Editorial

 

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

   
 

Hormel Embarrassed by Mercy for Animals Video Release

Mar 29, 2017

    

Hormel Foods, a public-traded company with valuable brands has been embarrassed by the release of a video apparently documenting housing and management below accepted industry standards on supply farms contracted to the Maschhoff’s. Hormel maintains and enforces a strict supplier code of conduct and policies relating to animal care and welfare.

  

 In May of 2016, Mercy for Animals released a video claimed to have been filmed on a contract farm in Nebraska, demonstrating suboptimal handling.  The current video documents the use of gestation crates, crowding and unacceptable handling.

The president of Maschhoff’s, Bradley Wolter has initiated an investigation.  He maintains that the company has a zero tolerance for mistreatment which extends across all company employees and contractors.  He stated, “We view animal care as a continuous-improvement process and we will continue to make investments to further our animal care standards in the future.”  Hormel Foods has initiated an investigation and in the interim has suspended deliveries of hogs from the Maschhoff’s.

We are becoming all too familiar with the sequence of a video release purporting to show improper housing or management followed by negative publicity and a bland statement of policy by the CEO of an implicated Company  In many cases, clandestine videos have been shown to be either staged or images have been taken out of context.  Some of the Mercy for Animals releases have been proven to be without substance. Unfortunately some videos have shown egregious mistreatment of herds and flocks.

 It would appear to be good business practice to adhere to acceptable and documented standards of housing and management with responsible PAACO-certified personnel conducting third-party verification.  In this respect, the broiler and layer industries are evidently more advanced than other segments of livestock production.  Unfortunately, revelations whether justified or not in one animal production sector adversely affect all intensive livestock production. Given the power of social media we are vulnerable to the activities of organizations promoting a vegan agenda such as the HSUS and Mercy for Animals who use publicity from intrusion videos to generate financial support.

All livestock should be treated humanely and company culture should embrace realistic and scientific principles of welfare. The criterion should be, would one would be concerned to come to work on a Monday morning to find a “60-Minutes” team outside? If so there is something wrong and it needs correcting.

   
 

AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL CRITICAL OF IARC

Mar 22, 2017

    

CHICK-CITE has repeatedly commented on the dubious value of monographs issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a body administered by the World Health Organization.  In recent months, IARC has created conflicts over classifying glyphosate as a potentially carcinogenic compound.  This claim was subsequently retracted based on strenuous opposition from reputable universities, toxicologists and specialists in mutagenicity.

  

Cal Dooley President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) stated, “ The IARC monographs program has been responsible for countless misleading headlines about the safety of the food we eat, the jobs we do and the products we use in our daily lives”.  She added, “IARC work suffers from persistent scientific and processed deficiencies that result in public confusion and misinformed policy making”.  The American Chemistry Council is urging the World Health Organization to reform the IARC. The ACC considers the IARC to be lax in transparency and considerations such as weighing scientific evidence, thereby distorting public policy.

The U.S. Congress has requested documents relating to the preparation of IARC monographs since the Agency is partly funded by an allocation from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

   
 

Visas for Foreign Agriculture Workers?

Mar 15, 2017

    

The Economist on January 28th reported on a program to import indentured workers from Haiti for a farm in Alabama.  Jon Hegeman who operates a small nursery found difficulty in finding laborers to pot plants and work in greenhouses. 

He was introduced to a program operated by Protect the People which focuses on alleviation of poverty in nations subjected to climatic extremes and earthquakes.  By using the leverage provided by the charity, visas were issued to eight workers from Haiti.

  

A study conducted by the Centre for Global Development documented the financial advantage of migrating to the U.S. to undertake manual labor compared to fellow citizens of Haiti who had no alternative but to remain in their native country. The monthly income of the migrants was approximately 1,400 percent higher than those that remained and most of the U.S. earnings were remitted back to families in Haiti. Apparently, a similar scheme offers temporary agriculture work in New Zealand to islanders of Tonga and Vanuatu and is regarded as an effective development policy by the World Bank.

