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Growers Edge appoints Cosgrove as new CEO

Growers Edge Financial Inc., a provider of agriculture industry financial technology products, solutions and tools, has announced the appointment of Dan Cosgrove as chief executive officer. Cosgrove, a 20-year agriculture industry veteran, will drive growth by expanding partner networks, refining the product pipeline and further scaling the team.

“Since joining the team as chief strategy officer in 2019, Dan has provided exceptional strategic leadership, and I am confident that his experience working with major players across the ag industry will be a valuable asset to this company,” said Joe Young, co-founder, president and chief operating officer of Growers Edge. “We’ve built an incredible foundation and are well positioned to make our vision a reality with Dan at the helm.”

Most recently, Cosgrove served as the company’s chief strategy officer spearheading a series of strategic partnerships that set the stage for accelerated corporate growth. Prior to his role at Growers Edge, Cosgrove held leadership roles at Corteva Agriscience, including global lead, corporate development and licensing, vice president of business development, chief patent counsel and various internal legal team roles. Early in his career, Cosgrove served as a partner at Zarley, McKee, Thomte, Voorhees & Sease focused on patent litigation.

“The ag industry is on the cusp of a complete transformation. However, far too many growers struggle to manage the risk associated with all of the new tools and technologies that are being offered to them or gain access to the capital needed to deploy those tools on farm,” Cosgrove said. “While fintech solutions are found in nearly every other industry, agriculture has lagged behind to date. I look forward to leading this company into its next phase of growth to help build more sustainable, productive and profitable farms with Growers Edge products and services backed by novel fintech solutions.”

As CEO, Cosgrove will also become a member of the Growers Edge board of directors, alongside Young and leaders from investor directors from Finistere Ventures and Seed2Growth Ventures. Cosgrove is an active member of the State Court of Iowa and the U.S. Supreme Court and is licensed to practice before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. He has also served on a variety of local, industry and philanthropic boards. Cosgrove earned his master's of business administration at The MIT Sloan School of Management, J.D. at Drake University and bachelor of science in engineering at Iowa State University.

Cargill's Diamond V expands production footprint

diamond V.jpg

Food customers and consumers are increasingly interested in understanding how animals are being raised, and demand is rising for animal protein that has been produced in natural and sustainable ways. In response, Cargill's Diamond V has expanded its Cedar Rapids, Iowa, manufacturing plant to complete all production and packaging of its natural immune support products in one facility. 

"Diamond V has always been committed to offering products that support healthy animals, more efficient animal production, better pre-harvest food safety, stronger antibiotic stewardship and improved public health," said Mike Goble, Cargill's global managing director for Diamond V. "The demand for natural animal health products is growing, and this expansion will allow us to support our customers."

Cargill was joined by Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $29.1 million, 100,000 sq. ft. expansion at Diamond V's south plant production facility. Production at the facility will begin in February 2020.

"Cedar Rapids is a proud manufacturing and agriculture-based community, and few companies better represent those two important industries than Diamond V and Cargill," Hart said. "Diamond V is a global leader in science, nutrition and health, and we appreciate Cargill's commitment to building and expanding this important business in our community."

As a result of this expansion, Diamond V will close its north plant and transfer all 20 employees to the south facility. The expansion immediately adds two production lines and is large enough to house up to eight production lines as the business grows to meet rising consumer and customer demand.

In 2018, Cargill acquired Diamond V, creating a leading natural animal health and nutrition business. The acquisition accelerated growth and supports healthier animals and more wholesome food production in the $20 billion global animal feed additives market. In response to the rising importance of health among both farmers and consumers, Cargill Health Technologies was formed in 2019, demonstrating Cargill's continued commitment to growing a leading digestive and immune health business for both animal and human application.

"Through Cargill Health Technologies, we are pioneering a new path and unlocking the full potential of the bodies we nourish, helping both people and animals live more healthy days," said Chuck Warta, president of Cargill Health Technologies. "When we put the full muscle of Cargill behind it, we believe we can address some of the most pressing global problems in how to feed the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way."

