When Frederick Banting’s phone rang one morning in October 1923, it was the call that every scientist must dream of receiving. On the other end of the line, an excited friend asked Banting if he had seen the morning newspapers. When Banting said no, his friend broke the news himself. Banting had just been awarded the Nobel prize for his discovery of insulin.
Banting told his friend to “go to hell” and slammed the receiver down. Then he went out and bought the morning paper. Sure enough, there in the headlines he saw in black and white that his worst fears had come true: he had indeed been awarded the Nobel – but so too had his boss, John Macleod, professor of physiology at the University of Toronto.
This is a tale of monstrous egos, toxic career rivalries and injustices. But of course, there is another character in this drama: diabetes itself.
According to a recent World Health Organization report, about 9 million people with type 1 diabetes are alive today thanks to insulin. I’m one of them, and it was my own shock diagnosis with this condition, just over ten years ago, that first led me to investigate the discovery of insulin – the drug that I would be injecting several times a day for the rest of my life.
This story is part of Conversation Insights The Insights team generates long-form journalism and is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects to tackle societal and scientific challenges.
‘The pissing evil’
Diabetes derives its name from the ancient Greek word for “to flow” – a reference to one of its most common symptoms and for which the 17th-century English doctor Thomas Willis (1625-75) gave it the far more memorable name of “the pissing evil”. But frequent trips to the toilet were the least of a patient’s worries.
Before the discovery of insulin, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes meant certain death. Unable to metabolise sugar from carbohydrates in their diet, patients became weak and emaciated until, due to the production of toxic compounds known as ketones, they slipped into a coma and died. Even at the start of the 20th century, there was little that could be done for patients with this condition, other than to put them on a starvation diet that might at best delay the inevitable.
Little wonder then that doctors were stunned at the discovery of a hormone that could return the elevated sugars in diabetic patients to healthy levels and even bring them out of a coma. And since it was made by small patches of islet-like tissues in the pancreas, this substance was given the name “insulin”, derived from the Latin for “island”. When the eminent American diabetes doctor Elliott Joslin first used insulin to treat his patients in early 1922, he was so stunned by its power that he likened it to the “Vision of Ezekiel”, the Old Testament prophet who is said to have seen a valley of dry bones rise up, be clothed in flesh and restored to life.
Joslin’s colleague Walter Campbell was equally impressed, but much less poetic. He described the crude pancreatic extracts as “thick brown muck”. And although the thick brown muck was saving lives, it very quickly became apparent that it could also take them. If injected in the wrong dose, it would cause a patient’s blood sugar levels to crash, sending them into hypoglycaemic shock and the possibility of a fatal coma.
For the newspapers, however, insulin was hailed as a miracle. And accolades quickly began to flood in for its discoverer. Banting received a letter from Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King granting him a lifetime pension from the government of Canada; he was invited to open the Canadian Exhibition (an honour reserved for “a distinguished Canadian or British citizen”) and was even summoned for an audience at Buckingham Palace with King George V. Then came the Nobel prize.
Why so angry?
But why was Banting so furious? As far as he was concerned, having to share the award with Macleod was not just a travesty, but an insult. He thought that Macleod had no right whatsoever to have any claim on the discovery of insulin, as an entry from a journal*link* written in 1940 makes abundantly clear:
Macleod on the other hand was never to be trusted. He was the most selfish man I have ever known. He sought at every possible opportunity to advance himself. If you told Macleod anything in the morning it was in print or in a lecture in his name by evening … He was unscrupulous and would steal an idea or credit for work from any possible source.
And yet, had it not been for Macleod, Banting might never have been awarded the prize in the first place and would probably have remained a struggling GP in provincial Ontario.
After his return to Canada from the western front as a wounded war hero, Banting had found his career going rapidly downhill. Having trained as a doctor, he had hoped to establish a private medical practice. But such hopes seemed to be rapidly evaporating, and he found himself cooking his meals over a Bunsen burner, writing prescriptions for baby feed and unable even to afford a trip to the cinema. Hopes of an alternative career as a landscape painter were quickly shot down in flames when his creative efforts were met with scorn by a local dealer. In every direction he looked, Banting saw a hostile world.
This also proved to be the case in his first meeting with Macleod. Banting had approached him with what he believed to be a novel approach for isolating the much sought after anti-diabetic hormone made by the pancreas that might at last tame diabetes. But instead of being greeted with unfettered enthusiasm, Banting recalled that Macleod listened for a while and then began reading some letters on his desk.
It wasn’t that Macleod lacked enthusiasm. Rather, he was simply concerned that although Banting had the inspiration for the work, he lacked the specialist surgical skills to carry it out. But he nevertheless gave Banting the benefit of the doubt and arranged for him to begin work with Charles Best, a final year honours student. Their partnership has since been described as “a historic collaboration” – although, as Banting later recalled, it did not get off to the best start. For when he found some serious discrepancies in some of Best’s initial data, he laid down the law in no uncertain terms:
>I was waiting for him, and on sight gave him a severe talking to. He thought that he was both God’s and Macleod’s appointed, but when [I] was finished with him he was not sure … We understood each other much better after this encounter.
