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Monday, September 20,2004

Push beef, not cattle

by WLJ
Last month's announcement that a moderately-large-scale Tama, IA, cattle and beef processing facility was being shuttered, at least temporarily, brought back a lot of not-so-fond memories concerning independent cattle producers and the hard time they seem to have getting started in the packing business. The most alarming thing to me about the 1,200-head-per-day-capacity Iowa Quality Beef cooperative's situation is that the closing happened just over a year after the plant, which was an existing facility, was renovated and opened for business as Iowa Quality Beef. It's eerily familiar with what went down with Future Beef Operations, which filed for bankruptcy and permanently closed its doors within 18 months of beginning its "ahead-of-its-time" slaughter and processing operation. Officials with Iowa Quality Beef indicated they would get the plant re-opened, however, no timeline has been given. It seems unlikely to me that the plant will re-open or that when it does it will experience a different result from the first stint of operation. The official reason behind the closing was significant industry losses, primarily due to BSE and its hindrances on the cattle/beef markets. Prices paid for cattle between last July and this July were anywhere between $5-12 above "normal expectations," and that led to a lot of extra procurement costs. It's hard for me to fathom that even under "normal conditions" that a new cattle packing facility can start to show much profit now days, particularly when startup costs, overhead costs and capital investments are at the forefront of issues to be dealt with. And, with the dynamics of the cattle market the past six months, that makes the proposition of making money by processing cattle almost impossible, it seems. I wish Iowa Quality Beef the best and hope that they prove me wrong, however, myself and several other onlookers had the same fears with Future Beef and several other startup cattle processors, and those fears turned into reality, unfortunately. Last week I was involved with a beef product research and development (R&D) seminar, hosted by the Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). After setting through several presentations by wholesalers and retailers and watching a demonstration on cutting out some of the new "beef value cuts," it became more and more clear that beef processing goes way beyond slaughtering cattle, and that focusing on beef instead of cattle could be more lucrative. The problem with the cattle portion of the packing industry is that is where the most expense is. The largest portion of overhead costs comes from processing live cattle and getting the intact carcass through the processing chain, getting into storage and then getting it cut up into primal boxes. Last week's R&D symposium showed how lucrative the business of taking those primals and separating them out into various new products can be. For example, one of the hottest new products at the retail and restaurant level is the Flat Iron Steak, which is cut from the shoulder, normally an underutilized primal. According to Tony Mata, Ph.D, meat scientist and a lead researcher in the beef value cuts program, the whole shoulder primal has a wholesale value of $1.10-1.75 per pound. The flat iron steak costs anywhere between $4.50-7 per pound retail, and restaurants are selling it for anywhere between $12.99-19.99, and that is for a 10- or 12-ounce cut. It seems logical that it would be worthwhile to look into a business venture where raw primals are purchased and then further processed into more valuable, consumer-demanded products—call me crazy. While such a venture is not devoid of some capital and overhead expenses, it sure doesn't entail all the expenses associated with a live animal processing operation, and the amount of time to overcome those initial expenses before recognizing a profit is cut to a fraction, compared to live cattle packing. Why kill cattle when it appears to kill profits, at least in the beginning and when the market dynamics are irregular. Oh yeah, what's a "regular" cattle market, is there such a thing? — STEVEN D. VETTER

