Editorial


USDA-APHIS Defend the Flock. Are They Tuned in to Reality?

01/16/2019

As more than 140 individual outbreaks of vvNewcastle Disease have been diagnosed in 'backyard flocks' (in reality a deceptively mundane characterization of fighting cocks) spread among three counties in southern California since May 2018, APHIS simply kept score. Inevitably the uncontrolled infection spread to three commercial units based on proximity and failure to implement effective biosecurity.

APHIS is promoting a Protect the Flock campaign that encompasses a few principles of operational biosecurity appropriate to subsistence farms but is otherwise pablum. The recommendations with respect to commercial farms represent a detachment from reality in their simplicity and lack of detail. Perhaps APHIS and the CADFA are operating under a politically correct mandate not to offend owners of fighting cocks. The website lists a litany of measures that are suitable for homeowners backyard hens but are inadequate to protect commercial flocks from AI and ND irrespective of pathogenicity.

It is important to consider both the risk of introducing infection and the consequences of a disease. In the case of catastrophic infection costs are immense accruing from depletion of the flock with or without indemnity, decontamination and loss of revenue and goodwill. In January 2017 the risk of vvND was low but consequences were high. In January 2018 as we now realize, the risk is considerably higher in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Is it proportionately higher in Stanislaus County three hours by truck, north on I-5 and Route 99?

There has been far too much complacency and overt self-delusion by owners and authorities concerning investment in Structural biosecurity and hence supervision of Operational components of biosecurity for commercial laying operations. There are relatively new complexes in California housing up to two million hens and associated pullets. A capital investment of $100 million in infrastructure, housing, equipment and a packing plant justifies a commensurate expenditure on structural biosecurity. The basic capital investments should include:-

  • Fencing of the perimeter encompassing housing for flocks. Simply drawing lines on a site plan is an exercise in futility since there is no physical barrier to prevent uncontrolled entry of unauthorized persons or conversely to control the entry of authorized persons including employees shortcutting around biosecurity installations.

  • Blacktop or alternative impervious roads with drains are required within a site for service vehicles. Hardened roads allow natural decontamination by sunlight and other measures. Pathogens will persist in mud mixed with biological material and will be tracked into houses.

  • All personnel entering or leaving a designated live-bird area must shower in a purpose-built biosecurity module. Makeshift facilities including modified cargo containers may be inexpensive but they are invariably ineffective. "Personnel" includes owners, managers, supervisors, maintenance staff, house workers and crews for transfer, depletion, vaccination and beak-trim.

  • Functional and effective vehicle wash installations including a drive-through spray race and dip should be installed at the main entrance to the complex or other points of entry as required.

  • An on-site laundry facility is recommended for the biosecurity module to process Company-supplied clothing appropriate to gender and climate

It is axiomatic that effective Operational biosecurity is impossible to implement without investment in Structural facilities. Any compromise that neglects the known principles of the epidemiology of specific pathogens of concern or fails to consider the financial implications of risks and consequences is simply an exercise in "virus-roulette"

Why APHIS is pussyfooting around realities and failing to lay down minimum requirements for structural biosecurity relating to large egg-production complexes is incomprehensible. After all they have the ultimate responsibility for the control of outbreaks of exotic (actually regionally or seasonally endemic) diseases and disbursement of indemnity.


 

The China Impasse

01/05/2019

Negotiations have recommenced between the U.S. and China to resolve the trade war that has raised the cost of imported goods and disrupted the sourcing and supply of ingredients worldwide, adversely impacting U.S. farmers. The actions initiated by the U.S are apparently hurting the economy of China, so both sides have an incentive to reach an accommodation.

 

Negotiations have recommenced between the U.S. and China to resolve the trade war that has raised the cost of imported goods and disrupted the sourcing and supply of ingredients worldwide, adversely impacting U.S. farmers. The actions initiated by the U.S are apparently hurting the economy of China, so both sides have an incentive to reach an accommodation.

