Shane Commentary

 

AI in Live Bird Markets

Jul 22, 2016

    

EGG-CITE and CHICK-CITE have previously commented on the recent detection of low pathogenicity H5 avian influenza in live bird markets in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

All H5 and H7 isolates irrespective of pathogenicity must be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the U.S. must also notify trading partners in terms of bilateral agreements.

  

It is important to note that the detection of AI in a live bird market indicates that supply flocks wherever located are infected.  The detections in markets will require traceback and will inevitably result in import sanctions being imposed against counties, states or even the entire U.S. depending on whether an importing nation conforms to the principle of regionalization as laid down by the OIE.

It is an epidemiologic reality that low pathogenicity H5 and H7 strains have the potential to mutate to high pathogenicity given sufficient time and a large number of potential hosts. This was the case in Pennsylvania during 1983 when low pathogenicity H5N2 (a different strain from the 2015 epornitic) smoldered in small flocks in Lancaster and adjoining counties for four months before becoming highly pathogenic in November 1983.  A similar case occurred in Chile among broiler breeders but transition from LPAI to HPAI was rapid. More recently in the January H7 limited outbreak, affecting turkeys in Indiana, nine farms were infected with low pathogenicity AI and one farm with an H7 strain characterized as highly pathogenic suggesting a change in virulence over a short period.

The live bird system is an anachronism in the U.S. in 2016 and represents a profound risk to breeders, turkey, egg and broiler producers endangering domestic production and export markets.  The live bird market system benefits a small number of producers and traders catering to the needs of ethnic minorities in urban areas. In applying a “band-aid” approach to the live bird system, state and Federal authorities have created a patchwork of modalities concentrated on retail outlets in an attempt to suppress infection. Imposing periodic depletion, maintaining strict control over disinfection and hygiene certainly determines an end point for infection. The controls imposed at the retail level do not address the problem of perpetuation of infection and dissemination of virus with the potential to extend from the live bird system to commercial farms.  The activities of Federal and state veterinarians in attempting to contain infection in the live bird marketing system is nothing more than active support of the status quo at public expense.

The fact that Joelle Hayden a public affairs specialist with APHIS said “Finding low pathogenic avian influenza isn’t uncommon in backyard flocks and live bird markets” lends credence to the realization that the Agency is basically condoning a state of endemic LPAI.

If marketing of live birds and store-front slaughter were to be banned, if this were possible, lawsuits alleging infringements of rights and deprivation of livelihood would be advanced.  It would be far better to determine the cost of monitoring and supervising the live bird system and to place the onus back on the buyers and sellers in the form of a service fee in the same way that commercial producers pay for FSIS inspection.  Obviously the additional costs would be a heavy burden and would soon result in the demise of storefront purchase and processing.  This would result in the establishment of centralized plants under FSIS scrutiny distributing halal and kosher chickens through supermarkets and specialty stores with an appropriate level of hygiene with a cold chain.

The purchase of chickens slaughtered according to kosher rites in small butcheries was common through the early decades of the 20th century in urban areas. This gave way to specialty producers operating in accordance with the requirements of both religious and Federal rules.  The demographics supporting contemporary live bird markets should undergo the same evolution and conform to the laws and mores of U.S. society.

The time has come to make the live market system in the U.S. obsolete.  If a nation such as Jordan can ban markets in Amman we should be able to do the same in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

   
 

Confusion over Labels

Jul 20, 2016

    

Following passage of a bill entitled The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard to regulate labeling of foods containing GM ingredients, consumers will still be confused over descriptors.  Only USDA Certified Organic broiler, turkey and egg products will be regulated with respect to feeding, housing, management and access to the exterior of houses.

  

Jo Craven McGinty writing in the July 9th edition of highlighted a number of label descriptions which have questionable meaning to consumers.

Inconsistencies include:-

  • Natural – There is no legal definition of “natural” but the FDA has requested comments before establishing a standard.  The term “natural” refers to processing and not to management or the feeding of flocks and herds.
  • Hormones – Many products claim to be “hormone free.”  It’s a matter of record, neither hormones nor steroids have been used in poultry production since 1947.  Recently, Federal regulations required any claim to be “hormone free” to have the additional statement “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
  • Cage-Free – The term as interpreted by consumers conveys that hens are not confined by wire which would include conventional cages and enriched colony modules.  Alternatives to cages may include barns with or without outside access.  Confusion occurs with similar terms such as “free-roaming” which could mean unrestricted movement in a barn equipped with slatted floors or aviaries.  Currently organic flocks which should have some outside access which could either be in sun porches or pens.
  • Free-Ranging – This term has been used in deceptive labeling to imply that hens have extensive outside access but in fact were allowed to “roam free” within a barn.
  • Pastured – Approximately one percent of producers use pasture or range with densities of      22 square feet per hen in accordance with either U.S. or UK standards.

Over and above the label claims on housing, there are a wide range of welfare certifications each with a specific seal signifying compliance with the standards of the agency concerned.  Generally consumers are unaware of the requirements and the individual certifying agencies spend more time promoting their programs to producers and retailers than to the public.

