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Improved horse flu vaccine possible

Credit: University of Rochester Medical Center Horse
Flu vaccines for horses haven't been updated in more than 25 years, but researchers have developed a new live equine influenza vaccine that's safe and more protective than existing vaccines.

Influenza vaccines for horses haven't been updated in more than 25 years, but University of Rochester researchers have developed a new live equine influenza vaccine that is safe and more protective than existing vaccines.

Dr. Luis Martinez-Sobrido, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said a new vaccine is needed not only to keep horses healthy but also to protect people. Proactively preventing the spread of flu in animals is important, because animals are the most likely source of future human pandemics.

Animals such as horses, pigs and dogs can be infected with multiple influenza viruses and have the potential to act as "mixing vessels," generating new flu strains that could infect people, the university said. This hasn't happened yet, but it's possible. These strains would be particularly dangerous, since people wouldn't have pre-existing immunity.

Equine influenza is currently circulating in North America and Europe and is highly contagious. Horses often travel long distances for equestrian events and breeding purposes, and if an infected horse is introduced into a susceptible, unvaccinated population, the spread of the virus can be fast and furious, according to the announcement. In the past, flu outbreaks have disrupted major events and led to large economic losses.

In the journal Virology, Martinez-Sobrido and lead study author Laura Rodriguez describe a new "live-attenuated" vaccine that's given as a spray via the nose. Past research, including studies conducted at the University of Rochester, has shown that live-attenuated vaccines — which are made from live flu virus that's dampened down so it doesn't cause the flu — provide better immune responses and longer periods of protection than vaccines that include inactivated or killed flu virus (like the traditional flu shot).

Created using a genetic engineering technique called reserve genetics, the new live-attenuated equine vaccine is designed to replicate and generate an immune response in the nose, where the flu virus first enters a horse's body, but not in the lungs, where replication of the virus can cause disease, the researchers explained. The goal is to stop the virus at the point of entry, preventing it from taking hold in a horse's respiratory tract.

A single spray of the vaccine protected mice and horses against the currently circulating H3N8 equine influenza virus. The vaccine was well tolerated and didn't lead to any negative side effects, the researchers said. Vaccinated horses showed none of the telltale signs of flu — including nasal discharge, coughing and wheezing — when exposed to a natural equine influenza virus.

Dr. Thomas Chambers with the department of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center oversaw the vaccination and care of the horses.

The study was small, involving only six horses, but a larger study is being planned.

The researchers pointed out that the use of reverse genetics approaches to create the live-attenuated equine vaccine confers an additional major advantage not available until now: The vaccine can be updated quickly and easily to protect against newly emerging equine influenza strains. Traditional equine vaccines — which are made in eggs, like flu vaccines for people — take months to produce and do not allow the flexibility to be updated against newly emerging viruses.

Farm Progress America May 1, 2018

Max Armstrong shares insight on the continued discussions on trade and farmers being the "point of the spear." Max offers perspective from Ambassador Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Doud shared information about the way China manages trade on a global scale.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Image: Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Thinkstock

Is China a threat to gobble up international agriculture?

Feedlot cattle

According to a study released by USDA’s Economic Research Service, Chinese companies have become players in international agricultural markets over the past years. Chinese officials have ambitious strategic plans for agricultural investments to reshape patterns of agricultural trade and increase China’s influence in global markets.

While investors are chiefly motivated by profits, government authorities and banks formulate strategic plans, broker deals, arrange credit, and supply training and information services to encourage foreign investments. These investments contribute to national food security, gain a greater share of the profits for Chinese companies from imported commodities, exert influence on global price determination, impart technical and managerial expertise, open new markets for Chinese products, and project political influence abroad, according to the ERS report

According to China’s Ministry of Agriculture, over 1,300 Chinese enterprises had overseas investments in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries valued at $26 billion in 2016. The investments include crop and livestock farming, fishing, processing, farm machinery, inputs, seeds, and logistics in over 100 countries.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics reports that foreign investment in farming, forestry, and fishing grew fivefold from 2010 to 2016. Increasing reliance on food imports, concerns about national food security, and a rising stock of foreign reserves are among the factors that propelled growth in outbound investment.

Apart from the large 2013 acquisition of Smithfield Foods, relatively little Chinese investment has targeted U.S. agriculture, the report found. Statistics for 2014 show that North America received only 2% of China’s farming, forestry, and fishing investment, the smallest share of any continent.

A database that tracks Chinese investments in the United States shows only two to three investments in agriculture and food annually, most valued at less than $10 million. Statistics tracking foreign farmland holdings in the United States show 12 to 25 Chinese acquisitions annually during 2008-13.

Other nations feel the impact

Many of the investors seek to profit from growing consumer demand in China. Investments in the dairy and beef sectors in New Zealand and Australia, for example, have gained prominence as imports of animal protein increased.

However, most of China’s foreign agricultural projects involve relatively small companies investing in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, Russia’s Far East, and Africa that have unexploited land and are often receptive to Chinese investment. Agricultural investment is now closely tied to China’s One Belt One Road initiative, a development strategy that targets countries between China and Western Europe and focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries.

A number of studies have found that the scale of many Chinese agricultural projects falls far short of initial announcements. Chinese researchers have found that few projects were profitable and relatively few investors exported products back to China as planned.

The researchers attributed poor results to factors such as inexperience in global markets, lack of language skills, local bureaucracy, corruption, and political instability.