Petition filed to make salmonella an adulterant

Petition filed to make salmonella an adulterant

OK, not all salmonella, just certain strains known to be especially virulent when infecting us humans.

To start the New Year off with a bang, at 2:10 PM January 2, 2020, I received a copy of a “Petition for an Interpretive Rule Declaring ‘Outbreak’ Serotypes of Salmonella enterica subspecies enterica to be Adulterants Within the Meanings of 21 U.S.C. & 601(m)(1) and 21 U.S.C. & 453(g)(1).”

The Citizen Petition was submitted by MarlerClark LLP, PS, on behalf of Rick Shille, Steven Romes, The Porter Family, Food & Water Watch, Consumer Federation of America, and Consumer Reports.

The petition goes into some detail about the first three names above and their long-term illnesses associated with contraction salmonellosis.

It also describes MarlerClark as “the nation’s foremost law firm representing victims of foodborne illnesses,” a claim that few would dispute.

It includes a note that Food & Water Watch has filed a petition to ban fracking.

Notably missing from the list is the Centers for Science in the Public’s Interest (CSPI) and STOP Foodborne Illnesses.

This is not the first petition to name salmonella as an adulterant in meat and poultry products. CSPI filed a petition with the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) in 2011 asking for certain antibiotic resistant strains to be so classified.

 It was denied by FSIS in 2014.

And this is not the first petition by MarlerClark asking for expansion of the list of adulterants in meat and poultry.

In October of 2009 MarlerClark petitioned FSIS to name six non-O157:H7 STECs (Shiga Toxin producing E. coli) as adulterants.

The beef industry cried it would kill them.

But since the non-O157s were killing people, FSIS listened to MarlerClark and many others and moved forward and life goes on today with a few changes and a few more recalls.

The goal behind this petition is probably to give FSIS the legal standing to ask for recalls or prevent distribution when salmonella contaminated meat and poultry is found.

Current practice is only to ask for a recall when there is an outbreak and product can be traced back to a plant. That is reactive, not preventive, governmental action.

The petition also points out that when E coli O157:H7 was declared an adulterant in non-intact beef by then FSIS Administrator Mike Taylor, industry was forced to change slaughter house practices and the incidence of infections dropped significantly.

At that time the beef industry also cried foul and sued for relief but lost. 

Then they rolled up their sleeves and declared food safety information to be non-proprietary.

I think the hope here is that a declaration would force industry to adopt new science-based practices to reduce salmonella contamination.

The petition for salmonella is a good read. If you know nothing about the issue, 64 pages later you will be well informed, if not just a little biased.

But there are some major omissions of facts and differences between E. coli and salmonella.

First and foremost is the lethality of the two.

Last year the CDC estimated there were 73,000 illnesses related to E. coli, with an associated 60 deaths (0.1%).

In comparison, CDC estimates there were 1.35 million cases of salmonellosis with 400 deaths (0.03%).

That is not to say that 400 is an insignificant number, nor are the long-term health effects.

Salmonella used to be associated with poultry and E. coli with ground beef.

But we know better now, as witnessed by the last three years of recurring E. coli foodborne outbreaks associated with Romaine lettuce and salmonella from raw milk, petting zoos, onions, beef, etc.

So to name it an adulterant in poultry and let the green, leafy veggies off the hook just does not seem fair.

Another point to consider:

From 2006-2008, we dropped the percentage of chicken carcasses contaminated with salmonella from around 16% to around 7% with the New Poultry Salmonella Initiative.

But the rate of human illnesses from salmonella did not drop even one percent. 

Someone needs to answer why there was no drop before I can support a zero tolerance for salmonella.

Plus we have prior legal decisions (APHA vs Espy and Supreme Beef vs USDA) that complicate the issue and, in theory, somewhat tie FSIS’s hands from being more proactive and preventive than they currently are.

And before you consider writing off this petition as something an ambulance chasing lawyer might be behind, I would submit to you that MarlerClark may have done more since 1993 to promote food safety in this country by the threat of huge settlements than any governmental agency has done to protect us from foodborne illnesses.