 

Simply agreeing to rescind mutually destructive tariffs would in itself represent an accomplishment by restoring trade to a pre-June 2018 status. This will not address the underlying structural issues that represent the intent by China to advance their economy at the expense of the U.S., the EU and nations subjected to neo-colonialism in Africa. For two decades China has advanced a program of State-sponsored actions to achieve the Made in China 2025 objective. Authorized policies include government support of quasi-independent industries dumping products on world markets; coercive joint-venture agreements with foreign manufacturers to share proprietary technology and ignoring established rules relating to intellectual property. More recently aggressive hacking of databases and company information by state agencies has escalated representing overt commercial espionage.

 

The recent action by the Administration to oppose the policies of China is not merely an expression of America-first unilateralists. The Economist published a commentary in the December 15th edition under the heading of Chaguan (literally a tea-house for discourse- named for the eponymous capital of Sichuan Province) that emphasizes the effect of China policy on other industrialized nations. The article notes that placating or cajoling the errant nation over two decades and hoping for a change have been disappointing. China recognized that the openness of the West and their reliance on the World Trade Organization and United Nations agencies was a vulnerability to be exploited to their advantage. The Economist refers to now disillusioned internationalists as “unhappy ex-doves reading intelligence reports”.

 

Our negotiators clearly appreciate the apparent challenge of rescinding bilateral tariffs, representing the easy part, but they also have an appreciation of the underlying structural imperatives motivating China. It is difficult to envisage how the U.S. team will reverse entrenched policies imbued in a generation of bureaucrats intent on maintaining growth by any means possible. Even in two months with the clock ticking. There is concern that a Band-Aid will be placed over tariffs and negotiators will talk past each other and avoid the deeper issues or accept insincere offers to reform.  

 

Hopefully the negotiations will reverse the immediate trade issues and restore exports of U.S. farm commodities to China. Certainly the slowdown in economic growth in China implies an incentive to make concessions. It would however have been beneficial not to have alienated our traditional allies since a concerted and coordinated response to the underlying policies pursued by China would be more effective than a unilateral approach.


 

Addressing Gloom-and-Doom

01/03/2019

The first edition of CHICK-NEWS for 2019 mailed on Wednesday contained a wish list for the coming year.  Collectively we would want to see a more harmonious and productive legislature, immigration reform, freedom from catastrophic disease and   bountiful 2019 corn and soybean harvests.

 

Our anticipations as we wish our colleagues and contacts the usual “Happy New Year” are tempered by anxiety and concern over the immediate future.

 

  • We are in the 14th day of an entirely unnecessary partial Federal shutdown. Although essential services continue, the effects are now becoming evident. The shutdown is self-inflicted and is due to the temporary breakdown in collective responsibility for our national wellbeing by politicians motivated by their personal and parochial considerations.  There is validity in the contentions of both sides of this impasse. The solution is compromise for the greater good.
  • Wild fluctuations in the stock market are symptomatic of a sense of insecurity and instability. While our economy is apparently sound the U.S. faces international pressures with a slowdown in China, uncertainty over Brexit, disparity between supply and demand for energy and restraints to the exercise of free trade.
  • The prospect of political deadlock as the 116th Congress is sworn in and anticipated tension between the House and the Executive Branch has ominous implications. We cannot afford to waste time and effort in political bickering while Congress needs to enact legislation to resolve the immigration crisis, protect our homeland security, reduce the national debt and relieve poverty through job creation. If one side claims victory over an issue ultimately we all loose.

 

There is no simple solution to a very complex series of problems, many of which are interrelated and are the result of neglect by previous Administrations. Some challenges are the result of impetuous recent decisions and are now subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Politicians on three continents and especially in our own Nation need to put aside pre-election rhetoric, deflate their egos and move beyond the personal imperative for re-election. Implementing bipartisanship, adopting a sense of “doing what’s right” and applying the Golden Rule would go a long way to addressing problems which are glaringly apparent during the first week of 2019. We have swept up the confetti, cleared away the champagne glasses and it is now time to get to work and confront realities. 

 

The swearing-in of the 116th Congress could result in brinkmanship and confrontation without resolution of our problems.

