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Monday, March 7,2005

Beef fat helps lower cholesterol

by WLJ
A nutrition scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, recently found that combining beef tallow and soybeans can improve the health of humans. According to Dr. Tim Carr, the beef fat helps in allowing a vegetable-derived cholesterol-lowering sterol to be added to food without being wasted near as much as normal. The dilemma has been that blood cholesterol-lowering sterols can be extracted from soybeans and added to other foods. However, the extract stuck to manufacturing equipment. However, Carr discovered that the combination of extract and tallow can be made into a powder, making it more applicable as a food additive. He further explained that sterols do not dissolve in liquids. However, mixing them with oil or fat makes them more soluble and useful in foods, such as margarine. “My research is grounded in biochemistry, and I've worked many years with how cholesterol is transported in the bloodstream,” he said. “In recent years, I've focused more on how the diet influences cholesterol in the body, and we have discovered that not all fatty acids are created equal. That caused us to take a look at beef tallow.” Carr said he wanted to create a "synergistic compound" that would work with the sterols in soybeans to create an effective cholesterol-lowering additive. Research revealed that stearic acid, a saturated fat found in beef tallow, could also lower blood cholesterol concentrations. His research focused on a method to combine stearic acid with plant sterols. The challenge was to develop a process to make the combination soluble. In trials at the University of Nebraska, Carr found his additive reduced the low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol,” by 70 percent in hamsters, compared with just 10 percent with a commercial sterol additive. Now, he needs to duplicate the results in humans. “We're very close to starting up a human study,” he said. The most probable mechanism of action of the beef tallow-soybean sterol combination is blocking the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract. Approximately 60 percent of the consumed cholesterol is absorbed from the human gastrointestinal tract. Carr said the new additive will reduce that percentage to five percent or less. “This passes right through and takes the cholesterol with it," he said. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Canada feed ban working

by WLJ
Approximately one month after USDA experts returned from their investigative mission to Canada in which they sought to determine the effectiveness of that country’s ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, the agency released an official report of the findings. Overall, USDA found Canada to be in compliance and just as proficient as the U.S. with a similar feed ban. The results answered many of the industry’s questions that arose after two cows from separate herds were discovered to be infected with BSE within the first few weeks of January. “After the two recent BSE finds in Canada, it was important to get a team up there to conduct a firsthand assessment of Canada’s compliance with the feed ban,” said Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “This assessment affirms our science-based decision to begin lifting the ban on live ruminants and ruminant products from Canada that have virtually no risk to human or animal health.” There was speculation that the release of this report would have an impact on the Montana District Court case seeking a temporary restraining order to keep the border closed. But, after last Wednesday’s ruling from the bench, industry officials felt as if the findings were not even considered by District Judge Richard Cebull. USDA assembled a team of experts and arrived in Canada on Jan. 24. Representative’s from USDA’s APHIS, Foreign Agriculture Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Food and Drug Administration traveled around Canada and evaluated processes and procedures related to the feed ban, including: the structure and authorities of Canada’s Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), feed ban implementation, inspection and compliance activities, proposed future activities, and CFIA’s plans for auditing of the current feed ban. The experts even went so far as to review verification programs and procedures. This included a review of all documents currently stored at CFIA, training documents, inspector checklists, program plans and projections, and Feed Inspection Review reports. USDA’s verification activities were focused on actual inspections of commercial feed mills and rendering facilities. USDA said these efforts were warranted as an additional step to ensure Canada was in compliance with the feed ban measures and ensure that opening the border to Canadian cattle on March 7 would be safe. In a hearing on Feb.3, Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns said USDA would be “absolutely transparent” with the results of the investigation and would release those results as soon as available. USDA did appear to be transparent in its 130-page report. The inspection team’s report stated, “Canada has a robust inspection program, that overall compliance with the feed ban is good and that the feed ban is reducing the risk of transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the Canadian cattle population.” The report also said the Canadian feed ban is not substantially different from the U.S. feed ban. Two minor differences between the U.S. and Canadian feed bans, as reported by the investigative team, were that the U.S. allows plate waste and poultry litter to be used in ruminant feed, whereas Canadian feed regulations make no such allowances. In both the feed ban assessment that USDA released last week and the risk assessment conducted by APHIS as part of the BSE minimal-risk rule, USDA found that compliance by feed mills and rendering facilities in Canada to feed ban regulations is good and, just like the U.S., Canada is continually looking for ways to improve it. USDA added that it is confident that the animal and public health measures that Canada has in place to prevent BSE, combined with existing U.S. domestic safeguards and additional safeguards provided in the final rule, provide the utmost protections to U.S. consumers and livestock. USDA wanted to remind producers and consumers that when Canadian ruminants and ruminant products are presented for importation into the U.S., they become subject to domestic safeguards as well. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) conducted an investigation similar to that of USDA APHIS. Nine U.S. cattlemen traveled to Canada last month about the same time as the USDA experts. The NCBA team reported, “The Canadian feed industry appears to be in compliance with its feed ban, based on visual inspections and audit reports.” In response to USDA releasing the report, Jamie Willrett, leader of the NCBA delegation to Canada, said, “This report validates the findings of our trade team. Questions remain about specific aspects of the proposed Canadian rule, but we appreciate the release of this report and our government’s willingness to address our concerns.” A report was given to NCBA members by the investigative team at its annual convention last month. NCBA members then adopted an 11-point directive regarding resumption of trade with Canada. NCBA said the release of USDA feed ban compliance report met one of the criteria of that directive. The criteria was: “Assurance that all Canadian firewalls to prevent BSE, specifically adherence to the feed ban, are functioning properly.” NCBA President Jim McAdams added, “NCBA supports taking steps toward normalizing global trade as a means to increase profitability for U.S. cattle producers. Our priority remains focused on resuming trade with our own export markets such as Japan and South Korea, but we are clearly making progress in all these trade areas.” For a copy of the feed ban assessment, the final rule, and other documents pertaining to BSE, producers are encouraged to visit the APHIS BSE website at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/bse.html.

