Feedstuffs is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Articles from 2013 In August

Three firms divvy up bankrupt AgFeed

Three firms divvy up bankrupt AgFeed

DESPITE setting the opening bid for embattled pork producer AgFeed Industries, The Maschhoffs will not be taking home the proverbial bacon; instead, AgFeed will sell its U.S. operations in a multiparty deal valued at more than $79.2 million. Winning bidders include High Plains Pork, Cohoma Pork, and Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

AgFeed Industries, based in Hendersonville, Tenn., will sell its U.S. operations to High Plains and Cohoma Pork, owned by TriOak Foods, and Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

AgFeed filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 15 on the heels of a string of setbacks, and obtained approval from the court earlier this month to proceed with an auction of the company’s domestic assets. The Maschhoffs, one of the four largest players in the U.S. market, offered up the stalking horse bid, setting the floor for auction at $79 million.

The auction itself, however, left the Illinois-based firm on the outside looking in. After 14 hours and 35 rounds of bidding, AgFeed’s attorneys opted for the three-party plan instead of the original offer tendered by The Maschhoffs, saying the auction had added more than $12 million in value due to the terms of the deal’s structure.

According to court filings, the stalking horse bid included working capital provisions that would have reduced the actual price of the deal to $67 million; the winning suitors, on the other hand, offered less cash but a stronger net value. Terms of the transaction, approved by Bankruptcy Court judge Brendan Shannon, include $55. 2 million in cash, as well as $33 million worth of hogs already under contract for sale.

High Plains and Cohoma, subsidiaries of Iowa’s TriOak Foods, whill acauire AgFeed’s assets in Oklahoma and Colorado, while Murphy-Brown will take the company’s properties in North Carolina. The three groups will split AgFeed’s assets in Iowa.

Court documents indicate that TriOak’s entities are contributing $38 million in cash, while Murphy-Brown will pay just under $15.2 million for its piece of the pie.

Not everyone in the case will be made immediately whole by the sale, however. Farm Credit Services of America will receive an upfront payment of roughly $48 million of the $65 million owed, with the balance to be paid as the remaining hogs are sold later in the year. FCS would have been paid in full under the terms of the stalking horse bid.

For its efforts, The Maschoffs will receive a $2.4 million “breakup fee,” and reimbursement allowance of up to $800,000. The winning parties expect to close the deal in mid-September.

AgFeed’s troubles stem from a major dispute with Hormel Foods; earlier in the year the two companies agreed to end their long-term supplier/contractor relationship by the end of 2013.

The sale does not include the company’s several hog farms in China. =”andy>

FSIS reaffirms equivalence of China's poultry processing system

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) reaffirmed Aug. 30 the equivalence of the food safety inspection system for processed poultry in the People's Republic of China (PRC), which was originally established in 2006. This will enable the PRC to certify plants to export processed poultry product to the U.S.

Additional information on this topic may be found on at FSIS website, including:

* Poultry Processing Inspection System Audit Report for the People’s Republic of China

* Frequently Asked Questions

While PRC received approval to export processed poultry products to the U.S., FSIS said the raw poultry used for these products must originate in the U.S. or Canada.

As of this announcement, no companies in PRC are certified to export processed poultry to the U.S., FSIS emphasized.

FSIS is currently auditing PRC's slaughter inspection system. At this time, no chickens raised or slaughtered in PRC can be shipped to the U.S.

FSIS utilizes a comprehensive, three-part system for both establishing initial equivalence and ensuring the ongoing equivalence of countries that export regulated products to the U.S. A foreign country's inspection system must ensure that establishments preparing poultry products for import into the U.S. comply with requirements equivalent to those in the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) and in FSIS regulations. Once a country's inspection system is granted equivalence, FSIS conducts periodic verification reviews and audits of exporting establishments. In addition, products undergo re-inspection at U.S. ports-of-entry to check for proper certification, labeling, transportation damage and general condition. Selected shipments are subject to additional re-inspection procedures, including examinations for product defects and laboratory analyses to detect harmful chemical residues or pathogen testing appropriate for the products. FSIS performs increased import re-inspection activities for countries that are beginning to export product to the U.S.

Production of meat, poultry trending up

Production of meat, poultry trending up

WITH the historic drought of 2012 still stinging like a fresh wound for many producers, the summer of 2013 might be viewed as something of a turning point in many sectors.

Taking a look at the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an updated baseline projection from the University of Missouri's Food & Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), it is clear that economists expect meat and poultry production to trend upward over the next five years.

First, consider the macroeconomic environment for a moment, as domestic meat consumption is fairly well tied to consumers' disposable income and feelings about the state of their own economic affairs.

An August update from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago indicated that economic growth in the Midwest increased in July, perhaps a bit more aggressively than the broader U.S. economy.

With grilling season well underway, USDA reported that commercial red meat production in July jumped 5% compared with last year, tallying 4.16 billion lb. Even near or at record prices, consumers were still eager to eat meat.

Beef production, specifically, totaled 2.29 billion lb., up 4% from July 2012. Cattle slaughter totaled 2.89 million head, up 4% as well, with liveweights up 7 lb. at an average 1,302 lb. per head.

