NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612
Edited by Kiran Kernellu
November 4, 2002
ZT FOR VISIBLE CONTAMINATION
The source of E. coli microorganisms, good and bad, is the intestine of animals and man. These are working bacteria that are part of the natural digestion process.
In meat plant sanitary dressing procedures, great care is exercised to maintain intestinal integrity. The entire evisceration procedure is much more efficient and quicker to do on animals with intact intestines; It’s much more beneficial than breaking or cutting the intestines.
The evisceration process occurs after hide and head removal. It is done with great care, and intestines and stomach and other internal organs are either dumped into a special "intestinal buggy" in smaller plants and wheeled away from the carcass line for inspection by USDA or, in larger plants, dropped on to a stainless steel moving belt, sorted and inspected by USDA, with both the viscera and organs being looked at by inspectors.
Following USDA inspection, all intestines and contents are transferred to a separate area where they can be cleaned, and the intestinal materials flushed. This cleaning and flushing is done in a totally separate area from where the carcass dressing and cleaning is completed after evisceration. This point is widely misunderstood in the popular mythology of meat industry critics.
Livestock that have been held together in pens and hauled in trucks, which is a common practice for all types of livestock coming to slaughter plants, rub against each other and prior to coming to the plants, they have lived together in their respective pens where they obviously eat, sleep and drink. In this environment, like humans, they can pick up microorganisms in their hair and on their skins that they then carry with them as they move to slaughter.
Again, because E. coli are common bacteria in feces, animals can and do have it on their hides and in their hair, thus causing the potential for contamination to the carcass if the hide comes in touch with the carcass during the hide removal process. The prefix "micro" in the word "microorganism" comes from the fact that these organisms are invisible to the human eye and can only be seen through powerful microscopes. Contamination that is visible is trimmed off to a "zero tolerance" standard. Invisible contamination, which can only be seen through microscopic testing, is removed to the fullest extent by thermal, chemical and biological interventions. Once again, in re-designed plants, and in generally larger plants, the slaughter floor is divided into hide-on and hide-off segments. This is done to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, the danger of any contamination being transferred from the hide to the carcass, either seen or unseen.
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NMA agrees that industry should always strive to put a wholesome and safe product into the marketplace. But NMA sees the role of FSIS as a regulatory agency under the authority of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. In the last decade, FSIS has increased its regulatory focus on reducing and eliminating undesirable pathogens from the food supply. The “protect and enhance the public health” mission and “production of a safe wholesome product” draw the agency and the industry in the same direction, however, important distinctions should be clear to support a good cooperative relationship.
The HACCP/Pathogen Reduction Rule in 1996 was based on good scientific concepts but also some junk science. Further, USDA failed to provide adequate training to its large workforce, so implementation lacked consistency. Finally, the whole rule was over-promised by USDA in terms of protecting public health. USDA envisioned a “farm to table” strategy to improve food safety. But the USDA program began at the slaughterhouse door and ended up when the product left the last inspected establishment. Neither the farm nor the table was part of the program.
Very large volume recalls of product in the marketplace undermine consumer confidence in the meat supply. Very small amounts of recalled product are recovered. There is no data to show how recalling total production volume for one or more days, retroactively for weeks or months, protects public health when much of the product is beyond its expected shelf-life and has been prepared and consumed. The agency policy of insisting that the recall encompass the entire lot, even when a company has already identified and recovered much of the lot, simply alarms the public rather than protects public health. This result also injures USDA’s credibility.
The industry is not without culpability. But it has made huge efforts to improve performance. It has embarked on comprehensive testing schemes. It has developed major mechanical, biological and chemical interventions. These are all designed to make the end meat product as safe as it is possible to make meat safe prior to the final cooking step. The beef industry, in particular, is looking at ways of meeting a new standard to reduce E. coli O157:H7 to non-detectable levels to comply with USDA’s most recent Notice.
Our industry will do everything possible to improve the systems to assure safe and wholesome meat. However, there needs to be recognition that a zero tolerance level of pathogens in raw products is not a scientifically achievable objective. It would indeed be “junk science” to promote the idea that there is a commercially viable kill step for pathogens in raw meat products. The only true kill step is final cooking of the product.
