Editorial

 

Studies in the E.U. Correlate Antibiotic Use and Resistance

Aug 16, 2017

    

The Second Joint Report of the European Food Safety Agency issued on July 27th documents statistical evaluation of antibiotic use in humans and livestock in relation to the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in pathogens.

Opponents of livestock production frequently point to the apparent high usage of antibiotics by the livestock sector. When body mass is taken into account, the apparent disproportionate usage is negated. In 2014, the average antimicrobial consumption in livestock in the E.U. amounted 152 mg/kg compared to humans at 124 mg/kg. In comparing the median antimicrobial consumption, animals consume 67 mg/kg and humans 118 mg/kg respectively. In point of fact in 18 out of 28 E.U. nations, antimicrobial consumption expressed as quantity per body mass was lower in livestock than in humans.

  

Univariate analysis showed a statistically significant correlation between antimicrobial resistance and consumption of antibiotics with respect to fluoroquinolone resistance by E.coli with respect to both livestock and humans. There was a positive correlation for cephalosporins and E.coli in humans and for both tetracyclines and polymyxins in E.coli isolated from livestock.

There was a statistically significant association between antimicrobial consumption and antimicrobial resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae with respect to carbapenems and polymyxins among humans. This is an important correlation given that carbapenem-resistant K. pneumoniae is usually multi-drug resistant. This was the organism responsible for a series of fatalities at the NIH referral hospital in 2012.     

Applying multivariate analysis, it was demonstrated that third and fourth generation cephalosporins and fluoroquinolone resistance in E.coli isolated from humans was correlated to antimicrobial consumption. A positive correlation was determined for resistance involving Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter spp. from humans with the use of fluoroquinolones in animals. After extensive review of literature in 2015 the U.S. FDA banned administration of fluroquinolones to livestock.

The extensive report demonstrates the need to apply the “One-Health” approach to evaluating drug resistance. The statistical approach can provide an indication of the overall pattern of resistance and can point to specific areas where enhanced control in both livestock production and human medicine are required. Laboratory studies applying whole genome sequencing and molecular biology can identify specific genes which are associated with transmissible drug resistance.

   
 

 “Synthetic” Meats Considered at IFT-17

Aug 9, 2017

    

Media reports on the application of tissue culture technology to produce synthetic meats has received a disproportionate level of publicity relative to the stage of development of the technology. A special session was held on June 26th at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists.

The first of many objections concerning the standard of reporting is characterization of tissue-culture derived protein as “clean” meat. This implies that conventional beef, pork and poultry is somehow “dirty.” Synthetic meat is enigmatically supported by crypto-vegans and those committed to a vegan lifestyle including the Good Food Institute which promotes plant-based foods. The name of this organization in itself implies bias since in their eyes if it is not of vegetable origin food must be “bad.”

  

Eric Schulze of Memphis Meats, the leader in the field, discussed cell-culture technology although it must be recognized that the company has produced only token quantities of a synthetic beef product at a cost exceeding $5,000 per pound. Advantages claimed for alternative proteins relate to sustainability and freedom from antibiotics and pathogens.

These objectives can be satisfied with current livestock systems. What journalists are omitting is the fact that tissue culture makes extensive use of fetal bovine serum in the substrate effectively linking the “clean” synthetic product back to an animal progenitor.                   

As with a number of innovations and technical advances, extravagant claims are made by the lay-press and especially on internet postings, predicting replacement of conventional livestock-based agriculture but ignoring costs and practical considerations.

Venture capitalists are always ready to invest somebody else’s money in biotechnology startups promising to “disrupt” and revolutionize food production. Hampton Creek is an example of a money pit that has apparently received in excess of $100 million for “research” to replace chickens as a source of eggs. All the Company has to show investors is a mayonnaise of questionable commercial value based on a standard “off-the-shelf” formula.

The principal outputs from Hampton Creek are hype and promises. The founder, and now sole director, of the aging start-up, Josh Tetrick claims Hampton Creek is moving towards production of synthetic meat. There is no way that this Company with an ever-changing cast of employees can match the expertise and research capability of Memphis Meats.  Tissue culture requires advanced laboratory technology and cannot simply be “cooked up in a kitchen by chefs.”

Again as with previous claims Tetrick is once again challenged to request a panel of disinterested scientists to evaluate his laboratories and facilities and interact with his scientific personnel. After all Memphis Meats had the stature and credibility to present details of their development program at a prestigious national meeting.

   
 

Concern over Available Farm Labor

Aug 2, 2017

    

Farmers’ Organizations have lobbied the House Agriculture Committee to include provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill to enhance technology as a partial solution to the problem of declining availability of labor. It is calculated that the specialty crop sector has lost 150,000 workers over five years.

Specialty crops including fruit and vegetables receive one percent of USDA innovation funding and over the past thirty years, only fifteen percent of agricultural allocations have been devoted to specialty crops. Investment in mechanization has made a considerable contribution to reducing cost with Land Grant universities developing new equipment.

  

Paul Wenger of the California Farm Bureau Federation stated “To advance the level of mechanization of specialty crops, a significant public-private investment in plant breeding and mechanical engineering is required.” The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the USDA has benefitted farmers through development of new lettuce varieties contributing to a crop with an annual market value of $2.3 billion.

Without improvements in mechanization, California farmers are in danger of significant losses because of unavailability of labor to pick crops. Producers especially those in Western states, require foreign guest workers on a seasonal basis to maintain output.

It is possible that the problems experienced in the specialty crop sector will be reflected in the future availability of labor for broiler and turkey production. Mechanical harvesting, increased sophistication of processing equipment with machine vision and hopefully in the future artificial intelligence will be necessary to reduce dependence on foreign labor.

