African Swine Fever Persists in Germany


Sporadic outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) have occurred in the state of Brandenburg affecting small-scale hog farms. Wild boars that have migrated westward from Poland have infected domestic hogs in Brandenburg and adjacent Saxony.  Attempts at limiting cross-border movement and reducing the boar population have been unsuccessful. Maintaining an acceptable level of biosecurity is difficult on small farms. The presence of AFS within the two eastern states of Germany has severely constrained national pork exports and consequently a number of packing plants have closed.


The epidemiology of AFS in Central Europe should be a warning for the U.S.  In the event of introduction of African swine fever from Caribbean nations, the domestic population of wild boars would become infected and serve as a reservoir of virus complicating control and almost eliminating the possibility of eradication.  Obviously measures to reduce the population of wild boars that are themselves destructive, should be intensified as previously advocated in CHICK-NEWS. 


As with highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry, control will only be achieved with the deployment of an effective and safe vaccine.  Evaluation of innovative products including a candidate vaccine developed by USDA-ARS and under test in Vietnam should demonstrate the extent and duration of protection of commercial herds. A slaughter-out policy has been shown to be ineffective in both Haiti and the adjoining Dominican Republic. Accordingly APHIS is advised to update their playbook to accommodate to the realities of the infection.  With respect to ASF, the USDA should be pleased that pigs cannot fly and interdiction of infection is possible with intensified control at points of entry.  Funds expended on border and port surveillance are justified given the potential losses following possible introduction of ASF.


Promoters of Cultured Chicken Meat Hyping Progress


Recent press reports relating to the November 2022 Upside Foods premarket consultations with the Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition have been misrepresented.  The voluntary premarket consultation allowed the Company to present data and a description of their process involving intended production of cell-cultured chicken myocytes.


The FDA accepted in principle the information that the process was consistent with safe manufacturing practices and that the Agency would not require additional information concerning safety.  This did not represent an approval of the process or the product.


In terms of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, cell-cultured chicken meat must conform to the same requirements as all other foods.


Approval of cell cultured red meat or chicken will be subject to joint approval by the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.  In accordance with a 2019 agreement, these agencies will oversee the production of cultured meat. The FDA will be concerned with collection, differentiation and culture of cells extending through harvest.  The FSIS will then be responsible for packaging and distribution, requiring approval from the Engineering, Production and Innovation Center in addition to labels. Both agencies move with glacial speed to write regulations implying that  final approval will be years in the future.


In press releases, Upside Foods state that their plant would be “capable of producing 50,000 pounds of finished meat products per year with a future capacity of over 400,000 pounds.  To the uninitiated this appears to be a substantial number.  In fact if one assumes three pounds of edible meat from a broiler, the initial commercial capacity represents the equivalent of 17,000 conventional broilers harvested at 6.5 pounds.  This equates to less than three hours of processing by a single plant with a line speed of 7,000 bird per hour. The projected production by Upside Foods is miniscule against the approximately 165,000 broilers processed each week with a RTC weight of 804 million pounds.


The question arises as to the capital investment required per pound of cultured meat compared to the equivalent capital cost for conventional broiler meat. The differential will be reflected in depreciation, interest, promotion and overhead, in addition to variable costs including substrate, labor, packaging and maintenance. It is hoped that the assumptions and parameters applied to spreadsheets incorporated in business plans consider the costs and efficiency associated with conventional broiler production. 


Even if companies such as Upside Foods can achieve parity in cost and obtain USDA and FDA approval for their product, the major question relates to public acceptance.  If plant-based meat substitutes are any indication, initial demand will be high based on a curiosity factor. This is especially apparent among the affluent with a heightened concern for the environment, welfare and sustainability.  The only public quoted pure-play plant-meat company is in a precarious financial position and may yet run out of money having survived on capital provided by investors.  The Plant Protein Division of Maple Leaf Foods has been consistently unprofitable with declining sales and with no immediate prospect of generating a return on investment in facilities.  Plant-based meat alternatives should be more acceptable to a wider range of consumers than cell cultured meat that will be rejected by vegetarians and those concerned over a radical innovation in food production.


We are indeed in an unfortunate position if writers publishing in food magazines and the mainstream press are incapable of placing an innovative technology in perspective. ‘Puff pieces’ that ignore the realities of production volume and costs, competition and potential consumer demand and are based on self-adulatory press releases are a disservice to readers.  Upside Foods and its future competitors will be obliged to continue hyping their technology and prospects to maintain an ongoing stream of investment. Venture capital infusions represent the life blood of  start-ups and established non-profitable high-tech companies in the Silicon Valley with most following the dictum of “fake it ‘til you make it”.


USDA “Product of the USA” Labeling is a Non-constructive Idea


On March 6th, the USDA announced a proposed rule to cover labeling of red meat, poultry and eggs to be labeled “Product of the USA” or “Made in the USA”. This initiative is supported by both consumer groups and domestic red-meat producers’ associations. The claim would require that animals be born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.


In announcing the proposed rule, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, stated, “American consumers expect that when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say.  These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions.  Our action today affirms USDA commitments to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”


The U. S. Cattlemen’s Association petitioned the USDA to strengthen labeling rules in 2019 and expressed concern that action by the Administration has been delayed.


It is a matter of fact that chicken sold in the U. S. bears the label claim, “Hatched, Raised and Harvested in the U. S.  This covers 99 percent of chicken consumed since it is completely domestic in origin.


The North American Meat Institute has criticized the voluntary “Product of the USA” label since the red meat segment of the red meat industry imports cattle and hogs that are processed in U. S. plants and packers would be placed at a disadvantage by exclusion from using the “Product of USA” claim.


Frankly, it is impossible to satisfy producers, consumers and industry associations with a single policy as self-interest fuels political and hence regulatory decisions. Logistic restraints and the realities of a multinational supply chain mitigate against the label.


In commenting on the proposed rule, promoter Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) stated, “Once this proposed rule is finalized, American consumers will no longer been misled by a “Product of the USA” label that is legally applied currently to foreign products.”  He added, “The USDA ruling is a major step in the right direction, and I applaud Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, for taking the necessary action to fix this label.”  Senator Rounds does not have any constituents in either Argentina or Brazil or metropolitan areas in the U.S. where consumers will ultimately pay more for red meat.


The proposed “Product of USA” label will not require pre-approval from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.  The proposed label would be separate from the AMS Country of Origin (COOL) mandatory labeling regulations.


The USDA proposed label rule has elicited a negative response from Canada. This nation previously was awarded the right to take retaliatory measures by a WTO Dispute Panel over mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) now rescinded at a considerable cost to the U.S. Canada noted the high level of integration in livestock and red meat production in North America and is concerned over disruption of supply chains. In a joint statement issued by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion and Economic Development, Canada warned that “Any proposed amendments to the labeling of meat, poultry and eggs---should conform to international trade obligations and should not disrupt supply chains”.


Before embarking on a process that is parochial and restrictive in intent and not in any way contributing to enhanced food safety, those in favor of the “Product of the USA” label should consider their proposal in the light of USMCA and WTO commitments. There are wider issues involved including food security and the trade in a variety of commodities, manufactured goods and services. Precipitating an “eye for an eye” cascade of trade retaliation will end up with all parties blind.

Copyright © 2023 Simon M. Shane