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Monday, September 20,2004

Canadian gov't announces BSE aid funding

by WLJ
Canadian Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell announced an aid package of almost a half a billion dollars September 10 for Canadian cattle producers devastated by the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad-cow disease, crisis. Once consultations have been completed, Mitchell said, the federal investment will total C$488 million dollars. Analysts ahead of the announcement had been expecting new money in the area of one billion dollars. Mitchell said he wants to return the Canadian beef industry to profitability in case the U.S. border does not re-open. However, Mitchell added the Canadian government is still committed to try and find a way to re-open the U.S. border to live cattle exports. He said he spoke with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in New York recently and talked with her again September 10 morning to discuss the new programs the Canadian government was attempting to put into place. He said there were three facets to the new program the Canadian government was attempting to put together. First, Mitchell said there would be funding to help increase ruminant slaughter capacity. That funding was expected to total C$66.2 million. In addition to preparing a reserve fund for infrastructure development, he said the government would establish what he termed a "one-stop shopping center" to help process infrastructure requests, information and so on. The Canadian government was also ready to institute a series of transition measures to help Canadian farmers. The transition funding was expected to total C$384.8 million. Mitchell said there would be changes made to the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization Program, or CAIS, that will make advances available to put cash in the hands of producers quickly to deal with liquidity issues. In order to bring some balance the marketplace over the short-term, Mitchell said the Canadian government was establishing a Set-Aside program for fed cattle and feeder cattle. The Set-Aside program is being implemented to help keep cattle prices at a viable level until additional slaughter capacity is made available. Mitchell said various advisory and management committees will work together to balance prices, slaughter rates, and other various risk factors. He said they will also be looking to find ways to efficiently deal with older cattle in Canadian herds. Mitchell also placed a high importance on the expansion of foreign markets that Canadian cattle can be sold into. In total, C$37.1 million in federal funding for market expansion has been allocated. "We're seeking to diversify our marketplace and working to gain additional foreign markets," he said. He said the expansion of foreign markets would be facilitated by the implementation of additional scientific measures, including improvements to Canada's tracking and tracing programs, in order to make them the safest in the world. Mitchell said there would be surveillance targets for cattle, which would be established through contact with the provinces and the industry. He added they would proceed with a long-term strategy of BSE research and the removal of specified risk material from feed materials. The program that will be implemented will consist of many component parts, Mitchell said. "The provinces can decide what they want to participate in based on their needs," Mitchell said. Cattle producers across western Canada have said their losses have passed C$2 billion since a single case of BSE was discovered on a northern Alberta farm in May 2003. Prior to this announcement, the federal government had divvied up more than C$950 million in BSE aid to the cattle industry. The U.S. border is currently only open to certain cuts of Canadian beef. It is closed to live cattle exports. There has been talk recently from political officials, including Federal Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, that the border may never re-open to live cattle exports. — John Nelson, Dow Jones Newswires

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Monday, September 20,2004

Calgary delays meat plant vote

by WLJ
Calgary's City Council, on the night of Monday, September 13, deferred consideration until January 2005 of a meat-packing plant, which had already received technical approval from Calgary's planning commission. The decision came just days after the Canadian government pledged millions in aid for more slaughterhouses to deal with the glut of cattle from the BSE crisis. Few of the slaughterhouse opponents said they believe the $40-million project will be killed. "From a community perspective, we will become more adamant, more serious," said Grant Steiner. "We knew this was going to be a battle." That fight may soon spread across Canada. Canada's government announced recently it would provide loan guarantees to groups wanting to build new meat-packing plants and would also fast-track federal approval to increase slaughter capacity. Alberta Agriculture Minister Shirley McClellan has expressed frustration that the slaughterhouse proponents in northeast Calgary have faced obstacles from the community. "Maybe she should try living next to one," said Calgary resident Grant Galpin, noting that meat plants can impact the quality of local air and water. Galpin said he is pleased that city planners will have to come up with studies looking at waste disposal and the potential impact of the meat-packing plant on local environment. He said this shouldn't be viewed as a slight against cattle producers, who have been fighting to survive since international borders slammed shut on live cattle 16 months ago when an Alberta cow tested positive for BSE. "I'm supportive of the local farmer getting money for his beef," said Galpin. "But as far as building these plants, I think there needs to be a lot more thought. They've agreed to speed up the process on all of these plants and I think they really need to re-think that. Are we really doing our homework before we run out and build these things?" Agricultural economist Ralph Ashmead also appealed for caution from government officials, noting that he's aware of 20 groups across Canada looking to establish processing plants. "There's a risk that ... we could have too many plants and then we get a bunch of them going broke because we have a surplus supply or don't have enough markets," said Ashmead. Many of those proposals come from cattle producers who have banded together to try and create their own way of dealing with a huge glut of cattle. Statistics Canada has indicated there are one million more cattle on Canadian farms compared with a year ago. Most of the animals processed in Canada go through the Lakeside and Cargill plants in southern Alberta, which each kill about 4,000 animals a day. The one proposed in Calgary expects to slaughter about 400 a day. There is no estimate on when the U.S. border will re-open to live Canadian cattle, but economists stress it's important for any new processors to find a niche market so they aren't competing with the major slaughterhouses, which have lower costs because of volume. "Any new firms should be looking at different products and markets, anything from organic to specialized," said Ashmead. "Find a niche market so you're not in that same competitive market as the big boys." — WLJ

