Shane Commentary


“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.


McDonald’s Posts Disappointing February Sales

Mar 13, 2015

In a recent press release, McDonalds Corporation noted that February same-store sales declined 1.7 percent against an anticipated 0.3 percent reduction.  For the first two months of 2015 McDonald’s same-store sales were lower by 1.8 percent. Same-store sales in the U.S. declined by 4 percent in February, which exceeded analysts’ projections.  European same-store sales rose by 0.7 percent although turbulence in Russia detracted from an anticipated greater increase.  Same-store sales in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa Region continued to decline attaining a 4.4 percent drop.  This was attributed to continued effects of consumer-confidence issues in China and Japan.


Activists Threaten New Zealand Infant Formula

Mar 13, 2015

There appears to be no limit to the damage either threatened or accomplished by environmental zealots. Activists have vowed to contaminate infant formula unless the government ceases spreading the pesticide “1080” by the end of March. The announcement resulted in suspension of trading in dairy companies and an immediate review of product safety.

New Zealand has embarked on a program of eradicating exotic pests including stoats, rabbits, rats and possums which are decimating the delicate native flora and fauna. The highly toxic compound, 1080, (sodium fluoroacetate) is used extensively in bait to destroy pests.

Theo Spierings, CEO of Fonterra, the giant dairy product exporter said “we can fully assure our customers and consumers that all of our milk is safe and of high quality and our supply chain continues to be secure” He added “we have taken immediate and decisive steps to give our customers and consumers added confidence including increased testing and security measures”.  The New Zealand dairy industry which exported products to the value of $11 million in 2014 recently recovered from a botulism crisis in 2014 resulting in the recall of infant formula in China.

Activists with a specific cause whether it be environmental contamination, intensive livestock farming, GMO technology or the use of animals in research often resort to criminal and antisocial activities.  Crude attempts to coerce manufacturers, regulators and producers through their activities, result in damage to property, disrupt trade, degrade brand equity and evoke anxiety among consumers.

The full resources of law enforcement should be applied against the perpetrators of threatened   or implemented action. Activists apply distorted concepts of “social justice” as a justification for the damage they cause.


Bill to Reduce Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Mar 8, 2015

A Bill entitled The Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act of 2015 is under consideration to reduce antibiotic use in livestock.  This legislation will be introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).  Co-sponsors include Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Legislation is aimed at enforcing restrictions which were agreed to in 2013 between the FDA and drug manufacturers. Apparently the intended action of the Agency as required in FDA Guideline #209 does not go far enough for activists including the Pew Trust, represent by Dr. Gail Hansen who manages the Antibiotic Resistance Project. The AVMA defended the integrity of veterinarians in a response to the negative aspersions expressed by Dr. Hansen as posted on CHICK-CITE on February 16th 2015.


Wal-Mart Finds Organic Difficult to Implement

Mar 6, 2015

Charles Holley, CFO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. noted in a recent industry meeting that the initiative to expand organic food through the joint venture with Wild Oats announced a year ago has not progressed as fast as anticipated.  Holley stated, “it’s still rolling out with different products from Wild Oats at store level”. 

Wal-Mart believes that 90 percent of their customers would purchase organic food if prices were considerably lower than at present.  Holley believes “it takes working with suppliers over a period of time in order to lever the quantity to get the price down that’s affordable for our core customer”.

Wal-Mart is facing the reality that it is extremely expensive to produce USDA Certified organic products.  This is due to the cost of organic ingredients and onerous regulations and requirements that are not based on scientific or business reality. 

It is inconceivable how a company with the presumed marketing expertise of a world leader considers that their clientele, which purchases groceries fruit and meat using food stamps, is sufficiently discriminating and health-conscious as to demand and pay extra for organic products. Whole Food Markets they are not!


Allegations against PETA Lead to Legislation on Shelters in Virginia

Mar 4, 2015

On 25th February, EGG-CITE posted a report of an expose of PETA activities in their Norfolk, VA. animal shelter. It is generally accepted that this facility has operated with a “kill-rate” of approximately 90 percent of animals received for adoption or collected as strays. 

Bill SB1381 introduced by Senator Bill Stanley passed with minor amendments on a 95-2 vote.  Previously the Bill passed the Senate 33-5. The Bill defines private animal shelters as facilities operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes. SB 1381 was altered by a floor-  amendment to strike the words” and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes”.  This might be interpreted that the PETA facility would not have to care for terminally ill animals. 


Mortality Figure in CSES Comparison Misleading

Feb 27, 2015

On March 11th 2014 EGG-CITE published a commentary suggesting that the Coalition for a Sustained Egg Supply had erred in their management of the flock assigned to the aviary system which represented one of the three comparisons in their evaluation.  

The issue raised eleven months ago related to the high early mortality recorded in the aviary system which effectively confounded results from the flock.

To recap extracts from the March 2014 posting are reproduced in italics:-

At the outset it is recognized that the commercial development and installation of aviaries has moved faster than this comparative study, rendering the entire exercise moot.

There is considerable concern over the apparent high mortality reported in the flock housed in the aviary.  A loss of 11.6 percent compared to 4.7 percent for conventional cages and 5.1 percent for enriched cages is inconsistent with field experience.  Mortality in the aviary was attributed to pecking and “behavioral issues”.  This commentator is familiar with the results obtained from three in-line aviary complexes with a total of 1.5 million hens extending over a number of years.  Losses are similar to conventional cages with appropriate beak treatment and management of lighting.  By the same token, high ammonia concentrations as reported in the interim findings for the aviary systems should be no greater than encountered in belt manure installations.

The cumulative value of 340 eggs per hen housed in the aviary was understandably lower for the first cycle compared to 363 eggs from the flock in the enriched module due to early mortality. At least the study demonstrated the biological reality that dead hens do not lay.


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.