Editorial

 

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.

   
 

We Must Not Take EU and Asian HPAI Lightly

Dec 2, 2016

    

With the deteriorating HPAI situation in Asia and the EU, the U.S. industry should look to its defenses against introduction of AI virus onto commercial farms.  The events in the EU over past weeks closely follow the pattern of infection in 2014 with sporadic outbreaks resulting from direct and indirect contact between commercial flocks and migratory waterfowl and other free-living birds which carry virus and which is shed into the environment. 

In anticipation of a 2016 introduction, a consortium of state and federal wildlife biologists in cooperation with USDA-APHIS and ARS are conducting surveillance on hunter-killed ducks and dead birds collected in areas where migratory species congregate.  It is anticipated that over 35,000 birds will be sampled in fiscal 2016.

Initial reports confirm that outbreaks in Korea and Japan are caused by H5N6 HPAI.  All of the outbreaks in India, Israel and now twelve European nations are caused by H5N8 virus which has close similarities to the infective agent responsible for mortality in Asia in 2014.

Given that it is highly probable that virus will be introduced into the lower 48 states through one of the four flyways, biosecurity should be intensified. All of the poultry associations, the USDA, Land-Grant universities and extension personnel have written extensively on biosecurity procedures to limit introduction of infection.  Most of these recommendations involve the lowest tier of biosecurity which may or may not be effective, given deficiencies in physical facilities and the possible routes of infection.

 

Essentially biosecurity should be viewed as a pyramid. The highest tier is represented by Conceptual Biosecurity.  This relates to the relative position of farms and complexes, proximity to flyways and major roads and the movement and concentration of poultry in a given area. Unfortunately the deficiencies at this level cannot be changed but intensification of the succeeding tiers of biosecurity can compensate from inherent high risk.

The second tier comprises Structural Biosecurity which requires capital investment in facilities to allow for effective biosecurity procedures.  These include fencing, hardened road surfaces, efficient vehicle wash installations and modules to allow changing and showering of personnel before entry to the designated biosecure area surrounding poultry houses.

The third tier involves Operational Biosecurity comprising the routine procedures involving entry of personnel and vehicles to the biosecure area, decontamination, movement of live birds and products and their routing to and from central facilities including packing plants and feed mills.

Following the devastating epornitic in the upper Midwest in 2015, many integrators and farmers upgraded biosecurity.  The extent of their efforts as observed this year vary widely. Some operations simply pay lip service to recommendations with minimal effort to reduce risk of introducing infection. The more progressive operations have undergone a major phase-shift by developing a culture of biosecurity matched by extensive capital investment in facilities and installations. These are designed to limit the possibility of introduction of infection by personnel, vehicles and products through intensive Operational Biosecurity with written procedures, training, supervision and auditing.

Experience has shown that our industry has a short memory.  Biosecurity was a serious consideration after the 1984 outbreak of H5N1 HPAI in Pennsylvania and adjoining states.  Within two years there was an obvious decline in intensity at the operational level and there was very little to show in the form of improvements in structural biosecurity.  In contrast, the magnitude of losses in 2015 motivated investments to upgrade facilities. 

The amount which can be expended on biosecurity is a function of risk of introduction of infection, the effectiveness of the biosecurity precaution and the magnitude of losses subsequent to introduction of infection.  In the case of HPAI losses arise not only from depletion of the flock, (hopefully compensated for with Federal indemnity) and decontamination but consequential losses resulting from decreased output during restocking, loss of goodwill and other factors add to the cost of infection.

EGG-CITE has previously posted calculations which can be performed to demonstrate the return on expenditure on biosecurity and the relationship between risk factors and investment to minimize losses. If there are deficiencies in Structural or Operational Biosecurity now would be the time to reevaluate the susceptibility of operations to possible introduction of infection and to effect improvements.

From visits to egg production operations throughout the U.S. it is evident that there is a wide standard of compliance with accepted principles of biosecurity.  It is noted that in the EU during 2014 and 2015, despite individual farm outbreaks, costs accruing to the egg production industry were relatively minimal.  This is in part due to the fact that there are no ultra-large in-line units such as those that were affected in the Midwest in 2015. The preemptive planning in the EU, based on previous epornitics involved rapid diagnosis followed by elimination and disposal of small flocks within 24 hours which reduced lateral spread to other commercial farms. The experience gained in the U.S. during 2015 was applied to the January 2016 outbreak in Indiana which was restricted to the index farm and nine contact premises achieving rapid eradication.

