Shane Commentary


Warnings to California Producers Regarding Avian Influenza

Jan 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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


Intrusion Video at Petaluma Egg Farms

Jan 23, 2015

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

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

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

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


Response by Richard Berman

Jan 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New York City to Ban Plastic Foam in Food Service

Jan 16, 2015

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

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


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

Jan 16, 2015

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

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


Consumer Perceptions Influence Taste

Jan 14, 2015

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

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


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

Jan 9, 2015

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

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


Acts of Community Charity by Farmers

Jan 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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


Suggested New Year resolutions For People We Know:-

Jan 2, 2015
Josh Tetrick

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

Secretary Tom Vilsack

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

The First Lady Micelle Obama  

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

Dr. Oz

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

Dr Michael Greger

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

Nicholas Kristof

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

Vani Hari

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

Wayne Pacelle

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

Gina McCarthy

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



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

Dec 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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


HSUS Spokesperson Deprecates Eggs 

Dec 17, 2014

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


Drug Resistance as a Health Problem in India

Dec 12, 2014

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

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


Ag FDA Blog Provides Data on GM Crops

Dec 12, 2014

A Posting on the Ag FDA Blog provides data on the extent of cultivation of GM crops including corn, soybeans and cotton.  It is estimated that 27 nations now produce GM grains and fiber with 400 million acres devoted to strains improved by biotechnology.  Approximately 18 million farmers of whom 90 percent are regarded as poor benefit from GM technology.  Advantages attributed to GM cultivars include reduced pesticide application, less greenhouse gas emission, improved yields. Insect damage is almost eliminated leading to less post-harvest damage and elaboration of mycotoxins.

Despite the past two decades of availability and consumption of GM grains and oilseeds, there is considerable opposition by consumers and governments to GM technology. This is despite the evidence presented by reputable scientific organizations that GM crops are innocuous.


Governor Christie and Gestation Crates – Continued

Dec 4, 2014

In a November 26th posting, CHICK-CITE noted that Governor Chris Christie was faced with the dilemma of defying his legislature and the documented desires of the citizens of his State against the imperative of not offending Republican supporters in Iowa, pivotal to his Presidential aspirations.

Predictably for the second consecutive year, Gov. Christie vetoed the Bill which would have banned gestation crates in New Jersey.  The Bill would have had little actual impact on livestock production in the state as there are approximately 300 small-scale hog farms using alternative systems.  The Bill was sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak who accused Governor Christie of “capitulating to political influences in state thousands of miles away”.  He added “obviously the governor is putting his personal political ambitions ahead of the humane treatment of animals”. Lesniak indicated that the legislature will attempt to override the veto early in 2015.  He indicated “we will not give up, we can keep this going for quite a while because is an issue that people really care about”.


When is GM Not GM?

Dec 3, 2014

Cibus Global has developed a strain of canola which is tolerant to sulfonylurea herbicide.  The cultivar was produced by precision editing of genes using a proprietary Rapid Trait Development System developed by the company. The process does not involve incorporation or insertion of genes from other species (transgenesis). SU Canola™ is positioned as a rotation crop for GM soybeans in fields with weeds resistant to glyphosate herbicide.

The “gene editing” distinction will not satisfy those opposed to GM technology.  Even if SU Canola™ is regarded as non-GM, it will be subject to the complication of segregation through the chain of distribution extending from harvest through storage, transport and processing which adds to the cost paid by producers for either canola oil or canola meal.

The product has been developed in cooperation with Rotam based in Hong Kong. This company operates manufacturing facilities in China to produce the sulfonylurea herbicide compatible with SU Canola™. 

The commercial success of SU Canola™ will depend on whether the product is regarded as GM or not.  Given the response of “purists” to gene-deleted vaccines for poultry it is doubtful whether any intrinsic marketing advantage will accrue to the product as a GM ingredient for livestock production in the U.S. over the short term.


American Humane Heartland™ Farm Animal Survey

Nov 21, 2014

Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association recently announced results of the second American Humane Association Humane Heartland™ Farm Animal Survey.  involving 5,900 consumers.  The survey indicated that 95 percent of the respondents were concerned over “farm animal welfare” and 75 percent said they were willing to pay more for humanely produced eggs, meat and dairy products.