Restructuring social welfare programs and providing training to bring the domestic chronically unemployed into the agricultural sector should also be considered in any initiative for immigration reform.

   
 

Fallout From The Withdrawal From the TPP

Jul 26, 2017

    

The precipitous withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement after years of negotiation is contrasted with the bilateral agreement between Japan and the 26 nations of the E.U. signed on Thursday, July 6th. The implications for the U.S. were reviewed in an editorial on July 7th in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), an avowedly pro-business and to a large degree pro-Administration medium.

  

Tariffs will eventually be removed on 99 percent of trade between the E.U. and Japan. Without a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Japan, agricultural exports could be constrained. This is especially the case if the Administration imposes tariffs on imported products from Japan including steel.

Withdrawal of the U.S. from the TPP left Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a difficult position since he had negotiated and worked hard with his constituency to sell his historically protective nation on the concept of free trade. In announcing the bilateral E.U.-Japanese trade agreement, Abe noted “I believe Japan and the E.U. are demonstrating our strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against the shift toward protectionism.”  Quoted in the NCC Washington Report on July 8th, Abe continued “The win-win deal was a strong message to the World.” (and by implication the White House? Ed.)

In endorsing the agreement, Donald Tusk of Poland, the President of the European Council noted that the deal reflected “the shared values that underpin our societies by which I mean liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Japan is the world’s third largest economy with a population of 127 million and imports a considerable proportion of its food requirements. The National Pork Producers Council has renewed requests to expedite a food-trade agreement with Japan to maintain an existing market.

Ken Maschhoff, president of the NPPC stated “We can’t stand by while countries around the world negotiate agreements that give them a competitive advantage over American products.” The market in Japan for U.S. pork is estimated at $1.6 billion annually.

The Wall Street Journal predicts a loss of jobs resulting from impairment of trade. The WSJ notes “the advantages of multilateral trade agreements in relation to what is described as complex supply chains trading the components that make up most consumer goods.” Benefits accruing from bilateral deals may not be realized if export items comprise components from different countries thereby imposing complications and distortions of prices.

Simply abandoning the TPP, however “horrible” it may have been, without a substitute has created a vacuum which is now being exploited by the E.U. and China. This has profound long-term implications both for trade and geopolitical stability. “America First” does not necessarily have to mean “America in Isolation.” Expeditious negotiation of bilateral agreements with our trading partners should be considered a priority by the Administration.

   
 

Chicken from China Enters the U.S. Amid Criticism

Jul 19, 2017

    

In accordance with a May 2017 bilateral agreement between China and the U.S., a token quantity of cooked chicken has entered the U.S. from the Nine-Alliance group of Qingdao, People’s Republic of China.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-FSIS has proposed a rule allowing China to raise, slaughter and cook product from chickens and ducks to be exported to the U.S.  The shipment follows a prolonged period of inspection during which it was determined that standards of processing and food safety in China are equivalent to U.S. plants.

  

The agreement on cooked chicken was regarded as a quid pro quo for China to accept U.S. beef according to Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT). As a public health professional before entering politics, DeLauro has consistently opposed importation of food products including poultry from China based on considerations of food safety. Congressional disapproval of the Administration policy on importation of cooked chicken is reflected in a rider to an appropriations bill, banning chicken of Chinese origin from being served in schools.  It is intended to extend the ban to all Federal nutrition programs.

Although China may be regarded as a nation with endemic avian influenza, this should not be a restraint to importation into the U.S. if poultry meat is thoroughly cooked.  At the present time  raw chicken must be sourced from either the U.S., Canada or Chile although a subsequent Rule will allow chicken raised in China to be included in shipments. USDA officials are confident that four facilities approved for export to the U.S. will provide safe product based on repeated inspection over a ten-year period

Those objecting to the principle of importation from China note that apart from avian influenza, adulterants including Listeria and antibiotic-resistant pathogens in addition to pharmaceutical and other chemical residues may be present in cooked product. Ian Ronholm, previously Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA in the previous Administration, also criticized the agreement stating, “When you look at China it has a very spotty history with food safety and it’s very easy to fear the worst.”

 Opinions contrary to those expressed by the USDA are advanced by companies involved in auditing food plants in China supplying multinational companies.  Quoted in a Dow Jones Factiva report, based on a July 7th Washington Post article, a representative of an auditing company, Asia Inspection, noted that food-safety is the responsibility of individual manufacturers and is not as rigidly supervised by a government agency as in the U.S.

The USDA expects China to ship 324 million pounds (150,000 metric tons) of cooked poultry annually over the next five years representing 2.6 percent of total U.S. production.

Since Chicken imported from China will be labeled as to country of origin, it is expected that consumers will display reserve in their selection at the supermarket shelf.

Concern over importation from China stimulates preemptive labeling

   
 

Organic Food Sales Data

Jul 12, 2017

    

The Organic Trade Association published data extending from 2007 through 2016 on July 2nd showing growth in sales relative to all food. 

During this period total food sales increased from an annual value of $628.2 billion to $812.9 billion representing an average per annum increase of 2.9 percent. 

Over the same period, organic food sales increased from $18.2 billion to $43.1 billion or a 13.6 percent annual increase. 

  

The proportion of organic sales as a component of all food purchased increased from 2.9 percent to 5.3 percent over a 10 year period equivalent to an average 8.2 percent annual increase.  In evaluating the data for the past five years, organic food sales increased by 4.8 percent per annum compared to total food sales of 1.9 percent.  Over a ten year period, the proportion of organic sales as a total percentage of total food sales increased by a factor of 1.8 however over five years, the proportion declined to 1.4.