The market is expecting slaughter weights to taper off in the latter months of 2013 based on Merck's decision last month to suspend sales of its zilpaterol beta-agonist (Zilmax) in response to concerns from packers such as Tyson and Cargill, both of which said they will not be accepting cattle finished on the growth-promoting feed additive.

Substitution with Elanco's ractopamine (Optaflexx), a competing but seemingly less aggressive product, is expected to keep liveweights from falling back to a pre-Zilmax baseline, but a drop of 10-15 lb. per head would not be totally surprising.

July pork production, meanwhile, totaled 1.84 billion lb., up 7% from last year. Hog slaughter totaled 9.08 million head, up 6% from last year, with the average liveweight up 2 lb. at 271 lb. per head.

As feed costs have started to show a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, producers aren't feeling quite so bad about holding animals a little longer so they put on a few more pounds.

That trend might likewise continue if feed prices moderate — as expected — through harvest; however, a subpar corn and soybean crop could dampen those expectations.

Accumulated red meat production through the first seven months of the year reached 28.3 billion lb., up slightly from the same period in 2012. Beef and pork production were both up slightly, and lamb production was up 2%, but veal production fell 6%.

Similar to beef and pork, USDA reported that poultry ready-to-cook production in July totaled 3.85 billion lb., up 5% from July 2012. The agency noted that June's revised certified production total was down 4% from last year, making July's preliminary figure a major reversal.

Chicken slaughter weights averaged 5.84 lb. per bird, up 1% from last year. Mature weights, meanwhile, fell 4% to 5.86 lb. per bird.

Total young chicken slaughter tallied 4.37 billion lb., with mature birds accounting for 68.3 million lb. Turkey slaughter totaled 643 million lb., up 3% from last year, with the average weight up 2% at 29.7 lb. per bird.


Chickens 'humming'

In the August "Cold Storage" report, USDA reported that total frozen poultry supplies as of July 31 rose 3% from June and 5% from a year ago. Total stocks of chicken grew 4% on the month and were 5% larger than July 2012.

Likewise, turkey stocks in freezers were up 3% from last month and were up 6% from last year.

With chicken stocks growing in midsummer, McDonald's announcement that it will put chicken wings on its national menu this month could be well-timed news. The fast-food chain tested the product last January in Atlanta, Ga. — apparently to rave reviews.

The so-called "Mighty Wings," miniature chicken wings or drummettes that are lightly breaded and fried, will debut nationwide at most McDonald's locations on Sept. 9 and will be available systemwide by Sept. 24. The limited-time offer will run through November, according to Feedstuffs' sister publication Nation's Restaurant News.

It reported that McDonald's will sell Mighty Wings in orders of three, five and 10 pieces, starting at $2.99.

Economists Steve Meyer and Len Steiner pointed out in their "Daily Livestock Report" that the product introduction comes at a time when "the broiler sector is really starting to hum." Eggs set this summer have been steady, counter to seasonal tendencies of declining broiler-type production, indicating that expansion is already occurring.

"Each of the last two weeks for which we have data (the last being Aug. 16) show year-on-year increases of 4.7% in the number of eggs set," they wrote. "Those figures will not translate into chicken production for another 8-10 weeks, but the trend is pretty apparent at this point."

Likewise, growth in the broiler hatchery flock averaged 1.8% from January through July, followed by a jump of 4.6% as of Aug. 1 (Figure). Meyer and Steiner said that was the largest year-over-year growth rate for the broiler hatchery flock since July 1999.

While high feed costs may have tempered industry expansion plans somewhat, the bigger problem in the first half of the year was simply a tight supply of breeder pullets as companies in Mexico bought large numbers of fertilized eggs to restock influenza-depleted flocks. With that situation now somewhat in the rearview mirror, expansion is poised to really gear up.

In fact, if one adds another week of data to Meyer and Steiner's observations, broiler-type eggs set are now running 5% ahead of last year, with 201 million eggs set in incubators during the week ending Aug. 24. Placements during the week were up 1% from the same week in 2012.

Production of meat, poultry trending up


Growing meat

With that in mind, let's revisit the FAPRI baseline projection released last week. Taking into account updated acreage, yield and production estimates from USDA's August "Crop Production" report, FAPRI updated its projections of feed and livestock production.

Corn prices are now expected to average $4.65/bu. for the crop harvested this fall, and as stocks rebuild, prices are expected to fall even lower in subsequent years.

Soybean prices, likewise, are expected to taper off from an average of $11.33/bu. for 2013 production, although both crops are susceptible to changing production estimates from now through harvest.

FAPRI found that lower feed prices will reduce livestock and poultry production expenses, not surprisingly, and set the stage for increases in meat production over the next five years.

After setting a bottom of 24.5 billion lb. in 2014, beef production is expected to grow steadily to 26.4 billion in 2018.

U.S. pork production will continue to see year-over-year increases, growing to 25.7 billion lb. in 2018 from an estimated 23.4 billion this year. Chicken production will also continue to grow, from 37.3 billion lb. in 2013 to 40.9 billion in 2018.