It is anticipated that in the event that HPAI is introduced to the U.S. in 2017 that the lessons we have learned will be applied to minimize losses.  Carbon dioxide foam can be used to deplete floor-housed flocks given appropriate logistics support. Ventilation Shut-Down will be employed for caged flocks, some of which now exceed 350,000 hens in a single building. The problem with carcass disposal is still not resolved in many areas and the long-term prospects for Federal indemnity cannot be taken for granted.  Policy relating to vaccination in the face of a serious outbreak has yet to be resolved. In addition to the technical problems we will be faced with a new Administration although we hope that experienced and seasoned professionals in USDA-APHIS will be given the latitude they need to effectively counter both limited and extensive outbreaks. 

The resources of the Federal government and states should however be supported by individual efforts by all producers and contractors to make every effort to eliminate possible direct and indirect contact between free-living birds which serve as carriers and our flocks, all of which should be confined to bird-proof buildings. In the event that a flock is infected, effective biosecurity at the Structural and Operational levels will be required to prevent inter-farm dissemination of HPAI virus. Given that flocks are infectious before demonstrating clinical signs or mortality, constant vigilance and conformity to high standards of Operational Biosecurity are required.

   
 

NOSB Removes Carrageenan from Allowed Organic Additives

Nov 25, 2016

    

The November 18th Editorial in EGG-CITE reviewed the opposition of the Cornucopia Institute to carrageenan a widely used ingredient.  This versatile and valuable product derived from seaweed, is used extensively as a carrier, emulsifier, gelling agent, stabilizer and thickener in many foods, especially dairy products. 

Carrageenan is recognized as a sustainable ingredient and contrary to the information apparently reviewed by the current National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), there are no directly equivalent substitutes.  Prior to the decision of the NOSB, spurious and questionable pseudo-scientific evidence was advanced suggesting that carrageenan may be carcinogenic.

  

The Grocery Manufacturers Association deprecated the decision of the NOSB stating “carrageenan should remain on the National Organic Standards Board list of approved food additives because it has been proven safe for consumption and there is not an adequate alternative replacement that provides the same functions.” Dr. Leon Bruner chief scientific officer for the GMA noted “regulatory agencies and research organizations around the world have consistently determined carrageenan to be a safe and highly functional food additive.” 

Although this appears to be a victory for the proponents (or Luddites, as the case may be) advocating for “pure” and “organic” foods, the appointment of five qualified new members to the NOSB should result in a more scientific and logical evaluation of  products permitted in terms of the National Organic Program.

   
 

CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE STILL PROCLAIMING INFLUENCE OF “CORPORATE INTERESTS”

Nov 18, 2016

Mark Kastel

    

The National Organics Standards Board is scheduled to consider hydroponic farming and carrageenan as an ingredient in organic foods at their upcoming meeting. These issues have aroused the ire of the Cornucopia Institute. It appears that the Institute is intent on unilaterally redefining the rules relating to organic certification from the standpoint of their supporters who represent small-scale and frequently unprofitable enterprises.

Mark Kastel co-Director of the Institute considers that hydroponic production is an anathema to the fundamental principles on which organic production is based.  The Organization appears to favor mixing bacteria-laden fecal material with soil in some mystical concept relating to soil structure and integrity which deviates from established knowledge of soils science and agronomy.

Carrageenan is natural product derived from seaweed.  It is a valuable emulsifier and additive in many foods and should be retained as an organic ingredient.  The position of Cornucopia’s “lead scientist” Dr. Linley Dixon who maintains that food-grade carrageenan may be carcinogenic is based on questionable studies on animal models and is not supported by the preponderance of available evidence in peer-reviewed journals.

  

 

Given the results of the 2016 Presidential election, Kastel and his organization do not have much more opportunity to demonize Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Director Miles McEvoy or the Organic Standards Board. It is predicted that in 2017 the Cornucopia Institute and its membership will face a far tougher USDA, less sensitive to the needs of “small-scale family farms” which represented the mantra of the appointees during the Obama Administration.

 The policies and position of the Cornucopia Institute, which fails to acknowledge the success of organic farming on a commercial scale will marginalize the Institute. The organization will, in the future, be even less relevant in their ability to defend a constituency which is strongly dependent on financial support and benefits provided by the present Administration.

   
 

What Will the Future Bring?

