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

May 28, 2002




According to an exposé aired by Dateline NBC on May 21, the practice of changing the sell-by dates of meat, poultry and fish on supermarket shelves not only exists, but is common in many of the nation’s largest chains. Following up on earlier research performed by self-appointed crusader Jim Morrison, Dateline was able to show with fairly simple surveillance techniques (such as marking the bottom of the foam tray with their own imprint of the original sell-by date) that almost every store in the seven chains they checked were changing the dates on meat, poultry and/or fish. They visited stores owned by Winn Dixie, Kroger, Publix, A&P, Safeway, Albertsons and Pathmark. Each time the result was the same, the chain’s policy prohibited redating, the employees claimed that redating was never done, but Dateline was able to find examples of redating. Sometimes it was as simple as a new sticker posted over the old sticker.


The final results were damning. All together, Dateline spent 46 days inside stores at seven grocery store chains and found redating in 28 of 33 stores. Altogether, they found 201 packages of fresh meat and fish on which sell-by dates had been extended from one to seven days. Dateline was unable to show the percentage of the packages sold, although it is not unreasonable to assume that the states collectively sold millions of packages by their original sell-by date.


None of the chains agreed to be interviewed on camera by Dateline, but all responded to Dateline’s request for an interview with a statement saying that redating practices are not be tolerated. Only Pathmark admitted to a redating policy. The chain said that if the meat doesn’t sell by its sell-by date it can be re-examined by a worker and redated. However, Dateline claimed that the policy was not being consistently implemented.


Dr. Jill Hollingsworth of the Food Marketing Institute explained to Dateline that “the dating of product [by supermarkets] is voluntary. Stores can legally, according to the 1972 Department of Agriculture law, rewrap and redate meat.” … “Let’s say a steak. And they can sell it for four days. They may put that product out there, but date it only for two days. That way, after two days, if it hasn’t sold, they check that product. And if it meets their quality standard, they’ll rewrap it, they’ll date it again for the remaining two days. But still, it never goes beyond the four days. After that they’ll throw it away.” Sixteen states, including some in which Dateline did its research, do have laws or regulations against such a practice, but Dateline found that those rules were not routinely enforced.


Dateline could not speak to the specific condition of meat in redated packages and no one mentioned the common practice by many supermarkets of marking down meat packages for quick sale. A microbiologist working for Dateline was less than credible with his non-specific responses with respect to pathogens. It is not clear what effect redating has on foodborne illness, since proper cooking should eliminate bacterial growth. What is clear is that more negative publicity has struck the industry at a time when it needs it least. Dateline concluded that “what appears to be a promise to America – sell-by – those two tiny words on every package you buy, is not promise at all.” Trust, if it has truly been lost, may well be restored by another two tiny words: case ready.


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After last week’s Lean Trimmings article, “McDonald’s Beef Import Trial Causes Producer Consternation,” Nancy J. Robinson, Vice President, Government and Industry Affairs for the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) wrote to clarify her association’s position. Robinson explained that “R-CALF may have commented on foreign meat inspection relative to the McDonald’s issue but where in our letter or anywhere else do we say that?” … “It is no secret that LMA is a champion of U.S. producers and U.S. beef products. (We have made that clear in our support of Country-of-Origin Labeling and in our lawsuit on the Beef Checkoff.) Would you expect any less from individuals and businesses that depend on a strong, viable domestic beef industry? It is also no secret that we believe that U.S. beef is the best and safest beef in the world,” said Robinson.


Robinson also attached a letter from LMA President Pat Goggins to McDonald’s President Michael Roberts which stated: “We can appreciate the realities of the marketplace and the price and supply demands that face your business in the coming years. Nevertheless, we believe our domestic beef supply remains the safest and best in the world and that if the demand is there the supply will follow at a price commensurate with our safe and wholesome product. Thus, we remain hopeful that your test of imported beef will remain just that and not become a regular use of foreign beef in McDonald’s hamburgers.”




Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is warning consumers that pizza is unhealthy, although it’s hardly a news flash. “Add beef to your pizza at your own risk,” CSPI warned last week, earning themselves the moniker of “the food police” from CNN. Even CSPI’s own leader has joked, “CSPI is proud about finding something wrong with practically everything.”


The Center for Consumer Freedom also notes that CSPI is now selling a book – with a suitably sensationalistic title. Restaurant Confidential claims to be an expose of the contents of restaurant food, but a lot of it is a rehash of restaurant-supplied nutritional analyses.


