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Articles from 2017 In January

Hormel supplier The Maschhoffs targeted in undercover video

Animal right group Mercy for Animals (MFA) released a new undercover video Jan. 31 that was taken at Hormel pork supplier The Maschhoffs. On the same day, The Maschhoffs said it was already taking action to address the allegations in the video, which was taken at one of its sow farms in Oklahoma. The video focused on sow housing conditions as well as piglet care practices.

“We have launched a full-scale investigation in response to this video,” The Maschhoffs president Bradley Wolter said. “Any animal care deficiencies discovered will be addressed in the quickest manner possible.”

The company said it has taken the following immediate actions as a result of its initial investigation:

  • Communicating The Maschhoffs' zero-tolerance policy for animal mistreatment with all employees and production partners.
  • Retraining all Oklahoma employees on the proper production procedures with respect to the practices displayed in the video.
  • Ensuring that every farm manager at The Maschhoffs reviews the video and fully understands the responsibility that comes with proper animal care.

“We view animal care as a continuous-improvement process,” Wolter said. “We will continue to make investments to further our animal care standards in the future. Properly caring for our animals is of the utmost importance.”

The Maschhoffs said it has a zero-tolerance policy for any abuse or mistreatment of its pigs and is “dedicated to achieving high standards of consistent care to ensure the safety and welfare of its animals.”

Wolter added, “We are proud to produce pigs for U.S. pork packers and processors. We do not take this responsibility lightly.”

Hormel said in a statement that it had dispatched certified third-party auditors to the Oklahoma farms and to additional Maschhoffs sites to verify that Hormel’s animal care requirements are being adhered to.

“Today, Hormel Foods was made aware of an undercover video taken at a Maschhoffs farm. This farm is a supplier to numerous large food companies, including Hormel Foods. Animal stewardship, including the care and humane treatment of animals, is one of our most important values,” Hormel said. "Hormel Foods has a strict supplier code of conduct and policies relating to animal care and welfare. We will not tolerate any violation of these policies. As such, we have issued a suspension of all the Maschhoffs LLC Oklahoma sow operations while a thorough investigation is completed."

Hormel said it expects, and has been assured, that The Maschhoffs will cooperate with the investigation.

In regard to the use of gestation crates, Hormel said it made a commitment that its company-owned farms will be gestation crate free by 2018 but added that it is "pleased to report that this conversion will be completed in the next 30 days.”

Additionally, Hormel said a key part of its Animal Welfare Advisory Council’s charter is to understand and recommend animal welfare procedures and practices that are in the best interest of the animals. “This group will continue to look closely at all industry practices for opportunities for continuous improvement. We have a shared goal in this regard.”

People can spot product downsizing but struggle to judge supersizing

fufunteg/iStock/Thinkstock food portions or serving sizes displayed as pie chart on plates

Consumers reject portion downsizing because they're good at spotting it, but they don't realize how big portions have become because they underestimate them. Understanding this can help make consumers more receptive to both downsizing and supersizing, according to a news release from INSEAD.

Whenever a brand tries to shave a few percentages off the size of a product, consumers immediately notice and complain. Such a revolt occurred when Mondelez reduced the size of its Toblerone chocolate bars in the U.K. by increasing the gap between its triangular chunks.

Why are people so mad at downsizing? Certainly, downsizing is a loss, but so is a price increase. Also, consumers are generally indifferent to all the supersizing that has been happening over the past three decades.

The same 16 oz. Coke, which now seems so normal, was advertised not so long ago as a "big size" that could serve three. In fact, for its first 50 years, the standard-measure Coca Cola bottle was 6.5 oz. Now, single servings of Coke at U.S. fast-food restaurants regularly reach 32 oz.

In an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, titled "The Accuracy of Less: Natural Bounds Explain Why Quantity Decreases Are Estimated More Accurately Than Quantity Increases," Pierre Chandon, INSEAD professor of marketing, and Nailya Ordabayeva, assistant professor of marketing at Boston College, found that people are much better at accurately judging decreasing portions than increasing ones, which is why there are such public outcries when companies try to shrink portions.

