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Articles from 2015 In September

USDA issues root cause report for swine enteric coronavirus diseases

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a root cause investigation report Sept. 30 outlining potential scenarios for how swine enteric coronavirus disease (SECD) viruses entered the U.S.

APHIS examined 17 potential root cause scenarios to see if they met all four criteria needed to bring the virus from an overseas location to U.S. pig farms, as well as if there was evidence to support the scenario. While the investigation did not uncover definite proof for any route of entry, a small number of scenarios were deemed plausible.

APHIS found that the scenario that best fit the criteria for virus entry into the U.S. was virus spread through reuse of contaminated flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs), which are commonly used to transport many types of material, including sand for flood control, soybeans, pet treats or almost any kind of bulk material.

FIBCs are designed to be reused. It is not a common practice in the U.S. to clean and disinfect these FIBCs between uses. Evidence collected as part of the investigation suggests that FIBCs could be potentially contaminated in their origin country and, upon arrival in the U.S., are likely being reused.

APHIS said if a contaminated FIBC was used to transport bulk feed or ingredients to the swine feed mill networks, a small bit of contaminated material could have been mixed into feed destined for many locations and spread the virus onto farms.

In an attempt to provide evidence for this scenario, APHIS completed follow-up testing, which further supported the hypothesis that porcine epidemic diarrhea virus could easily remain stable through the time needed to travel to the U.S. and infect pigs.

The first cases of novel SECD were confirmed in the U.S. in April 2013. SECD viruses quickly spread to many swine premises throughout the country, killing 7 million piglets within the first year and causing tremendous hardship for many U.S. pork producers.

APHIS, the states and the swine industry have worked jointly to slow the spread of these diseases, including by enhancing biosecurity practices. APHIS also issued a federal order on June 5, 2014, requiring the reporting of SECD cases to assist with tracking and understanding these viruses. The number of new cases has dropped dramatically in the past year, the agency reported.

The "SECD Root Cause Investigation Report" is available on the APHIS website.

Pork returns to 90% of Chipotle restaurants

Chipotle Mexican Grill recently announced that it has restored most of its pork supply after adding a United Kingdom-based supplier. The company said it is again serving carnitas in 90% of its restaurants.and expects to have carnitas back in all of its restaurants by the end of November.

Chipotle stopped serving carnitas at more than a third of its restaurants earlier this year after it suspended one of its primary pork suppliers when routine auditing found inconsistencies between the supplier’s operations and Chipotle’s pork protocol. Chipotle’s standards require that pigs are raised with access to the outdoors or deeply bedded barns, without the use of antibiotics, and with no gestation crates.

“These practices are in stark contrast with how pigs are conventionally raised, so Chipotle opted to pull carnitas from hundreds of restaurants rather than compromise its commitment to animal welfare,” the company said.

Chipotle founder, chairman and co-chief executive officer Steve Ells said the decision to stop selling carnitas in many of the restaurants was an easy one.

“We simply will not compromise our high standards for animal welfare,” he said. “Since making this decision, we have heard from thousands of our customers who have expressed support for our decision, and commended us for standing on principle. Now, we are excited to have carnitas back in nearly all of our restaurants, and want to thank our customers for their patience while we worked to address this issue.”

Carnitas is now available at all Chipotle locations in the U.S. with the exception of restaurants in the Cleveland and Atlanta areas, and in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Chipotle said it was able to replenish its pork supply by working with existing suppliers and by adding a new partner, United Kingdom-based Karro Food.

“While Chipotle continues to prefer domestic sources for all of its meat, conventionally raised pork in the U.S. does not meet the company’s high standards for animal welfare,” the company said. 

When faced with the choice between serving conventional pork in some of its restaurants or nothing at all, Chipotle chose not to serve carnitas in hundreds of its restaurants rather than compromising its standards, the company said.

World trade growth projections lowered

World Trade Organization economists have lowered their forecast for world trade growth in 2015 to 2.8%, from the 3.3% forecast made in April, and reduced their estimate for 2016 to 3.9% from 4.0%.

These revisions reflect a number of factors that weighed on the global economy in the first half of 2015, including falling import demand in China, Brazil and other emerging economies; falling prices for oil and other primary commodities; and significant exchange rate fluctuations.

Volatility in financial markets, uncertainty over the changing stance of monetary policy in the United States and mixed recent economic data have clouded the outlook for the world economy and trade in the second half of the year and beyond. 

