NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612

(510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186 h Email Address: [email protected] h

Edited by Jeremy Russell

February 11, 2002




Next Wednesday, February 20, NMA will kick off not only its 56th Annual Convention in Monterey, California, but also co-sponsor the Western Science Research Update with the American Meat Science Association (AMSA). Educational and social events will be held through Saturday, February 23. This means round table seminars and specialty meetings (see complete details on page inserted), as well as Sausagefest and a special strolling dinner and dance at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.


On Thursday at the General Session, USDA Under Secretary Elsa Murano, a microbiologist and expert on food safety, will speak on her role and plans as leader of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). This year’s Keynote Speaker is Joe Luter, CEO and President of Smithfield Foods. He’s ridden the crest of a rapidly consolidating industry, making great lemonade where others see only lemons. He will share his insights with attendees during the Saturday Annual Meeting. The election of new Directors and the presentation of awards and scholarships will also be conducted during the Saturday morning meeting.


As always, there will be a golf tournament, this time held at the Del Monte Golf Course. Now more than 100 years old and the oldest course west of the Mississippi, the Del Monte offers an exceptional challenge to golfers of every skill level.


Hosted at the DoubleTree Hotel in the heart of Monterey, events will be held just steps from Fisherman’s Wharf and will feature spectacular bay vistas. This beautiful seaside community provides all the charm of a small town combined with the recreation of a resort and the cultural activities of a metropolis. And the food … NMA’s Convention includes many succulent luncheons, delightful dinners and sustaining continental breakfasts.


Our Spouse Program this year is themed for John Steinbeck. The “Footsteps of Steinbeck” tour traces the life and literature of John Steinbeck on the Monterey Peninsula beyond Salinas, where he was born and raised. A lunch will be served at the lovely Steinbeck House, followed by a visit to the Steinbeck Center.




At a meeting with more than 3,200 beef industry people, President Bush addressed the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) last Friday, February 8. In introducing the President, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman related how Bush ordered a burger from the White House instead of running to the bunker when, on September 14, 2001, there was word of a secondary terrorist threat. “I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I appreciate the fact that the president of the United States looks to beef as a comfort food.” Bush himself noted that in the U.S. “we raise better beef than anyone, and we need more opportunities to export what we do best to the rest of the world.” He added that he wanted “people in China eating U.S. beef.” Later Bush descended into the audience to shake hands and sign autographs; next week at the NMA convention ask speaker Mohammed Koomarhie to show you his badge, reports that he was one of the lucky USDA representatives to have it signed. The NCBA convention and Bush’s speech were also attended by NMA Director of Regulatory Issues Ken Mastracchio.


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Consumer spending on beef last year reached what the Denver Post called a record high at more than $57 billion. The assessment comes from NCBA and Cattle-Fax issuances. However, per capita consumption dropped slightly to 65 pounds compared with 66.1 pounds in 2000. However, since spending was up 8% over the previous year, despite a weak economy, the paper reported a victory for the nation’s cattle industry. It is also a victory of meat packers and processors who have consistently improved the quality and safety of their product for most of the last decade. Unfortunately, U.S. beef exports fell 7% through November of last year. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, this drop was largely due to reduced sales to panicked Japanese consumers fearful after Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was detected in their country.




According to a report by the Associated Press, a new subsidiary of Flow International, Fresher Under Pressure, is using a high pressure system – Ready-to-eat meats are usually pressurized at 87,000 psi for up to two minutes to reduce pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes – to kill foodborne pathogens on a range of products. And pressurized foods “are much closer to natural looking, fresh-looking,” noted researcher V.M. Bala at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology. Treated orange juice and salsa “look and taste like freshly prepared.” The next step, and it may be just a few years away from supermarket shelves, is “shelf-stable” food that will keep for months or years without refrigeration; researchers believe a combination of pressure and moderate heat will do the trick. Fresher Under Pressure's smallest commercial unit is a 35-liter vessel that can process about 450 pounds per hour. The primary commercial unit is a 215-liter vessel that can process about 1,800 pounds per hour.