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Monday, March 7,2005

Cash feds rally back to $90

by WLJ
— Futures gains cited. — Calves, feeders steady to firmer. A strong rally in live-cattle futures last Thursday prompted packers to come to the trading table with significantly more money than they used the previous week. That resulted in cash cattle trade being $4-5 stronger. As of press time last Thursday, Kansas and Texas cattle feeders had sold 40-45,000 head each within a range of $90-91.50, with the majority bringing $90.50. Northern trade tallied 50-55,000 head at mostly $90 live, $142-144 dressed. Early week packer bids were mostly $85 live, $140 dressed and prospective sellers were asking at least $90 live, $143 dressed. A fourth straight week of Friday trade was avoided, however, when April live cattle futures jumped $1.90 Thursday, closing at $88.70. June followed closely behind, closing at $84.35, up $1.42. Market analysts said cash cattle prices historically hold a $1.50-2 premium to futures during this time of year and that once “the board” jumped higher cash cattle prices were destined to follow. The jump in futures was attributed to packers having to find more domestic slaughter cattle in the coming weeks after a federal district judge granted a restraining order against USDA plans to reopen the border to U.S. live cattle on March 7. Andy Gottschalk, analyst with HedgersEdge.com, told WLJ the futures jump was the result of most nearby contracts being oversold on thoughts that the border would be open to Canadian cattle and demand for U.S. feds would be depressed. However, with the injunction, Gottschalk, said packers had to readjust their thinking and work on buying from a smaller-than-expected pool of slaughter-ready animals. Some additional market optimism resulted from projections that domestic beef demand would start to pick up over the next couple of weeks, with consumers from the eastern half of the country starting to get in the “grilling” mode. The last few months, demand in the eastern half of the country has been depressed due to extremely cold, windy and wet weather curbing much desire to visit restaurants or buy beef from retail shelves. “Seasonally, one would expect improvement in beef demand, particularly as grilling starts up,” Gottschalk said. “However, we are already seeing boxed beef resistant at $142, and that doesn’t bode well right now.” Gottschalk said he thought Choice boxed beef could have tested $144 per cwt last week, but that didn’t happen. Choice boxed beef closed Thursday at $141.99, while Select was at $138.55. Recent boxed beef volume was called moderate with last Thursday’s load count of 565 being the only 500-plus load day since Feb. 21. From a beef production standpoint, Gottschalk said the continuation of the ban against Canadian live cattle would result in about 400 million pounds fewer in total U.S. beef supplies for the year. Instead of 25.5 billion pounds in U.S. beef being produced, Gottschalk said his revised figure is for about 25.1 billion pounds in 2005. “That’s about a $1.50-2 (per cwt) jump in live cattle price for the year,” he said. Packers appeared hopeful that the normal spring upswing in beef demand was about to hit as they picked up their processing chain speeds last week. Through Thursday, 474,000 head of fed cattle ran through packing facilities, 23,000 more than the same period in the previous week. Several sources thought a 600,000-head slaughter week was possible last week, compared to 576,000- and 574,000-head during the previous two weeks, respectively. Slaughter cow and bull prices were also up last week, with most reports showing gains of $2-3 compared with the previous week. Cutter cow and cow beef cutouts were all up last week, with the cutter cow index at $112.28 last Thursday, up $2.50. On the cow beef cutout, 90-percent lean was bringing $144.76, up $4 from the previous Thursday, and the 50s market was at $71.80, up almost $6. Retail meat buyers indicated that they are banking on burger demand picking up over the next few weeks and that they are sending that message back down the production chain to their cow and lean beef suppliers. Denver- and Minneapolis-based meat buyers both said last week that they ordered 30 percent more grinding product for delivery for March 9 advertising features and that other retailers are giving similar orders throughout most of the country. Calves, yearlings Futures and cash-feeder cattle prices started to show significant gains last Thursday following the announcement concerning Canadian live cattle reentry being further delayed. The March futures contract gained $2.30, to close at $102.62 per cwt on Thursday. April closed at $101.50, up $2.27; and May was up $1.77, settling the day at $100.10. Cash feeder cattle gains were also reported last Thursday. After getting close to the $100 per cwt mark earlier in the week, last Thursday’s CME feeder index was back up to $101.66, up 25 points from the previous day. Market sources said that removing Canadian feeder cattle out of the mix in the short term helped domestic placement-ready cattle. The average weekly influx of Canadian feeder cattle entering the U.S. was expected to be 5-7,000, based on an informal WLJ survey of seven different analysts. However, with those cattle not coming in now, and supplies being very tight, analysts said a slight up-tick in feeder cattle could be expected. Gottschalk, however, disagreed somewhat saying that the number of feeder cattle outside of feedlots right now is unseasonably large, and that 5-7,000 fewer feeder cattle in the mix (weekly) shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Deferred feeder cattle futures contracts were said to be helped by last week’s USDA projection that almost 82 million acres of corn could be planted, with 76 million or more acres of that being for grain production. That acreage figure is 1.1 million acres more than last year, when a record 11.8 billion bushel harvest was reported. Gottschalk added that significant gains in feeder cattle prices is probably unlikely until feeders start showing some significant profit margins. “At $90 some feeders are still showing negative margins. There are a lot of break evens in the $92-94 range,” he said. Negative margins could range mostly between $25-50 per head. Calf prices remained mostly stronger to $2 higher last week, as stocker operators continue to see not only good grazing conditions, but also from cheap supplemental feed, specifically corn and other feed grains. Weather has also been conducive to bringing in cattle and getting them through a transition period without too many extra health problems arising, which means extra expenses are minimized. Higher-quality heifers continued to bring a $4-7 premium compared to their poorer-quality counterparts, with a lot of that extra demand being because of prospects for continued herd expansion in the Southwest and Midwest, sources said. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Concentration growing in ag markets