Across five studies involving 4,842 size judgments, they showed that people, including experts such as professional chefs from the Paul Bocuse Institute, estimate quantity decreases more accurately than quantity increases. On average, they found that a portion that is doubled in size is judged to be only 72% larger than the original size — a strong underestimation — whereas one that is halved appears to be 53% of the original size, which is a very good approximation.

"Our brain is very bad at judging quantity increases but surprisingly accurate at judging quantity decreases," said Chandon, who is also the L'Oréal chaired professor of marketing, innovation and creativity at INSEAD and director of the INSEAD Sorbonne University Behavioral Lab. "Supersizing food portions is a lose-lose proposition: Consumers don't realize how much food is available, they refuse to pay a fair price for it and end up eating more than realize.

"Companies should consider downsizing back to what used to be a regular portion size not so long ago, but they need to downsize smartly, leveraging what we know about size perceptions; otherwise, consumers will reject it," he suggested.

The experiments

In one experiment, they asked 510 participants to take a look at five different portions of chocolate candies in plastic cups. The cups contained 37, 74, 148, 296 and 592 candies, respectively.

In the "supersizing" condition, participants were told the count of the smallest portion (37) and were then asked to estimate the number of chocolate candies in the other four portions. The average estimates were 57, 102, 184 and 296. In other words, people missed exactly half the candies in the largest cup.

People in the downsizing group were told the count of the largest portion (592) and were asked to estimate the number of candies in the other cups. Their average estimates were 346, 163, 74 and 36. They only missed the size of the smallest cup by one candy.

Chandon and Ordabayeva hypothesized that this asymmetry exists because there is a natural lower bound, or a zero point, when portion sizes decrease. In other words, a decreasing portion cannot go below zero. When portions increase, however, they can theoretically grow to infinity. Without an upper bound, it is hard for people to estimate how big something has become.

To test their hypothesis, they provided an upper bound to some of the participants, telling them that the plastic container could hold a maximum of 629 chocolate candies. In this case, participants in the supersizing condition judged the largest container to hold 528 candies — much closer to the actual numbers. When an upper bound was available, judgments of size increases were no longer less accurate than judgments of size decreases.

As another test, Chandon and Ordabayeva asked people to estimate the change in size between portions rather than the size of the portions themselves. They did this because size ratios — for example, how many times larger or how many times smaller one portion is compared to another — do not have an upper bound, regardless of whether the size increases or decreases. They found that estimating size ratios reduced the asymmetry between increases and decreases and made consumers less averse to size decreases.

"Our study suggests a number of strategies that can improve consumer decisions in the face of quantity increases versus decreases," Ordabayeva said. "This improved visual accuracy, in effect, makes people less averse to, and more receptive towards, healthier downsized portions and packages."

INSEAD is one of the world's largest graduate business schools, with campuses in France, Singapore and the Middle East. It has 145 faculty members from 40 countries and more than 1,400 degree participants annually in its master's degree and Ph.D. programs.

Jaguar, Elanco to jointly develop, promote canine diarrhea treatment

Shutterstock black and white dog sitting in park

Jaguar Animal Health Inc. and Elanco US Inc., a subsidiary of Eli Lilly & Co., announced an agreement to license, develop and commercialize Canalevia, a Jaguar drug product candidate under investigation for the treatment of acute and chemotherapy-induced diarrhea (CID) in dogs.

Diarrhea is one of the most common reasons for veterinary office visits for dogs and is the second most common reason for visits to the veterinary emergency room.

The agreement grants Elanco exclusive global rights to Canalevia — a product whose active pharmaceutical ingredient is sustainably isolated and purified from the Croton lechleri tree — for use in companion animals. Jaguar and Elanco will collaborate on the global development of the product and on its commercialization in the U.S.