According to the Organic Trade Association 65 percent of organic farms sold products into wholesale markets in 2016.  Of the total of $43.1 billion in organic food sales, fruit and vegetables represented $15.6 billion (36 percent) and organic meat and poultry combined, $1 billion.  The Organic Trade Association highlights annual increases for total food sales and subcategories but much of their report represents cherry picking and ignores the evident slowing in demand.

Clearly there is growing acceptance for organic foods provided they are available in mainstream supermarkets and more importantly that these products are available at a competitive price. The attributes of organic products are apparent more as sentiment rather than by any quantifiable factor . Organic certification is based on adherence to standards laid down by the Organic Standards Board and weakly enforced by USDA Agricultural Marketing Services.

Effectively the system depends on a network of paid auditors following paper trails and with minimal direct observation of fields, facilities and livestock.  It is emphasized that there is no laboratory analysis to confirm freedom from pesticides, pathogens or contaminants. The system of organic certification especially with regard to imported products especially from Asia is subject to question as revealed in a recent post concerning shiploads of allegedly organic ingredients from Eastern Europe which acquired the necessary documentation to double their value between loading at the point of export and delivery to the U.S.

   
 

Preserve us from the Duplicity of Chefs

Jul 5, 2017

    

A number of food fads antithetical to intensive livestock production have been initiated by chefs in an attempt to generate media attention and presumably customers for their restaurants or cookbooks. The latest iteration is the D’artagnan Company established by Ms. Ariane Daguin a transplanted chef from France who is promoting Green Circle chickens.

An E.U. heritage breed available in the U.S. is being reared on a Pennsylvania farm by an Amish farmer. This in itself is not an unusual situation but the inclusion of non-conventional ingredients in the diets of the flock raises eyebrows.

  

The company is collecting vegetable waste, peelings and stale bread from major New York gourmet restaurants. The diets of the flocks are supplemented with bread soaked in milk, produce and scraps from the restaurants.

Heritage breeds grow slowly compared to conventional broilers. Feeding scraps dilutes the required energy and amino acid requirements of balanced diets but given the slow growth rate and indifference to feed conversion efficiency, the quaint 19th century approach probably does no harm. It is doubtful whether any specific vegetable or their combinations can alter taste or texture of meat. This is a function of genetics, the duration of the growing period and processing. A considerable part of the vegetable supplement comprising cellulose is indigestible by a monogastric species such as a chicken and simply contributes to fertilizing the pasture on which flocks roam.

D’artagnan admits to a high cost of production. This obviously is a reflection of the inferior growth rate of the strain but this probably is not important given the high prices charged for a serving. The concept obviously appeals to an affluent demographic patronizing gourmet restaurants in a large metropolitan area.

No chicken can grow profitably simply on kitchen scraps irrespective of the price charged per entrée by the donor restaurant. The New York Times article fails to specify that the grower, Mr. Leon Zimmerman is actually feeding his flocks a conventional diet with the scraps serving as a supplement. This omission reflects poorly on the quality of the blatantly promotional article. As noted previously, chefs apply a lot of “art” but little science to their trade. Sentiment appears to rule knowledge and reason as Michael Antony of the Grammarcy Tavern is quoted as  “We know the horror of the caged birds”. Virtually all 165 million broilers produced each week in the U.S. are grown in barns with a very small percentage allowed outside access in accordance with organic or pastured production standards.

The question arises as the where the heritage chickens are processed. It is hoped that D’artagnan is making use of a USDA-inspected plant to ensure wholesomeness and freedom from pathogens. It would indeed be unfortunate if the “experiment” resulted in a foodborne outbreak of salmonellosis or campylobacteriosis.

CHICK-CITE has no objection to any person or Company applying non-conventional genetic strains or unusual diets. If chefs produce exotic dishes which are sold at exorbitant prices to a discerning clientele willing to pay, so be it. What is objectionable is the fact that chefs unjustifiably deprecate conventional production which supplies over 99 percent of poultry meat which is both nutritious and inexpensive to U.S. consumers and our export markets.

   
 

Flaws in Knowledge Invalidate WSJ Article on Hatchability

Jun 28, 2017

    

In a June 18th article by Jacob Bunge in The Wall Street Journal it was projected that the apparent one percent decline in hatchability across the entire broiler industry translated to a loss of $121 million in sales over the first five months of 2017. This contention is totally erroneous since it presumes that integrators did not take appropriate action to compensate for whatever depression in hatchability may have occurred.

The $121 million value incorporates the assumption that the entire industry has experienced a one percent decline in hatchability. The depression in fertility and hence hatchability is in all probability confined to complexes producing high-yield heavy broilers in excess of eight pounds in live weight.

  

It is axiomatic that to achieve optimal phenotype, heavy breeders, both hens and cockerels, require more precise management and controlled feed intake, altered nutritional specifications, revised hen to rooster ratios and perhaps adjusted lighting programs during both the rearing and laying components of the production cycle compared to conventional strains.

There is also the aspect of incubation since older flocks produce eggs of higher weight which requires recalibration of incubation temperature and humidity especially in the hatcher. There is also the change in the weighted average age of the national flock. Both fertility and hatchability decline with advancing age of flocks especially in breeders over 55 weeks of age. This trend is the reason for “spiking” a practice involving the introduction of a team of younger roosters into a flock to boost fertility.

Returning to the financial projections, Bunge incorrectly assumes that producers are unable to compensate even in the short term for a one percent drop in chick production experienced from a proportion of their flocks. To place a one percent decline in hatchability in proportion, it is assumed that a broiler complex processing one million broilers a week would place 1,050,000 day-old chicks allowing for 5 percent losses in grow-out. 

The Complex would have to produce an extra 10,500 chicks each week to compensate for a one percent decline in hatchability irrespective of cause. Assuming an average of 3.0 chicks hatched per hen per week over a production cycle extending from transfer at 20 weeks to depletion at 65 weeks, it would require only 3,500 additional hens and 350 roosters to compensate for the loss in a complex holding 350,000 hens. This increase could be achieved by increasing stocking density slightly or adding an additional contractor or extending parent flock depletion on some farms by a fraction of a week without any direct capital expenditure.