by WLJ
Concentration in agricultural markets continues to rise according to statistics released Feb. 25 by National Farmers Union during its 103rd anniversary convention in Lexington, KY. An NFU-commissioned study conducted by Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan from the University of Missouri Department of Rural Sociology revealed that the top four firms in most agricultural sectors have increased their stronghold since the last study, released in 2002. The study showed the top four beef packers now dominate 83.5 percent of the market. Four pork packers control 64 percent of that market, and the top four poultry companies process 56 percent of the broilers in the United States. Tyson Foods is listed in the top two of all three industries. “These concentration percentages are significant in themselves,” said NFU President Dave Frederickson. “Yet, when analyzed as part of the complex web of integration among the top firms, the percentage of market control becomes staggering.” Frederickson said that ethanol production was the only agricultural sector in which concentration has steadily decreased. A decade ago, the top four companies owned 73 percent of the ethanol market. Today, the top four companies control 41 percent of the ethanol produced. The Farmers Union president said this was in direct relationship to the high number of farmer-owned ethanol cooperatives that have been built in the United States. Farmer-owned plants account for about 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol production per year, or 37 percent of the total capacity. “Ethanol is a prime example of the impact of and potential for public policies that encourage diversification and discourage monopolization in our food system,” Frederickson said. “The 109th Congress must work to address the growing market control that threatens our nation's family farm system of agriculture.” Frederickson said the information revealed in the new study provides further rationale for Congress to immediately pass legislation to restore true competition in the marketplace for U.S. farmers and ranchers. “Independent producers cannot succeed in the absence of protection from unfair and anti-competitive practices,” he said. “We need comprehensive agricultural competition and concentration policies to restore balance in the marketplace.”

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Monday, March 7,2005

Court: Stricter water rules needed

by WLJ
A federal appeals court has ruled that new federal clean-water regulations aren’t protecting the nation’s waters from the manure pollution of large farms. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Monday it agreed with environmentalists who claimed in lawsuits that the rules failed to provide meaningful review of plans developed by the farms to limit the pollution. The court said the rules imposed in February 2003 by the Environmental Protection Agency were arbitrary and capricious and did “nothing to ensure that each large farm was complying with requirements to control the pollution. Its ruling requires the EPA to make changes so it can ensure compliance by the farms with the Clean Water Act, which includes “the ambitious goal that water pollution be eliminated. It also said the agency must provide a process that “adequately involves the public” as it creates a new system. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international grass-roots organization connecting 129 local water protection programs, said he was grateful that the court had rebuked “the government and the barons of corporate agriculture.” The appeals court noted that large farms can generate millions of tons of manure each year, which carries potentially harmful pollutants including pesticides, bacteria, viruses, trace elements of arsenic and compounds such as methane and ammonia. When properly applied, manure can be spread on fields and serve as fertilizer. But improperly applied, the court said, it can pollute. The EPA rules require large confinements—defined as having at least 1,000 beef cattle and 2,500 swine—to obtain water pollution permits every five years. Some medium ones—with 300 beef cattle and 3,000 swine under 55 pounds—may be required to get one. Different head count thresholds are set for livestock operations including sheep, chicken and turkeys. Any farm required to have a permit also must have a plan spelling out how it will manage manure. Farmers are required to file annual reports summarizing their operations. Forty-five states manage the program themselves while activities in Alaska, Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Mexico and in the District of Columbia are managed by the EPA. The Waterkeeper Alliance was among several groups that challenged the rules with lawsuits, which were consolidated into a single action in New York. Other groups included the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Farm Bureau Federation, the National Turkey Federation, the National Pork Producers Council and livestock groups. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Bad Medicine