Flow and the Center are also currently midway through a three-year Army-backed project to develop shelf-stable products, i.e. MREs, of  “higher quality and higher nutrient content,” said Patrick Dunne at the Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts. MREs are currently prepared using high pressure cookers, which creates a potential for overcooking. Dunne anticipates a marketable shelf-stable product by mid-2005. The key is eliminating the threat from bacterial spores. Such spores are much harder to kill than bacteria itself. The pressure process will be a good option for high-value, heat sensitive foods, as it preserves more of the vitamins than heat pasteurization. “Not just vitamins, but folic acid, niacin – all of these nutritional components are harmed by heat,” said Edmund Ting, chief technology officer for Fresher Under Pressure.


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The New York Times in an editorial on February 9 became the latest news outlet to misinterpret the Circuit Court decision in Supreme Beef Processors v. USDA. Calling the decision “a hole in the inspection system, putting consumers everywhere at increased risk,” the Times called for legislative response. They cited efforts in the Senate and the House to grant USDA the authority to use microbiological tests as an exclusive determination of plant sanitation, which would mean the arbitraty closure of plants rather than a reasoned response to a food safety dilemma.


NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow today wrote a letter to the editor responding to the severely flawed editorial in the Times. Here is the text:


As an Intervenor and Party in the recent Fifth Circuit decision regarding Salmonella and meat inspection, National Meat Association strongly disagrees with the Times characterization that decision “weakened the government’s ability to combat bacterial contamination at the nation’s meat plants.” A unanimous Fifth Circuit panel affirmed a lower court decision and held that USDA could not withdraw inspection from a plant where USDA admitted there were no deficiencies and that any contamination had originated at another USDA inspected plant.


The position taken by both Courts is that a plant should only be held accountable for its own lack of performance. Our association has consistently advocated that priority for Salmonella testing should be at the slaughterhouse, where Salmonella can best be controlled, and, if found, traced back to its source. At the USDA inspected slaughterhouse a carcass that tests positive can be diverted before it is distributed to companies that make ground beef. Unfortunately, during the prior administration, there was an emphasis on punishing processors rather than preventing contamination. Thus USDA took over 33,000 Salmonella tests taken at beef grinders, and just over 4,000 at slaughterhouses for 15 months ending 3/31/01, e.g. a nearly 10 to 1 ratio. Senator Harkin’s amendment would simply codify this punitive approach, rather than focusing on early prevention and public health.




A British biotech firm said on Wednesday it had won the world's first patent for a blood test for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and hoped to launch the breakthrough diagnostic kit in around a year's time. Proteome Sciences Plc said its test, now covered by an Australian patent, could be used to screen national blood banks for vCJD as well as to diagnose disease in individuals and animals. At the moment, the only definitive way to detect mad cow disease, or BSE, and its human version, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), is by analysis of brain samples after death. A simple blood test would allow doctors to confirm the disease earlier in patients showing symptoms and let vets monitor the condition in animals before slaughter.


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FSIS is providing guidance information on Packaging Materials and Proprietary Substances on its Labeling and Consumer Protection online at: The site provides explanatory information for consumers as well as industry.




We are saddened to report the death of Mel Dickman on Saturday, February 9. Mel was the founder and CEO of 21st Century Foods in Pleasanton, CA. Mel worked hard to develop energy bars and bagel dogs, and was an enormously successful businessman. He was also incredibly generous with those who were poor and homeless, as he once was, and supported a lot of philanthropic groups. Mel was 58. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family.




The Wisconsin Assembly passed last week a measure that would provide jail time and stiff fines to those who threaten to infect animals with diseases. Impetus for the law came after a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) leader espoused a desire for a U.S. Foot-and-Mouth Disease infection. The Assembly also passed a bill which strengthens regulations against intentionally or unintentionally infecting animals. New rules include an up to $10,000 fine and as much as nine months in prison.