With these teething troubles sorted, Banting and Best sweated away in the laboratory throughout the summer of 1921, making pancreatic extracts and testing their effects on the blood sugar levels of diabetic dogs. Banting may have been abrasive towards Best, but for his lab dogs, he had nothing but love and fondness:
I shall never forget that dog as long as I shall live. I have seen patients die and I have never shed a tear. But when that dog died I wanted to be alone for the tears would fall despite anything I could do.
With Macleod away in Europe for the summer, Banting wrote in great excitement to tell him about their latest results. But his response came as a disappointment.
Macleod gently pointed out that some of the experimental results were inconsistent and lacked appropriate controls. And when, on his return at the end of the summer, Macleod informed Banting that the University of Toronto could not agree to a list of his demands for more lab space and resources, Banting stormed out of the room raging: “I’ll show that little son of a bitch that he is not the University of Toronto,” and threatening to take his work elsewhere.
By the end of 1921, things had got worse. Macleod felt it was now time for Banting and Best to present their work in public at a formal scientific conference. But when Banting rose to address the American Physiological Society at the University of Yale that December, the prestige of the audience took its toll on his nerves. His presentation was a disaster. He later wrote:
When I was called upon to present our work I became almost paralyzed. I could not remember nor could I think. I had never spoken to an audience of this kind before – I was overawed. I did not present it well.
Desperate to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Macleod stepped in, took over and finished the presentation. For Banting, this was a brazen coup by Macleod to rob him of the credit for having discovered insulin – and to rub salt into the wound, it had been done in front of the most eminent doctors in the field. It confirmed Banting’s growing suspicions that insulin was slipping from his grasp – and he desperately needed to reassert his authority over the discovery.
An opportunity to do just that came in January 1922. By the time that 14-year-old Leonard Thompson’s father brought him into Toronto General Hospital, the boy was at death’s door from type 1 diabetes. When this work was first published, Banting described how the boy’s condition had left him “poorly nourished, pale, weight 65lbs, hair falling out, odour of acetone on his breath … appeared dull, talked rather slowly, quite willing to lie about all day”. One senior medical student gave a blunt and grim prognosis: “All of us knew that he was doomed.”
On the afternoon of January 11, 1922, Thompson was injected with 15cc of pancreatic extract that had been prepared by Best. Hopes were high, but the effect was disappointing. Despite causing a 25% drop in Leonard’s blood sugar levels, he continued to produce ketones – a sure sign that the extract had only limited anti-diabetic effect. But much more seriously, the extract had triggered a toxic reaction resulting in the eruption of abscesses at the injection site. Reporting on this work in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Banting and Best drew the dismal conclusion that “no clinical benefit was evidenced” by the injection of their extract.
Two weeks later, on January 23, Thompson was injected once again. And this time, the result was starkly different. When they published their work, the Toronto team recorded that Thompson “became brighter, more active, looked better and said he felt stronger”. His blood sugar levels were markedly reduced. But perhaps the most important result of all was that this time there were no toxic side-effects.
‘I would knock hell out of him’
So what had changed in those two weeks? The answer was that this second batch of extract had not been prepared by Banting and Best but by their colleague James Collip. He was a biochemist by training and with his expertise had been able to remove enough of the impurities from the raw pancreatic extract so that, when injected, it did not cause a toxic reaction.
The secret of Collip’s success was alcohol. Banting and Best had themselves used alcohol to clean up their preparations of impurities, but it was Collip who really cracked the method of doing this to make an extract that could be used to successfully treat a patient with no adverse reactions. He had also discovered that although insulin might save lives, it could take them too. For when Collip injected some of his purified preparation into healthy animals, they became convulsive, comatose and eventually died. This was because Collip’s preparations were now so pure, that they were plunging the animals into hypoglycaemic shock. This is a danger which every type 1 patient is today taught to recognise and also – again thanks to Collip’s work – how to remedy it with some quick-acting sugar.
For Banting, however, Collip’s discoveries were not a cause for celebration but a new threat. When Collip was reluctant to divulge the secrets of his success, Banting’s temper boiled over:
I grabbed him in one hand by the overcoat where it met in front and almost lifting him I sat him down hard on the chair. I do not remember all that was said but I remember telling him that it was a good job he was so much smaller – otherwise I would ‘knock hell out of him’.
As he sank further into a festering stew of fear and suspicion, Banting began calming his nerves with alcohol stolen from the lab. “I do not think that there was one night during the month of March 1922 that I went to bed sober,” he said.
Two months later, when Macleod made the first formal announcement of the discovery of insulin to the scientific world at a meeting of the Association of American Physicians in Washington, Banting was not present. He claimed that he could not afford the train fare.
But Banting was not the only person left seething at the decision of the Nobel committee. There was yet another expert who could claim he discovered insulin – over 20 years before the Canadians.
