Editorial

 

Activist Organisation Places Stickers on Egg Cartons In-Store

Apr 21, 2017

A group of agro-terrorists involved in farm burglary and mischief-making, self-styled, Direct Action Everywhere have placed deprecating stickers on egg cartons in stores.

The tactic is similar to the action by a deranged individual in the New England states who places GMO stickers on food products.

EGG-CITE has previously warned of the vulnerability of the U.S. egg-production industry to criticism over maceration of non-anaesthetised cockerel chicks.

Since we are years away from achieving practical and accurate gender determination of embryos under four days of incubation we must institute a program of carbon dioxide stun-to-kill for cockerels without delay. Both continuous flow and batch systems could be installed.

  

   
 

Labor Shortage Will Restrict Economic Growth, Impact Agriculture

Apr 14, 2017

    

An editorial in the Thursday, March 30th edition of the Wall Street Journal highlights the growing problem of non-availability of potential employees at both ends of the pay spectrum.

There is an effective shortage of qualified technical workers requiring the release of special visas, although it is evident that some companies in high-tech are gaming the system to replace functional long-term U.S. citizens with cheaper imported workers.

  

Of greater concern to agriculture is the shortage of skilled manual workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 150,000 unfilled construction jobs raising the cost of housing and industrial projects.  Implementation of a crash program of infrastructure improvement may well be constrained by available skilled labor.

 Restrictions on H-2A visas for agricultural workers is impairing the ability of farmers to gather crops despite successively increasing wage rates to as much as $16 to $20 per hour for vineyards and orchards in California. Increased surveillance and action by ICE. has reduced the number of undocumented workers who effectively complement the ranks of domestic and eligible foreign laborers.

Contract egg-production farms usually operate with family labor supplemented with local workers. With the trend to larger farms, however, it has become necessary to employ full-time stockmen which requires both a competitive wage and acceptable accommodations.

Some of the arrangements for foreign workers represent a distinct biosecurity risk as evidenced by the 2002 outbreaks of H7N2 LPAI among turkey farms in the Shenandoah Valley. Where egg-production complexes are located near industrial centers obtaining reliable and conscientious workers is difficult.

In discussion with egg producers in the Midwest, one manager opined that the only requirement for employment in his operation was that the candidate could pass a drug test.

If we are to progress and achieve the goals expressed by new Administration it will be necessary to critically review immigration and employment policy and to ensure that pre-election rhetoric conforms to economic reality. This predicates appropriate visa programs and we will look to the wisdom, image and counsel of incoming Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Sonny Perdue to positively influence Administration policy to the benefit of the intensive farming community.

   
 

Economic Study Needed for Egg Industry

Apr 7, 2017

    

During the past ten months, the U.S. egg production industry has recorded only one month in which the USDA nest-run price exceeded the cost of production.  The prolonged period of negative margins is attributed to an imbalance between supply and demand.

Given the initiation of Proposition#2 in California followed by HPAI with subsequent re-stocking and resulting fluctuation in wholesale prices from 2014 onwards, it would be appropriate for an economic study to be performed to determine the responsiveness of wholesale prices to supply.  During late 2014 prices were influenced by the projected introduction of California Proposition #2. 

  

In spring 2015 production, especially in the liquid segment was impacted by the advent of H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza. The result of depopulation persisted through the remainder of 2015 and early 2016. Replacement of flocks was followed by a sharp decline in prices as supply from an expanding national population of hens increased.

An economist would find considerable challenge in characterizing the egg market and specifically relating domestic shell egg and liquid production, exports and imports especially in times of shortage and oversupply.

From the profound fluctuation in supply and hence price, an economic study with derivation of appropriate models could provide valuable information on the relationship between numbers of hens, diversion of eggs to either the shell or liquid segments of the industry and the effects of exports and imports.  Predictive models could guide producers in investment decisions especially in view of the intended transition from conventional cages to alternative systems which will require investments in excess of $40 per hen for new buildings and equipment or proportionately less for conversions.

Events during the past three years represent an opportunity to analyze extremes in production and prices to develop economic models to guide future decisions.  It is suggested that USPOULTRY should consider requesting proposals to undertake a comprehensive economic study since the future expansion and profitability of the egg industry depends on decisions based on accurate forward projections and the effect of production volume in the various sectors on prices.

   
 

“Freaked Out” Article from CNBC Deceptive

Mar 31, 2017

On March 23rd, Vanessa Wong posted an article on CNBC dealing with the intended transition to cage-free production by the U.S. shell egg-production industry.

The heading “Egg Makers are Freaked Out by the Cage-Free Future” is provocative intended to capture eyeballs but was entirely misleading.

  

There is no better refutation of the heading than the comments by Dolph Baker, Chairman, president and CEO of Cal-Maine Foods appended to the results of the third quarter of fiscal 2017 released on March 27th.  Baker noted, “We have continued to make significant investments across our operations to meet anticipated demand for cage-free eggs, as food service providers, national restaurant chains and major retailers, including our largest customers, have stated objectives to exclusively offer cage-free eggs by future specified dates.

While we expect the multi-year conversion to cage-free production will present new challenges and higher costs for our industry, we believe it also provides additional market opportunities.  We are working with our customers to facilitate a smooth transition to meet this demand.” These measured and purposeful comments by Baker and the reality of actual projects belie the impression created by the heading of the CNBC posting.

The second largest U.S. egg producer, Rose Acre Farms has embarked on an extensive program of conversions including joint ventures. Across the Midwest family-owned enterprises including Weaver Brothers, Cooper Farms, Konos, and many others have been investing in cage-free facilities despite negative profitability prevailing during 2016. On the Pacific Coast, Central Valley Farms is installing houses and equipment to hold up to 4 million hens.

Wong also comments, “Life is miserable for hens in battery cages and “opposition to the system became a core concern of the animal rights movement.”  One can dispute the characterization of a “miserable life” for hens since this is a subjective anthropomorphic evaluation.  If hens were in fact “miserable” they would not peak as a flock at over 93 percent and maintain production through the first cycle, to be either depleted or molted at a weekly production in excess of 80 percent. 

Irrespective of the validity of criticism of confined egg production, the industry is committed to transition from conventional cages to alternative systems with currently twelve percent of the nominal U.S. hen population of 310 million hens in alternatives to cages. At least an additional ten percent of capacity is in the process of conversion.