If current projections are realized, 2015 will mark the fourth consecutive year in which annual trade growth has fallen below 3% and the fourth year where trade has grown at roughly the same rate as world GDP, rather than twice as fast, as was the case in the 1990s and early 2000s. This is still below the average for the last 20 years of 5%.

"Trade can act as a catalyst for economic growth. At a time of great uncertainty, increased trade could help reinvigorate the global economy and lift prospects for development and poverty alleviation. WTO members can help to set trade growth on a more robust trajectory by seizing the initiative on a number of fronts, notably by negotiating concrete outcomes by our December Ministerial Conference in Nairobi," WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said. 

Global output is still expanding at a moderate pace but risks to the world economy are increasingly on the downside.  These include a sharper-than-expected slowdown in emerging and developing economies, the possibility of destabilizing financial flows from an eventual interest rate rise by the US Federal Reserve, and unanticipated costs associated with the migration crisis in Europe. 

At the time of our last forecast in April 2015, world trade and output appeared to be strengthening based on available data through 2014Q4. However, results for the first half of 2015 were below expectations as quarterly growth turned negative, averaging -0.7% in Q1 and Q2. Recent trade developments are illustrated in Chart 1, which shows seasonally-adjusted, quarterly merchandise trade indices in volume terms (i.e. adjusted to account for fluctuations in prices and exchange rates) by level of development.  Despite the quarterly declines in the first half of 2015, year-on-year growth in trade for the year to date remains positive at 2.3%.

Trade values in dollar terms have declined in most countries since last year and were down roughly 12% year-on-year in July at the world level. This is partly the result of a strong general appreciation of the US dollar over this period (+15% in nominal effective terms against major currencies according to the Bank for International Settlements). There is generally an inverse relationship between world trade values in current dollar terms and the value of the US currency.

Risks to the forecast are firmly on the downside, the most prominent being a further slowing of economic activity in developing economies and financial instability stemming from  eventual interest rate rises in the United States.

Asian export and import growth for 2015 has been revised down as slower growth in Chinese imports has reduced intra-regional trade.

South American imports have also been revised down sharply but the region's export volume growth should remain positive in 2015 and 2016.

Marketbasket survey shows food cost declines

Marketbasket survey shows food cost declines

Lower retail prices for several foods, including whole milk, cheddar cheese, and bacon, resulted in a slight decrease in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Fall Harvest Marketbasket Survey.

The informal survey showed the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $54.14, down $.12 or less than 1% compared to a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, 10 decreased and six increased in average price.

Higher milk and pork production this year contributed to the decrease in prices on some key foods, AFBF said, adding that lower energy prices also accounted for much of the modest decrease in the marketbasket.

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation

“Energy prices, which affect everything in the marketbasket, have been quite a bit lower compared to a year ago.” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “Processing, packaging, transportation and retail operations are all fairly energy-intensive.”

According to the survey results, whole milk decreased 17% to $3.14 per gallon, bacon decreased 11% to $4.55/lb., shredded cheddar decreased 5% to $4.56/lb., and chicken breast decreased 1% to $3.42/lb.

Despite decreases for some products, the survey results showed eggs increased 56% to $3.04 per dozen, ground chuck increased 6% to $4.55/lb. and orange juice increased 7% to $3.43 pre half-gallon.

“As expected we saw higher egg prices because we lost so much production earlier this year due to the avian influenza situation in Iowa, Minnesota and some other Midwestern states,” Anderson said.

Price checks of alternative milk and egg choices not included in the overall marketbasket survey average revealed the following: 1/2 gallon regular milk, $2.21; 1/2 gallon organic milk, $4.79; and one dozen “cage-free” eggs, $4.16.

The year-to-year direction of the marketbasket survey tracks closely with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index report for food at home. As retail grocery prices have increased gradually over time, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped.

“Through the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now about 16%, according to the Agriculture Department’s revised Food Dollar Series,” Anderson said.

Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmer’s share of this $54.14 marketbasket would be $8.66, AFBF said.

Focus on advantages of salmon line, not imagined risks (commentary)

Focus on advantages of salmon line, not imagined risks (commentary)

AS a rancher, I am always looking for ways to improve my herd. It might be better vaccinations, perhaps new supplements or maybe improved genetics.

As a businessperson, I am always looking for ways to diversify and improve my bottom line. Perhaps that will include converting to eco-tourism or maybe changing what proteins I grow.