The fixed and variable costs of production of eggs is generally less than $2.50 per dozen at prevailing low feed prices. The 1,100 dozen eggs required to supply the additional 10,500 chicks each week would cost in the region of $2,750 representing an additional $143,000 for the complex annually. Even if all U.S. complexes were affected by a one percent decline in hatchability, the total cost to the industry would be in the region of $24 million over a year. Effectively this would probably be in the region of $15 million given the proportion of high-yield breeders placed.

Generally body mass is negatively correlated with fecundity which includes both egg production and fertility. The introduction of high-yield broilers in response to marketing demands for white meat has been a boon for the broiler industry. As with any change in genetics, commensurate adaptation of nutrition and management is necessary to benefit from enhanced genotype.

This was the situation during the 1980s when a strain of heavy roosters was introduced to the U.S. from the U.K. Initial problems of pododermatitis, obesity and low fertility were resolved following the introduction of separate male and female feeding which is now a standard practice. Primary breeders are working with the industry to optimize productivity at both breeder and broiler grow-out levels for high-yield heavy strains.

The additional costs of chick production associated with an apparent one percent decline in hatchability is however more than compensated by the incremental revenue from improved yield, growth rate and the mass of saleable product destined for specific markets.

The calculations presented in the WSJ article are misleading and denote a lack a knowledge of industry practice and economics. Consultation with experienced and knowledgeable specialists in academia and industry should have elicited more information to produce a balanced and more informative article.

   
 

ABC News Trial

Jun 21, 2017

    

On March 7, 2012 ABC News a subsidiary of Walt Disney Company broadcast a program disparaging lean finely textured beef (LFTB) which was characterized as “pink slime”. 

The origin of the allegations was Gerald Zirstein, an ex-USDA employee who provided distorted information to ABC producer, Jim Avila who mischaracterized the product as “beef trimmings used for dog food spread with ammonia for safety.”*

It is a matter of record that LFTB is highly nutritious and a valuable component of ground beef, since it is low in fat content having been centrifuged.

  

The allegations made by ABC in their program resulted directly in widespread customer and consumer rejection of LFTB.  The plaintiff in the case, Beef Products Inc. was forced to close four plants within weeks of the program airing and laid off over 700 workers.  Sustainability also suffered since the product could no longer be commercially incorporated into ground beef.

ABC claim that none of the information presented was knowingly incorrect and that they were within their 1st Amendment rights in airing the “expose”. Although ABC claim that at no stage did their program imply that LFTB was unsafe, the impressions created by the program resulted in almost complete rejection of the product and termination of the operations of Beef Products.

The Company is claiming $1.9 million in direct damages and if the suit is successful could ultimately receive punitive damages of $6 million. 

The case will be closely followed by a Subway which has been exposed to a similar situation arising from sensational and incorrect reporting by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A popular program aired a segment claiming that chicken used in sandwiches contained an excessive quantity of vegetable-origin filler.  This contention was later disproved by independent laboratory investigations.

The Beef Products v ABC case has profound implications for the food industry since any mainstream media organization could, in the interest of ratings, distort fact and wreak havoc on either a producer or a segment of our industry.  The present case will probably not result in a definitive ending since irrespective of the outcome, lengthy appeals are anticipated.

It is hoped that in the end, reason will prevail and a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff will serve to motivate self-restraint and adherence to scientific fact and truth all to the benefit of producers and customers.

*See series of postings from March 27th 2017 onwards by entering “LFTB” in the SEARCH block.

   
 

Fallout From JBS Bribery Continues

Jun 14, 2017

 

    

The consequences of the admission of guilt plea by the Batista brothers has now extended beyond legal sanctions. The June 9th edition of The Wall Street Journal reports a strong backlash against JBS brands in Brazil.

Based on ethical considerations (“character”) and capacity, banks have apparently tightened standards for lending to the Company. Domestic sales have been impacted in the short term since there is emerging consumer resistance to purchase products from JBS and affiliate companies under the umbrella of Batista holding company J & F Investments.

 

Corporate buyers including Wal-Mart and Carrefour SA, both major multi-national supermarket chains and McDonalds Corporation and other QSRs have policies disqualifying suppliers if there is evidence of bribery or other illegal activity.

Although JBS has clearly stated that after the sale of meat production assets in Argentina and neighboring countries to the Minerva group that they are not interested in divesting other companies. Given the fact that the penalty to be paid by JBS extends over ten years, the direct financial outcome will not be devastating to the Company. Degradation of brand image and disaffection among major customers may however be a different story. This commentator believes a major restructuring of JBS will occur and dismemberment is a real possibility.

It was an easy decision for the Batista’s to distribute $150 million among as many as 1,000  politicians. Their influence extended right up to the level of three presidents of Brazil to facilitate sweetheart loans to fuel the binge of acquisitions of competitors worldwide. Now the reality has emerged with consequences in terms of image and ability to sell existing brands under “business as usual” management. The events of the past few months confirm that over the long term, businesses must be built and operate on an ethical basis with due conformity to the laws of the nations in which they operate.

   
 

NAFTA Negotiations to be Clouded by Sugar Issue

Jun 7, 2017

    

Mexico is adamant that duty-free exports of sugar to the U.S. are critical to future negotiations on restructuring NAFTA. The American Sugar Alliance is intensifying efforts to maintain restrictions on their Mexican counterparts citing the adverse effect of imports on the now-defunct industry in Hawaii.