According to FAPRI's analysis, U.S. per-capita meat consumption is likely to grow from 200.4 lb. in 2013 to 206.6 lb. in 2018 (Table).


U.S. per-capita meat consumption, lb.























































Source: Food & Agricultural Policy Research Institute.


Volume:85 Issue:35

Livestock & poultry cash market comparisons, 9/2/13

Livestock & poultry cash market comparisons, 9/2/13

Livestock and meat ($)

Aug. 28

Aug. 21

6 months ago

Year ago

Steers, Choice, carcass, 550-700 lb., cwt., Omaha





Steers, Choice, 1,050-1,200 lb., cwt. Okla/Texas





Feeder Steers, 600-700 lb., cwt., Oklahoma City





Lean Hogs, Carcass, Iowa-Minn. 167-187 lb.(1)





Feeder Pigs, 40 lb. National Direct Delivered(2)





SEW Pigs, 10 lb., National direct delivered (per head)





Choice Beef, cutout, cwt.





Pork Loin, 185 lb. 51-52% lean, cutout, cwt.(3)





Hog Corn Ratio





Steer Corn Ratio





Poultry and eggs (cents)





Chickens, Grade A, Fresh lb. Chicago





Hen Turkeys, Grade A, Frozen, lb., Chicago





Young Tom Turkeys, Grade A. Frozen lb. Chicago





Eggs, Grade A, Large, doz., Chicago





N/A: not available

A: average




(1) Replaces live hogs; live hogs are 0.755 of quote.
(2) Replaces Sioux Falls, 50-60 lbs. (2/26/07)
(3) National FOB plant, replaces national daily carlot.
Livestock, meat, poultry and egg prices from USDA.


Volume:85 Issue:35

Grain & ingredient cash market comparisons, 9/2/13

Grain & ingredient cash market comparisons, 9/2/13

Major feed ingredients

Aug. 28

Aug. 21

6 months ago

Year ago

Corn No. 2, Chicago, bu.





Processor bid*





Terminal bid*





Milo, Kansas City, cwt.





Soybeans, Chicago, bu., processor bid





Soybean Meal, 48% Decatur Bid





Cottonseed Meal, Memphis, ton





Linseed Meal, Solvent, Minneapolis





Meat and Bone Meal, Chicago, ton





Fish Meal, Menhaden, Atlanta, ton





Corn Gluten Meal, 60%, Chicago, ton





Distillers Dried Grains, Chicago, ton





17% Dehy. Alfalfa Pellets, KC, ton





Millfeeds, Midds, Minneapolis, ton





Molasses, Cane, Houston, ton





Dried Citrus Pulp, Atlanta, ton





Whey, Whole, Chicago, cwt.





Rolled Oats, Minneapolis, ton





Barley, Los Angeles , cwt.





Feeding Wheat, Kansas City, bu.





* Chicago corn and soybean prices for latest and previous week are the middle of the range of to-arrive bids; soybean meal prices are midrange of processor quotes. Chicago corn and soybean prices provided by USDA Market News. Six months, year ago comparisons are all spot cash. Based on prices reported by Feedstuffs' market reporters.

A: average

N/A: not available


Volume:85 Issue:35

Poultry papers focus on alternative ingredients

Poultry papers focus on alternative ingredients

*Dr. William A. Dudley-Cash is a poultry and fish nutritionist and has his own consulting firm in Modesto, Cal. To expedite answers to questions concerning this column, please direct inquiries to Feedstuffs, Bottom Line of Nutrition, 5810 W. 78th St., Suite 200, Bloomington, Minn. 55439, or email [email protected]

THE 102nd annual meeting of the Poultry Science Assn. was held July 22-25 in San Diego, Cal., with a total of 930 registrants plus an additional 70 guests.

More than half of the attendees were from the U.S., but double-digit numbers were also present from Brazil, Canada, Mexico, China, Thailand, Japan and the U.K. In all, 45 countries were represented.

A part of the large turnout could be attributed to the well-known San Diego climate and the abundance of local attractions, but the fact that most chicken companies are experiencing record profits was clearly a contributor to the attendance. An outstanding technical program was a major attraction as well.

There were 504 papers presented, either orally or as posters, in sections devoted to topics on: environment and management; feed additives; nutrition; physiology, endocrinology and reproduction; processing, products and food safety; behavior and well-being; enzymes; vitamins and minerals; extension and instruction; genetics; immunology; pathology, and amino acids.

There were also 12 symposia, workshops and keynote addresses.

An important addition to the program this year was the use of simultaneous English to Spanish translation in some of the sessions. This feature was well received, and the program committee is planning to expand the use of English to Spanish translation at the next annual meeting.

The abstracts for the meeting may be found at the association's website at www.poultryscience.org under the "Meetings" tab. The list of award recipients is also posted on the website.

Ingredient prices are still high enough to focus attention on the development of alternative ingredients that have the potential to replace expensive corn and soybean meal. Several papers on alternative ingredients were presented at the meeting this year.


Algal residue

J. Price et al. of the Texas A&M University departments of poultry science and animal science reported on an evaluation of a post-extraction algal residue as a feed ingredient in broiler and laying hen diets (abstract P416).

