NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612
Edited by Jeremy Russell
July 30, 2001
USDA officials reportedly met with officials of the Office of Management & Budget last week to present their new Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR) guidelines (3/70/20) which will allow for the release of data that was previously restricted under the 3/60 guidelines (see last week’s newsletter for more on the 3/70/20 rule). National Meat Association has expressed, and continues to express, its concern about the breach of confidentiality that the new guidelines would mean for packers who are required, by law, to report their confidential and proprietary information if it alone could be published. Further, there are questions whether such government “compelled” speech is a violation of the First Amendment.
NMA's Counsel wrote to Ag Secretary Veneman on July 18 about these concerns and is still awaiting a response. NMA recognizes that the mandatory reporting system fails to provide the kind of market information that the former voluntary system provided, and indeed throughout the long sorry story of development of the mandatory system, NMA expressed its concern that this would occur. NMA stands ready to work with USDA and other groups to investigate ways to resolve difficulties and would especially like to see better ways to report the market for cuts and ground meats. Unfortunately, the very prescriptive provisions of the producer-sponsored statute limit the kind of flexibility that USDA has indicated it will use to improve the lamb reporting system where it does have statutory flexibility.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, for its part, wrote to OMB Director Mitch Daniels last week and ordered him to “immediately release and implement a revised confidentiality standard that will allow the mandatory livestock price reporting system to provide producers with accurate, complete and timely market information.”
The Nebraska Cattlemen’s organization is seeking federal lawmaker’s support for a proposal to compensate beef producers for money lost as a result of the much publicized MPR glitch. The group wants restitution for producers who were affected by the boxed beef calculation problem and has written to Nebraska’s congressional delegates to demand it. They suggested that an amendment might be added to the emergency ag appropriations bill to authorize the necessary dollars to begin payments immediately, the group said. According to AgWeb, another possible solution to the payment problem could be a class action lawsuit filed against packers. Kansas State University Ag Law and Policy professor Roger McEowen called the possibility of such a lawsuit as “greater than 50/50” and said that one strategy might be to file such a suit not for damages but to block further implementation of 3/60 or 3/70/20 rule so that “additional harm due to lack of price information would not be incurred.”
WATER-BORNE E. Coli
An unidentified strain of E. coli was linked to an outbreak of illness in Table Rock State Park of South Carolina. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is investigating the outbreak which they think may have come from the park’s swimming lake, Pinnacle Lake. Tests performed on the water since July 14 have turned up negative, but officials say the bacteria was probably only in the water that day and was then washed away by the current. DHEC’s Dr. Stephanie Brundage said, “Until we have further identification of any are of suspicion, there is no reason to close anything down.”
Members of the Bush administration along with state regulators, governors, farmers and members of congress are pushing for a rewrite of a Clinton Administration rule for cleaning up thousands of polluted lakes, rivers, and streams, reports the Wall Street Journal. The current rule would require states to develop plans and start cleanup and water-quality restoration programs to attack non-point pollution in 8-13 years. State officials argue they don’t have the expertise or the billions of dollars they say it would take to comply. The EPA has asked a federal appeals court for stay of the case to give the agency 18 months to review the rule, and possible rewrite it. A decision is pending.
The center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) attacked the USDA proposal that would allow supermarkets to choose between displaying meat and poultry nutrition on posters inside stores or labeling each individual package. Under the USDA proposal, the meat industry will be allowed to use “percent lean” claims for product, which have been the standard in the industry. This is a move that NMA supports, because it is both clear and consistent (see last week’s Lean Trimmings). The reason the supermarkets are given the choice is because “consumers have reasonable expectations as to the nutrient content of these products,” according to the USDA. However, CSPI argues that “labels are the only way for consumers to know how much saturated fat, calories and other nutrients are in fresh meat.” They would like to see every cut of meat separately labeled.
A Final Rule concerning the school lunch program was published in the Federal Register July 24. The rule finalizes the interim provisions addressing the use of products or dishes containing more then 30 parts fully hydrated vegetable protein to less than 70 parts beef, pork, poultry, seafood in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. In addition school food authorities must identify such blended products or dishes in a manner which does not characterize the product or dish solely as beef, pork, poultry or seafood. These changes become effective August 24.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a public meeting for August 13 in Washington to help the agency determine what additional actions are necessary to provide consumers with adequate information about food allergens. To attend the meeting you must pre-register by completing a registration form and submitting it electronically or by mail no later August 6. In addition, written comments may be submitted to FDA no later than October 29.