Nutritional claims also create confusion.  Specific descriptors as designated by the FDA are frequently misunderstood by consumers. These include: -

  • “Free from” – meaning less than 0.5 gram per serving of a nutrient with an established daily value
  • “Low in” – meaning 3 grams or less per serving
  • “Reduced” – signifies that the food would contain 25 percent less of a specific nutrient per serving than conventional products. 

There is considerable interest in consuming products free of gluten, a protein in wheat and related grains.  It is estimated that less than 5 percent of U.S. consumers require a gluten-free diet based on intolerance.  Effectively “gluten-free” has been hyped to create an impression of healthfulness.  Given that there is no scientific basis for this presumption, gluten-free is in all probability a fad and will decline in importance.  According to the FDA, foods labeled “gluten-free” must have been processed to remove gluten and have less than 20 parts per million of the protein.  Deception is created when food that has absolutely no gluten content such as eggs and meat are labeled “gluten-free” to establish a false impression of superior quality.

Douglas Balentine director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling of the Food and Drug Administration stated “Our objective is that the label should be helpful in providing truthful and not misleading information, but we don’t define all the terms on food labels you might see, so there is some flexibility.”

Although gross deception will result in the attention of regulators, priorities are directed more towards blatant deception, leaving many terms in a gray area exploited by aggressive marketers. Label claims are now attracting the attention of the tort Bar where consumer classes are easy to establish especially in California. Caveat vendor!

   
 

AEB PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE TO THE INDUSTRY

Jul 20, 2016

    

In the July 2016 edition of Incredible News issued by the American Egg Board, president and CEO Anne Alonzo referred to progress made by the AEB in promoting egg consumption during the first quarter of 2016.  Achievements include:

  • Participating in the June 3rd National Egg Day in cooperation with McDonald’s Corporation with respect to the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Egg McMuffin and progress in implementing all-day breakfasts featuring egg items.
  • Co-organizing the Egg Trade Mission to Jalisco in Mexico City to take place August 22nd to  25th in cooperation with the US Egg Poultry and Egg Export Council
   

The UDSA estimates per capita consumption of eggs during the first and second quarters of 2016 will be 66.2 and 65.4 respectively with an anticipated total consumption of 262.8 eggs for the year. This value is approximately 10 percent higher than the 252 eggs used  in shell and liquid form during 2015. Consumption was depressed by high prices associated with shortages occasioned by the Spring outbreak of HPAI. 

Despite the apparent rise in consumption, both nest-run and wholesale prices fell precipitously during the second quarter.  The USDA ex-farm price during the first quarter averaged 83.8 cents per dozen.  In contrast for the second quarter of 2016 the ex-farm price was 34.7 cents per dozen with a range of 41.8 to 31.8 cents per dozen.  Over the first six months of 2016,nest-run  production costs, comprising feed, pullet depreciation, labor, housing and overhead amounted to 61.38 cents. This difference denotes the loss experienced by producers of generic eggs with negative contribution margins throughout the second and third quarters.

McDonald's Egg McMiffin

Despite the strenuous activities of the AEB, potential production, from the current national producing flock of 294 million hens, demand and hence wholesale prices have not increased despite the low prices paid to producers delivering to stores.  The retailers have not decreased shelf price in proportion to the decline in producer price and have maintained very high margins which has depressed consumption.  For the first five months of 2016 USDA nest-run prices have declined by 66 percent and direct store delivered prices by 45 percent. In contrast USDA retail prices declined by 27 percent or approximately half  the decline experienced by producers.

Some retailers including the hard discount chains have sacrificed a portion of their mark- up to offer eggs at a competitive price and generate increased dairy, grocery and produce sales.  With respect to white-shelled generic eggs, store-buyers appear to be setting the price and their chains are enjoying the benefits of super-profits, in part supported by a price-discovery service which may be introducing distortions in the market.  

Specialty eggs representing approximately 20 million hens in production or 10 percent of flocks producing for the shell-egg segment of the industry have been less affected.  This includes cage free, organic and enriched products including both regional and national brands. 

   
 

Letter to the National Organic Program USDA-AMS-NOP

Jul 15, 2016

    

The following letter was addressed to the administrators of the NOP in response to their request for comments on aspects of the proposed changes in housing and management. Responses expressing support or rebuttals are welcome".

Download and read the letter from http://egg-cite.com/documents/sms-160715.docx

  

   
 

Chipotle Unjustifiably Blamed for Alleged Incident

Jul 15, 2016

    

The distortion initiated by a “tweet” can result in a severe impact on brand image and share price of a company. A posting dated 08H20, July 7th disseminated by author Eric Van Lustbader claimed that his editor became acutely ill after eating at a New York Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant. 

  

The tweet read “This Chipotle thing is still ongoing.  My editor ended up in urgent care after being deathly ill all night from eating at Chipotle’s” This was followed by a subsequent tweet “She was sent to the ER spent 7 hours there bacteria found.  Doctors surmised unsanitary food handling.”