I have learned from five generations before me that in order for my ranch to survive, it must be supple and welcome change. This is why I take every opportunity to attend field days, tours and symposiums.

I understand that my survival as an agricultural producer hinges on my ability to stay ahead of the curve. I am constantly looking for innovative ideas that will enable me to develop and advance the ranch.

Because of these opportunities, I learned about a type of salmon called AquAdvantage. Since 1989, these salmon have been genetically engineered to grow faster by the addition of a gene from Chinook salmon. The more I learn about these salmon, the more I want my ranch to explore aquaculture.

Consumer demand for animal-based protein is continuing to grow across the globe, especially for fish, like salmon, with well-known health benefits. However, even with better management practices, the amount of wild salmon will not be enough to keep up with this demand.

I feel like AquAdvantage salmon could play a crucial role in fulfilling a demand for more sustainable, safe and plentiful protein, and I have been vocal about that.

I was contacted by a representative of the California Aquaculture Assn. (CAA) because the organization disagreed with my point of view. It has concerns over the potential risk that these AquaAdvantage salmon could intermingle with wild salmon and also claims that the "larger" genetically modified fish would eat the "smaller" non-modified fish.

This stance puzzled me because the AquAdvantage salmon are rather unique. You see, these sterile female fish will be raised in land-based tanks, not sea nets like other farmed fish.

This is a positive for several reasons: The fish can be farmed inland, close to urban areas, therefore cutting down on shipping and transportation costs. The threat of diseases being spread between farmed and wild fish is negated. Also, since conventional fish and AquAdvantage salmon will never have the opportunity to intermingle, there is no threat of predatory behavior.

Since the environment will be highly controlled, optimal growing conditions can be mimicked at all times, resulting in a fish that can grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon using fewer inputs. This increased efficiency could produce a far more sustainable and profitable product for farmers.

Instead of focusing on the imagined risks, perhaps it is time for CAA to focus on the genuine benefits offered by AquAdvantage salmon.

This fish could improve farmers' bottom lines and provide high-quality protein to consumers, all while lessening the impact to wild salmon and the environment. It is time for everyone to embrace technology that can and will improve lives. Our future depends on it.

*Megan Brown is a blogger and sixth-generation rancher who raises Black Angus cattle in northern California. From 4-H as a child to FFA as a teen to receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural business from California State University-Chico, agriculture has been Brown's lifelong passion. Read more on her website at www.thebeefjar.com, or contact her at [email protected]

Volume:87 Issue:34

Poll shows broad support for Endangered Species Act reform

Most Americans think the Endangered Species Act is outdated and needs to be revised, a survey by Morning Consult shows. The American Farm Bureau said the poll conducted in early August “adds impetus to congressional efforts to overhaul the increasingly outdated 1970s-era statute.”

The survey shows that 63% of Americans support modernizing the ESA. It also found that 62% of Americans believe the act should help with species recovery, as opposed to merely cataloguing changes in their populations.  

“The intent of the Endangered Species Act is inspiring, but results have been less so,” American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said. “Farmers, ranchers and environmentalists agree that we must save wildlife facing preventable extinction, but the current recovery rate of less than 2% shows the law is a failure.”

The survey also found that 69% of Americans want the federal government to offer resources to third parties to help species recovery; and 49% of Americans believe that state or local authorities, rather than the federal government, lead in recovery of endangered and threatened species. Only 31% of Americans favor the federal government taking the lead.

“Today, many landowners hesitate to establish habitat that would help endangered species. That’s so because the law itself makes it impractical for them to use their land once they have made the effort to help in the first place. The ESA can and must be modernized to protect endangered species and respect private property rights. Neither agriculture nor the endangered species have time to wait.”

Read more on the study here.

U.S., China meet to discuss transparency, biotech approvals

The U.S. and Chinese governments held a Strategic Agricultural Innovation Dialogue (SAID) meeting September 24 in conjunction with President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington D.C. last week.

China is a key export market for U.S. soybeans, but the trade is at risk due to China’s restrictive regulatory approval procedures for biotech products.

A White House statement said the two countries conducted in-depth discussions on the administration of agricultural biotechnology, and committed to further improve approval processes. 

“Both sides reaffirmed the importance of implementing timely, transparent, predictable, and science-based approval processes for products of agricultural biotechnology, which are based on international standards,” the statement said.