 

This commentator is optimistic that reason will prevail, compromise will emerge as an acceptable approach and that problems will be amicably resolved. We are reliant on a growing economy and increased spending to sustain growth in consumption of eggs and poultry products. We need a rational immigration policy to staff our farms and plants. We need functional infrastructure to move ingredients and products. We need unrestricted fair trade to capitalize on our production potential.

 

All of this can be accomplished by the Executive and Legislative branches of our government placing the common good above narrow political restraints.  


 

Debunking the Food Safety Magazine Article on Salmonella and Eggs

12/24/2018

Every few months an article appears either in print or more usually on the web deprecating the intensive egg-production industry. Motivation for these diatribes and their veracity is usually based on welfare considerations, environmental concerns, veganism or their combination. The article that appeared in the December 2018 edition of the trade journal Food Safety entitled Walking on Eggshells: Do You Know the Risks? had a different genesis but was overtly disparaging of our industry and our product.

 

Authored by an ambulance-chasing attorney Jory D. Lange and his paralegal Candess Zona-Mendola the article was apparently intended to drum up business for the Lange Law firm It lacked any redeeming message with respect to promoting food safety. The Lange opus is replete with factual errors and displayed a profound ignorance of the epidemiology of egg-borne salmonellosis and a wanton disregard of facts.

 

The article as with others of a similar ilk conflates the 2010 outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) infection affecting more than 2,000 consumers with the 2017 minor outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup infection responsible for about 50 cases.

 

The Wright County, event resulted from the venality and depraved indifference of Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter who knowingly distributed potentially contaminated eggs from their Iowa farms through distributors, brokers and dealers. DeCoster and his activities were never representative of our industry. He has been embroiled in civil lawsuits and state and federal sanctions for over 30 years. The combined portfolio of fines and settlements attests to his status as a scofflaw, eventually serving prison time for placing profit over prudence. He and his actions should have been formerly repudiated by the Industry in 2010, having crashed a seasonally rising market, depressing consumption and market price over a four-month period, depriving producers of over $100 million in revenue. DeCoster is unfortunate history (we hope) and was totally out of step with our industry, then and now.

 

Apart from the DeCoster- SE outbreak there have been no reported cases of egg-borne SE infection since introduction of the FDA Final Rule on Prevention of Salmonella implemented in 2011 attributed to compliant farms holding flocks of over 3,000 hens. In point of fact the incidence rate of egg-borne salmonellosis was in sharp decline during the late 2000s following the introduction of Egg Quality Assurance Programs adopted by many state egg associations and individual companies. Published annual CDC data on food-borne infections and their vehicles should have been reviewed by Lange and Ms. Zona-Mendola before asserting and implying that U.S. eggs are unsafe.

 

The recent outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup was totally and completely unpredicted. With now previous cases of this rare serotype being associated with eggs. Although receiving inordinate publicity the case was associated with an infinitesimal attack rate. Consider that the complex in question was producing 1.7 million eggs per day consumed by a population in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states estimated to be 100 million over a six-month period. Only 43 cases were documented by the CDC between November 15th 2017 and May 16th 2018 confirming an attack rate of 8 per 100 million  population per month. The outbreak may not have been detected before introduction of FoodNet in 1995 and the application of whole genome sequencing to trace the source of an infection from 2016 onwards.

 

 The authors of the Walking on Eggshells article make considerable mention of the findings of the FDA 483 Warning Letter issued to the Company. In point of fact there were deficiencies in hygiene and biosecurity at the complex as disclosed during a multi-day audit by a somewhat inexperienced investigation team. The inspection incorporated taking hundreds of samples for microbiological culture. Only a few sites in the plant and manure pits in two houses yielded the pathogen suggesting other than extensive farm and plant contamination. Implicating flies and a few mice that were present on the farm as a contributory factor in the outbreak would only have been valid had the CDC inspectors actually sampled insects and rodents. Reference to a worker observed touching his intergluteal cleft, as cited in the FDA 483 and reproduced in the article was actually a maintenance employee who had no contact with product. Second-hand reading of the FDA document with inappropriate interpretation evidently resulted in inadvertent bias introduced into the article.