The report’s extensive review shows that Chinese foreign investment strategies are shifting away from land purchases toward mergers and acquisitions. For example, COFCO—a state-owned agribusiness—embodies new tactics aimed at gaining more control over commodity trading, processing, and logistics. Bright Foods— another state-owned company— exemplifies the conglomerate approach of assembling various companies and brands under one umbrella.

The WH Group—a privately owned company in China’s fragmented pork industry—acquired Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, known for its swine-breeding and pork-processing capabilities. New Hope Group—China’s largest animal feed company—has diversified its investments from feed mills in neighboring countries to joint ventures with Australian and New Zealand partners to meet growing demand for animal protein in China.

Chinese investments in countries other than the United States could influence the U.S. share of the Chinese market for certain commodities like dairy products and beef. However, the United States’ abundant endowment of productive farmland, leadership in agricultural technology, efficient management and marketing, and skilled and experienced managers are all advantages that may help it retain its role as China’s leading supplier of agricultural imports, regardless of where Chinese companies choose to invest.

Gooch and Gale are economists with USDA’s Economic Research Service


California slicksters gear up to fight Missouri beef producers over labelling fake meat

DanComaniciu / ThinkStock Lab grown meat

Source: Missouri Cattlemen’s Association

Here’s a question with long-term ramifications: what happens when some slicked-up Californians go up against a bunch of Missouri beef producers who are as stubborn as the mules the state was famous for in a bygone era?

In due time, we’ll know the answer. That’s because Missouri is the first state to address with legislation the problem of fake meat companies fooling consumers with misleading labels.

The Missouri Cattlemen's Association (MCA) is aggressively pushing legislation that prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock.

"The legislation simply prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry. That's the entire bill. It ensures the integrity of the meat supply here in the state," says MCA Executive Vice President Mike Deering.

Not everyone agrees. The association has recently met opposition from Redwood City, Calif.- based, Impossible Foods. According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, the company recently hired three Missouri lobbyists from the firm Catalyst Group, presumably to defeat legislation sponsored by Sen. Sandy Crawford (R-28) and Rep. Jeff Knight (R-129). This company produces a plant-based product imitating hamburgers. Deering believes the company has no problems misrepresenting their products as meat.

"This association is not in any way whatsoever opposed to plant-based proteins or other safe food technologies," says Deering. "We are opposed to deceiving consumers and misrepresenting a product as something it's not."

According to the company's website, their mission is to "make delicious meats that are good for people and the planet." Their website goes further to say: "The world loves meat. But relying on cows to make meat is land-hungry, water-thirsty, and pollution-heavy."

"Not only does this California company have no problem calling this product meat, which is ludicrous, it also makes no secret about its anti-livestock production stance by spouting myths about this industry," Deering says. "Attacking Missouri's farm and ranch families is bad enough, but deceiving consumers is what this legislation will stop."

MCA President Greg Buckman says Missouri farm and ranch families care for their livestock and invest a lot of time and money in ensuring the consumer has a safe, nutritious and affordable product.

"Lab grown, imitation food products or even plant-based proteins should not use nomenclature that confuses the consumer and misrepresents their products as something that it's clearly not," Buckman says.

USDA crop progress: Corn pace picks up but remains below average

DevidDO/ThinkstockPhotos planter close up

Corn planters have been rolling this past week – but how much progress did they make? According to the latest reports from USDA, 17% of the crop is now in the ground. That’s a modest jump from the prior week’s total of 5%, but planting progress remains slower than typical for now.


That’s about in line with trade analyst expectations. A recent survey by 14 industry analysts – including Farm Futures – estimated on average that 18% of the corn crop had been planted as of April 29. Farm Futures’ estimate was also 18%.

State to state, results were uneven, with three southern states leading the way with over half of their planting complete, including Texas (70%), North Carolina (63%) and Missouri (52%). Other states aren’t as far along, but some have made tremendous progress, such as Illinois (moving from 4% complete a week ago to 32%) and Iowa (moving from virtually 0% up to 17% complete).

Across the 18 top production states, only 3% of the corn crop is emerged at this time.

Soybean planting progress, at 5%, is more in line with the five-year average (also 5%), but a bit behind the pace from a year ago (9%). Louisiana (40%), Mississippi (35%) and Arkansas (26%) have made the most planting progress at this time. Industry analysts expected a planting progress to be a bit further along, with an average guess of 7%, meantime, although Farm Futures’ estimate of 5% was on the nose this week.


Spring wheat’s planting pace, on the other hand, is significantly behind normal, thanks in part to pervasively cold weather in Minnesota and the Dakotas that have kept relatively fewer planters rolling in those states. Total planting progress has reached 10%, versus 30% a year ago and a five-year average of 36%. It was also even slower than industry analysts expected, offering an average guess of 13%.

Winter wheat’s progress continues to move slowly toward heading, with 19% of the crop reaching that stage last week, versus the prior week’s total of 13%. Last year, 41% of the crop reached heading by the end of April; the five-year average is 30%.


USDA suggests winter wheat crop conditions are slightly improved from a week ago, rating 26% of the crop in good condition and another 7% of the crop in excellent condition. Last week, the agency labeled 25% of the crop in good condition and 6% of it in excellent condition.

Cotton planting has reached 12% as of April 29, not making much progress over the past week (planting was 10% complete as of April 22), but staying close to last year’s pace and the five-year average, both of which are 14%. Sorghum planting (26%) is also right in line with last year’s pace (27%) and the five-year average (26%).

Click here to see more state-by-state analysis as well as USDA’s planting progress for other crops such as peanuts, rice, oats and barley.