NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612
Edited by Jeremy Russell
March 11, 2002
In terms of international food safety and animal disease, the last fifteen years have been epoch making and it seems quite likely that we are entering into a new era of food trade diplomacy because of this. At a UN-sponsored global forum of food safety regulators held earlier this year authorities pushed hard for transparency the like of which, if you’ll pardon the pun, we’ve never seen. “It was suggested that to avoid [massive media-induced panic] and build trust there must be complete transparency in the risk assessment process and open, direct communication with the media,” the forum said in its final statement.
The need for such transparency is obvious. For the results of ignoring or hiding signals that may trigger a massive food scare you have only to look at the tragedies that have swept Britain and Japan in the wake of the “mad cow” terror. Never mind that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) isn’t half the menace certain scientists once imagined, it still has the power to scare the skin off consumers. But what would such transparency look like?
At this point nobody really knows and all we can say for certain is that current media panic mongers and the overabundance of USDA recall press releases, many of which are unrelated to food safety, have failed to truly educate consumers. It may well be up to the food industry itself to become the model in a mad, mad, mad world.
A woman in Hong Kong last month and another in Sicily became the latest victims of the human version of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). The Hong Kong woman had lived in Britain for several years and it is suspected that she contracted the disease from beef she ate there. The Sicilian’s illness has prompted the European Union (EU) to pass a resolution demanding new powers to force European countries to take action against BSE. “The single most important measure for protecting consumers in the long term,” said the European Commission in a statement, “to completely eliminate the risk of further animals becoming infected …”
American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) joined USDA and other groups in criticizing the GAO's recent report on BSE risks and the feed ban enacted in 1997, which has served as the United States' first line of defense against the disease. “Although GAO's attempt to supplement a 15-year-long national campaign to keep BSE outside the U.S. is commendable, the agency's report is characterized by shortcomings and oversights,” the feed group said in a statement. In particular, the feed association cited a Harvard University study released in November that said the United States was “extremely unlikely” to get BSE. “[The GAO’s report] offers no new knowledge in dealing with the issue and fails to recognize the findings of previous scientific studies,” the AFIA statement said.
Future Beef Operations LLC (FBO) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 4 after failing to meet performance expectations. Safeway, which owns 15% of the company and has contracted as its single buyer, said March 8 that it had taken charge of $30.5 million against previously reported 2001 earnings related to the bankruptcy proceedings.
FBO said March 8 it will keep open its $100 million beef plant in Arkansas City, Kansas. The plant can slaughter 1,650 cattle a day and produces boxed beef, case-ready ground beef, and deli meats. The company also retains alliances with feedyards and ranchers to supply the type of cattle that meet its specific needs.
NMA has completed an update of its Leaders of the Herd directory of members. The four-page insert is available for members via e-mail at [email protected] or by sending a self-addressed, stamped (34˘) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West.
KISS A PIG
North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most densely populated state in terms of both people and pigs, has passed the most stringent set of animal welfare laws currently in existence. The laws say that a pig shall have one square meter of space and a straw or rubber mat for napping, as well as chains and chewy toys to play with. “Balls also can be made available to the pigs for activity material,” says the edict, described last week in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Each pig must also receive at least eight hours of daylight, even in winter when the days are shorter than eight hours, meaning farmers must provide a lamp. But, the Journal says farmers are mostly upset by a declaration that a farmer or farmhand must spend at least 20 seconds looking at each pig each day – and back it up with paperwork showing that he has enough employees to provide such quality time. “Only someone who has no idea about pigs would think of this,” commented one German pig owner.
And the real economic concern is that other European competitors in the industry don’t have nearly the same level of restriction. “If we were required to give every pig a reclining chair, we wouldn’t have a problem with it, as long as everyone in the European Union did it, too,” commented another pig farmer.