 

In the event the Company voluntarily issued a recall covering 250 million eggs, the equivalent of six-months production, of which all but about one sixth had been consumed. The Company immediately diverted eggs to breaking and pasteurization while removing two million hens.  The expense of decontamination and upgrades together with depopulation and loss of revenue possibly exceeded $30 million.

 


 


New Process for Recycling PET Packaging.

12/18/2018

The bottled water industry faces a considerable restraint to consumer acceptance and increased scrutiny by environmental regulators by continuing to use bottles fabricated from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It is estimated that less than five percent of PET packaging is recycled allowing critics to claim that the material is an environmental hazard and is non-sustainable. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal published on December 13th only thirty percent of PET bottles sold in the U.S. are collected for recycling with less than one percent processed into food-grade plastic.

Loop Industries based in Montreal has developed a process to degrade PET into its base ingredients. These include dimethyl terephthalate and monoethylene glycol. Impurities are removed and the two base compounds can be recombined to produce new plastic packaging of high quality.

The Loop process uses a proprietary mixture that degrades PET to be accomplished without extreme heat and pressure as presently required. The process has been tested and accepted by Danone for their bottled water containers.

Loop is currently scaling up technology and will operate a production plant in 2020. The Company has also signed agreements with Pepsi and the E.U. franchisee for Coca-Cola. It is evident that if used plastic bottles, egg cartons and food containers have a value through recycling, collection will become a reality.

Bottlers of water are under pressure to recycle material. Despite a commitment in 2005 by Danone to recycle 50 percent of plastic in bottles by 2009, 13-years later only 14 percent of bottles are fabricated from recycled plastic. Nestle incorporates five percent recycled material in the E.U. and seven percent in the U.S. Similar figures are believed to apply to the Coca-Cola and Pepsi brands of water.


 

Call to Rescind Steel Tariffs on USMCA Partners

12/13/2018

Prior to concluding negotiations for the USMCA, replacing NAFTA, the White House noted that tariffs on steel and aluminum would only be canceled if a new and fair NAFTA agreement were concluded. White House commentators stated that the tariffs were a negotiating tactic to obtain the best deal possible.

An opinion article in The Wall Street Journal December 10th edition by David McIntosh, a former U.S. Representative from the state of Indiana called for lifting tariffs on Canada and Mexico. McIntosh stated “The ball is now in Congress’ court. Congress need not be limited by the President’s take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum on USMCA.” He advocated that Congress leadership should refuse to bring the legislation ratifying the USMCA up for a vote until the tariffs are lifted with respect to Canada and Mexico.

McIntosh stated that almost a third of American steel imports come from Canada and Mexico collectively with only three percent from China. He correctly characterizes tariffs as indirect taxes on U.S. manufacturers and by extension, on consumers. The tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum add approximately $300 to the purchase price of an American automobile according to Morningstar. More important, a study from the Trade Partnership estimates that U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs together with the punitive responses by trading partners may place as many as 400,000 U.S. jobs in jeopardy.

The price of steel components for new aviary houses and their installations including modules now reflect the imposition of tariffs since the cost of domestic steel has escalated to match the price of imported steel components. The negotiation is over, we need the USMCA but even more we need to restore trust among our trading partners in the tripartite pact.


 

Pew Charitable Trust Advocates Through “Surveys”

11/27/2018

The Pew Charitable Trust recently issued a report on U.S. consumer attitudes towards GMOs.  Their survey released in mid-November suggests that the proportion of those surveyed considering GMOs “bad for their health” has risen from 39 percent in 2016 to 49 percent in 2018.  The Pew report also identified “meat produced with hormones” and “foods grown with pesticides” and “food containing artificial ingredients” as a substantial risk to human health.  The survey apparently disclosed that 78 percent of those who cared a great deal about GMO foods also considered food additives posing a serious health risk.

 

It is considered significant that the survey revealed that the higher the level of scientific knowledge and education among respondents, the less the concern over GMOs.

