NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612
Edited by Jeremy Russell
October 1, 2001
Judges Higginbothan, Reavley and Parker of the 5th Circuit heard USDA’s appeal of the district court decision in Supreme v. USDA this morning in Austin, TX.
The U.S. attorney, seeking reversal of the lower court’s ruling and vacation of the decision because Supreme Beef Processors is no longer an operating business and has filed bankrupcy under Chapter 7, was questioned closely by the judges about the use of Salmonella as a proxy indicator microorganism. The U.S. attorney agreed that it is a proxy, and in answering further questions, said that it is used as an indicator microorganism for E. coli O157:H7, which, unlike Salmonella, is an adulterant in ground beef.
The Judges focused closely on how Salmonella is or should be tested for, such as on trimmings and each piece of meat, and the responsibility of USDA versus the industry to find it. They also questioned why USDA does not do quantitative testing only qualitative testing. They appeared to have difficulty with USDA’s using a qualitative Salmonella test to determine a plant’s sanitary condition.
Christopher Manning, representing consumer organizations as amici, who told the judges about the CDC data of 5 million illnesses and 4,000 death annually from foodborne microorganisms, was unable to satisfy the judges questions about the fact that no illnesses have ever been attributed to Supreme Beef product. Manning followed the same line as the U.S. attorney that something was different in the fall 1999 at Supreme Beef (though neither could be definitive) which eventually pursuaded USDA to suspend inspection temporarily, or as judge Reavley added, “Just long enough to put them out of business.”
John Gilliam, representing Supreme, responded to questions about the viability of Supreme and referrenced the submission to the court by the trusty in bankrupcy last week and by Steve Spiritas. Mr. Gilliam explained that a grinder does not have technological interventions available to reduce microbial flora as slaughterers do. Judge Parker suggested that USDA appears to be trying to prevent the purchase of trimmings. Judge Higginbothan asked if there was any data that validates the standard. Gilliam pointed out the failings of the standards with respect to seasonality and geography, noting that the USDA was not testing the plant but rather “deeming” it to be insanitary.
Phil Olsson, representing NMA and it’s fellow amici (AAMP, NAMP, SEMA and SMA), told the court that the case should not be ruled moot because the court could grant NMA’s motion, which had been renewed last week, to be an intervener. NMA was only denied intervener status in the district court proceedings because the court determined that Supreme’s counsel would represent the interests of the industry trade associations. Granting intervener status to NMA would moot the issue being moot. Olsson also responded to questions about industry practices and stated the case continues to be of substantial interest to other firms in the meat industry.
The judges have taken the case under consideration. More information will be forthcoming from NMA.
E. coli O157:H7 UPDATE
Outbreaks of E. coli, likely O157:H7, sickened people in Lorain Country and Upper Sandusky, OH recently, making headlines. A total of 42 cases were confirmed in the two outbreaks. In at least one of the outbreaks, a county fair was the most likely source.
In England the government now warns that the potentially deadly microbe has spread to nearly half of the country’s cattle herds. “We should be looking for vaccines or methods of animal feeding and husbandry that reverses its spread,” said Hugh Pennington, professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University and a specialist in food hygiene. “In terms of public health, it is already a much bigger problem than BSE and we ignore it at our peril.”
Experiments in Alberta, Canada with a vaccine that was shown to prevent E. coli O157:H7 bacteria from colonizing in cattle, have moved to the research trial stage. 72,000 cows will be inoculated to see if the vaccine can work on a commercial scale.
According to the September 28 FSIS Constituent Update, the number of confirmed positives for E. coli O157:H7 in 2001 is now 40 out of more than 5,000 samples. The overall number for the testing program is 152 out of more than 45,300 samples since FSIS began the sampling in 1994.
The Tyson/IBP merger was completed last Friday after it met with the approval of IBP’s shareholders.
Smithfield meanwhile announced that it is signing letters of intent to acquire two processed meat companies. The enormous pork company will be adding Stadler’s Country Hams and RMH Foods to the stable of regional processors its has already purchased. This is the fifth and sixth such purchase this year alone.
NEW NMA MEMBERS FOR OCTOBER
Ma’s Food, Inc. (d.b.a.: Colonel Lee’s Foods)
Hon Ling Co.
San Francisco, CA
Booker Packing Co.
