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 8, 2002




Wednesday, April 10, NBC will air an episode of the popular show “Law and Order” (9pm Central) which will depict a meat packing company operating in unsanitary conditions. Apparently, the fictional packing company owner will be held responsible for the murder of a student activist seeking to expose the company and for the untimely death of five people who consumed E. coli contaminated beef.


Then on Thursday, April 18, at 9pm on PBS, “Frontline investigates today’s high-tech meat industry and whether new federal regulations, which give far greater control to the powerful meat industry, are enough to guarantee the safety of the meat we eat.” It is apparent from Frontline’s press release –– that the segment is going to slam the industry for “attempts to resist certain government regulations aimed at preventing contaminated meat from ending up in supermarkets and fast food chains across America.” The release quotes activists Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, and Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America. The show will also misrepresent the Supreme Beef lawsuit:


In “Modern Meat,” FRONTLINE examines a lawsuit filed by Texas meat grinding company Supreme Beef against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When the USDA effectively shut down the company after it failed bacterial contamination tests three times – once after nearly 50 percent of its meat was found to be contaminated with salmonella – the company sued. Supported in its lawsuit by the National Meat Association, Supreme Beef charged that the government didn't have the right to shut down its operations simply because it failed to meet the USDA salmonella standards. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the meat industry, prompting concern from some industry observers.


It’s important to note that despite NMA’s every effort to accommodate Frontline, the producers of the segment ultimately decided against a taped interview with NMA for this segment. Nor have they interviewed Supreme Beef President Steve Spiritas. There is no reason to believe that Frontline will offer a balanced or even accurate representation of the suit or its outcome.


NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow wrote last week to the Frontline producer responsible for the show to express her concern about this oversight. “Your advance website promotional introduction, which was posted after the 3-hour background discussion you … had with me on January 11, drew conclusions very critical of the meat industry. Nevertheless, I believed an on air interview would provide some balanced perspective about industry initiatives to make meat safe. Your viewers need to know the meat industry works hard to improve food safety, no to impair it.” … “In the cancelled interview we had hoped to reassure viewers that these judicial decisions [in Supreme v. USDA] do not undermine USDA’s authority to enforce the law or even to use performance standards, but merely make sure that the government will use testing technology to truly measure performance and protect consumers.” She concluded, as Frontline likely will not, with the reality that “safe meat is simply good business for meat processors.”


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The New York Times published an article, “This Steer’s Life,” which, while highly detrimental to feedlots, admitted the economic necessity of them. The piece traced the life of No. 534, an Angus steer purchased by the author, Michael Pollan, from calf to consumption. The “steer spent his first six months in these lush pastures alongside his mother, No. 9,534,” but is later sent to Poky Feeders in Garden City, KS. The article notes that the lifecycle of the average slaughtered steer has descended from more than 4 years to less than 16 months via corn feed, antibiotics and hormones but is critical of each of these innovations. According to Pollan: “Growing vast quantities of corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil – 1.2 gallons for every bushel.” … “Most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animals feed – a practice that, it is now generally acknowledged, leads directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs.’” … “[Hormone residues] contribute to the buildup of estrogenic compounds in the environment, which some scientists believe explain falling sperm counts and premature maturation in girls.” Each of these claims is so highly dubious, however, that even the article is forced to challenge them one after another:



Nevertheless, the Pollan cannot put aside his distaste for the feedlot system and ultimately opts for grassfed beef himself. However, he is forced to admit that the meat was “uneven” and “it takes too long to raise beef on grass, and there’s not enough grass to raise them on, since the Western range lands aren’t big enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle.  And besides, Americans have learned to love cornfed beef. Feedlot meat is also more consistent in both taste and supply and can be harvested 12 months a year.” The New York Times piece is online at




Four former employees of Tyson Foods have filed a civil suit against the company, alleging that it used illegal workers to depress wages. The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, comes hot on the heels of federal indictments of Tyson and six former managers on charges of smuggling illegal workers to work at 15 plants.


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When we think of the American West, we think of cowboys on the range, but that’s changing. The frontier has been tamed for over a century. The population is filling out, highways have replaced wagon ruts and the general stores are now megamalls. It’s hard not to get sentimental about the past, especially the “Wild West,” but when legislatures make the difficult decisions that govern our economy there is little room for phantasmagoria.


