Shane Commentary


Wisconsin HPAI Break—Cause for Concern?

Apr 17, 2015

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

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

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


Sentencing of Jack and Peter DeCoster

Apr 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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


White House Nominee Disseminates False Information

Apr 10, 2015

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

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


Additional HPAI Outbreaks Reported in Minnesota Turkeys.

Apr 10, 2015

Additional HPAI Outbreaks Reported in Minnesota Turkeys.

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

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

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

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

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


Wal-Mart Seeking Lower Prices from Suppliers

Apr 8, 2015

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

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

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

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


 German Scientist Awarded Prize for Identification of Embryo Genders

Apr 1, 2015

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

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


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

Mar 27, 2015

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

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

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



Fifth Annual Organic Egg Symposium

Mar 27, 2015

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

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

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

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


Consumer Reports Continues to be Negative on GMO

Mar 20, 2015

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

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

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

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


Supermarkets in “Food Deserts” Apparently Not Beneficial

Mar 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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


USDA to Subsidize Specialty Crop Industry

Mar 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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


What Constitutes “Local” for Locavares

Mar 13, 2015

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

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


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.