Additionally, both sides committed to strengthen policy formulation and information exchange, share experience in and practices of research and development, regulatory administration, and safety approval of agricultural biotechnology; further revise and improve regulation, based on comprehensive consultations with domestic and international stakeholders; and, enhance capabilities in safety administration and safety approval of agricultural biotechnology products.

Agriculture stakeholders from across the country, including Farm Bureaus, Corn Growers Associations, and Soybean Associations, and other industry partners sent several letters to President Barack Obama throughout the past month, reiterating the importance of ensuring swift, positive action on pending biotechnology issues. Additionally, U.S. Sens. John Thune (R, S.D.) and Debbie Stabenow (D,Mich.), both members of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, of which Stabenow serves as ranking member, also led a bipartisan group of 42 senators in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to raise directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping the concerns of U.S. stakeholders regarding agricultural biotech approval delays by China.

“To reinvigorate last year’s progress, we ask that you seek a commitment from President Xi to move forward with the queue of biotechnology products, including those awaiting final import approvals,” the senators wrote. “In addition, we ask that you reengage President Xi on the value of elevating the agricultural innovation dialogue via the SAID so that our countries can continue to address mutual food security, environmental and rural economic policy challenges.”

Goals for the meeting included seeing China establish a transparent, predictable and practical approach to both biotechnology approvals and imports of grains and oilseeds that may contain crop biotechnology, in addition to obtaining a commitment from President Xi to advance the full queue of biotechnology products, including the seven currently awaiting final import approvals, and other products in or awaiting field trials.


Ag Minister visits farms

Han Changfu, the Chinese minister of agriculture, and members of his delegation visited U.S. Grains Council (USGC) vice chairman Chip Councell’s farm during a recent visit to the U.S. to see harvest firsthand and learn directly from Councell and his neighbors about how U.S. farmers plan, make decisions, and produce their crops.

The tours included stops at Councell’s corn fields and produce stand, a ride on a combine harvesting soybeans and on-site explanations of how farmers effectively manage risk and use modern practices to increase productivity including no-till farming, nutrient management plans in the sensitive Chesapeake Bay watershed and seeds improved with biotechnology.

“We were excited to have such a rare opportunity to host Minister Han on the farm and in our region,” Councell said. “Having him and his staff here was a unique chance to not just talk about U.S. agriculture but to show it as it is happening. This type of visit makes our conversations about conservation, sustainability, biotechnology and food security come alive.”

Han and his staff also visited farms in Louisiana with USGC Chairman Alan Tiemann, a farmer in Nebraska, and USGC president and chief executive officer Tom Sleight accompanying a group of corn and soybean farmers and industry representatives.


Ag groups concerned on new pesticide rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized proposed changes to the agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) Sept. 28. However, agricultural groups are concerned the EPA rule represents another case where EPA disregarded comments from the industry as well as ongoing safety improvements.

EPA said these provisions will help ensure farmworkers nationwide receive annual safety training; that children under the age of 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides; and that workers are aware of the protections they are afforded under the action and have the tools needed to protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposure.

The Agricultural Retailers Assn. said it believes justification for revision of WPS is based on unfounded assumptions and deliberately misleading cost analysis.

According to a detailed comment letter submitted by the Pesticide Policy Coalition, of which ARA is a member, “had the agency (EPA) cited current literature, it would have acknowledged significantly improved farmworker demographics and safety since 1992; a steep and ongoing reduction in incidents of acute poisoning; and a lack of evidence of elevated levels of chronic illnesses among farmworkers.”
The PPC letter is a comprehensive analysis of technical problems with the EPA proposed rule. Most of this input has been disregarded in EPA’s final rule, ARA said.

“Agricultural retailers pay a lot of attention to worker safety because they care about their employees, and accidents are costly for both employees and employers,” said ARA president and chief executive officer Daren Coppock. “The final rule overlooks improvements made in worker safety by the industry over the preceding 22 years, most significantly through development and adoption of precision agriculture and drift reduction technologies. It also discounts the significant efforts of state pesticide regulators.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation also said it filed extensive comments on the proposal last year. Then, as well as now, AFBF said EPA could not justify the regulation it was proposing. “Farm Bureau shares the agency’s desire to protect workers, but we are concerned that the agency is piling regulatory costs on farmers and ranchers that bear little if any relation to actual safety issues,” said Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for AFBF.

ARA also said the rule opens new doors of potential liability without demonstrating their connection to worker safety. They said they’re concerned about the “unclear requirements on who must possess ‘labeling’ and when and what even constitutes the required ‘labeling.’”

