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Articles from 2013 In October

FSIS upgrades IMPROVEST status from Notice to Directive

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a directive regarding on-farm protocols for using IMPROVEST (gonadotropin releasing factor analog - diphtheria toxoid conjugate). This protocol accreditation helps to ensure operational consistency for packers and their producer suppliers who adopt IMPROVEST that product protocols are comprehensive and will remain stable over time, according to Zoetis.

The previous FSIS "notice" acknowledged that hogs presented at harvesting facilities with the IMPROVEST quality assurance certificate are to be classified as barrows; and therefore, do not warrant testing for off odors during inspection. The classification change to "directive" signals that protocols for using IMPROVEST are no longer subject to annual review, although Zoetis will continue to audit and refine those protocols as necessary.

"It's important that our processes for using IMPROVEST meet the highest standards on the farm and at the processing plant," said Gloria Basse, Vice President, U.S. Pork Business Unit, Zoetis. "As we continue to work with packers on processing pigs raised using IMPROVEST, this FSIS status upgrade further validates IMPROVEST as a production option for the entire pork industry."

IMPROVEST is approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the temporary immunological castration and reduction of boar taint in intact male pigs intended for pork. IMPROVEST had been under FSIS notice classification since January 2013.

USAID program to develop disease-resistant chickens

A new program that will identify genes crucial for breeding chickens that can tolerate hot climates and resist infectious diseases — specifically the devastating Newcastle disease — has been launched under the leadership of the University of California-Davis.

The global economic impact of virulent Newcastle disease is enormous. The project is particularly important for Africa, where infectious diseases annually cause approximately 750 million poultry deaths.

The new effort, called the "Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry," aims to dramatically increase chicken production among Africa's rural households and small farms, advancing food security, human nutrition and personal livelihoods. The innovation lab recently was established with a $6 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Huaijun Zhou, principal investigator for the program and an associate professor of animal science in the University of California-Davis College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, noted that disease resistance is one of the most economically important traits for poultry production but also challenging to achieve through genetic selection and traditional breeding alone.

"We are thrilled by the opportunity to apply cutting-edge technology and advanced genomics to solve this problem in poor, developing countries," said Zhou, whose research focuses on the relationship between genetics and the immune system.

"Developing a chicken that can survive Newcastle disease outbreaks is critical to increase poultry, meat and egg production in Africa and in other regions of the world," said David Bunn, director of the new innovation lab. "Increasing the production of chickens and eggs can have a dramatic impact on the livelihoods of poor rural communities."

Homestead and small-scale poultry production is considered to have tremendous potential for alleviating malnutrition and poverty in Africa's climate-stressed rural communities. Improving the productivity of such poultry operations also promises to improve incomes and nourishment for women and children, who typically raise poultry for both income and food in Africa, an announcement said.

Collaborating with Zhou and Bunn at UC-Davis are Rodrigo Gallardo, an assistant professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ermias Kebreab, a professor in the department of animal science. Also involved are Iowa State University animal science professors Sue Lamont and Jack Dekkers; Boniface Kayang, head of the department of animal science at the University of Ghana; poultry health expert Peter Msoffe of Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, and Carl Schmidt, a professor of animal science at the University of Delaware.

Illinois River nitrate levels decrease, Mississippi River levels continue to increase

 A U.S.  Geological Survey (USGS) on Oct. 30 released a new study showing nitrate levels in the Illinois River have decreased 21% between 2000 and 2010.  The Mississippi River Basin has not seen a multi-year decrease in levels since 1980.

While the Illinois River has exhibit a decrease in nitrate levels, the Missouri and Mississippi River has not showed similar signs of progress according to USGS.

"Nitrate levels continue to increase in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, including the Mississippi’s outlet to the Gulf of Mexico," said Lori Sprague, USGS research hydrologist.

The reasons for increases or declines in annual nitrate levels are unknown. Reliable information on trends in contributing factors, such as fertilizer use, livestock waste, agricultural management practices, and wastewater treatment improvements, is needed to better understand what is causing increases or decreases in nitrate.