Salmonella may not be the killer that E. coli O157:H7 is, but it is MORE than just a tummy ache.   

Could safer burgers lead to safer buffalo wings?

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Last Sunday, the Washington Post headlined a feature story, “He helped make burgers safer. Now he’s fighting food poisoning again.”

It was a story about fireworks aimed at the meat and poultry industry by Bill Marler, an attorney who has long haunted what he considers errant food processors. His success is remarkable. Be forewarned; he is also capable of exercising a devastating nuclear option, too.

Bill Marler first talked with the meat industry long ago. It was near the close of the 20th century that he tapped them on the shoulder and said, “Pardon me, but your inactions have caused hundreds to be sickened and killed four children at Jack in the Box. Would you mind taking E. coli out of your product mix?”

The meat industry opposed him, saying the technology needed to prevent or eliminate the contamination had not yet been developed. It also argued that meat prices would rise for consumers. The industry lost the argument twice: once in a legal battle with Marler in court and a second time in the more damaging court of public opinion. Now, the battle is joined again, this time on the issue of salmonella. Marler has presented U.S. Department of Agriculture officials with a petition asking that 31 strains of the increasingly prevalent pathogen be labeled as adulterants, citing legal, scientific and moral arguments.

According to Coral Beach, managing editor of Food Safety News, “The plaintiffs on the petition are salmonella victims Rick Schiller, Steven Romes and the Porter Family. The consumer advocacy groups petitioning for the change are Food & Water Watch, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Reports. Specifically, the petition asks the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service to declare the following outbreak serotypes of salmonella as adulterants in meat and poultry products:

Salmonella Agona, Anatum, Berta, Blockely, Braenderup, Derby, Dublin, Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, I 4,[5],12: I :-, Infantis, Javiana, Litchfield, Mbandaka, Mississippi, Montevideo, Muenchen, Newport, Oranienburg, Panama, Poona, Reading, Saintpaul, Sandiego, Schwarzengrund, Senftenberg, Stanley, Thompson, Typhi, and Typhimurium.”

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) responded to the Washington Post’s request for the industry point-of-view about the Marler petition this way: “With E. coli, it was a wake-up call for an industry that wasn’t paying attention to that pathogen. The industry is not asleep at the wheel with salmonella,” said Mark Dopp, a vice president of NAMI. “We are doing everything we can think of. Declaring something to be an adulterant isn’t going to make us swim faster or harder. We are swimming as fast and hard as we can.”

Sounds familiar. It’s an almost verbatim copy of the American Meat Institute reply made about E. coli a quarter-century ago. By the way, the industry began swimming faster and harder and has almost completely solved its E. coli issue. They were so successful that when other food industry officials – in the produce industry, for instance - asked how they could avoid recalls, Marler told them to look to the beef industry.

Marler viewed the AMI’s 20th century response as foot-dragging, less than adequate, maybe even callous in the extreme. I think he will have the same opinion about NAMI’s 2020 reply.

He knows that USDA data shows 10% of raw poultry sold at retail is probably contaminated with salmonella. Worse, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that salmonella contamination causes an annual 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the U.S.

People are equally surprised, Marler said, to learn that the federal government “stamps meat ‘USDA certified,’ all along knowing that it could be contaminated with cow or chicken feces.”

I suppose he could go after USDA on a truth in labeling issue.

Signaling the blunt, gloves off and bare-knuckled no-holds-barred approach he’s taking, he told the Post, “Chicken s--- shouldn’t be on chicken flesh, it should be in chickens’ guts. Period. End of story. Same with cows and same with pigs. It shouldn’t be on our food.”

But NAMI and the National Chicken Council (NCC) say there is nothing unnatural about salmonella getting into the food supply. NAMI says the bacteria is in the intestinal tract as well as lymph nodes, making it extremely difficult to eliminate. The NCC says just cook it, a response that Marler finds absurd.