The tragedy of Georg Zuelzer
In 1908, German doctor Georg Zuelzer had shown that pancreatic extracts could not only reduce the sugars and ketones in the urine of six diabetic patients but also bring at least one of those patients out of a diabetic coma. Calling his preparation “Acomatol”, Zuelzer had been so confident about its effectiveness in treating diabetes that he had even filed a patent on it.
Like Banting and Best, he too had also faced problems with side-effects. Impurities in the preparation had caused fever, shivering and vomiting in patients and Zuelzer knew that this would have to be overcome if Acomatol was ever to be used clinically. But he also knew how to do this because in his patent he had explained how alcohol could be used to remove these impurities.
By 1914, things were looking hopeful. Zuelzer now had the support of Swiss pharmaceutical Hoffman La Roche and best of all, his preparations were causing no signs of fever, shivering or vomiting. But now Zuelzer observed some new – and serious – side-effects. Test animals became convulsive and sometimes slipped into a coma. And before Zuelzer even had the chance to work out what was going on, disaster struck.
With the outbreak of the first world war in the summer of 1914, Zuelzer’s research on insulin was brought to an abrupt halt from which it never recovered. Then, nearly a decade later came the news that the Nobel prize had gone to Banting and Macleod. This was a severe blow –- and it was quickly followed by another.
Only now did Zuelzer realise that the side-effects of convulsion and coma were not due to impurities, but rather the symptoms of hypoglycaemic shock arising from a preparation of insulin that was so pure it was causing a catastrophic crash in blood sugar levels. Little wonder that Zuelzer has been compared with a character in a Greek tragedy by historians Paula Drügemöller and Leo Norpoth. He had a potent preparation of insulin in his hands, only to have it snatched from his grasp by circumstances well beyond his control.
‘That son-of-a-bitch Best’
So why don’t we remember Zuelzer? According to the late historian Michael Bliss, the answer has much to do with Charles Best who, just like Zuelzer, felt hurt by the award going to Banting and Macleod. When Banting first heard that he had been awarded the Nobel, he sent a telegram to Best who was in Boston at the time, saying: “Nobel trustees have conferred prize on Macleod and me. You are with me in my share always.”
True to his word, he publicly announced that he would share half of his C$20,000 prize money with Best. But if Banting was hoping that this might offer Best some consolation for not having shared in the prize, he was mistaken. Best’s resentment at having been overlooked began to irritate Banting. In 1941, shortly before boarding a flight on a secret war-time mission to the UK, Banting made clear that his former generosity towards Best was long since gone:
This mission is risky. If I don’t come back and they give my [Professorial] Chair to that son-of-a-bitch Best, I’ll never rest in my grave.
His words proved to be tragically prophetic. Shortly after take-off, Banting’s plane crashed, and he was killed. As Macleod had died in 1935, Best and Collip were now the only remaining members of the original research team from Toronto that had discovered insulin. And Best was determined that his name would be remembered.
But to stake his claim on the discovery of insulin, Best needed to make clear exactly when this had taken place. Had it been during the summer of 1921 when, working alone, he and Banting had isolated pancreatic extracts that could reduce the blood sugar levels in a diabetic dog? Or had it been in January 1922 when Leonard Thompson had first been successfully treated? If it was the latter, then Best had somehow to deal with the inconvenient fact that it had been Collip’s preparation – not his – that had actually been used to successfully treat Leonard Thompson.
As Best’s star began to rise in the North American medical establishment, he gave many addresses in which, if he mentioned Collip’s contribution at all, it was either diminished or used only to highlight the crucial role that Best had played in recovering the production of insulin after Collip had temporarily lost the secret of its purification.
Best insisted that the pivotal moment in the story of insulin had been when Leonard Thompson was injected for the first time on January 11, 1922 with an extract made by himself and Banting. That the real moment of therapeutic success had been two weeks later, when the boy had been treated with Collip’s preparation, was conveniently played down. At the same time, Best also claimed that the crucial innovation of using alcohol to remove toxic impurities had largely been his own.
He would subsequently go even further by insisting that insulin had been discovered during the summer of 1921 when he and Banting had been working alone, testing their extracts on diabetic dogs, well before Collip had arrived in Toronto. Collip’s response meanwhile was largely one of stoic silence.
Convincing the world
Best appeared to have finally secured his place in medical history. At least so it seemed, until the late 1960s, when he received a letter that gave the wasps’ nest yet another poke. It revealed that during the summer of 1921, just as Banting and Best were embarking on their own research, a Romanian scientist called Nicolai Paulescu had already published similar experiments in a European scientific journal. But Paulescu’s scientific work has since been overshadowed by the ugly revelation of his anti-Semitic politics and the role that he played in inciting the Holocaust in Romania.
When Best was himself asked whether researchers such as Paulescu, Zuelzer and a handful of others such as the Rockefeller scientist Israel Kleiner, deserved any credit for the discovery of insulin, his reply spoke volumes:
None of them convinced the world of what they had … This is the most important thing in any discovery. You’ve got the convince the scientific world. And we did.
Michael Bliss, who has written extensively on the work of Banting and Best has written about how Best appears to have been “deeply insecure about and obsessed with his role in history”. He added: “The fumbling attempts to manipulate the historical record would have been pathetic and hardly worthy of comment had they not been so grossly unjust to Best’s former associates and, for a time, so influential.”