National Meat Association has teamed with Southwest Meat Association (SMA) and the American Meat Institute (AMI) to train meat industry participants in Process Validation for Meat & Poultry Plants. During this 2-day course, Quality Assurance Managers, HACCP Coordinators, and Plant Managers who attend will receive practical take-home instructions of process validation through both lecture and hands-on exercises.
FSIS In-Depth Verification Teams and Consumer Safety Officers (CSOs) are currently scrutinizing HACCP plans to ensure that they meet regulatory requirements for validation. Courses like these are the best way for a plant to ensure in advance they pass muster. The NMA/AMI/SMA courses will conclude with an exam and each participant will receive a certificate of completion.
Upcoming process validation workshops will be held in Kansas City, MO on April 3-4, in Los Angeles, CA on April 22-23 and in San Francisco, CA on April 25-26. For more information visit NMAonline.org's Seminar page or contact NMA-West at (510) 763-1533.
Hymie Blackman, one of the 20th century's Los Angeles meat men died last September after a lengthy illness. He was 85 years old. Hymie Blackman, and his better known brother, Paul Blackman, now 87, worked together in perfect harmony as owners/managers of Acme Meat Co. in Vernon, California for many decades. Hymie was ever the strong supporter of his brother who served as President of the old Western States Meat Packers Association and received the E. Floyd Forbes award in 1966. Hymie was responsible for livestock procurement, and in every way the two brothers shared their responsibilities and their business activities. Our condolences go to Paul who misses his brother deeply.
Reuters reported that NMA Member ConAgra Foods Inc. was reportedly in talks to sell a substantial portion of its fresh beef and pork operations, but the company did not comment on this speculation. Reuters did quote several analysts and Cattle Buyers Weekly editor Steve Kay as being of the opinion that the talks were taking place. Kay, who broke the news in his highly regarded weekly publication, told Reuters that his sources “include individuals very close to the discussions as well as people involved at very high levels in the meat industry.”
ConAgra has discussed the possibility of selling underperforming units since 1997. In recent years, the beef and pork units have hampered its earnings growth. “I think conceptually for them [the sale] makes sense,” said Prudential Securities food analyst John McMillin. “But, it all depends how much they get.”
Robert Jensen, president and CEO of Jensen Meat Co., spoke today on behalf of NMA to the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board. Jensen, a director of NMA and a former president of the North American Meat Processors (NAMP), spoke about the extreme unfairness of the way Supreme Beef was treated, and ultimately bankrupted, during the time of its lawsuit. He also touched on his hopes that “Dr. Elsa Murano, who spoke to us at National Meat Association just last month, will be able to make changes in the system that will not only improve food safety but will also assure greater regulatory fairness in the way in which the program is carried out.” Small Business Administration Ombudsman Michael Barrera, who spoke at NMA’s Convention in Monterey last month, also attended the meeting in San Diego, CA.
NMA members will be saddened to know of the death on February 23, of Bob Fursman, a retired grading supervisor and long time highly respected employee of USDA's Ag Marketing Service. Bob died, as he lived, with his loving family beside him, including his son, Mike Fursman, who continued the family association with the meat industry as an official with UFCW Local 1288 in Fresno, CA. We extend our condolences to his wife Helen and his family.
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 Jeremy Russell
March 11, 2002
IRRADIATION/PASTEURIZATION DEBATE RENEWED IN CONGRESS
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, stated March 8 that about three weeks ago he had quietly inserted into the farm bill a provision to allow irradiate beef to be labeled as pasteurized. It is a step that has been sought for several years by the growing irradiated-food industry, which argues that irradiation is a “cold pasteurization” and deserves to be referred to as such. Harkin’s home state is also home, in Sioux City, to the main plant of NMA member SureBeam Corporation, the largest irradiator of ground beef sold in the United States. Predictably enough, activist groups were outraged.