by WLJ
I suppose that the Montana federal judge made the expected decision. After all, he appears to have been handpicked by the folks at R-CALF. If you support keeping the Canadian border closed, you had a really good week last week. If you don’t, be patient; logic will, hopefully, prevail—eventually. R-CALF had their request for a temporary injunction handed to them by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull last Wednesday. I’m not certain that his decision came as any big surprise, but, it was the only wild card playable in this border game. Otherwise the border would be ready to open today, March 7. I was told, the judge appeared to have had his mind made up before any one delivered any oral arguments. The judge ordered the attorneys for both USDA and R-CALF to come up with a timetable for a trial within 10 days from last Wednesday. At the core of this entire episode is R-CALF’s claim that Canadian beef is unsafe and that opening the border will cause irreparable harm, which is simply a means to accomplishing their original goal of installing mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Unfortunately, R-CALF has determined that the court system is their only option to trigger change. And honestly, they weren’t getting much done by working with the regulatory agencies. R-CALF lawyer Clifford Edwards, also of Edwards Angus Ranch, Denton, MT, told Cebull it would be “insane” to allow the import of cattle from a country that has already reported two new cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) this year. U.S. Justice Department lawyer Lisa Olson said there was "virtually no risk" from opening the border to young Canadian cattle and noted that all four cases of BSE found since 2003 in Canada and the U.S. were in cattle over 30 months of age. Keep in mind this injunction is temporary, and it could be a while before a final decision on the permanent injunction request is made. R-CALF appears to have dug in and is ready for a long battle, at least to the limits of their $750,000 “war chest.” R-CALF’s efforts to pursue this line of attack in court will be interesting to say the least. I would have to assume that R-CALF has literally bet the farm on winning this suit; all resources are on the table. I just hope it’s not your farm or ranch sitting in the middle of this poker table. Taking on the Justice Department and USDA is a pretty bold effort. The U.S. Justice Department has pretty deep pockets, and I would think that R-CALF’s lawyers aren’t working pro bono. Who do you suppose would run out of gas first? Is the cattle market going to be saved? Perhaps, but let’s be reasonable on this thing. Trade with Canada is a weighty international and economic issue and is more than likely going to happen. There may be a six-month or a year delay, but it’s going to open at some point. The entire BSE issue has gone way beyond reason. As far as I’m concerned—no news is good news when it comes to BSE. R-CALF was chastised last year for aligning with the Consumers Union (CU), and several other groups that have a history of being unfriendly to the beef industry. I’m not certain who initiated this relationship between R-CALF and CU. But, this is turning out to be a bad deal. Just last week, CU asked USDA Secretary Mike Johanns to consider retesting the false-positive BSE cow reported last November in the U.S., claiming that there are more accurate tests. There is simply too much news on this issue, and if we keep beating this consumer-awareness drum it’s going to come back and haunt this industry in the form of less demand and lower prices. R-CALF’s CEO Bill Bullard said in a recent news release, that “I think it’s more constructive and effective to pursue the legal channel,” and “We’re also aggressively lobbying in Washington, and we’re working to create greater public awareness of the issue.” Tell me if I’m wrong here, but the ramifications of creating public awareness on beef safety—even if its just Canadian beef safety— might lead to undue fear and provide the industry with a consumer attitude problem that could damage the market. — PETE CROW

