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Auburn University celebrates Olympic designation

Elite athletes from across the nation can now train and receive science-based assessments and personalized feedback from kinesiology experts at Auburn.

The College of Education unveiled signage on Sept. 25 marking Auburn University’s official designation as a U.S. Olympic training site by the United States Olympic Committee, or USOC, following a ceremony at the School of Kinesiology. Auburn is one of 18 Olympic training sites in the country and one of only five universities nationwide to receive the designation.

The Kinesiology Building, Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum and Watson Fieldhouse were designated U.S. Olympic training sites as the university assists Team USA on its journey to the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympic Games.

“USA Team Handball is one that competes at the highest level in the Pan American Games and Olympic Games,” said retired Brig. Gen. Harvey Schiller, president of USA Team Handball and USOC representative. “I think it’s a unique opportunity for the community and the university to have an Olympic sport housed in its environment.”

auburn designated olympic training site

The ceremony, which was hosted in conjunction with the College of Education’s centennial anniversary celebration and the Auburn University Board of Trustees’ quarterly meeting, included remarks from Jay Gogue, Auburn University president; Betty Lou Whitford, dean of the College of Education; David Benedict, chief operating officer for Auburn University Athletics; Schiller; Sarah Gascon, doctoral candidate in the School of Kinesiology; Sarah Newton, member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees; and Dave Pascoe, a Humana-Germany-Sherman Distinguished Professor and the assistant director of the School of Kinesiology.

Administrators from the university and USA Team Handball, along with several athletes were also honored on Sept. 26 before the Auburn vs. Mississippi State football game.

“This designation brings together the recognizable logos of the USOC, Auburn University and USA Team Handball,” said Pascoe. “People across the country will want to connect with this unique collaboration of spirit, science and top training facilities.”

Since the summer of 2013, Auburn has hosted elite training and competition for the men’s and women’s USA national team handball programs.

The USA Team Handball members are also a part of a long-term residency program at Auburn through the School of Kinesiology. This program allows the school to provide expertise in assessment and performance of human movement, including biomechanics, basic and applied physiology, neuroscience, behavior, conditioning, health and motor learning and development.

“The Auburn School of Kinesiology has been instrumental in providing a new home for USA Team Handball athletes and we appreciate the support of the Auburn-Opelika community in welcoming our athletes and coaches,” said Alicia McConnell, USOC director of training sites and community partnerships. “We look forward to a fruitful relationship with Auburn University as an official U.S. Olympic training site.”

For more information about the United States Olympic Committee, go to www.teamusa.org. For more information about USA Team Handball, go to www.teamusa.org/USA-Team-Handball.

Published: 09/25/2015

By: Sarah Phillips

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The Auburn University Shellfish Lab: Putting Science to Work along the Northern Gulf Coast

The Eastern oyster industry in the United States produces 23 million pounds of oysters annually valued at $82.5 M.  The Gulf of Mexico typically accounts for 89% of harvest by volume, but represents only 73% of the total dollar value.  Experts at the Auburn University Shellfish Lab in Mobile County, Alabama are working to change that.

Despite the dramatic growth of oyster farming across the US, in the Gulf of Mexico region, oysters are only farmed extensively on bottom leases with the vast majority of production concentrated in Louisiana. Subject to environmental variability, the supply and quality of extensively farmed oysters varies widely. In contrast, oyster farmers using intensive, off-bottom methods focus on producing a steady supply of consistently premium oysters for the lucrative half shell niche market.

Off-bottom oyster farming, where watermen raise hatchery-reared oyster ‘seed’ in various containers, is an opportunity for a viable near-shore domestic aquaculture industry that can provide a large economic boon to the coastal communities along the Northern Gulf, to the producers as well as to the local  supporting industries, can improve the environment, and can preserve working waterfronts. While substantial industries (over $100 million/year respectively) have been established on the US East and West coasts, a number of hurdles kept this industry from being established along the Gulf coast, including Alabama.

