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ARS will continue 'free flow of information'

Photo by Stephen Ausmus, USDA ARS ARS researching greenhouse gas emissions from field samples to study climate change
University of Minnesota technician Sonya Ewert (left) and ARS soil scientist Rodney Venterea use a gas chromatograph to determine amounts of greenhouse gases in samples collected from fields.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), came under fire for an internal document stating that it would not "release any public-facing documents.” However, a spokesman for ARS said the agency remains committed to sharing information with the public.

ARS chief of staff Sharon Drumm sent an email to all ARS employees stating, “Starting immediately, and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content.”

A report in BuzzFeed said the email to department staff, including 2,000 scientists, directed employees to “stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.”

In an emailed statement from Christopher Bentley, ARS director of the office of communications, he clarified that the internal email sent to staff related to agency information products such as news releases and social media content; “scientific publications, released through peer-reviewed professional journals, are not included,” Bentley noted.

“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America,” Bentley added.

The ARS internal email was sent out before official guidance that the Office of the Secretary be consulted on questions related to legislation, budgets, policy issues and regulations.

Bentley pointed out that ARS issued a press release Monday acknowledging the breakthrough work of one of its scientists being awarded the National Academy of Science’s first ever Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences.

ARS is USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provides information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food and other agricultural products, to assess the nutritional needs of Americans, to sustain a competitive agricultural economy, to enhance the natural resource base and the environment and to provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities and society as a whole.



Meat institute launches new MyMeatUp app

beef in the meat case

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) unveiled today the first-of-its-kind mobile app aimed at helping consumers become more confident when buying meat and poultry. The free MyMeatUp app is the only available app with a full guide to beef, pork, lamb and veal retail meat cuts and draws on content from www.MyMeatUp.org, a resource launched in 2016.

“This dynamic, interactive app offers consumers a convenient, go-to guide that will equip shoppers with essential tips when buying, preparing and cooking meat and poultry products,” NAMI president and chief executive officer Barry Carpenter said. “It is a great resource, particularly for younger shoppers just starting to navigate the grocery store on their own for themselves and their families, to answer any questions they have about the meat in the case.”

Consumers, especially Millennial shoppers, often express uncertainty about how to select and prepare meat and poultry products sold at retail, NAMI noted. The new app addresses that critical knowledge gap with its unique cuts of meat feature that visually displays the most common retail beef, veal, pork and lamb cuts, the group added.

“By selecting a specific part of an animal, shoppers can view images of common retail cuts, along with corresponding explanations, creative recipe ideas and proper cooking methods,” NAMI explained. “Users can also take advantage of the app’s search function to quickly find information about cuts with which they are unfamiliar, making it a must-have resource when shopping.”

Beyond the guide to different cuts, MyMeatUp also offers a searchable glossary of common terms found on meat product labels, such as “natural,” “grass-fed,” “antibiotic-free” and “no hormones added,” among others. According to NAMI, the app also addresses common questions about the meat and poultry industry, including antibiotic use in animal agriculture, animal welfare practices, environmental concerns and nutrition facts. It includes food safety and preparation tips, along with a video guide to using a meat thermometer. These features aim to provide much-needed clarity and transparency to consumers navigating the abundance of choices offered in the meat case to ensure that purchases match their preferences.

The app is available to both iPhone and Android mobile users.

Biodiesel use shatters record

United Soybean Board biodiesel fuel pump

The U.S. saw a record of almost 2.9 billion gal. of biodiesel and renewable diesel in 2016, outpacing the previous record by almost 40%. Also, for the first time ever, the monthly market topped 300 million gal., with December's numbers coming in at 362 million gal.

“We are proud to be delivering record gallons of American made biodiesel, but that success is undermined by the fact our members are losing more than a third of the market to foreign imports,” National Biodiesel Board chief executive officer Donnell Rehagen said.

According to numbers released last Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency, the 2016 level of 2.9 billion gal. was an 800 million gal. increase from 2.1 billion gal. of biodiesel and renewable diesel produced in 2015. At the same time, domestic production rose from about 1.4 billion gal. in 2015 to more than 1.8 billion gal. in 2016, still well below available capacity. Imports increased by more than 50% from an estimated 670 million gal. in 2015 to more than 1 billion gal. in 2016, shortchanging potential economic benefits to U.S. producers.