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Monday, March 7,2005

Export group celebrates U.S. beef allowed back in Vietnam

by WLJ
The U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF) hosted a “Celebrate Tet With U.S. Beef” event in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Feb. 24 to kick off the return of U.S. beef to that country. Although a small market for U.S. beef—about 22 metric tons in 2002 and 16 in 2003—prior to a ban resulting from the discovery of a single imported animal with BSE in December 2003, it is one of the first Asian countries to reopen to U.S. product. More than 50 U.S. exporters, Vietnamese importers, retailers and restaurant owners, and Vietnamese officials attended the celebration. Seth Winnick, U.S. Consul General; Philip Seng, MEF president and CEO; John Wilson, agricultural attachéé; and Eric Choon, MEF manager of ASEAN operations, welcomed the group and proclaimed that the market reopening would launch a new era in U.S. trade. MEF Chef Sabrina Yin, based in Singapore, was on hand to offer new ways to prepare and present U.S. top blade and shortplate. Since new leadership was elected in 2001, Vietnamese authorities have moved to implement the structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive industries. Vietnam is a 10-year member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional free trade association, and is in the process of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). Ho Chi Minh City is the rapidly growing “economic engine” of the emerging Vietnamese economy, accounting for 60 percent of Vietnam’’s gross domestic product in 2004. Its expanding incomes and its residents’ taste for international cuisine make the city that used to be called Saigon a logical market for high-quality U.S. beef products. For example, one U.S. expatriate operates a Texas-style barbecue that serves up more than 750 pounds of beef and pork products a week and is eyeing new outlets in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. He is using locally-produced meat and Australian imports, but attended the meeting to “make the necessary connections to put U.S. beef, and its authentic flavor,” back on his menu. He sees new uses for top blade and shortplate, but added “I’m looking for premium steaks as well.” Other importers, retailers and restaurant owners mirrored this excitement about the potential for U.S. beef on their shelves and menus. They see Ho Chi Minh City as a city “accustomed to French and U.S. foods with an appetite to consume more.” But it’s not just the capital that has potential. Southern Vietnam, in particular, is a new “destination” attracting tourists from Europe, Japan, Korea and the U.S. Japanese and Korean visitors were number one and two in 2004, but U.S. tourists are now in fourth place, and their numbers are growing. “All three groups love U.S. beef and want to be able to find it during their vacations,” said one restaurateur, “and we’re ready to supply it.” He added that residents and visitors want everything from “a good old-fashioned hamburger to a really good steak.” While in Ho Chi Minh City, Seng, Asia-Pacific Vice President Joel Haggard and Information Services Vice President Lynn Heinze joined Foreign Agricultural Service representatives on a tour of French-based Metro operations and other potential U.S. beef customers. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Cows traded for vehicles

by WLJ
One Alberta automobile dealership is allowing Canadian ranchers to trade in a portion of their stockpiled cattle as trade-ins towards the purchase of new trucks or cars. Cochrane Dodge Chrysler in Cochrane, Alberta, is allowing Canadian producers to trade 10 head of cattle toward the purchase of a diesel truck, five head of cattle toward the purchase of a gasoline-powered truck and one or two head toward the purchase of a car. An appraiser will be on-premises to determine the fair market value of the cattle. The program started last week and is slated to last about two weeks total. The dealership will resell the cattle to local ranchers at a loss. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

E. coli in ground beef declines more in 2004

by WLJ