Beginning in 2009, Auburn University’s Marine Extension and Research Center and Auburn University Shellfish Lab’s Dr. Bill Walton, partnered with Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, began to tackle the hurdles to this industry in Alabama, conducting research to identify the most cost-effective methods of raising oysters best suited to the region. Auburn partnered with a number of industry members to share the results and identify research priorities moving forward. This led to additional research into culture methods, marketing aspects, permitting questions and food safety. In addition, Auburn University permitted a 32-acre oyster farm ‘business park’ and conducted a hands-on training program where participants established commercial oyster farms within this park.

Building off this one business park, nine new commercial oyster farms have been established in Alabama, with a 2014 harvest value exceeding $500,000, which is expected to exceed $1 million in 2015, increasing incomes and generating local jobs.

To learn more, check out a couple of short but really great videos: Redefining Gulf Oysters and For the Love of Oysters: Alabama’s Oyster Farmers.

Articles about these efforts can also be found in Auburn Speaks: On Food Systems, Auburn Speaks: On Water, and Auburn Speaks: The Oil Spill of 2010 available from the Auburn Speaks Store.

Because This Is Auburn: A $1 Billion Capital Campaign for Auburn University

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With the public kickoff of an ambitious $1 billion comprehensive campaign Saturday, April 18, 2015, (including announcement of the largest single gift in school history) Auburn University is delivering a renewed commitment to its students and faculty, a continued promise to the state of Alabama and a shared responsibility to the world.

Auburn also announced it has raised more than $775 million to date in support of the “Because This is Auburn” campaign, the largest in Auburn’s history and one of the largest fundraising campaigns to date in the state.

“Today, we show the world why we believe in Auburn University,” said Auburn President Jay Gogue. “This effort is unprecedented in Auburn’s 160-year history. This campaign will add new chapters to Auburn’s story and will make Auburn stronger for all the generations that follow.”

Before Saturday’s kickoff celebration at the A-Day football game, John and Rosemary Brown, both 1957 Auburn graduates, committed to Auburn $57 million, the largest gift in school history. The gift will fund two major new facilities: a new performing arts center and a student achievement center in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

“We are very happy to give back to Auburn,” said John Brown. “Auburn was a transformative educational experience for us, preparing Rosemary for her career in teaching and laying the foundation for my various roles in industry.”

“We wanted to do something that not only impacted Auburn students, but also something that would impact the entire community,” said Rosemary Brown. “That is why we decided to do both the student center and the performing arts center.”

John W. Brown was CEO and chairman of the board of Stryker Corporation, a leading medical device company with annual revenue exceeding $9 billion. Rosemary K. Brown retired after serving as a mathematics teacher for almost 30 years. She has served on many community boards, including the Freed Hardeman University and Kalamazoo College Board of Directors, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Board, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Board and currently the Atlanta Opera Board. John serves on the boards of St. Jude Medical, the American Business Conference and the Auburn University Foundation. He is an inductee in the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Auburn Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a recipient of an honorary law degree from both Freed Hardeman University and Kalamazoo College, the inaugural recipient of the AdvaMed Lifetime Achievement Award and will be the inaugural inductee into Auburn University’s Entrepreneur Hall of Fame hosted by the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business.

Auburn has named seven co-chairs for the campaign:

  • Joe and Gayle Forehand, residents of Dallas, Texas, are members of Auburn’s 1856 Society and Petrie Society, as well as the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Ginn Society and Eagle Society. Gayle is a 1970 business administration graduate of Auburn’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business and served previously as chief accountant at Emory University and assistant controller at Emory University Clinic in Atlanta. Joe, who earned a degree in industrial engineering from Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering in 1971, is the former chair and CEO of Accenture and currently serves as a director on the Auburn University Foundation Board of Directors.
  • Raymond and Kathryn Harbert, residents of Birmingham, are members of Auburn’s 1856 Society, James E. Foy Loyalty Society and Heisman Society. Kathryn is a 1981 public administration graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and currently serves on the boards of directors of the Alabama Department of Archives and History and several community nonprofit organizations. Raymond, who earned a degree in 1982 from the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, is chairman and CEO of Harbert Management Corporation, as well as a current member and immediate past president pro tem of the Auburn University Board of Trustees.
  • Wayne and Cheryl Smith, residents of Nashville, Tennessee, are members of Auburn’s 1856 Society and James E. Foy Loyalty Society, as well as the College of Education’s 1915 Society and Patrons of the Kesytone/Dean’s Circle. Both College of Education graduates, Cheryl earned a degree in education in 1968. Wayne, who earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1968 and a master’s degree in school administration in 1969, is chairman, president and CEO of Community Health Systems, as well as a member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees.
  • Beth Thorne Stukes, who resides in Jasper, Alabama, is a member of Auburn’s 1856 Society and James E. Foy Loyalty Society, as well as the Woodlands and Wildlife Society in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. After attending Auburn University in the 1980s, she completed a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1988. She chairs the College of Human Sciences’ Campaign Committee and serves as an Executive Committee member of its Women’s Philanthropy Board.