Nov 11, 2016

    

The long and frequently divisive Presidential campaign is over.  We have a President-elect and we must look to the future with optimism.  For too long our nation has been mired in legislative gridlock with only nominal growth.

The healing process must begin based on the realization that pre-electoral rhetoric is not necessarily what a President and his Administration may implement. Peter Thiel, the lone Silicon Valley supporter noted that the Media took Candidate Trump too literally while voters heard a more moderate message.

 

Incoming Presidents realize very quickly both the restraints and power of the office and recognize the obligation to lead the entire nation.  President-elect Trump is in a powerful position.  With a Republican Senate and House his party, especially if it can be made whole, will have more power than any Republican administration since the late 1920’s.

The following considerations emerged from a review of the platform at the Republican National Convention and prepared statements by the candidate and his supporters as they relate to future policy:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior will be less aggressive in pursuit of programs which place farmers and food producers at a disadvantage.  It is evident that the heartland of our nation comprises “Red States” and candidate-Trump was elected by the strong support of rural communities.  Although he is one of the few presidents without obligations to vested interests, he certainly owes a debt of gratitude to farmers which will be evident in support of ethanol.  The WOTUS Rule currently under legal review will most certainly be shelved.
  • Regulatory agencies including OSHA will be more lenient in the pursuit of industries which may or may not have a record of injury and illness.  Notwithstanding changes in policy, it behooves processors and packers to ensure that workers function in a safe environment.  Worker well-being can be accomplished by good management and cooperation rather than by intrusive agencies.
  • Proposed tax cuts and stimulatory measures will increase domestic consumption of food and agriculture products.  This may however be offset by declining trade especially if the TPP, NAFTA and the TAP are either abandoned or renegotiated.  At the end of the day nations will purchase food and commodities from the U.S. based on financial realities and needs. If our Dollar becomes too strong we will be at a disadvantage compared to exporting nations such as Argentina and Brazil.  Concern was expressed during the campaign that the President-elect has no direct experience in economics despite his commercial exposure.  If the Administration appoints non-partisan economists as advisors and counselors, deficiencies in his knowledge may not affect progress.
  • The promise to spend upwards of $800 billion on infrastructure will stimulate the economy and at the same time improve transport of grains from the Midwest using the waterway system. Upgrading the interstate highway system will expedite transport of poultry products from the heartland to markets on both coasts.
  • The incoming Administration will need to develop an immigration policy which allows controlled entry of farm workers.  Despite the fact that we have a large unemployed urban population without jobs skills, this demographic is disinclined to participate in the farming sector.
  • The Department of Agriculture under a less liberal and altruistic leadership will reverse policy extending artificial support to non-viable “family farms”. It is expected that a Trump USDA will deviate from the current policy of supporting small-scale livestock and specialty crop projects which are financially infeasible.  The current Administration has disfavored intensive agriculture to the detriment of productivity.
  • Social programs will be reviewed including work-requirements to obtain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance.  This will probably bring more recipients into the workforce but it is obvious that training and education will be necessary to achieve progress.

In considering our future one is reminded of the Tennyson quotation “The old order changeth yielding place to new and God fulfills himself in many ways.”

   
 

Latest Claim for Pre-Incubation Separation of Male and Female Embryos

Nov 4, 2016

    

Novatrans, a privately-held company, nominally based in Herzliya Pitua, Israel but is apparently operating out of Switzerland has emerged as a source of gender separation technology. Novatrans is the source of a claim to apply spectroscopic technology capable of distinguishing between eggs bearing either male or female embryos before initiation of incubation.

 

The Novatrans Group emerged from the prestigious Weitzman Institute, the MIT of Israel, through a technology transfer incubator, Yeda Research. Novatrans specializes in applying terahertz radiation to communications, medical imaging and other sophisticated electronic applications.

They have developed a new generation photo-nano vacuum tube transistor, among other innovations. It is unclear how this relates to a practical and economically feasible method to identify eggs bearing male embryos obviating destruction of cockerel chicks since there is no mention of this application on the Novatrans website which is generally sparse in detail. It is intended to promote the technology in the U.S. through a newly established entity Ovabrite LLC, a subsidiary of Vital Farms. 

In a Sunday October 30th discussion with the principals of both these U.S. entities, it was not possible to elicit any details regarding the specific biological and physical principles to determine gender as the process has not apparently been patented.  There are no publications on the technology so it is impossible at this stage to evaluate whether it has any potential to become a commercial reality.