Wong is however correct in that there is uncertainty as to the willingness of consumers to pay more for their eggs based on housing system when offered cheaper eggs from conventional cages.  The Humane Society of the United States was the prime mover in bamboozling the voters of California to accept Proposition #2 in November 2008.  The net result of the legislation by ballot was an approximately 50 to 70 percent increase in cost to all consumers in California irrespective of housing system. 

This increase which can be referred to as the “Pacelle Tax” has not materially changed the status of hens since introduction of Proposition #2 in 2012 but the ballot measure has certainly increased cost.  The resulting rise in price is the manifestation of the willingness of those who, under the guise of “welfare” are intent on eliminating intensive livestock production while generating funds for salaries, benefits, and revenue expended on lobbying, fund-raising and litigation. 

It is an unfortunate reality that organized animal welfare advocacy groups appear to have assumed the right to transfer money from the budgets of consumers to their own self-serving coffers, indirectly benefitting the media and politicians.

The advent of cage-free production will inevitably result in the demise of a large number of small-scale farmers and will ultimately favor companies that will grow by acquisition.  The capital requirements for conversion of at least the shell egg component of the U.S. egg production industry amounts to over $10 billion at 2017 values. 

It is only large companies with integrated production and marketing that are in a position to raise loans or sell equity to finance conversion.  It is entirely possible that the industry will in fact have a lower aggregate production by 2020 and retail prices may even approximate the levels in Europe and Canada where there is far less competition and retail prices approximate twice the present U.S. value for generic white eggs.

As with all EGG-CITE Editorials and Commentaries, responsible rebuttals or contrary views are welcome and will be posted subject to acceptable logic and content.

Simon

   
 

Dr. Piet Simons Publishes Egg Signals

Mar 24, 2017

Piet Simmons

    

Described as a practical guide to improving egg quality, this comprehensive and profusely illustrated book by a distinguished author should belong on the shelf of every participant in the egg industry.

Dr. Piet Simons obtained his baccalaureate and then a doctorate degree from prestigious Wageningen Agriculture University in Holland in 1971. He spent his entire career dealing with on aspects of poultry production at the Spelderholt Research Institute.

He has been a strong promotor of the poultry industry serving as the President of the World Poultry Association from 1991 to 2002.

 

His credentials include entry to the International Poultry Hall of Fame in 2008, receipt of the McDougall Gold Medal awarded by the World’s Poultry Science Association at their 12th WPSA Congress in Sydney and the Poultry Personality Award in 2014 during the VIV Europe Exhibition.  He serves as an ambassador of the Dutch Poultry Center and has been honored by the Queen of Holland for his contribution to world poultry and the Dutch industry.

Based on his distinguished career, it could be expected that Simons would produce an informative and educational text. This he has achieved. The organization of Egg Signals includes  formation of the egg, including the composition of the yolk, albumen and the shell. Successive chapters extend through production post-lay processing, packaging and marketing.

The emphasis of the text is on improvement of egg quality through recognition of abnormalities, diagnosis of possible causes and remediation.

Egg Signals is not a scientific text.  It has no references and it is written (professionally translated from Dutch) at a level which farmers, processing plant managers and those involved in the egg trade should be able to understand.  Readers will appreciate the illustrations with their captions, contributing to practical knowledge.  Egg defects are clearly illustrated and in almost all cases relate to causes encountered in production, whether disease, nutrition or mismanagement.

Egg Signals is highly recommended and should be issued in the form of a CD for wider distribution especially when translated into languages spoken by egg producers in nations where the knowledge contained in the text would have the most benefit.

Dr. Simons has succinctly compressed half a century 50 of research and experience acquired in both academia and contact with producers worldwide into a single volume.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his contribution.

Egg Signals is available from Roodbond  Publishers B.V. info@roodbont.com

   
 

GAO Highlights Deficiencies in Food Safety – Time for a New Agency

Mar 17, 2017

    

A recent Government Accountability Office report reviewed the current status of food safety, demonstrating major deficiencies.  Currently the U.S. food supply is subject to the oversight of 15 agencies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSI) responsible for the bulk of items consumed.

  

In 2015 President Obama proposed a new food safety agency paralleling the established entities in the EU and specifically the UK.  To some extent, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) enacted in 2011address food safety by shifting emphasis to prevention and placing the onus on the agricultural community and food processors to apply preventive policies based on HACCP.  The concept of a Food Safety Agency sent tremors of concern through the Federal bureaucracy which closed ranks and signed memoranda of agreement to preserve turf.

Although the U.S. is considered to have the safest food in the World, incidence rates of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis suggest that inspection is not the solution to the problem.  Of greater concern is the fact that the FDA responsible for safety involving 80 percent of the food supply is just not doing its job.  We are vulnerable to pathogens and adulterants given the reality that slightly over 20 percent of all food consumed is imported and that FDA conducts organoleptic inspection on approximately one percent of imports.  In terms of the FSMA, the FDA was required to inspect at least 600 foreign food plants in 2012 and for each of five years  thereafter.  The Agency has failed abysmally in its responsibility not only to food but also the inspection and oversight of foreign plants manufacturing drugs.

It appears that the USDA approach of tightening standards specifically for Salmonella and Campylobacter does not address the basic need to develop appropriate modalities to reduce infection throughout the chain of production.  Admittedly, the industries involved in their individual and collective efforts have lowered rates of contamination in finished products but we have attained a plateau following the Law of Diminishing Returns. 

This is especially the case with Campylobacter infection since there is no practical or reliable pre-harvest control measure or procedure to limit this pathogen. Modalities to limit Salmonella in plants appear to have beneficial effects but we cannot assume absolute safety, necessitating improved storage, handling and meal preparation to protect consumers.

EGG-CITE and CHICK-CITE have frequently advocated a unified food safety agency staffed by competent scientific administrative and regulatory personnel with a focus on food.  This will leave the FDA with the responsibility for drugs which it appears hard pressed to administer. The USDA will concentrate on activities other than food safety including research, SNAP, insurance agricultural statistics, trade and support.

It is maintained by Washington insiders that creating a new food service agency at sub-cabinet level would be too disruptive.  When faced with a crisis in 2001 the Department of Homeland Security was established.  Given the current environment in Washington, a new agency may bring innovation and technology to the issue of food safety and to enhance protection of our food supply.  The least we can do is to approach the issue with an open mind and consider whether a new approach may be more cost effective. 

   
 

PROMOTING EXPORTS THROUGH COOPERATION BETWEEN AEB AND USAPEEC

Mar 10, 2017

    

The American Egg Board and the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council unveiled the 2017 Export Plan at the IPPE. The document was developed by an AEB Committee with the objective of strengthening exports to Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan, the Middle East, South Korea and the Caribbean.