“Elanco continues to seek innovative solutions for our customers and the animals they care for,” Aaron Schacht, vice president of Elanco research and development, said. “We look forward to collaborating with Jaguar to bring this potential new, exciting solution to veterinarians around the world.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Jaguar will receive an upfront payment of $1.5 million and additional payments upon achievement of certain development, regulatory and sales milestones in an aggregate amount of up to $61 million, payable throughout the term of the agreement; it will additionally receive product development expense reimbursement and royalty payments on global sales.

The agreement specifies that Jaguar will supply the licensed products to Elanco and that the parties will agree to set a minimum sales requirement that Elanco must meet to maintain exclusivity.

Elanco will also reimburse Jaguar for Canalevia-related expenses, including those incurred during the fourth quarter of 2016, certain development and regulatory expenses related to Jaguar's planned target animal safety study and the completion of Jaguar's field study of Canalevia for acute diarrhea in dogs.

“We are very happy to have entered into this strategic collaboration with Elanco as they extend their commitment to novel, first-in-class products for companion animals,” Jaguar president and chief executive officer Lisa Conte said. “Elanco is a recognized leader in animal health, with great commercial reach. We believe this agreement will significantly expand market awareness regarding the novel, anti-secretory mechanism of action of crofelemer and its potential to serve as a new method of treating diarrheal diseases. We anticipate that commercialization of Canalevia will expand our range of first-in-class gastrointestinal products beyond production animals, horses and foals to companion animals in need around the world, and we believe that the collaboration with Elanco will provide broad access to key markets globally.”

Jaguar has retained the commercial responsibility for the CID indication of Canalevia in dogs, which has received minor use/minor species designation from the Food & Drug Administration and which the company expects will be the first indication available commercially in the next year. The company has established a foundation of direct educational and promotional capabilities for novel anti-secretory agents through its non-prescription product line for production animals.

Jaguar is an animal health company focused on developing and commercializing first-in-class gastrointestinal products for companion and production animals, foals and high-value horses. Canalevia is Jaguar's lead prescription drug product candidate, intended for the treatment of various forms of diarrhea in dogs.

Elanco provides comprehensive products and knowledge services to improve animal health and food animal production in more than 70 countries and has more than 6,500 employees worldwide. Together with its customers, Elanco is committed to raising awareness about global food security and celebrating and supporting the human/animal bond.

Disapproval resolutions introduced for BLM Planning 2.0 rule

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) introduced disapproval resolutions in their respective chambers to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Resource Management Planning rule - commonly called “Planning 2.0” - under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

“The Obama Administration’s Planning 2.0 rule makes sweeping changes to how BLM develops resource management plans, shifts decision-making authority away from the impacted states to Washington, D.C., and disregards BLM’s multiple-use mission. If left intact, it will harm grazing, timber, energy and mineral development and recreation on our public lands,” Murkowski said. “Effective multiple-use management requires local, site-specific considerations, not landscape-level analyses. By rescinding this rule, we can return power and decision-making authority to those who actually live near BLM lands in western states.”

Cheney added, “Planning 2.0 represents a federal power grab that ignores expert knowledge and undermines the ability of state and local governments to effectively manage resources and land use inside their own districts. Planning 2.0 dilutes the authority of governors, state regulators, local governments and the public to engage in collaborative land use management planning across huge swaths of the American West.”

Roughly 99% of BLM lands are in 12 western states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming – all of which stand to lose if the Planning 2.0 rule remains in its current form, the congressional members said in their joint statement.

Along with the sweeping changes made to the planning process, the rule drastically limits opportunities for formal public engagement and weakens the value and impact of Governors’ Consistency Reviews. The long-term result will be a longer process that creates more confusion and greater uncertainty. State, local and tribal governments, as well as interested and affected stakeholders, will be deprived of opportunities to engage in the process and influence land management decisions on the public lands they rely on.