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Monday, September 20,2004

California beef group focuses on Hispanic market

by WLJ
What does a state's beef industry do when its promotion dollars limit it to approximately four cents a consumer, not enough to even cover the cost of a postage stamp? That was the question that came up during an interview with Bruce Berven, outgoing executive director of the California Beef Council (CBC), and Virginia Coelho, CBC board member, during the Hagata Ranch Centennial Celebration, September 4, at Susanville, CA. Berven and Coelho both answered the funding question by saying it was decided several years ago to pinpoint a certain segment of the state's 35 million consumers and do the market research and develop the necessary partnerships within that segment. Berven maintained that diversity is what makes the California beef market so unique. "The nation's largest state population of some 35 million includes virtually every ethnic group imaginable, each with its own preferences, especially so with food," he said. Overall, beef consumption has been good in California. However, several years ago, Berven and Coelho and other CBC members figured a lot more could be achieved by pinpointing their promotions to one market segment, the Hispanic market. The Hispanic population makes up a third of the state's overall population and is growing faster than any other ethnic group in the state. Consequently, during the past few years, fully a third of the Council's some million-and-a-half yearly checkoff dollars, or $500-600,000 a year has been invested in the state's Hispanic market and the results have been very gratifying. "First, it was vital to get in contact with retailers who really knew the Hispanic market, starting in the southern part of the state," said Coelho. "With their direction, CBC was able to develop promotions in partnership with these retailers that have been extremely effective." She added that these retailers have supplied CBC with figures on beef movement through their stores, and that help has also come via including information in Spanish on the council's web site. Both Berven and Coelho said that the Hispanic markets, especially carnicerias (meat markets), are eager to get any beef information, including recipes, in Spanish. Carniceria butchers have been supplied illustrated beef cuts this year, and Berven indicated that a majority of the information should be fully in place by September 1. Those illustrations have been printed in both Spanish and English. Berven resigned from his CBC position earlier this year, and joined Harris Ranch Beef, the state's largest beef producer, as vice president of marketing. Since Berven joined the Harris organization, he said he has made several trips throughout the state to visit Harris' customers. He told of a recent trip to the Los Angeles area where he visited both existing and prospective and how the CBC Hispanic beef promotions are working in that huge marketing area. He said he visited several supermarket stores that mostly served Anglo customers and saw that during the morning hours customer attendance at those stores was rather light. However, when he visited one of the Northgate super markets at around 11:45 a.m, Berven said there was a long line of customers taking numbers to purchase beef. Most of those customers were Hispanic. Northgate is a grocery chain that operates l6 markets that mainly focus on the Hispanic trade. "The Hispanic consumers, we've learned, have very different preferences from what the retail trade terms the Anglo market," said Berven. "They look for lots of thin meat items from lifter meat, flat meat and other less utilized cuts. The butchers in that market were behind a meat case some 160-feet long and the meat they were planning to sell that day were probably two feet deep!" The Hispanic shopper is different from the others, according to Coelho, in that she will go to the store, if not daily, then frequently throughout the week. When she selects her meat, she will put it in a plastic bag and walk out of the store with it. "Hispanic buyers prefer their meat to be fresh," said Coelho. "These buyers want to see their meat cut fresh and have their carniceria butchers do just that. It's so different from the other stores. And, this is one of the major challenges other grocery retailers have to learn if they are going to do business with the Hispanic market." Berven also pointed out that "offal items," which the domestic beef industry has some difficulty in marketing, do have a home with the state's Hispanic consumers. Those products include hearts, livers, tongues, tripe and feet. In most cases, these products aren't widely accepted by the domestic market and aren't even considered merchandisable items in non-ethnic areas. The BSE outbreak in this country a year ago last December caused USDA to ban human consumption of certain beet items like stomach intestines. Berven said the lack of these items in the domestic Hispanic market caused a lot of consumer outrage and their carniceria retailers told Berven they felt betrayed because they are not able to sell a product their consumers want. "In fact," said Berven, "it's not just middle meats or even the end cuts, chucks and rounds—it's the entire animal. That makes California unique and why, as a beef council, it is so important for Virginia Coelho and all the others with the council or supporting it with their checkoff dollars to not ignore the Hispanic market, because as a group it is potentially the state's biggest beef customer!" Berven concluded that with a budget less than four cents per consumer, you couldn't put together an advertising campaign large enough to have impact on such a wide range of consumers. Other commodities face the same challenge, he said. CBC's Hispanic Carniceria marketing program has attracted national attention. Last March Coelho attended the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting in Fort Worth where she was invited to participate in a discussion on "beef raw material utilization strategies." Her account on CBC's Hispanic experiences in the California market were very appropriate for that conference, she said. Coelho noted, at the NCBA meeting, that her state's commodity groups, like California Beef Council, can take some of the credit in helping California agriculture achieve record incomes. "Yearly agriculture income in the state," she said, " is around $27 billion, with more than $6.5 billion of that in yearly exports of food and agricultural commodities and beef plays a major part in those figures." Coelho is married to Jim Coelho, owner of Coelho Ranches, Fremont, CA. — Dick Crow, WLJ Publisher Emeritus  