Wall Street gold
Whatever judgments we may pass on Best, there is no denying that he had grasped a crucial insight about an important way in which science was changing. Doing experiments in the lab was only half the story: scientists had also to persuade the wider world of the value of those experiments. And by the time of his death in 1978, this was a lesson that scientists were taking to heart.
That September, a team of scientists from the City of Hope Hospital in Southern California and the fledgeling biotechnology company Genentech in San Francisco gave a press conference to announce that they had done something amazing. Ever since the days of Banting and Best, type 1 patients had been having to treat themselves by injecting insulin recovered from the tissues of cows or pigs as a by-product of the meat industry. Now, thanks to the Genentech/City of Hope collaboration they could, for the first time, inject themselves with human insulin.
This achievement was a decisive victory in helping to win the hearts and minds of the media and public who were fearful of the new technology. Wall Street loved it, too.
When the bell was rung to open trading on the morning of October 14, 1980, dealers dived into a feeding frenzy for shares in the newly floated Genentech. It made its founders, venture capitalist Bob Swanson and scientist Herb Boyer both multimillionaires.
But diabetes remained an incurable chronic condition. Even as he was comparing its power with the Vision of Ezekiel, Elliott Joslin was also offering a stark warning: “Insulin is a remedy which is primarily for the wise and not for the foolish.” Joslin’s point was that Insulin could only be effective if its use went hand in hand with discipline, thought and responsible behaviour on the part of the patient.
This lesson applies elsewhere too – but may well be one we don’t always want to hear. Speaking at the recent COP summit in Glasgow, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, pointed out that we can’t expect technology alone to solve all the problems we face. The truth is that, as much as we may wish for technological solutions to do all the heavy lifting, they can only be effective when they are accompanied by changes in our behaviour.
This is as true for managing diabetes with insulin as it is for dealing with challenges of a pandemic through vaccines, masks and social distancing, or climate change through carbon capture, electric cars and turning off the lights when we leave the room. And so, as we face challenges of the future, the story of insulin has important lessons for us all.
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Kersten’s new book ‘Insulin – the Crooked Timber: A History from Thick Brown Muck to Wall Street Gold’ will be published by Oxford University Press on 13th January 2022 and is available to pre-order. www.kerstenhall.com
Six commodities investments to buy amid the sustained attack of Ukraine by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and rising inflation provide potential to profit even as the market has been pulling back so far in 2022.
Crude oil inventories are down to a “dangerously low point” across Europe, North America and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Asia, just as spare production capacity from OPEC+ nations slid to the lowest levels since April 2020, according to BofA Global Research. Inventories of petroleum products also have fallen to “precarious levels” for middle distillates and even gasoline as the market heads into the peak of the U.S. summer driving season, the investment firm added.
As a result, refined petroleum cracks — the differences between crude oil and the prices of the wholesale petroleum products such as gasoline — recently have “spiked to record levels,” contributing to volatility, BofA wrote. In addition, strategic oil barrels held by OECD governments already are low and likely to decline steeply going forward, leaving consumers exposed to future negative supply shocks, BofA predicted.
Pension Fund Chairman Recommends Broad Commodity Funds
Bob Carlson, a pension fund chairman who also leads the Retirement Watch investment newsletter, recommended Cohen & Steers MLP & Energy Opportunity Fund (MLOAX) to all the portfolios in his June 2022 issue.
Oil and natural gas should be good investments as Europe looks to reduce dependence on Russian exports, Carlson told me. Plus, energy producers in the United States are focused on increasing cash flow and earnings, not maximizing drilling expenses in the short run to increase output, he added.
Good investment opportunities can be found with companies that provide the pipelines, storage facilities and other infrastructure needed to supply the world with oil, natural gas and other energy sources, Carlson continued.
“One of the attractive qualities of these investments is that their revenues are independent of the prices of the commodities,” Carlson counseled. “The firms charge fees for their services, and the fees often are adjusted for inflation. Their revenues and earnings depend on the volume of commodities passing through their facilities, not the price of the commodity.”
Key energy service companies provide total returns, aided by current income and price appreciation, through investments in energy-related master limited partnerships (MLPs) and securities of industry companies, Carlson pointed out. Those businesses are expected to derive at least 50% of their revenues or operating income from exploration, production, gathering, transportation, processing, storage, refining, distribution or marketing of natural gas, crude oil and other energy resources.
Cohen & Steers Fund Leads List of Six Commodities Investments to Buy
Cohen & Steers MLP & Energy Opportunity Fund recently held 53 positions and had 50% of its portfolio in the 10 largest positions. Top holdings of the fund included Enbridge (NYSE: ENB), Cheniere Energy (NYSEAMERICAN: LNG), Williams Companies (NYSE: WMB), TC Energy (NYSE: TRP) and Energy Transfer (NYSE: ET).
The fund has achieved strong returns since April 2020. Indeed, it has been on an upward trajectory since the second half of December 2021.