Meat & Poultry Facts 2002 saves meat processors, feed manufacturers, and other companies involved in the food industry, countless hours of work collecting and organizing industry data and converting the data into useful information. Meat companies rely on the information to plan facility construction, new product launches, or territory expansion. The 62 pages of Meat & Poultry Facts are filled with easy-to-use, exclusive tables of slaughter and meat production trends, state-by-state censuses of processing plants and livestock inventories, labor statistics, production cost trends, and meat exports. Professionals at every level of a company - administration, production, marketing, and sales - will find Meat & Poultry Facts 2002 to be a valuable resource.
For more information contact Kathryn Appel, Meat Processing, 122 S. Wesley Ave., Mt. Morris, IL 61054; Tel: (815) 734-5623; E-mail: [email protected]; Internet: www.meatnews.com.
CONGRESS DESIRES DETAILS
According to a New York Times report last week, some Congressional Democrats are concerned about USDA’s role or lack thereof in the recent Listeria outbreak. Representatives Henry Waxman (CA), Marcy Kaptur (OH), Rosa DeLauro (CT), Nita Lowey (NY), and Maurice Hinchey (NY) sent a letter to Secretary Ann Veneman last Monday expressing their concern that the agency may have missed opportunities to prevent the outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a bacterial strain from the outbreak to that of a non-product sample from a Wampler Foods plant in Pennsylvania.
Representatives were also concerned that the plant had conducted tests and received positive results, “but failed to disclose this information to USDA inspectors at the time of the testing.” They asked for more information about the plant’s sanitation violations, copies of communications about food safety between USDA and Wampler Foods since the beginning of this year, details about the agency’s plan for stronger Listeria testing rules and when they would take effect, and how much of the 1.8 million pounds of turkey product purchased for the school lunch program had been returned.
Over the weekend, a New Jersey firm, J.L. Foods Company, Inc., voluntarily recalled 200,000 pounds of fresh and frozen ready-to-eat (RTE) poultry products, and voluntarily suspended operations. CDC said that some of the firm’s RTE poultry produced between June 27 and July 3 are contaminated with a strain of Listeria that is “indistinguishable from that of the outbreak victims.”
Consumer trends indicate that the beef checkoff funds have been well used in efforts to promote beef. According to Rich Otley, director of evaluation for the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, research indicates that beef safety, convenience, nutrition and producer images are viewed favorably by consumers. In a recent report in Meatingplace.com, Otley imparted that “beef demand has been trending upward” since 1998. He attributes the rise to checkoff-funded promotions reflected in the positive attitudes consumers have about beef.
This healthy attitude translates to more spending on beef. In the period 1999-2001, beef was the only meat for which household spending increased, according to the report. Apparently, the slogan, “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner,” rang true. Beef Board Vice Chairman Andy Tucker said, “if our programs don’t work, it will first be reflected in what’s happening with consumer attitudes. What they believe is a predictor of how they’ll behave.”
The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security focuses on food safety in California. A partnership of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Health Services, and the University of California, Davis, the Institute will “conduct research aimed at enhancing food safety from farm to fork,” as well as play a role in the fight against agri-terrorism. It was established by a $5 million grant from the Buy California program, which directed funds from a federal grant appropriated by Congress for the benefit of specialty crops. For more information on the Institute, visit http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/wifss/summary.cfm.
REMEMBERING BOB ONDRUSEK
NMA reports news items that are of special interest to its readers, and provides information that they may want to be able to access. Below are links to the Federal Register, AMS, APHIS, and FSIS, respectively.
NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION
NMA - East: 1400 - 16th St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington D.C. 20036 Ph. (202) 667-2108
NMA - West: 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612 Ph. (510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186
Edited by Kiran Kernellu
November 4, 2002
Michigan Federal District Court Judge Richard A. Enslen ruled the pork checkoff unconstitutional in his October 25 decision, refuting the government’s claim that the checkoff is “free speech” covered by the First Amendment. The beef checkoff appeal forwards this same claim, as disclosed in a South Dakota ruling earlier this year (see the June 24-July 15 and August 26 Lean Trimmings for more on this topic). Judge Enslen has ordered pork checkoff collections to cease November 25, though USDA is expected to appeal his decision, as they did a similar ruling on the beef checkoff.