FARM BILL NEGOTIATIONS APPROACH
Congress’ two lead farm bill negotiators set a formal meeting for conference committee members Wednesday, March 13, and noted that reconciling House and Senate farm bill versions remains within reach for the 2002 crop year. “I am convinced we can and must work to have an agreement within reach for the 2002 crop year – and for producers, the need grows more critical each day,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas), who will serve as Conference Chairman. “There are clear differences between the two farm bill versions, but House and Senate conferees are joined in the commitment to do the work needed to produce a good bill,” he added.
RESIDUE VIOLATOR LIST UP SOON
FSIS may soon have its list of residue violators up on the web. The Agency had promised such a list last September, but has been waiting for FDA and state agencies to complete on-farm investigations of the violations to ensure that the correct person or company is named. Food Chemical News reports that FSIS believes FDA is close to completing the second investigation of violators and that some names are likely to appear online soon.
Anyone with more than one citation for misuse of animal drugs within a twelve-month period will be considered a “repeat violator.” The idea, which originated in an NMA working group, is to encourage those who administer drugs to livestock to be more responsible before selling the animals into the food chain. Such abuse, while minimal, costs meat packers funds, creates liability problems and is totally unacceptable to consumers. NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow noted that “it is neither practical nor possible to test drugs our of the meat supply. But, if all parties will accept responsibility, it is possible to prevent it ever getting in.”
RUSSIAN POULTRY BAN
Russia's Agriculture Ministry imposed a ban on U.S. chicken, bringing to a halt $600 to $700 million a year in exports from producers in 38 U.S. states. Russia says the ban reflects concerns about sanitary conditions and the use of antibiotics and feed additives. Some allege that Russia’s ban is a retaliation for U.S. duties on steel imports announced last week. U.S. and Russian officials are meeting today to discuss the ban.
FSIS NOTICE ON COLLAGEN SAUSAGE CASINGS
FSIS has published a Notice (6-02) collecting frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the labeling of natural or regenerated collagen sausage casings. The FAQs explain a recently published Final Rule which determines exact language for package labels of sausage products. The Notice replaces an earlier one on the same topic (1-02). For a copy, send a self-addressed, stamped (34˘) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West and be sure to include the newsletter date with your request.
The world’s two largest pigskin and beef hide gelatin companies, Deutsche Gelatine-Fabriken Stoess AG and Leiner Davis Gelatin Corp., have agreed to take steps to maintain competition in the U.S. market and can move ahead with their proposed $170 million merger, federal regulators told the Associated Press March 7. The two companies account for more than half of the U.S. market for pigskin and beef hide gelatin.
In January, when the merger was originally proposed, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it would ask a federal court to stop the combination. However, the companies negotiated with the government to address antitrust concerns. Joseph J. Simons, the FTC's director of competition, said the revised deal would leave the U.S. gelatin market virtually unchanged.
McDonald's Corp. announced plans last week to issue a new apology and pay $10 million to vegetarian and religious groups for using beef flavoring in its French fries. According to a draft settlement provided to Reuters on Thursday, 60 percent of the payment would go to vegetarian organizations, with the rest going to groups devoted to Hindus and Sikhs, children's nutrition and assistance, and kosher dietary practices. McDonald’s would also pay an additional $4,000 to each of 12 plaintiffs in five separate lawsuits. However, McDonald's said it was premature to discuss details before an official settlement. “McDonald's has been working in good faith to resolve this matter and publicly apologized last year for any confusion we may have caused,” said a spokesman.
The Office of the Under Secretary for Food Safety, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are sponsoring a public meeting to provide information and receive public comments on agenda items that will be discussed at the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL). The public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 19th, 2002, from 1-5pm. Find out more about the Codex at http://www.codexalimentarius.net/.
Reminder: Food Chemical News is moderating a Food Sabotage and Bioterrorism Mitigation audio conference Monday, March 18, 2002, from 2-4 p.m. (eastern time). The registration fee, per site is $197. To register, call 800-775-7654 or 715-833-5426 and refer to seminar # FCN6884-0.