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last Monday released data showing a 43.3 percent drop in the percentage of E. coli O157:H7 positive ground beef regulatory samples collected in 2004 compared with the previous year. Of the 8,010 samples collected and analyzed in 2004, 0.17 percent tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, down from 0.30 in 2003, 0.78 in 2002, 0.84 in 2001 and 0.86 in 2000. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of positive samples in FSIS regulatory sampling has declined by more than 80 percent. In April 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its annual report on foodborne illness in America, reported a 36 percent reduction in illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 in 2003 compared to 2002. The number of FSIS recall actions related to E. coli O157:H7 also continued to drop. There were six recalls related to E. coli O157:H7 in 2004 compared to 12 in 2003 and 21 in 2002. "The reduction in positive E. coli O157:H7 regulatory samples demonstrates the continuing success of our agency's strong, science based policies aimed at reducing pathogens in America's meat, poultry and egg products,” said Dr. Barbara Masters, acting administrator for FSIS. “Improvements in regulatory oversight and training have paid dividends, and we are committed to building on this strong foundation.” Packing and livestock industry sources agreed that management changes have helped lead towards successful minimization of foodborne pathogen outbreaks. “The steady decline in E. coli O157:H7 is a success story and testament to the industry’s commitment to continually improve its food safety programs,”” said James Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation. “The continuing drop of both occurrences of illness from E. coli, and the prevalence of E. coli, are part of the pay-off for an all-out effort by the meat industry to make food safety our number one priority over the last several years. It’s rewarding to see that the pro-active measures we’’re taking in the meat industry are having direct pay-off for the American public and consumers of American meat across the globe.” Dane Bernard, food safety and quality assurance coordinator for Keystone Foods and vice president of the Beef Industry Food Safety Council, said, “This is very good news for consumers and all sectors of the beef industry. We are proud of the coordinated efforts to reduce this pathogen throughout the beef production chain, from farm to kitchen. It’s great to see such hard work paying off and we will continue toward our goal of further reducing and, if possible, eliminating the threat of E. coli O157:H7.” In 2002, FSIS ordered all beef plants to reexamine their food safety plans, based on evidence that E. coli O157:H7 is a hazard reasonably likely to occur. Plants were required to implement measures that would sufficiently eliminate or reduce the risk of E. coli O157:H7 in their products. Scientifically trained FSIS personnel then began to systematically assess those food safety plans for scientific validity and to compare what was written in plant Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans to what was taking place in daily operations. A majority of plants have made major changes to their operations based on the directive, including the installation and validation of new technologies specifically designed to combat E. coli O157:H7. Many plants have also increased their testing for E. coli O157:H7 in order to verify their food safety systems. The total number of samples collected in 2004 increased by more than 21 percent. FSIS has also taken steps to ensure that inspection personnel are anticipating problems and that enforcement is carried out promptly and consistently. FSIS launched new training initiatives for inspectors and compliance officers in 2004. Through the use of computer software, inspection actions are analyzed by district officials so trends and areas needing additional attention can be more quickly identified. FSIS has also developed review and management systems to help gauge and improve the performance of inspectors. In 2004, FSIS also held a series of teaching workshops around the country for small and very small plants to discuss new directives designed to strengthen E. coli O157:H7 prevention procedures. The workshops were a part of FSIS' continuing effort to prevent E. coli O157:H7 contamination and protect public health by providing small and very small plant operators with technical expertise and assistance. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

