Editorial

 

Malevolent Influence of Teachers on Student Perceptions Concerning Meat

May 19, 2017

    

The Humane Society of the United States has programs to “educate” teachers to influence students in all grades to abandon consumption of meat products in favor of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.

Fortunately, the American Egg Board has developed a science-based practical program to promote consumption of eggs. There does not appear to be a parallel initiative by poultry, beef or pork producers. This omission is regrettable and will be costly over the long term.

  

The need to develop a solid majority of reasonable, logical and impartial teaching professionals is without question. This imperative is illustrated by the actions of Thomas Allison, Jr. who has been placed on unpaid leave from the Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks near Ocala, FL. The Superintendent of Schools, Heidi Maier initiated an inquiry into the activities of Allison with respect to his condemnation of students participating in Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs.

Maier noted that Allison “had engaged in a repeated egregious pattern of mistreating, ridiculing, insulting, intimidating, embarrassing, bullying and abusing FFA students, crushing their dreams and causing them to feel that they should just discontinue FFA activities to enjoy a peaceful school environment.” According to the Ocala Star-Banner, Allison, who is an animal rights advocate, has been more than aggressive in harassing a teaching colleague who advises the FFA group. The actions by Allison created an environment in which members of the FFA were concerned over their grades in courses taught by him.

Even after the inquiry was initiated in late March, Allison who is obviously a zealot, continued to antagonize students through activities characterized as “failing in his obligation not to harass or discriminate against any pupil.” Despite the suspension, Allison is not chagrined and he stated that he intends to obtain a certificate to teach agriculture and use this position to further promote his animal rights agenda.

It is evident that Allison represents an outlier in terms of his views and the extent to which he has attempted to misuse his position as a teacher. Fortunately the scope and extent of his proselytizing for animal rights was recognized and he will hopefully be dismissed from his post. Not because of his views, but because of the intensity and aggression in which he attempted to superimpose veganism within his school community.

While there may be other Allison’s in schools, it is seldom that their activities result in disciplinary action. More subtle influences on impressionable minds are incorporated into lesson plans and activists use peer pressure to change lifestyles. The actions of the so-called Physician’s Group for Responsible Medicine to ban processed meat products in San Diego schools has less to do with nitrates than it does with influencing food choices by children.

The animal protein industry should not regard the Allisons of this world as rare kooks. The positive aspects of livestock production and the philosophical justification for raising animals for food should be promoted as a counter to vegan propaganda. Children in elementary and middle school today will be consumers and arbiters of taste and lifestyle within twenty years. The HSUS has long recognized the vulnerability and susceptibility of young minds to their propaganda. This demands a commensurate response from the animal protein industry.

   
 

Egg Industry to Contend with Direct Action Everywhere

May 12, 2017

    

Direction Action Everywhere is a loosely organized group of extreme animal rights activists advocating an extreme vegan agenda with philosophical objections to “speciesism”. The group was founded in 2013 by Wayne Hsiung to protest the use of animals in the production of food.

The organization differs from HSUS and its clones, including Mercy for Animals, which abet or practice illegal intrusions and then post videos of alleged deviations from acceptable welfare practice directed against producers. 

Direct Action Everywhere aggressively opposes intensive livestock production by protesting within stores and restaurants in addition to directly attacking the customers of farms in an attempt to discredit brands and degrade the relationship between producers and their customers.  Previous activities have been directed at Costco, Safeway, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Whole Foods Market and Chipotle.

  

Direct Action Everywhere has adopted a “liberation pledge” which encourages consumers to convert to a vegan lifestyle and to refuse to eat in restaurants where animal products are served.  Farm intrusions with resulting negative publicity have been directed at presumably welfare-friendly companies in California and also a recent incident in Colorado.  The organization has also adopted a practice of placing stickers on egg cartons in supermarkets as noted in the April 21st edition of EGG-CITE.

Videos purporting to show maltreatment are obtained at night through break-ins. Precautions to secure facilities are therefore self-evident. Placing agents on farms and in processing facilities by welfare organizations should be avoided by appropriate screening of potential employees. The allegations made by Direct Action Everywhere with respect to the most recent episode are fraudulent as confirmed by responsible disinterested reviewers representing the State Department of Agriculture and third-party auditors.

Since the organization publicizes its spurious “findings” through implicating supermarket chains and restaurants, it is evident that preemptive action will be beneficial.  Producers should establish close relationships with buyers and encourage visits to farms.  It is far better to devote time and attention to assuring customers that flocks are managed with acceptable levels of welfare, hygiene and stockmanship than to have to placate customers after the effect.