“Crucially, oil prices have held up well even in the face of a slowing Chinese economy and widespread lockdowns,” according to BofA. “Given that most China indicators point to a major decline in mobility across the country, any improvement in the COVID-19 situation in large Chinese cities could send oil prices much higher.”
Carlson’s Chooses DBA to Join Six Commodities Investments to Buy
Despite the evils of war, investors still can profit from the rise in grain prices and other commodities through the futures markets, even as many other equities slip. Instead of buying futures directly, investors can purchase diversified agriculture commodities through Invesco DB Agriculture Fund (DBA), Carlson said.
That ETF seeks to track changes in the DBIQ Diversified Agriculture Index Excess Return. The ETF also earns interest income from cash it invests primarily in treasury securities, while holding them as collateral for the futures contracts.
The major holdings in the index are soybeans, wheat, corn, coffee and live cattle. The index is reconstituted each November.
Gold Funds Featured Among Six Commodities Investments to Buy
Carlson also is recommending gold through iShares Gold Trust (IAU). He described it as the “cheapest, most liquid way” to invest in the shiny yellow metal.
Gold has had its ups and downs in the face of rising global inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s increasing military flyovers of nearby Asian nations and other geopolitical conflicts. At the same time, the U.S. dollar has been appreciating amid high inflation after the Fed recently raised interest rates by 0.5% and promised additional increases later in 2022.
However, there are many risks for the U.S. dollar, so continuing to hold gold remains a good hedge, Carlson counseled.
IAU has retreated since early March, so investors seeking to buy it now that it is rebounding still may do so. Those who believe inflation may stay through 2022 can try to capture gains before the trend no longer is a friend.
GLD has risen nearly 16% since Skousen recommended it about two years ago. Gold climbed 2021 in anticipation of rising inflation, but its performance has been flat so far this year. If gold truly is an indicator of inflation, the previous yellow metal’s stagnant price may be signaling that price inflation will wane heading into 2023.
The investment objective is for the GLD shares to reflect the performance of the price of gold bullion, after subtracting the trust’s expenses. The trust, formed on November 12, 2004, physically holds gold bars.
The trust’s shares are designed for investors who want a cost-effective and convenient way to invest in gold, according to the company’s prospectus. Skousen, who also leads the Five Star Trader, Home Run Trader, TNT Trader and Fast Money Alertservices, recently was a featured speaker at the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference and advised attendees that he recommended gold as a minor holding in every portfolio.
EPD Is Another of the Six Commodities Investments to Buy
Oil has done much better as an inflation hedge than gold, Skousen said. One example is his recommendation of Enterprise Products Partners (EPD, $27, 7% yield), up 27% year to date.
EPD has been the “best performer” in the Forecasts & Strategies investment newsletter so far this year, Skousen said. Enterprise Products Partners is one of the largest publicly traded partnerships and a key North American provider of midstream energy services to producers and consumers of natural gas, natural gas liquids (NGLs), crude oil, refined products and petrochemicals.
The company’s services include natural gas gathering, treating, processing, transportation and storage. In addition, Enterprise Products Partners provides NGL transportation, fractionation, storage and import and export terminals. It further offers crude oil gathering, transportation, storage and terminals, along with petrochemical and refined products transportation, storage and terminals, as well as a marine transportation business.
I personally have owned Enterprise Products Partners since shortly after the 2020 stock market crash when I bought the stock as it started to recover. The stock has been trending upward since the end of 2021.
Money Manager Picks One of Six Commodities Investments to Buy
A seasoned investment professional told me that she likes farm machinery company Deere (NYSE: DE) to profit from agriculture. Michelle Connell, a former portfolio manager who now serves as president of Dallas-based Portia Capital Management, said she still likes Deere despite its 14% drop after it reported results last week.
Deere’s key issues are supply-related, since demand for agricultural equipment remains strong, especially for the company’s machinery that is more environmentally friendly than its rivals, Connell continued.
Deere is also focused on providing the farming industry with autonomous equipment, Connell counseled. Wall Street analysts expect Deere to have a better story and performance in the second half of 2022 and in full-year 2023.
Connell cited the following to support her recommendation of Deere:
-More than half its revenues come from large agriculture.
-If the war in Ukraine continues, U.S. farmers will benefit from higher prices for their crops.
-Increased agricultural profits mean that that farmers and farming corporations will be more likely to buy large, expensive farm equipment.
Deere has fallen back since its recent high on April 20, so investors should be able to purchase shares at reduced prices, Connell continued.
Supply Chains May Improve as China Starts to Lower COVID Curbs
China is easing its COVID-19 restrictions and it could allow goods produced there to start flowing normally again in the coming weeks. China’s lockdowns have affected an estimated 373 million people, including roughly 40% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Disrupted supply chains have affected products such as rice, oil and natural gas.
Shanghai, home to the world’s largest port and 25 million residents, has strained to unload cargo due to strict regulations that have caused shipping containers to stack up. Some Shanghai residents posted videos online to complain about needing food, even though government officials sought to block such public expressions of frustration.