Key nitrate concentration trend findings at long-term USGS monitoring sites:

  • Nitrate concentrations steadily decreased by 21 percent in the Illinois River from 2000 to 2010. Decreases were also noted in the Iowa River during this time, but the declines were not as large (10 percent).
  • Consistent increases in nitrate concentrations occurred between 2000 and 2010 in the upper Mississippi River (29 percent) and the Missouri River (43 percent).
  • Nitrate concentrations in the Ohio River are the lowest among the eight Mississippi River Basin sites and have remained relatively stable over the last 30 years.
  • Nitrate concentrations increased at the Mississippi River outlet by 12 percent between 2000 and 2010.


The USGS report and additional information is available at http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pubs/nitrate_trends/ .

Farm bill conferees look to tackle controversial livestock issues

Wednesday afternoon members of the long-awaited Congressional farm bill conference conducted their first business meeting and members offered opening statements on issues important to them. Although leading up to the debate, attention has been predominantly focused on the different policy approaches to nutrition and the commodity title, it was the mention of many hot button livestock issues that continued to resurface through the two and a half-hour meeting that could cause a deep line in the sand.

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) took the first punch when she said she had "great concern" regarding Rep. Steve King's (R., Iowa) provision that "overrides state government's constitutional authorities." King countered in a tweet after Stabenow's statement that his amendment was "mischaracterized" as an attempt to override state government's constitutional authority.

The King amendment was passed in House Committee both in 2012 and 2013 was tailored to protect the interstate commerce of food and agricultural products, he said. After California passed its Proposition 2 which sets standards on how eggs can be raised, King said the bill was needed to prevent states such as California from regulating production practices in another state.

King in his opening statement said the issue will remain a "top priority" for him within the conference committee and added his amendment "prohibits trade protectionism between the states."

Rep. Jim Costa (D., Calif.) called for the removal of the "vague and overly broad" King amendment that he says was "clearly targeted at California's producers."

Costa said it sets up a one-size-fits-all policy in Washington. "This is anti-federalism. It says we know better than the states to act on their own behalf."

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) again questioned whether the amendment is germane to the farm bill as he did previously in House Agriculture Committee debate. He called the amendment's inclusion in any final bill a "poison pill."


Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) was another hot topic that several conference members mentioned in their opening comments.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) has participated in eight farm bill conferences himself, and was the chairman during the 2002 and 2008 farm bills that brought about COOL, and said he hoped the committee does not interfere with USDA on COOL or GIPSA.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas) called COOL a "failed experiment" and Rep. Austin Scott (R., Ga.) said it has caused "significant damage" to the industry. Since the WTO could allow our major trading partners Canada and Mexico to retaliate against the U.S., Scott said a "resolution is a necessity."

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D., N.C.) added legislators need to find a legislative fix for COOL. Ahead of the meeting the National Farmers Union, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, American Sheep Industry Association and Consumer Federation of America sent a letter to conferees stressing continued strong support for COOL and opposition to any legislative changes to the law. 

“The agribusiness and packer-producer groups are merely trying to scare members of Congress into changing the law to benefit their bottom lines,” said the letter. “We strongly oppose such action. COOL is a top priority for our organizations. Any effort to change it in the farm bill would affect our groups’ support of that legislation.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said he appreciated the House addressing several burdensome regulations that he's also worked on including pesticides, farm fuel tank storage, the lesser prairie chicken, GIPSA and COOL.


Overcoming unscientific barriers significant in any EU trade deal

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing Oct. 30 to hear from the industry on the impact of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal. Members of the committee of the panel as well as the four testifying reiterated the importance of the trading relationship with the EU, but also identified the importance of continuing ambitious goals within negotiating any agreement.

