The 2nd Annual Egg Industry Issues Forum organized by the Egg Industry Center was presented in Chicago during late March. This newly formed service group represents a joint collaboration between Purdue University and Iowa State University and is supported largely by the AEB. The statistical function previously carried out by Don Bell of the University of California, Riverside has been transferred to the Egg Industry Center under Maro Ibarburu, program manager.

There was broad representation from the Midwest egg industry, and leading Land Grant universities including Purdue, Illinois, North Carolina State, Kansas State, Missouri and visitors from China Agriculture University, breeders and suppliers and industry associations and regulators -- UEP, AEB USDA-AMS, USDA-APHIS.

1. Holistic Approach to a Sustainable Egg Supply Chain, Dr. Jeffrey Armstrong, dean, Michigan State University

Dr. Armstrong who is a consultant to many QSRs, the UEP and the USDA discussed egg production from the perspective of environmental and ecological considerations. He stressed the need for science-based guidelines and noted that the egg industry was the most proactive among all segments of intensive animal agriculture in welfare, based on progress attained.

Although standards for caged and non-confined flocks have been developed by the UEP it is evident that changes in housing are inevitable as the technology evolves. The interpretation of comments included in the presentation would suggest that future expansion in the industry will take place in the central and upper Midwest.

The AEB has agreed to sponsor research into alternative cage systems. It is intended that the Midwest University Consortium would compare conventional cages, enriched cages and an aviary.

If facilities are to be erected for this comparison, it is not expected that results will be available for at least three years given the rate of progress in soliciting and obtaining funding and installing equipment using state and Federal bid procedures. Given the time to rear flocks and to run at least one cycle and then to collate and present results will require a prolonged period.

Producers will have to either make a value judgment decision on housing or wait for years before a scientific U.S. appraisal is forthcoming for alternative housing systems. His work will be conducted on a small scale at the state unit where random sample tests have been performed over the years.

2. Americans Vote with Their Pocketbooks, Matt Sutton-Vermeulen, president, Unison Resource Co.

This marketing-oriented presentation considered the factors influencing the value chain extending from producer to consumer. A U.S. survey on motivation of consumers to purchase eggs listed taste, quality and price as the leading attributes.

“Healthfulness” was lower on the list suggesting that the publicity countering the “cholesterol bogey” is having an effect on consumers.

A Ketchum survey conducted in 2000 allowed respondents to prioritize 15 improvements in food production if they were “CEO for a Day.” The first 5 ranked items were:

1. Safer foods and products
2. Nutritionally superior foods
3. Less expensive foods
4. More tasteful foods
5. “Make a difference” (presumably welfare?)

When consumers were asked to consider the status of wholesomeness/safety/nutritional value of pork the category scored 5.9 on a 0 to 10 scale. After a reading a 250-word educational statement, the score increased to 6.7 suggesting that education can influence consumer perceptions.

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This finding parallels consumer reaction to the issue of radiation pasteurization conducted in the mid-1980s in Florida and California. Obviously check-off funds assigned to “public education” by the AEB will be well spent.

3. Designing Meals for Adult Health, Dr. Don Layman, director of research, Egg Nutrition Center

The new director of research for the ENC considered protein intake per meal by the average American consumer in relation to intermediary metabolism, insulin secretion and body mass. It was his opinion that the “USDA Food Pyramid” which favors carbohydrates is responsible for obesity, mediated through insulin secretion.

Americans have a marked deficit in protein intake at breakfast and a surfeit of protein in their evening meals. Accordingly eggs are an important component of breakfasts, contributing to lower insulin production and favoring deposition of lean muscle mass over adipose tissue.

An interesting aside was the statement that in nations such as India with a high proportion of vegans, stature is reduced as are athletic ability and endurance. There is no data on the effect of transitioning to a vegan lifestyle at middle age since the quality of protein will be altered with possible deleterious effects on metabolism and longevity.

This may be an important consideration in the current pressure by organizations such as the HSUS to force a vegan lifestyle on our nation.

Studies conducted by Dr. Layman have demonstrated the importance of adequate intake of leucine, an essential amino acid in regulating intermediary metabolism.

4. FDA Egg Safety Regulations and Implications, Howard Magwire, vice president of government relations, UEP

Magwire reviewed progress by the FDA in implementing the proposed Final Rule which will take effect in July. As of the time of the meeting, neither the “FAQ document nor the guidance document had been issued by FDA, although this agency is implacable in its determination to implement the program in June.

The most important issue relates to action in the event of an environmental SE positive assay. This will initiate the sequential egg testing program applying conventional microbiology.

The implication for an egg-producing complex or company is that if eggs are released and the subsequent test confirms the presence of SE, mandatory withdrawal and reporting in the Register will be required. Since the confirmation process may take as long as eight weeks, the consequences are self evident.