“The market realities spotlight two important points. First, the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) is working to deliver energy choices to consumers and promote local economic activity. Second, reforming the biodiesel tax incentive as a domestic production credit remains critical to grow these programs in America's best interest,” Rehagen said.

According to a study conducted by LMC International, a 2.9 billion gal. biodiesel and renewable diesel market divided between domestic and foreign supply supports about 64,000 U.S. jobs and has $11.42 billion in total economic impact. Economic benefits increase substantially when domestic production grows rather than imports. For example, just 2.5 billion gal. of domestic production would support at least 81,600 U.S. jobs and $14.7 billion in total economic benefit.

“It's just common sense that our tax dollars should benefit American jobs and local companies instead of incentivizing imports,” Rehagen said.

The biomass-based diesel category under the RFS alone saw a record 2.6 billion gal. market, allowing the advanced biofuel program to reach more than 4 billion gal. of ethanol equivalent. These numbers exceeded EPA's estimates for 2016 and track with the Biodiesel Board's projections, showing that the industry can deliver on the goals set by Congress.

NSF awards $3m for plant, animal microbiome/phenomics research

Credit: National Institutes of Health. New research on plant and animal microbiomes will lead to advances in human health, agriculture.
New research on plant and animal microbiomes will lead to advances in human health, agriculture.

Millions of microbes living on and in the human body collectively make up our microbiomes. These microbial ecosystems help keep us healthy. The same processes are at work in other animals, as well as in plants.

To better understand the role microbiomes play in human health and in ecosystems around the world, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences has awarded $3 million in Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER).

In addition to microbiomes, the research will focus on plant and animal phenomics — the study of the physical and biochemical traits of organisms as they change in response to genetic mutations and environmental influences.

The findings will foster improved human health and agricultural productivity and more efficient use of natural resources such as land and water, NSF said.

"These studies will lead to a better understanding of how microbial communities interact with one another and with their plant and animal hosts," said James Olds, NSF assistant director for biological sciences. "The results have the potential to improve human health through, for example, new insights into antibiotic resistance and may contribute to discoveries of new bioactive compounds and the development of more efficient and sustainable food production."

The funding is a joint effort between NSF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA). This is the first year the two agencies have partnered on research in the emerging areas of microbiomes and phenomics.

EAGER-funded projects will include research on:

* Technologies that increase the accuracy and speed of microbiome and phenotype data acquisition;

* Extending the diversity of phenotypes that can be measured;

* Automation and mechanization, including the use of robotics and sensors, for phenotyping — the process of predicting an organism's observable traits based on its DNA;

* Technologies to identify the metabolic activities of particular microbes within a microbiome and to increase knowledge of biochemical communication between microbes as well as between microbes and their hosts, and

* New modeling approaches that address questions in microbiome or phenotype structure and function.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Its fiscal 2016 budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions.

Closed-loop concept could be future of sustainable animal farms

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell. Dr. Eunsung Kan stands in front of a dry-erase board used to explain his closed-loop dairy farm concept and use of biochar to filter wastewater and create electricity.
Dr. Eunsung Kan stands in front of a dry-erase board used to explain his closed-loop dairy farm concept and use of biochar to filter wastewater and create electricity.

Dr. Eunsung Kan sees his concept of a closed-loop dairy farm — which reuses wastewater, emits zero waste and powers itself on manure — as the future of sustainable animal farming.

Kan, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research chemical and environmental engineer in Stephenville, Texas, said his concept could change the way dairies, swine and poultry farms deal with manure, wastewater and greenhouse gases while utilizing the waste to generate electricity.

Animal waste is a blessing and curse for dairies. Manure is sold to local farmers who need to infuse nutrients into the soil for crops and forage. However, tons of manure can also be logistically taxing as facilities keep up with the treatment and distribution of large quantities of environmentally problematic materials monitored by state and federal environmental regulators.

Farm operations have been implicated in higher-than-normal levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, antibiotics, heavy metals and hormones in surface and groundwater downstream from facilities. Manure is also a known contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane and carbon dioxide.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service estimates that manure from a dairy milking 200 cows can produce as much nitrogen as is in the sewage from a community of 5,000-10,000 people.

Kan’s research would utilize existing technology such as biochar — a carbon material similar to charcoal created from animal manure and agricultural waste, such as corn stubble or rice straw — that would be used to filter solid waste and effluent. The biochar could be used as a slow-release fertilizer or converted via pyrolysis — the decomposition of organic material by heat — into energy to power the farm.

