day of incubation.  The system was designed to be applied to broilers intended for separate-sex growout. The system proved economically infeasible although accuracy in excess of 95 percent was claimed.


“DeCoster Outbreak” in 2010 Distorts Food-borne SE Data

Mar 27, 2015

The report of the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) Project issued in late February 2015 summarizes outbreaks and cases due to the four principal food-borne infections covering the period 1988 to 2012.  The IFSAC which was created in 2011 involves a cooperative endeavor between the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

This initiative was probably established in response to rumblings in Congress over creating a single Food Safety Agency. 

The four significant pathogens include Salmonella spp; E. coli O157; Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter spp.  The pathogens were selected on the basis of their respective incidence rates and severity of illness.



Fifth Annual Organic Egg Symposium

Mar 27, 2015

The Fifth Annual Organic Egg Symposium took place on March 17th 2015 concurrently with the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention at the Saint Paul River Center.

Issues which were reviewed included avian influenza with specific reference to the dangers of outside access.  The epidemiology of the current outbreaks in back-yard flocks and in turkeys was outlined by Dr. Eric Gingerich who noted practical measures to reduce the possibility of infection. 

The second ongoing concern for organic egg producers relates to the supplementation of diets with synthetic methionine.  For a number of years, the National Organic Program has sequentially reduced the quantity of DL methionine which can be added to feed.  Given that diets fed to organic flocks comprising organic corn and soybean meal are deficient in methionine, acceptable production and egg size depends on adequate nutrition including satisfying amino acid requirements. 

Despite a number of false starts and misplaced hopes including evaluation of “wonder plants” from India or high-methionine cultivars of corn, no satisfactory sources of dietary methionine falling within the restrictions of the National Organic Program have been identified.  Current efforts include supplementing diets with enzymes.  Despite the claims made by a supplier in an “infomercial” presentation, the difference between what is available in natural ingredients and the nutrient requirements for acceptable production cannot be supplied by improving availability and digestibility.


Consumer Reports Continues to be Negative on GMO

Mar 20, 2015

In a recent article, Consumer Reports continues to unjustifiably disparage GM foods.  The article GMO Foods: What You Need to Know runs counter to established science. The technology is endorsed and supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and the USDA. There have been no deleterious effects demonstrated over the past two decades from consuming foods of GM origin.

The position of Consumer Reports, which appears to have degenerated into an advocacy organization condemning biotechnology, acknowledges that there is “no creditable evidence of people being harmed” although the Consumers Union believes that it is not possible to prove “safety”. 

The organization does refer to established literature which applies accepted statistical and analytical techniques to establish risk and to demonstrate that there is no difference in either nutritional quality or safety between foods of GM origin and conventional crops.  In fact the inherent characteristics of GM cultivars are associated with lower levels of pesticide and herbicide application, improved sustainability and yields.

Consumer Reports should confine its activities to where it does its best work.  This includes warning potential purchasers about unsafe toasters, rating TVs, condemning Yugos and highlighting value among consumer goods. It would be best to leave GMO to the recognized scientific associations and regulatory agencies-- or are they cynically playing to their readership?


Supermarkets in “Food Deserts” Apparently Not Beneficial

Mar 20, 2015

A study conducted by Dr. Brian Elbel of the NYU Langone Medical Center questions the benefit of establishing supermarkets in areas regarded as “food deserts.”

An initiative of the USDA, motivated by First Lady Michelle Obama posited that establishing supermarkets with available fresh fruits and vegetables would modify the diets provided to children in low-income urban areas.  Specific concerns related to consumption of high-calorie prepared foods which are regarded as contributing to childhood obesity.

The selection of food provided to children aged 3 to 10 years old was determined one year after a subsidized supermarket opened in the Morrisania area of the Bronx.  Foods consumed were compared with a control group of matched children in the Highbridge area of the Bronx where there was no open supermarket.

The controlled study did not reveal any significant change in household food availability or dietary intake one year after the government-subsidized supermarket opened. The authors noted that “food choice is complex and the availability of lower-priced processed food and pervasiveness of junk food marketing have implications for behavior change as well.”

It is evident that making fresh fruit and vegetables available to residents in low-income areas is not in itself beneficial.  It is intuitive that making healthful foods available must be accompanied by promotion of the benefits through education.  It is understood that in past years, special benefits were extended to the users of “food stamps” in New York City to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables.  Changing dietary habits is obviously difficult but requires education, availability and incentives.


USDA to Subsidize Specialty Crop Industry

Mar 20, 2015

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Organic Agriculture Research Extension Initiative incorporated into the 2014 Farm Bill will make available $66.5 million in the current fiscal year according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

In a public comment on March 10th, Vilsack stated “investment in projects to help organic producers and specialty crop growers are an important way the USDA helps American farmers establish new business opportunities throughout the country.”  He added “projected funds will build on USDA support for local and regional markets and strengthening local markets growers’ economy while improving access to healthy food for millions of children.”

The USDA has issued requests for proposals.  Notices of intent are due on April 1st and full applications have a closing date of April 30th.

The application of public funds to support a narrow sector of the agricultural industry is regarded as promoting the activities of a favored few in pursuit of idealistic goals based on the principle of social engineering extending from the White House through the USDA. 

The $66 million earmarked for the initiatives could be better spent on expediting construction and operation of the Southeastern Poultry Disease Research Laboratory to achieve status as the National Diagnostic and Research Center for Poultry Disease.  Given the challenges presented by avian influenza and the potential impact on the broiler industry which generates $350 billion annually in total economic activity and supports 1.4 million jobs, it is evident that the USDA has distorted priorities.


What Constitutes “Local” for Locavares

Mar 13, 2015

The concept of “local production” is a significant attribute for the Birkenstock and Prius demographic.  The definition of “local” can be stretched to suit both vendor and consumer.  According to the 2008 Food Conservation and Energy Act a “local food” is defined as any product produced within a radius of 400 miles or in the state where the food was produced.  This reality flies in the face of the notion of a family farm packing a truck or van with fresh produce and driving 20 miles to a farmer’s market or boutique supermarket.

In evaluating sustainability and taking into account total energy used, eggs produced efficiently in a Midwest in-line complex and transported 500 to 1,000 miles may be more sustainable than eggs derived from a backyard farm in the next county.