Chinese authorities also drew public criticismfor forcibly separating young children with COVID-19 from their parents to prioritize stopping the spread of a new, contagious subvariant of Omicron, BA.2. The variant also has been causing new infections in European nations such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
U.S. COVID Deaths Climb Past 1-Million Mark
U.S. COVID-19 deaths crossed the 1-million mark last week and have climbed further to 1,002,726 as of May 24, according to Johns Hopkins University. Cases in the United States, as of that date, hit 83,501,455. America retains the dubious distinction as the country with the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths and cases.
COVID-19 deaths worldwide totaled 6,280,342 on May 24, according to Johns Hopkins. Cases across the globe have climbed to 526,664,642.
Roughly 77.8% of the U.S. population, or 258,562,059, have obtained at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as of May 24, the CDC reported. Fully vaccinated people total 221,001,614, or 66.6%, of America’s population, according to the CDC. The United States also has given at least one COVID-19 booster vaccine to 102.9 million people, up about 500,000 in the past week.
New data on so-called “long-haul” COVID patients released on May 24 reported that even though some symptoms improve others may persist, according to the Northwestern Medicine Neuro COVID-19 Clinic. Most of the 52 patients monitored in the Northwestern study reported “brain fog,” numbness or tingling, headache, dizziness, blurred vision and fatigue, even 15 months after initial diagnoses of COVID-19.
The six commodities investments to buy are intended to profit from rising energy, gold and grain prices. Despite the market’s volatility, the highest inflation in 40 years, the Fed’s plan for further interest rate hikes to curb price hikes and increasing federal deficits, investors are finding profitable opportunities in energy, gold and grains.
Paul Dykewicz, www.pauldykewicz.com, is an accomplished, award-winning journalist who has written for Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, the Journal of Commerce, Seeking Alpha, Guru Focus and other publications and websites. Paul, who can be followed on Twitter @PaulDykewicz, is the editor of StockInvestor.com and DividendInvestor.com, a writer for both websites and a columnist. He further is editorial director of Eagle Financial Publications in Washington, D.C., where he edits monthly investment newsletters, time-sensitive trading alerts, free e-letters and other investment reports. Paul previously served as business editor of Baltimore’s Daily Record newspaper. Paul also is the author of an inspirational book, “Holy Smokes! Golden Guidance from Notre Dame’s Championship Chaplain,” with a foreword by former national championship-winning football coach Lou Holtz. The book is great as a gift and is endorsed by Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Ara Parseghian, “Rocket” Ismail, Reggie Brooks, Dick Vitale and many others. Call 202-677-4457 for multiple-book pricing.
PITTSBURGH, May 24, 2022 – A grim prediction made half a decade ago by University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health epidemiologists and modelers has come true: More than 100,000 people are now dying from drug overdoses annually in the U.S. The milestone comes as the International Journal of Drug Policy publishes a special section of the June issue reflecting on the exponential growth in drug-related deaths the Pitt team uncovered in 2017.
Credit: Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH, May 24, 2022 – A grim prediction made half a decade ago by University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health epidemiologists and modelers has come true: More than 100,000 people are now dying from drug overdoses annually in the U.S. The milestone comes as the International Journal of Drug Policy publishes a special section of the June issue reflecting on the exponential growth in drug-related deaths the Pitt team uncovered in 2017.
The special section – based around the Pitt team’s landmark research article in Science that analyzed nearly four decades of U.S. drug overdose data – contains commentary by four teams of epidemiologists, addiction specialists, modelers and drug policy experts, as well as an update from the original authors and an editorial by one of the journal’s senior editors.
“Since 1979, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have inexorably climbed along a near-perfect exponential curve, despite changes in the popularity of different drugs, new drug control policies, changing demographics, economic upswings and downturns, wars – and now a global pandemic,” said Donald S. Burke, M.D., Distinguished University Professor of Health Science and Policy in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and senior author of the Science publication. “The fact that we’re still seeing this exponential growth in another five years of data – 413,000 more young Americans dead – shows that we really don’t understand the deep drivers of the epidemic.”
Following their Science publication, Burke and his colleagues published several more articles involving U.S. drug overdose death data. Notably, the team reported in Nature Medicine that the generation a person was born into – Silent Generation, Baby Boomer, Generation X or Millennial – strongly predicts how likely they are to die from a drug overdose, and at what age.
And, when drug overdose deaths diverged from their predictions, taking a celebrated downturn in 2018, the team showed in the journal Addiction that it was a result of a decrease in supply of the potent synthetic opioid carfentanil, and not a sign of the drug overdose epidemic abating. Sure enough, overdose deaths snapped right back onto the exponential curve in the following year.
“There are theories, but nobody has an explanation for why drug overdose deaths so consistently stick to this exponential growth pattern, marching ever upward at an annual pace of 7.4%,” said Hawre Jalal, M.D., Ph.D., who was lead author of the Science paper while at Pitt and is now at the University of Ottawa. “Five years ago, leaders in the drug addiction and policy fields called our findings a coincidence. We need to stop denying that this exponential growth will continue if we don’t get at the root causes and fix them.”