According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, such thinking has defined recent trends to force the meat packing industry into contortions like Mandatory Price Reporting and the pending ban on packer livestock ownership. The WSJ report calls these aspects of a range war. “What drives the fight is the shift of power during the past 20 years to a handful of huge packing companies. Four of them – Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson Foods Inc … and Farmland National Beef Packing Co. – account for 82% of the steers and heifers slaughtered, more than double the 1980 level.” … “The meat industry’s concentration challenges both a way of life in rural America, and the lingering romance of the West.” … “But the industry appears at a crossroads: choosing between protecting a competitive spot market or adopting a new pricing system that works backward from retail prices.”


This division can be clearly seen on the issue of the proposed Farm Bill amendment that would ban packer livestock ownership. On the one hand, packers have pushed for more vertical integration and farm-to-table integrity in order to satisfy consumer demand for consistent products. In combination with food safety concerns, regulatory uncertainty and foreign competition, among other cogent factors such as technological innovation, consumer demand has driven consolidation. However, as a recent report by an agricultural economist from Kansas State University (available online at points out, those improvements have not come without cost. While consolidation in the meat packing industry “have certainly resulted in efficiency gains … as industry structure consolidates vertically and horizontally, efficiency gains are less likely to be passed on to either farmers or consumers.” Cattle prices are down, retail beef prices are up. However, to quote what National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) lobbyist Bryan Dielam told Feedstuffs, “So far, the fundamental question remains: How would producers be better off [with the packer ban]?”


A recent report by the Sparks Company, suggests they would be worse off. According to its study, no segment of the industry could benefit from the fallout of a sweeping ban that would largely eliminate hard-won efficiency gains. Restrictions on improvement, essentially an attempt to turn back the clock to those romanticized days of yore, would inevitably be detrimental. None of which eliminates the emotional appeal of the proponents position. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), the amendment’s primary author, put it this way, “I don’t believe the future of livestock production … ought to be a series of low-paid employees of the packers, on their own land, bearing all of the risk and little of the profit.”


Senator Charles Grassley (D-IA) called it a case of “packer greed” vs. “producers’ need.” While such a trite explanation is unfactual to say the least, there is no denying the widespread existence of the sentiment. As the New York Times article reported on page 2 demonstrates, it goes hand-in-hand with a pastoral vision of grass-fed, hormone-free cattle at home on the range. It may not be real, but that won’t stop some from trying to make it reality.


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NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow and Director of Communications Jeremy Russell will join a group of twenty of the associations leaders and leaders from the Southwest Meat Association on the annual world wind tour of Washington, DC this week. Starting April 9 and going through April 11, attendees will meet with legislators, USDA officials, and special guest speakers on Capitol Hill.




USDA extended until July 31, 2003 the Lamb Meat Adjustment Assistance Program (LMAAP).  The new rule includes a lamb expansion payment program to provide incentives for producers to purchase or retain breeding ewe lambs. Per the agreement with the 201 petitioners, USDA has allocated an additional $27.7 million for the extension of LMAAP. $26 million will go to the new ewe lamb program. To be eligible for the program, a sheep operation must retain or purchase ewe lambs into their herd between August 15, 2001 and July 31, 2003.




A professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, Vivek Subramanian is attempting to create food packaging that would monitor the condition of the product it contains. “What we really want is communication between the food and the supermarket,” he told the New York Times, “the food tells you when it’s gone bad.” So he set out to develop sensors and other electronic devices that could gather and transmit information about freshness. Subramanian believes that organic circuits are the way to go. Actual food tags are still two to five years from completion, but progress is being made. “…we don’t quite understand them, but we can kind of make them work,” said Subramanian. The organic or plastic circuit could theoretically be printed onto a package’s surface in one step by a specialized printer at a cost of perhaps less than a penny. Several large companies are investing a lot in perfecting these circuits because they could also conceivably be used in devices such as cell phone screens and even billboard-sized displays. However, researchers must still break barriers of performance, stability and manufacturing cost.


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Edited by Jeremy Russell

April 8, 2002




A retired FSIS senior manager commented to NMA recently that “FSIS tends to treat the meat and poultry processing industry like the old lady who swallowed the fly.” Those of you who have read this children’s story may recall that the old lady first swallows a fly, then swallows a spider to catch the fly. This leaves her with a spider inside her. She then swallows a bird to catch the spider. This leads to a host of other animals. Each time she swallows something new she wonders if she might die. The problem is that regulatory HACCP has become like the fly and, one after another, FSIS has created a confusing array of positions: Assistant District Managers for Enforcement, Consumer Safety Inspectors, In-Depth Verification Teams, the Technical Center, a Correlation Teams and, more recently, the Consumer Safety Officers. Instead of simply training its inspection force from the beginning FSIS has opted for this tribal system of teams and stations each looking over the others’ shoulders. 