The “Because This is Auburn” campaign will support four major areas across the university. Auburn’s goal is to create thousands of new scholarships for students, to endow more than 100 new chairs and professorships for educators and researchers, to develop programs that will allow the Auburn Family to connect with people everywhere, and to build new facilities and re-imagine existing campus facilities.

“This campaign will inspire all of us to take action and show support through philanthropic investments in our university,” said Jane DiFolco Parker, vice president for development and president of the Auburn Foundation. “At the conclusion of the campaign, the world will see a strengthened Auburn—an institution with enhanced abilities to shape our world, serve our communities, equip our students and build a better future.”

Opportunities to support research include the LAUNCH Fund for Research Innovation at Auburn University.   LAUNCH is designed to accelerate the best research and ideas into real products in the marketplace. LAUNCH is for innovative research projects that are likely to impact the regional economy and workforce development. It’s for projects that hold promise for generating additional sources of revenue for Auburn, with the goal of reinvesting those revenues to expand additional research efforts, year after year.

To learn more, visit: http://auburneconomicdevelopment.org/support-auburn-research.php

Or contact Mary Shirley-Howell at: mas0052@auburn.edu or at (334) 844-6438

Avian Influenza Outbreak in the U. S.: Auburn University Professor Answers Frequently Asked Questions

Robert NortonAvian Influenza has gained the public attention again as the U.S. deals with a widespread outbreak in the upper Midwest of the “Highly Pathogenic (HPAI) H5” form of the disease. Avian Influenza is a viral disease of birds, more specifically one caused by a Type A Orthomyxovirus, which has also infected other species, including birds, pigs, horses, seals, whales, and humans. The size of the current outbreak is quite large and unfortunately spreading into areas where commercial poultry (chickens and turkeys) are grown. The first case was identified in a backyard flock in Oregon on December 19, 2014. The disease then rapidly spread to Washington, eventually moving into turkey flocks in Minnesota and chickens in Iowa. As of 23 April, almost 7.5 million birds have been destroyed in an attempt to get ahead of the outbreak, with the hope of preventing it from spreading into the southeast U.S., where very large numbers of commercial poultry are produced.

Up-to-date details on the ongoing outbreak are available from USDA-APHIS.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_animal_disease_information/sa_avian_health/ct_avian_influenza_disease

Where did the disease come from? The general scientific consensus is that the virus originated in free ranging waterfowl, where the virus easily circulates without causing overt disease or large scale mortality. Waterfowl carrying the H5N8 form of the virus are thought to most likely have picked up the virus during migration out of Asia, carrying it into the Pacific flyway and eventually eastwardly into the upper Midwest. Other forms of the virus may also have been present, some mutating so that they became very pathogenic (i.e. deadly) to poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has subsequently identified other forms of the virus, including H5N2 and H5N1. Some strains of H5N1 Avian Influenza Viruses have caused human sickness and mortality in Asia. It is important to note that the strains of the virus found in North American waterfowl are not the same as those causing human illness and mortality in Asia. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that the human risk from the North American waterfowl viruses is very low. To date, the outbreak has been associated with the Pacific, Mississippi, and Central flyways, where weather conditions were cool and wet, so the disease was able to migrate out of ducks and geese and into hobbyist and eventually commercial poultry flocks. Many scientists feel that the spread of the disease will slow as weather conditions change to warmer, dryer air. This change, however, will not eliminate the virus in waterfowl populations, where it will continue to circulate and potentially cross once again into commercial poultry when fall and winter conditions return. If this scenario plays out as many scientists expect it will, the disease will become endemic (if it is not already) to the North American continent, likely resulting in an eventual adoption of a federal preventative vaccination approach.