 

Social scientists consider that the results obtained by Pew were “over-stated”.  The results obtained were essentially attributed to how the questions were asked.  Studies conducted by the University of Idaho not including the phrase “genetic engineering” in questions found only a small percentage of respondents concerned over GMOs.  A study conducted by Rutgers University revealed a seven percent response favoring mandatory labeling of GM foods when asked specifically what information consumers required.  When the question was rephrased to determine whether GM content should be included on labels, 59 percent of the same survey group considered identification of GM ingredients important.

 

Based on previous Pew studies involving welfare and food with specific reference to GM technology, it would appear that Pew is constructing surveys to confirm predetermined prejudices and can no longer be regarded as an independent authority devoid of bias.


 

The Milk Industry’s Dilemma Over Substitutes

11/23/2018

There are some important lessons to be learned from the plight of the dairy industry.  The principal problem of suboptimal margins is due to a combination of over-production and under- consumption. The former is generally associated with subsidies and a lack of discipline with regard to regulating production.  Perhaps the fact that a high proportion of milk production is derived from small farms supplying processing and marketing cooperatives has contributed to the disequilibrium between supply and demand. Each individual unit must maximize production to support a family.

 

Under-consumption is the second component and is clearly the result of substitution of alternatives to liquid milk. We have witnessed the rise of vegetable-derived milk substitutes which have gained market share at the expense of conventional milk.  This is partly due to lactose intolerance and the fact that consumers frequently try and then enjoy, flavored substitutes.

Milk producers in England face a specific challenge following the introduction of the Oatly product, introduced and aggressively promoted by a company in Sweden which coined the promotional theme “Milk, but made for Humans” in 2014.  Although LRF Mjolk, the largest dairy cooperative in Sweden sued Oatly and won their case in court, the outcome was that the milk cooperative lost the initiative on the supermarket shelf.


AEB Egg Snack

The U.S. egg industry was challenged in the mid-1990s by the introduction of pasteurized liquid substitutes comprising albumen with synthetic yolk dispensed in gable-top screw-cap containers. These products gained a market foothold over the concern for dietary cholesterol intaske but consumers continue to buy modified egg liquid even after the “cholesterol myth” has been disproven. More recently, upstart companies have made claims to produce a scrambled egg substitute derived from beans.  The American Egg Board has performed a valuable service in promoting the nutritional value of eggs and has assisted in the development of egg-derived products suitable for bakeries, food service and consumer markets.

 

The egg industry should never take substitutes for granted. Research and development should be directed at proactively developing egg-derived foods which offer convenience, economy, safety and above all, superior taste and texture compared to substitutes.  It is only by being better than alternatives, rather than deprecating them, that the industry will progress beyond the incremental increase in per capita consumption measured as a low single digit advance each year.


 

Behind the Scenes Diplomacy Over the Trade Dispute with China

11/15/2018

According to an informative article authored by Bob Davis and Ling Ling Wei in the Tuesday November 13th edition of the Wall Street Journal the Administration is conducting preliminary talks with China to end the impasse and de-escalate the ongoing trade conflict. On November 1st, President Trump held a telephone discussion with Premier Xi afterwards noting “I think we will make a deal with China.”

 

The intention is for the two leaders to meet at the G-20 Summit at the end of November in Buenos Aires, Brazil.  Although a definitive agreement is unlikely, at least the leaders can establish a framework for subsequent discussions. As with any complicated set of issues, the devil is in the details.

 

Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin is continuing telephonic discussions with Vice Premier Liu He on the need for and the structure of talks at the G-20 Meeting.  America has invited China to present concrete solutions to the various points of contention including misappropriation of intellectual property, state support of companies competing with the U.S. and manufacturers in other nations and coercive interaction with American companies doing business in China. Predictably Chinese negotiators are reluctant to put forward any proposals before discussing an agenda since this may lock them into a disadvantageous negotiating position.

 

Over the next two weeks, it is anticipated that Mnuchin will make progress now that the mid-term election has passed and the financial impact of tariffs is becoming apparent both in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors of our economy.