Despite the claims made for Ramen spectroscopy in Germany and now terahertz spectroscopy from Israel, commercialization for the limited number of U.S. hatcheries distributing layer-strain pullets will certainly be delayed for many years. Investment in resources and time will be required to refine equipment, increase specificity of detection, scale-up from laboratory levels of throughput and to ensure compatibility with existing breeder hatcheries.

The initial claims made by promoters of competing gender detection technologies can be characterized by Eliza Doolittle who sings “Don’t say a word-- just show me!” in My Fair Lady. It would be of value to the industry and other stakeholders to have some detail concerning the biological basis of the technology and proof of concept before promotors embark on premature and unsubstantiated publicity or raising funds. Generally if an innovation appears just too good to be true it is often just that. After all we have just witnessed the $100 million implosion and demise of Theranos, an expensive exercise in self-delusion which offered multiple clinical assays from a single pin-prick of blood.

The danger of premature press releases on gender separation relates to the reality that welfare organizations and especially those opposed to intensive livestock production will demand implementation without delay irrespective of whether the system may or may not be effective or commercially viable. The second problem is that the promise of a “miracle fix just around the corner” will delay introduction of humane, simple and inexpensive, anoxic stun-to-kill processing using carbon dioxide gas.

Information in the Ovabrite press release suggests that an annual value of $440 million could be recovered from eggs bearing male embryos.  This claim defies reality given the requirements of post-lay refrigeration and prevailing prices for breaking stock. It is estimated that the 20 million dozen eggs with male embryos produced each year would be worth $3 million if they could enter the liquid egg chain for human food. In reality they would be diverted at best to rendering for animal feed with a recovery of less than $1 million. The broiler breeder segment would add about $500,000 if all six million dozen non-required eggs were diverted to breaking for human food and proportionally less for animal feed.

If Novatrans is intent on capturing a large segment of the U.S. industry for their TeraEgg terahertz spectroscopy they would be well advised to present reliable data from independent experts as to specificity and cost. To be commercialized the U.S. promotors would have to establish a relationship with the few significant primary breeders, If the system is technically and financially viable, equipment will have to be supplied on a royalty basis as with in ovo vaccination and infra-red beak treatment installations.

There is disappointment that media, including poultry periodicals and websites simply reproduce unsubstantiated press releases from companies and promotors without evaluation or comment. This is lazy non-journalism and serves neither the industry nor the consumer.

I sincerely hope that Ovabrite-Novatrans has a viable technology—we need it. Until they come up with firm data and costs the enterprise must be characterized as speculative and unproven and may just raise false hopes.

   
 

DeCoster Appeal Important to Food Industry Executives?

Oct 28, 2016

    

Quality Egg, an oxymoronic name for a commercial entity owned by Austin “Jack” DeCoster, pleaded guilty to three charges arising from the 2010 outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis. 

The charges included a felony violation for bribing a U.S. Department Agriculture inspector, a felony violation for introducing misbranded eggs into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud and mislead and a misdemeanor violation for introducing adulterated eggs in to interstate commerce. 

 

The company paid fines approaching $7 million for the three guilty pleas.  “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations as responsible corporate officers.  In addition to a token fine, the defendants were sentenced to three months imprisonment.

The basis of the appeal against the prison term to the 8th Circuit Court was based on the representation that they had no prior knowledge of SE contamination of flocks in their Wright County, IA complexes.  The sentence was however upheld by the 8th Circuit Court in July and the defendants have appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The Court has not yet ruled on whether it will hear the case which has profound implications for executives of food companies involved in disease outbreaks.  This is especially of importance since the Department of Justice has adopted a more aggressive attitude towards individuals at various levels of management within companies responsible for foodborne disease events.

Of interest to the egg production industry is the assertion by the DeCosters that they had no knowledge of SE contamination prior to traceback of the outbreak which was responsible for approximately 50,000 cases of SE. Given the evidence concerning the duration over which SE was present in Wright County flocks the DeCosters should be gratified that the Court accepted their assertions of ignorance and did not impose the possible one-year imprisonment option.

Readers of EGG-CITE can contemplate the probability that the DeCoster’s were “ignorant” of the presence of SE in their flocks and their apparent lack of awareness of the proven effects of prolonged storage, possibly with thermal abuse, on proliferation of SE within eggs, as these factors relate to possible infection of consumers.