Murkowski and Cheney have received letters supporting the rule’s nullification from a wide range of organizations, including: Alaska Farm Bureau Inc., Alaska Municipal League, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Assn., Arizona Association of Counties, Arizona County Supervisors Assn., Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, Association of Oregon Counties, California Farm Bureau Federation, Colorado Farm Bureau, Eureka County, Nev.,  Fortymile Mining District, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Association of Counties, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., Nevada Association of Conservation Districts, Nevada Association of Counties, Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, Oregon Farm Bureau, Public Lands Council, Rural County Representatives of California, Utah Association of Conservation Districts, Utah Association of Counties, Utah Farm Bureau Federation, Washington Farm Bureau, Western Interstate Region of NACo, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming County Commissioners Assn., Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Wyoming Stock Growers Assn. and Wyoming Wool Growers Assn.

All Senate Republicans who represent western states joined Murkowski as a co-sponsor of the BLM Planning 2.0 disapproval resolution.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. Federal Lands, said the rule represents a wholesale shift in management focus at BLM, prioritizing “social and environmental change” over multiple use and eliminating stakeholder and local input in the planning process.

“It’s critical that Congress step in to halt implementation of this midnight regulation before it does irreparable harm to our ability to manage federal lands,” Lane warned. “Despite paying lip service to our input in the final rule, the fundamental problems with Planning 2.0 remain, and the rule must be withdrawn. We applaud Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Cheney’s leadership on this critical issue and look forward to working with Congress and the new Administration to undo this kind of regulatory overreach.”

The Public Lands Council and cattle association urged Congress to pass these resolutions without delay.

LIVESTOCK MARKETS: Retail food prices to climb only slightly

Photo by venakr via iStock. red meat in meat case
LED lighting could have significant effects on delaying the browning of red meat. After conducting tests on hamburger patties, a research team at CAFNR has recently finished its analysis of whole beef muscles.

The most recent “Food Price Outlook” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) showed that the all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI) -- a measure of economy-wide inflation -- was flat from November to December 2016 but still was 2.1% above the December 2015 level.

The all-items CPI was up from December 2015 as prices increased for many goods and services: housing costs went up 3%, transportation costs rose 2.5% and medical care costs increased 4.1%. The CPI for all food was also flat from November to December, and food prices declined 0.2% compared with the December 2015 level.

“The degree of food price inflation varies depending on whether the food was purchased for consumption away from home or at home,” ERS noted. The food-away-from-home (restaurant purchases) CPI was 0.2% higher in December from the month before and 2.3% higher than in December 2015. The food-at-home (grocery store or supermarket food items) CPI, on the other hand, fell 0.2% from November to December and was 2% lower than the previous December.

Food-at-home prices declined overall in 2016, falling 1.3% below 2015 levels and marking the first annual decline in supermarket prices since 1967, ERS said.

Looking at specific retail food categories, prices declined 21.1% for eggs, 6.3% for beef and veal, 4.1% for pork and 2.3% for dairy and related products. However, ERS reported that not all foods declined in price, as fresh fruit prices rose 2.2% and other foods rose 0.3% compared with 2015 prices.

“The overall decline in retail food prices was due to several factors: increased production for many commodities, lower transportation costs as a result of deflated oil prices and a strong U.S. dollar. A strong dollar affects domestic prices as it makes U.S. goods less desirable to foreign markets, leaving more potential exports on the domestic market.”

While food-at-home prices declined in 2016, prices for food away from home increased 2.6%.

“Restaurant prices have been rising consistently month over month due, in part, to differences in the cost structure of restaurants versus supermarkets or grocery stores,” ERS said.

Restaurant prices primarily comprise labor and rental costs, with only a small portion going toward food. For this reason, decreasing farm-level and wholesale food prices have had less of an impact on restaurant menu prices, ERS explained.

ERS typically revises its food price forecasts if the conditions on which they are based -- such as the feed grain crop outlook or weather-related crop conditions -- change significantly.

Looking ahead to 2017, ERS said supermarket prices are expected to rise between 0.0% and 1.0%.

“Despite declining prices in 2016, poultry, fish and seafood and dairy prices are expected to rise in 2017. These forecasts are based on an assumption of normal weather conditions throughout the remainder of the year; however, severe weather or other unforeseen events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts,” the agency explained.

In particular, ERS said drought conditions throughout the U.S. could have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices. Also, a stronger U.S. dollar could continue to make the sale of domestic food products overseas more difficult.