The real issue is why is Jon Hegeman was forced to import temporary workers to carry out unskilled work paying close to $11.00 per hour. Were there no abled-bodied recipients of welfare in rural Alabama who would otherwise be available to work?  Should the Federal and state governments develop incentive schemes for farmers and employers to build acceptable housing to allow current welfare recipients to move from urban blighted areas to where employment is available. After all, there was a migration ten years ago to the oil fields of North Dakota in response to a demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers, many of whom were displaced from offshore oil installations in the Gulf and expatriate positions in the Gulf.

Erection of poultry processing plants in rural areas attracts applicants from among residents within commuting distance.  This is evidenced by the wide ratio of applicants compared to available jobs offered by Sanderson Farms in their new Saint Pauls NC. plant.  Is the difference between the Alabama farm of Jon Hegeman and the Saint Pauls plant established by Sanderson Farms a function of available workers living in the vicinity of a job opportunity?  If this is the case, programs to facilitate relocation and housing may reduce the need for foreign agricultural workers and at the same time shrink the welfare rolls.

During the Great Depression, displaced sharecroppers and disposed farmers migrated west to California and Oregon to work in orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms since there was little or no welfare available other than the WPA.  Perhaps both our politicians and welfare recipients should read John Steinbeck.

   
 

Lawsuit by Contractors Alleges Collusion by Integrators

Mar 8, 2017

    

As an anticipated offshoot of the now suspended GIPSA Rule, some contractors have initiated a class action lawsuit (Haff Poultry Inc. et al v. Tyson Foods Inc. et al. Case No. 17-CV-00033) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. Defendants include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, Koch Foods and other integrators.

Allegations are that large broiler producers represent a cartel which has colluded to exchange information on grower remuneration and also to adopt policies disfavoring competition among integrators for contractors. It is acknowledged that through the monthly Agristats® reports integrators can determine historical levels of grower remuneration. The data is anonymous with respect to complexes listed but serves as a benchmark to establish a range of costs extending from breeding through processing. This does not constitute “collusion” as alleged.

  

The National Chicken Council estimates that there are 25,000 farmers with contracts to rear pullets, house parent breeder flocks or to grow broilers.  It is a reality that most integrators have waiting lists for new contractors and those wishing to erect new houses.  It is also an established fact that contractors stay with their integrators over many years, frequently exceeding the 15-year duration of their mortgage repayments and they enjoy excellent relationships with their servicepersons and their companies.

As frequently observed in postings on CHICK-CITE, the growth of the U.S. broiler industry is based on long-term satisfaction of mutual requirements of contractors and integrators.  Contractors have a regular income from raising broilers or housing breeders which smooths cash flow from their other farming activities which usually generate semi-annual payments for crops and livestock. The contract system allows available family members to participate in a collective farming enterprise.  Integrators are reliant on contractors to provide housing, utilities and labor to raise flocks. This allows them to concentrate investment and resources on capital intensive industrial components of production including feed milling, hatching and processing.  Integrators assume the risk of catastrophic disease, market fluctuations and increases in the cost of ingredients which represent up to 70 percent of live cost.

From experience and contact with the industry, there is little justification for claims that contractors are exploited or that integrators generate excessive profits at their expense.  If anyone profits unjustly from claims alleging exploitation, it is the legal profession and politicians.

Since the late 1940’s, the broiler industry has functioned with efficiency in a competitive environment, providing opportunities for contractors and their families and supplying our domestic and export markets with affordable protein.

It is hoped that the companies defending the spurious lawsuit will be successful in their efforts and the claims by the disaffected growers and their legal advisors will be regarded as without merit.

   
 

Kuwait Import Ban Rolled Back to January 5, 2017

Mar 1, 2017

    

According to a report in the February 27th edition of the USAPEEC Monday Line, Kuwait has set back the date of the import ban attributed to “avian influenza” to January 5th from February 9th. The USAPEEC estimates that shipments in transit affected by the January 5th date amount to $1.5 million.  According to the report authorities have detained one shipment on arrival.

  

The entirely unjustified ban is apparently based on a single isolation of avian influenza virus from a hunter-killed mallard in Montana during early January. The action taken by the Government of Kuwait is contrary to the policy of the World Organization for Animal Health which makes a distinction in significance between isolates of avian influenza from free-living birds and commercial farms.  In addition Kuwait should recognize the OIE principle of regionalization.  Broiler-exporting states are far removed from Montana and are not even on a common flyway.