What is the government doing to prevent the spread of the disease? The USDA is aggressively moving to contain the disease. Commercial poultry flocks are being monitored by both state and federal scientists and if identified as infected, these flocks are quickly euthanized and buried in approved sites. To date, the USDA has chosen not to vaccinate nearby flocks (a process called “ring vaccination”) because of the potential effect this might have on international trade and the unavailability of the vaccine in quantities necessary for the scope of the current outbreak. The USDA is, however, currently working on the development of a vaccine, and many expect that they will eventually allow its use if the disease continues to spread.

The USDA’s current approach to dealing with the problem occurs in five stages (see this link: www.aphis.gov/wps):

  1. Quarantine – restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area
  2. Eradicate – humanely euthanizing the affected flock(s)
  3. Monitor region – testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area
  4. Disinfect – killing the virus in the affected flock locations
  5. Test – confirming that the poultry farm is Avian Influenza virus-free.

Can I, or my family, be infected by Avian Influenza? Infection can occur with the virus, but it is highly unlikely because of the current genetic makeup of the virus. There does not appear at this time to be any significant risk in the U.S. of a widespread or epidemic outbreak of Avian Influenza in humans. This opinion is based on current epidemiological data, medical and veterinary diagnostic availability in the U.S., and societal norms and practices, which limit virus spread. The American public is widely separated from commercial food production and unlike Asia, where human disease has occurred, generally does not buy poultry from live markets (in such markets, inspection may not be as stringent as in commercial agriculture). Avian Influenza deaths have occurred in Asia and other places around the world, but these instances were unique and often the result of long-term exposure or consumption of sick or dead birds. The viruses found in the current U.S. poultry outbreak are not the same viruses that caused human sickness and death in Asia. The U.S. food supply is the safest in the world. Sick birds infected with Avian Influenza do not enter the food chain in the U.S. because of the very vigorous monitoring and inspection process, cooperatively led by the commercial poultry production companies as well as state and federal authorities. Full monetary compensation for infected flocks by the federal government, which is often not available in other countries, also encourages reporting, lessening the risk even further.

Is the USDA working with other agencies to ensure the disease does not cross into humans? Yes. The USDA-led efforts to contain and eradicate HPAI is part of a larger program that includes cooperative efforts with the CDC. The concept behind this and other joint animal health efforts is called “One Health.” The One Health program recognizes that the health of animals, people, and the environments in which they live are intricately linked. The USDA is working to contain and eradicate the disease in poultry. The agency also works with the CDC to ensure the disease has not jumped from the avian species to humans.

A detailed description of the One Health program is available from USDA-Veterinary Services and the CDC.

Link 1:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/one_health_strategic_direction.pdf

Link 2:

http://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/

Additional information on Avian Influenza is available from the CDC.

Link 1:  http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-in-birds.htm

Link 2:  http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/index.htm

Does USDA work with state agencies to monitor animal diseases like Avian Influenza? Yes. Animal health surveillance is a cooperative effort of federal, state, and agribusiness animal health professionals.  The USDA has established the National Animal Health Surveillance System (NAHSS) to integrate animal health monitoring and surveillance at the state and federal level, creating a comprehensive and coordinated system.

Details of the NAHSS program are available from USDA.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_monitoring_and_surveillance

The USDA also coordinates another program called the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), which conducts national studies on the health and health management of U.S. domestic livestock and poultry populations.

Details of the NAHMS program are available from USDA.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_monitoring_and_surveillance/sa_nahms/ct_national_animal_health_monitoring_system_nahms_home/

The USDA has also created the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which includes state animal health laboratories. When a large-scale animal outbreak occurs, like the current HPAI outbreak, tracking and diagnosis can severely overtax federal laboratory capacity. The collaborative state-level NAHLN then becomes an important partner in response. At the Federal level, the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) coordinates diagnostic efforts and serves as the reference and confirmatory laboratory. State and University veterinary diagnostic laboratories that are members of the NAHLN network perform routine diagnostic tests and targeted surveillance testing, including that which is occurring in this outbreak.