It’s becoming more and more difficult to keep it all straight. If there is anywhere that clarity is essential it’s the realm of food safety, but the average meat company manager doesn’t know who’s on first anymore. The commenter who told us of the fly analogy said, “I truly believe the industry as a whole will not die, but some within the industry, for example the small-very small and those with little or no Q.A. sophistication may not survive without some additional direction or help.” What this industry needs is a consistent and uniformly implemented inspection system that all segments can meet.


FSIS is meeting with its District Managers this week in Washington. Hopefully some of the attendees will have the courage to raise this important issue.




The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last week announced a program to address workplace ergonomics problems. The program, which replaces the mandatory ergonomic standard rejected last year by Congress, includes voluntary industry guidelines and enforcement actions targeted at “bad actors” that have failed to implement good-faith programs. “This plan is a major improvement over the rejected old rule because it will prevent ergonomics injuries before they occur and reach a much larger number of at-risk workers,”  said Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.


OSHA also plans to develop industry-or-task-specific guidelines for a number of industries based on current incidence rates and available information. This work will take into account guidelines and best practices already developed, including OSHA’s Meatpacking Guidelines issued in 1990, OSHA said in a facts sheet. OSHA will conduct inspections for ergonomic hazards and issue citations under the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to keep workplaces free of recognized serious hazards, and issue ergonomic hazard alert letters where appropriate, according to the fact sheet.


The OSHA fact sheet can be found on the Internet at


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NMA’s Process Validation Seminar, held last week in Kansas City, MO,  received excellent reviews from attendees. “This seminar got people thinking on the right track,” stated one reviewer. Another announced, “The experience and knowledge [of the speakers] is outstanding. One of the most cutting-edge discussions I’ve been in on in the last several years.”


NMA, and its cosponsors, Southwest Meat Association and AMI Foundation thank seminar speakers Robert Savage,  HACCP Consulting Group, Bob Galbraith, HACCP Consulting Group, and Sharon Wood, Food Safety Net, for their outstanding work in developing this educational event.


NMA is co-sponsoring two more Process Validation Seminars: April 22-23 in Los Angeles, CA and April 25-26 in San Francisco, CA.  For registration information please contact NMA at 510-763-1533.




Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman selected Donna Reifschneider as administrator of the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). Reifschneider comes to USDA from the Meat Export Federation, where she had served on the executive committee since 1999. Prior to that, she was president of the National Pork Producers Council, where she coordinated state and national policy and strategy, and negotiated with Canadian and Mexican pork organizations on trade issues. Reifschneider and her family own and operate a 6,000-sow, 1,000-acre hog and grain farm in Southern Illinois. She starts April 15.




Edelman PR Worldwide and Strategy One have released a study on the growing influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs include groups not related to industry, such as the Consumer Federation of America or PETA. “We [at Edelman] believe NGOs are now the Fifth Estate in global governance – the true credible source on issues related to the environment and social justice,” said Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman PR Worldwide, in a speech as the World Economic Forum in January. “Now companies must communicate with multiple stakeholders,” he added, “especially NGOs, with speed transparency, and an offer of interactivity.”


According to the Edelman survey, the U.S. ranks NGOs ahead of the media on favorability towards institutions (34% for NGOs, 23% for media), but behind business (at 40%) and the government (46%). On the issue of trust in institutions, the U.S. poll shows NGOs are almost parallel to business (41% versus 44%). In recent years NGOs have showed a significant up trend in these polls. Edelman believes the situation may be heading in the direction of Europe, where NGOs are considered “super-brands.”




The debate over ethanol, a gasoline additive made from corn, is revealing of the way farm state politics influences the nation. The same lawmakers responsible for an ill-conceived proposal to ban packer ownership of livestock would force Californians to purchase ethanol-laced gas that may double prices. And it seems likely they will succeed. According to a report in the Oakland Tribune today, “The craving for farm state voters is so visceral that candidates for president almost universally vow to protect ethanol subsidies.” Could this also explain anti-packer sentiment?