Marler has always argued that making consumers fully responsible for killing the bacteria in their food is ridiculous. Marler has research that shows people do not follow USDA safety instructions. “You can’t put this burden on the consumer — it doesn’t work,” is something he’s said often, most recently to that Washington Post writer.

The industry, led by organizations like NAMI and NCC, is intimately familiar with the food safety tune about keeping it clean and keeping it cold. It keeps the consumer healthy and happy.

So why are they so tone-deaf in their responses? Waiting for a visit from Bill Marler never turns out well. Meat and poultry suppliers simply have to work harder, find better ‘hurdles’ to incorporate into their food safety practices and stay in front of the issues. Not placing products into commerce that could sicken or kill consumers is absolutely job #1.

Don’t wait for Bill.

Foodborne illness source attribution update

romaine lettuce
Courtesy of the CDC

Foodborne illness source attribution is a very complex subject, yet a vitally important subject that drives federal, state and local health departments in their efforts to reduce foodborne illnesses via food safety initiatives and policies.

As far as I know, there have only been two published reports on this subject, the one just released and one back in 2012 at a public meeting in the back of the cafeteria in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s huge office building across the street from the headquarters.

(They hold a lot of meetings in the back of the cafeteria, probably because seating is limited to a degree.)

When I was at USDA overseeing the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS), the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) shared with me some preliminary data for attribution that I could not share with the world as it had not been sanitized and approved for public disclosure.

But it did show that leafy greens played a much bigger role in foodborne illnesses than generally recognized in the media and the consumers’ eyes.

Now we have the latest and the greatest, and it is being shared if one only takes the time to go to:  https://cdc.gov/foodsafety/ifsac/pdf/P19-2017-report-TriAgency-508.pdf  

But it is not being widely publicized and heralded in the media, maybe because it is pretty damning to some elements of the food industry.

In 2011 the feds formed the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC). This is a tri-agency group that consists of CDC, FSIS and the Food & Drug Administration.

IFSAC was originally chaired by my old friend from FSIS, Dr. David Goldman, one of the bureaucrats that I totally trusted in the days.

What IFSAC has proven is that federal agencies can, and do, talk with each other and work together to make our food safer.

No, we do not need a single food safety agency.

This group, charged with using analytics to come up with useful information, took a look at all foodborne illness outbreaks caused by E coli O157:H7, salmonella, listeria or campylobacter from 1998 to 2017.

There were 3,728 outbreaks. After eliminating those outbreaks for which a single food source could not be positively identified, or for which the food vehicle did not fall into one of 17 selected categories, they ended up looking at 1,329 outbreaks.

Because of changes and advances in epidemiology and investigations over the years, the last five years of outbreaks reviewed (2012-2017) provide 69% of overall information, the next most recent five years (2008-2012) provide another 26% of the total information used, so this is really a look at 2008-2017.

One last bit of detail before getting to the results:

Of the 236 Campylobacter outbreaks in the time period reviewed, the IFSAC group threw out 147 that were linked to unpasteurized milk. The thinking apparently was that nothing could be done to decrease the risk of consuming a product known to be high risk, so they focused on sources that could have the risk decreased through regulations by public health agencies or by industry use of science based treatments.

So, the results:

811 outbreaks caused by salmonella, 242 by E. coli O157:H7, 40 by listeria and 89 by campylobacter. 

E. coli and listeria were largely represented by two food categories; salmonella and campylobacter were more across the board.

Listeria outbreaks were attributed to dairy (50%) and fruits (30%). Pork 0.1%

E coli O157:H7 outbreaks were attributed to vegetable row crops (46.3%) [no that is not a typo] and to beef (25.8%). Pork 0%.

Campylobacter blamed chicken 50% of the time, followed by other seafood (12%) and turkey at 10%. Pork 1.7%

Salmonella had lots of sources of attribution, leading with seeded vegetables (17%), chicken (14%), fruits (12%), pork (10%), eggs (8%), other produce, like nuts (8%) and beef (6%). Turkey and row crops were at 5-6%.

