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Monday, March 7,2005

Texas groups request Japanese sanctions

by WLJ
The leaders of two Texas producer organizations say the Bush administration should impose economic sanctions on Japan due to Japan’s unwillingness to open its market for U.S. beef. According to Bob McCan, president of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, efforts by the Bush administration and industry have gone the extra mile in proving U.S. beef is free from BSE, but Japan continues to stall on the issue. “Japanese consumers are expressing a desire and need for safe and wholesome U.S. beef,” said Texas Cattle Feeders Association Chairman Charlie Sellers. “The time has come for us to take these efforts to a new level, especially in light of the significant trade deficit with Japan.” The two leaders, in a letter sent to the Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico delegations in Washington, DC, requested congressional support to help the cattle industry resume international beef trade. It has been over a year since the United States’ only case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in a Canadian cow. Japan immediately closed its border to imports of U.S. beef, and negotiations to reopen that crucial market have apparently stalled in spite of continued efforts by top administration officials in the ensuing months. Since the major export markets for U.S. beef closed Dec. 23, 2003, cattle producers have suffered an economic loss of $3.1 billion. Sellers, McCan and the members they represent now believe the time has come to impose economic sanctions. “We don’t take economic sanctions lightly,” the two leaders said.”Japan is an important trading partner, which only underscores the need to restore common sense to BSE import rules now.” — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Vaccine developed to prevent cattle liver abscess

by WLJ
It's a pretty safe bet you won't hear this request from your kids: "More liver, please." If you do, however, there will be no shortage of the iron-rich delicacy most kids love to hate thanks to a vaccine developed by Kansas State University professors. T.G. Nagaraja, a professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine, and M.M Chengappa, university distinguished professor of microbiology and department head of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, have developed a vaccine that prevents liver abscesses in cattle. The vaccine was recently given approval by the United States Department of Agriculture. The KSU Research Foundation and Schering-Plough, a global science-based health care company, have a licensing agreement to market the vaccine. Schering Plough Animal Health corporation further developed the product and worked with USDA to get license approval for the vaccine. According to Nagaraja, abscesses are a common malady found mostly in grain-fed cattle, the result of an aggressive feeding program. He said about 20 to 40 percent of the grain-fed cattle in feedlots are afflicted with abscesses, which cannot be detected until the animals are slaughtered. While the organ is condemned and not used, in most instances the remainder of the carcass is approved for sale. "If you look at the animal you can't tell if they're abscessed or not," Nagaraja said. "They look normal, so they don't show any clinical signs. The only time we see the problem is when animals are slaughtered." The abscesses are caused by bacteria present in the rumen, the first of four compartments that comprise a cow's stomach. That compartment contains numerous microorganisms beneficial in assisting the animal digest food. According to Nagaraja, who began researching the vaccine 14 years ago, the liver is a very well defended organ. So much so that he calls it the "Pentagon" because it has "so many systems" of defense. However, under certain conditions, when this bacteria crosses the stomach wall and gets into the blood stream, it is trapped inside the liver, producing a toxin that kills white blood cells or leukocytes, which generally defend the body from germs or infections. The vaccine prevents abscesses from occurring by neutralizing the toxin, a protein. Once injected into the animal, antibodies are produced that act on the protein. When the bacteria goes into the liver and produces the toxin, antibodies neutralize it and allow the leukocytes to survive. These white blood cells can, in-turn, kill the bacteria. "That's not a new concept; it's been done with other bacteria," Nagaraja said. "But it was new for this organism that we were able to identify strains that are able to optimize conditions for production of large amounts of leukotoxins." According to Nagaraja, abscesses are a significant economic liability to producers, packers and consumers. He said the liver condemnation, which he estimates to cost about $5 per head, is just one of the economic losses of this disease. Occasionally, the entire carcass must be condemned because the abscess in rare instances causes adhesions to other organs or ruptures, spilling pus into other organs. Economic impacts may also include reduced feed intake, reduced weight gain, decreased feed efficiency and decreased carcass yield. According to Nagaraja, reduced animal performance is the major economic impact of the problem. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Universities balk at proposed budget cuts