Details of the NAHLN are available from USDA-APHIS.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_lab_information_services/sa_nahln/ct_national_animal_health_laboratory_network

Are poultry products (meat and eggs) safe to consume? Yes! It bears repeating. The U.S. food supply is the safest and most abundant in the world. Poultry meat and eggs are inspected and never put into the food chain if originating from flocks infected with HPAI. Even so, like all raw meat products, due diligence in the kitchen should always be practiced to ensure safe handling and storage. Poultry meat and eggs are perishable products that can be cross-contaminated with bacteria or viruses, causing food safety problems. Poultry products should always be thoroughly cooked and never consumed raw—not because of the potential presence of the Avian Influenza virus but instead because other potential food-borne pathogens may be present.

Additional information on food safety practices is available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets

Is there anything I should do if I am a poultry hobbyist to protect my flock against Avian Influenza? Yes. Practicing effective biosecurity is essential when dealing with hobby poultry flocks.  Hobby flocks should not be allowed to comingle with wild birds or waterfowl or range in areas where these may be present. Water supplies should also not come from lakes or ponds where waterfowl are present. Wild birds should also be excluded from pens or feeding areas. When handling birds, the USDA recommends the following:

Do not pick up deceased or obviously sick birds. Contact your state, tribal, or federal natural resources agency if you find sick or dead birds. Other safe practices include:                                                                              (Link: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/biosecurity/wildbirds.htm)

  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning your bird feeders
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning feeders
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning bird feeders

What does a sick bird with Avian Influenza look like? The signs for sick birds can be very subtle or quite distinct depending on the type of Avian Influenza virus involved and the stage of the disease. The USDA lists the following signs, which may be singly present or in combination:                                     (Link:http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/AI/)

  • Sudden death without other clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing and/or sneezing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Diarrhea

Domestic turkeys infected by HPAI may show similar signs to chickens, shown here, including swollen head and eyelids.

Training materials for recognizing Avian Influenza Symptoms is available from USDA-FSIS                                                              Link:  http://www.fsis..gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/inspection/workforce-training/regional-on-site-training/avian-influenza-training

Additional downloadable biosecurity resources for the poultry hobbyist are available from the following USDA Websites.

Link 1:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/about/downloads.htm#1767

Link 2:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/aphis_pubs.php?ndx=2&fltr=Bird%20Biosecurity

Link 3:  http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/

Instructions for obtaining hard copies of the materials are available at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/how_to_order_publications.pdf

Do pet bird owners need to practice similar biosecurity measures? Yes. Avian influenza has on occasion infected other avian species beyond ducks, geese, and turkeys. Birds are very popular pets and sometimes originate in other parts of the world that may be experiencing HPAI outbreaks. Unfortunately, many of the most exotic birds are highly prized, often endangered, and therefore very expensive and frequently smuggled. The USDA quarantines and tests live birds legally imported into the U.S. Exotic bird owners should not patronize bird smuggling operations—not only because it is a federal offense but also because it endangers the very birds they may already possess. USDA recommends the following standards of practice:                                                                                                                                                      (Link: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/biosecurity/petbirds.htm)

  • When buying a pet bird, request certification from the seller that the birds was legally imported or came from U.S. stock and was healthy prior to shipment.
  • It is a good idea to have your new bird examined by a veterinarian.
  • Isolate new birds from your other birds for at least 30 days.
  • Restrict access to your birds, especially from people who own birds that are housed outside.
  • Keep your birds away from other birds.
  • Clean and disinfect your clothing and shoes if you have been near other birds, such as at a bird club meeting or bird fair or at a venue with live poultry.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap, water, and disinfectant before and after handling your birds.
  • Keep cages, food, and water clean on a daily basis.
  • Remove feed from bags; place it in clean, sealed containers; and throw bags away.
  • Do not borrow or share bird supplies. If you must, clean and disinfect the items before bringing them home.