 

Division within the Administration has been a consistent deterrent to establishing a coherent and common negotiating strategy.  Authorities in China have frequently complained that they are hearing conflicting messages from Washington.

 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer maintains that tariffs will ultimately bring China to the table – but at what cost?  Uber Hawk and Sinophobe Dr. Robert Navarro, the White House Trade Advisor appears to be the major opponent of any concession or reconciliation with China.

 

Navarro, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on November 9th, deprecated the efforts of prominent business leaders to “influence policy”.  He stated, “Consider the shuttle diplomacy that is now going on by a self-appointed group of Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers between the U.S. and China.”  He added, “the mission of these unregistered foreign agents – that’s what they are, they are unregistered foreign agents – is to pressure this President into some kind of deal.”  These comments were countered on Tuesday November 13th by Larry Kudlow, Economic Advisor to the President noting that Navarro’s comments represented his personnel views which are not necessary shared by the Administration. Speaking on CNBC Kudlow opined “I think Peter badly misspoke—he was freelancing” It is understood that subsequent to his speech, Navarro will now be required to clear public comments with the White House.

 

Navarro’s comments were the subject of a caustic and uncomplimentary editorial in the November 13th edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Navarro was accused of attempting to treat China like the former Soviet Union, threating Americans that disagree with him as “boxing in his Boss and denying him the flexibility to do a deal.”  It would appear to be self-defeating to  criticize directly or by implication, business leaders such as Steven Schwarzman of Blackstone and former Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson who have considerable experience both in the business world and in international relations.

 

Hopefully reason will prevail and negotiators on both sides can address the divisive issues most of which involve unethical and self-serving policies instituted by China.  Resolving the current crisis is necessary as tariffs have seriously impacted soybean and other agriculture exports. By the same token the economy of China has been adversely affected by tariffs on $250 billion of  exports to the U.S.  Premier Xi needs to expand his Nation’s economy to maintain political harmony.  President Trump also needs a growing economy in anticipation of a second term.  Perhaps a good starting point would be to place a moratorium over tariffs on the remaining $200 billion of goods still unaffected by the 25 percent imposition, and due to take effect on January 1st 2019. 

 

The threat of escalating tariffs should serve as leverage in negotiations with China.  If an accommodation is to be reached, some concessions on both sides will be necessary but it is imperative that the Administration speak with a single voice.


 

Hygiene and Food Safety at Farmers Markets Questioned

11/07/2018

Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences recently conducted a survey of food safety practices at farmers markets. The study disclosed that vendors have minimal training in food safety including storage and handling. A notable conclusion from the study was that there was a wide discrepancy between evaluation of standards by professional observers and the self-reported assessment by vendors. Almost half of farmers’ markets offer prepared foods and two thirds sell meat and poultry.

It is calculated that there are more than 8,000 farmers’ markets in operation in the U.S. A large increase occurred during the Obama Administration which promoted the direct farmer-to- consumer chain as a means of “saving” family farms.

Some of the discrepancies noted by the Pennsylvania State researchers included:

  • Failure to maintain raw and temperature-sensitive foods under refrigeration
  • Failure to implement food safety including the use of gloves when handling food
  • Concurrent handling of money and unpackaged foods
  • Allowing contact between ready-to-eat foods and high-risk foods including meat and seafood.

German "Bauermarkt Display"

The principal researcher noted that indirect and surreptitious observation disclosed deviations from acceptable practice since the traditional clipboard approach generally provides a distorted assessment of practices as store holders are alerted to the need for compliance.

The study involved assays for bacterial pathogens. E.coli was present in 40 percent of beef samples, 18 percent of pork, 15 percent of kale and 29 percent of lettuce. Of greater significance was the presence of Listeria on 8 percent of beef sampled, 2 percent on kale, 4 percent on lettuce and 7 percent on spinach. There were no studies correlating observations made by the researchers in Pennsylvania into possible outbreaks of foodborne infection.