by WLJ
— Agriculture disease research network could disintegrate. Bush budget cuts would hit important research programs that examine everything from soybeans and dairy production to cattle viruses, agriculture school officials complained to Congress on Tuesday. Fred Cholick, dean of the agriculture college at Kansas State University, said the cuts threaten the original mission of the 75 land-grant schools, created by Congress in the 1800s to use public money on shared agricultural research. Under the Bush plan, funding for three programs on farming, forestry and animal health, mainstays at land-grant institutions for decades, would be slashed from $200 million this year to $100 million next year and nothing in 2007. Some money—about $70 million—would be available to schools through competitive grants, but school officials say the change would be so sudden that about 2,000 jobs nationwide would be lost immediately. The cuts also would destroy a network of research collaboration that allows states to work together to thwart agriculture diseases and develop better practices. “If everything goes competitive, then it’s everybody for themselves,” said Bobby Moser, dean and vice president of the agriculture college at Ohio State University. “We lose the network.” Moser and about 120 other school officials and agriculture research supporters fanned out across Capitol Hill to lobby their hometown lawmakers in favor of the programs. The schools use the money to study both national priorities—food security, pest control, obesity, waste management—and local issues, such as cattle diarrhea in Wyoming, dairy breeding in Pennsylvania and pesticides to use at macadamia nut farms in Hawaii. “What kind of partnerships would we have in the future?” Cholick said. He said the network paid off last November when the first U.S. case of soybean rust, a fungus that can reduce harvests, was found in two Louisiana State University research fields. The school was able to get word immediately to researchers across the country for what to look for and how to stop the spread. “If we don’t have a network, a system, then we don’t know what’s here and we can’t respond,” Cholick said. “These formula grants are the glue that holds the system together.” Bob Steele, dean of the agricultural sciences college at Pennsylvania State University, said the cuts also would affect students and, ultimately, consumers. “You are putting at risk an abundant food supply and an affordable food supply and a safe food supply,” Steele said. “So it’s not just about farmers. Anybody who eats ought to be concerned about this.” Agriculture Department spokesman Ed Loyd said the Bush administration is proposing the two-year transition to competitive funding because it would eliminate duplication. “We believe we can attract the highest caliber scientist and also be able to focus on a lot of more critical research issues by going to a competitive grant system,” Loyd said. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Wisconsin sets standards for livestock facility

by WLJ
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection board is making a few additions to the state's proposed Livestock Facilities Siting Rules. Wisconsin is in the process of creating a set of standards that local municipalities can use to grant permits for larger livestock facilities. The idea is to prevent pressure on boards to pass emergency rules to keep large livestock operations out of an area. A task force appointed by State Ag Secretary Rod Nilsestuen developed the proposed rules with the help of a technical advisory panel. Those proposed rules are now the subject of a dozen public hearings that will be held in March. Some concern has arisen over the "Odor Index" portion of the rules, so the Wisconsin Ag Board is proposing an addendum to the plan that would: • Create a provision allowing for "no net increase" in odor for existing facilities that wish to expand to 1,000 animal units or more; • Add two new requirements for producers utilizing the "no net increase" provision: minimum setback requirement for new or modified manure storage facilities, and good neighbor practices; • Limit the provision allowing local governments to add discretionary points; •. Clarify two issues: all applicants are subject to permit approval conditioned on compliance with the installation and maintenance of the practices listed in the application; and non-affiliated residences can waive setback distances; • Require that local government send DATCP copies of applications and worksheets submitted by producers wishing to expand their operations; • Implement the following program enhancements: enter into a vigorous research effort with WASI, UW-CALS, and DNR to identify the most cost effective best management practices for controlling odor at livestock facilities; revise ATCP 51 as necessary to incorporate any research findings that will improve odor management from livestock facilities; and conduct a comprehensive education and training effort related to livestock siting directed toward producers and local government. Livestock Facility Siting Hearings will be held: • Monday, March 14 at Community Credit Union, Jefferson • Tuesday, March 15, Heidel House, Green Lake • Thursday, March 17, Ramada White House, Richland Center • Tuesday, March 22, U.W. Manitowoc • Wednesday, March 23, Northcentral Technical College, Wausau • Thursday, March 24, Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire Hearings will run 1 to 4:30 pm and 6 to 9:30 pm at all locations. Written comments will also be accepted by the Department of Ag by April 7, 2005. — WLJ