Sugar production in Hawaii attained 1.2 million tons annually during the late 1960s, but declined to less than 0.3 million tons twenty years later. By the time that NAFTA came into effect in January 2008, production in Hawaii had dropped to 200,000 tons annually. To aver that Mexican sugar affected production in Hawaii is misleading and deceptive.

  

The connection between sugar and other agriculture products is significant since a trade war over sugar will adversely affect exports of corn and other agricultural products to Mexico. Our Southern neighbor is the largest single market for U.S. broiler meat and the last thing that we need is a trade war and sanctions.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) stated “In the previous two decades since passage of NAFTA, U.S. producers have benefitted tremendously from an integrated system between Mexico, Canada and the United States. He added “U.S. farm exports for Mexico and Canada have risen exponentially since 1994 showering tens of billions of dollars into local economies that boost the financial health and prosperity of Americans working all along the food and fuel chain. Closing access to these vital trade routes would lead to swift economic harm that echo across the entire rural economy from farming to manufacturing, processing, trucking and retailing.”

Disputes over Canadian soft lumber and Mexican sugar must be resolved amicably without contributing to job losses which are inevitable unless disputes are settled through diplomacy.

   
 

The Case Against Slow-Growing Broilers

May 31, 2017

    

Dr. Eilir Jones of Poultry Nutrition Limited in the U.K. made a strong case against slow-growing broilers at the Alltech ONE17 Ideas Conference in Lexington, KY on Wednesday May 24th.

As a practicing nutritionist Dr. Jones has considerable experience in feeding modern broilers and is exposed to welfare and consumer trends which appear to have converged into the slow-growing trend. 

At the outset Dr. Jones maintains that chicken is the most sustainable of meats presenting data that carbon dioxide production per pound of live weight for chicken is in the region of 88 pounds.

  

In contrast, milk produces 185 pounds of carbon dioxide and beef 750 pounds of carbon dioxide.  Intensively raised pork is superior to ruminants at 115 pounds of carbon dioxide per pound live weight.

Dr. Jones refutes the claims benefiting slow-growth which involve welfare and meat flavor.  In the case of flock welfare, livability rates and skeletal integrity have improved through genetic selection concurrent with weight gain and high livability is achieved under optimal management.

Genetically broilers start life as ballerinas but by the time of depletion have developed into sumo wrestlers.  The change in conformation obviously influences activity but broilers are capable and willing to move in the house to obtain feed and water although they may not show activities typical of lower-weight birds under alternative management and housing.

The question of meat flavor is subjective. Most broiler-meat is consumed as prepared meals with added spices.  It is however evident that slower growing birds or those consumed at a lower live weight have meat of a softer texture, with less breast yield and a bland flavor compared to High-Yield birds.

The strongest case against slow-growing broilers relates to sustainability.  Comparisons between conventional and slow-growing broilers show that applying retrograde genetics results in in an increase of 40 percent in water consumption, 34 percent in feed and 53 percent more manure.

Dr. Jones recognizes the market demand for slow-growing broilers fueled in part by misinformation and cynical manipulation of sentiment.  Notwithstanding the case relating to sustainability, he believes that consumers should have a choice but obviously will have to pay more for their considered or spontaneous decision to opt for a slow-growing product. 

What would be unfortunate is the situation in which an affluent and misguided minority enforce their views on all consumers such that both the environment and the pocketbook suffer. 

The question of sustainability is a real consideration and it is enigmatic that those that appear to favor slow-growing broilers are also environmentally conscious.  Clearly slow-growing broilers represent a conflict.  It remains to be seen whether slow-growing birds represent a passing fad or may develop into a specific permanent niche market.

   
 

National Chicken Council Addresses Perception of “Hormones”

May 24, 2017

    

The May 19th Washington Report distributed by the National Chicken Council responded to a survey that revealed that 77 percent of Americans believe that broiler chickens receive hormone supplementation to achieve weight gain.

Unfortunately despite publicity efforts by the NCC have failed to inform consumers that hormone and steroid supplementation have been banned since the late 1940s. Growth rate is a function of genetic selection, appropriate nutrition and control of disease in addition to providing an optimal environment to express phenotype for weight gain.

  

Although the NCC expends funds and effort on promoting facts and truth in relation to broiler production, the barrage of misinformation on the internet clearly outpaces the activities and promotion by the industry. It would be helpful if the USDA and the FDA were to help in correcting misinformation and to promote facts and reality.

The NCC would be well advised to engage the services of prominent sports and entertainment figures to produce advertisements and to blog in order to dispel the incorrect perception of hormones. The NCC blog The Cluck is factual but probably not as effective as the opposing websites since it is not regarded as an independent source. Reliance on scientists to correct misperceptions is a futile exercise.

Jack Bobo, Vice-president and Chief Communication Officer at Intrexon, speaking at the Alltech ONE-17 Ideas Conference in Lexington KY. On Monday 22nd May, stated “Lead with science—lose with science”. As a lawyer and environmental scientist previously in the Department of State working on aspects of food policy and biotechnology for 13 years he has a keen perspective on how to build consumer trust. 

As a start it would help if producers would stop placing “no hormones added” claims on packaging since this implies that others in the industry are following the practice. At least the USDA has ruled that a clarifying statement should be added to modify the empty claim, but this appears to be lost in quick review at the supermarket cooler. Perhaps in recognition of the widespread misperception of hormone use, producers are preemptively protecting their brand image.

   
 

Adverse Industry Publicity from New Yorker Allegations

May 17, 2017

    

The May 8th 2017 edition of the New Yorker contained an article by Michael Grabell entitled Cut to the Bone – How Poultry Company Exploits Immigration Laws. The article contains serious allegations concerning exploitation of immigrant labor and past irregularities with respect to documentation apparently carried out by Case Farms. Although addressing the travails of one company the article implies that similar problems exist among other integrators and the claims made in the New Yorker article may be accepted by the readership as representing the situation in the current U.S. broiler industry.