Anne L. Alonzo president and CEO of the American Egg Board stated, “The AEB is proactively supporting egg producers interested in building demand for U.S. eggs and egg products outside the United States. 

After all 96 percent of the World’s population doesn’t live here and we look forward to sharing our nutrition-pack affordable and hi-quality eggs with new customers in new markets”.  In 2016 the AEB developed market awareness, trained personnel in importing countries and undertook trade missions to Mexico and Cuba.

  

Anne Alonzo

Steve George, Chair of the AEB Food Service, Egg Products Marketing and Export Committee stated, “The AEB will powerfully advance and expand U.S. marketing and promotion capability to key foreign target markets.  The approval of the 2017 Export Marketing Plan marks an important milestone in the 40-history of the AEB”.

Over the past few years egg exports in shell and liquid form have collectively represented 3 to 4 percent of U.S. production corresponding to about 10 to 11 million hens. The proportion of exports compares unfavorably with the broiler industry at 17 percent of 2016 production and turkey producers who exported 10 percent of ready-to-cook output. Recognition of the advantages from exports is yet another example of innovation by the AEB together with establishing joint projects in cooperation with the USAPEEC.

To be competitive however exporting companies must adopt a “customer compliant” approach. This will involve supplying product with exceptional shell and internal quality, requested shell and yolk color appropriate to the markets served and in specific cases, nutritional enrichment. Satisfying import markets requires a country-specific approach which predicates placement, housing and feeding of flocks dedicated to export markets. Our international business should not be regarded as a safety valve in the face of overproduction. Profitability and volume will result from an evolution from a commodity mindset to a national brand with quantifiable attributes.

   
 

Will the Cage-Free Declarations Made by QSRs and Stores Become Reality?

Mar 3, 2017

    

The Director of Animal Welfare for the UEP commented on “commitments” in the December 22nd edition of the United Egg Producers’ weekly newsletter. The article maintains that many cage-free commitments announced in 2015 and 2016 were “made under pressure”. 

It is acknowledged that there was a lemming-like rush to concede to the demands of welfare activists and not be seen as lagging in the race to eliminate conventional cages. Many of the companies leading the charge were either subsidiaries or affiliates of EU or multinational restaurant chains or food manufacturers, with an intense concern over brand image  and experience in the transition from cages to cage-free egg production. 

The tone of the UEP article appears to question whether customers will follow through with their commitments to cage-free housing citing “retailers were under so much pressure but they made announcements before they were able to consider all the possible consequences – supply and demand issues, customer dissatisfaction and implications.”

  

This sentiment echoes much of what is being discussed in the industry and will obviously be a topic of concern at the IPPE in 2017.  It is clear that progressive egg-production companies and their customers are committed to converting from conventional cage housing to alternative systems over the ten-year period established in late 2015.  Not only are members of the Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association and the National Council for Chain Restaurants requiring conversion to cage-free production they are in fact expecting proof of conversion with proportional progress over the proximal ten-year period.

We should remember the tremendous disruption which occurred in the EU when January 1, 2012 rolled around and many producers on the Continent, especially in southern nations bordering the Mediterranean failed to make the necessary investment. During the notice period there was a presumption that an extension would be granted.  In contrast producers in the UK and Germany made the required conversions and were fully compliant on January 1st 2012.

Effectively the train has left the station.  The U.S. industry is inexorably moving towards alternatives to conventional cages.  There is sufficient knowledge and technology to implement aviary systems and slatted-floor or litter-floor barns. These systems will result in a higher cost of production and a correspondingly greater markup than conventional eggs. At the present time alternative systems housing 18 percent of the National flock producing shell eggs, supplies organic, “cage-free” and other specialty presentations.

Any producer who believes that the trend towards cage-free production is a passing fad will be disillusioned.  The imperative of re-housing from conventional cages will result in some operations, especially those operating under contract to cease production. Small and intermediate-sized farms will be purchased and it is expected that mergers will occur to achieve economies of scale and market strength. Unquestionably the U.S. egg-production industry will have fewer participants and different owners in 2025 than it did in 2015, mirroring the consolidation in the broiler and turkey industries from 1990 onwards.

Consumers will have to accept approximately 40 to 50 percent increases in the price of generic eggs at the shelf. Increases will be accepted as food inflation becomes a reality within a few years.  Consumers in California have been paying at least 50 cents per dozen more for eggs as a result of the California Proposition #2 Pacelle Tax, without an appreciable decline in the number of eggs sold, although there are now fewer hens in California than there were in 2014.

The extract from the UEP article States “this year I have learned that a commitment may not be a promise or guarantee; indeed, it may only be a temporary solution,” This is false hope. Progressive companies are moving towards the goal of complete conversion, and are prioritizing their projects.  There is a natural reluctance to commit capital expenditure from $35 to $45 per hen for new or refurbished facilities based on prevailing low wholesale prices but this is a temporary situation. Even a ten-month period of losses should not materially disrupt the conversion of our industry from conventional cages to alternative systems over a ten-year period.

   
 

Nominee Scott Pruitt and the Poultry Industry

Feb 24, 2017

    

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has understandably received considerable criticism from opponents of his confirmation as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, based on his record and post-election statements. It is anticipated that Scott Pruitt will be adversarial but fair in his position given past accomplishments.

A January 18th editorial in the Wall Street Journal documents the mutually successful outcome of lawsuits brought against poultry producers over alleged pollution of the Illinois River Basin. The litigation was initiated by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson who preceded Scott Pruitt in that position

  

The lawsuit heard in Oklahoma was decided in favor of the Defendants by Federal Judge Gregory Frizzell who ruled “The State has not yet met its burden of proving that bacteria in the waters are caused by the application of poultry litter rather than by other sources including cattle manure and human septic systems.” 

Judge Frizzell ruled in 2009 that the state of Oklahoma could not seek monetary damages unless the Cherokee Nation joined the suit since their land was involved in the alleged pollution.  This ruling was supported by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing Mr. Pruitt to abandon the case against poultry producers.

In 2013 Scott Pruitt successfully negotiated a compromise by cooperating with the adjoining state of Arkansas to regulate phosphorus runoff and to initiate a project to obtain data to guide further regulations. The Wall Street Journal editorial noted “A cooperative approach can be more effective and less costly than litigation.”