Some take homes:

Why can row crops, i.e. romaine lettuce, continue to make headlines every single growing season for E. coli foodborne illnesses while the animal agriculture industry and its associated packing and processing plants continue with the intense FSIS scrutiny?

Why all the fuss about the New Swine Inspection System when the only time pork shows up in this report with a number worth repeating is for salmonella? And I think those involved with that industry will support my theory that the salmonella associated with pork is most likely coming from lymph nodes, a problem for which no amount of FSIS inspection of carcasses will alleviate.

Sprouts. I will not eat raw sprouts because of the way they are grown; dark, moist and warm environments, a road map for a disaster. But they hardly registered in the report. My guess is that it’s related to a low amount of consumption compared to the amount of chicken and row crops eaten on a daily basis. But I am open to other ideas.

Listeria outbreaks are few, but when you look at a 50% attribution to dairy, FDA regulated, and to the risk to pregnant women and their unborn babies, you have to wonder why one in that risk category would want to consume soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk?

FSIS has a zero-tolerance level for listeria, FDA not so much. Hmm?

USDA-FSIS is repeatedly criticized and blamed and overseen by House and Senate committees and the GMOs when there is an outbreak related to meat and/or poultry, yet three of the four foodborne illness categories, E. coli, salmonella and listeria, had related sources of attribution that are FDA regulated; vegetable row crops, seeded vegetables, and dairy respectively.

Go figure.

‘Cattle on Feed’ report as expected

DarcyMaulsby/iStock/Thinkstock Cattle in feedlot

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest “Cattle on Feed” report, which was released Jan. 24, was in line with pre-report estimates.

Cattle and calves on feed for the slaughter market in feedlots with capacity of 1,000 head or more totaled 12.0 million head on Jan. 1, 2020, a 2% increase from the same period last year. Analysts also had expected a 2% increase. The inventory included 7.37 million steers and steer calves, up 1% from the previous year. USDA said this group accounted for 62% of the total inventory. Heifers and heifer calves accounted for 4.59 million head, up 4% from 2019.

Placements in feedlots during December totaled 1.83 million head, 3% above 2019 and what the trade expected. Net placements were 1.76 million head. During December, placements of cattle and calves were 465,000 head for those weighing less than 600 lb., 455,000 head for those weighing 600-699 lb., 413,000 head for those weighing 700-799 lb., 295,000 head for those weighing 800-899 lb., 95,000 head for those weighing 900-999 lb. and 105,000 head for those weighing 1,000 lb. and greater.

Marketings of fed cattle during December totaled 1.83 million head, 5% above 2018 and as expected by the trade.

Other disappearance totaled 67,000 head during December, 11% below 2018.

Bankruptcy court gives Bumble Bee sale green light

Bankruptcy Law Gavel Legal

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware has approved a stalking horse bid of $925.6 million for the sale of Bumble Bee Foods to Taiwan-based tuna company FCF Co., one of the world’s largest marine product integrated supply chain service providers, with more than 40 years of experience.

The U.S. Department of Justice as well as the companies owed in Bumble Bee’s price-fixing lawsuit had partially objected to the sale, but the objections were resolved Jan. 24 when FCF guaranteed all of Bumble Bee’s performance and payment obligations.

The judge still has to approve a final edited sale order, which may contain additional provisions that FCF must meet.

Bumble Bee has been plagued by legal woes over the last couple of years and pleaded guilty in 2017 to a tuna price-fixing case. According to DOJ, the company paid a $25 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna fish, such as canned and pouch tuna, sold in the U.S.

However, the company is also facing three class action lawsuits that are still pending as well as eight other separate legal claims.

In bankruptcy documents, Bumble Bee said it has spent “tens of millions of dollars” in defense costs. Its debt at the time of the bankruptcy filing totaled $650 million.

In December 2019, former Bumble Bee Foods LLC chief executive officer Chris Lischewski was also convicted in the price-fixing scheme after being found guilty by a federal jury in San Francisco, Cal. Prosecutors alleged that Lischewski conspired with colleagues as well as executives from rival companies to boost prices and meet earnings targets.