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Monday, February 28,2005

Aussie cattle die of thirst

by WLJ
Around 500 cattle have died of thirst on a remote Australian pastoral station, or ranch, according to reports on Feb. 18. Another 2,500 beasts are suffering from severe dehydration. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has slaughtered another 30 cows, horses and camels, after finding the Windidda Station abandoned early this week, the report said. Windidda is in the central desert of Western Australia state, 200 kilometers east of Wiluna town. RSCPA spokeswoman Kelly Oversby said the association has had to intervene at the station twice in the past 12 months. "It really is a case of neglect, and lack of knowledge of operating a station," she said. At least half of the 25 windmills on the property used to tap underground aquifers for water for the animals aren't working,” she said. The station leaseholders are yet to comment, the report said. Kim Chance, the state's agriculture minister, has asked the leasing authority, the Pastoral Lands Board, to take control of the station. Much of the sparse fierce desert that is the Western Australian interior, is operated as sheep or cattle stations, some used to feed Australia's thriving live animal export trade. — WLJ

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Monday, February 28,2005

Aussie meat exports to China to expand

by WLJ
— Nineteen more Aussie plants certified. Australian beef, sheep, and goat meat exports to China are set to increase following the Chinese government's approval of another 19 Australia meat processing plants for export. This brings the total number of plants approved so far to 35. Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said: “This is great news for Australian exporters. China is a significant market for our agriculture exports, and imported around A$50 million worth of high-quality Australian meat in 2004.” Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry Minister Warren Truss said the approval from China means the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service can now recommend the registration of Australian meat processing plants that meet China's specific requirements. Truss said: “Quarantine and inspection authorities from both countries are working closely together to finalize registration of Australian meat processing establishments wanting to export to China. AQIS is assessing a number of further plants, and will be submitting recommendations to China for approval in the near future.” China will be issuing meat import permits under four existing exemption categories until the end of June, after which product can only be supplied by plants approved by China. The current exemption categories are: • Products cooked and processed before they enter the retail market; • Products processed in China for re-export; • Products intended for deluxe hotels; and • Products intended for the personal use of diplomats. “In light of the deadline for the exemptions, AQIS is working with a number of other meat industry groups to ensure they can supply this important market from July, and will also be submitting a protocol to China for approval covering Australian pig meat and processed products,” Truss added. Vaile said that China is Australia's third-largest trading partner, and second-largest market for merchandise exports. The two-way trade in goods was worth more than A$25 billion in 2003-2004. — WLJ