E. coli O157:H7 SUBCOMMITTEE
The Blade Tenderization/E. coli O157:H7 subcommittee of the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods will meet Friday, August 3 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee will meet to review scientific issues related to the Agency's E. coli O157:H7 policy relative to blade tenderized meat. The meeting is open to the public, however, seating is limited. For additional information, contact Brenda Halbrook at (202) 690-6600.
The National Toxicology Program will be reviewing two chemical substances formed when meat and fish are grilled or broiled at high temperatures to determine if the chemicals formed are cancer causing. Previous studies have linked these chemicals to cancer but it is not known at exactly what level the chemical actually becomes dangerous. Meat sliced thinly and cooked quickly, including fast-food hamburgers, are safe, molecular and structural biologist Jim Fenton from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory told the Contra Costa Times. If the chemicals are found to promote the development of cancer, they will be listed in the 2004 edition of the Federal Report on Carcinogens.
The online grocery industry will remain steady, despite the recent downfall of Webvan, industry analysts told Supermarket News this week. Existing online grocers are not likely to repeat Webvan’s experiment in high-tech, high-cost warehouse fulfillment however. Marc van Gelder, president of Peapod Chicago, told SN he believes Webvan’s exit will have “a positive effect” on his company. Albertson’s reported that its online sales were up 300% in the first two days after Webvan halted sales.
An article published in the Wall Street Journal by Roger Blackwell argues that grocery delivery service is not a new concept and that “migrating it to the web did not make it futuristic.” Blackwell argues that few are actually willing to pay the true costs associated with grocery delivery. Webvan had a limited market that couldn’t generate enough revenues to cover costs of doing business. “Retailers should embrace the Internet for certain marketing and branding strategies, but never at the peril of ignoring how customers buy and use their products and services,” he opined.
BEEF: MADE IN THE USA
Five industry groups, including National Meat Association, wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to ask that she review a petition that they had filed with USDA last September. The petition called for USDA to create a voluntary certification program for “Beef: Made in the USA.” Such a label would be a market opportunity for many in the industry and would promote U.S. beef. The letter also expressed concern about a recent communication from USDA which indicated the Department is considering rulemaking to clarify the definition of U.S. beef under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and asked that the voluntary program not be delayed by this possible eventuality. Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bill Hawks responded to NMA’s letter on July 26 saying that he had “determined that a voluntary certification program does not require a change in the FSIS rules” and that he has asked AMS to begin action on the petition.
Several national animal agriculture groups, including NMA, are expressing opposition to S. 267, the so-called “Downed Animal Protection Act.” This is an issue that has largely been resolved through voluntary efforts by the livestock industry through animal handling guidelines and quality assurance programs directed at producers, auction markets and packers. The Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) has developed livestock care guidelines that encourages the proper care and handling of all livestock, including nonambulatory livestock. LMA also discourages markets from accepting or shipping nonambulatory livestock, except where it can be done humanely. S. 267 unfairly targets the auction markets to deal with a problem that needs to be addressed by the entire livestock industry. Handling of downed livestock at slaughter plants is subject to the oversight of FSIS under the statutory authority of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
The USDA issued a final rule July 25, mandating exporters to require reporting on a weekly basis information concerning the quantity, country of destination and marketing period of shipment for their export sales. Information collected will be aggregated and included in the weekly “U.S. Export Sales” report published by the Foreign Agricultural Service. The rule will be effective August 24.
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
July 30, 2001
A U.S. House Agriculture Committee session to draft a bill overhauling farm law was snarled for ten hours over Country of Origin labeling for meat. Congressman John Thune (R-SD) introduced an amendment which would have required the labeling of county of origin for beef, lamb, pork, perishable commodities and farm-raised fish. “We label our ties yet we don’t label our rib-eyes,” he said. “It is a common-sense issue,” he added, a statement to which a community of ranchers may agree, but which has received a great deal of opposition and controversy.
The Food Industry Trade Coalition (FITC), which includes National Meat Association, has already urged the Congress to oppose any attempt to add mandatory country of origin labeling to the 2002 Agriculture Appropriations bill. FITC is also concerned there will be an effort to attach S. 280, “The Consumer Right to Know Act of 2001,” to the bill. S. 280 would mandate that retail grocers label meat, fruits and vegetables as to the country of origin. FITC argued in a July 17 letter to Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) that shifting the burden of labeling to retailers is unfair, costly to consumers and will encourage our trading partners to retaliate.
