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

November 19, 2001




The beef industry is in trouble. Demand has declined for high quality table meats since September 11, the export market for high quality beef has dropped precipitously in Japan and other foreign markets, the cattle on feed is up substantially, and live weights are fluctuating dramatically. In fact, since 9/11 there has been a $10 decline in the price of live catttle per cwt., bringing the prices to a $60 low, a level that Cattle Buyers Weekly says was “unthinkable only two months ago.” All this translates to an industry from feeder through packer/processor that is in a difficult situation of too much meat in the pipeline, and insufficient demand to pull it through. If ever there was a Thanksgiving to put beef on the table instead of turkey, this is it.


NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow wrote Under Secretary for Marketing & Regulatory Programs Bill Hawks last week to ask for remedial action. In her letter, she told him that “the ability of the government to take product off the market using a special allocation of Section 32 funds is most desperately needed in order to restore some balance to the market and to hopefully avoid serious business defaults.”




Excel Corp. last week entered a deal to buy one of the last independently held beef companies in the U.S., Taylor Packing Company in Wyalusing, PA. Excel is the nation’s third largest meat company and a unit of Cargill Inc. The deal continues a trend which seems to have increased in recent months,; industry jockeying has begun to look like a King of the Hill game. “I don’t think there is a another way to effectively compete except to be as big as possible,” George Dahlman, a food industry analyst with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, told Reuter. “I’m sure there will be plenty more of these.” Of course, that’s assuming there’s plenty more big companies to buy – they have to run out eventually. According to a statement by Ken Taylor, president and CEO of Taylor Packing, Excel will open a case-ready meats facility in Hazleton, PA early next year that Taylor is likely to supply.




According to investigators at On Your Side, food court trays may be a source of dangerous bacteria in mall food courts. The investigators found that bacteria counts on three trays taken for analysis were very high. The problem is that the trays are not properly cleaned after each use and On Your Side reported seeing employees bang trays on garbage cans and use them to push down trash. Meanwhile, a review of infectious intestinal disease outbreaks in England and Wales showed recently that food poisoning was much more likely when indiviuals are catering for large numbers of guests (something to think about come Turkey Day). The researchers analyzed data on roughtly 4,600 outbreaks between 1992 and 1998 and found that the risk of being hospitalized was greater if you consumed contaminated food at someone’s home than at a restaurant or institution.


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NMA Director of Communications Jeremy Russell responded last week to an article posted at, a news website billing itself on common sense, that suggested meat processing was the most at-risk industry for bioterrorism. “Brian Halweil’s article, The Bioterror in your Burger, posted November 6 at,” wrote Russell, “reveals more the author’s ignorance about meat processing than any potential food security issues the industry might have.”


In his article, Halweil claims that “huge amount of store-ready meat with strategically placed” pathogen samples obtained from a plant’s own meat lab. Never mind the fact that it would be impossible to contaminate a huge amount of anything with a small sample of bacteria, such labs do not keep pure cultures of pathogens and all a potential terrorist could steal would be some generic product samples – nothing particularly dangerous or scary about those. Finally, in claiming that fresh meat is a threat over other fresh foods, Halweil completely misses meat’s distinct advantage. “Fresh meat” is typically interpreted to mean “raw meat” that will be cooked before consumption. Halweil’s whole theory appears to rest on the idea that consumers would suddenly stop cooking raw meat.




After many years of discussion about building a new beef slaughter plant to service the feedlots in the Imperial Valley, the ribbon has been cut on Brawley Beef Co. NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow attended the private showing and dedication last Saturday in Brawley, CA. It’s a 372,000 square foot, state of the art facility that is expected to employ over 500 locals to process over half a million beef animals a year. The company plans to develop a line of value-added products to the market. Clearly, the huge metropolitan area of the Los Angeles basin is a target market, along with exports.


