Agriculture declared a critical industry by Homeland Security

With the current COVID-19 situation the US Department of Homeland Security has confirmed food and agriculture as a critical infrastructure. With people becoming more and more distant from food production, it is important to remember that we are dependent on farmers for our food. I saw one post on Facebook that said there was no need for farmers since they get their food from Krogers and not a farmer. Where do they think Krogers gets the food they sell?

The Homeland Security memorandum identified 16 critical industries. With regards to agriculture, they included:

    • Farm workers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically
    • Farm workers and support service workers to include those who field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs
    • Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health; manufacturing and distribution of animal medical materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, etc.; transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants and associated regulatory and government workforce

Of course, those that manufacture our final food products and those that transport the products to the retail outlets are also critical.


Chickens and COVID-19

People are justifiably concerned about the recent outbreaks of human COVID-19, but there is a lot of misinformation circulating on the internet. One is with regards to chickens. Despite what some news outlets have reported, COVID-19 did NOT originate in chickens and you CANNOT get COVID-19 from chickens. There is some speculation that it originated in bats – another mammal.

COVID-19 is a coronavirus. Yes, chickens get coronavirus – but not all coronaviruses are the same.

The diagram below should give you an idea of what a coronavirus looks like. The projections on the outside of the envelope will determine which species the coronaviruses can attach to. COVID-19 is specific to mammals, not birds. Right now it is mainly human cases that are being detected, although one dog has tested positive.

Diagram of the COVID-19 coronavirus Source:

Coronaviruses are not new. Many livestock and poultry diseases are caused by a coronavirus. For chickens, Infectious Bronchitis (IB) is caused by a coronavirus. IB is not transferred from birds to humans.

So – do not be afraid of your chickens. Good biosecurity is important to keep disease of any kind from your flock. And always wash your hands with soap and water to make sure that you do not get sick with salmonella, a bacteria carried in the intestines of many animals, including chickens (and humans).

Plant-based ‘chicken’?

KFC Canada tested a plant-based ‘chicken’. They sold the product at a single KFC and an A&W restaurant in Canada. They sold out in that one day. They offered a ‘chicken’ sandwich alone or along with a plant-based Fried Popcorn Chicken Bucket. Both were developed under Greenleaf’s Lightlife brand.

Last August KFC conducted a one-day test of similar products from alt-protein supplier Beyond Meat at an Atlanta-area restaurant. The products they introduced sold out in five hours.

What are in these plant-based forms of ‘chicken’? Water, soy, sunflower oil, and salt. There is also a natural flavoring made of a mixture of paprika, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and cardamom. I’m sure there is more to it than that, but that is what I found online.

There are claims that it is healthier and better for the environment, but I haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.

With poultry companies investing millions of dollars into fake chicken, I wonder where the industry will go.

EPA Seeks Nominations for the Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler is announcing a solicitation for 20-30 nominees to serve on the Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee (FRRCC). Established in 2008, the FRRCC provides independent policy advice, information, and recommendations to EPA’s Administrator on a range of environmental issues and policies that are of importance to agriculture and rural communities. Applications must be received by EPA by December 31, 2019.

Full details are available on the committee’s website at:


In the newsroom:

What is in ‘fake’ meat?

Consumers have fickle tastes. They are always changing their minds about what they consider healthy. A lot of this is due to conflicting research results covered in the news. Carbs are good one day and then bad the next. One day eggs are not good for you the next they are an important part of a healthy diet, providing low cost, good quality protein as well as vitamin D (eggs are one of the few foods naturally containing vitamin D) and lutein (which is good at preventing macular degeneration). High-protein diets are now becoming popular.

To supply this growing market for protein, ‘fake’ meat is becoming popular. Meat lovers like the sensory properties of meat, but don’t like that they come from dead animals. The result is plant-based proteins.  But what is in these plant-based burgers on the market today? The burgers are made of soy, peameal, nuts, and leghemoglobin. But what is leghemoglobin? Leghemoglobin is also known as legoglobin) is from nitrogen-fixing root nodules of leguminous plants. It is important in carrying nitrogen in such plants, but the compound interacts in a similar fashion with naturally occurring oxygen and nitrogen.

Is that what you would include meat? Some states are considering legislation that will prevent producers from using the name meat for meatless products or milk for dairy-less products. Interesting ideas. What are your opinions?

Are eggs good or bad for you?

You may have read about some recently publicized research that says eggs are linked to a higher risk of heart disease and death. The article from the Journal of the American Medical Association is titled “Association of dietary cholesterol or egg consumption with incidence of cardiovascular disease and death.” Despite numerous published, peer-reviewed articles, the authors concluded “Among US adults, higher consumption of dietary cholesterol or eggs was significantly associated with higher risk of incidence of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in a dose-response manner. These results should be considered  in the development of dietary guidelines and updates.” The research was reported on by USANews.


While the research may cause some egg eaters to be considered, it must be remembered that there are many limitations to the research, as was reported on by other news agencies such as USAToday and Time.

