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

April 22, 2002




The people who make money as meat industry critics really had a field day in Frontline’s “Modern Meat.” Knowing from advance reviews and its own dealings with the producers of the show that this was the way it was going to slant, NMA decided to place a special response on its website. You can visit NMA’s “Modern Meat” response page at under the “What’s New” heading.


Rather than give a blow by blow of the episode or even offer our own review, we’d like to quote some of the reviews that appeared in newspapers the day “Modern Meat” was released.


“There’s very little effort in this documentary to show both sides of the meat production issue, or even to clarify the difference between what you get at your local grocery store vs. what you get when you go to a fast-food drive-up window. In a film that hammers the meat industry, there’s almost no representation of that industry.” – Susan Young, Oakland Tribune.


“Since this is Frontline, after all, there is an Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy afoot.” –Andrew Ryant, Globe and Mail.


“If Frontline were not a prestigious fact-finding public television series, a viewer might be tempted to dismiss Modern Meat as a tabloid TV scare.” –Dusty Saunders, Rocky Mountain News.


Of course, these and other journalists are somewhat sympathetic to Frontline’s report. Nobody wants to be on the ‘wrong side’ of a food safety debate. What these writers may not realize and what needs to be emphasized is that in Frontline’s report many food safety technologies were completely ignored, no microbiologists were interviewed, and some of the shows ‘experts’ were merely other journalists.




According to data from CDC’s FoodNet surveillance program, infections from four major foodborne pathogens have declined by more than 20% in 2001. CDC’s foodborne illness expert, Dr. Robert Tauxe, credits government programs such as the egg quality assurance program adopted in 13 states that extends from farmers to retailers. “This is one example of how the approach could be extended back to the farm,” he says. The massive spending by industry on new intervention technologies must also be taken into account (see Herd on the Hill page 1). USDA moreover gives credit to its HACCP program and a 24% decline in food-processing plant problems since 2000. However, it is important to remember that FoodNet data reflects illnesses from all sources, not just meat and poultry. The full report is available online at


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One industry representative noted “you know a documentary is weak when they interview other journalists as ‘experts,’” which is exactly what Frontline resorted to in realizing its slant (see page 1). Not only did it interview the Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, who incorrectly stated in the program that Supreme Beef Processors supplied 45% of the school lunch program’s ground beef (Supreme CEO Steve Spiritas told Frontline prior to showtime that it was never more than 25%), but it relied heavily on New York Times writer Michael Pollan. Pollan’s report, “Power Steer,” while thorough in many ways, was thoroughly lacking in credibility in others (see Lean Trimings 4/8/02). A letter from the subjects of Pollan’s article (see below) was published in part by the Times on April 14. It was written the ranchers with whom Pollan collected much of his apparently deminumus on-ranch research.


To The [New York Times] Editor,


After helping reporter Michael Pollan with his article "Power Steer," I was greatly disappointed to read how your magazine portrayed my family and the one million other American ranchers who work this land to raise the best beef in the world, particularly since Pollan did not participate in half of what he inaccurately described.  In contrast to the theme you portrayed, we are hard working family farmers who are dedicated to the humane care of our animals and committed to providing a wholesome product for your family.


The day after your article appeared, I was out on my South Dakota ranch in 40 mile-per-hour winds and blizzard conditions doing what I do every day: taking care of my animals, ensuring they stay healthy. Ranchers view it as both a moral obligation and an economic necessity to make sure our cattle are well cared for.


That same commitment applies to the entire food chain. Ranchers help fund millions of dollars in research and use the best science to ensure our animals are raised humanely and the food they produce is safe and wholesome. This is a top priority on my ranch because I know the product I've dedicated my life to producing will be served on dinner tables across the country, including mine.



Rich Blair

Vale, South Dakota




According to an Associated Press report, demand for goat meat is growing at an estimated rate of 10-15% per year and is said to have grown steadily over the past 10 years. Texas is the nation’s leading producer, with Tennessee and Georgia taking turns for second place. Goat meat is lean and higher in protein than chicken. It costs about the same as beef. Interest in the meat is driven by immigrants moving in from goat-eating regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East.


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According to a report in Supermarket News last week, retailers are using marketplace changes to dictate a list of specifications for beef that rely on such quality-oriented terms as “certified” and “corn-fed.” The report says that there is a big push for premium products.