“This would increase the supply of foods on the domestic market, placing downward pressure on retail food prices,” ERS added.

Changes to food category CPI forecasts

The food-at-home CPI is an average of individual food CPIs, weighted by their relative importance or share of consumer expenditures.

ERS reported that beef and veal prices decreased 1.4% from November to December and were 5.6% lower than at this time last year.

“The increased pace of cattle slaughter, especially during the second half of 2016, coupled with increased carcass weights, has resulted in higher year-over-year beef production. This higher production and the large supplies of beef held in cold storage have resulted in downward pressure on prices throughout the cattle and beef complex,” ERS said.

Prices of both feeder and fed cattle have been trending lower for most of 2016. ERS said these lower prices started to spill into the retail market around August 2016 and have continued their downward spiral since then. Prices are expected to continue to decline in the near future. Prices declined 6.3% in 2016, and ERS predicts beef and veal prices to decrease an additional 2.5 to 1.5% in 2017.

ERS reported that pork prices in December fell 1.5% from the previous month and were 4.2% lower than the year before.

“Retail pork prices fell in 2016 largely due to ample supplies of other animal proteins available for domestic consumption," ERS reported. "Lower beef prices are most likely adding pressure to lower pork prices.”

Pork prices declined 4.1% in 2016. ERS forecasts a 5.1% increase in pork production in 2017, and with large pork supplies expected to drive retail prices 1.0-2.0% lower this year, ERS is predicting that pork prices will fall an additional 1.0-2.0% in 2017.

Prices for poultry declined 0.9% from November to December and were 1.7% lower than last year. Retail chicken price inflation has remained relatively low into 2016 partly due to an increase in broiler production, ERS noted. Furthermore, a strong U.S. dollar has resulted in more chicken broil remaining on the U.S. market, which, in turn, places downward pressure on retail chicken prices. Poultry prices declined 2.7% in 2016. However, as the industry recovers from lower 2016 retail prices, ERS predicts prices to rise 2.0-3.0% in 2017.

Egg prices decreased 0.8% from November to December and were 33.8% below December 2015 levels.

“Retail egg prices are among the most volatile retail food prices, as they can be affected by seasonal demand," ERS reported. "There was an upswing in 2015 that was primarily due to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak, which decreased the table egg-laying flocks by 36 million egg lay in the second quarter of 2015. In the first quarter of 2016, egg production was down due to smaller flock sizes and lower egg-laying rates per bird.”

As the industry recovered from this outbreak, with production close to pre-HPAI levels, egg prices fell 21.1% in 2016. ERS expects egg prices to decrease an additional 3-4% in 2017.

Prices for dairy products increased 0.5% in December but remain 1.3% lower than they were in December 2015. Retail milk prices have increased month over month and rose 1.3% from November to December; however, retail milk prices declined over the year, dropping 1.6% since December 2015. Retail dairy prices declined 2.3% in 2016.

“These reduced dairy prices have followed global patterns,” ERS said. “However, dairy imports have declined from very high levels in the first quarter of 2016, domestic demand for dairy is expected to be high and exports are expected to strengthen for products with high skim milk content (such as nonfat dry milk and whey products).”

ERS expects retail dairy product prices to rise between 1.5% and 2.5% in 2017.

Producer Price Index for food

The Producer Price Index (PPI) is similar to the CPI in that it measures price changes over time. However, instead of measuring changes in retail prices, the PPI measures the average change in prices paid to domestic producers for their output.

ERS does not currently forecast industry-level PPIs for unprocessed, processed and finished foods and feeds, but these have historically shown a strong correlation with the all-food and food-at-home CPIs. From November to December, prices for unprocessed foods and feeds posted a monthly increase of 5.3%, prices for processed foods and feeds rose 0.4% and prices for finished consumer foods increased 0.5% over the same time period. This is an indication that food prices at the retail level could begin to rise in the near future, ERS said.