Actions such as those taken by Kuwait although difficult to understand, occur frequently.  It is a personal recollection that in the late 1980’s this commentator was in the invidious position of requesting importation of infectious bursal disease vaccine into Kuwait based on high mortality attributed to the disease in non-vaccinated flocks.  An official in the Ministry of Agriculture refused to accept that IBD was in fact present in Kuwait despite the worldwide distribution of the infection including in neighboring states.  He was however willing to reconsider the situation when a bottle of grossly enlarged and hemorrhagic bursas, obtained a few hours previously, was placed on his desk for inspection.

The USDA-FAS, the APHIS and USAPEEC will have difficulty in reversing the decision by authorities in Kuwait by advancing science and OIE recommendations. Simply applying logic and geographic realities will be questionable given the byzantine and complicated interaction among government agencies in Middle East nations. Essentially a combination of institutional ignorance and stubbornness will mitigate against reversal of any decision irrespective of how fallacious the basis may have been. I am glad I am not a diplomat and only a diplomate.

   
 

WITHDRAWAL FROM THE TPP

Feb 22, 2017

    

It came as no surprise that during the first full working day of the Administration of President Donald J. Trump that an Executive Order was issued, formerly withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  It was anticipated that the TPP would have provided considerable advantage to agriculture although the potential downsides were highlighted by both Presidential candidates.

  

Formal withdrawal from the TPP has created a vacuum which will inevitably be filled by China which is promoting a competing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.  Trade with Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand will be impaired in the absence of the proposed 12-Nation TPP.  Japan and specifically Prime Minister Abe will be the most embarrassed by failure of the TPP which was a cornerstone of his economic recovery strategy.

The World recently witnessed Xi Jinping extolling the virtues of free-trade at the Davos Gathering of economist and business leaders.  The reality is that China may talk free-trade but the reality is quite different. China effectively imposes barriers against importation, ignores intellectual property rights and promotes national enterprises many of which are government- owned, to the detriment of foreign competitors.

In an incisive editorial in the January 24th Wall Street Journal it was noted that the President might have had a stronger bargaining hand with China had the TPP been ratified, which was the hope of outgoing President Barack Obama.

To maintain exports, especially in the agricultural sector, the U.S. will now have to negotiate a series of bilateral trade agreements with Japan as the priority.

There will be no immediate economic impact from failure of the TPP. Going forward it will be necessary to balance self-interest with the realities of globalization in order to avert a decline in the export of agricultural commodities and poultry to Asian nations who comprise our accessible and qualified markets.

   
 

North Carolina to be the Battleground between EPA and State over Animal Waste

Feb 15, 2017

    

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has addressed a letter to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality concerning continued health problem among minority communities living in the vicinity of large-scale hog operations.

There are more than nine million hogs on 2,000 farms in Duplin and Sampson Counties.  Following environmental complaints dating back to 1980, a moratorium was placed on expanding hog farms by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1997.

  

Craig Jarvis writing in the Durham News and Observer on January 20th noted the involvement of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Health and the Waterkeeper Alliance.  These activist organizations claim that hog operations discriminate against minorities exposing them to “stench, flies, and other problems resulting in asthma and other health concerns”.

The news report suggest that harassment of activists has occurred including threats of physical violence.

North Carolina now has a Governor from the Democratic Party who narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent.  The Legislature of North Carolina is majority Republican, rural oriented and conservative.

As noted previously in both CHICK-CITE and EGG-CITE, environmental, welfare and disease-related issues affecting the hog industry have a commonality with the egg and broiler industries and regulatory action imposed on hog farms by both Federal and state agencies should be monitored.

Whether the Civil Rights Office of the Environmental Protection Agency will be allowed to pursue action against the state of North Carolina is questionable given the probable confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt as the future Head of the EPA. Despite tough partisan questioning at the nomination hearing, Pruitt will be confirmed resulting in a change of policy at the EPA.

   
 

CARE DURING SLAUGHTERED RECEIVES USDA SCRUTINY

Feb 8, 2017

    

A JBS plant in Louisville was the recent recipient of USDA sanctions as a result of improper handling, and stunning of hogs before slaughter.  The plant uses a captive bolt procedure which depends on adequate training of operators, restraint, supervision and suitable plant conditions to achieve optimum efficiency and welfare. 