He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.

Veterinarians cite job satisfaction, high stress levels

RGtimeline/iStock/Thinkstock vet with pigs

Merck Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co. Inc., recently announced the results of a comprehensive study of well-being and mental health among U.S. veterinarians, which are critical issues facing the veterinary profession.

Conducted in collaboration with the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA), the "Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study" also examined job satisfaction, compensation, burnout, substance use disorder, cyberbullying and suicide among veterinarians while evaluating potential solutions, an announcement from Merck Animal Health said.

In this study, veterinarians rated job satisfaction highly, saying: “I’m invested in my work and take pride in doing a good job,” and “My work makes a positive contribution to people’s lives.”

Conversely, the study found that veterinarians were very concerned about high stress levels (92%), high student debt (91%) and suicide (89%) in the profession. Despite new awareness regarding well-being and mental health in veterinary medicine, the study showed that veterinarian well-being, on average, has not improved since a similar study was conducted in 2017, the announcement said.

“Our research shows that attitudes toward mental health in the veterinary field are improving, but we still have work to do as it relates to treatment,” said Dr. Judson Vasconcelos, Merck Animal Health director, veterinary and consumer affairs. “For example, this study found a significant and positive change in caring towards those with mental illness, but there is still a large treatment gap, with half of those surveyed experiencing distress and declining to seek treatment.

“Through the years, we have partnered with AVMA to develop tools and resources to improve well-being within the veterinary community and make veterinary medicine a stronger and healthier profession. As a result of this study and the 2018 study, we continue to work with AVMA on programs to prioritize self-care, invest in personal well-being and manage stress in healthy ways,” Vasconcelos said.

Higher burnout rates

Using the "Mayo Clinic Physician Burnout & Wellbeing Scale," the study found that veterinarians, despite working fewer hours, had higher rates of burnout than physicians, scoring 3.1 on the seven-point scale versus 2.24 -- a statistically significant difference, the announcement said.

The Merck Animal Health veterinarian study defined well-being as the way an individual feels about his or her life and how it compares to their ideal life. The survey found that well-being, on average, was lower among younger veterinarians. “Not working enough hours” also had a greater negative impact than “working too many hours” among those surveyed, the announcement said.

Although the prevalence of serious psychological distress in veterinarians was consistent with the general population of employed U.S. adults, it was much more common in younger veterinarians than in their older counterparts, the survey found.

While significant strides have been made in positive attitudes towards those with mental illness, half of those experiencing serious psychological distress in the last year did not seek treatment.

The study also found that 52% of veterinarians would not recommend a career in the veterinary profession. This was consistent with the 2017 study, citing high student debt, low pay and stress as the main reasons, the announcement reported.

Suicide prevention

According to Merck Animal Health, the study confirmed similar research findings that veterinarians are much more likely to think about suicide than non-veterinarians and are more than 2.7 times more likely to attempt suicide. In addition, the study found that veterinarians who considered suicide of fellow veterinarians a critical issue facing the profession increased 9% from the 2017 study, rising from 80% to 89%.

Female veterinarians have higher rates of suicide ideation than their male counterparts, although male veterinarians are more likely to attempt suicide, the study found, and female veterinarians experience higher levels of serious psychological distress than their male counterparts, with a statistically significant increase from 6.3% in the 2017 study to 8.1% in the 2019 study.

“This study affirms that more veterinarians are comfortable discussing mental health-related topics, and there has been a significant increase in the number of respondents who believe that veterinarians are caring toward those with mental illness. That’s an incredibly positive shift in the last few years and suggests that educational efforts to reduce stigma have had a measurable impact,” AVMA president Dr. John Howe said. “In addition, this study links the data to practical and realistic strategies that individuals and organizations can apply to enhance well-being. As an organization that serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare of our members and the future of the profession. The more clarity we have on contributing factors, the greater confidence we have in developing resources that create a substantive difference.”