“Inflation rates for farm-level cattle and wholesale beef prices were high in 2014 as U.S. cattle herd sizes remained near historically low levels. Inflationary pressures have lessened, however, and farm-level cattle prices started to deflate in the second half of 2015 and continued their decline in 2016,” ERS noted.

In December, cattle prices increased 2.1% but were still down 8.1% since the same time the previous year.

Wholesale beef prices decreased 4.5% in December but were up 1% from the previous year. In 2016, farm-level cattle prices fell 19.4%, and wholesale beef prices decreased 15.5%. ERS expects farm-level cattle prices to decrease an additional 9-10%, and wholesale beef prices are expected to decline 7-8% in 2017.

Wholesale pork prices rose 0.1% from November to December but were 1.4% lower than a year ago. Overall, pork production is higher, as litter sizes and hog inventories have recovered, ERS said. Wholesale pork prices declined 1.9% in 2016, but ERS predicts prices to be flat or to increase 1.0% in 2017.

Prices for farm-level eggs increased 72.8% from November to December and are now 20.4% lower than December 2015 levels.

“Egg prices are among the most volatile of food prices, typically peaking in the fourth quarter of the year and then falling in the first quarter of the new year,” ERS explained.

ERS said prices in 2015 were affected by HPAI, which reduced the count of table egg-laying birds in many Midwestern and Pacific Northwestern states. As the industry recovered, farm-level egg prices decreased 59.1% in 2016.  For 2017, ERS predicts prices to decrease an additional 24-25%.

Judge rules California can place cancer warning on Roundup

A Fresno County, Cal., judge has said California can require Monsanto to label its Roundup as a possible cancer threat, which would allow California to be the first state to order such labeling if it carries out the proposal.

California looked to include Roundup as part of its Proposition 65 listing after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – a branch of the U.N. World Health Organization – classified the chemical as a “probably human carcinogen.”

Prop 65 requires the state to maintain a “list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

“Regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and the state of California itself, have determined that glyphosate does not cause cancer,” said Charla Lord, a spokesman for Monsanto. “The agency’s flawed and baseless proposal to list glyphosate under Proposition 65 not only contradicts California’s own scientific assessment, but it also violates the California and U.S. constitutions.”

Monsanto said the IARC classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015 was “flawed.” In 2007, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment - the very agency that now proposes to list glyphosate under Prop 65 - conducted its own scientific assessment of glyphosate and found: “Based on the weight of the evidence, glyphosate is judged unlikely to pose a cancer hazard to humans.”

California regulators are waiting for the formal ruling before moving forward with the warnings, reports indicated.

Monsanto filed a lawsuit in January 2016 against the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in the Fresno Superior Court to prevent the listing of glyphosate under California’s Prop 65.

Monsanto challenged that the listing would violate the California and U.S. constitutions because the state would be ceding the basis of its regulatory authority to an un-elected and non-transparent foreign body that is not under the oversight or control of any federal or state government entity.

Lord added, “Monsanto will continue to challenge this unfounded proposed ruling on the basis of science and the law.”

Neovia invests in 'pet telematics'

Pitpat dog running

Neovia, through its venture capital fund “Neovia Venture,” has taken a minority stake in Pitpatpet Ltd., a U.K. provider in the fast-growing market of “pet telematics” — part of the emerging "internet of things" sector.

According to Neovia, this investment will help the company complete its pet care range of services and is fully in line with the strong investment of Neovia in the innovative field of “interactive petline”: connected objects and data platforms for the pet care and horse industries.

In that field, Neovia Venture has already taken a minority stake in Equisense (in July 2016), a start-up specialized in connected objects for horses.

Neovia has defined five major innovation fields that will fuel its growth in the coming years. One of them is called "interactive pet line," a pet approach that includes the extensive use of new technologies and connectivity to improve interaction between pet owners and their pets.

The acquisition of a minority stake in PitPat is fully in line with this strategy, the company said. Indeed, PitPat is a fast-growing company that is dedicated to improving animal health and well-being through the application of technology and data. The company designs and manufactures affordable products for pet owners and creates bespoke solutions for commercial partners.