The UDSA inspectors observed three incidents involving improper stunning during a two month period.  Although no fines were imposed, inspectors withdrew from the plant for a number of hours resulting in interruption of processing.  This is an expensive action costing as much as $40,000 per hour.

  

The USDA warned the management of the plant that they should be cognizant of repeated “egregious human handling violations”. Following release of intrusion videos by animal rights and activist groups, the USDA is especially sensitive to allegations of improper handling and welfare.

Only a few U.S. broiler plants have installed modified atmosphere stunning.  The industry standard is low voltage DC to render birds insensate followed by AC to and position stunned birds for optimal pre-slaughter treatment.  Since birds are not handled from the point of shackling onwards, the human factor relating to stunning and slaughtering of broilers requires appropriate adjustment and maintenance of stunners and rotary blade equipment.

The significant point of concern with regard to welfare activists is the exceptionally rare passage of birds with incompletely severed cervical blood vessels into the scald tank.  Accordingly agents representing animal rights groups usually attempt to function as a backup slaughterer. In this position they are able to generate “blue birds” (incompletely exsanguinated broilers) through deliberate negligence while they contrive to obtain clandestine videos to document alleged deviations from acceptable operation.

Adverse publicity whether justified or not, resulting from a claimed welfare incident in the kill- room can result in the loss of brand image and customer disaffection.

It should be expected that USDA will exercise more concern over monitoring regulations relating to humane handling and slaughter in both red and white-meat plants.

   
 

Wal-Mart Stores to Redefine Relationship with Suppliers

Feb 1, 2017

    

A January 24th article by Jon Springer in Supermarket News confirms that Wal-Mart Stores intends to establish a closer relationship with suppliers including cost negotiations and business interaction.

Walmart has embarked on a cost-cutting exercise. The Company has announced layoffs of administrative personnel at their headquarters. The Company will incur higher costs for wages and training. The need for economy in operations lies in the reality that the Company must invest in E-commerce in which it lags and to rationalize store size in numerous areas of the U.S.  The company is also extremely vulnerable to proposed import duties given the high proportion of its products come from China which is disfavored by the incoming Administration.  Imposition of import duties would raise prices and would further reduce store traffic and margins.

  

A memo address to suppliers as reported in industry press noted “Our objective is to simplify the way we work and to allow Merchants, Sourcing Managers and Replenishment Associates more time to do what they do best – support our customers’ needs. As such we are adding Merchants and Merchandise Support Teams in Bentonville.”  The memo continued “your Merchants will be more involved in managing supplier relationships including supply of business assignments, cost negotiations and longer-term strategic initiatives.”  Sourcing Managers will be more involved in collecting and evaluating agro-intelligence and will spend more time at farms and facilities and engaging key players in your organization.” 

If the intent is to “help” producers to do what they do best, Wal-Mart Stores will be wasting time and resources.  If the objective is to use knowledge gained through becoming “more involved” to ascertain producers’ margins in order to engage in tougher price negotiations they will create antagonism reminiscent of the situation in 2007-2010 managed by John Fleming, Chief Merchant.

Egg producers who are heavily committed to Wal-Mart Stores should be most concerned over the initiative.  If Wal-Mart Stores sincerely wishes to reduce the cost of acquiring eggs they might look carefully at the advantage and costs involved in interposing an intermediate between suppliers and their Company.  The purpose of the “middle man” appears superfluous and the rationality and financial justification of the arrangement is questioned. Currently the egg production industry operates with a high level of competition and price transparency, universal compliance with health and safety regulations, welfare certification and computerized records with repetitive third-party audits.

   
 

Cobb-Vantress Awarded “Compartment” Status in Brazil

Feb 1, 2017

    

In 2004 the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) introduced the concept of a compartment to designate the disease-free status of breeding companies which operate with a high degree of biosecurity and freedom from specified infections.

These companies are considered eligible to export chicks and breeding stock subject to the conditions of the importing nation and compliance with OIE directives pertaining to “compartments”, irrespective of the disease status of the nation in which they are located.  In 2009 the government of the UK introduced a variation of compartmentalization to conform to EU regulations, including high levels of biosecurity and serologic surveillance.

