Shane Commentary


CDC Investigating Salmonella Outbreaks Associated With Small Hatcheries

Jul 3, 2015

An intensive nationwide investigation of salmonellosis is underway in the U.S. According to a June 29th release by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there have been 181 cases in 40 states reported, representing four distinct outbreaks with clinical signs apparent from January 6th through June 13th 2015. (see Epi Curve below)

The Salmonella serotypes identified by PulseNet include:-

  • S. Enteriditis. 40 cases from 16 states with 33 hospitalizations.
  • S. Hadar. 69 cases from 30 states with 19 hospitalizations.
  • S. Indiana. 56 cases from 16 states with 9 hospitalizations
  • S. Muenchen. 16 cases from 8 states with 2 hospitalizations

Michael Foods Sues Hawkeye Pride

Jun 30, 2015

Michael Foods Egg Products Company a subsidiary of Post Holdings Inc. has entered a lawsuit in a Federal court in Des Moines against Hawkeye Pride Egg Farm for breach of contract.

Hawkeye Pride is a division of Center Fresh Group which owns and operates egg farms dedicated to breaking.  Their operations in Sioux County lost approximately 5.5 million hens  apparently contracted to supply Michael Foods. 

The Plaintiff lost over 25 percent of their production as a result of HPAI affecting adjacent farms in Dixon County, Nebraska in addition to mortality in supply farms.

Now that the HPAI epornitic appears to have abated, the lawsuits and countersuits will begin.  These will possibly include claims by customers of Michael Foods which declared force majeure after losses occurred on company-owned farms. Generally this legal expedient allows parties to a contract to deviate from terms based on circumstances including a major climactic disaster, extensive labor action or an insurrection.  It is questionable whether an infectious disease represents grounds to break a contract. The courts may hold that an adequate standard of conceptual, structural and operational biosecurity could prevent infection.  This is supported by the fact that not all egg production farms in Iowa or Nebraska were affected by HPAI.

It may also be held that the Defendant in the present action was in fact infected from farms operated by the Plaintiff in the course of supplying either breaking eggs or liquid thus representing grounds for a counterclaim.

Applying logic it is difficult to see how Michael Foods can declare force majeure to renege on supply agreements to customers as a result of HPAI but concurrently sue contractors who are affected with the same infection.


IEC to Establish Avian Influenza Network

Jun 20, 2015

The International Egg Commission (IEC) has announced the establishment of the Avian Influenza (AI) Commercial Network. The objectives of this initiative are:-

  • To provide information on outbreaks and the ongoing status of AI
  • To be responsible for aspects of egg-trade relating to AI
  • To drive standards across the global egg market

One of the lofty but obviously unattainable goals for the IEC Network is world-wide eradication of AI.

EGG-CITE seriously questions the need for this program given the OIE which functions as a central coordinating body on reporting and technical issues. Are we not observing the IEC justifying their existence by duplicating the work of existing organizations and sources of information? State and National authorities and other existing organizations in the U.S. and the EU have functioned effectively in the face of outbreaks by informing all stakeholders  of events. Scientific information is readily available in responsible peer-reviewed publications posted on reputable websites.


UK Faced with Virus Affecting Canola

Jun 17, 2015

Canola is an important vegetable protein ingredient in the UK and the Continent. Recently it was found that canola is affected by the turnip yellow virus with 60 percent in the winter crop impacted. The virus is spread by aphids and can reduce yield by 40 percent.

The infection can be controlled by destroying vectors using thiacloprid sprays since pyrethroids and pirimicarb compounds are ineffective due to resistance by aphids.

The infection has severe implications for the livestock industry which will be forced to pay more for available canola meal and for imported soybean meal.

Breeding a resistant canola strain will take a number of years.  The process could be expedited by transfer of genes from resistant plants to canola cultivars.  Genetic engineering to impart resistance to a pathogen contributes to greater sustainability and obviates the use of herbicides and insecticides, contrary to the unscientific contentions of those that oppose GE on principle.