Brawley Beef is expected to commence operations in a few weeks time and comes equipped with the latest livestock handling and processing technologies available to assure safe, tender and most importantly consistent beef products. Greg Beck, formerly with Sunland Beef, is President of the company and has a talented and experienced team working with him. Brawley Beef’s owners are livestock producers from Imperial Valley, California and Yuma, AZ. After a tour, Mucklow descibed the facility as “impressive.” Operations will be visible to visitors through windows, a rarity in meat plants and a refreshing difference in plant structure. Ensuring good circulation in the slaughter floor, the air conditioning system will be beneficial for both processing and for the workers. The fabricating floor is spacious. The company worked with Dr. Temple Grandin to include new handling techniques to minimize animal stress in covered pens. All in all, a state-of-the-art facility.


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In a recent lawsuit brought by a meat cutter against her retail employer, the woman claimed that her fetus was infected with Toxoplasma gondii during her work with meat. She had lurid descriptions about how the raw meat had infected her, including raw meat flying off the band saw and other such mischaracterizations. She also claimed she was never cautioned about the potential danger of eating raw meat. Her physicians provided evidence that she told them she ate meat raw during her pregnancy. Although it was never demonstrated that the retailer was at fault, the litigation cost the company extensive time and money.


Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite which causes toxoplasmosis. Humans may become infected by ingestion of material contaminated with infectious oocysts of T. gondii from cat feces or from T. gondii bradyzoites which may be in raw or undercooked meat from an intermediate host, including livestock and poultry. Infection occurs through the digestive system. Toxoplasmosis is most often feared because of its ability to cause birth defects in a child born to a mother who was infected during pregnancy. However, the parasite may also lie dormant in the brain of either gender and can cause dementia in individuals who subsequently become immune compromised. Meat cutters receive training that indicates raw meat may contain T. gondii or other pathogenic microorganisms. They must perform good sanitary and public health practices. Such training should be documented.


USDA recommends that meat be cooked to prescribed temperatures as verified with a thermometer, to inactivate this parasite and microorganisms that may be on or in meat. Other methods, such as internal meat color, juice color, and meat texture, have been scientifically proven to be inaccurate.


USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does not inspect for the presence of T. gondii during their antemortem or postmortem evaluation of carcasses in slaughter establishments. T. gondii has been found in lamb, pork, goat, and poultry, but rarely in beef. Felines are the definitive hosts for the T. gondii parasite and, because domestic cats play a major role in transmission of the disease, cat litter bags bear a warning label targeted at pregnant women.




For a third time Stuart Alexander, the San Leandro sausage maker who allegedly shot and killed three inspectors, was denied a request to obtain new counsel. Alexander claims his attorney is not representing him properly and getting publicity at his expense. Judge Jon Rolefson, who refused the request, said that Alexander’s interest in getting rid of his lawyer had already been addressed in a previous hearing. Alexander’s current defense is led by Assistant Public Defender Michael Ogul. One defense attorney commented that “Alexander is lucky to have Ogul.  If Alexander gets rid of Ogul, he is committing suicide.”


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Both House and Senate have given final approval to the FY02 agriculture appropriations bill. The $75.8 billion now awaits presidential approval.



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

November 19, 2001




The U.S. Senate has unveiled its proposal for preparing the nation for bioterrorist attacks. Called the “Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2001,” this legislation would require registration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of all food facilities, as well as provide substantial new FDA enforcement authorities regarding the records of food facilities, detention of food products, and the importation of foods. Furthermore, this bipartisan legislation, perhaps with modifications, has a high likelihood of enactment.


The Bush administration has said it supports the concept but balks at the price, which is in the $3 billion range. Nevertheless the bill (S. 1715) is expected to pass quickly into law. In a departure from customary practice, the bill was not referred to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Instead, it has been “held at the desk” of the President of the Senate for immediate floor consideration. Due to public concern about the threat of bioterrorism, Senate floor consideration is expected shortly after Thanksgiving. While such speedy consideration of the bill may be stymied by disagreement regarding the level of new spending, it is not likely to be stymied for long. Prompt House passage of similar, or identical, legislation is also expected.


If passed, the bill would allow FDA officers and qualified employees to issue detention orders for any food when the agency has “credible evidence or information” indicating that the food violates the law and “presents a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.” A detention order would have to be approved by the Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Secretary or designee after the Secretary or designee determines that the food presents a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals. The detention could last up to 30 days.