In the first instance, there was no diagnosis of either a foodborne infection or toxicity.  Secondly ER physicians could not have “found bacteria” in a clinical setting. The attribution of the condition to Chipotle as expressed in the tweet is pure speculation.

Diagnosing a foodborne infection requires isolation and identification of a pathogen from the patient and demonstrating the same serotype of pathogen in the restaurant or in an unopened package of the suspect food together with confirmatory epidemiologic evidence.  None of these criteria were met and accordingly the tweets by Van Lustbader were invalid. 

Notwithstanding the lack of justification for the tweet, negative publicity resulted in a three percent decline in the share price of CMG by noon on July 7th although a recovery was evident after the company issued a statement refuting the tweet.  Comments on social media were divided as to either support or condemnation of Chipotle Mexican Grill depending on the bias or perception by the individual posting a subjective opinion on the CNBC website.

At 15H00 on July 7th CMG traded at $391.00, down 2.5 percent from the open.  The 52 week range for the stock is $385 to $759 suggesting that recovery following the series of foodborne disease outbreaks in 2015 has yet to be reflected in either share price or earnings.

   
 

Opposition to GMO Labeling Bill

Jul 8, 2016

    

A pro-organic organization termed the Rodale Institute mounted an eleventh-hour campaign to oppose the July 6th Senate vote on proposed legislation which would standardize GM labeling for the entire U.S.

At issue is Law 120 passed by the Vermont legislature scheduled to come into effect on July 1st but deferred until December 31st 2016.

   

The objections raised by the Roadale Institute are:-

  • The Senate bill does not prescribe mandatory standards for GM labeling and preempts existing and proposed label standards which may be at the discretion of the present or future Secretaries of Agriculture.
  • The Bill would exempt numerous GE foods from labeling including foods containing ingredients derived by gene deletion.  This is entirely a spurious objection since gene deletion or silencing genes does not involve transgenesis or add to the genome.
  • The Bill may discriminate against rural, low income and elderly populations who may not have access to websites or be able to read QR codes.  Since there is no adverse effect associated with GM foods, there will be no deleterious effect and this demographic has the option to select alternative labeled products if they so desire.
  • The Rodale Institute considers that the proposed bill preempts state labeling laws such as Law 210 passed by the Vermont legislature.  The Institute is raising irrelevant objections relating to the selection of cultivars by farmers who know exactly what they are purchasing and sowing.
  • The Bill which was devised by the Senate Agriculture Committee after considerable deliberation and compromise apparently has no civil or criminal penalties for non-compliance. Obviously this omission will be rectified before the final Bill is considered by the full Senate.
  • The Rodale Institute takes issue with the fact that eggs, dairy, poultry and meat products derived from herds and flocks which are fed GM ingredients are exempt.  This objection is completely unjustified since there is no change in the composition of the ingredients and obviously no difference in the nutritional content or composition of eggs, milk or meat and their derivatives, as a result of feeding GM-derived ingredients. Any sentiments to the contrary are scientifically unfounded and justifiably raise issues of suspicion, distrust and uncertainty where no dangers exist.

The comprise legislation which should be passed after adoption of a cloture procedural vote (65 to 32) will allow consideration by the full Senate.

Prospects for the bill in the House are less favorable since Representative Mike Conway (R-TX) chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture has yet to act on the initiative by the Senate.  

The Bill will avert a patchwork of local regulations based on the proclivities of residents and voters and will avoid considerable cost associated with specific labeling for states such as Vermont with less than one percent of U.S. consumers and even for local municipalities and activist communities.

The objections advanced by the Rodale Institute will predictably be introduced into debate in the House but hopefully meaningful Federal legislation will be forthcoming.

   
 

The Impact of Child Nutrition on Future Earnings

Jul 8, 2016

    

Scientists at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health have published a report on the impact of child nutrition on future earnings and contributions to the economies of their respective nations. 

The study was funded by Grand Challenges Canada headed by Peter Singer.  Inadequate nutrition, premature birth, low rate of breast feeding and early exposure to intestinal infections contributes to stunting which affects 30 percent of children in developing nations.

The study authored by Dr. Gunther Fink derived a value of losses attaining $177 billion annually after a review of data relating to 123 million children born in 2010 in 137 low income nations.

  

Strategies to improve early growth included:

  • enhanced anti-natal care,
  • breast feeding
  • supplemental nutrition especially vitamins A and E,
  • appropriate measures to prevent intestinal infection including vaccination
  • the provision of clean water

All of these modalities contribute to improved early growth and development.  In this respect, eggs have an important contribution given the balanced protein and micronutrients essential for brain development, immunity and growth.

   
 

OPPOSITION TO THE “CAGE FREE” MOVEMENT GROWS BASED ON PRICE CONSIDERATIONS

Jun 30, 2016

    

Bethany Mandel a contributor to the Federalist recently posted a column questioning why animal rights activists coerce the egg industry into converting to cage free housing by pressuring customers with the ultimate cost to be borne by consumers.