It is hoped that Scott Pruitt when confirmed will bring common sense and a broader prospective to the Environmental Protection Agency. It will be for him to restore balance between environmental concerns and the agribusiness sector which was lacking in the zealous approach by the Agency during the tenure of President Obama.

A start has been made with an Executive Order freezing hiring and any new expenditure on contracts and a ban on non-cleared press releases. One can hear the shuffling of Birkenstocks in the Federal Triangle as middle-level and senior administrators rush to their Priuses in the parking lot. 

   
 

Conversion to Cage-Free in Australia Has Lesson for the U.S.

Feb 17, 2017

    

In recent weeks, commentators have questioned the extent and rate at which the U.S. egg industry will convert from conventional cages to alternative housing systems, presumably with aviary units predominating. Reference to conversion in other egg industries can provide perspective relevant to our own situation.

In an article which appeared in an Australian publication The Weekly Times on January 5th, the Australian Egg Corporation indicated that the proportion of caged and non-caged eggs is now at parity representing a change from 75 percent caged-eggs marketed in 2007.   

  

Virtually all the supermarket chains in Australia (Aldi, Coles and Woolworths) have committed to sourcing cage-free eggs, paralleling commitments from QSRs (Subway and McDonald’s) and food service providers. The rate of conversion is expected to accelerate through the remainder of the decade. It is estimated that the Australian population of 23 million annually consume 270 eggs per capita representing a potential hen population of 22 million.

This will require re-housing of 11 million hens to either barns or range this decade. Given previous exposure to LPAI H7N2 avian influenza, carried by migratory birds affecting a NSW free range farm in 2013, (See EGG-CITE October 18th 2013), the popularity of non-confined flocks may evaporate in the event of introduction of HPAI H7N6 or other Eurasian strains.

he second issue of concern relates to confusion in labeling of eggs in Australia with conflicts over the definition of “free-range” (See EGG-CITE December 23rd 2016) with the Federal government imposing a national standard of 11 foot2 per hen. (See EGG-CITE April 8th 2016). The CEO of the RSPCA of Australia, Heather Neil stated “international experience shows it’s only a matter of time before battery cages are relegated to the past.”

It is clear that standard nomenclature will have to be applied to U.S. eggs derived from flocks housed under a variety of systems.  This question of labeling should not be delayed as egg producers transition to alternatives from cages. The industry should take the lead in defining specific terms including “free-range”; “aviary”; “pastured”; “barn-housed” and other appelations. 

Not only the descriptive terms but the artwork on cartons will require regulation.  A number of years ago a broker in New England, sourcing eggs from conventional barns, labeled product as “free roaming” When combined with label graphics depicting hens on pasture, any reasonable consumer would assume that eggs were from a “free-range” flock. The intent was to deceive purchasers at the expense of competitors.  In Australia there is currently a six to ten fold difference in actual space requirements for hens, all legally described as “free-range” with the lowest outside space allowance of eleven foot2 per hen.

We can guide our trajectory on conversion from conventional cages by observing the rate of adoption of alternative systems in other industries. We need to analyze and understand the capital and operating costs of production, market demand, price differentials at the shelf, and price elasticity and relative volumes associated with different systems of housing and equipment.

   
 

AI Cynically Misrepresented by Activists

Feb 10, 2017

    

A report in the Korea Herald dated January 5th implied that the current epornitic of H5N6 avian influenza in South Korea can be attributed to intensive production of eggs. While it is recognized that infection of a large in-line unit results in a magnitude of financial loss greater than a small farm, there is no difference in susceptibility of flocks or individual birds to highly pathogenic avian influenza virus attributed to size or scope of operation.  The Korea Herald article authored by Kim Da-sol incorrectly states “experts say that poor breeding conditions at poultry farms such as industrial-scale farming of egg-laying hens may have accelerated the spread of avian influenza virus.”

  

It is acknowledged that an infected flock will excrete virus and theoretically the larger the number of birds infected the greater will be the multiplication and dissemination of infective particles in the immediate area of a farm. This is the basis of the accepted control measure to deplete a flock exposed to HPAI within 24 hours of a presumptive diagnosis. Outbreaks of avian influenza are essentially a function of defective biosecurity which permits transmission of virus from infected to susceptible flocks. Routes can include common feed mills supplying many farms under diverse management, egg packing plants drawing from numerous locations with interchange of contaminated transport material, processing plants serving a wide area and by infected clothing of personnel, vehicles and equipment. Aerogenous spread is possible but is usually confined to intra-farm transmission or among farms in close proximity.

The fact that the 2016/2017 outbreak in South Korea is a repeat of the previous epornitic in 2014, both introduced by migratory waterfowl, suggests that defects in biosecurity were not identified and resolved following control and eradication three years ago.  In contrast, both Structural and Operational biosecurity have been intensified in the U.S. following investigations defining the epidemiology of the extensive outbreak. Guidance has been provided by poultry health professionals in academia, Federal and state extension service and veterinarians employed by companies producing eggs.

A very suggestive comment in the Korea Herald article states “hens spend their entire lives on a sheet of A4-paper sized cage with dust, ammonia, gas and stink.” This statement is taken directly from propaganda circulated by the Humane Society of the United States.  It is interesting that A4 paper is not used in Korea. The tone of the article and comments clearly suggest either

 collusion and collaboration with the HSUS or plagiarism of their literature. Either way correlating housing systems with susceptibility to HPAI represents a cynical distortion of facts relating to a disease outbreak in an attempt to advance the HSUS agenda favoring a vegan lifestyle and opposition to intensive production of protein food.

When the 2015 outbreak of HPAI moved from turkey grow-out farms in Minnesota to large in-line shell egg and breaking units in Iowa during April and May of 2015, Michael Greger MD, affiliated to the HSUS as Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture, disparaged the U.S. egg production industry with falsehoods and half-truths stating “the poultry industry looks for easy scapegoats such as wild ducks and geese even though these animals have flown over North America for millennia.”  Dr. Greger is the author of Bird flu: A Virus of our Own Hatching, sponsored and circulated by the HSUS.  It is clear that each time a disease outbreak involving livestock occurs, the HSUS and its affiliates and disciples attempt to advance their cause by oversimplification at best and distortion and misinformation at the other end of the scale.