  

Cobb Brazil is the first breeder in that Nation to receive certification as a Compartment by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Food Supply.  In accordance with Normative Ruling 21, Compartments must incorporate biosecurity, traceability and surveillance with specific emphasis on avian influenza and Newcastle disease.

Jairo Arenazio Executive Director of Cobb-Vantress for Latin America noted that “Brazil currently exports breeding stock to over twenty nations on four continents.”  He commented “compartmentalization has become a point of no return for the poultry industry, we are raising the health bar in the Brazilian poultry industry and showing once more it is leading the World in innovation and establishing a worldwide benchmark.

Dr. Monique Eliot Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health regards the certification as an international trend.  She stated “I want to be back in Brazil in a few years and verify that the country remains free of diseases such as avian influenza.”

With the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the Midwest during 2015 breeding companies which were totally outside the affected states and were operated with a high degree of biosecurity were subject to embargos by various nations. This created problems for exports and impacted customers reliant on periodic importation of stock. Simultaneous outbreaks of diseases such as avian influenza in both EU and North America could impose serious restraints on production in many countries reliant on primary breeders for grandparent and parent level stock.

The OIE recognizes both Regionalization and Compartmentalization.  Regrettably some nations either through ignorance or to protect domestic production ignore both principles. China imposed a blanket ban on importation of breeding stock from the U.S. which has yet to be lifted despite assurances by the USDA and serologic evidence of freedom from avian influenza.  Restrictions on importation of breeding stock have seriously restrained production and expansion in the broiler industry in China to the detriment of commercial-level producers, QSRs and consumers.

   
 

Slow-Growing Broilers are Subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences

Jan 25, 2017

    

For diverse reasons welfare activists, vegans, agricultural Luddites and those opposed to all forms of intensive livestock production are promoting “slow-growing” broiler strains.  This is an extreme example of anthropomorphism in which rapid growth and favorable conformation achieved through genetic selection is regarded as antipodal to welfare. 

  

It is an inescapable fact that broilers commence life as ballerinas and at the time of harvest, six to eight weeks later resemble sumo wrestlers.  Optimal weight gain and feed conversion efficiency inherent to genotype can be achieved without detracting from welfare as denoted by low mortality and excellent integumentary quality displayed by high-yield flocks at the time of processing.

The National Chicken Council recently released a report on the environmental and economic impact of converting to slow-growing strains. Converting only one-third of U.S. broiler production, estimated to attain 41,550 million pounds of ready-to-cook chicken in 2017, to slow-growing strains would require an additional 1.5 billion birds annually to produce the same quantity currently produced with highly selected broiler strains.  The environmental impacts of the additional birds with inferior genetic potential for growth and feed conversion include:-

  • An additional 13.4 million tons of feed to be consumed
  • An area approaching 7 million acres will be required to grow the additional feed
  • Production of an additional 28.5 billion pounds of manure annually
  • Consumption of an extra 5.1 billion additional gallons of water annually to rear the slow-growing strains.

With respect to the economic implications, the cost to the industry and accordingly, to be passed on to consumers, could exceed $9 billion annually.  It is estimated that without adding 1.5 billion additional birds to meet demand, there will be a reduction of 27.5 billion center-of-the-plate chicken meals annually.

The exercise in promoting “slow-growing” broilers is a typical example of an effete, ill-informed, arrogant, high-income demographic imposing their unscientific views on the population at large. Their collective actions invariably result in degradation of the quality of nutrition leading to deprivation especially among our less-fortunate fellow citizens.

Many consumers even receiving Supplementary Nutritional Assistance need to divert income from food to rent, utilities and other essentials.  Adoption of “slow-growing” broilers may be fine for the boutique stores of this world with an affluent clientele.  The one in seven U.S. consumers using food stamps would obviously have a different view.

Slow-growing broilers should be available at a price and in quantities corresponding to demand.  This is after all what constitutes a free market.  Both consumer organizations and the broiler industry should however guard against imposition of unnecessary restraints or regulations which have a negative impact on sustainability, the environment, public wellbeing and the economy.

   
 

AIRBORNE INFLUENZA VIRUS

Jan 18, 2017

    

A research team at the University of Minnesota (UM), College of Veterinary Medicine recently published on studies conducted to determine the extent of dissemination of avian influenza virus from infected flocks. *

In a December 13th University of Minnesota release, the research team led by Dr. Montserrat Torremorell, described studies on the distribution and spread of swine influenza virus applying similar techniques as used in the poultry studies to ascertain the presence of the pathogen in the air within hog barns, in exhaust streams and in the vicinity of farms.