   
 

Has Ketchum Got it Right?

Oct 14, 2016

    

An October 9th report in Food Business News reviewed a presentation to the North American Millers Association on September 9th by Linda Eatherton, Managing Director and Partner in the Global Food and Beverage Practice at Ketchum, a multinational public relations organization. The subject of Ms. Eatherton’s presentation was Food eVangelists whom she maintains comprise an influential a group of activists using the social media to demand changes in food industry practices and products.

Ketchum regards Food eVangelists as “passionate, change agents and leaders in the community”. This is an understandable but narrow appreciation from the perspective of a public relations professional and may overstate the influence of this category of manipulators of the social media.

  

From a broader and more real-world view from walking food store floors and analyzing recent quarterly reports of supermarket chains and retailers it is evident that consumers are focused on price rather than the issues raised on the internet by activists. This is denoted by the rise in importance of house brands, market gains by deep discount retailers and aggressive but belated price promotions by traditional store chains. Secondary and lesser attributes motivating purchase decisions include safety, taste, quality and presentation.

Shoppers buy their produce, groceries and refrigerated items at the supermarkets and stores of their choice often splitting their purchases according to price, perception of value and availability. If they do not find the products they want in a store they select an alternative house or national brand or buy elsewhere. This is a relatively easy option given proximity of competing stores and mobility.

The reality we are seeing from the social media is less an “army” of concerned consumers attempting to influence choices than a core of semi-professional representatives of activist organizations or even paid bloggers, with a vested interest in creating concern and anxiety where there is nothing to fear. 

Many of the websites, blogs and tweets emanate from avowed environmentalists, animal rights activists, and others who are not representative of the broad base of consumers.  In many cases activist organizations have less to do with the cause they purport to represent than a preoccupation with raising funds and creating job security for themselves.

Implicit in the presentation by Ms. Eatherton is the message that individual food manufacturers and distributors require professional help with their public relations and Ketchum is just the organization to assist with countering an obviously exaggerated situation.  Appeasing activist organizations offers no solution since concessions invariably result in subsequent demands.  There is no army of Food eVangelists, but there are agents of organizations with agendas which are contrary to intensive agriculture and processed food.  These groups make use of individuals selected for their ability to develop a disproportionate megaphone through the social media. 

Direct response to posts and attempts at countering criticism are generally unproductive.  Proactive publicity coupled with eschewing obviously unacceptable livestock practices, eliminating undesirable additives and components is far more productive than attempting to placate critics. Perhaps this is where a professional PR company can assist. The food producers and distributors have first to put their respective houses in order otherwise counsel from a specialist PR company, promotional posts and advertisements rise to the level of putting lipstick on a pig.

   
 

CDC WARNING ON INFECTION FROM BACKYARD CHICKENS

Oct 7, 2016

    

EGG-CITE has previously reported on cases of Salmonellosis associated with the backyard chicken movement.

From 1990 through 2005 only one outbreak of salmonellosis was recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from backyard chickens.  From 2005 to 2014 the incidence rate increased to four outbreaks annually.

  

From 1990 to 2014 the CDC reported 53 outbreaks of confirmed salmonellosis attributed to live contact with poultry, responsible for 2,600 illnesses, 387 hospitalizations and 5 fatalities.Investigations have demonstrated that 60 percent of patients had been exposed to immature poultry of which 74 percent occurred in a home.

The CDC identified inappropriate practices which bring poultry into intimate contact with owners of chickens and especially children. These included snuggling baby birds (49 percent reported) or kissing baby birds (13 percent of patients).  Approximately 46 percent of patients admitted that live poultry were allowed access to homes including the living room (22 percent) and bedrooms (10 percent).  It is considered significant that most of the cases investigated involved ownership of chickens for less than a year.

In recent years, a specific male-order hatchery specializing in exotic breeds and supplying the backyard market has been responsible for many outbreaks of salmonellosis acquired from chicks. This source of numerous infections bears the oxymoronic name of Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Ohio.www.mthealthy.com. This enterprise has been frequently implicated in trace-back investigations by the CDC.

As with turtles, iguanas and snakes which have the potential to carry Salmonella, chickens make inappropriate pets, especially for children. 

Basher, C. et al. Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections Associated with Live Poultry, United States, 1990-2014. Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases. In press October 2016.

On line pre-publication DOI: 10.3201/eid 2210.150765 October 2016