For the benefit of the HSUS and its supporters it is a matter of record that current H5N8 avian influenza outbreaks involving virtually all nations in the EU in addition to Turkey, Israel and Iran, have mostly occurred on backyard and small commercial farms.  The most extreme situation is in France where the infection occurs in free-range geese and ducks with over 80 individual outbreaks recorded. In desperation authorities have belatedly imposed quarantines in areas with predominantly family-operated farms. The control measures now involve preemptive depletion of healthy non-confined flocks to prevent contact between migratory birds and waterfowl maintained for foie gras production.

It is an inescapable fact that migratory birds are now carrying recombinant strains of avian influenza incorporating genes from both commercial poultry and free-living birds.  This is an evolutionary reality and will be faced seasonally for years to come. Introduction of HPAI onto a farm has nothing to do with cage size, farm capacity, stocking density, genetics or housing system. The probability of a farm being infected relates directly to the introduction of virus by migratory birds coupled with deficiencies in Conceptual, Structural or Operational biosecurity.

The only saving grace is that humans are not susceptible to either the H5N8 strain in the EU or the H5N6 strain prevalent in Korea and Japan.

   
 

The New York Times Publishes Biased Report on Welfare Standards and Agencies.

Feb 3, 2017

    

It appears that not only the White House is rankled by bias displayed by The New York Times in both reporting and feature articles. On Tuesday January 31st Stephanie Strom compared the standards for laying hens required by the American Humane Certified™, Animal Welfare Approved and Humane Farm Animal Care Certified Humane programs. Essentially there are no material differences in standards for hens.

The exercise allowed for a condemnation of the American Humane Association (AHA) by competitors. This is attributed to the extent, recognition and acceptance of the Humane Heartland™ American Humane Certified™ program and the fact that the Association applies scientific principles rather than sentiment in developing and maintaining standards applicable to intensive livestock and poultry production.

  

Dr. Robin Ganzert

This is expressed by acknowledged welfare and behavioral expert, Dr. Temple Grandin as quoted in the NYT article stating “What the AHA is trying to do is work with large-scale commercial producers so that they have at least some standards”

There are just too many “certifying” agencies and organizations. Why? Because there is money to be made which can be applied to advancing agendas opposing intensive production and ultimately a vegan imperative. Competition is intense among the lesser agencies to gain advantage by claiming superior standards, irrespective of the impact on the cost of food or the lack of scientific justification used to “out-welfare” the mainstream certifiers.

The proliferation of alternative labels is creating confusion among consumers and merchant-buyers working for the chain stores and retailers. Some welfare seals are adopted or created to appeal to an affluent demographic such as the Whole Foods Market Global Animal Partnership and others such as Farm Forward and a Greener World.

Despite the proliferation of alternative programs and nomenclature the egg-production industry in the U.S. would not be served by Federal standards or certification. Similar confusion on descriptors used in packaging includes the definition of housing as evidenced by a lack of definition of terms such as “free range” and cage-free”.

Neither the United Egg producers nor the AHA were quoted in the article by Ms. Strom although there were comments denigrating the AHA from spokespersons whom Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca would regard as the “usual suspects”.

In responding to the NYT article Dr. Robin R. Ganzert president and CEO of the AHA issued a statement addressed to supporters which eloquently expresses pride in the American Humane Association- Humane Heartland ™ farm animal certification program and the standards on which it is based.

Her statement is reproduces for the benefit of subscribers:-

The New York Times has just published a story that is critical of American Humane’s farm animal certification standards. We stand behind the integrity of our program and that of our producers. We are proud of our standards, which are under continual scientific review with a select group of world renowned, respected animal welfare scientists and ethicists. We utilize independent third party auditing groups to ensure the credibility and strength of our program.

We declined to participate because the reporter, Stephanie Strom, is notoriously biased against modern farm practices. We also discovered that this was a carefully orchestrated attack led by several organizations with vegan agendas.

An objective observer of Strom’s reporting would quickly see that her sympathies lie with groups like the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, Mercy for Animals, Direct Action Everywhere and other activist groups who oppose raising animals for food. We knew she was not interested in doing a fair examination of our certification efforts.

Stories like this, while infrequent and even rare, show how Ms. Strom and her radical vegan allies are threatened by the success and scope of our program as the world’s largest and most effective certifier of animal welfare. I’m choosing to interpret their insecure attacks, while disappointing, as an indication that they are threatened by our program and message of science based welfare.

We are deeply disappointed in The New York Times for running such a biased article. Instead of criticizing our program, they should be applauding you and all of our producers for demonstrating leadership in the care of animals and going above and beyond standard industry practices

   
 

Future of Ethanol Production Questioned

Jan 27, 2017

    

The December 29th Edition of the Washington Report circulated by the National Chicken Council documented a decline in the price of ethanol from a peak of $2.50 per gallon in 2011 to $1.50 in 2016.  Over this period, ethanol production increased from approximately 13.5 billion gallons to 15.5 billion gallons with a relatively slow rate of increase from 2010 onwards.

  

The volume of ethanol produced each year is mandated by the Renewable Fuels Standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 required production of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 with the anticipation that 21 billion gallons of the total would be derived from feedstock other than corn. This anticipation is a false hope despite billions disbursed in subsidies and grants for research and pilot plants.

For the past three years, the volume of production as mandated by the RFS has exceeded the practical limit of ten percent addition (effectively dilution) to gasoline requiring export of surplus production.  This was not the intent of the 2005 Energy Policy Act which established the biofuels program to contribute to energy independence.  During the past ten years, improvements in extraction of oil and gas have increased the supply of fuel reducing imports of foreign oil.  The viability of the ethanol industry depends on mandates and subsidies and would evaporate under a less generous Administration and Congress.

Prospects for corn-based ethanol do not appear to be bright notwithstanding 2016 pre-election rhetoric by both Presidential candidates.  The nominations of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Governor Rick Perry of Texas as the nominee for Secretary of Energy suggest a bias to fossil fuel away from grain-based ethanol.  The influence of Carl Icahn as a special advisor to the President-elect on regulations will also mitigate against corn-based energy production.  Advanced biofuels from feedstocks such as biomass have not advanced in accordance with predictions made in 2005 due to technical complexity and cost.

Virtually all ethanol produced at the present time requires diversion of 33 percent of a 15.2 billion bushel corn harvest to production facilities operated by “legal moonshiners”. The fermentation process requires vast quantities of water and releases carbon dioxide which is either released into the atmosphere or sequestered underground. Claims that fuel ethanol is “environmentally friendly” have been refuted and the process is not sustainable.