The United States and European Union account for an estimated half of the global domestic product and a third of world trade. So the stakes are high for a trade agreement between the two in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) shared that the new trade deal could boost exports to the EU by a third and add more than $100 billion annually to U.S. GDP. But for TTIP to live up to its potential, a number of challenges need to be tackled. Most notably he called out the EU's "unscientific and unjustified barriers to U.S. agricultural exports, including beef and poultry."

National Chicken Council senior vice president Bill Roenigk testified that the poultry industry has serious concerns – even serious doubts – that any new trade agreement with the European Union will result in real and meaningful access for U.S. poultry exports to the region.

He testified that since 1997 when the EU implemented its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) changes, it has used a "bagful of scary tricks to severely hamper free and fair trade of U.S. agricultural products." This includes precautionary principles used "when it's convenient" that act as trade barriers.  

Roenigk estimated that if U.S. poultry could be exported to the EU, sales would be in excess of $600 million on an annual basis, making it one of the top export markets. Instead the EU is not an export market for the U.S. and what is needed is a regulatory climate where food safety is based on performance, not prescriptive ways or unfounded animal health concerns, he added.

Roenigk warned that the EU has been creative in its ways of getting around the current rules and regulations and any final agreement will need to be careful to prevent that from happening further.

Ryan McCormick, president of the Montana Grain Growers Assn., testified that exports account for 50% of U.S. wheat and 80% of Montana wheat. "Trade is just as important as tractors, fuel and seed," he shared.

He said it's imperative that a deal with the EU move forward, especially as the main competitor to the north - Canada - just inked their own deal with the EU. The outcome of that deal called for a permanent zero wheat duty phased in over the next seven years, which would make Canadian wheat preferable to EU users.

McCormick also called for an agreement to include harmonization on biotechnology and regulations of crops. Although the wheat industry does not currently use biotechnology, it hopes to one day use the technology.

Baucus said the degree to which TTIP is successful, also helps set up world standards creating a pathway for the United States to more easily trade with developing countries such as India.

Both Baucus and his ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) reiterated support for passing Trade Promotion Authority and identified the role it would provide in advancing not only TTIP but also other ongoing negotiations including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and World Trade Organization talks.  

Roenigk added that TPA is not only critical for Congress to pass, but NCC believes "if given to our negotiators now, it would strengthen their hands, rather than be more susceptible at the negotiating table."

UPDATE: NPPC president responds to undercover video allegations

UPDATE: NPPC president responds to undercover video allegations

National Pork Producers Council president Randy Spronk is among the owners of a Minnesota farm depicted in an undercover video released Oct. 29 by animal rights group Mercy For Animals (MFA). According to the Associated Press, the video  was shot earlier this summer at the Rosewood Farm owned in part by Spronk Brothers, including NPPC president Randy Spronk.

"First off, I do not condone, and was very upset about what I saw on the video," Spronk told Feedstuffs

Mercy for Animals used its latest undercover video to call on Walmart to ban its suppliers from housing sows using traditional gestation stalls.

"This also is a question of, as an industry, this zero tolerance standard we live with now," he continued. "When you work with people and pigs, we know there are failures, and we’re very open about that. We constantly work on how to identify and correct those failures."

Spronk Brothers' farms are part of the Pipestone System, a large network of independently owned shareholder farms operating under a joint management program by Pipestone System employees. According to Pipestone, the organization cooperated with local authorities in response to a complaint of animal mistreatment, and conducted its own internal investigation into the situation.

MFA, known for its undercover video operations, released its latest film including footage obtained by a former Pipestone employee and suspected MFA operative. Narrated by Academy Award winning actor James Cromwell, the video depicted alleged mistreatment of animals on the farm, including workers euthanizing pigs using blunt-force trauma, castration of male pigs absent anesthesia, and injured pigs with open wounds the group said had not received appropriate veterinary attention.

Much of the film focused on the farm’s use of gestation stalls, a practice the group referred to as “sickening cruelty.” It called on Walmart to stop purchasing pork from suppliers who use gestation stalls as part of their production systems.