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Monday, February 28,2005

Beef Bits

by WLJ
Outback growth flattens Outback Steakhouse Inc., which missed fourth-quarter earnings expectations, forecast relatively modest guest count gains this year at its flagship steakhouse brand. The company said traffic should be “flat to up a little bit” given “tough” competition and selective menu price increases, in part to offset higher beef and minimum wage rates. Beef costs will be up about 3 percent from last year. Outback plans to raise menu prices in Florida, its home state, in May to offset an increased minimum wage there. Shares of Outback were changing hands recently at 45. 62, down 1.9 percent or 90 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange. Food chain doubts March 7 Jack In The Box expressed doubts last Wednesday that the U.S.-Canadian border will reopen for beef imports as scheduled early next month. "Our intelligence indicates the March 7 has slipped," Chief Executive Robert Nugent said on a conference call. "That's what we're expecting," he added. Asked its expectation for prices, Jerry Rebel, chief financial officer of Jack In The Box, a regional hamburger chain, said, "Our general outlook for beef is that it will remain high through our second quarter.... We believe the border will open later this year." Argentina's exports up 50% Argentina exported 43,852 metric tons of beef in January, the animal- and food-inspection agency, Senasa, reported. That puts exports up 50 percent compared to the same month a year ago. January sales totaled $91.6 million, up 53 percent from a year earlier. The South American nation shipped 1,607 tons of beef—worth almost $11.233 million—to the European Union under the Hilton Import quota program. Non-Hilton-related chilled and frozen fresh beef shipments totaled 28,881 tons, or $62 million. Last year, Argentina's beef exports totaled 478,124 tons, or $1.053 billion. Argentina is the world's third largest beef exporter, behind Australia and Brazil. ConAgra Q3 earnings waning ConAgra Foods said it expects third-quarter earnings, ending Feb. 27, to lag by some $50 million, or about 25 percent of projected earnings, because of food production problems, weak sales in refrigerated meats and technology problems. The company said, “Continued weak results from refrigerated branded operations” reflect a spike in higher raw material prices that cannot be offset by raising prices. However, its recently introduced Banquet Crock-Pot Classics product line has been a hit and will account for about $100 million in sales during its first full year of production. Supermarket files for Chapter 11 Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, FL, filed for bankruptcy reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules last week. Winn-Dixie stores are prominent in eight southern U.S. states and the Bahamas. The company reported that during its most recent quarter, it lost $399.7 million, compared with a loss of $79.5 million during the same quarter last year. It also said its 920 stores will remain open. However, the company is seeking court permission to terminate leases of two warehouses and about 150 stores that were closed previously, for an annual cash savings of approximately $60 million, and plans to sell all its remaining manufacturing operations to cut expenses. Yoshinoya expects smaller loss Restaurant chain operator Yoshinoya D&C Co. said it expects to see a smaller-than-expected group net loss for fiscal 2004 as better-than-expected sales are likely to help alleviate losses stemming from Japan’s continued ban on American beef imports, reports Kyodo. The company said it now expects to see a group net loss of 1.10 billion yen for the year ending Feb. 28, less than the earlier projected loss of 2.54 billion yen. Yoshinoya said it expects to post a group pretax loss of 1.40 billion yen, an improvement from the earlier expected 2.12 billion yen loss. The company attributed the earnings revision to its cost-cutting efforts. Sonic ad creates controversy A television ad campaign for Sonic Drive-In has created controversy after the Kansas City Star reported the campaign won a series of awards for outstanding advertising. The ads in question feature two male comedians, identified as Pete and P. J., who discuss their love of Sonic burgers. In one spot, one says that he loves a Sonic burger "more than going to the video arcade" but less than "when a lady opens a beer bottle with her belt buckle." The Star received a flood of e-mails and phone calls, all from men who disliked the spots. Some thought they were annoying, while others said they promoted homosexuality. Greg Haflich, Sonic’s vice president of marketing and brand development, noted the ads have resulted a greater than 10 percent jump in same-store sales.