The research team included Dr. Rama Radhakrishna, Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education, Dr. Jonathan Campbell of the Department of Animal Science and Dr. Cathy Cutter, Professor of Food Science all of Pennsylvania State College of Agriculture. They all emphasized the need for training with emphasis on food safety.

The rapid expansion of farmers markets in the U.S. during the 2010s was not accompanied by appropriate investment in facilities. The situation in the U.S. with makeshift tables and stalls in parking lots can be contrasted with traditional farmers markets in Western European nations including France and Germany. Vendors use custom trailers with refrigeration and display cases. The standard of hygiene matches that of supermarkets. Even the stalls selling vegetables and non-perishable foods conform to acceptable standards of presentation and hygiene.

USDA funding was extended to farmers markets during the tenure of Tom Vilsack the former Secretary of Agriculture, but there was a disproportionate concern for public health. The situation nationwide should be rectified with involvement of the extension departments of Land-Grant colleges.

 


 

Influence of E.U. Welfare Policy on Aviary Systems in the U.S.

10/28/2018

It is axiomatic that trends in flock welfare in the E.U. have a direct, albeit delayed, effect on housing systems in the U.S. This is due to the close association among welfare organizations on either side of the Atlantic. Going back two decades, the initial standards established for U.S. broiler production were strongly influenced by the U.K. Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The two U.S. certifying agencies closely adapted housing and operational practices as required by the RSPCA and these were also incorporated in the original standards adopted by the National Chicken Council. We have observed the influence of E.U. practices on introduction of “slow growing” strains of broilers, controlled atmosphere stunning, mechanical harvesting and sub-therapeutic administration of antibiotics.

A second consideration is that food service companies and retail chains are either multinational in ownership or their policies are heavily influenced by perceptions of consumer attitudes regarding welfare in the industrialized economies of Western Europe. Design of housing, selection of equipment and management of flocks is obviously predicated by a response to consumers and an escalation in regulatory standards. This is especially the case with respect to housing of laying flocks. The E.U. initiated a departure from the use of conventional cages in Union Council Directive 1999/74/EU designating a ban on conventional cages effective January 1st 2012, allowing a 13-year transition period to alternative systems. Initially there was a move to enriched colony modules and then with additional restrictions and consumer demands, to aviaries and floor systems. This trend was evident in the U.S. approximately a decade later. Initially California Proposition #2 and subsequent rules placed restraints on confined housing. This was followed by the successive announcements by QSRs and retailers in 2016 disallowing conventional cages and will extend forward with the presumed passage of California Proposition #12 of 2018.

With the imperative imposed by retailers, QSRs and food service companies to transition from cages by the early to mid-2020s, aviaries provide a practical and cost-effective alternative for U.S. producers operating in-line complexes. The question arises as to the “acceptability” of different configurations with an emphasis on access from the modules to litter. Early versions of aviaries could be regarded as enriched colonies with release of flocks at the discretion of the manager. Confinement of hens by lockable doors on the front of modules are no longer acceptable in Germany. A prominent U.S. retail chain has expressed disapproval of systems which do not allow unrestricted access to the litter area between and beneath rows of modules.

The Verein fur Kontrollierte Alternative Tierhaltungsformen, eV (KAT) of Germany, functioning as the principal accreditation and certification agency has ruled on configuration of aviary modules. The Agency will no longer certify systems with movable front grids (doors) either manual or mechanized, which could confine laying flocks to the tiers of aviaries. Lockable front doors (grids) must be sealed open after the early post-transfer acclimation (training) period, with no ability for mechanical closure to confine flocks. KAT specifically disqualifies combination systems which could be operated as either an enriched colony with confinement or as an aviary, to allow access to litter by opening doors. The KAT objection to combination systems extends beyond basic operation with respect to doors and the potential for confinement. Their philosophy incorporates the perception of “openness” and freedom of hens to move freely in horizontal and vertical planes using the cube volume of their house. Farms or complexes with houses equipped with both unapproved and approved aviaries in adjacent houses at the same location will not be certified under the KAT program.