Efficacy of rHVT-H5 AI Vaccine Documented

Jun 17, 2015

In my June 5th, Editorial the USDA-APHIS decision relating to policy on vaccination was reviewed.  As a justification for the decision to defer vaccination, the APHIS release cited questionable efficacy of an available product citing 60 percent protection.

A review of available literature questions this low figure.  In 23 trials cited in a paper presented at the 9th International Symposium on Avian Influenza, Gardin et al reported an average of 90 percent protection with a range of 60 percent to 100 percent depending on challenge strain, age and maternal antibody status of chicks used in the different experiments and trials.  In the specific 60 percent report, Kilany et al reported 60 percent and 73 percent survival respectively in treatments comprising two egg-producing strains subjected to the same vaccination and challenge.

In Kapczynski et al, all chicks receiving an rHVT-H5 AI vaccine survived challenge with total mortality in the non-vaccinated group.  In a second trial reported in the same paper, 93 percent survival was recorded using the vaccine in broiler chicks challenged with an Indonesian-origin highly pathogenic strain at four weeks of age.

In a third experiment, applying H5N2 challenge, 95 percent (19 out of 20) chicken survived challenge and a second vaccine comprising a rHVT vaccine prepared at the University of Wisconsin achieved 100 percent protection compared to mortality in all non-vaccinated controls.


ConAgra Pleads Guilty over Salmonella Contamination

Jun 12, 2015

According to news reports, ConAgra Grocery Products LLC pleaded guilty to a Federal misdemeanor charge and will pay a criminal fine of $8 million and forfeit assets valued at $3.2 million, resulting from a case involving distribution of peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella.  According to reports, ConAgra became aware of contamination in 2004 following routine monitoring.  The product according to the Government was produced in a plant in Sylvester, Georgia that was suboptimal with respect to equipment and operation.  The defects contributing to contamination included a leaking roof and sugar silo and a roaster which was defective. The problems revealed in inspection have been subsequently corrected.

The case came to light following traceback from an outbreak involving 700 cases but thankfully with no fatalities. The affected batches of peanut butter marketed under the Peter Pan and various private brands for supermarkets were produced between August 2006 and January 2007

In commenting on the guilty plea and the magnitude of the fine, Attorney James Neale of Virginia, who did not represent ConAgra in this case stated “everyone is paying closer attention to food safety”. 

Resolution of this case follows the guilty verdict imposed on Austin “Jack” and Peter DeCoster resulting from the extensive outbreak of S. Enteritidis infection emanating from their Wright County, IA farms in 2010.  In this case, the defendants were aware of contamination but failed to take appropriate steps to resolve the issue and in fact may have knowingly allowed eggs to be marketed for an extended time following production.


Indian State Bans Eggs From School Meals

Jun 5, 2015

The most recent episode of banning eggs from school meals in India occurred in Madhya Pradesh (State) where the Chief Minister has sided with Jain religious beliefs that eggs harm the mental development of children.  The decision has been strongly condemned by dieticians and advocates for the poor.  Food activist Sachin Jain stated “the problem is that upper-caste groups who are opposed to eggs in nutrition schemes are not the people who would ever need to avail of these schemes but they are the ones who influence government policies based on their religious ideologies.  He added “the communities who benefit from nutrition schemes don’t share these ideologies.



USDA-APHIS Conference Call on HPAI

Jun 4, 2015

On Friday May 29th, the USDA organized an informational conference call for the poultry industry and other stakeholders.  According to Dr. T.J. Myers, APHIS has identified 202 premises with HPAI of which 183 comprised commercial farms.  A total of 7 million turkeys representing 6.5 percent of the U.S. population have been or will be depleted and 40 million layers representing 9.0 percent of the U.S. population and 3 percent of rearing pullets have been affected.  To date the USDA has paid $106 million in indemnity.

Euthanasia and depopulation of turkey farms has been relatively easy with available equipment and resources.  The problem of handling egg production complexes is more onerous.  It is possible to remove 150,000 hens per day from high-rise house with stair-step cages under ideal conditions.  With high-density multi-tier belt battery installations, the depletion rate on upper tiers can drop to 30,000 hens per day. 