Los Angeles, CA
Pico Rivera, CA
Walnut Creek, CA
Lizze Custom Processing
San Pedro, CA
Union Pacific Railroad
“People are saying they don’t want to even eat safe beef products,” said Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizuimi. “This is a frightening thing.” He was of course referring to the developing situation in his country after the discovery of a cow infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). Reuters reports that more suspected cases have cropped up and that Japan’s health ministry plans to have slaughterhouses burn the tips of the small intestine of all cows and the heads of cows over 12 months regardless of whether they had symptoms of the disease. The confusion over the disposal of the infected cow, which was ground into meat-and-bone meal, has deepened consumer mistrust, with some 2,000 schools nationwide clearing beef from their lunch menus. Widespread news coverage of the BSE outbreak has taken a toll on the shares of some restaurant chains, as well as beef prices and sales in Japan, possibly denting the outlook for its fatty, marbled Kobe beef exports. Orders have dried up at meat-and-bone meal companies and photographs have circulated of workers standing next to literally tons and tons of unused product. Domestic sales of beef have dropped off by at least 10%.
Tokyo will provide subsidies and low-interest loans to ranchers and meat processors to compensate them for late deliveries and the possible slaughter of animals suspected of coming in contact with the disease, reported the Associated Press. And in an effort to restore public confidence in Japanese meat and dairy products, the government is rushing to check all of the nation's 4.53 million cows for the sickness, which is believed to cause a deadly disease in humans who eat infected meat – 95% have been confirmed disease-free so far, with the remainder to be tested by the end of the month. Plans have also been announced to impose civil and criminal penalties, including jail time, on ranchers who recycle meat and bone from infected animals back into cattle feed.
The National Center for Food Safety and Technology announced a new research unit, which will be the first in the world to conduct research on high pressure sterilization of food. Dr. Bala Balasubramaniam will lead efforts to address basic food safety and technology issues and to demonstrate the feasibility of high-pressure processing for shelf-stable foods. The new research unit combines high pressure and moderate temperature to achieve sterile foods nearly unchanged in nutritional content and of fresh taste.
NMA's Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow has the distinction of being one of premier executive card holders with United Airlines. This entitles her to jump to the top of the stand-by waiting list, sit in the seats with the most leg room and board airplanes ahead of everyone, including orphan children. She has earned most of the miles which have so priviledged her on night flights to Washington to work there for a day and return on the last flight out.
Mucklow, who made her very first airplane trip from London to Paris when she was 18, sees no change in her flying habits and is still very philosophical about getting on airplanes. In fact, she is usually asleep before the plane leaves the gate! Flying is an essential requirement of the job, she says.
Today, Mucklow is in Austin, Texas to hear the arguments before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Supreme v. USDA, a case of enormous importance to NMA's members (see page 1). Tomorrow she will be attending a meeting in Kansas City. She is planning a day in Chicago on October 18 and then will flit to London for a brief vacation. According to Mucklow, the airplane purser is quite right when she wishes passengers a safe trip when leaving the plane, and adds: “be careful, because you are at greater risk on the roads and highways of America than you are on the airways.”
The business of America is important to its recovery. While it is prudent to use telecommunications and the internet highway, it is also an essential part of business to be face-to-face with associates, suppliers and customers. Let's keep on trucking … and flying!
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
October 1, 2001
Under Secretary for Food Safety Confirmed
On Sept. 26, the Senate Agriculture Committee confirmed the nomination of Dr. Elsa Murano as the Under Secretary for Food Safety. In remarks before the Committee, Dr. Murano emphasized the importance of science-based decisions, consumer education, the inclusion of all stakeholders in addressing food safety issues, and the need for a proactive approach to food safety crises. A transcript of Dr. Murano's statement before the Senate Agriculture Committee is available at: http://agriculture.senate.gov/Hearings/Hearings_2001/September_26b__2001/926mur.htm
During the Committee hearing, Dr. Murano was questioned about the situation in the New York relating to meat inspection. She assured the Senators that a document on circumstances in that location would be forthcoming after her appointment. Questioned about microbiological testing standards, Dr. Murano referred to studies that are being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences and by the USDA’s micro committee as being crucial to deciding how to proceed with Performance Standards.
