The U.S. commercial egg industry had its share of high drama in 2008 with the passage of a California referendum that will bring a ban of caged layer production in the state. Producers across the nation are now warily eyeing the possibility of similar referendums in other states. Based on viewership, this was WATTpoultry.com’s No. 2 news story in 2008.

The poultry industry’s No. 1 news story in 2008 was the bankruptcy of Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, the world’s largest poultry company.

In a year marked by wild swings in grain prices that trapped producers in a cost-price squeeze, the most-viewed news article at WATTpoultry.com was “The fall of Pilgrim’s Pride,” an analysis of how the Pittsburg, Texas, chicken producer ended up in bankruptcy. A decision to lock in high-priced grain in the summer left the company unable to survive low chicken prices. Underlining reader interest in the Pilgrim’s Pride story, the second-most-viewed single news article was the October report, “Pilgrim’s Pride seeks options short of bankruptcy.”

WATTpoultry.com’s rankings of the top 10 new stories of 2008 are based on a weighting of single-article viewership and combined viewership of articles on the same topic.

Russian trade

Coming in at No. 3 was news of Russia’s delisting of 19 U.S. poultry plants. As 2008 wound down, U.S. and Russian negotiators meeting in Moscow reached an agreement that U.S. producers are hoping will allow resumption of more predictable exports of chicken leg quarters to Russia. But experienced exporters caution that nothing is ever certain with the Russian trade.

Grain prices, financial losses, bird flu

No. 4: Wild swings in grain prices – from near $8 a bushel corn in the summer to around $3 in December. The news article with the fourth highest viewership, “Sanderson was right, but now what?” analyzed that company’s decision not to lock in corn prices at $6 a bushel during the summer of 2008.

No. 5: Simmering H5N1 avian influenza in Asia and parts of Europe – The significance, and hence this story’s No. 5 ranking, is that H5N1 outbreaks did not become a major news story despite continuing media coverage in 2008. The story was much more prominent in 2006 and 2007 when media coverage of H5N1 whipped up consumer hysteria and undermined demand in many international markets.

No. 6: Poor earnings/losses result in poultry production cuts – A string of announcements of production cuts by U.S. poultry companies in the 5% to 6% range left analysts calling for deeper, sustained reductions as world demand sagged and industry losses mounted. The Brazilian industry also began cutting production late in the year in the face of weak demand in international markets.

Trouble with labels, brands

No. 7: Tyson Foods’ launch and eventual withdrawal of its “Raised without antibiotics chicken” – After legal battles with its competitors and policy reversals by USDA, Tyson Foods pulled the plug on a multi-million-dollar ad campaign and withdrew the “raised without antibiotics” label.

No. 8: Bernard Matthews reboots its brand – The UK food company relaunched its brand in July, vowing to no longer use imported poultry after an H5N1 outbreak thought to be linked to Hungarian poultry supply savaged its reputation in 2007.

International jockeying

No. 9: Jockeying of poultry and meat producers for transnational footholds – U.S.-based Tyson Foods announced acquisitions or joint ventures in Brazil, India and China. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Marfrig Frigoríficos e Comércio de Alimentos S.A. acquired OSI Group businesses in Brazil and Europe. And Campfrio Food Group, a pan-European company in the packaged meats sector, was formed by Campofrio Alimentacion S.A. and Group Smithfield Holdings S.L. Also, Brazil’s JBS S.A. acquired National Beef Packing Co., the fourth largest U.S. beef processor, and Smithfield’s beef business.

No. 10: U.S. bid to regain access for U.S. poultry to the EU fails – Despite efforts of the Bush administration through the Transatlantic Economic Council, the U.S. was not able to crack an 11-year-old ban on U.S. poultry in European Union markets.

Top poultry features in 2008

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WATTpoultry.com feature articles also scored high viewership in 2008. The following articles were among 2008’s most-viewed features:

• Industria Avicola’s top poultry companies (Spanish language)

• WATT PoultryUSA’s top poultry companies

Physiology of broiler respiration (Spanish language)

Today’s broiler grows hourly (Spanish language)

Mineral nutrition in layers (Spanish language)

Raising turkeys the old-fashioned way

Use of organic acids

Chlorine – misunderstood pathogen reduction tool in processing

Major changes in global egg production

Good manufacturing practices in the feed mill (Spanish language)

Avicola Salvadorena, El Salvador’s largest poultry producer (Spanish language)

• Poultry International’s top poultry companies in Europe

• Egg Industry’s top U.S. egg companies

Issue coverage continues in 2009

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th U.S. president was a major story in 2008. With policies involving the environment, international trade, farm policy and labor in the balance, coverage of these stories will continue in 2009.

Food safety, animal welfare and environmental and sustainability issues also received significant coverage at WATTpoultry.com in 2008. Some WATTpoultry.com stories not specifically about poultry shaped the poultry business environment. These included the 143 million-pound beef recall by Hallmark/Westland in February and the Maple Leaf meat recall in August.