Mandel is quoted as stating, “I’ve considered buying cage-free numerous times, however unfortunately my need to feed my family affordably has made the cost-prohibitive nature of cage- free a non-viable option”.  She decries the fact that the “anti-science, pro-feelings, food-justice lobby has denied families like ours to choose what we put on our dinner plates”.

  

Mandel is incensed that “untrained activist makes decisions that affect not only our diets but also our pocketbooks”. These sentiments have been previously expressed in commentaries and editorials on EGG-CITE. 

It would appear that the die has been cast and that conversion to various alternatives to conventional cages whether aviaries, barns or enriched colony modules will be adopted over the coming ten years.

EGG-CITE supports the principle of consumer choice provided that acceptable standards of welfare, implicit in appropriate housing and management, are adopted by the industry.

   
 

Hampton Creek Seeks Investment Capital

Jun 24, 2016

    

According to a May 24th 2016 article by Olivia Zaleski in Bloomberg Technology, Hampton Creek is negotiating with potential investors to raise $200 million. If successful this would value the company at $1.1 billion. The tone of the article suggest that this is highly speculative given the limited range of Hampton Creek products on the market coupled with as yet non-quantified demand for vegan meat and egg substitutes. 

  

Industry observers question whether Hampton Creek is in reality an innovator with the ability to develop new products or simply an opportunistic marketer relying on existing technology and manufacturers to provide products.  Hampton Creek has announced intentions to increase product offerings to more than 600 items and has aspirations to compete with major food producers. 

Although the investment community has favored food start-ups, Bloomberg notes that the food-tech sector attracted only $680 million during the first quarter of 2016 constituting the lowest level of funding since 2014.

Hampton Creek has stated that it wishes to erect a 95,000 square foot research and development laboratory. Why? Are there not adequate laboratories staffed by distinguished faculty and competent technicians at Land-Grant Universities?  Are there not any commercial contract facilities in operation? The comment that the “scientists will analyze over 960 plant samples per week” taken with previous statements relating to extensive databases on plants appear to be at variance with established industry practice.  In fact the comments by entrepreneurial founder of Hampton Creek and its previous iterations, Josh Tetrick raises images of an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters in the hope that the exercise will produce a sonnet.

Hampton Creek has made use of existing technology, apparently supplied by a contract laboratory to produce an egg-free mayonnaise substitute now competing with a nationally branded product.  Hampton Creek also produces a range of plant-based substitutes for eggs in cookies and baking dough.

There has been little in the way of innovation and product development to date to justify previously claimed tranches of capital.  The disconnect between publicity relating to supplanting eggs and animal products and the reality to date is eerily reminiscent of Theranos which promised to be a “disruptor” of the industry providing clinical-pathology assays. The parallels include

  • A heavy emphasis on publicity featuring the founder,
  • The extravagant claims for innovative products unsupported by established publications in peer-reviewed food science journals,
  • The absence of endorsement of Hampton Creek technology by respected academics or industry figures
  • A high burn rate of funding with operating losses.

These should be warning signs to the investment community. 

   
 

UEP Commitment on Gender Separation

Jun 17, 2016

    

The Board of the United Egg Producers released a statement on disposal of cockerels following the May 2016 meeting.  The statement released on June 9th reads:-

“United Egg Producers and our egg farmer members support the elimination of day-old male chick culling after hatch for the laying industry.  We are aware that there are a number of international research initiatives underway in this area, and we encourage the development of an alternative with the goal of eliminating the culling of day old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible.  The U.S. egg industry is committed to continuing our proud history of advancing excellent welfare practices throughout the supply chain, and a breakthrough in this area will be a welcome development.” 

  

The question of embryonic gender determination was reviewed in postings on September 30, 2015, December 24, 2015, March 25, 2016 and April 22, 2016.

Various avenues of research are currently underway which include:-

  • Ramen spectroscopy on three-day old embryonated eggs in Germany but requiring removal of a quadrant of the shell
  • Transgenic modification of male chicks in Australia to introduce a fluorescent protein to allow removal of eggs containing male embryos at the time of transfer
  • Technology developed on an experimental basis by a start-up, inOVO located in the Netherlands This company has indicated that additional research and proof of concept will take at least a year.  

It is evident that to be successful a system which will differentiate between eggs bearing male or female embryos will have to be effective with at least 95 percent accuracy by no later than the 9th day of incubation.  Speed of operation should be consistent with current rates of chick service and capital and operating costs should be acceptable to the industry.

The UEP has committed to an implementation date of approximately four years in the future.  This may be optimistic given the state of development of alternative technology.

In the interim, the industry could project a welfare-oriented image by instituting carbon dioxide anesthesia before maceration or grinding as practiced in the EU in some hatcheries and currently under experimental evaluation in the U.S. This inexpensive and practical expedient could diffuse some of the opposition to intensive egg production since the image of grinding conscious day-old cockerels is unacceptable to reasonable consumers.

   
 

Chipotle Facing Lawsuits in California

Jun 17, 2016

    

Steve Ells, founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill has repeatedly implied that all food served in his restaurant chain was derived from animals raised on GMO-free feed and that cheeses and other dairy products were sourced from herds fed GMO-free diets. 