There is no reason why a buyer or representative of a customer cannot visit facilities holding birds.  To date many companies have denied access on the doubtful justification of “biosecurity”.  Any complex should be equipped to receive visitors following acceptable standard biosecurity precautions including showering and wearing company-provided clothing. Visits encourage goodwill and supplement high scores on third-party welfare audits. The Producer victimized by Direct Action Everywhere extends a standing invitation to customers to undertake both scheduled and unannounced visits to their farm to view flocks and assess their housing and management.

In view of the fact that information and videos are obtained illegally by break-in, the resources of public safety officials should be applied.  It is also possible for a company to sue organizations and individuals for libel.  It is certainly possible to demonstrate malice from posted websites of these organizations which denote a heretical tone.  Substantial damages awarded to civil-rights groups in the 1990s effectively silenced a number of racist organizations by depriving them of their assets, serving as a warning to other extremists.   

Direct Action Everywhere can push the envelope on First Amendment rights but crossing over into breaking and entering to promote their cause enters the realm of criminality besides exposing them to civil suits.

   
 

Whole Foods Markets – Things Will Never be the Same Again

May 5, 2017

    

It is an accepted principle that CEOs can develop and implement policies which reflect their personnel beliefs and create a corporate culture in harmony with their egos, providing they show a consistently improving return to shareholders. 

Many entrepreneurs who are successful in establishing companies including Whole Foods Market dominated by John Mackey and Chipotle Mexican Grill by Steve Ells are lauded by the financial community, but only as long as they show long-term growth in same-store sales, earnings and dividends.

  

John Mackey

In a private company such as Panera Bread, founded by Ron Shaich, CEOs are free to establish policies with regard to animal welfare, product quality and pricing. S. Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A® decided not to open his chain on Sundays. In contradistinction if companies play with shareholders’ money they are effectively responsible to financial institutions, lenders and are subject to scrutiny by analysts and criticism from the financial press.

There is no question of the long-term success of Whole Foods Market with its concepts of “fresh and organic” produce.  Unusual sourcing, frequently involving local farmers and producers, absence of national brands and employing tattooed and pierced employees are all part of the ethos. Whole Foods Market has appealed to an affluent demographic willing to accept the smug and unscientifically based opinions of the founder who is ready to denigrate conventional products marketed by traditional stores.

Somewhere on the ‘Way to the Forum’, Whole Foods Market stumbled.  Some have even said that it is a company with a great future behind it!  Competitors have not stood idly by.  Mainstream supermarkets have installed expanded fresh and organic displays, and stocked items appealing to the Whole Foods Market clientele, but at far lower prices. Costco is now the leading U.S. seller of organic products. At the other end of the scale, Whole Foods Market has spawned a range of clones which have managed to attract customers from the now fickle customer base. 

Failure to establish clear strategies to respond to competition have further mired Whole Foods Market in confusing ventures.  The 365 concept is questionable, again given competition.  Attempts at reducing price have not boosted sales but simply diluted earnings. The Company has suffered from an undercurrent of issues such as overcharging in New York, lawsuits by dissident managers over group bonuses in the DC area and complaints of worker exploitation. In his floundering attempts to maintain the trajectory of the past two decades, Mackey has been ill-served by a compliant and supine Board.

As is the case with all public-traded companies which do not achieve their potential, investor groups acquire a significant stake in the Company equity. Activist investors demand and receive Board seats, change management, divest assets, restructure and in some cases take underperforming companies private.

Jana Partners has acquired a nine percent position in Whole Foods Market and has put forward a slate of experienced food industry and business executives to replace current Board members who appear to rubber-stamp any decision made by Mackey.

Jana Partners believes that “Whole Foods shares are undervalued and represent an attractive investment opportunity.”  If the management of the company cannot reverse the downward trend in sales and EPS, it is possible that a coalescing of shareholder sentiment may force a sale.  Jana Partners has named five co-investors who are cooperating with their hedge funds and are willing to initiate a proxy battle to achieve higher returns.

Analysts have criticized the 365 store concept, although others have suggested a program of closing existing stores with possible conversion to the 365 format.  Analysts at Pivotal Research have commented negatively on the decline in same-store sales extending over two years without any prospect of reversal of the trend. Among suggestions advanced by Jana Partners is dumping United National Foods Inc. a distribution partner and replacement by either in-house distribution or diversifying logistic activities.

Jana Partners has a strong record of turning around underperforming food companies.  After accumulating a six percent equity position in Safeway it engineered a 2014 merger with Albertsons by negotiating an agreement with Cerberus Capital.  A seven percent holding in ConAgra Foods led to major changes in a company with “persistent underperformance” including a breakup into two separate entities with benefits to respective shareholders.