The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) points out that pizza can be a source of goodly amounts of a variety of beneficial ingredients. According to scientists and physicians associated with ACSH, a couple of slices of pizza with the right toppings can provide a substantial portion of the recommended intake of calcium, protein and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, as well as calories. And if you get extra veggies like spinach, peppers, and broccoli toppings, you can add vitamins C and A as well. “Certainly many Americans are concerned about consuming excess calories and fat,” states ACSH president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “And of course one can eat too much of any food. But that doesn't mean that pizza, or any other favorite can't be a valuable part of a healthy, balanced diet.”


NMA staff remain undaunted, however, voting pizza the #1 choice of meals at birthday celebrations at the NMA office.


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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Public Citizen have released a critique of the USDA’s meat inspection program. The consumer groups conclude that “whether due to systematic incompetence or bad faith, USDA’s ‘don’t look, don’t find’ policy [for microbiological standards] means it is fundamentally deceiving the public with false reassurances.” GAP and Public Citizen report focused extensively on the USDA’s Salmonella Performance Standard. The data, obtained by the groups under FOIA, shows that: (1) FSIS would complete sample sets promptly 40% of the time; (2) the agency continued testing for the full set even after six samples tested positive (i.e., failure); (3) the agency worked with the establishment in between sample sets resulting in delay in initiation of a subsequent sample set; and (4) agency documents show FSIS did not wish to initiate a third series unless it had confidence the establishment would pass the final set.


USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano released a statement May 23 which said: “Pathogen Reduction/HACCP is a multi-pronged scientific approach to improving food safety. While Salmonella testing remains an important component of the Pathogen Reduction/ HACCP system, it is not the sole indicator of whether plants are meeting food safety standards. Our food safety experts are continually verifying, through rigorous reviews, that establishments have sound HACCP systems and sanitation practices that prevent and control hazards. We are aggressively targeting ground beef establishments that fail to control hazards and providing incentives to plants that use a decontamination step in their processes.” She added that “like other components of the Pathogen Reduction/HACCP system, microbial testing is continuously being reviewed, evaluated and improved, with the ultimate goal of protecting public health and enhancing meat and poultry safety for all consumers.”


According to the USDA, last year only 2.8% of ground beef tested positive for Salmonella, compared with 3.3% in 2000 and 6.4% in 1998. “Most importantly, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 23% drop in bacterial foodborne illness since 1996,” said Murano, “confirming Pathogen Reduction/HACCP's success in preventing foodborne illness – our ultimate goal.”


The GAP-Public Citizen Report identifies by name, the establishments which have failed at least one sample set in the Salmonella Performance Standard. It also expresses confusion about “exactly how much of the Salmonella testing program could be invalidated by the decision that the standard itself is unlawful.” To clarify, the court determined that the Salmonella Performance Standard could not be used as the sole indicator of plant sanitation, because it did not measure conditions inside the plant. This means that the Standard can not be used to close a plant, but instead as a reason for further plant review and closer inspection, such as an “In-Depth Verification Review” (IDV). The report itself elsewhere notes that “recent court decisions” have not prevented USDA from “using the tests to strategically intensify current inspection oversight.”


NMA was an intervenor in the litigation which determined how the Salmonella Performance Standard can best used. NMA’s position throughout the litigation was to support microbiological testing at a point in the system where it can effectively reduce the prevalence of pathogenic organisms.


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USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service released the summary report of meats graded for the month of October, 1999. For all quality graded beef, Choice was 57.7%, down from 60.3% in September. Select was 38.5%, up from 35.4% the previous month. And Prime was 3.8% down from 4.3% in September. For a copy of the entire report which covers beef, lamb and mutton, NMA members send a self-addressed/stamped (34¢) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA or visit it online at




The Japanese government is, according to a May 12 story by Agence France Presse, narrowing the focus of its investigation for the source of madcow infections after finding all four cases were born in the spring of 1996. The four cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Japan were female Holstein cows born in March or April of 1996, the health ministry said. The ministry announced the fourth case May 11 after testing a slaughtered cow at the Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, on the northern island of Hokkaido.




The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has bowed to pressure from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to stop using leather basketballs at NCAA tournaments. The organization said it would make the switch next season to balls made of synthetic materials. The new basketballs will be used in the championship tournaments at each divisional level beginning in 2003. NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow suggests that step-by-step appeasement will be no more successful than U.K. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was in satisfying Adolf Hitler’s demands made in 1938.