  

The article emphasizes sentiment, concentrating on an unfortunate accident in 2015 involving the amputation of a leg of an underage worker employed on a third-shift cleaning detail. The article also draws heavily on the experience of a previous worker afflicted with repetitive motion (carpal tunnel) disorder. It is implied that these two incidents are effectively commonplace and representative of the U.S. broiler industry. The incidence rate for injuries and illnesses in broiler processing attained 4.3 cases per 100 workers in 2015. This value is actually lower than the food industry as a whole.

A further complication with the Grabell article is that the author plays fast and loose with dates mixing current events with incidents as far back as 1989, marking the onset of employing Guatemalan refugees. The article cites a case of repetitive motion disorder in 2006, worker strikes in 2007 and then in 2008. Although revealing, the past history does not relate to recent management decisions and industry trends in prevention of workplace injury. Allegations concerning illegal hiring practices such as selling fake IDs in 1999 and charging workers for excessive use of rubber gloves in 2006 are hardly current issues.

Case Farms is an outlier with regard to the U.S. industry. According to the article, OSHA inspectors levied fines of $2 million and the company has accumulated 240 violations over seven years. David Michaels, former head of the OSHA stated that Case Farms was “an outrageously dangerous place to work.” Debbie Berkowitz formerly in the employ of OSHA in the previous administration and now with the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and who was the subject of a May 10th editorial in CHICK-CITE, was quoted in the article as saying “And when one group (presumably workers with common ethnicity or origin, Ed.) gets too powerful and stands up for their rights, they figure out who is even more vulnerable and move them in.” This appears to be a selectively unfavorable and biased observation.

Case Farms responded to the article through their public relations consultant with a lengthy and somewhat self-exculpatory but unconvincing rebuttal dated May 1st, preceding the publication included in the May 8th edition of the New Yorker. If a company such as Case Farms with a problem of labor supply, recruits refugees and homeless workers, there is a moral and definitely a business obligation to house them under acceptable conditions.

The company cannot evade this responsibility as determined previously in the issue relating to flagrant exploitation of workers at the Turner, ME egg-production complex owned by Jack De Coster in 2001 and 2002. Case Farms presumably now complies with the Department of Homeland Security requirements concerning employees and as with the entire industry follows the E-Verify program with submission of the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 in compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Case Farms denied that it was anti-union noting that it acquired Park Farms in Canton, Ohio, which functions as a union plant with acceptable labor relations since 2012.

Allegations of suboptimal flock welfare were mischaracterized in the Grabell article. Case Farms conforms to the guidelines of the National Chicken Council and is subject to audit under the American Humane Certified program.

ProPublica and the New Yorker replied to the Case Farms rebuttal confirming that on previous occasions, workers had in fact been terminated for complaining about working conditions.

A major defense advanced by Case Farms relates to the “arm’s length” relationship between the company and a contractor, Cal-Clean engaged to decontaminate the plant after operation. The severe injury to a worker resulting in amputation of his leg occurred during cleaning. CHICK-CITE has previously commented that simply contracting out activities such as catching, hauling or cleaning does not absolve the integrator of responsibility and liability for worker injury, improper welfare or compliance with labor and environmental laws and regulations. The courts have ruled on the use of contracted entities to evade legal responsibility with the principle element that if the contractor is

essentially providing services for one company the integrator can be regarded as a co-employer. (Heath v Perdue Farms, 2000). A similar approach to co-employment is under review by the Department of Labor, NLRB which has ruled that Franchisors of QSRs are responsible for wage rates and conditions of employment implemented by Franchisees.

Employing an underage worker, failure to provide training, negligence with respect to cut-out procedures and lack of supervision can still be laid at the door of an integrator. In this specific instance, the Cal-Clean sanitation manual was apparently a Case Farms document with a Cal-Clean logo added. The owner of Cal-Clean, Steve Callaghan stated under oath that “we, Cal-Clean and Case Farms are in this together” in testimony before the OSHA.

The New Yorker article, although dealing with a specific company responsible for less than two percent of broiler production in the U.S. unfortunately generated adverse publicity for the entire industry. It is hoped that the article alleging events over the past ten years have made an impression on management and specifically Tom Shelton, an industry pioneer and the owner of Case Farms. It is axiomatic that unacceptable labor practices and deviation from industry standards with regard to worker welfare cannot be tolerated by any company for the common good. 

   
 

National Employment Law Project Unjustly Condemns Broiler Industry over OHSA Data

May 10, 2017

    

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) issued a policy brief dated April 2017 authored by Debbie Berkowitz purporting to establish that broiler processing is associated with an unacceptably high incidence of injuries.

At the outset it must be stated that presenting tabular data listing numbers of reports by employer category is an entirely misleading exercise although it appears to suit the needs of the National Employment Law Project.  Disease and accident data must be related to a rate with a defined numerator and denominator. 

  

To infer that Walmart ranked Number two on a list with 128 reports of injuries over the period January 2015 to September 2016 was worse than Publix with 60 reports is a meaningless comparison.  Obviously Walmart employs many more people than Publix and would be expected to generate more than twice the number of reports.  Nowhere in the report does Berkowitz cite a rate which allows for meaningful comparisons.

The National Chicken Council correctly characterized the NELP report as “cherry-picking of data”. In effect what Berkowitz and her colleagues has done is to distort available data.

The 2015 Injury and Illness Report by the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, notes that the illness and injury rate for poultry processing during 2015 was 4.3 cases per 100 full-time workers over the year.  During 2015, the entire food manufacturing sector recorded a rate of 4.7 cases per 100 full-time workers.

