News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.

Food Safety and Processing Perspective

Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.

How long will the US conversion to cage-free eggs take?

Even the popular press has done a good job explaining why converting to cage-free egg production won’t happen overnight, but I still get questions from doubters.
In January 2016, Wired Magazine did a pretty good job of explaining why a conversion of the U.S. egg industry from just over 90 percent cage-housed hens to 100 percent cage-free hens couldn’t happen overnight. Similar articles appeared in several other magazines and newspapers, but I still get inquiries asking why most major cage-free purchase pledges use 2025 as the end date.
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Does Walmart decision signal end for laying hen cages?

The cage-free purchase pledge by the largest grocer in the U.S. has provisions for respecting consumer preference and transparency.
Any major purchasing decision made by Walmart and Sam's Club, which sell over one quarter of the groceries purchased in the U.S., has major implications throughout the supply chain for any commodity, and eggs are no exception. The cage-free purchase pledge made by Walmart on April 6, 2016 establishes a goal of 100 percent cage-free egg purchases by 2025.
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3 things to consider when choosing a cage-free system

US egg producers have a lot of cage-free housing system options available for them to consider, and their choice should really hinge on their answers to three questions.
On my recent visit to the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, I had the opportunity to visit with 12 suppliers of housing systems for laying hens. After hearing about the various types of systems being offered and how they operate, I think there are three questions that U.S. egg producers should ask themselves before they decide which system to choose:
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Organic poultry production: The real omnivore’s dilemma

Vegetarian diets and restriction/elimination of the use of synthetic methionine may keep organic poultry meat and eggs a small niche market in the U.S.
The question of how to meet an omnivore's nutritional needs feeding an all vegetarian diet is a question that I don’t think we should have to answer. What are we really gaining by trying to feed birds this way?
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When should US egg producers scrap their cages?

With new cage-free purchase pledges announced every week, egg producers have to wonder if their cages will outlast the market for cage-produced eggs.
Just a little over a year ago, U.S. egg producers responding to Egg Industry’s Annual Top Egg Company Survey projected they would add nearly twice the housing for cage-housed hens as cage free hens, 7.1 and 3.7 million head worth, respectively. Now it would be surprising if any egg producer followed through on plans to install new cages in the U.S.
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Retailers should maintain egg choices for consumers

By catering to a vocal minority, retailers, food companies and restaurant chains are pledging to buy only eggs from cage-free hens.
BJ’s Wholesale Club joined rival Costco Wholesale by recently announcing that it will transition to offering for sale only eggs produced by cage-free hens.
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The role of vaccination in avian flu eradication

Webinar will discuss how avian flu vaccines have been used in the past, the capabilities of new vaccines, and how USDA APHIS thinks vaccination may be used in future eradication efforts
I am happy to announce that WATT Global Media has assembled a group of experts to explore the role that vaccination could play in any future highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak. The webinar, Vaccination as part of an avian flu eradication plan, will be presented on Wednesday December 16, 2015, at 2:30 p.m. CST (3:30 p.m. EST).
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Poult placements will constrain turkey output in 2016

Avian flu caused turkey breeder losses will keep U.S. poult placements below 2014 levels into the second quarter of 2016.
The USDA’s Turkey Hatchery report, released on November 17, 2015, reports that U.S. turkey poult placements in October of 2015 were 6 percent lower than they were in October of 2014.
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Biosecurity for poultry without a line of separation

How do you control an infectious disease like avian influenza when virtually every farm has a backyard flock and live bird markets are scattered throughout every city?
Enhancing biosecurity is the talk of the U.S poultry industry this fall with everyone trying to make sure that their farms have perimeter buffer areas around their poultry houses and lines of separation between the outside of the poultry house and where the birds actually live. Everything is focused on reducing the chance for the avian flu virus of getting onto a poultry farm and from getting inside the poultry house. But how do these concepts apply if the birds are raised free range and the birds are brought to market live?
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Activists say alternative animal agriculture is bad

Animal rights proponents say it isn’t just 'factory farms' that are bad for animals because there are no 'good farms.'
I’ve never liked the term “factory farm” and, according to comments made by speakers at the 2015 Animal Rights National Conference, in Alexandria, Virginia, some animal rights activists have soured on the term as well. Hope Bohanec, projects manager, United Poultry Concerns, said, “The term factory farm had its time … we have inadvertently created the alternative animal agriculture industry. All animal agriculture is bad.”
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Avian flu creates losses for some, profits for others

Fewer eggs on the market in the U.S. has led to big profits for egg producers that have remained untouched so far by avian flu.
The highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in the upper Midwestern U.S. in the spring of 2015 resulted in the loss of over 40 million table egg layers and pullets. Some egg producers, like Rembrandt Foods, the country’s third largest with operations in Minnesota and Northern Iowa, suffered heavy losses from avian flu. For companies like this, the avian influenza outbreak has required depopulation of farms, extensive cleaning and disinfection, lost egg production and employee layoffs.
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Veterinary Feed Directive may help broiler producers

Designation of non-medically important antimicrobials can provide a backstop to the seemingly relentless market shift to raised-without-antibiotics chicken in the US
Do poultry producers make the market for raised-without-antibiotics chicken and turkey meat or are they just responding to growing consumer demand?
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