The “Humanely Raised” designation scored highest among a series of food labels indicating attributes including “Antibiotic-Free” “Organic” and “Natural”.  More than half of the respondents indicated that their favored “Humanely Raised”  products were either unavailable (36 percent) or too expensive (20 percent).

It must be remembered that the results of surveys depend on the way in which questions are asked. Many attitudinal and preference surveys include questions analogous to asking 8-year olds if they are in favor of free ice cream. The secondary consideration is whether surveys are conducted by an independent professional market research organization or a sponsor with an interest in the outcome.


EU to Establish Policy on GM Crops

Nov 18, 2014

The EU has decided that individual member nations can establish their own policies relating to cultivation of GM crops based on socio-political, environmental and other criteria.

In announcing the new approach, Frederique Reis a representative from Belgium stated, “this vote shows we have secured a broad consensus between the political groups in the European Parliament on this sensitive issue” He added “the measures approved today will secure flexibility for member states to restrict, ban the cultivation of GMO crops as they so wish.  At the same time, we have secured a clear process for the authorization of GMOs at the EU level, with improved safeguards and a key role for the European Food Safety Authority, which is important”. 


New Benefit of GM Agro-technology

Nov 14, 2014

The J. B. Simplot Company, the world’s largest grower of potatoes and supplier to major QSR chains has developed a series of new varieties based on patented Innate™ plant technology. The principle involves gene silencing and interference with expression of DNA.  The new varieties of Russet potatoes show resistance to bruising and have a lower asparagine content compared to conventional varieties.

This attribute reduces the formation of acrylamide by 17 percent during frying, representing a potential health benefit. The new Innate™ varieties also have reduced sugars contributing to a more aesthetic appearance. The genetically engineered potato has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and represents an advantage to producers and consumers from the application of biotechnology

It is estimated that when commercialized, the GM Innate™ varieties will save 400 million pounds of wasted potatoes each year.  Reducing losses will lower the acreage required for cultivation and consequently will conserve power and fuel and reduce application of pesticides.  Waste associated with bruising and rot imposes a cost in excess of $1.4 billion annually in the U.S.  In the mid-1990’s, a genetically modified potato was developed to resist the Colorado potato beetle.  Concern over public rejection of GM technology resulted in the demise of the cultivar.


Now it's Sugar

Nov 7, 2014

For the past four decades at least, the health community has railed against a high dietary intake of saturated fats, since there was a presumed relationship between elevated serum cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggest that this presumption may not be valid and that  previous recommendations to reduce intake of eggs were not based on valid studies.  In point of fact, a number of controlled trials have shown that consumption of an egg per day has no adverse effect on health in subjects not predisposed to hypercholesterolemia. 

This is the basis of the promotional activities of the Egg Nutrition Center funded by the American Egg Board.  It would appear that these efforts have benefited the industry as per capita consumption has increased reversing the trend of two decades. It is however questioned whether this increase is in fact in the form of shell eggs or from liquid processed and served by the food service industry and QSRs.

Recent studies demonstrate a statistical association between consumption of sugar and mortality attributed to cardiovascular disease. This aspect of nutrition has been studied in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey which is an ongoing project involving a prospective cohort of representative U.S. adults extended from 1988 through 2010.


Oregon and Colorado Anti-GMO Labeling Initiative

Nov 5, 2014

Claims and counterclaims are flying in Oregon in support of Measure #92 and in Colorado for Proposition #105, which if passed, would mandate labeling of any GMO-derived food product with a “produced with genetic engineering” label constituting a virtual “Scarlet A”. 

Proponents of the two ballot initiatives, to be decided on November 4th maintain that the measures are essentially a “right to know” for consumers.  This is disingenuous.  Effectively both states wish to enhance the consumption and value of organic foods.  Oregon places an annual value of  $250 million on production of their organic foods.  Literature supporting the measure claims that the “organic industry must be protected” and successful passage of the ballot initiative will “create additional market opportunities”.

Measure #92 has been funded by a diverse group of organizations and business entities.  The Organic Consumer’s Association has donated $300,000 to support the cause.  The Center for Food Safety Action Fund has spent $1 million on the campaign. Ben and Jerry’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill have assisted with donations and other resources.  Politicians also see some benefit in supporting both the Measure and the Proposition since they are perceived as being “consumer friendly”.