The algal residue was determined to contain 20.2% crude protein, 6.18% calcium, 6.61% sodium and 1.56% fat. A complete amino acid, vitamin and mineral analysis was conducted before diet formulation.

In experiment 1, increasing concentrations (0%, 5%, 10%, 15% and 20%) of algal residue were included in 31-week-old White Leghorn laying hen diets. The hens were fed the diets for a period of five weeks. During the experiment, weekly feed consumption, egg production, egg weight and interior egg quality were measured.

Increasing concentrations of algal residue had no effect on egg production or feed consumption. However, yolk color increased from feeding 10% algal residue after two weeks of consumption.

In experiment 2, increasing concentrations (0%, 2.5%, 5.0%, 7.5% and 10.0%) of algal residue were fed to broilers through three weeks of age. The inclusion of algal residue did not affect feed consumption, bodyweight or feed conversion throughout the three-week experiment. However, an increase in fecal moisture was observed with the 7.5% and 10.0% dietary treatments.


The Bottom Line

These data indicate that algal residue can be included in poultry diets without having negative effects on performance.


Sweet potato root

The influence of replacing different levels of corn with sweet potato root meal (SPRM) on the performance and meat quality of broilers was reported by R. Beckford et al. of Tuskegee University.

After a complete nutrient analysis of SPRM, diets were formulated to contain 0%, 10%, 20% and 30% SPRM, which was substituted for corn. The study randomly assigned 360 one-day-old Cornish rock male broilers to the four treatments. Bodyweights and feed intake were measured weekly for seven weeks. Birds were slaughtered at 50 days of age.

Results showed no significant differences among treatments for feed intake, average daily gain and feed efficiency. Birds fed the 30% level of SPRM had significantly higher bodyweight gain and average daily gain compared with the birds fed 20% SPRM.

There were no significant differences among treatments in dressing percentage or organ weights. Abdominal fat content was highest in those birds fed 30% SPRM.

The moisture, protein and ash contents of the white meat were not significantly different among treatments, while fat content was significantly lower for birds fed the 0% SPRM control diet. For dark meat, protein and ash contents were similar among all treatments, while moisture and fat contents were significantly different.


The Bottom Line

Birds fed SPRM diets compared well with those fed the control diet for both performance and the nutrient content of meat.


Microbial protein

The effect of feeding a single-cell protein produced from date waste on the performance of laying hens was reported by H. Najib and S. Hamad of the King Faisal University College of Agriculture & Food Sciences, S. Aleid of the King Faisal University Date Palm Research Center of Excellence and F. Al-Jasass of the King Abdulaziz City of Science & Technology, General Directorate of Research Grants, Saudi Arabia (abstract 232).

An experiment was conducted using increasing levels (0%, 5%, 10% and 15%) of a single-cell protein yeast in the diet of laying hens.

An intensive chemical analysis and true metabolizable energy determination were performed on the yeast. Based on these analyses, iso-nitrogenous, iso-caloric layer diets were formulated to feed to 35-week-old layers. Sixty layers were distributed in 12 cages of five birds per cage. The treatments were then distributed among the cages. The experiment continued for 24 weeks.

The results of the analysis of the yeast showed that true metabolizable energy was about 3,380 kcal/kg, while the protein content was 48%. The protein was found to be rich in lysine (1.02%). The level of fat in the yeast was only 6.41%; however, oleic acid made up 43.2% of the total fat.

Hen-day egg production, egg mass, egg weight and feed conversion were significantly better when 5% yeast was included in the ration. However, there was a clear indication that the addition of 15% yeast may be harmful to the birds.


The Bottom Line

The researchers concluded that adding 5% of a single-cell yeast protein product to the diet produced no adverse effect on the performance of laying hens.


Camelina meal

M. Oryschak of Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development and E. Beltranena of Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development and the University of Alberta reported on an evaluation of expeller-pressed Camelina sativa meal (CAM) as a feedstuff for layers.

Analysis values of CAM were 32.6% crude protein, 11.5% fat and 35.6 micromoles per gram of total glucosinolates.

In abstract P420, the researchers reported on the effects of increasing dietary inclusion of CAM and layer strain on feed intake, egg production and physical egg quality. The experimental treatments consisted of 0%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% or 25% dietary inclusion levels of CAM fed to brown- and white-strain H&N hens in a 2 x 6 factorial arrangement for a total of 12 treatments. Each treatment was applied to six replicate cages of four hens per cage for a total of 288 hens (144 brown and 144 white).

Phase 1 diets (22-46 weeks of age) were formulated to contain 2.8 megacalories of apparent metabolizable energy (AME) per kilogram, 3.70% calcium, 0.43% available phosphorus, 2.4 g of apparent ileal digestible lysine per megacalorie of AME and other apparent ileal digestible amino acids in recommended ratios to lysine.

There was no interaction between strain and dietary treatment for any performance or egg quality variables. For the overall 24-week study, average daily feed intake was significantly lower for the 25% CAM diet compared with all other CAM levels. Laying percentage was significantly higher for the 5% and 10% CAM levels compared with all other diets. As CAM inclusion increased, there was a significant linear reduction in average egg weight and daily egg mass production, which was attributable to a linear reduction in albumin weight.