Solutions

The study provided techniques and potential solutions to improve veterinary mental health and well-being, according to the announcement. Individuals are encouraged to create personal stress management plans; balance their work with healthy personal activities; work with a financial planner, especially if carrying a burdensome level of student debt, and limit time on social media in favor of in-person interactions.

Veterinary practices should discuss stress and mental health frequently and encourage employees to seek help, if needed. Mental health insurance coverage should be made known, and employers should consider creating employee assistance programs if such programs are not currently in place.

Financial commitment

Merck Animal Health also announced that, in support of AVMA’s veterinary wellness efforts, it is making a second $100,000 commitment that follows up on the 2017 commitment to support AVMA’s Workplace Wellbeing program and resources.

“Merck Animal Health is proud to partner once again with AVMA on this landmark study, which digs deeper into understanding the challenges facing the veterinary profession,” said Scott Bormann, Merck Animal Health senior vice president, North America. “Our partnership with AVMA and the financial support we are providing is helping AVMA bring critical awareness and solutions to this very important matter and providing real solutions and resources to better meet our veterinarians’ needs.”

Survey

The online survey was conducted in September and October 2019 by Brakke Consulting Inc. among a nationally representative sample of 2,871 U.S. veterinarians -- both practitioners and non-practitioners -- using standardized research methods.

Dairy & specialty livestock markets, 1/24/2020

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Pathway leading to immune exhaustion found in chickens

katoosha/iStock/Thinkstock broiler chicken_katoosha_iStock_Thinkstock-539041571.jpg

Two chicken proteins that may be involved in immune regulation of cancerous cells and viral infection — named programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) and programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) — have been characterized for the first time by scientists at The Pirbright Institute in the U.K.

The scientists demonstrated that the protein structures and interactions were highly similar to those in humans and other animals, where activation of these proteins is known to cause immune cell 'exhaustion" and prevent the immune system from destroying infected cells, Pirbright said.

The research may provide the basis for the development of immunotherapy treatments that block the pathway, which could revive immune cells and enable them to clear infection.

According to the institute, the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway is well understood in humans, and its role in chronic viral infections is well established, but little research has been carried out on these proteins in birds.

In a new study published in Frontiers in Cellular & Infection Microbiology, Pirbright scientists characterized the chicken PD-1 and PD-L1 proteins (chPD-1 and chPD-L1) and determined that their predicted structure and interactions were similar to those of humans and other species, suggesting that they have the same ability to suppress immune responses.

They also generated the first specific antibodies against chPD-1 and chPD-L1, which will allow researchers to examine the interactions and effects of these proteins more closely.

Pirbright explained that in humans, PD-1 is found on the surface of immune cells, particularly T cells. Healthy cells in the body display a PD-L1 receptor, and when this binds to PD-1, it inactivates the immune cell, preventing it from destroying healthy tissues. Cells infected by viruses usually remove their PD-L1 receptors, triggering T cells to attack that cell and halt the spread of infection.

However, some viruses increase the number of PD-L1 receptors displayed by the infected cell, preventing its destruction and allowing the virus to continue replicating, the institute said. Chronic viral infections can lead to T cell exhaustion, where T cells that react against the specific virus become non-functional.

“Demonstrating that this pathway exists in birds will help us to establish how the poultry immune response deals with viral infections. We are confident that the similarity of chPD-1 and chPD-L1 proteins to those in other species means that they are also involved in suppressing the poultry immune system,” said professor Venugopal Nair, head of Pirbright's Viral Oncogenesis group.

“Our next steps will be to investigate the role of chPD-1 and chPD-L1 pathways during infection and how viruses such as Marek’s disease virus manipulate the pathway to evade destruction, allowing the virus to remain latent in the infected cell and cause diseases such as cancer," Nair added. "This could help us to create immunotherapies that revive T cells from their exhausted state and allow them to deal with infection. Although the antibodies we created did not prevent interaction between chPD-1 and chPD-L1, we hope further research will result in antibodies that block this pathway and can help to alleviate economically important poultry diseases.”