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Egg Prices Getting More Expensive

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Washington, DC (Associated Press, July 15, 2015):  Eggs are getting much more expensive — by the dozen and otherwise.

The outbreak of avian flu caused the cost of eggs to nearly double last month for producers. Wholesale prices for chicken eggs jumped 84.5 percent in June, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

The spike comes amid otherwise tame inflation across the rest of the economy. The producer price index, which measures the costs of goods and services before they reach consumers, increased 0.4 percent in June.

Over the past 12 months, producer prices have actually fallen 0.7 percent due to lower oil and gasoline costs. Wholesale gas prices rose 4.3 percent last month but are down 30.3 percent from a year ago, keeping inflation firmly in check.

A surprising amount of the increase in producer prices last month came from eggs, which make up an extremely small share of the broader index but have soared in price since April.

USDA Examines HSUS Complaint

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Des Moines, Iowa (Associated Press, July 17, 2015):  The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday that it considers many factors when determining ways to euthanize large numbers of animals during a disease outbreak, and said it was reviewing an animal rights group's criticism of a recent proposal for fighting any future outbreaks of bird flu.

The agency released the brief statement in response to a letter from the Humane Society of The United States, which criticized a plan outlined last week by USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford during a Senate committee hearing.

Clifford said shutting off ventilation systems to poultry barns when the highly contagious disease is found may be more humane and efficient than gassing or using foam to suffocate the birds. The two methods were used earlier this year when bird flu forced poultry producers to kill tens of millions of chickens and turkeys nationwide, mostly in Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.

"It's the fastest way and probably the most humane way to take care of this," Clifford said during the July 7 hearing.

The Humane Society of the United States, which opposes large-scale animal agriculture, said in a letter sent Thursday to the USDA that the latest idea amounts to "essentially baking the birds to death en masse." The group said the method was gruesome and should be scrapped.

Monsanto to Fund Round-Up Study

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, July 18, 2015):  Monsanto plans to fund a panel of scientists to review a study that linked its popular agricultural weed killer to an increased risk of cancer.

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in March classified glysophate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, as a probable carcinogen — the group's second-highest level of concern.

Monsanto, which also develops crop seeds designed to resist the weed killer, harshly criticized the agency's findings as "starkly at odds with every credible scientific body that has examined glyphosate safety."

This week, the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant announced the retention of Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy to conduct an expert review of the IARC study.

The company said it would contribute data to the review but vowed that the analysis would be independent and transparent. Monsanto President Brett Begemann told Reuters that Monsanto primarily hopes to reassure consumers about the safety of its products.

"This panel is going to review the data thoroughly, and they are going to make their findings available for everyone for review," Begemann said.

Administration Rejects IA Disaster Plea

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, July 10, 2015):  The Obama administration this week rejected a request from Iowa officials to declare a federal disaster over the avian influenza outbreak.

Gov. Terry Branstad last month requested a presidential disaster declaration for four counties in the northern and western portions of the state; the request sought unemployment assistance, crisis aid, legal services and management assistance as well as a waiver for tonnage limits on federal highways.

The governor wrote that Iowa was among the states hit hardest by bird flu outbreak, which ultimately affected 15 states and led to the deaths of about 45 million chickens and turkeys.

"Given the unprecedented nature of this disaster, it is my hope that the President will expedite this request to provide federal assistance as soon as possible," Branstad said.

In a letter dated Tuesday, however, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate denied the request.

"Based on our review of all the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and the other responding federal agencies," Fugate wrote.

US Opens Markets to Beef from Argentina and Brazil

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Buenos Aires, Argentina (Associated Press, July 1, 2015):  Argentina and Brazil are greeting news that they will soon be able to export fresh beef into the United States after a longtime ban.

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Tuesday that Mexico and Canada will also reopen their markets. The US has banned imports of Argentine beef since 2001 to avoid a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak from Argentina's cattle herd.

Timerman said the ban was due to "poor handling of the foot and mouth disease by the government in 2001," and that Argentina has been free of the disease since 2007.

Exports of fresh beef from Argentina to the three North American countries could be worth about $280 million, said Economy Minister Axel Kicillof.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Monday that it is amending its regulations to allow imports of fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Argentina and 14 states in Brazil. It's "the first step in a process for these regions to gain access to the U.S. market for beef", the APHIS said in a statement.

Brazil's Minister of Agriculture, Katia Abreu, said the deal is an outcome of President Dilma Rousseff's political planning ahead of the meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Brazil expects to able to export 100,000 tons of beef to the United States in the next five years. Abreu said the decision of the Obama administration is like "getting a pass code" to access other markets.

"We have to persistently insist on defending our agricultural products," she said, adding that the government wants Brazil to become one of the top five agricultural nations.

The timing on the lifting of the ban is still unclear as Argentina and Brazil still need to meet other food safety standards before they can export beef to the U.S.

Prop 2 Standards Lead to Less Eggs and Hens

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Doetinchem,The Netherlands (World Poultry, June 29, 2015):  Since last year both the production of eggs and the number of egg-laying hens are down significantly in California, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Proposition 2 standards, that set minimum cage sizes, have led farmers to decrease their hen numbers in order to comply.

USDA says that Californian poultry farmers produced 311 million eggs in April, down 9 million from March and a decrease of 78 million in April 2014. The production decline comes as an average of 13.2 million egg-layers were on hand in California in April, compared to nearly 16.8 million in the same month last year, according to USDA. In California there were 17.6 million egg-laying chickens in 2013.

Many farmers are raising fewer birds in their existing structures to comply with the minimum cage requirements under Proposition 2, which voters passed in 2008. Each egg-laying hen must have 116 square inches in a cage, so it can spread its wings. All shell eggs sold in California must meet the standard set by Proposition 2, regardless of where they were produced.

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