There was no effect of CAM inclusion on any other objective measure of egg quality or weight of egg components.

The researchers concluded that the results of this experiment indicate that increasing the CAM level of the diet did not result in feed refusal and supported acceptable laying hen productivity. More accurate nutrient digestibility coefficients are necessary to optimize the use of CAM in laying hen diets.

In a companion paper (abstract 227), the researchers reported the results of an experiment designed to determine the effects of increasing dietary inclusion of CAM and copper supplementation on egg production and physical egg quality.

The experimental design was very similar to the experiment reported in abstract P420 but still differed. The basal diet and the experimental period were the same (22-46 weeks). CAM had the same analysis, and the inclusion levels of CAM were the same. Each level of CAM was fed with and without 125 parts per million of supplemental copper in a 2 x 6 factorial arrangement for a total of 12 treatments. Each of the 12 treatments were fed to six replicate cages of four brown H&N hens per cage.

For the overall 24-week study, increasing dietary CAM inclusion linearly reduced average daily feed intake, feed efficiency and laying percentage (P < 0.01). Increasing CAM inclusion also linearly reduced average egg weight and daily egg mass (P < 0.01), which was attributable to a linear decrease in albumin weight. Supplemental copper significantly increased average daily feed intake, average egg weight and daily egg mass production but slightly reduced laying percentage.

The researchers concluded that the results of this experiment indicate that there was a reduction in AME and digestible amino acids with increasing CAM inclusion in the diet.

A follow-on paper (abstract P421) reported on any signs of toxicity, effects on organ weights and serology in hens from the research reported in abstracts P420 and 227 (the same authors plus C. Christianson of Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development).

After nine weeks on test, a single bird was randomly selected from each test cage to obtain a blood sample, after which the bird was euthanized. Birds were sent for postmortem examination by a veterinary pathologist to look for signs of CAM or copper toxicity and to measure the weights of key organs. Postmortem examination of tissue morphology (including the thyroid) did not suggest toxicity of either CAM or copper supplementation.

Pancreas weight (as a percentage of total bodyweight) significantly increased with increasing CAM inclusion in both experiments. Plasma T3 concentrations in the 25% CAM diets were significantly lower than the other diets only in the hens from abstract P420. Other than a small increase in heart weight as a percentage of bodyweight (P < 0.01), dietary copper supplementation had no effect on any other variables.


The Bottom Line

The researchers concluded that the dietary inclusion of CAM at up to 25%, with or without copper supplementation, did not result in evidence of toxicity in laying hens.

Volume:83 Issue:5.

Can we trust what we're eating? (commentary)

Can we trust what we&#039;re eating? (commentary)

DISCUSSIONS about any technology in the food system can sometimes be prickly.

It's hard to navigate through various contrasting ideas and opinions on both sides of the matter; they're often strongly entrenched.

Given the recent sequence of events surrounding Merck Animal Health's Zilmax and the mainstream media coverage that ensued after Tyson banned cattle fed the zilpaterol product, it's important to tackle the issue of beta-agonists.

Given that several weeks have passed since Tyson's announcement, the issue has cooled off somewhat, seemingly making it a good time to visit the topic from a broader perspective.

The events of late aren't completely surprising but certainly reached a tipping point with Tyson's announcement to cease the purchase of cattle fed zilpaterol due to animal welfare concerns.

Several food industry issues have garnered public attention over the years. This one, however, was especially interesting to watch unfold.

Following Tyson's announcement, the initial response from Merck was fairly predictable, with the company firing back that Tyson had wrongly assigned blame on beta-agonists and inappropriately singled out Zilmax. That brewed back and forth for about a week until Merck's sudden (and unexpected) self-imposed suspension of sales.

That's when this all became mainstream. What great fodder for the media: two large, publicly traded companies on the opposite side of an issue. Better yet, it's about food — something everyone is always interested in.

The ramifications are important.

All indications are that some very real animal welfare issues exist — namely, lameness and heat stress — albeit sporadically and seemingly triggered by some unforeseen interactions in the production system. Nonetheless, those left Tyson feeling vulnerable on several fronts.

For one, logistical challenges at the slaughter plant must be considered. If cattle are hesitant to walk, it slows down operations throughout and creates headaches for plant managers.

Two, it creates the possibility for a public relations nightmare because anyone can take a video of such problems at the plant and openly post it on social media.

Both factors are unacceptable. More important, though, is the fallout from different perspectives:

* First, industry politics. The manner in which this played out should dispel any preconceived notion anyone might have when speaking collectively about the "industry."

Ironically (or not), Tyson's initial pronouncement occurred during the same time the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. was hosting a special beta-agonist meeting at its Cattle Industry Summer Conference. Therefore, let's never assume any broad allegiance to "industry." These companies operate based on the best interests of their customers and shareholders.

With that in mind, the decision represents an appropriate response to those concerns; Tyson is attempting to protect its brand equity.