The closed-loop dairy concept focuses on three main goals: wastewater treatment using dairy manure-derived biochar, producing bioenergy using dairy manure and capturing greenhouse gases via adsorption onto dairy manure-derived biochar, Kan said.

Biochar has proved to provide a beneficial surface chemistry that can filter a wide range of contaminants, including nitrogen and phosphorous, he said. When the surface of biochar is modified with several methods in a lab, it has shown an ability to capture antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, heavy metals and other possible contaminants.

“The mission is the treatment and reuse of dairy wastewater and the conversion of dairy waste into energy to power the facility,” he said. “It focuses on providing a model for sustainable farming.”

Last year, Kan received a $1 million grant from the Texas A&M University Chancellor’s Research Initiative Fund to research the viability of the closed-loop dairy system. Before joining AgriLife Research, he also received about $400,000 in research grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, USDA and the U.S. Geologic Survey to research the concept’s potential to treat animal waste, control greenhouse gas emissions and convert manure to energy.

Conceptual system

The closed-loop dairy is a relatively simple concept, Kan said. Cows produce manure that, when mixed with remnants of local crops, can become a seemingly endless supply of filtering material, fertilizer and energy.

Columns filled with biochar would act as a water purification system that filters nitrogen, phosphorous and other contaminants from liquid as it passes through the material, Kan said.

“The affluent from the column would then be very low in nitrogen and phosphorous,” he said. “If we filter to low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, it wouldn’t cause any environmental problem.”

The biochar used to filter nitrogen and phosphorous could then be used as slow-release fertilizer that provides needed nutrients to plants and would not wash away as runoff during heavy rains. In addition, biochar immobilized with photocatalysts would decompose toxic contaminants to harmless products when irradiated by exposure to ultraviolet light.

For instance, Kan’s study has shown that a biochar immobilized with photocatalysts completely degraded antibiotic and hormone compounds while effectively controlling pathogens. The potential for biochar’s use to filter wastewater goes beyond agriculture and could be applied at any wastewater treatment plant or even to filter contaminants in the injection water used for fracking in the petroleum industry.

For energy, dairy manure would be fed into a pyrolysis reactor on site that would use relatively low heat — 500-1,000°F — to create compressed hydrogen and carbon monoxide syngas that can be used to create electric power, Kan said. Excess electricity could be sold to local utility companies. The byproduct from pyrolysis of dairy manure is biochar.

“The principle is very simple,” Kan said. “The dairy would just need a different sized reactor to meet its scale of manure output and energy needs.”

Dr. Sergio Capareda, an AgriLife Research agricultural engineer in College Station, Texas, proved the pyrolytic conversion of dairy manure to syngas and biochar from his USDA-funded project, Kan said. Kan plans to advance this concept by biologically converting syngas to butanol and bio-jet fuel as alternative transportation fuels and developing biochar-based processes for wastewater treatment and greenhouse gas control.

Several other researchers and engineers within the Texas A&M system are collaborating with Kan, and interest in the concept is growing among public institutions and private companies.

Kan will produce a lab-scale version of the closed-loop dairy to determine the necessary scale for application and experimentation at the neighboring Southwest Regional Dairy Center in Stephenville, a privately owned working dairy operated by Tarleton State University that's used for educational purposes. He hopes to have a system, including the pyrolysis reactor, operating at the dairy within three to four years.

Kan said he believes the closed-loop system will prove to be a logistically and financially viable model for dairy producers to implement in the future. He expects his pilot project at the regional dairy to produce data that will draw more interest and investment from public institutions and private companies.

Diet fed to pigs influences Millennial consumers' pork purchases

Shutterstock pork chops with vegetables

As consumer demand for pork remains high, Millennials state that what pigs eat has a strong influence on their pork buying habits, according to a Cargill "Feed4Thought" consumer survey.

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 people in the U.S. and Spain, found that 43% of American Millennials say a pig's diet influences their purchasing decisions. In Spain, the second-largest pork-producing country in Europe, about 65% of Millennials felt the same way.

"Many consumers, Millennials in particular, are speaking loudly about the importance of knowing what is on the dinner table and where it came from," said Patrick Duerksen, Cargill global marketing director, pork. "It is important for Cargill and others in the agricultural supply chain to help consumers understand that the pork they eat was produced in a healthy and responsible manner."