Despite the hype and claims by lobbyists engaged by the Renewable Fuel Association, the biofuels program benefits corn farmers, ethanol refiners and corn-state politicians. Anyone who eats or drives pays an indirect tax to support an unsustainable program generated in haste, cloaked in patriotism and which has generated a momentum difficult to reverse. Disposing of this sacred cow will require considerable political capital but should be incorporated into the proposed Washington “swamp-draining” project.

   
 

USDA-AMS ISSUES FINAL RULE ON ORGANIC LIVESTOCK AND POULTRY

Jan 20, 2017

    

The Final Rule on organic livestock and poultry production practices was announced on January 18th in the waning days of the current administration and after Tom Vilsack, the previous Secretary of Agriculture defected to milk cows.

EGG-CITE will review the implications in a subsequent posting but the topic has been extensively discussed (see EGG-CITE January 6th. Enter “organic” in the SEARCH block).

The requirements include outside access equivalent to 2.25 pounds per square foot, limitations on ammonia levels in houses and upgraded space and equipment specifications. None of these “improvements” actually influence the organic composition of foods sold under the USDA Seal.

 

The space requirements were established by the 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on recommendations received from the organic farming community and experts in the field.

As noted previously the outside space requirements eliminates eligibility for sun porches and effectively disqualifies large numbers of  in-line intensive egg production facilities currently supplying a high proportion of organic eggs retailed through mainstream supermarkets.

If the USDA is in fact committed to supporting continued growth of organic livestock and poultry and expanding the egg sector of the market, the newly released standards will effectively reduce demand by increasing the cost of production. The action by the NOSB and supported by administrators of the USDA-AMS, will be counterproductive resulting in out-pricing of USDA Certified Organic eggs relative to alternatives. The new standard will exclude purchase by a high proportion of consumers with budgetary restraints.

The myopic and biased views of the NOSB effectively will result in the emergence of a new category comprising eggs produced by feeding flocks non-GMO grains. Flocks will have access to screened sun-porches but will not have outside access, consistent with the need for biosecurity in the age of recurring HPAI worldwide. This category will be produced at a lower price compared to Certified Organic eggs applying the new standard. 

It is envisaged that non-GM Grain eggs will be promoted with branding and suitable advertising and accompanied by social media coverage. Many consumers currently willing to pay $4.00 per dozen for Certified Organic eggs will be able to buy the new category at a lower price than at present and certainly below the projected $6.50 or more for USDA Certified Organic after the new Rule takes effect.

 EGG-CITE reiterates that the new standards were introduced to discriminate against efficient egg producers who have invested in in-line facilities and thereby eliminate competition. The Final Rule has nothing to do with organic integrity or wholesomeness of product.

   
 

Conversion to Cage-Free in Australia Has Lesson for the U.S.

Jan 13, 2017

    

In recent weeks, commentators have questioned the extent and rate at which the U.S. egg industry will convert from conventional cages to alternative housing systems, presumably with aviary units predominating. Reference to conversion in other egg industries can provide perspective relevant to our own situation.

In an article which appeared in an Australian publication The Weekly Times on January 5th, the Australian Egg Corporation indicated that the proportion of caged and non-caged eggs is now at parity representing a change from 75 percent caged-eggs marketed in 2007.   

  

Virtually all the supermarket chains in Australia (Aldi, Coles and Woolworths) have committed to sourcing cage-free eggs, paralleling commitments from QSRs (Subway and McDonald’s) and food service providers. The rate of conversion is expected to accelerate through the remainder of the decade. It is estimated that the Australian population of 23 million annually consume 270 eggs per capita representing a potential hen population of 22 million.

This will require re-housing of 11 million hens to either barns or range this decade. Given previous exposure to LPAI H7N2 avian influenza, carried by migratory birds affecting a NSW free range farm in 2013, (See EGG-CITE October 18th 2013), the popularity of non-confined flocks may evaporate in the event of introduction of HPAI H7N6 or other Eurasian strains.

The second issue of concern relates to confusion in labeling of eggs in Australia with conflicts over the definition of “free-range” (See EGG-CITE December 23rd 2016) with the Federal government imposing a national standard of 11 foot2 per hen. (See EGG-CITE April 8th 2016). The CEO of the RSPCA of Australia, Heather Neil stated “international experience shows it’s only a matter of time before battery cages are relegated to the past.”

It is clear that standard nomenclature will have to be applied to U.S. eggs derived from flocks housed under a variety of systems.  This question of labeling should not be delayed as egg producers transition to alternatives from cages. The industry should take the lead in defining specific terms including “free-range”; “aviary”; “pastured”; “barn-housed” and other appelations. 

Not only the descriptive terms but the artwork on cartons will require regulation.  A number of years ago a broker in New England, sourcing eggs from conventional barns, labeled product as “free roaming” When combined with label graphics depicting hens on pasture, any reasonable consumer would assume that eggs were from a “free-range” flock. The intent was to deceive purchasers at the expense of competitors.  In Australia there is currently a six to ten fold difference in actual space requirements for hens, all legally described as “free-range” with the lowest outside space allowance of eleven foot2 per hen.

We can guide our trajectory on conversion from conventional cages by observing the rate of adoption of alternative systems in other industries. We need to analyze and understand the capital and operating costs of production, market demand, price differentials at the shelf, and price elasticity and relative volumes associated with different systems of housing and equipment.

   
 

Claims on Commercial Gender Determination Lack Substance

Jan 6, 2017

    

A recent press release claiming the ability to differentiate between the genders of embryos revisits prospective technology. Over the past year there have been a number of claims of imminent introduction of gender determination to avoid destruction of egg-strain cockerels after hatch. 

The Federal Government of Germany which includes members of the Green Party who are strenuously opposed to intensive livestock production, has funded research applying ramen spectroscopy to determine gender.  The experimental technique, as published, involves removal of a portion of the shell to facilitate assay, which may be satisfactory for research and development but certainly would be impractical under commercial conditions.

  

A concern of note is the frequency of claims made by universities, research institutes and entrepreneurs claiming that their specific systems will offer gender determination at ages ranging from 0 to 5 days of incubation. In one case a claimant maintains that the gender of male embryos can be switched to female by the application of light of a specific wavelength.  

The latest joint publicity released from researchers at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany and Vilnius University in Lithuania claim 97 percent accuracy in differentiation on a sample of 380 eggs examined between the third and fourth day of incubation.  The principle of the technique involves detection of unspecified markers in blood within the developing vasculature of eggs bearing male embryos, producing fluorescence at a frequency of 910 nanometers.