Justifying his position, Ells stated in an interview with the New York Times “Just because food is served fast it doesn’t mean that it has to be made with cheaper ingredients, highly processed with preservatives, fillers, stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors.”

  

Since Chipotle Mexican Grill has allegedly not complied with the claim of GMO-free sourcing, a series of lawsuits have been filed in California claiming violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California False Advertising Law and the California Unfair Competition Law.

In commenting on the ongoing litigation, Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy at the University of California stated “I believe the greatest scrutiny will be applied to GMO-free claims.”  He added “It is likely that this will lead to further suits against not just Chipotle but others as well.”

The prior success of Chipotle Mexican Grill is based on unsubstantiated claims for superior quality, taste and safety.  There is no evidence that poultry, red meats and dairy products derived from flocks and herds fed non-GMO diets are in any way more nutritious or provide higher levels of safety than their conventional counterparts.

Claims of deceptive advertising will most certainly impact the already tarnished image of Chipotle Mexican Grill as it struggles to regain market share after a series of foodborne infections involving three separate pathogens across wide areas of the U.S. in 2015.

   
 

Publix Subjected to Activists’ Pressure over “Cage-Free”

Jun 17, 2016

    

During the past few weeks, EGG-CITE has commented on supermarket chains, QSRs and food service companies committing to sourcing from cage-free flocks over a ten-year period.(See postings March 9 and April 29)

In an article by Kyle Arnold in the May 4th Orlando Sentinel, Publix with 1,100 stores in six states and 765 in Florida, has yet to make a statement on their intentions. Accordingly Compassion in World Farming is apparently placing pressure on the company.  As with many home-grown and contrived campaigns, individuals can initiate petitions using change.org.  In this case, 115,000 signatures have been collected to influence Publix to commit to selling eggs from non-caged flocks.

  

Maria Brous a Company spokesperson stated “Publix would not make a promise or agree to a timeline if we did not think it was feasible.”  She added “We have met with our suppliers and talked about the feasibility of going cage-free.”  Justifiably Publix is concerned as to actually what customers want and also whether there is a willingness to pay for a total commitment to cage-free eggs.  Currently Publix offers organic, cage-free, nutritionally enhanced and conventional eggs to allow consumers to select products according to their specific needs and budgets.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply conducted a comparison of egg production in enriched colony cages, aviaries and floor housing systems and projected costs based on production parameters.  Regrettably this study was seriously flawed with respect to the aviary evaluation due to high mortality caused by mismanagement which distorted results. (See posting February 27th 2015). The Coalition failed to adjust their data and an incorrect characterization of aviaries has unfortunately become entrenched in the literature documenting alternative systems.

 The frequently quoted value of an incremental 15 cents to produce cage-free eggs compared to product derived from conventional cages is also highly questionable since conversion to an alternative system is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation.  The actual differential is considerably higher if all fixed and variable costs are included in the calculation. We should not be led astray by spurious projections such as those publicized by the HSUS leading up to the vote on California Proposition No. 2 in 2008. Consumers in the state have learned that the “Pacelle Tax” is in the region of four to five times the claimed “cent per egg” figure used to justify support for the initiative and will have to be paid for years to come.

There is no evidence that hens produce more eggs under non-confined conditions than in cages and there is no difference in either quality or nutritional content of eggs according to housing system.  Given appropriate management and disease control, eggs derived from aviaries and slatted floor systems should be equivalent in safety to conventional eggs derived from cages providing that eggs are subject to washing in accordance with USDA specifications.

The comment by Rachel Dreskin Food Business Manager for Compassion in World Farming that the price for cage-free eggs will drop as supply increases is wishful thinking based on a combination of sentiment and ignorance of the economics of egg production.

 

   
 

Guest Commentary by Senior Veterinarian Advisor to the American Humane Association

Jun 10, 2016

    

Dr. Donald Hoenig, a friend and colleague who serves as the Senior Veterinarian Advisor to the American Humane Association (AHA), Humane Heartland Program, submitted a commentary on a recent posting on  EGG-CITE concerning the transition by the U.S. egg-production industry to “cage-free” housing for hens.

He correctly notes that there is no accepted standard or definition of this term which is loosely applied. In the interest of free discourse, his commentary is posted presenting the views of the AHA and defining the standards required by the Humane Heartland Program.  

  

As the U.S egg industry transitions toward cage-free layer housing over the next 5 to 10 years, there is need for clarity, consistency and standardization in terminology relating to production systems. The list of companies subscribing to the replacement of conventional cages has been documented by the United Egg Producers, the association recognized as representing the U.S. egg-production industry.

An April 19, 2016 article in Fortune magazine pointed out what many within agriculture already know, that consumers are confused when it comes to the term “cage-free.” As the author states, “Consumers have been demanding changes to the food system, but it’s unclear if they know what they are getting.”

Even within the egg industry terminology can be confusing. Phrases and words such as cage-free, free range, aviary, pasture-raised, multi-tier, combination litter and slatted floors, slatted floor platforms and enriched colony housing have different meanings according to the perception of the manager.