The data used in the research was from six studies in the Lifetime Risk Pooling Project. This project followed 29,000+ people for about 17.5 years. During that period of time, there were a total of 5,400 incidences of cardiovascular disease, which could have been fatal or nonfatal. What the study showed was an association and not a cause and effect relationship. It is impossible to account for changes to people’s diets over that long of a time period.

There are also factors that they may not have taken into consideration. Many other foods may accompany eggs in a traditional American breakfast. These include bacon, sausage and hams which can have lots of sodium, and the saturated fat or oils with trans fats used to fry the eggs and the hash browns.

Lifestyle, not egg consumption, has often been shown to be related to increased incidences of heart disease.

Who will regulate cell-based proteins in the United States?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have come to an agreement on how the growing cell-based meat industry will be regulated in the United States.

FDA will oversee cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. The oversight will transfer from FDA to FSIS during the cell harvest stage. FSIS will oversee the production and labeling of human food products that are made from the cells of livestock and poultry. The shared oversight is to ensure that food products derived from cell-cultures are produced safely and are accurately labeled. You can read the whole agreement, and all it’s legal jargon, here. The Meat Institute, National Turkey Federation, and the Good Food Institute have indicated their support for the joint oversight, although the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reiterated their position that the term ‘meat’ should not be used. Specifically, their position is that the term ‘beef’ should refer only to “products derived exclusively from the flesh of a bovine animal harvested in the traditional manner.” Under this joint agreement between FSIS and FDA, a USDA meat inspection stamp will be used on cell-based products, which they oppose. They feel a new stamp should be created specifically for cell-based products using a different format and color of ink.

As shown in the graphic below, cultured ‘meat’ is produced from stem cells derived from the animal, the cow in this case, are placed in growth serum to produce myotube fibers of meat. these are then combined to form muscle tissue. The finished product can then be used in meat products, such as hamburgers.

Grahics for showing the processing for developoing cultured 'meat'
Graphics showing the process for developing cultured ‘meat’ (Image by Lilkin from

Rules and regulations with regards to treating backyard poultry flocks

There is a website put out by the Food Animal Residue Appearance and Depletion Species Pages (FARAD) discussing the rules and regulations with regards to the use of medications with backyard poultry.  The discussion is with Federal regulations.

The question becomes are chickens pets or food animals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, considers all chickens to be food animals regardless of how the owner feels about the chicken. As a result, the regulations require that all regulations related to the treatment of food animals will be applicable to backyard poultry.

If you have a particular question regarding the use of a particular medication you can submit a request for more information.


Virulent Newcastle Disease continues in southern California

The new cases of virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) continue to be found in southern California. Since May 18, when the first case was identified, USDA has confirmed 388 cases of vND in California. Of these, 116 were found in San Bernardino County, 229 in Riverside County, 42 in Los Angeles County, and 1 in Ventura County. USDA has also confirmed 1 case in Utah County, Utah.

The last confirmed cases were on February 27, 2019.

So far most of the cases have been with backyard exhibition chickens. Affected flocks also include two backyard non-commercial laying chickens,  three commercial table-egg layer flock, two backyard hobby turkeys, a backyard exhibition pigeons, a backyard exhibition poultry, a live bird market, six feed stores selling adult birds, and a backyard exhibition mixed bird species flock.

Virulent Newcastle Disease is a contagious and fatal viral disease. It affects the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds and poultry. The disease is so virulent that many birds and poultry die without showing any clinical signs.

It is important to note that Newcastle Disease is NOT a food safety concern. No one has ever gotten Newcastle Disease from eating poultry products. In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected with mild symptoms. The most common is conjunctivitis. These are easily prevented with personal protective equipment.

Clinical signs in chickens include:

  •  Sudden death and increased death loss in the flock
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing
  •  Greenish, watery diarrhea
  • Decreased activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, circling, complete stiffness
  • Swelling around the eyes and neck

It is important for small and backyard flocks to follow good biosecurity practices to protect your birds from Newcastle and other infectious diseases. For more information on biosecurity programs, see the webinar at

Poultry industry leaders of the future – where will they come from?

The American and international poultry industries have been expanding at a rapid pace to meet the ever growing demand for poultry meat and eggs. Despite this rapid growth, there is a decline in American universities with poultry science departments and/or programs. There are only six American universities with poultry science programs – Texas A&M University, University of Georgia, Auburn, North Carolina State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas. Most of the undergraduate students in these departments have jobs well before they graduate. So why aren’t more students interested in the poultry industry? In addition to the poultry majors, there is a need for many other non-agricultural degrees and vocational certificates. This includes those with management, accounting, engineering, maintenance, marketing, human resources knowledge and much more. As new poultry products are being developed, Food Science majors are also being grabbed up by the poultry industry. With the increase interest in animal welfare, animal behaviorists have found a niche. Whatever you interest of study, you most likely can find a place in the poultry industry