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

May 28, 2002




Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation May 17 that would require USDA to set microbiological performance standards, such as the Salmonella standard recently struck down by the federal courts. According to Food Chemical News Daily, the language in the bill is not as stringent or forceful as that contained in a bill introduced earlier this year by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), but includes several provisions absent from Harkin’s legislation.


Schumer’s bill orders USDA to draft regulations for livestock and poultry traceback so that these animals’ movements could be identified prior to slaughter. It also requires states to report to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services any outbreak of foodborne illness stemming from meat and poultry. The bill orders USDA to study ways to improve the recruitment of federal inspectors, especially in urban areas where staffing problems are common. The bill would also make USDA study whether chlorophyll technology or some other rapid detection system should be required by meat plants to determine whether manure carries E. coli and other harmful meat-born pathogens.




The Senate passed by a vote of 66 to 30 the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2001. Differences between the Senate version and legislation passed last fall by the U.S. House of Representatives will be reconciled in conference committee. The original trade promotion authority measure would allow the President to negotiate trade agreements that would eliminate and reduce trade barriers, and submit them to Congress for a vote without amendments.


The Senate bill also allows Congress to vote separately on any trade provisions that weaken anti-dumping laws, which are meant to combat unfair practices by other countries, such as subsidized or cut-rate exports. The President has stated he may veto the legislation if this provision is not removed in conference.




NMA member Neogen Corporation announced recently the world’s first rapid test to detect ruminant by-products in animal feed ingredients. The test is designed for use by feed mills, beef, dairy and sheep producers, and regulatory agencies, to be sure feed ingredients have not been contaminated with banned ruminant meal. In 1997, concern about the spread of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) led to a ban on rendered ruminant by-products in ruminant feeds. “The new test meets an immediate, critical need for the dairy and beef industry,” said Neogen President James Herbert. “One needs to look no further than the destruction of more than 1,000 head of cattle last year in Texas that were inadvertently fed ruminant by-products to realize that the consequences can be devastating to individual producers, and the industry.”


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Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc., which owns the Texas Rangers, and Booth Creek Management Corp. plan to acquire ConAgra Food’s fresh meat and pork processing business, ConAgra Meats. “This is an attractive opportunity to acquire leading positions in both the beef and pork processing industries, to partner with ConAgra Foods … and to team up with Booth Creek Management, an experienced operator in the meatpacking and value added processing industry,” said John R. Muse, a partner in Hicks, Muse. The transaction is expected to complete in August.




Due to the extreme difficulty of labeling the country-of-origin for livestock that move between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said last week that she would consider a request from Canada to develop a grown-in-North America label that would cover the three countries. “I have not discussed this yet with the lawyers to determine whether or not this is an option, but it is something that they suggested and certainly we’re going to look at every option that we can,” Veneman told reporters. She added that implementing the labeling requirements was going to be “very difficult.”




NMA is responding to the Office of Management & Budget’s (OMB) request for comments on its draft Report to Congress on the Costs and Benefits of Federal Regulations. OMB has provided an on-line process and format to receive recommendations for reform. These include (1) reforms to specific government regulations that might extend or expand existing regulatory programs; simplify or modify existing rules; or rescind outmoded or unnecessary rules; and (2) problematic government “guidance” documents, as we discuss them in the report. The deadline is today. NMA sent a special notice to General Members encouraging them to comment last week. Find out more at




The Senate Government Affairs Committee approved legislation (“The National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act,” S. 2452) that would transfer USDA’s Animal and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) functions to a new cabinet level Department of National Homeland Security. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) reported in its e-News that the bill calls for a new Department of Homeland Security to plan and coordinate federal activities related to homeland security. Border security and emergency preparedness would be transferred to the new department.


Major portions of APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) and Veterinary Services (VS) would transfer from USDA to the new agency. Companion legislation in the House (H.R. 4660) would transfer all APHIS functions.




FSIS has found that validation of HACCP plans is an area where clarification and support is needed.  To address this need, FSIS will be providing all small and very small federal and state meat, poultry, and egg product plants with a guidance package to provide technical assistance. The package will consist of three videos and a workbook that cover aspects of validation for HACCP plans. For additional information, contact Mary Cutshall, National Small and Very Small Plant HACCP Coordinator, FSIS, at (202) 205-0010.