In his editorial introducing the International Journal of Drug Policy special edition, Peter Reuter, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, noted that although the Science manuscript had been cited by scientists hundreds of times since its original publication to support that drug overdose rates are rising, no one had investigated the underlying cause of the relentless increase.
“It’s hard to imagine that this growth rate can continue much longer,” Reuter writes. “The notion that we might see 200,000 fatal overdoses annually in 2030 is simply too frightening, though we would have made the same statement in 2010 when the figure was a mere 38,000.”
In their article for the special section, Burke and Jalal suggest that a “systems” analysis including, but not limited to, surveillance data from electronic health records, urine screening, wastewater testing, law enforcement drug seizures, surveys to measure societal well-being and despair, and the economics of the drug trade will be necessary to understand the exponential growth. Computational models and simulations will then need to be designed to guide and test interventions, they said.
“Improved understanding of the deep causal drivers of the epidemic may be necessary to bend the curve,” they conclude. “Unless something different is done, the death toll will probably continue to increase exponentially.”
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About the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health
Founded in 1948, the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health is a top-ranked institution of seven academic departments partnering with stakeholders locally and globally to create, implement and disseminate innovative public health research and practice. With hands-on and high-tech instruction, Pitt Public Health trains a diverse community of students to become public health leaders who counter persistent population health problems and inequities.
At first glance, 2022 cattle prices are higher than 2021. At $140, slaughter steer prices are 17.5% above 2021 prices, but even with higher prices, farmers and ranchers will travel a rocky road to profitability, paved with inflation and higher input costs in 2022. This Market Intel addresses the USDA’s Cattle on Feed report released on Friday, May 20, 2022, the forces driving cattle prices higher and how inflation and input costs will affect the bottom line for cattle farmers and ranchers. It will further walk through the combination of supply and demand factors that will affect the 2022 market outlook for livestock producers.
Supply - Inventory
The Annual Cattle Inventory Report published by USDA estimated overall inventory on January 1, 2022, is down 2% or 1,887,700 head from 2021. Cattle inventory is important with respect to the market outlook because it quantifies supply and where the industry lies in what is known as the cattle cycle. The cattle cycle is the waves of expansion and contraction of the total number of U.S. beef cattle in consecutive years. The cattle cycle is a response to farmers’ and ranchers’ perceived profitability of the beef cattle industry over roughly a 10-year period. For this Market Intel, we are going to focus on the force behind cattle inventory, the breeding herd and calf crop.
The calf crop for 2021 came in at 35.1 million head, a 1.2% decrease from 2020. As of January 1, 2022, cow inventory totaled 30.1 million head, down 2.3% from 2021. Heifer inventory with total heifers at 19.8 million.
The last piece of this puzzle is supply and slaughter. Commercial cattle slaughter for April was 2.81 million head, down slightly from 2021. Steer slaughter was 1.33 million, 4% lower than 2021. Heifer slaughter for the month of April came in at 825,200, .05% lower than this time in 2021. Cow slaughter for the month of March came in at 640,382, 7% higher than the same time in 2021. It’s important to acknowledge the decrease in slaughter in all commercial cattle and the increase in cow and heifer slaughter. This illustrates industry position in the cattle cycle. Figure 1. illustrates the current and past two cattle cycles.
Based on Figure 1., the beef cattle industry is entering the contraction portion of the cattle cycle. Cows and heifers make up the breeding herd, which is responsible for supplying the calves entering the cattle inventory at any point during the cattle cycle. Increased cow and heifer slaughter will result in a smaller calf crop and inventory in the upcoming months of the cattle cycle. It is natural to conclude that future inventory will be down since the calf crop, cow and heifer inventory are all declining. However, the southern Plains are experiencing extreme drought and it is not uncommon to remove grazing animals from forage early for placement into feedlots under these circumstances. The movement of cattle from grazing to feedlot placement or vice versa can throw off inventory numbers.
Pasture and range land had a rough start in 2022, especially in the Western regions and southern Plains. Winter weather and rain have brought some greener pastures to the upper Midwest but USDA crop progress reported more than 50% of U.S. pastures are still rated poor to very poor compared to just under 50% reported in that condition last year. This can be compared to the five-year average of 26.6% of pasture and rangeland rated poor to very poor. A previous Market Intel published in May 2021, demonstrated how 2021 started off with record breaking drought. While more green grass in the Midwest is likely to slow the above average cow slaughter and placement of grazing animals into the feed to slaughter supply chain, much of the U.S. is still facing drought conditions in 2022. Figure 2. & Figure 3. illustrate the difference in the U.S. Drought Monitor between May 18, 2021, and May 17, 2022. There has been improvement in the overall drought situation, but much of the southern Plains are still rated as extreme or exceptional drought.
Cattle On Feed
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Cattle on Feed (COF) program is a monthly feedlot survey conducted on feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 or more head. The April COF report estimated feedlot placements to be 1.99 million head, slightly below 2021 levels.
The May COF report, released on May 20, 2022, estimates cattle on feed as of May 1, 2022 to be 12 million head. This is up 2% from a year ago. The total number of cattle placed in feedlots is 1.81 million head, down 1% from last year.