Pet telematics, part of the burgeoning “internet of things” revolution, is the latest application of low-cost, lightweight sensing and measurement technology that generates big data to improve business decision-making.

PitPat’s activity monitor is a simple and unobtrusive device that is securely attached to a dog’s collar. Working with a free app, it provides owners with an activity goal tailored to their dog and measures how much exercise they are actually getting. This simple combination not only delights dog owners but also promises to change exercise behavior, just as it has in the human fitness monitor sector. The result could be happier, healthier dogs and lower costs for dog owners and insurers.

Through its attractive consumer device and highly scalable data service, PitPat provides Neovia with the capability to analyze data, recording the detailed exercise and feeding behavior of hundreds of thousands of dogs. In addition, it could unlock new possibilities in dog feeding and other nutritional advances.

Neovia chief executive officer Hubert de Roquefeuil noted, “We seize the opportunity to partner with PitPat because it totally fits with our interactive pet line innovation field (connected objects and data platforms for dogs, cats and horses). In addition, considering the key positions that Neovia has in France and in major growing international pet food markets such as Latin America or Asia, we see significant opportunities to access to more accurate data that are valuable for our clients and to offer the connected propositions we plan to develop.”

PitPat founder and CEO Andrew Nowell said, “We are delighted to welcome Neovia as investor and partner. Their business insight and access to large-scale markets will help us deliver our current and future products to a global market.”

Neovia has a turnover of 1.6 billion euros and operates in seven business lines: complete feed, aquaculture, pet care, premix/firm services, additives and ingredients, animal health and analysis laboratories. It has 72 production sites and 7,700 employees in 28 countries.

Operator movements contribute to disease spread

Credit: Rossi et al. Network of potentially infectious contacts between farms generated by veterinarians' on-farm visits.
Network of potentially infectious contacts between farms generated by veterinarians' on-farm visits.

Researchers have shown that looking at movements of operators and vehicles between farms in the same way researchers look at contacts in social networks can help explain the spread of dangerous infectious diseases of livestock, such as foot and mouth disease and avian influenza.

This research, published in PLOS Computational Biology, can contribute to the development of more accurate tools for predicting the spread of livestock diseases and may help implement more effective biosecurity measures in farms.

In the study, Dr. Gianluigi Rossi and colleagues from the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell'Emilia Romagna in Italy have shown that the network of contacts originated from on-farm visits by veterinarians to dairy farms of northern Italy displays hidden features that cannot be detected by simply looking at the frequency of visits and unveils otherwise unexplained patterns of infection.

The researchers discovered that veterinarians' movements produce an unexpectedly large number of potentially infectious contacts among farms that can quickly spread dangerous livestock diseases.

The research, made possible by the availability of high-resolution data in space and time on veterinarian movements in the study area, shed light on the actual significance of operator movements in disease spread -- a still poorly understood topic due to the highly diverse and complex nature of such movements and to privacy issues in data collection.

The researchers compared the role of veterinarian movements in diseases spread with those of animal exchange between farms, which is recognized as the most effective transmission route for livestock infectious diseases. They found that co-occurrence of operator movements and animal exchanges is synergistic, largely amplifying the potential for disease propagation. The study shows how multi-layer network analysis substantially improves the way disease spread can be described, thus contributing to their control.

The article in PLOS Computational Biology is available at http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005301.

A better way to farm algae

Scientists have long known of the potential of microalgae to aid in the production of biofuels and other valuable chemicals. However, the difficulty and significant cost of growing microalgae have, in some ways, stalled further development of this promising technology.

Bendy Estime, a biomedical and chemical engineering doctoral candidate at Syracuse University, has devoted his research to this area and developed a new technology for the energy-efficient cultivation and harvesting of microalgae.

Estime's research was published as a peer-reviewed article in Scientific Reports on Jan. 19. He and his research advisers, distinguished professor Radhakrishna Sureshkumar, chair of the department of biomedical and chemical engineering, and professor Dacheng Ren, have secured a provisional patent for the technology.