Dr. Roberta Galli (appropriately named) of the Technical University of Dresden noted “in ovo sexing based on spectral analysis is non-invasive, does not require extraction of egg material and does not use consumables.” This obviously a reference to the “gender-sorter” technology developed by Embrex in the 1990s which although technically effective did not achieve commercial acceptance by the broiler industry

A number of other techniques, one of which has been promoted by a company with questionable ethics as a potential solution has been shown to be totally ineffective by an independent research institute. A second candidate when evaluated has no plausible biological basis for gender determination.  

The problem arising from the premature announcement of “imminent success” and similar breakthroughs is that premature publicity raises false hopes and delays the need to implement humane treatment of cockerels requiring anesthesia before disposal.

An important underlying consideration relating to gender determination is that the activists opposed to destruction of cockerels are deceptively using the “humane justification” to stimulate development of a system. In reality these activists wish to completely displace commercial production of all livestock including laying hens.  Their ideal is to replace a highly efficient industry producing a nutritious product at a reasonable cost with some form of 19th century idyllic dual-purpose bird to produce eggs and meat albeit with poor efficiently and sustainability on small family farms.

It is anticipated that even if an economically viable and technically acceptable method of gender determination is developed, activists will simply claim that destruction of eggs with male embryos at any stage of incubation represents gender discrimination and is morally unacceptable. This will stimulate a further round of protests following the pattern applied against confined housing, beak trimming, outside access, environmental enrichments, lighting and other pressure points. There will be no placating or satisfying vegan opponents of intensive livestock production. 

The major challenge facing developers of spectroscopic systems will be translating laboratory-scale detection into a commercial system which can achieve at least 99 percent specificity at a reasonable cost and which will operate reliably in a commercial hatchery at rates of up to 50,000 eggs per hour.

Since there is no immediate prospect of a practical and financially feasible solution the EU and U.S. egg-production industries and specifically prospective investors, should be skeptical of premature press releases which have no biological basis or which offer limited potential for commercialization.

   
 

2017 “Wish-List” for the Poultry Industry

Dec 30, 2016

    

Each year CHICK-CITE and EGG-CITE provides a list of outcomes which would benefit the industry. 

As we approach the inauguration of a new and radically different Administration there is greater uncertainty and hence a more concerned approach as to whether we will see beneficial changes. 

The following is a short “wish-list”:

  

  • A year free of avian influenza.  Europe and Asia are in the throes of H5N8 and H5N6 avian influenza strains respectively.  It is hoped that similar recombinant strains will not be introduced into the U.S. and also that our enhanced biosecurity measures will be effective in reducing potential contact between commercial flocks and migratory waterfowl which serve as reservoirs of avian influenza.
  • An experienced and unbiased Secretary of Agriculture.  As of December 22nd, President-elect Trump has not nominated a Secretary of Agriculture.  It is hoped that the incumbent will have real-world farming experience and will be inclined towards commercial-scale and intensive crop and livestock production. We need an incumbent who will disavow the bias towards organic production and so called “small family farms” which are unprofitable, unsustainable and have diverted efforts and funds from the main function of producing food for the U.S. and export. GIPSA should be purged of socialists.
  • An upswing in our economy.  A recent modest increase in the Federal funds rate suggests that our economy is improving.  Pre-election rhetoric and the appointment of business-oriented cabinet and sub-cabinet members promoting free-enterprise economics argues for greater spending power among consumers. This will reverse the trend in declining same-store sales in the restaurant industry and food service creating more demand for poultry and eggs. What helps Kroger and McDonald’s benefits our industries.
  • Tax reform.  As with the previous item, eliminating loopholes, lowering the corporate tax rate and allowing repatriation of foreign earnings will ultimately increase demand for eggs and poultry meat, offsetting pressure on exports due to the high value of the U.S. Dollar.
  • Reining in the EPA.  Proposed regulations such as the Waters of the United States and other restrictive measures which have minimal benefit but add to the cost of production must be curbed.  The appointment of Oklahoma Attorney-General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA will in all probability lead to a wholesale departure of environmental activists philosophically opposed to intensive livestock production.
  • Reduction in the Renewable Fuels Standard.  Despite pre-election support for the Midwest farm states which contributed to the success of President-elect Trump, his appointments to the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency and input from Carl Icahn suggest a bias towards fossil fuels to the detriment of ethanol production.  Should the corn-based component of the RFS be trimmed, corn prices will decline, benefiting the livestock industry.  The interplay between the “drillers” and the “grower-ethanol refiners” will be an interesting match during 2017.
  • Defanging the Department of Labor and OSHA. In 2016 OSHA initiated a series of punitive inspections directed towards poultry plants in the Southeast.  This action was taken despite statistical evidence of a decline in illnesses and injuries in broiler processing facilities.  Concurrently the Department of Labor has brought suit against poultry companies alleging discrimination in hiring.  It is hoped that the appointment of Andrew Puzder as Secretary of the Department of Labor will bring an end to determinations and actions such as the extended employer principle which are prejudicial to our industry.
  • Resolution of the immigration dilemma.  Agriculture cannot function effectively without guest laborers from our southern neighbor.  Although the Department of Homeland Security has resolved many issues relating to employing documented aliens, resolution of the unsatisfactory and vacillating policy on immigration should be resolved.
  • Improved technical education.  Community colleges should intensify their efforts to produce competent artisans to bridge the gap between workers and management.  With increasing automation, computerization and technology, the knowledge and skills of workers must be advanced to improve efficiency and productivity.

 

EGG-CITE wishes subscribers and sponsors a prosperous 2017 in a pro-agriculture and rational business environment.

   
 

REEVALUATING AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES

Dec 23, 2016

    

The Wall Street Journal on January 12th devoted an opinion article by James Bovard, author of Attention Deficit Democracy on the magnitude of agricultural subsidies.  He notes that the Congressional Budget Office has projected expenditures of $19 billion on direct and indirect support for specific crops in Fiscal 2017.  Bovard highlights cotton, sugar and peanuts as undeserved recipients. 

  

The U.S. has paid cotton producers in Brazil $750 million over the past six years as a result of a 2002 World Trade Organization ruling proving unfair subsidies to domestic U.S. producers. Over and above the “payoff” to Brazil, U.S. subsidizes cotton production by $1.5 billion annually distorting the price which could be obtained by cotton producers in developing nations.

The system of Import Quotas and Price Supports for the U.S. sugar industry is strongly supported by the Florida lobby is extremely expensive to both the Treasury and consumers. The domestic price of sugar is almost three-fold the international price and has had a negative impact on job creation.