* Second, and more significant, consumers. Consumers are now asking questions about zilpaterol. Specifically, they're wondering why they didn't know about this product before now, and they want to know why this type of product is being fed to hogs and cattle in the first place.

That perspective reminds me of some thoughts I previously shared in this column discussing the horse meat scandal in Europe suggesting that we revisit the lessons learned from the lean, finely textured beef (a.k.a. "pink slime") situation because they are somewhat parallel scenarios: Both are potential game changers and speak to the broader consequences of consumers finding out some aspect about their food after the fact.

That sentiment was echoed in comments following a Wall Street Journal article about Merck's decision to suspend Zilmax sales titled, "What's Ailing America's Cattle?"

One comment caught my attention in particular: "This is foolish. ... We are pumping cattle full of drugs to fatten them up without understanding the unintended consequences. Can we trust what we are really eating anymore?"

Therein lays the real issue. Never mind the science. Never mind the economics. If there's an issue of trust associated with any practice, consumers are going to push back.

All of this underscores the reality that transparency within the food system has never been more important.

*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

Volume:85 Issue:35

Are beta-agonists bad for cattle, beef? (commentary)

Are beta-agonists bad for cattle, beef? (commentary)

SEVERAL years ago, when beta-agonists were first being used in cattle, I was attending a meat industry event.

A good friend whose business was supplying white table cloth restaurants with top-quality cuts of meat took me aside and said, "These beta-agonists are terrible. We must prevent them from being used."

I knew the source of his concern. Although beta-agonists add weight to cattle quickly, those extra pounds often come at the cost of meat quality. Cattle fed beta-agonists produced leaner meat and did not grade out as high.

My friend, who bought only the top-grading 2% of cattle, feared he would have to pay more for a scarcer product.

I assured him that we wouldn't be faced with a sudden avalanche of "no-roll" beef and that he would still be able to find plenty of well-marbled meat that he could age and sell to the finest steakhouses in the country.

Like most "meat men" who count profits a penny at a time, he wasn't mollified.

The feed additive, marketed by Merck (Zilmax) and Elanco (Optaflexx), caught on quickly and became one of the most successful new products introduced by either company.

A beta-agonist could add anywhere from 15 lb. to more than 22 lb. of liveweight when it was mixed with the feed in the animal's last 30 days on a feedlot. Feed efficiency improved by double digits.

A possible downside cropped up, though, when long-whispered reports of animal handling issues suddenly got a bit louder.

Sore-footed, staggering, stumbling and hard to move were words used to describe some cattle fed beta-agonists. The subject was a major topic of discussion during the recent National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) meeting in Denver, Colo.

A concerned NCBA convened top animal welfare experts, led by Dr. Temple Grandin, to review the research behind the product and compare it to real-life observations.

Grandin had voiced some concerns about beta-agonists two years ago but was more forceful after reviewing some video footage of affected animals and talking about the problem with her peers.

"I said the stiffness, heat stress and sore-footed problems are NOT acceptable and must be fixed. My final statement at the NCBA meeting was, 'Fix it or lose it,'" Meat&Poultry magazine reported of Grandin's comments.

Then, a remarkable thing happened. In an industry notorious for digging in its heels when bad news about its practices surfaces, Merck did the right thing and followed Grandin's "fix it or lose it" directive.

The company voluntarily pulled its Zilmax product from the marketplace — losing millions of dollars of sales — until the necessary studies can be completed (Feedstuffs, Aug. 19).

Merck's decision took a pile of Rocky Mountain oysters to make. It was a sober, tough but correct move on the company's part.

The studies could very well prove the product blameless. If they do, it will take years for Merck to regain its market position.

If the results show a direct correlation between the product and the purported animal welfare issues, though, Merck still can enjoy a clear corporate conscience because it did the right thing.

*Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.

Volume:85 Issue:35

Unscrambling genetics of chicken's blue egg

Unscrambling genetics of chicken&#039;s blue egg

RESEARCHERS at The University of Nottingham in the U.K. have discovered the chicken genetics that cause eggs from some breeds to be "blue" — an egg color that some call the "latest foodie fashion" because those eggs may be "tastier and cleaner breaking" than more traditional brown or white eggs.

In a four-year research project published recently in the journal PLOS ONE, the team from the University of Nottingham School of Biology identified the genetic mutation that first produced the blue egg in a native South American chicken, the Mapuche fowl, and their European descendants, Araucana, between 200 and 500 years ago. The results could inform future research into agricultural breeding techniques if demand for blue eggs continues to grow.

The researchers used the unique genetic resources conserved by heritage poultry breeders to identify, at fine resolution, the exact location of the mutation in the genome in blue egg-laying chickens.

This work was followed by a further genomic study that revealed the genetic cause of the blue-colored egg shell: an ancient, harmless retrovirus in the domesticated chicken.

The researchers explained that a retrovirus is a virus that, unlike most cellular organisms, carries its genetic blueprint in the form of ribonucleic acid (RNA). It reproduces itself in a host cell using a special enzyme called reverse transcriptase that transcribes RNA into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This makes it possible for genetic material from a retrovirus to become permanently incorporated into the DNA of an infected cell.