While the report fails to explain how feedlot placements are even with last year while inventory numbers and calf crop are down, drought may be a part of the answer. Much of the Western United States, as well as the southern Plains, have experienced or are continuing to experience drought conditions. When this happens, it is not uncommon for ranchers in the Southern plains to move grazing cattle off wheat early. It is also a possibility that heifers previously listed as replacements are being placed into feedlots. Adjustments to Jan. 1 inventory numbers are not uncommon and may better reflect the situation as 2022 continues.
USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) forecasted 2022 total red meat and poultry consumption at 222.7 lbs. per capita, down from 224.2 lbs. in 2021. The per capita red meat and poultry disappearance is forecast to decrease. ERS defines per capita meat disappearance as the measure of the supply available for use in domestic markets including fresh and processed meats sold. When supply drops, beef prices may rise. If beef prices rise, consumer demand for beef may fall.
The spread between beef graded “USDA choice” and “USDA select” has narrowed in recent days. This spread is important because it can often illustrate consumer willingness to pay for choice beef, a product that costs a premium above beef products graded select. All primal (wholesale cut) values have seen a decline in 2022. This can be interpreted as a consumer response to inflation; consumers looking to save money.
Domestic imports are an important factor in evaluating U.S. demand for beef. USDA ERS reports U.S. beef and veal imports were 353.77 million lbs. in March 2022, 29% higher than this time in 2021.
The greatest increase in U.S. imports is from Brazil. Record high U.S. beef prices, and drought conditions in traditional import countries such as Australia are the key motivators for this increase. Another reason the U.S. has been importing from Brazil is because China, one of the world’s largest importers of beef, placed an embargo on Brazilian beef imports in September of 2021. This embargo was lifted in December 2021. However, Brazilian beef continues to be directed to other markets including the U.S.
There are other factors contributing to the increase in imported beef. One of these factors is the strengthening of the U.S. dollar. When the U.S. dollar strengthens, it makes it cheaper for the U.S. to purchase products from other countries. In addition, the decrease in consumer willingness to pay higher prices for beef makes other, less expensive, sources more appealing.
Exports fall on the other side of the supply/demand spectrum from imports. USDA forecasts beef exports to decline 1.8% from 2021. This estimate might seem negative at first glance, but it’s important to note that 2022 beef and veal exports are still well above the five-year average. The strengthening U.S. dollar’s impact on imports –making U.S. purchases of foreign products cheaper – has the opposite effect on exports; it makes it more expensive for other countries to buy products from the U.S.
China, the world’s largest importer of beef as mentioned earlier, has been implementing its COVID-zero policy which included a nationwide lockdown that has continued for six weeks. The effects of this policy on the food industry vary by region. Hong Kong, for example, home to some of the world’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions, has begun to ease restrictions. Overall, beef markets are watching closely and waiting for China to relax restrictions, leading to increased demand for meat products.
Despite these obstacles, March trade data has indicated record U.S. beef exports totaling 303.7 million pounds, 1.2% above 2021. This is the greatest quantity of beef exported for any month of March. Even more impressive is record first quarter 2022 overall meat trade coming in at a whopping 845.8 million pounds, 6.2% ahead of 2021. China, South Korea, and Japan continue to lead the pack, being the top three destinations for U.S. beef. China posted a record 145.4 million pounds, 61.8% above 2021.
Input Costs & The Bottom Line
One of the greatest concerns faced by cattle farmers and ranchers in 2022 is rising input costs, more specifically feed. Iowa State University estimates total feed costs per head for finishing a 760 lb. yearling steer, in March of 2022, are $1,802.58. Feed costs account for 24% of the total cost of production for 2022 at $436.15, up 22% from 2021. The price of corn was estimated to increase 30.4% and hay up 45%. Non-feed costs were estimated to be record high at $144.19 per head in March up, 8% from 2021. This brings the break-even price to $138.66 cwt, up 12.8% from 2021. These rising costs will make profitability an uphill battle.
The 2022 cattle outlook is a mixed bag. On one hand, 2022 cattle prices are higher than 2021. On the other hand, cattle farmers and ranchers face rising input expenses, and uncertainty in the U.S. economy and the economies of key beef importers.
A strengthening U.S. dollar will make it more expensive for other countries to buy U.S. beef while at the same time making it more affordable for the U.S. to import beef from other countries. Yet, first quarter beef exports were reported at record levels, primarily to the Asian markets with China leading the way.
Supply is forecast to decrease; the industry is in the contraction phase of the cattle cycle while USDA has also forecasted a small decrease in consumer demand for meat. If we use history as a guide, then the cattle industry should be in the last couple years of contraction in inventory before beginning the expansion phase of the next cattle cycle.
Cattle farmers and ranchers are facing increases in both feed and non-feed input costs resulting in increased break-even prices. Whether cattle prices will increase enough to offset the increase in costs and provide profitability remains in question. All these factors create a complex cattle market outlook complete with many peaks and valleys for 2022.