John Mackey has been an outspoken opponent of intensive livestock production, founding and motivating the Global Animal Alliance.  In favoring his sourcing which, he was entitled to do, he strongly criticized standard U.S. livestock practices.  He has consistently maintained a campaign against GMO despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to show that GE foods are in any way inferior with respect to either safety or nutritional quality compared to conventional ingredients.  When it suited Whole Foods Market to pivot from organic to “non-GM” which was cheaper than USDA Certified Organic products, the publicity for organic was downplayed as a matter of expediency.

It is inevitable that profound changes will occur in Whole Foods Market and John Mackey will have to cease managing and operating the company in accordance with his personal wishes and inclinations.  What worked for the first two decades following the foundation of the Company with a concentration on a narrow demographic, frequently located in university towns is now irrelevant.  It will take a team of professionals to turn the company around and create a more appropriate business structure to compete in a market characterized by food deflation and extreme competition. 

It is highly probable that John Mackey will no longer be at the head of Whole Foods Market in two years, or if he is, he will answer to a more aggressive Board representing the interests of shareholders. It is even possible that Whole Foods Market may end up as a high-end banner of a major chain. The rumors are swirling.

Mackey has for too long disparaged intensive livestock and egg production and made unsubstantiated claims at the expense of conventional products.  He could do this all the time he was showing a good return.  The market has since matured and the needs of shareholders will be placed ahead of the personal aspirations and philosophy of the founder.

   
 

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

May 5, 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.

   
 

Egg Industry to Contend with Direct Action Everywhere

Apr 28, 2017

    

Direction Action Everywhere is a loosely organized group of extreme animal rights activists advocating an extreme vegan agenda with philosophical objections to “speciesism”. The group was founded in 2013 by Wayne Hsiung to protest the use of animals in the production of food.

The organization differs from HSUS and its clones, including Mercy for Animals, which abet or practice illegal intrusions and then post videos of alleged deviations from acceptable welfare practice directed against producers. 

   

Direct Action Everywhere aggressively opposes intensive livestock production by protesting within stores and restaurants in addition to directly attacking the customers of farms in an attempt to discredit brands and degrade the relationship between producers and their customers.  Previous activities have been directed at Costco, Safeway, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Whole Foods Market and Chipotle.

Direct Action Everywhere has adopted a “liberation pledge” which encourages consumers to convert to a vegan lifestyle and to refuse to eat in restaurants where animal products are served.  Farm intrusions with resulting negative publicity have been directed at presumably welfare-friendly companies in California and also a recent incident in Colorado.  The organization has also adopted a practice of placing stickers on egg cartons in supermarkets as noted in the April 21st edition of EGG-CITE.

Videos purporting to show maltreatment are obtained at night through break-ins. Precautions to secure facilities are therefore self-evident. Placing agents on farms and in processing facilities by welfare organizations should be avoided by appropriate screening of potential employees. The allegations made by Direct Action Everywhere with respect to the most recent episode are fraudulent as confirmed by responsible disinterested reviewers representing the State Department of Agriculture and third-party auditors.

Since the organization publicizes its spurious “findings” through implicating supermarket chains and restaurants, it is evident that preemptive action will be beneficial.  Producers should establish close relationships with buyers and encourage visits to farms.  It is far better to devote time and attention to assuring customers that flocks are managed with acceptable levels of welfare, hygiene and stockmanship than to have to placate customers after the effect. There is no reason why a buyer or representative of a customer cannot visit facilities holding birds.  To date many companies have denied access on the doubtful justification of “biosecurity”.  Any complex should be equipped to receive visitors following acceptable standard biosecurity precautions including showering and wearing company-provided clothing. Visits encourage goodwill and supplement high scores on third-party welfare audits. The Producer victimized by Direct Action Everywhere extends a standing invitation to customers to undertake both scheduled and unannounced visits to their farm to view flocks and assess their housing and management.

In view of the fact that information and videos are obtained illegally by break-in, the resources of public safety officials should be applied.  It is also possible for a company to sue organizations and individuals for libel.  It is certainly possible to demonstrate malice from posted websites of these organizations which denote a heretical tone.  Substantial damages awarded to civil-rights groups in the 1990s effectively silenced a number of racist organizations by depriving them of their assets, serving as a warning to other extremists.   

Direct Action Everywhere can push the envelope on First Amendment rights but crossing over into breaking and entering to promote their cause enters the realm of criminality besides exposing them to civil suits.

   
 

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.

   
 

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.