In this case, the effect of the retrovirus is to trigger an accumulation of a green-blue bile pigment called biliverdin in the eggshell as the egg develops in the hen.

"An unexpected find was the unique integration sites for the retrovirus in South American/European and Asian chickens. It shows the importance of viruses in shaping evolution and diversity of species," said team leader David Wragg, a doctoral research fellow with the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). "It's quite remarkable. Retroviruses are generally considered to integrate at random locations in the genome, and so the chance of a retrovirus integrating at more or less the same location in two chicken populations is extremely low. Moreover, when appearing in the population, the unusual egg coloration must have attracted the attention of the owners, who must be praised for having selected the trait in subsequent breeding."

Color diversity. The work was initiated by professor Olivier Hanotte, whose curiosity about blue eggs was sparked on a trip to Brazil, where he met professor Jose Antonio Alcalde, co-author of the paper.

Alcalde said, "This is an important discovery because some of these rarer native breeds of chicken with this unusual egg color and high quality have become low in number and are in danger of disappearing if not conserved and indeed promoted by agriculture."

Significantly, the same findings have also been independently discovered and reported by a research group in China that has examined local Chinese and North American breeds.

The University of Nottingham research was carried out with the help of scientists from Universidad Catolica de Chile, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in France, the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China and the University of Sydney in Australia.


Chick prebiotics

Feeding young broiler chickens a prebiotic yeast supplement could have positive effects on their development and increase their defenses against gut infections, according to research funded by BBSRC and animal nutrition company Alltech U.K.

Researchers from Nottingham Trent University fed 240 broiler chickens differing doses of a yeast-based feed supplement and monitored them every day for 42 days. Except for their feed, all other conditions were identical.

According to BBSRC, the findings suggest that a feed supplement containing a carbohydrate found in yeast resulted in the birds having greater natural defenses to harmful bacteria entering their guts and that younger broilers gained the most benefit from the supplement.

Lead researcher Harriet Lea, a BBSRC-funded student based in the Nottingham Trent School of Animal, Rural & Environmental Sciences, explained, "There are several non-antibiotic feed supplements on the market, but there is a real need to understand how exactly they support gut health in chickens so that farmers have a better chance of increasing their efficiency and improving flock welfare."

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition, suggests that the benefits of yeast supplement (Actigen) could be age dependent, with younger birds having a greater storage capacity of mucin (a substance secreted by the gut lining that can help defend against infectious agents).

The natural carbohydrate fraction investigated is a feed supplement that is already used in some commercial broiler diets, but there is uncertainty as to how it works. Although the supplement is likely to work through several mechanisms, these findings help clarify how the supplement improves the immune defenses of the bird through altered mucin production, BBSRC said.

These new findings may lead to more widespread use of yeast-derived supplements in broiler feeds to improve gut health and immunity.

The next stage of the project is to investigate the effects of this carbohydrate fraction on gene expression of the bird to investigate, at a molecular level, how the supplement induces changes in bird development and gut health, Lea said.


Egg yolks

While some are focusing on the color of the egg shell, other researchers are looking at the color of the yolk, which is an important quality trait.

In abstract 25 presented at the recent Poultry Science Assn. meeting, Y. Loetscher, M. Kreuzer and R.E. Messikommer of ETH Zurich in Switzerland suggested that plant-derived additives like tagetes petals are "an interesting alternative to synthetic pigmentation," especially in organic production.

Unexpected coloring effects nettle has on broiler skin suggest that this plant could be a cost-efficient coloring agent as well, Loetscher et al. said.

Noting that natural additives often affect lipid oxidation, Loetscher et al. investigated the effect of adding nettle to feed on yolk yellowness and oxidative stability in laying hens.

The researchers fed a wheat-based, balanced diet to forty 70-week-old H&N Brown Nick layers. The diet did not include tocopherols or corn to ensure low dietary antioxidant and pigment levels.

All hens were fed the basal diet plus pigmentation (25 parts per million Carophyll Yellow and 15 ppm Carophyll Red) for two weeks. In the four-week experimental period, the effect of three nettle dosages (6.25, 12.50 and 25.00 g/kg) from two batches were compared with a negative control (basal diet only) and a positive control (pigmentation and 40 ppm alpha-tocopherylacetate).

Egg quality traits and yolk color (L*, a*, b*, color space) were measured. Susceptibility to lipid oxidation was evaluated in lyophilized yolk powder stored at 20 degrees C in weeks 0, 4, 8 and 12 of storage.

According to Loetscher et al., experimental feeding had no effect on egg quality traits such as shell stability, egg weight and Haugh units. Yolk yellowness (b*) was lowest (P > 0.05) within the negative control (18.3). The b* values of all nettle treatments (average 30.3) were equal to the positive control (29.4). Batch differences were only detected between the two batches fed at the 12.5 g/kg dose (24.6 versus 31.6), the researchers said.

In week 12, lipid oxidation in egg yolk powder was highest (P > 0.05) for the first batch fed at 12.5 g/kg (29.5 mg MDA/kg) and lowest (P > 0.05) for the positive control (7.9 mg MDA/kg) compared with the negative control (18.3 mg MDA/kg) and intermediate values for all other groups (average 17.2 mg MDA/kg).