The survey found that, overall, one-third of all U.S. consumers (32%) say a pig's diet influences their purchasing decisions, compared to 60% of consumers in Spain. American Baby Boomers and Gen Xers place less importance on the diets of the pigs they consume, with 32% and 26%, respectively, saying a pig's diet influences their purchasing decisions.

In both countries, Millennials place the highest importance on pigs' diets, but they also have the lowest level of trust that the pigs they eat are raised on what they consider a healthy diet. According to Cargill, 42% of American Millennials don't trust that their pork is raised on a healthy diet — significantly more than Baby Boomers (32%). In Spain, 67% of Millennials don't trust that diets fed to pigs are healthy.

"The U.S. pork industry works hard to conduct research and improve the nutritional balance of swine diets," said Dr. Chris Hostetler, National Pork Board director of animal science. "It is incumbent upon us to raise pigs in a healthy, safe and responsible manner. That begins with diet and nutrition."

Pig diets largely consist of corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals. Beyond those base ingredients, Cargill — along with others in the feed industry — has developed precise feed formulations with probiotics, antioxidants and essential oils to promote better gut health, digestion and metabolism. Just like in humans, gut health in pigs is an important factor in proper nutrition.

"Our precision nutrition approach ultimately is more sustainable and lowers the amount of feed and resources needed to raise pigs," Duerksen said. "This is important work that we know can have an impact on meeting consumer demand but also help us feed a growing global population."

According to Cargill, additional results of the survey include:

* 94% of American consumers eat pork, and 52% of them say bacon is their favorite pork product.

* 98% of Spanish consumers eat pork, and 74% of them say ham is their favorite pork product.

* Only 10% of both U.S. and Spanish consumers have an accurate idea of how much feed it takes to raise a pig to market weight.

* 37% of U.S. Millennials think it takes more land and water to raise pigs today than it did 50 years ago. (In fact, a 2012 study by the National Pork Board found that farmers actually use 78% less land and 41% less water to raise pigs).

* 39% of Spanish Millennials think it takes more land and water to raise pigs than it did 50 years ago.

"Feed4Thought" is a regular consumer survey effort from Cargill Animal Nutrition that explores key perceptions and opinions about important topics in the animal protein supply chain. The online survey was conducted in December 2016 by ORC International. The U.S. survey polled a demographically representative sample of 1,055 American adults, and the Spanish survey polled a demographically representative sample of 1,000 Spanish adults.

Europe plans to reduce, replace, rethink antimicrobial use

Reducing the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals, replacing them where possible and rethinking the livestock production system is essential for the future of animal and public health, according to experts from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the world’s most pressing public health issues, and the use of antimicrobials in animals contributes to this problem, so limiting their use to the minimum necessary to treat infectious diseases in animals is crucial, EFSA and EMA said.

The ESFA and EMA experts have reviewed the measures taken in the European Union to reduce antimicrobial use in animals and stress that there is no one-size-fits-all solution; successful strategies follow an integrated, multifaceted approach that takes into account the local livestock production system and involves all relevant stakeholders — from governments to farmers.

“It is clear that strategies that are already available can be implemented immediately and will have a positive impact on levels of antimicrobial resistance. At the same time, there is a need for innovative solutions. We need to find alternative ways to prevent and treat bacterial infections in animals,” EFSA executive director Dr. Bernhard Url said.

“There are only a few new antibiotics in the development pipeline; hence, those already available need to be used responsibly, both in humans and animals," professor Guido Rasi, EMA executive director, added. "Collecting data on AMR and antibiotic consumption is key to putting into place effective measures to control AMR and retain the effectiveness of antimicrobials for the benefit of public and animal health.”


Control strategies that have been important drivers of change include setting national targets to reduce antimicrobial use, EFSA and EMA said. The use of antimicrobials in animals should be reduced to the minimum necessary to treat infectious diseases. Other than in exceptional cases, their use to prevent such diseases should be phased out in favor of alternative measures, the European agencies added.

Critically important antimicrobials for human medicine should be used in animals only as a last resort.

Alternatives to antimicrobials that have been shown to improve animal health and, thereby, reduce the need to use antimicrobials include vaccines, probiotics, prebiotics, bacteriophages and organic acids, EFSA and EMA said.

However, reducing the use of antimicrobials and finding alternatives is not enough. There is a need to rethink the livestock system by implementing farming practices that prevent the introduction and spread of the disease into farms and by considering alternative farming systems that are viable with reduced use of antimicrobials. Education and awareness of AMR should be addressed to all levels of society but with veterinarians and farmers in particular.