Peanut growers harvest $1 billion annually in subsidies, again based on lobbying which influences political action and distorts free-market economics.

In contrast to agricultural handouts, CHICK-CITE supports Federal and state involvement in market promotion and support programs.  Without direct and indirect funding for organizations such as the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, broiler, turkey and egg producers would be forced to fund export promotion or abandon certain markets. Without the combined efforts of the USAPEEC and the USDA-FAS, broiler integrators might have to forgo part of the 3.15 million metric tons of broiler exports primarily in the form of leg quarters representing 16.7 percent of projected 2017 production. Turkey exports will attain 290,000 metric tons in 2017 representing 10.3 percent of production. Collectively, exports of shell eggs and egg products will amount to 8.500 million case-equivalents in 2017 representing 3.5 percent of output in an industry which has endured price pressure and negative returns for over nine consecutive months.   

Agricultural support programs are justified to resolve a crisis or address an obvious short-term deviation associated with climatic extremes. Unfortunately programs develop a life of their own and appear to be self-perpetuating. If the incoming Administration is sincerely interested in “draining the swamp” and preventing waste, agricultural support programs including insurance should be critically reevaluated.

It is accepted that the broiler, turkey and to a lesser extent the egg industries receive very indirect government support through the highway and waterways systems maintained by Federal funding,  

along with tax concessions for capital investment and other benefits under the current tax code.   

The three segments of poultry industries do not receive Federal handouts but are obliged to bear both economic and biological risks in a highly regulated environment due to costs inherent to regulations administered by the FDA, EPA and the Departments of Labor, Agriculture and Justice.

   
 

Antibiotic Resistance Demonstrated on U.S. Swine Farm

Dec 16, 2016


    

Carbapenem resistance among potential pathogens was detected on U.S. swine farms by researchers at the Ohio State University.  Eighteen isolates of Enterobacteria have been shown to express imp-27, a gene coding for beta-lactamase production which confers resistance to carbapenem antibiotics. 

This plasmid gene is readily transmissible to other bacteria.  The isolates were obtained in the environment of a barn housing sows on a thorough-to-finish farm during 2015.  The resistance gene was identified in two isolates of E. coli and one of Proteus mirabilis a ubiquitous but nonpathogenic bacteria in a nursery room and from farrowing rooms.  Stock ready to harvest did not yield any bacteria carrying the imp-27 plasmid transmitted gene. 

  

Subsequent to the survey on the 1,500-sow operation, the OSU investigators recovered the gene from organisms in feces suggesting that some animals on the farm have been colonized with enterobacters carrying imp-27.  Dr. Thomas Wittum Chair of the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine speculates that “there is a clear relationship between carbepenem resistance and the use of ceftiofur antibiotic which is common to human therapy.  There is at this time no relationship between administration of cephalosporin antibiotic and the emergence of carbapenem resistance.”

Dr. Tim Johnson of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota noted that the Ohio State University study “revealed the real and long thought inevitable threat of carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae making the way into animal production facilities with subsequent risks to the human food supply.”

While the finding is not a “smoking gun” the investigation together with a previous demonstration of the presence of mcr-1 plasmid mediated gene imparting resistance to colistin in Asia, the EU and most recently the U.S. justifies action taken by the FDA to restrict antibiotic use to veterinary supervision applying Prudent Use Principles.

Carbapenem resistance Enterobacteriaceae are taken seriously by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since it is estimated that there are 9,300 nosocomial (hospital-related) infections resulting in 600 deaths annually in the U.S.  Immunosuppressed patients and those on life support systems or receiving long-term intravenous therapy are especially at risk.

The National Pork Board placed a positive spin on the report noting that the antibiotic resistance gene was isolated in the environment of sows and weanlings and was not present in stock destined for slaughter and accordingly was not of any threat with respect to food safety.  This avoiding the issue.  The problem relates to transmissible drug resistance and not foodborne infection.

It is a matter of record that hog farmers participate in the Ohio State University Public Health Preparedness for Infectious Diseases Program.  Producers cooperate with research to understand the epidemiology of antibiotic resistance in foodborne disease.  The National Pork Board accepts that additional studies are necessary (to validate and attempt to replicate the findings).

Additional revelations will support contention of organizations opposed to intensive livestock production and will also result in congressional action with pressure on regulatory agencies including the FDA and the FSIS.

Any attempt to belittle the significance of the epidemiologic studies or to deprecate the activities of individuals at Ohio State University will boomerang to the detriment of the pork industry and indirectly all livestock production.

   
 

Biofuels Contribute to Excess Evolution of Carbon Dioxide

Dec 9, 2016

    

The intent of the U.S. Biofuels Program initiated by Congress in 2005 to establish energy independence has proven to be deleterious to the environment. Applying “national interest” and environmental considerations to bolster intensive lobbying from proponents of corn-based ethanol, Congress progressively extended the Renewable Fuel Standard from 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol to be blended into gasoline by 2012 to 15.4 billion gallons in 2015.

  

A recent study conducted by Dr. John DeCicco, a research professor at the University of Michigan rebuts the environmental benefits from corn-based ethanol.  The study took into account the reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide associated with cultivation of corn on all farms in the U.S. Corn removes approximately two tons of carbon dioxide per acre during a growing season.  Total reduction of carbon dioxide by U.S. farmland cultivating corn amounted to 49 teragrams (49 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide.

DeCicco calculated the release of carbon dioxide associated with cultivation of corn including fuel, fertilizer and other inputs, in addition to the carbon dioxide released from the fermentation production of ethanol and the burning of ethanol added to gasoline at a rate of 10 percent.  The evolution of carbon dioxide amounted to 132 teragrams meaning that only 35 percent of biofuel-related carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 through 2013 were offset by the program of biofuel production from corn.

Given the availability of natural gas and oil from newly discovered fields and the application of fracking the question of energy independence has been largely resolved. This is especially the case now that the U.S. is exporting both oil and gas. The second justification for the biofuels program relating to environmental advantages has also been scientifically discredited. 

The Renewable Fuel Standard persists as a manifestation of political expediency benefiting farmers in corn states and ethanol producers to the detriment of consumers.  Ethanol from corn was intended as a stopgap measure until fuel could be produced from biomass.  Despite investment of billions of dollars in projects, fuel from biomass has proven neither practical nor financially viable leaving a Congressionally-mandated program as a gift to vested interest and as an environmentally unacceptable alternative.