Is there anything that hunters should do to protect themselves and their families? Again, yes. Diligent biosecurity is essential. If practiced effectively, it costs very little. Commercial poultry farmers should refrain from waterfowl or turkey hunting since the risk of carrying back the virus is too great.  Many commercial poultry companies actually contractually prohibit their growers from conducting practices outside a set of very strict guidelines, including hunting waterfowl. It obviously is in the best interest of the growers to adhere to the guidelines since compensation for infected flocks comes to the owner of the flocks (In the U.S., these owners are generally the poultry production companies) and not the grower. The USDA recommends the following:

Follow routine precautions when handling wild birds.

  • Do not handle or consume game animals that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game.
  • Wash hands with soap and water, or alcohol wipes, immediately after handling game.
  • Wash tools and working surfaces with soap and water and then disinfect.
  • Keep uncooked game in a separate container, away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly. Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites .
  • To report unusual signs in birds you have seen in the wild, call 1-866-4-USDA-WS. To learn more about how you can help, visit usda.gov/birdflu.

A downloadable safe biosecurity practices wallet card for hunters is available at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/downloads/USDA_HntrCd_Hi.pdf

Will the disease continue to spread and if so, what will be the effect on consumers? Prediction of how or where the disease might spread is difficult, if not impossible, at this time. Many scientists feel the problem will persist, but again that is an opinion, the accuracy of which has not yet been proven. Every step of containment and eradication, short of vaccination, is being conducted by poultry experts, including corporate, state, and federal officials. Exports of poultry meat, eggs, and egg products from the areas associated with the current outbreaks have been negatively affected. A substantial number of poultry have also been eradicated, causing regional decreases in supplies. Combined, these two, in some ways competing, elements have yet to cause any substantial increase in overall U.S. poultry prices. This trending or neutral effect on U.S. poultry prices is likely not to be maintained, should the outbreak continue to spread in the upper Midwest and euthanized bird numbers increase dramatically. If the disease spreads to the Southeast, the consumer economic effect is likely to remain unavoidable, and prices of poultry meat and eggs will probably increase, perhaps dramatically. However, the situation will remain complex and largely dependent on the consumer response. Some consumers will likely turn from poultry consumption either from unwarranted fear or from price increases that may occur. Such responses ease pressures on prices and with time can cause price increases to moderate.It is important to note, however, that the medium to long-term economic effect predictions are made more difficult to predict because Avian Influenza is occurring in other countries around the world, in some places even becoming endemic (meaning persistent in the local bird population). These countries might export to the U.S. as substitute suppliers.  If this worldwide trend continues, the overall availability of poultry meat, eggs, and egg products will likely decrease, thereby causing an overall increase in poultry prices.

If HPAI crosses the continent and enters into the Southeast commercial poultry flock, as some speculate it will in the fall of this year when cool moist weather returns, the economic effect could be severe and prolonged, particularly if breeder flocks (the birds that provide the eggs that become the broilers we consume and the layers, which give us the eggs we eat) become sick from the virus. Should the breeder flock be affected on anything approaching a large scale, we are looking at a potentially unprecedented negative economic effect to the U.S. economy. American citizens expect a readily available and economical food supply. If HPAI continues to spread at the current rate or is proven endemic on the North American continent, implementation of additional strategies, including vaccination, are highly likely. The alternative, at least for poultry and poultry products, is to surrender the assurance that ready availability at reasonable prices is be possible.

Cashing in on Oyster Renaissance: Branding Premium Gulf Oysters

This image has been enhanced with augmented reality.  To view, download TigerView by Auburn University to your smartphone or tablet.  Open the app and use the "view now" feature to scan this image and enjoy the story behind the headline.

This image has been enhanced with augmented reality. To view, download TigerView by Auburn University to your smartphone or tablet. Open the app and use the “view now” feature to scan this image and enjoy the story behind the headline.

In December 2012, diners at the Lakewood Country Club in Point Clear, Alabama, enjoyed a complimentary feast of oysters provided by researchers Dan Petrolia of Mississippi State University (MSU) and Bill Walton of Auburn University. The oysters came from all over the country—some wild, some farmed, some generic, some branded—with a wide range of price points. Diners were asked to indicate which oysters they would be most and least likely to purchase if they were in a restaurant considering these oysters at these prices. The goal of this ongoing Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant-funded study is to determine whether diners in the southeastern United States and around the country will pay a premium for branded high-quality Gulf oysters.