Created in 2000, the Humane Heartland program is the Nation’s oldest third-party farm animal welfare program and is based on the U.K. Farm Animal Welfare Council Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare principles.  For the American Humane Association, Humane Heartland Farm Animal Welfare Program, the independent  Scientific Advisory Committee has defined “cage-free” as conforming to the following   standards:-

  1. Hens must have access at all times to a well-maintained litter area
  1. Hens must have an allowance of 1.5 square feet  in barns with all-litter floors; in multi-tier houses or houses with a perching area over a droppings belt the requirement is 1.2 square feet per hen for brown-feathered or 1.0 square feet for white-feathered strains respectively.
  1.  Nests must be provided
  1. Hens must be allowed 6” of perching space.

Access outside the house is not required for the AHA cage-free standard but is necessary for the specific AHA Free-Range and Pasture standards.

The Cage-Free and all other AHA species-specific standards require:-

  • A company policy emphasizing high standards of welfare;
  • An employee code of conduct;
  •  An animal health plan developed and reviewed annually by the flock veterinarian;
  • Additional elements including considerations such as adequate nutrition, air quality, accss to feed and water and welfare-compliant management procedures.
  • Producers certified under AHA Programs must  pass an annual third-party audit by a qualified evaluator.

The AHA believes that consumers deserve financial and ethical choices in their purchase decisions, which is why AHA has established standards for four different production systems for laying hens:-

  • Cage-free;
  • Enriched colony housing (ECH);
  •  Free-range;
  •  Pasture.

Each of the systems focuses on the welfare of  flocks and meets the criteria of the Five Freedoms. Consumers have choices among intensive indoor production using enriched colony modules or cage-free housing or alternatively less confined systems allowing outdoor access to either circumbscribed range or pasture.

Both egg producers and equipment manufacturers need predictability and standardization, as the conversion from conventional cages will take time and involve substantial capital expenditure.  Retailers, quick service restaurants and food service businesses can rely on the widely recognized AHA standards.

Further information about the Humane Heartland program and the AHA farm welfare standards can be found at <www.humaneheartland.org>

   
 

PCRM PLACES ANTI-EGG BILLBOARD IN COLUMBUS, OH.

Jun 9, 2016

    

The so-called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) under the leadership of a Dr. Neal Barnard has placed a billboard opposing consumption of eggs in Columbus, OH. 

The PCRM is a non-profit advocacy organization promoting a vegan agenda, cessation of animals in research and is opposed to intensive livestock production and the QSR industry. Dr. Barnard is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and is the founder of the non-profit Barnard Medical Center.  He is regarded by Quack Watch as a “promotor of questionable methods and or advice”. 

  

In 17 books and 70 published papers on nutrition including contributions to “Naked Food magazine he has opposed diets containing animal products. In addition to deprecating eggs, PCRM also regards dairy products as deleterious referring to cheese as “dairy crack”.

Although the PCRM has consistently criticized the nutritional guidelines of the USDA the contentions of the organization are not supported by mainstream nutritionists and health professionals.  The American Medical Association has criticized PCRM physicians and in 1990 adopted a resolution condemning activism against animals in research.  The American Medical Association regards PCRM as a “pseudo-physicians group”. 

Barnard has ties to PETA and his organization has received funding from the Foundation to Support Animal Protection which is opposed to using animals in research.  Barnard has affiliated his organization with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty an extremist group characterized by the Department of Justice as a “domestic terrorist threat”.

The Ohio Poultry Association (OPA) responded to posting of the misleading billboard with the statement, “Eggs are a nutritious part of a healthy diet and a source of high-quality lean protein and in many cases eggs are included in a diabetic meal plan.  This has been affirmed numerous times by credible scientific studies, as recently as 2015 and by dieticians and medical professionals alike”.  The OPA statement continued, “The fear-mongering by this activist group does a disservice to Ohio egg farmers who work each day to produce safe, wholesome, high quality eggs”.

Information on eggs and nutrition are available on www.eggnutritioncenter.org established and maintained by the American Egg Board.

   
 

FDA Relents Over “Healthy” Claims on Snack-Bar Label

Jun 3, 2016

    

Following an appeal by Kind LLC the FDA has reviewed regulations which prevented the company from using the term “healthy” on snack bars.  In May 1994 the FDA ruled that the term “healthy” is a nutrient content claim and can only be applied to foods containing 3 grams or less of total fat per serving and 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving.  Fish and meat were required to have 5 grams or less of total fat per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

  

The restrictions effectively disqualified some foods including nuts, avocados and salmon from being labeled as “healthy” while permitting cereals containing sugar and other high-calorie products to be so labeled.

In commenting on the FDA action Dr. David L. Katz director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center noted “The current regulatory definition of healthy is inconsistent with federal guidelines and scientific research.” He opined that “the problem of course is that the foodscape can change quickly but FDA regulations change very slowly”

In a response to the company, FDA noted on April 20th that corrective action including removing nutrient content claims on product labels addressed violations contained in the previous warning letter.  Terms such as “healthy” and “tasty” can be presented as a component of “corporate philosophy” but not necessary representing a nutrient content claim and should be separated on labels from nutrient information. 