She said that “standards” are needed to make certain the industry is producing the safest food products possible, but did not endorse the withdrawal of inspection for plants violating the Salmonella Performance Standard.
FSIS Food Safety Advisory: Botulism
Due to several recent cases of botulism reported in the United States, FSIS issued a food safety advisory urging consumers to handle frozen, fully-cooked products safely. Access the advisory on the FSIS web site at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/frozenbot.htm.
BEEF: MADE IN THE USDA
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Barry Carpenter wrote NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow with information about the possible implementation of a “Beef: Made in the USA” label verification initiative. The terminology “Beef: Made in the USA” with a qualifying description, such as “raised in the United States for at least 100 days,” could be the basis for a marketing claim provided that it was based on a written quality management system and verified by AMS. Included as an attachment to the letter was a comprehensive document explaining process verification requirements. For a copy of this letter and the document, send a self-addressed, stamped (55¢) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West and be sure to include the newsletter date with your request.
NEW TIGHTER CONTROLS FOR REG CHANGES
The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House has moved to hold federal agencies to tougher scientific standards in issuing new rules, tightening a regulatory process that some business groups and conservatives said had loosened of late. The administration is asking regulators to seek the advice of lawyers, economists, engineers and scientists when considering new regs.
NMA WRITES SENATOR TOM HARKIN
National Meat Association Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow wrote to Senator Tom Harking (D-IA) last week to address him about his commentary at the Agriculture Committee meeting in which Dr. Elsa Murano was reviewed for the position of Under Secretary for Food Safety (see Herd on the Hill page 1). “I noted particularly your statements about your exercising senatorial patience in waiting for advice and suggestions from the meat industry about how best to approach and update the regulatory performance standards,” wrote Mucklow. She pointed out that she has made several requests through his staffers to meet with him and discuss the issue, but had not yet heard a response. “You may recall that I first met you at the Cattle King hearing in Denver, Colorado when I was the only meat industry person who testified at a hearing you scheduled as Chairman of the Livestock & Dairy Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee,” she added. “I am prepared today, as I was in 1984, to speak to tough issues as a long-time veteran representative of the industry.” She asked in conclusion for an opportunity to meet with the distinguished Senator in Washington at his convenience.
USDA has told hundreds of government veterinarians around the nation to keep a sharp eye out for terrorist attempts to introduce animal diseases. Experts are warning that, although it is not necessarily easy to make and disperse bioterrorism agents, they are an all too real threat. One such attack has already been documented in the U.S. In 1984, when 751 residents of The Dalles, OR, came down with diarrhea and stomach upsets, members of a religious commune called Rajneeshpuram admitted pouring Salmonella bacteria on salads and in coffee creamer. They said they wanted to test the bugs as a tool for incapacitating voters on election day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. At this time the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services devotes $300 million a year toward bioterrorism preparedness. At the city and country level, some hospitals have emergency plans. During the confirmation hearings last week, Senator Harking raised the possibility of a HACCP approach to biosecurity in order to thwart potential terrorists attacks on the food supply. What is clear now is that not only airlines have a responsibility to shore up defenses after September 11’s attack. NMA plans to host a teleconference later this month on the issue of Biosecurity Systems for Meat & Poultry Plants. Contact NMA Director of Technical Issues Teresa Frey at (510) 763-1522 or by e-mail at [email protected] for information.
MISSOURI REPEALS LIVESTOCK PRICE LAW
Missouri Governor Bob Holden signed legislation repealing much of the state’s 1999 price discrimination law, which had led packers to quit paying cash based on the live weight of cattle, hogs and sheep. Intended to protect producers against increasing corporate consolidation, the law prohibited packers from paying different prices unless those prices were based on the quality of the meat, which can be determined only after slaughter. “With my signature, stability will return in Missouri’s meat trade,” said Holden. “The cash market for live animals will be restored and producers will no longer face losing millions of dollars.”
APHIS ADOPTS TUBERCULOSIS RULE
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) adopted last week as a final rule, without change, an interim rule that amended the bovine tuberculosis regulations to recognize two separate zones with different tuberculosis risk classifications in the State of Texas. The rule prevents the spread of tuberculosis and furthers the domestic bovine tuberculosis eradication program. For more information contact Dr. Joseph Van Tiem at (301) 734-7716.