While authorities in Pipestone County have opted not to bring any charges against Pipestone employees, Pipestone System president Luke Minion said the company had immediately terminated one employee, reassigned another, and mandated follow-up training of its remaining staff, based on its own investigation into the allegations.

“We remain absolutely committed to animal welfare and will continue to improve upon training and oversight every day,” said Carissa Odland, Pipestone’s director of animal welfare. She said the System underwent an immediate third-party external audit of the farm’s operations as an additional measure.

Spronk added that the Rosewood Farm has been certified through the Pork Checkoff's Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) program, which mandates a third-party audit. In addition, the farm has gone through two additional third-party animal handling and welfare audits.

Video review panel addresses issues

A panel of animal care experts convened by the Center for Food Integrity reviewed the video as presented online by MFA concluded that although many practices depicted in the video are standard procedures generally accepted by the industry, employee behavior toward the animals was a major issue that needed to be addressed.

“There are far too many issues seen in this video, including behaviors and attitudes of the caretakers, that are definitely not reflective of standard industry practice and that are just wrong,” said Purdue University animal behavior and well-being expert Candace Croney.

Spronk said that the individuals responsible for the issues depicted in the video no longer work at the farm.

"There are two people in my mind who were culpable – the one was the employee who did not follow policy, training and procedures, and he was fired," he explained. "The other was the MFA activist who did not bring theses issues to her supervisors, despite signing numerous forms and agreements compelling her to do so in the best interest of the animals."

The review panel held that the use of gestation stalls was not in and of itself an example of abuse, but noted that some animals appeared to be housed in stalls that were too small.

Similarly, the use of blunt force trauma is an accepted form of euthanasia, but Croney said that when improperly executed, the possibility of animal suffering is “problematic,” and could be an issue in terms of employee morale.

“It is paradoxical to ask employees to provide compassionate care and also to kill, especially in such a fashion,” she said. “Worse, when employees show the types of abusive attitudes evident in this video, the concern that is raised is whether doing this type of procedure worsens indifference to animals.”

The panel, which also included Michigan State University’s Janice Swanson and University of Minnesota’s John Deen, criticized employees’ methods of handling animals as depicted in the video, but said that castration and tail docking was done using acceptable methods.

Harrisvaccines expands into companion animal vaccines

Harrisvaccines announced Oct. 29 that it has expanded its exclusive license agreement with AlphaVax Inc. to include all companion animal diseases, in addition to all livestock animal diseases (swine, cattle, horses, poultry and farmed aquatic animals).

The agreement "significantly expands" the Harrisvaccines product portfolio, transforming it from a primarily production livestock-focused company to a full-service veterinary animal health company, developing vaccines for animals large and small, the announcement said.

Harrisvaccines said it will begin its work in the companion animal realm by developing vaccines for a variety of respiratory diseases in dogs.

"This is a significant milestone for Harrisvaccines and solidifies our place as an innovative leader in the biologics industry with the ability to utilize this novel, exclusive technology in all preventive veterinary aspects," Joel Harris, head of sales and marketing for Harrisvaccines, said.

Harrisvaccines' RNA Particle (RP) Platform technology utilizes a genetic sequence of specific viruses, which can be submitted electronically, to create a vaccine. Harrisvaccines can use this technology to develop strain-specific vaccines in just a matter of weeks, allowing for rapid response to disease outbreaks. As diseases are constantly evolving, this is crucial to containment and eradication efforts.

In September 2012, Harrisvaccines received its first license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its RP vaccine for H3N2 Influenza Virus in swine, the first vaccine of its kind using this RP technology to be licensed by a government agency.

Harrisvaccines has developed and commercialized vaccines for some of the most economically significant swine diseases to date, including porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, pandemic H1N1 swine influenza virus and porcine rotavirus A, B, and C.

Egg industry significantly reduces environmental impact

The Egg Industry Center released a landmark study Oct. 30 that shows that while U.S. egg production has increased over the past 50 years, the industry has also been able to significantly decrease its environmental footprint.