Turkeys are disposed of by in-house composting.  In contrast there are considerable constraints to disposal of layers.  Many owners have refused to allow on-site burial and operators of landfills have been reluctant to accept dead birds.  In those landfills which are receiving birds, rain has delayed transfer from farms. Incineration is currently used and this expedient will be expanded.


Problem of H5N1 AI in Egypt to be Addressed

Jun 4, 2015

Egypt has a problem of endemic of H5N1 avian influenza in backyard and subsistence broiler flocks (despite plentiful sunlight and warm weather!) which has resulted in infection of human contacts.  Between December 2014 and the end of February 2015, a total of 333 outbreaks in poultry were diagnosed compared to 44 reported outbreak for the corresponding three-month period in 2013 to 2014.

There have been numerous reports of infection among producers and consumers of chickens processed in wet markets since it is evident that the virus is transmissible to susceptible human contacts.  During March and April 2015, 13 human cases of H5N1 were diagnosed among 18 Governorates.  Patients ranged from 3 to 58 years in age, all with a history of exposure to poultry or poultry products.

The World Health Organization confirmed 840 cases of H5N1 avian influenza from 16 countries during the period January 2003 through May 2015.  The cases yielded a mortality rate of 53 percent. 

Faced with the increased incidence rate of H5N1, Egyptian authorities requested consultation and cooperation from international bodies.  A consortium comprising the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Naval Medical Research Unit and the United Nations Children’s Fund participated in an evaluation of the epidemiology of H5N1 infection in Egypt.  It was concluded that a real and measurable increase had occurred since June 2014 in both poultry and in human contacts.  The epidemiology of H5N1 avian influenza in Egypt is complex and multifactorial but it is clear that proliferation of small farms and backyard poultry representing half of all production of poultry meat has contributed to the rise in infection.  The situation is also compounded by inappropriate vaccination and a lack of biosecurity, since many of these farms are concentrated in urban areas.


Speculation on HPAI by OIE Director

May 29, 2015

The Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Dr. Bernard Vallat recently pronounced that the current HPAI epornitic in the upper Midwest “will be under control within four months”.  How he derived this time period is beyond comprehension since he is working on data relating to incidence rates almost three weeks old in a fast-moving situation.  He also predicts that the toll could reach 50 million birds, again a figure apparently based on his personal perception from his office in Paris.

He apparently also believes that the advent of summer weather will result in “the virus weakening will reduce transmission risks”.  If in fact as expected, the incidence rate of H5N2 HPAI declines it will be due to the cessation of shedding by migratory waterfowl which serve as a reservoir and the fact that a high proportion of hens in affected counties with a high density of hens are already dead.  This fact makes it easy for Vallat to predict “the infection rate has reached the top”.


Desirability of Free-Range Questioned

May 28, 2015

Ketchum Inc. a public relations group recently circulated a promotional item noting the expansion of an egg producer claiming free-range production.  The Chief Operating Officer of the company “The free-range category is booming and we’re excited to see how consumer purchasing habits have changed in such a short amount of time.”  He added “by increasing our flocks and expanding into new regions with three major supermarket chains we continue to provide our consumers with the highest quality eggs”.

According to the promotion, “hens roam freely outdoors everyday on farms the size of six football fields allowing each hen 22 square foot of space each to exhibit their natural behaviors and  live more contented lives. “

From a scientific prospective this claim is nonsense.  Hens do not have to have outside access to be “happy” and the entire concept of free-range reflects the production systems applied in the UK by the parent company of the American subsidiary which has experienced losses from avian influenza.


Consumer Concern Over HPAI?

May 28, 2015

The American Egg Board has monitored both mainstream and social media for the past month without detecting any increase in adverse publicity relating to the ongoing HPAI outbreak which could affect consumption.  Most reports are muted in their coverage and all press releases by Federal agencies and state authorities stress that H5N2 avian influenza virus is not transmitted to humans either by direct contact with affected flocks or through poultry meat and eggs. 

The NPD Group published results of a survey which showed that 50 percent of respondents evinced some degree of concern over HPAI.  The NPD Safety Monitoring Survey showed that 17 percent of the survey group were “extremely” or “very concerned” over infection.


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.