"My goal was to improve the growth of microalgae," said Estime, who first studied biofuels as an engineering student in his native Haiti.

"The study is an attempt to address three 'bottlenecks' in microalgae cultivation," Sureshkumar added. "When you grow algae in suspension, they tend to stick to the walls of a container, making the container opaque. This makes it more difficult for required light to get through to the algae. The second issue is that there has to be consistent stirring of the container to ensure that light does reach all layers of the algae. A third issue is the difficulty of separating algae from the broth, which requires time and energy and is, therefore, costly."

Estime developed a new medium to culture and harvest microalgae. The medium, Tris-Acetate-Phosphate-Pluronic (TAPP), can transition from solution to a gel through relatively small variations in temperature. Microalgae are seeded in the medium at 15°C. When the temperature is increased by seven degrees, the medium becomes gelatinous. In this new medium, microalgae grow in clusters that are up to 10 times larger than those grown in the traditional medium. Once they are grown, the temperature is decreased, and the medium is returned to a solution. The algae is separated out through gravity and can then be harvested.

The medium prevents algae from growing on the sides of a container, letting light penetrate to each level of algae. This eliminates the need for constant stirring. When the medium is converted back to a solution, algae can be more easily separated out and removed from the container.

"The industrial applications of this system are appealing," Estime said. "This system would harvest microalgae 10 times faster than traditional systems and in an energy-efficient fashion."

"This study presents a novel method to harvest algae and other cells with low cost, which has potential applications in multiple fields," Ren, a professor of biomedical and chemical engineering, noted. "It makes it more realistic for researchers to pursue microalgae as a solution."

ADM to sell Crop Risk Services business to Validus

ADM ADM headquarters

Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) announced Monday that it has reached an agreement to sell its Crop Risk Services (CRS) business to Validus Holdings Ltd. for $127.5 million, subject to certain working capital and balance sheet adjustments. The deal includes a marketing services agreement under which ADM and Validus will work together to continue to offer a full range of insurance and farmer marketing products and services to CRS customers.

“We regularly evaluate our portfolio to ensure that our businesses and assets best fit our strategy to maximize long-term returns,” said Joe Taets, president of ADM’s Agricultural Services business unit. “As a result of that ongoing process, we have identified a better strategic fit for the Crop Risk Services business. In the years since we purchased ADM CRS, that team has built it out to become a significant market participant. Equally as important, ADM CRS has become a platform through which our grain business is able to offer our farmer partners a wide array of services that benefit both them and ADM.”

Taets said the company is pleased to have reached an agreement that benefits ADM on two fronts: It includes a marketing services agreement that will allow ADM and Validus to work together to continue to offer customers a full array of crop insurance products as well as ADM’s grain marketing services, while the sale of the business gives ADM the opportunity to redeploy capital as part of its balanced capital allocation framework.

“We are pleased to have found a buyer in Validus that is committed to running — and growing — the business, and we look forward to continuing to work with Validus and the CRS sales team and their customers across the country. This is a good solution for ADM, our shareholders, the CRS team and the farmers who are the foundation of our business,” he said.

Validus — a leading global provider of insurance, reinsurance and investment services with more than 800 employees and offices in all major regions worldwide — has committed to keeping the CRS business intact, including maintaining its operations in Decatur, Ill.

Ed Noonan, Validus chairman and chief executive officer, stated, “I’m very pleased to welcome CRS to Validus. CRS is a high-quality crop insurance provider that has achieved excellent growth in recent years. Validus will benefit from CRS’s commitment to provide superior customer service to agents and farmers via their leading technology capabilities. The addition of CRS complements Validus’ existing agriculture book, and participation in this market is a logical step as Validus continues to expand our presence in U.S. primary specialty lines. We are excited by the long-term partnership with ADM as this transaction further provides the unique opportunity of a marketing services agreement with one of the largest agricultural processors in the world.”

The sale, which is subject to regulatory review, is expected to close in the first half of 2017. Nearly all ADM CRS employees will transfer with the CRS business at closing. ADM expects to record a book gain upon closing.