Even adding the lowest dosage of nettle to layer feed was sufficient to intensify yolk yellowness equal to or better than synthetic pigmentation, Loetscher et al. concluded.


Hen housing

Public concern about the welfare of hens kept in conventional cages has become an important issue worldwide.

At the Poultry Science meeting, J.Y. Hu of Purdue University, H.W. Cheng and R.L. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Livestock Behavior Research Unit and W.K. Fulwider of the Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative reported on a study that examined the effects of conventional cages and floor pens on hen health and egg production (abstract 76).

Hu et al. randomly assigned 84 nineteen-week-old Bovan Brown hens into one of 12 two-bird cages — each providing 968 sq. cm of floor space per hen — or into one of six 10-bird floor pens — each providing 3,711 sq. cm of floor space per hen — for eight weeks.

The floor pens were furnished with perches, nest boxes and wood shavings.

Egg production was recorded up to 27 weeks of age. Egg weight, egg quality and shell quality were measured at weeks 23, 25 and 27. Plumage condition, foot health, mineral density of the tibia, femur and humerus and the heterophil:lymphocyte (H:L) ratio were evaluated at week 27.

According to Hu et al., daily egg production, plumage condition and feet hyperkeratosis of hens were not affected by the housing environment (P > 0.05). The mean claw length of caged hens was longer, at 1.11 cm (P < 0.0001), than those housed in floor pens, which was 0.87 cm, the researchers said.

At 23 weeks of age, caged hens had a greater egg weight (P = 0.001) of 62.65 g and larger width (P = 0.001) of 44.28 mm compared to floor pen-housed hens, which had a 57.83 g egg weight and 42.99 mm egg width, Hu et al. reported. However, the floor pen-housed hens had higher shell mass at 23 weeks of age (P = 0.001). Floor pen-housed hens also had greater bone mineral density in all three examined bones than that of the caged hens (P = 0.002).

The H:L ratio, an immunological response parameter and stress indicator, was higher (P = 0.002) in caged hens, at 3.76, compared to floor-housed hens, at 3.32, Hu et al. noted.

Overall, the results suggest that furnished floor pens may be a favorable alternative housing system to conventional cages for improving hen welfare; however, the cages still have certain advantages for egg production, Hu et al. concluded.

Aviary systems. Aviaries provide tiered cages and daytime litter access to laying hens, but little is known about movement throughout this system and the use of the litter resource throughout the day, D.L.M. Campbell, J.M. Siegford, M.M. Makagon and J.C. Swanson of Michigan State University explained in abstract 77.

Campbell et al. conducted a study in a commercial aviary barn as part of the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply project to evaluate numbers of hens exiting and entering a tiered cage unit, using closed litter areas underneath the aviary unit and out on the open litter area, as well as the frequency of piling behavior (i.e., hens clustering together).

Data were collected via video from eight of 40 aviary sections in one barn over one day each when hens were 27, 52 and 77 weeks of age, Campbell et al. said.

Total numbers of hens exiting and entering the cage unit as well as total numbers moving underneath the unit and returning to the open litter areas were counted over six 30-minute time periods. Numbers of hens on the open litter area were counted every 15 minutes over three 2-hour time periods throughout the day. All occurrences of piling were documented, describing total duration and peak size.

The most hens moving both in and out of the unit (P < 0.0001) and between open litter and under the unit (P < 0.0001) were observed in the morning following aviary opening, Campbell et al. reported. The largest number of hens seen in the open litter area was between 3 and 5 p.m. (P < 0.0001), and the piling duration ranged from two minutes to four hours, with the peak size of individual piles ranging from 10 to 125 hens, the researchers added.

Volume:85 Issue:35

Trustee calls for Northern Beef liquidation

Trustee calls for Northern Beef liquidation

WITH a shuttered beef processing facility as its only noteworthy asset, a federal trustee has asked the bankruptcy court to convert Northern Beef Packers' Chapter 11 case into a Chapter 7 liquidation.

In a petition filed last week, the trustee said the company is "administratively insolvent" and unlikely to obtain financing to resume operations.

Under voluntary Chapter 11 protection, a company is expected to reorganize its debt and emerge with a plan to repay creditors and resume operations, generally speaking. By calling for a Chapter 7 conversion, the trustee said resuming operations is unlikely, and the plant itself may be the only way creditors ever see money from the failed venture.

"Based on currently available information, it appears the plant represents the only asset by which the debtor may generate funds to pay creditors," trustee James Snyder wrote in his petition.

Northern Beef, based in Aberdeen, S.D., withdrew its previously filed financing plan and has not presented any alternative to its current situation. The company reported $138.8 million in liabilities and $79.3 million in assets. The plant dismissed its workforce and halted operations in July.

Reportedly working with Lincoln International to secure a buyer, little has been heard from the troubled firm in recent weeks. Originally locally owned, Northern Beef is now owned by a consortium of 69 Korean investors who each paid a minimum of $500,000 under a federal program that uses foreign investment in U.S. businesses as a precursor to securing permanent residency.

Volume:85 Issue:35