Kroger Co. is one retailer that is large enough to dictate its own specifications and has contracted with Excel Corp. to develop a line called “Cattleman’s Collection.” Excel uses 24 quality checkpoints to monitor the product all the way from seedstock to its arrival at the company’s slaughterhouses. “We’ve linked all the partners with 24 quality checkpoints,” said Paul Hiemenz, vice president of new-brand initiatives for Excel. “It’s these checkpoints that are the quality-control glue that holds the chain together.” The final product is hand-selected and carefully tracked to ensure it meets Kroger’s quality demands.


Even small independent firms have found new opportunities for premium beef products at the retail level, according to SN’s report. Specifically, the article discusses Certified Angus and Hereford programs.


A separate report by the Colorado Beef Council (CBC) notes that Albertson’s introduced a new meat labeling program in February. In the new program, the meat case is divided up by cooking methods with cooking instructions on every package. Such labeling initiatives are an essential part of meeting the needs of today’s consumers, says CBC: 41% of consumers under the age of twenty-five said their lack of cooking knowledge kept them from buying certain cuts of steak.




A 22-year-old British citizen living in Florida is believed to have contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), becoming the first case in the U.S. Federal authorities said they are confident the woman did not contract the disease from U.S. beef. The woman was living in Britain through the eighties at the height of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak there. vCJD is believed to be the human equivalent of this deadly cattle disease. BSE has never been detected in the U.S. despite an extensive inspection program.




A report in the January/February Bulletin of the National Consumers League (NCL) stated that at least 86% of consumers believe that products labeled “natural” are safe. NCL commissioned a national random sample survey to find out how Americans understand such label claims. According to NCL, it’s important that consumers recognize that products labeled or advertised as “natural” are not guaranteed to be safe or harmless or safer than similar products not bearing the “natural” label. Focus group participants unanimously agreed that there was a need for greater regulation, including defining the term and enforcement of standards regarding the contents and degree of processing of “natural” products. “[Consumers] should remember that not all things natural are safe,” said the NCL report. “For example, poisonous mushrooms, found in nature, are deadly if eaten.”


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NMA is hosting a “simple to attend” 1-hour teleconference on New Employer Guidelines and Legal Requirements for 2002. During this meeting there will be a “Questions and Answers” session to ensure you get the information you need. All participants will receive instructions for simple dial-up procedures, an agenda and background material upon receipt of your registration.  Maximize your time and dollars by putting this conference on a speaker phone for your key people. The teleconference will be held on May 7 from 9:00am-10:00am PDT. E-mail [email protected] for registration information or call (510) 763-1533.




The International HACCP Alliance will host a Global HACCP Conference on May 15-17 in Chicago, IL. The conference will include a general session and break-out Knowledge sessions, as well as the formulation of white papers. To receive a registration packet e-mail [email protected]. NMA is a proud sponsor of the International HACCP Alliance.




FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine today released a checklist that will be used to determine compliance with its regulations to prevent Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) risk materials from entering into animal feed. The new checklist, which will be used immediately by state and federal inspectors, is available at or e-mail [email protected].




NMA is sponsoring a seminar on Developing Corporate Compliance Policies for Meat & Poultry Plants. The seminar will be held June 18 in Los Angeles, CA. It will include information on how to be assured that employees understand their responsibilities in dealing with compliance issues. E-mail [email protected] for registration information or call (510) 763-1533.



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

April 22, 2002




Speaking on behalf of tax-exempt consumer activist organizations, Carol Foreman representing the Consumer Federation of America is just plain wrong to claim that the 5th circuit court decision in Supreme Beef Processors v. USDA will reverse the downward trend on foodborne illness reported by FoodNet last week (see Lean Trimmings page 1). Such a prediction fits her storyline, as she told it on Frontline last Thursday, but it is a wild and unsupported notion. First of all, FoodNet’s data does not relate the amounts of pathogens on ground beef, but instead includes all possible sources of foodborne illness. And, furthermore, the recent reductions in pathogens on meat and poultry have been driven by technological innovation.


In 1993, fourteen years after Foreman left the Carter Administration as a political appointee responsible for meat and poultry inspection, the standard that all visible dressing defects at slaughter could only be removed with a knife remained. In fact, it was forbidden to wash off any such defects. In the wake of the 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, efforts were intensified to identify and remove visible defects – the so-called “zero tolerance” requirement.


Subsequently, the agency received industry requests to approve various interventions that were designed to improve sanitary dressing results, including steam vacuuming, pre-evisceration carcass spraying and subsequently thermal processing (steam and hot water) of the entire carcass, along with antimicrobial rinses. These all came on line, after FSIS approval, in the years following 1993, but only after extensive review by USDA. It is the introduction of these industry initiatives that led to dramatic reductions in pathogenic bacteria on meat in the 1990s.