“Imagine you’re going to go buy a car,” Petrolia says. “You have your own personal top five things you’re going to look for—the color, the gas mileage, the whatever. We are trying to identify the top four or five things people look for in an oyster —hence, price, the name or brand, taste, what they look like.”

The Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, native to the Gulf and East coasts, tends to come from one of three sources. Natural oysters grow and reproduce in the wild with little to no human intervention and are harvested by commercial fishermen and lease holders that manage private grounds. The vast majority of natural oysters come from the Gulf of Mexico. Lumped together as “Gulf oysters,” they bring the lowest price wholesale. In contrast, farmed oysters are cultivated in baskets in private waters and typically branded with a name that generates a premium price in restaurants around the country. Similarly, managed wild oysters can be harvested from a specific geographical area (and are often hand-selected), such as Galveston Bay in Texas or Apalachicola Bay in Florida, where the oysters are also branded for name recognition. They too fetch a higher price than generic Gulf oysters.

The question, however, is whether consumers, both regionally and in other parts of the country, are willing to pay for farmed and/or branded oysters from the Gulf. “One hypothesis is that people like a nice, pretty, uniform set of oysters in front of them,” Petrolia says. “The cultivated oysters tend to all be roughly the same size and shape, while the wild-caught can vary widely in appearance.”

Walton notes that there has been an “oyster renaissance” in the United States, and that oysters marketed along the Atlantic Coast sell under regional names such as Wellfleets (from Cape Cod), Blue Points (Long Island), Chincoteagues (Virginia), and Beausoleils (New Brunswick). Southern oysters, however, have generally been sold as generic oysters. Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America, says this is “indicative of a region that pays less attention to the nuances of different raw oysters than to their culinary possibilities.”

The only larger scale exception on the Gulf coast is Apalachicola oysters, which comprise the bulk of Florida’s oyster harvest. Although there is no clear evidence that they sell at a premium, it is evident that a market has developed for these branded oysters. Petrolia and Walton wanted to find out if there is a market for similarly branded oysters from other parts of the Gulf of Mexico.

At the Point Clear taste test, and a similar event in Houston in February 2013, participants were served different combinations of oysters in four rounds. The first two rounds were blind. They were given a price point, but nothing else. The generic Gulf oysters at a significantly lower cost fared very well in the blind test, getting 41 percent of the vote based on taste and price. In the final two rounds, tasters were told the brand or point of origin of the oysters. Here, voters showed a clear geographical preference: The four branded oysters from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida together received 45 percent of the vote, while voters shied away from the East Coast brands when they were aware of the oysters’ origin.

After the taste test portion of the event, diners were given a questionnaire regarding their feelings on issues such as price point, brand, and geographical origin. The ultimate goal is to develop an online questionnaire to survey a wide cross-section of national consumers regarding their preferences when selecting oysters at restaurants. Petrolia and Walton have contracted with a marketing company to recruit a representative sample of consumers of raw oysters from the five Gulf states, as well as from major metropolitan cities such as Chicago and New York, to determine the factors, including perceptions of risk, that go into oyster choice nationally. The two have created an advisory board of industry professionals to help design the survey with the intent of being able to hand the professionals helpful, real-world data when the project is complete.

“The results of the survey will help us tailor our production characteristics and marketing techniques to enable us the best chance of penetrating and competing in many high-value markets currently unavailable to Gulf oyster products,” notes Chris Nelson, vice president of Alabama’s Bon Secour Fisheries. “An attribute as simple as ‘saltiness’ may be of much greater importance than we realize at this point, and ‘Gulf’ vs. ‘Pepper Grove’ may market completely differently.”

Walton, a fisheries specialist, has spent years studying the science of oyster aquaculture. He thinks that the Gulf Coast fisheries industry is missing out on a potential economic driver by not cultivating and branding oysters in addition to harvesting what’s already there. He believes a market exists for higher-price-point “boutique” Gulf oysters not only in the region but in larger cities around the nation. He speculates the oysters will do well in cities like Boston and Chicago, and plans to hold a similar restaurant event in Chicago to test his theory.

