Programming note: Our weekly newsletter will return December 1. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Bird is the word of the week, with discussion of poultry taking many flavors.

  • Thanksgiving gets slightly more affordable.
  • Avian flu rages in the Midwest.
  • USDA attempts to make poultry production more fair.

“Transparency is necessary in any supply chain as a bulwark against anticompetitive or harmful manipulation and abuse of workers.”

Billy Hackett, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Quick Hits: Thanksgiving Countdown

It’s that time of the year, and the usual sources chimed in with a cornucopia of trends, costs, safety precautions and freaky products to try. Check out The Washington Post link below for the latest on spatchcocking and mayo-lathering your turkey next week. Yes, those are two of our favorite gerunds.

This Flu Hasn’t Flown

After a slowdown of cases, avian flu is back with a vengeance. USDA posted that state and federal officials demanded the culling of almost 63 million birds to contain the disease’s spread since the outbreak began last year. Avian flu is not only affecting the U.S. consumer supply (and prices), but it’s putting the robust export market on notice.

  • A recent spike has hit Minnesota and Iowa the hardest. The Des Moines Register reported a recent outbreak in southeastern Iowa added another 1.2 million to the toll.
  • The Associated Press noted that while this outbreak is more widespread than the last big one in 2015, it will prove to be less costly overall, as consumers aren’t seeing a large impact on poultry and egg prices.
  • This recent uptick in outbreaks came after the South African Department of Agriculture lifted its ban on poultry imports from 27 states. From this, the USDA predicted U.S. export sales for poultry could grow by $50 million.
  • While there may not be a short-term solution, scientists from the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute have announced some success in fighting the highly pathogenic virus. Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, the teams developed the first chickens that are partially resistant to the virus, an advance that could prevent future outbreaks.
  • The Philippines Department of Agriculture is testing a non-mandatory vaccine that is aimed at “highly vulnerable areas,” according to Meatingplace.

Fighting for Chicken Little

On November 8, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a final rule around transparency of poultry growers’ contracts. The legislation updates the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, an antitrust law governing relationships between livestock producers and meatpackers. It’s a post-pandemic bingo: workers, supply chains, consolidation and food prices.

  • Alongside labeling reform and funding for small meat processors, Secretary Vilsack described the rule as part of several “critical steps in USDA’s competition and farmer fairness agenda.”
  • The new rule will require more transparency for “tournament” system contracts that offer higher payouts for poultry farmers who produce larger birds. National Farmers Union President Rob Larew praised the rule for addressing “opaque and secretive” practices of “monopolies across agriculture.”
  • Contrarily, National Chicken Council President Mike Brown fretted: “This rule was specifically designed to chum the water for lawsuits.” Brown further accused the administration of “pushing increased regulations, red tape and costs onto businesses causing record inflation and input costs, and threatening food security.”
  • The following day, Agri-Pulse reported that fifth-largest poultry processor Koch Foods agreed to stop charging penalty fees to chicken farmers who break contracts to work with other companies.
Worth Reading

Worth Reading

Extension Granted

The Capital Press summarized the general appreciation expressed by agriculture industry groups for extending the 2018 Farm Bill one year through September 2024. President Biden approved the extension as part of a larger funding bill on November 16. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “The current farm bill was written before the pandemic, before inflation spiked and before global unrest sent shock waves through the food system. We need programs that reflect today’s realities.” We’re just delighted to have this to discuss for another year.

Olive Oil’s Pricey Dilemma

Climate change and high production costs aren’t the only reasons olive oil prices have tripled since 2019. The Los Angeles Times reported that thieves in Greece, Spain and Italy are now stealing branches or the entirety of centuries-old olive trees for profit, exacerbating a global olive oil shortage. Despite some farmers harvesting early to mitigate the impact of theft, global production is expected to drop by 36% this year.

Food Goes Extraterrestrial

If humanity one day inhabits the moon or Mars, what will we eat? Feedstuffs detailed how engineers with the University of Nebraska are working to pioneer space agriculture in hopes of developing ways to grow food sustainably on space stations and other celestial bodies. As technology supporting the university’s objectives continues to develop rapidly, one thing is certain: the space race has never been so nutritionally focused.

Deceptively Sweet

On November 15, the Federal Trade Commission issued warnings to the American Beverage Association and The Canadian Sugar Institute for deceptive marketing practices around the safety of the sweetener aspartame. The move came just two months after Washington Post writers Anahad O’Connor, Caitlin Gilbert and Sasha Chavkin exposed financial ties between the industry groups and registered dietitians with a combined 11 million followers on TikTok and Instagram. Truth in Advertising Executive Director Bonnie Pattern told The Post: “That is a big step and could have ramifications for social media influencers more broadly.”

Ultra-processed: What’s Up With That?

In early November, Consumer Brands Association CEO David Chavern defended food manufacturing in a post on Real Clear Policy: “[The term ‘ultra-processed’] has infiltrated hashtags and trending topics, appearing in newsfeeds as a boogeyman set on undermining consumers’ autonomy … while attempting to discredit the actual attributes of processing.” On November 14, The Wall Street Journal’s Andrea Peterson explored the ultra-processed topic, noting that the term is neither clearly defined nor regulated. But perhaps not for long: “For the first time, the government is asking its scientific advisory committee to consider how diets consisting of varying amounts of ultra-processed foods influence body composition and obesity risk.”

Mixed Diet

Kudos to Perdue’s PR team for the excellent introduction of Chix Mix, which bombarded food media early this week. The poultry processors’ entry into the snack category is a mix of corn, wheat and edamame: “Chix Mix is made from most of the same ingredients that go into the company’s chicken feed. Plus, we added a dash of tasty BBQ spices just for humans.” CNN explained further: “Chix Mix likely isn’t going to become a revenue driver for the 103-year-old brand. Instead, Chix Mix is designed as a marketing opportunity as the industry faces controversy about antibiotics in chicken feed and treatment of its animals.” Tasty too.