The experts concluded that it is reasonable to assume that reducing antimicrobial use in food-producing animals will result in a general decrease in antimicrobial resistance in the bacteria the animals they carry and the food products derived from them. However, the experts could not quantify the impact single reduction measures or antimicrobial alternatives would have on levels of antimicrobial resistance in food-producing animals and their food products due to a lack of data, EFSA and EMA reported.

Next steps

In February, EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) will publish their annual report on the levels of antimicrobial resistance in food, animals and humans across the EU.

EFSA, EMA and ECDC are also working on a report that assesses the link between consumption of antimicrobials and development of resistance in bacteria found in animals and humans. This report is due to be published at the end of July.

By the end of 2017, the three agencies will propose a list of indicators enabling risk managers to monitor the reduction of AMR and the use of antimicrobials in people, food-producing animals and food.

For more information, see the EMA and EFSA joint scientific opinion on measures to reduce the need to use antimicrobial agents in animal husbandry in the EU and the resulting impact on food safety.

Trump giveth and he taketh away


After weeks of wandering through the political wilderness looking for an honest agriculture secretary, Donald Trump finally tapped Sonny Perdue, a favored son of Georgia who had once been a Democrat but was converted in 1998. Much joy resounded throughout aggie land. Every major trade organization stampeded to applaud Perdue, a man who they were sure would ride into Washington astride a mighty white stead and 'kick some ass.'

But for every silver lining, a dark cloud can be found. Just four short days later, President Trump scratched his signature scrawl on an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For an industry that enjoys outsized profits from its export business, this was a most unkind cut. The TPP was on track to be the largest trading agreement in history but, perhaps more importantly it would block China from gaining even more influence over the Pacific basin. 

Now, the major nations involved in the partnership -- Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico and Australia, along with second tier trading partners like New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei -- will feel they've been seduced and abandoned by their American suitor. Expect a smiling, confident China to come calling, flowers and candy in hand, smooth-talking the disappointed group, a big diamond ring in the offing.

Expect, too, that the market for American beef, pork, poultry and grain to begin to whither. 
Despite a massive effort by Perdue's new USDA, farm income is sure to fail, continuing a trend that started a few years ago.

Every meat industry organization -- the North American Meat Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. and the U.S. Meat Export Federation played an 'all in' hand for TPP passage. They knew Asia was a growth market for the future, one that would make the region critical to American agricultural exports. 

The decision will seriously wound farm trade and unfairly saddle Perdue's big white stead with a heavy load. Trump has turned a race horse into a draft animal; large, strong but not the kind of fast running beast necessary to be competitive with the Chinese merchant class.

I wonder what Sonny will do?

DDGS outlook brighter with improved demand

According to the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), prices of dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) were higher last week in the Midwest, helped along by strong truck demand. The recent cold snap across much of the nation’s midsection helped boost feed demand for DDGS, while the rally in soybean meal put some urgency into buyers, USGC said.

On a per-protein unit basis, DDGS was $1.00 cheaper relative to soybean meal than two weeks earlier. Domestic DDGS prices were higher this week, with FOB Gulf prices gaining $4 per ton and prices to the Pacific Northwest and California up $3 per ton.

“The DDGS outlook is looking brighter, with improved demand prospects and supply reductions likely ahead,” USGC noted. “While the latest export data show November exports were down from the prior year, lower CNF Gulf and container yard prices suggest ample opportunities to entice new export demand. Moreover, tightening ethanol margins will start to restrict production, commensurately reducing DDGS supply.”

Some merchandisers reported that international prices seem to have bottomed out. With DDGS near 60% of corn value, USGC said buyers are emerging and covering February through April positions. Sales to Southeast Asia have been noted, along with some to China.

“Now that China’s final ruling on tariffs for U.S. DDGS is known, traders will begin the process of adapting to new trade terms and pricing," USGC said. "Some buying interest is noted heading into China, but firm bids have yet to be established.”

Sale prices for DDGS to Southeast Asia have been mixed, with strength in Vietnam's and Philippines' bids and weakness in Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, USGC added.

McDonald's delivers Q4, full-year 2016 results

McDonald’s released this week its 2016 fourth-quarter and full-year financial results, showing less-than-expected losses. Highlights included that the company’s global comparable sales increased 2.7%, including positive comparable sales in the International Lead, High Growth and Foundational segments. The company also reported that consolidated revenues decreased 5% (3% in constant currencies) due to the impact of refranchising.