As you might imagine, the proposed new detention authority would be problematic in several respects. First, the provisions that would permit FDA to label a detained food could result in a stigma being attached to a food that was detained but then subsequently released, thus lowering the value of the food. And second, the bill as it exists now has no appeal recourse outside of FDA nor does it provide compensation for partial or complete loss of value to the product.


It seems unlikely however that we can escape some bolstering of regulations. Consider the alarm of HHS Tommy Thompson, who said, “Am I satisfied with the [food] inspections we’re doing? No. I am more fearful about this than anything.” Nor is a reexamination of the status quo entirely unwarranted. However, in their rush to restore a shattered sense of security, legislators need to remember that there is a baby in that bathwater, a baby named “abundant-affordable-safe food supply.”


For a complete Olsson, Frank & Weeda summary of the pending legislation, send a self-addressed, stamped (34¢) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West and be sure to include the newsletter date with your request or e-mail [email protected].


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The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) organized a teleconference November 8 to discuss the changes in the voluntary reporting of negotiated pork products. Over 30 individuals participated in the teleconference, including representatives from the Livestock and Seed (L&S) Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), NMA, National Pork Board (NPB), NPPC, AMI, and pork packers, processors and industry consultants. AMS Deputy Administrator Barry Carpenter reviewed the objectives underlying Market News reporting, explained the rationale for the proposed revisions to pork reporting, and walked through the proposed revisions. It was determined that some industry participants oppose the proposal to cease reporting Adjusted Base Prices (ABPs), while others support the proposal. For a complete summary of the teleconference, send a self-addressed, stamped (34¢) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West and be sure to include the newsletter date or e-mail [email protected].




Farm Sanctuary and Michael Baur have filed a lawsuit against the USDA to prohibit “downer” or nonambulatory animals from being marketed for food in the United States. The group, which alleges inhumane treatment of such livestock and hosts a website dedicated to spreading horror stories (, has been trying to take advantage of the recent anthrax attack to bolster its position that nonambulatory animals should be considered adulterated. Farm Sanctuary is also responsible for the Downed Animal Protection Act now being considered in the Senate. Farm Sanctuary has also attempted to use USDA/AMS’s recent changes to the School Lunch Program standards as a means to drive its point home. “How on God’s Earth can they justify marketing [nonambulatory livestock] to the rest of the country, when they say it is unsafe to put in our school lunch program?” is one typically hysterical quote from What the group fails to note in their simplification of complex federal regulations is that every animal, nonambulatory or otherwise, must by law undergo antemortem inspection before it can even enter a slaughterhouse. Animals that appear sick receive the most scrutiny before they are considered fit for consumption. Nonambulatory is a term which simple means an animal that can not stand or walk. Should every animal with a broken leg be deemed unfit for human consumption?




During Committee consideration of the miscellaneous title of the Senate farm bill, Senator Wellstone offered an amendment that would require country of origin labeling for beef, pork, fruits, vegetables, and other products at retail. The amendment was agreed to by a vote of 11 to 10. This provision was previously stripped from the bill when the Committee rejected the competition title.


Radical Animal Rights Groups Step Up Protests


A New York Times article November 11 on animal rights protestors notes that “the incidents have not tailed off, even since September 11: a firebombing at a federal corral for wild horses in northeastern California; a fire at a primate research center in New Mexico, and back-to-back break-ins in Iowa, one at a fur farm to release more than 1,000 mink, the other to free pigeons raised for research.” According to the report, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front have between them claimed responsibility for at least six actions since 9/11, and for many others in recent years. No one has been injured in the incidents, although law enforcement officials say it is only a matter of time, and yet, so far, no one has been arrested for the most recent criminal behavior in these attacks.


CORRECTION: In last week’s Herd on the Hill it was mistakenly reported that FSIS is in charge of the export sales reporting. Actually, it’s FAS. For more information contact David Williams of the FAS Import Policies and Programs Division at (202) 720-3272 or [email protected].