“We already know that there are consumers who are willing to pay a higher price for a premium oyster,” Walton says, adding that Gulf oysters have an advantage in the winter months because the oysters harvested out of the Northeast can be relatively “skinny” due to a lack of food in the water regionally. “The oysters out of the Gulf are fat, plump—you get a lot of oyster in the shell. That looks really good in comparison to some of the oysters coming out of the more northern climates. On a raw bar in the colder months, our product really stands out.”

Walton’s expertise, combined with that of Petrolia, an agricultural economist at MSU, will go toward defining the attributes that oyster consumers look for when purchasing in general, along with identifying specific regional and national interest in branded Gulf oysters. This information will be useful to everyone, from those who harvest wild oysters or cultivate their own to distributors to the restaurant industry itself, but particularly to industry professionals in the Gulf states who might be missing out on an economic opportunity.

By Bill Walton and Dan Petrolia

Auburn Speaks: On Cyber and the Digital Domain available April 2015

This image has been enhanced with augmented reality.  To view, download TigerView by Auburn University to your smartphone or tablet, open the app, then use the "view now" feature to scan the cover and enjoy augmented reality.

This image has been enhanced with augmented reality. To view, download TigerView by Auburn University to your smartphone or tablet, open the app, then use the “view now” feature to scan the cover and enjoy augmented reality.

The stories behind the headlines, available in April 2015

“In recent years, technology has made a major impact on the way we think, how we work and the manner in which we share information, both professionally and privately. The immense ability to instantly transfer information, thoughts and ideas across a world stage has led to an unprecedented boon in information availability, research sharing and both social and industrial development.” –Eric O’Neill, founder of The Georgetown Group, LLC, former FBI operative, Auburn graduate and contributor to Auburn Speaks: On Cyber and the Digital Domain.

Cyber touches all our lives.  Digitized information teaches us, entertains us, keeps track of our finances, monitors our health and our food supply, facilitates rapid and open communication, allows nearly instantaneous access to information and resides at the heart of our nation’s critical infrastructure.  Enhanced with our new augmented reality app, TigerView, the latest edition of Auburn Speaks features stories of the Auburn men and women who are helping to not only navigate and secure the cyber frontier, but to explore the promise it offers.

To learn more about this award-winning series published by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Auburn University visit:  http://www.auburn.edu/auburnspeaks

Auburn Speaks SERIES Now Available Print-On-Demand

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As a land-grant university, Auburn University serves the state and its people as a discoverer of new knowledge and ideas, and as a repository of science, literature, history, art, and culture. Every day, Auburn experts add to that store of knowledge–developing new processes, materials, and technologies along the way. They then take this expertise and focus it on real-world challenges and problems. In putting good ideas to work, Auburn researchers improve quality of life, strengthen the economy, and help keep us safe and secure.

Because this aspect of Auburn University is little known and often not well understood, Auburn Speaks seeks to translate and make accessible the sometimes dense and mysterious language of research, and to capture Auburn’s role in addressing the increasingly complex issues facing our state, nation and world. Produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Auburn Speaks is an annual book series focusing on a specific research topic of interest to a public audience.

To date, we have produced three issues in the series. Released in April of 2012, the inaugural issue, Auburn Speaks: The Oil Spill of 2010 is devoted to chronicling Auburn University’s research related to the catastrophic oil spill in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Released in the spring of 2013, the second issue, Auburn Speaks: On Water, seeks to provide readers with insight into the breadth and depth of water-related research and creative scholarship at Auburn. The third issue, Auburn Speaks: On Food Systems was released in the spring of 2014 and focuses on food, food-related topics, and hunger.

We are pleased to announce that we have partnered with EBSCO Media to make each issue of Auburn Speaks available through their print-on-demand service.  Each issue is now newly available in the same beautiful form and style as its initial release.

It is a privilege to share our research story with you. Through Auburn Speaks you are able to see firsthand what motivates our talented experts, to hear about the challenges they face, and gain an understanding of how their commitment and perseverance have led to innovation and discovery.  With your purchase of Auburn Speaks, you help fuel the engines of innovation and foster opportunities for partnership by sharing the work of Auburn experts throughout the state and region.

To purchase copies for yourself or to share with friends, visit the new Auburn Speaks store at: store.auburnspeaks.org.