  

During the spring 2015 HPAI outbreaks, H5N2 avian influenza virus was isolated from the environment of infected flocks and in exhaust air streams within 300 feet from houses.  In addition, virus could be recovered from the ground in the vicinity of farms suggesting that intra-farm dissemination of virus occurs. 

The presence of viable avian influenza virus on surfaces in the vicinity of barns holding infected flocks creates the potential to pass infection between farms unless appropriate biosecurity precautions are followed.  What would be interesting is to confirm the presumption that virus remains viable at relatively low temperature on surfaces such as earth especially in the presence of moisture and biological material. Survival of virus should be compared to impervious surfaces such as concrete or blacktop with and without exposure to sunlight and effective disinfectants.

The studies on hogs detailed in the UM press release demonstrated the presence of swine influenza virus on particles suspended in air within houses, corresponding to the excretion of virus from animals in the herd.  The virus could also be isolated from soil up to a mile from infected farms raising the question as to whether exhaust streams or wind can disseminate virus from a concentration of infected hogs or poultry.

Studies conducted by the University of Minnesota established the following principles:-

  • Virus shed by migratory waterfowl in the vicinity of houses can remain viable for some time and theoretically can be tracked into houses in the absence of appropriate biosecurity precautions.  At a minimum, Operational Biosecurity should involve a complete change of outer clothing and footwear at the entrance to the farm and a change of footwear on entry to each house.
  • The persistence of influenza virus can be influenced by surface characteristics.  Roads and aprons in the vicinity of houses which are constructed with a layer of blacktop or concrete will probably not support viability of virus for more than a few hours. Prolonged infectivity can be expected on soil mixed with biological material.
  • Although it would seem epidemiologically beneficial to filter air entering houses the complexity of installations and their cost raises questions of feasibility and practicality unless there is a high probability of introducing infection.
  • Investment in Structural Biosecurity is a function of :-
  • The risk of infection,
  • The financial consequences of introducing a disease,
  • The effectiveness of the modality such as filtration or ultraviolet radiation.

In studies on the epidemiology of avian influenza among turkey farms in Minnesota it was concluded that migratory waterfowl in all probability introduced the H5N2 virus although there was negligible evidence of persistence among free-living birds during post-outbreak surveillance. Dissemination of virus and the high incidence rate of infection in affected counties was attributed to defects in both Structural and Operational biosecurity as determined by surveys which identified risk factors for introduction of infection.

In contradistinction geospatial evaluation failed to correlate wind direction with the temporal and spatial sequence of outbreaks. Notwithstanding this general conclusion anecdotal evidence was highly suggestive of individual cases of aerogenous spread of virus among closely located farms in Minnesota and one case in Wisconsin.

Multiplication of virus occurs in a large flock following infection. Dissemination is possible over short distances in exhaust streams which entrain virus-laden dust particles which are deposited on roads and soil surfaces. The possibility of subsequent spread by mechanical transport on tires and footwear is self-evident. It is for this reason that current control procedures mandate deactivation of ventilation systems followed by and rapid depopulation of a flock.

This is accomplished using carbon dioxide foam for floor houses or VSD for high-density cage units. Control of an outbreak is impeded by delays in depopulating flocks and herds as evidenced by the early stage of the mid-West epornitic and current events in South Korea. In contrast prompt and appropriate action in the Indiana “pop-up” outbreak in January 2016 confined spread and restricted the infection to nine houses despite the high density of poultry in the counties surrounding the index farm.

It is evident that both Structural and Operational biosecurity should be complementary since the two components of the system are mutually dependent.  With neglect of aspects of either Structural or Operational biosecurity, the entire system of protection fails with disastrous economic consequences when flocks are exposed to a catastrophic disease such as highly pathogenic avian influenza.

*Torremorell, M et al. (2016) Investigation into the Airborne Dissemination of H5N2 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus During the 2015 Spring Outbreak in the mid-Western U.S. Avian Diseases 60:637-643.

   






















 
Copyright 2017 Simon M. Shane