End-of-the-line testing of ground beef under the Salmonella performance standard (SPS), that was in the Final Rule issued in July 1996, was not implemented until later. It began in large packing plants at the same time that HACCP was implemented, in January 1998. Supreme Beef Processors, a small plant pursuant to the HACCP rule, implemented HACCP early in order to meet the specification of the AMS commodity acquisition program. It was therefore included in the SPS testing in mid-1998, at least six months before it was otherwise required.


HACCP is the program by which we ensure the effectiveness of the microbial interventions that have driven a decline in pathogenic contamination of meat and poultry products. The introduction of such technology is arguably the single largest factor in improving the safety of meat products in the last ten years. While the impulse my be to attribute the trend to consumer actions, the CDC says that there have been “no major shifts in what the population is doing.” Along with superior cooking and handling at restaurants, the impact of the in-plant interventions have been huge. If the improvements reverse, as Foreman forecasts, it won’t be because of any legal decision but rather some new unforeseen challenge. Scientists and microbiologists are on high alert, looking for ways to counteract any such possibility.


While even the powerful technologies in place, with the possible exception of irradiation, cannot guarantee 100% assurance, there are still ways that the industry is moving to improve. NMA would encourage any plants that have not taken advantage of these outstandingly successful technologies to do so immediately. The next step for improvements may come at the livestock production level. Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Merle Pierson told Health Scout News that “there is a lot of emphasis on instructing farmers about better sanitation to reduce contamination on the farm level.”


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FSIS announced a two-day symposium to discuss scientific data and issues associated with pathogen reduction and HACCP. The symposium will focus on analysis and discussion of microbial testing, anti-microbial interventions, performance standards, and other pathogen-reduction inspection activities. At this public meeting, university scientists will chair panels and facilitate dialogue among the panelists from government and academia in discussions about HACCP and pathogen reduction activities. The meeting has been scheduled for May 6 and 7, 2002, and a tentative agenda is available in the FSIS Docket Room and on the FSIS website at For more detailed information contact Dr. Karen Hulebak, Senior Advisor for Scientific Affairs, FSIS, at (202) 720-8609 or by fax at (202) 720-9893. FSIS encourages attendees to pre-register as soon as possible by contacting Sheila Johnson of the FSIS Planning Staff at (202) 690-6498 or by e-mail to [email protected].




The National Chicken Council noted in its Washington Report this week that Senator John Breaux (D-LA) has introduced “A Bill to Provide for the Reissuance of a Rule Relating to Ergonomics” (S. 2184). The bill requires development of a new national ergonomics rule within two years and directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to consider the previous docket upon which the old rule was based. The legislation would require any new federal labor rule to clearly define under what circumstances an employer is required to address ergonomic hazards and what standards will be used to measure the employers’ performance. The bill directs that the regulation apply to all industries where workers are exposed to workplace hazards and where “economically and technologically feasible measures” to control these hazards exist. A similar bill was introduced in the House last year.




In the joint Senate/House committee debate over the contentious Farm Bill, policy discussions regarding the ban on packer ownership of livestock are still ongoing. Current proposals are focused on the period of time that will be allowed for packers to divest of their livestock ownership. Sources familiar with conference negotiations have said the possibility of a two-year divestiture period is being floated around with the intention of first getting the policy in place then establishing deadlines for divestiture. Because of formidable opposition from nearly all House conferees and Senate Republican conferees, a “watered down” packer ownership provisions or none at all is still a strong possibility. 


Similarly, for country of origin labeling, the Senate offered language to the effect that “for all commodities addressed in the Senate bill, require the Secretary to promulgate rules for voluntary labeling by September 30, 2002. The program becomes mandatory on September 30, 2004. The Secretary may decide not to implement mandatory labeling based on determination of benefit to consumers and producers.  For a product to be labeled a USA Product, it must be born, raised and processed in the United States.”


Regarding both country-of-origin meat labeling and meatpacker livestock ownership provisions in the proposed Senate farm bill, Tom Daschle (D-SD) said, “We're hanging tough at this point. Those are important matters for our state. At this point, they are still in the bill.” If only one passed, “It would be a partial success,” Daschle said. “But we are not giving up yet,” he added.


PETA made headlines today attempting to manipulate other aspects of the Farm Bill debate by sending to Congressmen a videotape illegally filmed inside an animal research facility.