“There remain to be tremendous numbers of questions,” committee chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) told Thune at the House Ag Committee session. And he warned he was ready to ask all of them if the amendment was forced, rather than made into a free-standing bill. The committee recessed without adding the amendment.
FEED BAN COMPLIANCE QUESTIONED
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said July 6 that 22% of all U.S. feed facilities are still out of compliance with its four-year-old rule to prevent the spread of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). It’s fortunate that the disease is not known to exist in the U.S. and that the feed ban is largely obeyed, however the problems have given fuel to consumer groups seeking increased testing and general diligence. “The USDA’s claim that the U.S. is free from [BSE] would be more credible if the testing program was not in such disarray,” said Felicia Nestor, of the Government Accountability Project, in comments accompanying a joint study by GAP and Public Citizen. CSPI is claiming dramatic inconsistencies in testing between states. However, it is important to note that USDA has targeted testing to animals that exhibit signs of neurological disease.
The National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) voted last week to establish a working group to study enhanced meat and poultry products with the goal of establishing reasonable moisture loss values that can be used in wet tare net weight tests. The National Chicken Council reported that it feels the study unlikely to provide anything of “regulatory value.”
HARVARD BSE REPORT
The Harvard-conducted risk assessment of BSE in the U.S. continues to be delayed by USDA, which is still transferring data to the researchers about imports. However, a spokesman familiar with the study told Western Livestock Journal that the chance of an epidemic of BSE in the U.S. is “extraordinarily low.” The official report is expected in a month of so.
On July 19 the Food Safety and Inspection Service held a meeting in Los Angeles, CA concerning the “next steps” it is taking with HACCP. Both industry establishments as well as inspectors in the Los Angeles District attended the meeting. Video presentations covered topics on the current inspection program, the Federal Meat and Poultry Products Inspection Acts, Sanitation Performance Standards, HACCP Reassessment, Risk Based Program Design, HIMP (HACCP Based Inspection Models Project) updates, and information on the new Food Safety Systems Correlation Team. Following the meeting was a question and answer session along with a town hall meeting. The purpose of the Food Safety Systems Correlation Team is to enhance and improve the effectiveness of inspection verification activities and to assist the establishment in improving its food safety systems. The team will do this by visiting ten percent of the plants within a district and gathering information for the Agency. This information will then be used to correlate district HACCP activities nationwide. Although this is not an In Depth Verification (IDV) it is recommended that each plant be prepared for the team in the event that they come to your plant.
The Agency will be holding “next step” meetings for the next couple of months throughout the country, hopefully these meetings will prove to be just the first steps in moving forward in HACCP. Notification for the meetings will come from the district offices. NMA strongly recommends that all members attend a “next step” meeting in their district in order to fully understand the direction in which the Agency is going. Please contact us if you need schedule information.
For a copy of the presentation on FSIS’s “Food Safety Systems Correlation Team,” a review team which may visit your plant, send a self-addressed, stamped (34˘) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West and be sure to include the newsletter date with your request.
FSIS NEXT STEP MEETINGS
Meetings will be held:
July 31, Aug. 1, and Aug 2 at the Department of Housing and
Urban Development on 800 Dolorosa in San Antonio, TX. An evening industry
Q&A session will be on Aug. 1 from 6:30-8:30pm.
August 7, 8, and 9 at the Bear Creek Community Center on 3 Abercrombie in Houston, TX. An evening industry Q&A session will be on August 7 from 6:30-8:30 PM.
Other Texas sessions will be held in El Paso the week of Aug. 14-16; in Tyler on August 25; and in the valley (perhaps Mercedes) on Sept. 11 – 13. Specifics on these sessions will be available later.
Industry may attend any of the sessions, beginning at 1:00pm.
NATIONAL ERGONOMIC REVISIONS
Clinton’s ergonomics standard, over which labor and industry groups have long disputed, was terminated by Congress last March. The Bush administration is now promising to resolve the issue in a way that’s less burdensome to businesses. The first in a series of public forums was held July 16. The Bush administration hopes these meetings will culminate in a resolution on this issue. The industry groups also argued that until there is more scientific data on causes of ergonomic injuries, OSHA should refrain even from issuing voluntary guidelines. The American Frozen Food Institute urged the government to consider company-specific, rather than one-size-fits-all, approaches when confronting the challenges of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
FDA’s new safety requirements for shellfish don’t go far enough according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued July 19, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The report also said that FDA does not allocate enough resources to oversee high risk areas and recommends new bacteria controls.