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 Jeremy Russell

February 11, 2002




On February 4, 2002, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman released details of the Bush Administration's proposed FY 2003 USDA budget, which includes full funding for farm safety net programs, substantial increases for homeland security, funds meat inspection programs at record levels, increases spending for international trade and provides greater resources for low-income Americans who need food assistance. “The proposed budget reflects the Bush Administration’s commitment to support an additional $73.5 billion over 10 years for farm programs,” said Veneman.


Veneman announced that the budget proposes a $146 million increase for programs to protect the nation’s food supply from animal and plant pests and diseases, strengthen food safety programs and support specific research activities.  In his State of the Union address, President Bush stressed the need for more homeland security protections. $2.3 billion to support ongoing research programs in high priority areas such as research on new prevention and control strategies for emerging, reemerging and exotic disease of animals such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and Foot and Mouth Disease research. Other research will support the development of biotechnology, industrial and bioenergy products, environmental protection, and expanded market opportunities.


 “We must look at ways to better serve our customers and ensure programs are delivering their intended purpose,” said Veneman. “We look forward to working with the Congress in passing this budget, which supports farmers and ranchers and increases benefits to consumers.”


The budget proposal does not assume any new user fees for FY 2003. The budget documents released by the Department, however, state that during FY 2003 FSIS will develop a proposal to implement an annual licensing fee program that will be used to fund food safety related activities and research projects. The budget documents also note that the agency intends to redefine its definition of “overtime” to charge establishments for second and third shift inspection services.


More information on the budget proposal can be found at


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Dr. Merle Pierson, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI), has been appointed to serve as USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. As well as his work for VPI, he has assisted the government and the meat and poultry industry as a consultant on issues of food safety and HACCP. Pierson has served on both the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria and the Codex Alimentarius Commission. He brings a great deal of expertise and professionalism to his appointment.




NMA Consulting Associate Member Royal Oyster attended a meeting on NMA’s behalf at USDA/AMS to get an update from the agency about its equipment approval program which it took on when FSIS discontinued the approval system in the changeover to HACCP. AMS programs are generally reimbursable, market-driven activities. The equipment approval program, while laudatory, is taking in revenue fees for the service about one tenth of the cost of the program. AMS officials were seeking, in the meeting, suggestions from program benefactors.


Several organization leaders told the officials that their members were expressing very little interest in using the services, that other options such as EU certification might be an option at least for equipment that comes from Europe, and that some firms have developed their own internal programs. Mr. Oyster, who was the Branch Chief at FSIS for equipment approval before his retirement and the subsequent discontinuation, noted that it often takes on-site evaluation of equipment with both the equipment manufacturer and the plant user to get to operational acceptability. In a HACCP environment, it is up to the plant people working with the equipment manufacturer to assure that the equipment meets the highest possible standards for sanitary operation.


Mr. Oyster will attend NMA’s Associate Advisory Committee in Monterey this month and there will be further opportunity to discuss this issue.




Effective February 5, APHIS established animal health regulations to provide for the payment of indemnity by the United States Department of Agriculture for the voluntary depopulation of captive cervid herds known to be infected with Chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) of cervids (elk, deer, and other members of the deer family) that to date has only been found in North America. First recognized as a clinical “wasting” syndrome in 1967, it is typified by chronic weight loss leading to death. Species that have been affected with CWD include Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and black-tailed deer. Other ruminant species, including wild ruminants and domestic cattle, sheep, and goats, have been housed in wildlife facilities in direct or indirect contact with CWD-affected deer and elk, and to date there has been no evidence of transmission of CWD to these other species. The payment of indemnity will encourage depopulation of infected herds, and therefore will reduce the risk of other cervids becoming infected with the disease.


USDA reports that, in the United States, CWD has only been confirmed in free-ranging deer and elk in a limited number of counties in northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, and western Nebraska. CWD has also been diagnosed in fewer than 20 captive (farmed) elk herds in South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Montana, and Colorado.