The implication for U.S. producers is self-evident. Unlike Las Vegas what happens in the E.U. with respect to welfare does not necessarily stay there.  Installation of an aviary system allowing for other than complete and unrestricted access will in all probability be unacceptable to major chains and QSRs and the certifying agencies following the precedents established in the E.U. Future compliance and market acceptability are especially important considerations going forward as the industry resumes the transition from housing in conventional cages to aviary systems. Selection from among available alternative aviary designs will obviously determine future positioning of eggs and products in the marketplace and will influence the return on capital invested in either conversions or new complexes. 


 

Questionable Significance of a Study Purporting to Demonstrate that a Yeast Product can Suppress Salmonella Braenderup

10/25/2018

A supplier of a widely used yeast supplement recently circulated a promotional circular demonstrating the apparent ability of feces from hens fed the product to suppress Salmonella Branderup in vitro. The obvious motivation for the in vitro study conducted by the company was to demonstrate apparent bactericidal or bacteristatic action of the supplement on Salmonella Braenderup as previously claimed for Salmonella Enteritidis.

EGG-NEWS consistently supports scientific advances and comments on research which may have practical implications for sustainability, flock health or safety. On the distaff side, EGG-NEWS will always question promotional claims which lack scientific substance or are based on supposition or speculation especially when appealing to the cupidity of those who are unable to evaluate data or are subject to coercive marketing.

The promotional release describes the evaluation as an “intestinal activity modifier model”. Basically hens were fed the yeast product and excreta was assayed for volatile fatty acid content. In addition, the effect of feces from treated hens compared to controls was evaluated for the ability to suppress Salmonella Braenderup in vitro.

The release demonstrated a statistically significant increase in volatile fatty acids, which is biologically plausible and consistent with administration of a prebiotic to hens. The significance of the increase in volatile fatty acids in relation to the probability of infection of a flock with Salmonella Branderup was not addressed. The ability of the increased volatile fatty acids content of the terminal intestinal tract to actually reduce the level of shell contamination with Salmonella Braenderup was beyond the scope of the study but obviously relevant to the real-world situation..

The second aspect of the in vitro evaluation was the claim that supplementing diets with the yeast product suppressed Salmonella Braenderup. There was no description of the procedure used but data demonstrated that the level of Salmonella Braenderup was reduced from 6.86 log to 5.92 log per gram of feces representing a 0.94 log reduction. Again, the practical or epidemiologic significance is questioned of a ten-fold reduction in the quantum of Salmonella Braenderup as a result of supplementing diets with the yeast product.

It is generally accepted in the U.S. egg industry that the problem of Salmonella Braenderup attributed to the farm in question was due to environmental and operational factors specific to the complex, leading to the limited outbreak among consumers. There is no evidence that Salmonella Braenderup is widely distributed in the U.S. egg industry as evidenced by the fact that only one egg-attributed outbreak has occurred over many decades of public health surveillance of Salmonella.

The epidemiologic significance of the in vitro study is obviously in question and a cynical approach would be to conclude that the manufacturer was stretching microbiology to promote a product of questionable value with respect to suppressing potential salmonellosis among consumers. 

It would have been more acceptable if the company in question had demonstrated that hens fed the supplement were refractory to intestinal colonization following challenge or that meaningful suppression of Salmonella Branderup could be achieved by dietary supplementation. The approach taken by the company would be more credible had the study been published in a peer reviewed journal.

Research conducted by Land-grant universities, institutes and the R & D departments of biopharmaceutical companies is intended to confirm safety and efficacy of products to suppress flock infection leading to foodborne diseases. Positive results, subject to peer review or FDA scrutiny allow compounds to be registered for a specific use. Commercial acceptability depends on demonstrated efficacy and cost-benefit. Performing studies of dubious scientific merit to   promote a product is sophistry and the principle is even more egregious when based on concern and fear arising from severe financial loss due to a pathogen of limited significance.

The draft of this editorial was submitted to a technical service veterinarian of the company concerned with an offer to post a rebuttal of the points raised. No response was obtained within two weeks-Editor.


 
























































































































































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