The FDA included in their closeout letter to Kind LLC the statement “Consumers want to make informed food choices and it is the FDA’s responsibility to help them by ensuring labels provide accurate and reliable nutritional information”.  The letter continued “In light of evolving nutrition research forthcoming Nutrition Facts labeling final rules and a citizen’s petition we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrition content claims including the term healthy.”

   
 

Unfair Criticism of Cage-Free Production

May 27, 2016

    

Egg Farmers of America represents a relative minority of U.S. egg producers intent on maintaining the status quo with respect to caged housing of hens. The Association has mounted a public relations initiative organized by their spokesperson Ken Klippen. 

Articles are popping up in agricultural magazines and newsletters the most recent of which was published in Ag Week on May 5th.

  

The National Association of Egg Farmers claims:-

  • The caged system is more humane than alternatives.  Given that virtually the entire egg distribution system comprising QSRs, restaurants, institutions, retailers and food service companies have committed to converting to cage-free housing by 2025, any unsubstantiated opinions on the relative welfare of caged or cage-free housing are moot.  The train has left the station and there is no stopping it.
  • Cage-free eggs are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria due to prolonged exposure from litter and manure in nest boxes. This is an unsubstantiated claim.  Approximately nine percent of U.S. eggs are produced in other than cages.  Since 2011 here have been no reports of SE associated with commercial organic or barn-housed flocks on slats or in aviaries.  Although there have been some cases of SE reported, these have been in small flocks under the 3,000 cut-off imposed by the Food and Drug Administration as designated under the Final Rule to Prevent Salmonella Infection.
  • Workers in cage-free barns will be hurt by dust which can transport pathogens.  This is a spurious claim since there is no data relating to environmental health problems among workers in barns with either conventional cages or alternative systems.
  • The cost of building cage-free farms will be too high for some existing producers especially ones with smaller operations. All business should set aside a depreciation provision to replace equipment.  Buildings and farms undergo both time-related and technical obsolescence and should be replaced at intervals.  The companies transiting to cage-free production have allowed a ten-year period although most concerns will require substantial progress towards conversion.  If some small family-operated farms find it impossible to market their product in ten years so be it.  Producers must always adapt and respond to market needs.  When cages that are now five to ten years old reache 2025they can be replaced by floor systems. Owners will benefit from increased unit revenue associated with a production of a non-confined egg.  They can either market directly to boutique stores producing either organic or cage-free product, contract to a larger producer or join a cooperative.

The consistent drumbeat of criticism of cage-free production from the National Association of Egg Farmers is disingenuous and self-serving. Promoting spurious objections to cage-free production represents some vain hope of a re-reset on policy of sourcing eggs over the next decade.  Simply disparaging cage-free production runs counter to the interest of the mainstream egg-production industry which has recognized the need to follow market demand and is responding accordingly.

   
 

INCREASED INVOLVEMENT BY THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OVER FOOD-BORNE DISEASE OUTBREAKS

May 20, 2016

    

Dole Food Company Inc. has confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Listeria outbreak emanating from a Springfield, OH. plant preparing and distributing packaged salads. 

From May 2015 to February 2016, 33 patients who contracted listeriosis were all hospitalized and 4 fatalities were recorded.

  

At issue is the fact that the problem of Listeria contamination was of long-standing with documentation showing positive isolations of the pathogen on nine separate occasions in 2014 and 2015.  In January and February 2016, the FDA inspected the plant and isolated Listeria monocytogenes which was homologous with pathogens isolated from a number of the patients infected, thereby confirming the source.

It is apparent that if management is aware of the presence of  a serious pathogen such as Listeria, Salmonella or E.coli 0157 in plants or products and no action is taken, they will be held criminally liable. 

The situation at Dole closely parallels the ongoing Department of Justice investigation at Blue Bell Creamery since the company’s product precipitated an outbreak of listeriosis in 2015.

We are also reminded of the Peanut Corporation of America case in which management knowingly released product contaminated with Salmonella and even falsified documents, resulting in long prison sentences for the owners and subordinate managers.

The implication for officers and senior management of food and agricultural companies is self-evident.

   
 

Organic Certified Grain

May 13, 2016

    

A recent industry periodical noted an increase in imports of corn mostly as “organic certified” grain. The April 12th USDA-WASDE Report confirmed an increase in imports from 32 million bushels in the March projection for 2016 to 50 million bushels in the subsequent April report.  Although this percentage appears large, 50 million bushels only represents 0.3 percent of the total corn supply. This said the total value of imported specialty corn and soybeans in 2015 amounted to $350 million.  Corn is imported from Romania, the Ukraine and Turkey with extremely high increases in volume over the past two years.

  

There is concern regarding the use of imported ingredients which are available at a lower cost than domestic certified organic corn.  Over 94 percent of U.S. corn and soybeans are derived from GM seed based on superior yield, lower cost of production and superior sustainability. The higher costs for production of Certified Organic corn are associated with lower availability and the need for segregation in the supply chain. This more than doubles the price of the commodity compared to conventional product without any tangible or quantifiable benefits.