By comparing rates, progress made by the processing segment of the broiler industry is evident.  In 1994 the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a rate of 22.7 cases per 100 full-time workers. The 2015 rate represents an 81 percent decrease over a 30-year period.  This is attributed to improvements in equipment, training of workers, mechanization and a sincere realization by integrators and their management to reduce the magnitude and impact of illnesses and injuries.

In reviewing the classification of workers injured in plants it is obvious that the cleaning shift represents an area for improvement.  It is questioned whether contract workers are sufficiently trained to avoid injury during the third shift.  There are also cases of injury arising from improper lock-out procedures which obviously requires attention.  All serious injuries involving multiple workers or amputation results in an OSHA inspection.  Results of reviews frequently point to deficiencies in either equipment or training, which when publicized, allows processors to make improvements in their respective programs.

The bias demonstrated in the report is inherent in the past work history of the major author.  She was a former staffer in OSHA under the previous Administration and has also held positions at the UFCW and AFL-CIO.  Examples of rhetoric include characterizations such as “a staggering 27 workers a day”, and unsubstantiated allegations that the “poultry processing industry is under-reporting the serious injuries that occur in the plant” and blanket condemnation of state-run health and safety agencies.

The NELP report concluded that the poultry industry has the resources to implement required safety measures.  Recent commitments by major processors confirms that not only do the rate-based statistics demonstrate improvements but agreements between companies and their unions jointly outline programs to prevent injury and to maintain productivity.  The concluding statement in the report “The workers who put food on our table should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck” is designed to appeal to emotion rather than reason.

Berkowitz should know better than to cite numbers of cases and ignore rate-based data.  If she is unaware of the difference between incidence data and incidence rates she should undertake training before writing policy briefs.  If however, as one would expect, she is cognizant of the need to express data as a rate and has failed to do so, she is guilty of sophistry and distortion of fact.

   
 

Collegial Response from New Zealand on Recent Commentary

May 3, 2017

    

Kent Deitemeyer, Joint-Managing Partner for Pacific Vet. located in Christchurch, New Zealand responded to comments expressed in a posting on the supply of grandparent stock from New Zealand to China. The focus of the posting was in fact on China. There is no question that New Zealand has been a beneficiary of the decision by China to suspend importation of grandparent stock from the U.S. which supplied 90% of their requirements before the unjustified embargo in 2013.

  

The article in no way intended to disparage the efforts of the major primary breeders in New Zealand in justifiably establishing repositories of elite lines in a nation free of virtually all avian diseases. These installation and resources would probably not otherwise have been committed to a nation of 4.5 million other than to benefit from the advantages of isolation and to establish a permanent presence in the Nation since regular imports of grandparent or parent stock are disallowed.

Deitemeyer states that the absence of maternal antibodies in parent stock supplied to nations in the Pacific region has not represented a restraint. In this I beg to differ based on experience following introduction of parent stock into an Indian Ocean Island with endemic vvIBD, despite above-average biosecurity precautions.  

Poultry health professionals in New Zealand including Kent have developed successful immunization protocols for flocks delivered to IBD and Newcastle-endemic nations including day-old vaccination following delivery. Unfortunately, authorities in New Zealand do not allow the administration of vectored HVT vaccines or killed IBD and ND vaccines. According to Kent, customers in Asia prefer Rispens’ Strain (Type 1) Marek’s vaccine over HVT (Type 3.) This would predicate administration of both Rispens and an HVT-vectored IBD or LT vaccine as used in the U.S. and the E.U.

As a recent visitor to New Zealand, I can attest to the beauty of the country, the friendliness of the people and the acceptance of both eggs and chickens in the domestic market. Recently the U.S.  successfully negotiated to introduce turkey breasts to supplement domestic production.

It is evident that New Zealand will play an important role in supplying China and other Pacific nations until China becomes self-sufficient with respect to production of GP-level flocks, which appears to be their policy.

Kent points out that the poultry industry is global and that competition is an important driver of the World industry. New Zealand according to Kent “loves to fight above its weight” and the Nation obviously will play an important role in the security of foundation (elite), GGP and the supply of GP flocks.

Chick-Cite is appreciative of the collegial response from Kent Deitemeyer. Any responsible and informative rebuttal or comment relevant to a posting on either Chick-Cite or Egg-Cite is welcomed in the interest of free discourse.

   
 

Application of Whole Genome Sequencing is a Two-edged Sword

Apr 26, 2017

    

The Centers for Disease Control in conjunction with the California Department of Public Health, scientists at Land Grant universities and the USDA-FSIS recently published on an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg which affected 146 confirmed cases in 24 states during 2014.  The article* demonstrates that whole genome sequencing allows investigators to extend the specificity of a field study to achieve definitive laboratory identification of pathogens. 

  

Organisms derived from 27 patients and 24 food isolates implicated in the outbreak were subjected to whole genome sequencing.  Isolates were classified into seven clades one of which involved a cluster of cases attending a catered party.  The relatedness of isolates based on single-nucleotide polymorphism confirmed the relationship of the outbreak pathogen to the caterer and also identified the source of contaminated chicken.

The implications of whole genome sequencing are evident.  If a specific plant is responsible for dissemination of a pathogen, it is now possible to trace the source of infection with a high degree of certainty.  Whole genome sequencing can now be performed for as little as $25 per sample and the technique is available in state laboratories in addition to FDA and CDC facilities.  Whole genome sequencing should not necessary be regarded in a punitive sense since the technique can be applied to determine the source of infection within a plant.  Recent outbreaks of listeriosis traced back to manufacturers of dairy products and cold cuts have raised legal implications but quality control personnel have been able to identify specific equipment and processes which contribute to contamination.