False bangs test prompts possible change

by WLJ
A false case of brucellosis from cattle in Campbell County, WY, could lead to a review of how laboratories nationwide handle tests for the cattle disease in the future, a veterinary official said. I'm quite confident there will be a review of that protocol at a national level," said Sam Holland, chairman of the U.S. Animal Health Association's (USAHA) committee on brucellosis. Holland, who is also the South Dakota state veterinarian, said he requested USDA review federal protocols for culturing brucella nationwide, "in light of the recent event and information gleaned from that experience." Four months ago, the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Brookings, SD, determined that two Campbell County cattle tested positive for brucellosis, which causes cattle to abort. The news caused much concern among ranchers in northeast Wyoming, where brucellosis had never been found before. Extensive testing of the rest of the herd, surrounding herds and more than 130 elk in the region turned up no sign of the disease, raising the possibility that the lab mistakenly contaminated the samples. However, the South Dakota lab had destroyed the tested samples, leaving no way to double check its findings. The Wyoming State Veterinary Lab stores its positive brucellosis tests. "So if someone wondered if we screwed up in some way, we could send them the tissues, and then they could try and repeat what we did to try and be sure," said Donal O'Toole, director of the Wyoming lab. Brucella abortus is considered a "select agent" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning the substance could be used in bioterrorism and thus is subject to strict federal regulations for storage. "It's easier to destroy the sample than it is to lock it, archive it, mark it, account for it, store it, sign in and out for it," Holland said. The talk of changing lab procedures isn't much comfort for the owners of the Campbell County herd involved in the original testing by the South Dakota lab. Justin and Heather Edwards and their family lived with the stigma of brucellosis for more than three months. Their 400 head of Angus were quarantined and tested, and 2,500 cattle in surrounding herds were also tested. "Our name's been drug across every paper in the western United States," Edwards said. "If someone said McDonald's had (BSE) in their hamburgers, and three months later they said, ‘Well, we might have made a mistake,’ there would be a certain number of people who would never eat at McDonald's again. It's the same way for us.” The quarantine on Edwards' herd was lifted in late November. The whole experience has left Edwards feeling a bit exasperated, but not enough to put him off ranching. "As producers, we're at the mercy of the labs," Edwards said. "We don't get the samples when our cattle are processed. It's all out of our hands. You have to put your faith in the system and hope it doesn't fail you like it did in this case." — WLJ

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