ARA also said EPA “substantially – and deliberately – underestimated the cost of the regulation.” The rule increases the frequency of required training by five times and increases the amount of material that must be covered, yet EPA estimates a negligible cost to employers. EPA’s new requirement would not align with industry standards for training already in place in several states.

“Industry comments submitted to EPA pointed out the error, but it does not appear to have been corrected in the final rule,” Coppock said. “The real costs were provided, yet the agency stands by its artificial estimates, which suggests a deliberate disregard of the real-world cost implications of the rule.”

"The existing WPS was working, and under it safety trends were headed in the right direction,” Coppock added. “This new WPS was not necessary based on objective safety data. Instead, the EPA assumed problems existed, invented a solution, and speculated the solution will have positive effects.”

EPA’s new rule imposes significant new costs and liabilities on agricultural employers with no measurable improvement in the safety trends, and no cost-benefit analysis to justify them. It is the latest in a string of announcements from the current administration where political science has triumphed over objective science and economics.

Reauthorization bill heads to President

Monday afternoon the House passed H.R. 2051, a bill to reauthorize the Mandatory Price Reporting Act, the United States Grain Standards Act, and the National Forest Foundation Act. The Mandatory Price Reporting Act and the Grain Standards Act authorities were set to expire on Wednesday.

Legislative language to reauthorize each of these was introduced, reported by the House Agriculture Committee, and passed by the House on voice vote as standalone measures on June 9. The Senate passed the bill Sept. 21 and sent it back to the House. It now awaits the President’s signature.  

“We cleared the final hurdle today,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R, Kan.). “Reauthorizing three programs in one bipartisan bill is no small feat, but when our agriculture producers ask for certainty and transparency, that’s what they’ll get.”

House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway (R., Texas) thanked his colleagues for getting the work done before the bills expired. “H.R. 2051 represents a bipartisan package and the collaborative work of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and I am proud to support this legislation,” Conaway said. “These bipartisan bills will provide certainty for farmers and ranchers and prevent devastating impacts on our nation’s meat industries and grain exporters.”

Mandatory Price Reporting requires meat packers to report to USDA the prices they pay for cattle, hogs and sheep purchased from farmers and ranchers for slaughter, as well as the prices they receive for the sale of wholesale beef, pork and lamb. Mandatory Price Reporting also requires USDA to issue daily, weekly and monthly livestock and meat market reports.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. president Philip Ellis, criticized Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) for not feeling the legislation warranted an “essential government service” designation, which would prevent the price reporting from stopping during a government shutdown as it did two years ago. “Had the senator acted in accord with the original provisions in the House bill, we could have been assured price information would not be subject to political whim,” Ellis said.  

During a floor speech in favor of the bill, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said the U.S. Grain Standards Reauthorization Act will allow the Federal Grain Inspection Service to continue official weighing and inspection services. “Both grain buyers and sellers rely on a ‘gold standard’ quality assurance, backed by the federal government, when conducting business,” Peterson said.

Purina Animal Nutrition to rebuild New York plant after fire

Purina Animal Nutrition LLC, in partnership with Commodity Resource Corporation will rebuild a new state-of-the-art feed facility in Caledonia, New York. The rebuilt facility will improve automation, increase efficiency and reestablish the company’s production footprint in the Caledonia area.

Construction on the feed facility will begin this fall and be completed in early 2017.

On Nov. 1, 2014, a fire destroyed a Purina Animal Nutrition plant that was leased from Commodity Resource Corporation in Caledonia. Twenty-one employees worked at the facility when the fire occurred. The employees were assigned to work at another facility or remained at the Caledonia site. Regular, full-time work will return to the plant.

“Purina has operated out of this site for more than 10 years,” said Brian Gier, vice president of feed sales for Purina. “We support construction of this state-of-the-art facility because we are committed to our employees, the community and meeting our customers’ needs. And we are committed to our longstanding partnership with CRC.We know the last 10 months have been difficult for everyone, especially our employees and customers. We are grateful to them for their patience and commitment to Purina Animal Nutrition.”

The new plant will continue to produce bulk dairy feeds, customized formulas, ingredients, as well as provide full-service bag distribution for local producers.

“CRC is committed to being a part of the agricultural community and is pleased we are able to partner with Purina Animal Nutrition to serve the producers of Western and Central New York,” said Les Cole, president of CRC.

Design and construction details will be announced later this fall.