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Monday, February 28,2005

Canadian cattle at record

by WLJ
Canadian farmers held a record number of cattle on their farms Jan. 1, while hog numbers were only slightly above year-earlier levels on the back of good exports, Statistics Canada reported last week. The national cattle herd has been building steadily since May 2003, when Canadian officials identified the first native-born case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in an animal in Alberta. "Canada's national cattle herd continued to swell last year, reaching a record 15.1 million head as of Jan. 1, 2005, a little more than a year-and-a-half after the worldwide ban on Canadian cattle," the government reporting agency said. However, changes in herd size vary across the country, with Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia showing the same or smaller cattle numbers this January than a year earlier. The growth in cattle numbers comes only in the three Prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The North American cattle and beef industries will closely watch the Statistics Canada report. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is supposed to lift its ban on imports of Canadian cattle younger than 30 months of age on March 7. The American cattle industry is worried that lifting the ban will hit cattle prices in the U.S., prompting industry groups to offer conditional support, at best, for the U.S. government action. "Canadian farmers had 430,000 more cattle on their farms this year than they did on Jan. 1, 2004," Statistics Canada reported. "This was the equivalent of a 2.9% increase." Elizabeth Whiting, press secretary to Canada's Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell, said the numbers were "not unexpected. There is an issue with managing older animals in the herd, which we hoped would have been dealt with in the U.S. rule."

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Monday, February 28,2005

Court to hear labor dispute

by WLJ
— Pay for getting dressed requested. The U.S. Supreme Court last week said it will hear arguments on whether meat-processing plants must pay workers for the time to change into protective clothing and to walk to their work stations. The nine justices will review two opposite lower court rulings examining workers' rights under federal labor law. One ordered IBP Inc.—prior to its purchase by Tyson Fresh Meats Inc.—to pay $3.1 million to 815 workers in Pasco, WA, for the time to put on and remove protective clothing. A separate federal court ruling said 44 Barber Foods employees in Portland, ME, were not entitled to compensation. The Supreme Court’s ruling could have ramifications for a wide swath of occupations from nuclear plants to law enforcement whose employees might spend extra time to perform duties related to their principal line of work. At the IBP plant, workers were required to gather protective gear, put it on in the plant's locker room, and then prepare work-related tools before entering the slaughter floor. The gear typically consists of a sanitary outer garment, boots, a hard hat, goggles, and gloves. However, under company policy, workers were not considered “on the job” until they showed up, fully equipped. They also were not paid for the time spent changing out of the heavy gear for a 30-minute lunch break or at the end of the shift. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers aren't required to pay workers for time spent changing clothes. However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rule that donning protective gear in a hazardous profession is different from changing clothes because the protection is “integral and indispensable” to the job. In ruling against the Barber Foods employees, 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that time spent changing gear and walking to work stations shouldn't be compensated, in part because donning the equipment only takes a few minutes. — WLJ

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Monday, February 28,2005

Consumers Union: cow needs retest for BSE

by WLJ
Consumers Union last Thursday asked USDA to retest a cow that was determined in November 2004 to be negative for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) using a test called the “Western blot.” The Western blot test is used by authorities in Japan and Europe when making a final determination as to whether a cow has the brain-wasting disease, Consumers Union said. “Given the potential consequences to both public health and the cattle industry if this brain- wasting disease become established here, it is extremely important that every scientifically justifiable step be taken to prevent it," said Michael Hansen, a biologist with Consumers Union, and Jean Halloran, director of the group’s Consumer Policy Institute, in a letter Thursday to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns. Representatives of the Consumers Union met with USDA officials earlier in February and urged the agency to revise its testing methods. The Consumers Union is asking the USDA to not only retest the cow from November 2004, but also to send samples from the cow to the UK for independent testing. USDA in November 2004 confirmed that the suspect cow was negative for BSE using the immunohistochemistry (IHC) test, which the agency describes as the "gold standard." However, the agency didn't perform the Western blot test, even though it had previously used both the IHC and Western blot in confirming the first case of BSE in the U.S. USDA also sent samples from that cow to the UK for further review. Scientists in Japan and Belgium have reported that suspect cows may be negative on the IHC and still test positive on the Western blot. Such cows are universally regarded as infected, Consumers Union said. In addition, the IHC is a more subjective test, relying on the judgments of a skilled scientist. The Western blot is more objective and its results can be read by any technician, according to Consumers Union. — WLJ

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