It is questioned whether a consignment of corn from the Ukraine, China or any third world country can be regarded as “organic” with any degree of confidence.  Countries supplying these ingredients are responding to the price differential which will always encourage falsification and deception.  Some exporting nations have a reputation for corruption and with the use of local certifiers, there is no assurance, absent rigid and consistent structured assays, that these products are truly “organic”. 

Since certified organic products must be cultivated without the use of pesticides or herbicides, the question arises whether there is any program administered by the USDA-AMS to collect samples and subject them to GLC assay. Without a structured program there is no deterrent to deception. Any corn kernel with a paper “pedigree” looks like any other kernel.  President Reagan was an exponent of “trust but verify” A program of surveillance and laboratory assay using available test kits is required to confirm that both domestic and imported ingredients are truly organic.

Relying on a paper trail is patently inadequate given the incentives for deception and the reputation of supplying countries.  Heaven forbid that a “foodie” inadvertently consume a GMO-containing ingredient at twice the price of a conventional product. Perhaps it is expedient to work on the “don’t look-don’t know” system.

Any spokesperson of the USDA-AMS or an Organic Certifying Agency is welcome to respond to this editorial to address the issue raised.

   
 

Two Decades of GE Technology

May 6, 2016

    

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) recently released an annual report on the advances in adoption of biotechnology crops entitled The 20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops.  Since 1996, the land area sown to genetically engineered (GE) seeds has increased from 4.25 million acres to 450 million acres.

Over the same period collectively 5 billion acres of arable land have been planted to GE crops representing twice the land mass of China.  The benefit derived by farmers from GE technology has exceeded $150 billion since 1996 and GE crops have improved the diets of over 65 million people.

  

Approximately a third of all GE cultivars have multiple (“stacked”) traits with over 130 million acres planted.  These varieties have more than one improved attribute such as drought and insect resistance or the ability to withstand specific herbicides.

Clive James, Founder and Emeritus Chair of the ISAAA noted “more farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously tested option for improving crop yields.”  Developing nations now plant more GE crops than in industrialized nations with the proportion of 54 to 46 percent.

India and China have both benefited from GE cotton and in India alone, 29 million acres are planted to two GE varieties with benefits achieved by nearly 8 million farmers producing 95 percent of the Nation’s cotton crop in 2015.

Many new GE varieties are non-transgenic and are developed applying gene deletion. The United States has approved Innate™ Generation 1 potatoes with low levels of acrylamide and resistance to bruising.  Subsequent second generation Innate™ potatoes are resistant to blight.  The U.S. has also approved Arctic® apples refractory to bruising and browning.  SU Strain Canola™ has been planted for first time in the U.S. 

The ISAAA report indicated that more than 85 potential new GE products are undergoing field testing including a drought resistant corn for Africa, golden rice in Asia and fortified bananas in Africa both with high vitamin A content to prevent blindness.

It is expected that application of CRISPR technology which allows gene editing will accelerate advances in developing new strains and increased crop productivity on available land to feed burgeoning populations.

   
 

Wal-Mart to Discontinue Wild Oats Brand

Apr 29, 2016

    

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced that it will discontinue marketing the Wild Oats range of organic product which was introduced in 2014.  With a much-heralded introduction, Wal-Mart claimed that it could provide center-of-the store staples including pasta sauce at prices equivalent to conventional products.  The Wild Oats Brand was licensed to Wal-Mart in 2012 by Yucaipa Companies controlled by entrepreneur Ron Burkle of Los Angeles.  The brand was acquired when the Wild Oats chain of stores was acquired by Whole Foods Market but was spun-off in terms of an antitrust settlement. 

  

It is anticipated that Wal-Mart will begin sourcing organic products from a range of suppliers marketed under their Great Value private label.  Currently the sales of organic food attained $13.4 billion for the year ending April 2nd compared to all food sales valued at $468 billion for the same period.  The rate of growth in organic label products was 16.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent for all products according to Nielsen data cited in an April 26th article by Sarah Nassauer in the Wall Street Journal.

Laura Kennedy an analyst at Kantar Retail, a consulting group noted “Wal-Mart’s move to drop Wild Oats is an odd step to take when we know that they are trying to increase private-label penetration and trying to target the higher-income consumer.”  She added “If Wal-Mart was losing money to a middle- man this is not a time Wal-Mart would want to be losing anything.”

The reference to a middle- man calls to mind the relationship between Wal-Mart Stores and CCF Brands which serves as an intermediate between egg producers and Wal-Mart Stores.  The specific advantages associated with the intermediary have yet to be explained to the industry.  Surely Wal-Mart is capable of drawing up specifications and negotiating with suppliers concerning pricing, quality parameters and delivery schedules?  Either Wal-Mart Stores or CCF Brands are welcome to respond and justify their respective positions in what would appear from the outside to represent an anomaly in the supply chain. As Alice would say, “curiouser and curiouser!”