USDA Secretary Ann Veneman said that USDA is consulting with the Department of Justice to determine the next course of action. National Pork Producers Council President Dave Roper said they will request an immediate stay of this ruling. While Veneman expressed disappointment in the ruling finding the checkoff unconstitutional, Judge Enslen expressed disappointment in the language of the Pork Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act. He wrote, “in short, whether this speech is considered on either philosophical, political or commercial grounds, it involves a kind of outrage which Jefferson loathed. The government has been made tyrannical by forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest. Such a system is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten.”
Cattle Buyers Weekly reported that there may be a need for restructuring of the checkoffs, namely a re-writing of the checkoff language in the beef and pork acts. A new tactic will have to be undertaken, as roughly half of all commodity checkoffs are facing litigation, according to Beef Board CEO Monte Reese. The Justice Department will likely appeal the pork checkoff decision on behalf of USDA, and seek a stay of the decision. It appears as though the checkoffs will be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court, unless Congress steps in with new guidance.
MONTANA JUDGE UPHOLDS BEEF CHECKOFF
In a quixotic turn of events, Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull ruled on Friday that the beef checkoff is constitutional. This was the case in which the Charters of Montana had refused to pay the $1 per head on their cattle, and were facing more than $12,000 in penalties and past charges. They had argued that the checkoff violated their rights as independent producers by forcing them to pay for advertising campaigns they didn’t necessarily agree with. They reportedly said that they will appeal the decision.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of articles claiming that the USDA has approved the use of irradiation in school lunches. In fact that is not the case - not yet, anyway. The American Meat Institute (AMI) filed a petition requesting expedited approval of irradiated foods, “as a food-safety enhancement for USDA’s School Lunch Program,” according to a report last week in Meatingplace.com.
During AMI’s annual convention on October 25th, the issue was discussed, as were several others. The Meatinplace.com report chronicled the events that led to the mangled story: a reporter called USDA on the 25th for a comment on the petition, and was told that the “issue would receive a favorable scrutiny” and would likely be approved by the end of the year.” This resulted in a barrage of articles with bold headlines stating that the deed was already done!
Last week, a CBS affiliate TV station in Seattle, KIRO, began a series of news clips showing a very small slaughter plant that is viewable from Interstate 5 purportedly treating its livestock in an inhumane manner. FSIS Administrator Garry McKee wrote to the News Director of KIRO on October 31, (see inset), and the station reported USDA’s comments in a highly disparaging manner. Reportedly, KIRO in coalition with an animal rights activist group, is petitioning the Attorney General of Washington alleging cruelty to animals.
All of this activity, targeted at a rather small slaughter plant that services local producers and dairymen in southern Washington, is reminiscent of similar efforts by Humane Farming Association and related animal activist groups, including PETA, PCRM and GAP who made similar accusations against IBP at its Wallula plant in May 2000. There was related TV footage on the CBS network. In the IBP case, after an 11-month investigation, the State found that the animal rights activists “manufactured” evidence against the company.
The switch in strategy to target a small company that doesn’t have the deep pockets of a very large firm flies in the face of the Factual Background arguments that the plaintiffs made in the IBP case, when they alleged line speeds and down time were part of the inhumane handling problem they alleged.
NMA will reach out to support this small beef slaughterer as it defends its right to slaughter and process beef and comply with USDA requirements.
NMA member Curry Roberts and his wife, Vicki, are to be commended for their vigilance on behalf of the meat industry. While watching an evening newscast yesterday, they noticed that during the story “Latest Meat Recall,” a picture of a cooked New York strip steak appeared on a plate as background. The anchor did point out that the Pilgrim’s Pride recall involved turkey and chicken products, showing a picture of empty cases with “Wampler” shelf signs.
Vicki Roberts immediately called the news station, a local NBC affiliate, to point out how misleading it was to air a picture of beef product while discussing a poultry recall. She likened it to reporting on a Chrysler minivan recall and showing a picture of a Ford truck! The editor defended the tactic, and was of the mind that “meat is meat.” However, the story ran this morning without the picture of the strip steak.
Achieving and maintaining balance in meat stories has long been a challenge for the media. An inordinate amount of time and space is often allotted to the consumer rights groups, unfairly tipping the balance. Actions like those of Vicki Roberts go a long way in reminding the media of their burden of impartiality. Thanks, Vicki, for setting an example worthy of emulation.