Advances such as whole genome sequencing will create a heightened level of liability but at the same time provide benefits through in-company evaluations and directed responses to enhance food safety and avoid outbreaks of foodborne infection.

*Crowe, S. J. et al Utility of combining whole genome sequencing with traditional investigational methods to solve foodborne outbreaks of Salmonella infection associated with chicken: A new tool for tackling this challenging food vehicle. J. Food Prot. 80: 654-660. (2017)

   
 

Slow-Growing Broilers

Apr 19, 2017

 

    

CHICK-CITE has previously reported on the “slow-growing broiler” movement, advanced by welfare groups essentially opposed all forms of intensive livestock production. 

The anthropomorphic principle of flocks “suffering” is offered as a condemnation of the efficiency and sustainability associated with modern production practices.

The National Chicken Council is justifiably concerned over unsubstantiated allegations raised against the industry implicating “abuse” in producing broilers weighing in excess of 7 pounds live weight.

  

Although logic and reality can be applied to defend the industry, this has little impact on the preconceived notions of a subset of consumers, influenced by distorted misinformation disseminated on the internet.

Concurrent with an increase in body weight of broilers there has been an improvement in livability, feed conversion efficiency and welfare as determined quantitatively by gait-score and other parameters. Essentially if broiler flocks are being abused and are suffering, performance across the subset of heavy broilers amounting to over 100 million each week would not be achieved.

Primary breeders have to expend considerable resources applying index selection to optimize bird growth and skeletal integrity.  Families with desired traits can be identified by a combination of phenotypic selection on a mass basis with DNA assay (single nucleotide polymorphism).

A major breakthrough in improving the integrity of legs occurred in the 1990’s when a major breeding company introduced the lixiscope to screen breeding flocks for the presence of tibial dyschondroplasia. The undesirable trait was eliminated from elite-level strains and consequently from commercial broilers.  Skeletal strength has been further advanced through sophisticated genetic selection and nutrition, contributing to improved livability and carcass quality.

The National Chicken Council is actively promoting the realities of broiler production and has established a consumer-oriented website www.chickencheck.in to provide responsible and accurate information on how U.S. broilers are reared and processed to achieve optimal quality, food safety and welfare.

   
 

NTF President Urges Support for Disease Prevention

Apr 12, 2017

 

    

Appearing before the House Agriculture Livestock Sub-Committee on Tuesday March 21st, Carl Wittenburg current chairman of the National Turkey Federation, urged continued funding to prevent diseases in commercial livestock.

Citing the expense of the 2015 HPAI epornitic which affected turkey farmers and in-line egg breaking complexes in the upper Midwest, Wittenburg emphasized the need for Congress to support the USDA APHIS. 

 

He outlined four focus areas including:-

To be critical, Carl Wittenburg should also be encouraging the membership of NTF to upgrade biosecuritywhich was shown to be severely deficient following introduction of the H5N2 highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza in Minnesota and the Dakotas in 2015.

Federal funding to support national and state preparedness programs and research will add to the protection of livestock. Federal funds will not substitute for an investment in structural and operational biosecurity at the farm level, necessary to prevent introduction of infection into poultry, hog and cattle operations.

   
 

Relationship between Colistin Resistance in Chickens and Farmers, Vietnam

Apr 5, 2017

    

The Smoking Gun?

A systematic study was conducted in Tien Giang Province, Vietnam to establish the relationship between the mcr-1 gene which imparts resistance to the antibiotic colistin in chickens and farmers The investigation quantified the prevalence of the gene in the feces of chickens, and in rectal swabs of farmers and from rural and urban dwellers not in direct contact with chickens.

 

The mcr-1 gene was identified in China in 2014 and has appeared in many countries including the U.S. since this time. The gene possibly arose by point mutation and being associated with plasmids can be transferred among different genera of pathogens including Klebsiella and Pseudomonas.

The study was conducted by public health authorities in Vietnam in collaboration with the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development who designed and implemented the survey.  Fecal samples were obtained from 204 chicken farms and rectal swabs from 204 chicken farmers.  In addition, rectal swabs were obtained from age and gender-matched persons not involved in poultry farming from the same rural districts and from provincial capitals.

A total of 49.5 percent of fecal samples from chickens yielded bacteria carrying the mcr-1 gene with 56.4 percent from household (presumably backyard) chickens and 42.6 percent from small-scale commercial chicken units.  A total of 25.1 percent of chicken farmers yielded bacteria carrying the mcr-1 gene.  Within this group, 17.6 percent of farmers not exposed to chickens were colonized with bacteria carrying the mcr-1 gene compared to 33 percent of farmers exposed to chickens with flora carrying the mcr-1 gene. 

Among the rectal samples from non-farm populations, 17.9 percent of age and gender matched residents of the province carried the gene compared to nine percent of the residents in provincial capitals.  Chickens under 20 weeks of age were more likely to carry the mcr-1 gene than older birds.  The difference between farmers carrying the gene that were exposed to positive chickens was very highly significantly greater (p=0.0001) than farmers not exposed to chickens carrying the gene.

The authors concluded that colonization with bacteria carrying the mcr-1 gene is associated with colistin use based on the relative presence of the gene in flocks receiving colistin with a use rate of 74 per 1,000 chickens treated daily with a defined dose of colistin.

The study clearly demonstrated the potential to transmit drug resistant genes from the microbiota of chickens receiving antibiotics to human contacts. Further studies applying advanced molecular analysis will in all probability demonstrate additional relationships between livestock receiving antibiotics and human contacts in addition to defining how dissemination occurs through the food chain.

Trung, N.V. et al zoonotic Transmission of mcr-1 Colistin Resistance Gene from Small-Scale Poultry Farms, Vietnam (2017) Emerging Infectious Diseases 23: 529-532

   























 
Copyright 2017 Simon M. Shane