Results showed that consolidated operating income increased 5% (7% in constant currencies) and diluted earnings per share of $1.44 increased 10% (12% in constant currencies).

"Throughout 2016, we worked diligently to lay the groundwork for our long-term future. We focused on driving changes in our menu, restaurants and technology to deliver an enhanced McDonald's experience for our customers around the world," McDonald's president and chief executive officer Steve Easterbrook said. "We applied the necessary rigor and discipline to strengthen the company and our financial performance. Our efforts yielded a more streamlined and focused organization that generated solid fourth-quarter and full-year results, including our strongest annual global comparable sales growth since 2011, along with record franchisee cash flows in many of our major markets. I am confident that we're on the right path as we pursue our goal of being recognized by our customers as the modern, progressive burger company."

For the full-year results, McDonald's reported a 3.8% increase in global comparable sales, including positive comparable sales across all segments. Consolidated revenues decreased 3% (flat in constant currencies), and consolidated operating income increased 8% (11% in constant currencies).

The company reported diluted earnings per share of $5.44, up 13% (16% in constant currencies). Additionally, McDonald's said it returned $2.2 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends in the fourth quarter and $14.2 billion for the full year, marking the successful achievement of its targeted return of $30 billion for the three-year period ending 2016.

Fourth-quarter comparable sales declined 1.3% in the U.S., reflecting the challenging comparison against the prior year's launch of the very successful All-Day Breakfast. Operating income for the quarter decreased 11% as the U.S. lapped a prior-year gain on the strategic sale of a unique restaurant property. Entering 2017, McDonald’s U.S. said it will continue to focus on growing guest traffic.

Comparable sales for the International Lead segment increased 2.8% for the quarter, reflecting strong comparable sales growth across most of the segment, led by the U.K. Fourth-quarter operating income for the segment increased 1% (6% in constant currencies), fueled by sales-driven improvements in franchised margin dollars across most markets.

Fourth-quarter comparable sales increased 4.7% in the High Growth segment, led by strong performance in China and positive results across the entire segment. The segment's operating income rose 16% (18% in constant currencies), driven primarily by improved restaurant profitability in China, which benefited from recent value-added tax (VAT) reform.

The company said fourth-quarter comparable sales rose 11.1% in the Foundational markets, led by very strong performance in Japan and certain markets in Latin America, as well as solid results across the segment's remaining geographic regions. For the segment, which includes corporate selling, general and administrative (SG&A) and other costs, operating income increased for the quarter. These results primarily reflect a gain from the sale of McDonald's Singapore in connection with the company's refranchising initiatives, as well as improved performance in Japan.

"For McDonald's, 2016 was a year of purposeful change as we focused on the key elements of our turnaround plan: strengthening our business to drive long-term, sustainable growth by sharpening our focus on our customers, right-sizing our structure and putting the right talent in place to lead the company into the future,” Eastbrook said. “I'm confident that we are well-positioned to transition to a longer-term focus in 2017. Our refranchising efforts and financial discipline will enable us to direct our capital and G&A resources towards new strategic opportunities to deliver on our long-term strategy. We look forward to providing further details on our strategy and financial targets later this quarter. As we begin the first quarter of 2017, we are mindful of the comparison we face against first-quarter 2016 results, which benefited from leap year, favorable weather and continued momentum from All-Day Breakfast in the U.S."

Stronger operating performance boosted results for the quarter and year, and the yearly results also benefited from higher gains on sales of restaurant businesses, mostly in the U.S., McDonald's said.

Both periods were impacted by the company's ongoing refranchising and G&A initiatives. In 2016, the quarter included $16 million of net pretax strategic credits consisting of a gain of $75 million from the sale of McDonald's Singapore to a developmental licensee, partly offset by restructuring charges, while the year included net pretax impairment and restructuring charges of $342 million. In 2015, the fourth quarter and year included net pretax strategic charges of $74 million and $307 million, respectively, primarily consisting of impairment and restructuring charges.

The company also noted that fourth-quarter 2015 results included a gain of $135 million from the strategic sale of a unique restaurant property in the U.S.

For the 2016 fourth quarter and year, the current and prior-year net strategic charges/credits did not have a significant impact on diluted earnings per share growth rates.

Foreign currency translation had a negative impact of 3 cents and 11 cents on diluted earnings per share for the quarter and year, respectively.