Researchers conducted a life-cycle analysis of U.S. egg production from 1960 to 2010 to evaluate environmental performance measures for the complete life cycle, from crops to hens to the farm gate. Study findings indicate that the environmental efficiencies are the result of a wide range of factors, including the reduction of natural resource use, improved hen feed, better disease control and advancements in hen housing systems.

Key results of the study found that, compared to 1960:

* The egg production process releases significantly less polluting emissions, including 71% lower greenhouse gas emissions.

* Hens now use 32% less water per dozen eggs produced.

* Today's hens use a little more than half of the amount of feed to produce a dozen eggs.

* At the same time, today's hens produce 27% more eggs per day and are living longer.

"The U.S. egg industry has evolved remarkably over the past five decades by incorporating new technologies to protect natural resources," said Hongwei Xin, agricultural and biosystems engineering and animal science professor at Iowa State University, director of the Egg Industry Center and the study's lead researcher. "Egg farmers have improved their production practices, allowing them to provide an affordable source of high-quality protein while using fewer resources and producing less waste."

Efforts to further improve feed efficiency, hen housing facilities and manure management will facilitate even greater environmental footprint reductions in the future, according to the announcement.

The study was funded by the American Egg Board, U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn., United Egg Assn. — Allied and Egg Industry Center. To obtain data for 2010, researchers conducted anonymous surveys with egg farmers and collected data on 57.1 million young hens and 92.5 million laying hens. For more information, visit www.incredibleegg.org or www.eggindustrycenter.org.

FSIS: Salmonella prevalence on chicken decreases 34%

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety & Inspection Service's (FSIS) "Quarterly Progress Reports on Salmonella and Campylobacter Testing of Selected Raw Meat and Poultry Products" released Oct. 25, the prevalence of salmonella on raw young chicken carcasses is down 34% over the first quarter of 2013 and represents a decrease of more than 120% during the past five years, the National Chicken Council reported Oct. 29.

The FSIS report contained testing information from April 1 through June 30, 2013. Specifically for young chicken carcasses, 2,955 samples were collected and analyzed with a positive rate of only 2.6% for salmonella — a fraction of the FSIS performance standard of 7.5% for young chicken carcasses. The same samples were also analyzed for campylobacter, and while the percent positive remained unchanged from the first quarter of 2013, it represents a decrease of almost 50% since FSIS began testing for campylobacter on post-chill young chicken carcasses in 2011, the council said.

The number of establishments in Category 1, or those establishments performing better than half of the performance standard for salmonella, was up from the previous quarter. In the second quarter of 2013, 70.1% of young chicken establishments were in Category 1 compared with 67.6% during the first quarter of 2013. Additionally, the number of establishments in Category 3 has dropped by almost 35%, indicating an improvement in performance at those establishments, the council said.

"Overall, the results presented in this quarterly report indicate that we continue to make improvements in the incidence rate of salmonella and campylobacter on young chicken carcasses," said Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

CVM clarifies melengestrol acetate use in animal feed

The Food & Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) released a "CVM Update" Oct. 29 that clarified how the approved animal drugs melengestrol acetate, monensin and tylosin can be combined in animal feed. Melengestrol acetate/monensin/tylosin and melengestrol acetate/monensin combinations are fed to heifers in confinement for slaughter for several approved indications, as listed in the Code of Federal Regulations.

CVM said melengestrol acetate can only be fed to heifers in confinement for slaughter as a topdress that is then added to medicated feed containing monensin and tylosin, or monensin alone, at feeding. Adding the melengestrol acetate topdress to medicated feed containing the other approved animal drug(s) can only be done on the farm or feedlot. A commercial feed company or feed mill cannot manufacture, pack or ship a complete Type C medicated feed containing a combination of melengestrol acetate, monensin and tylosin, or melengestrol acetate and monensin, CVM explained.

Additional details of CVM's clarification can be found at www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm372660.htm.