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Monday, September 20,2004

Beef imports not making up for lost cattle

by WLJ
U.S. beef imports from Canada are not making up for the fed cattle that were being brought across the border for slaughter before they were blocked in May 2003 when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered north of the border. Currently, only boneless beef from young cattle is allowed to cross the border. No live cattle may enter the U.S. from Canada, and even certain cuts and beef products aren't allowed to enter. Total beef imports this year are well above 2003 levels, said Robin Fuller, president of Tall Grass Consulting, but it would be inappropriate to compare the two since even beef imports were shut off for the rest of the year following the May BSE report. Comparisons have to be made with 2002 or older records. U.S. Department of Commerce figures show beef imports on a carcass basis through July at 608.362 million pounds, Fuller said. During the same period in 2002, beef imports were at 636.733 million pounds, so imports aren't even up to 2002 levels. David Weaber, director of research and special projects at Cattle-Fax, also said, in an e-mailed response to questions, that imports were not digging into the cattle the U.S. might be importing were it not for BSE. "From a historical perspective, we have not really increased imports enough to account for all of the fed cattle we are not importing," Weaber said. But beef imports may account for some of it. Year-to-date beef imports, at about 608 million pounds, are about 12 percent more than the 1998-2002 average of 543 million, Weaber said. "On an annual average basis (1998-2002), fed cattle imports from Canada were 723,000 (head) per year," Weaber said. "At 800 pounds carcass weight per head, that is 578 million pounds of fed cattle beef that came here on the hoof, or 48 million pounds per month." The situation may change a bit as 2004 wears on, Weaber said. Cattle-Fax expects beef imports from Canada for the year to total about 1.15 billion pounds, compared with the 1998-2002 average of 950 million. This means increased imports could offset about a third of the five-year- average fed cattle imports, he said. That would even be above the 2002 beef imports of 1.091 billion pounds and account for some of the cattle the U.S. is not importing from Canada, Weaber said. — Lester Aldrich, Dow Jones Newswires

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Monday, September 20,2004

Beef gene bank serves as disease safety net

by WLJ
USDA's Agriculture Research Service (ARS) is in the process of developing a gene bank of at least 50 unrelated sires from every recognized breed of cattle. These embryos and semen are being kept in case of a disease outbreak and also as a means for genetic research. Harvey Blackburn, geneticist and coordinator of the Fort Collins, CO, based National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation said the project is still in the process of getting things off the ground. The gene banking project first began with plants in the 1950s. It was not until 1999 that the center received its first animal sample. But, thanks to the efforts of producers and breed associations, Blackburn indicated they are well on their way to reaching the goal of storing genes from at least 50 unrelated sires from every breed. At the present time, the gene bank has samples from 450 bulls stored. Some material is still being processed, according to Blackburn, but a total of 500 bulls should be collected shortly. The semen from these bulls is stored in liquid nitrogen at the Fort Collins location. Congress mandated the National Animal Germplasm Program become part of the Fort Collins Center in 1990. Blackburn said the goal is to collect enough semen and embryos for regeneration of the entire beef population, if that ever were ever necessary. "Say if there was an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease, that could endanger certain lines or breeds of cattle. We actually saw this happen in the UK with sheep—a lot of their commercial viable breeds produced in one area of the country were almost eliminated because of the quarantine rings," said Blackburn. "We want to be in a position that if something like that were to occur here in the U.S., we wouldn't necessarily be scrambling to make sure we had these breeds secured." In order to be in a "safe" position, Blackburn says they need to collect at least 5,000 units of beef cattle semen. Currently, Salers are the only beef cattle breed that has been completed in the gene bank. However, Texas Longhorns will most likely be the next breed collection completed, with 55 percent of the bulls stored. Simmentals should follow, since the collection center is at 52 percent of where they want to be, and Herefords are expected after that, with 45 percent of its bulls already collected. With the enormity of the Angus breed, Blackburn said only about 25 percent of Angus bulls have been compiled thus far. Last year, Blackburn collected enough samples from Holstein cattle to reintroduce the breed, in the unlikely event that was ever necessary. This meant collecting semen from 850 bulls and 150 embryos from 25 cows representing the diversity of the breed. Granted this is just one breed of dairy cattle, but Blackburn used this as an example to demonstrate exactly how many samples are needed for each breed to reintroduce the population. A second benefit of gene banking is the potential for the samples to be used for genetic research. "The gene collection could serve as a place for industry researchers, university, or ARS researchers to come and utilize to do gene sequencing or gene discovery," said Blackburn. "If, for example, you have a breed, a line, or an individual that has unique genes, and a researcher wants to develop new lines that have a high frequency of those particular genes, they could search through the repository bulls and use those bulls to try and make that development." ARS researchers have accomplished a similar feat with the plant gene bank. Blackburn said they have had researchers looking for a resistance to a particular disease who have searched through their collection and tried several varieties to make the crosses they want to test to see whether or not they can develop disease resistant lines. Hypothetically from the beef prospective, Blackburn said the same principal could be applied to determine which bulls produce tender beef, or any of the other qualitative genes producers are now selecting for. In order for a breed to be used for genetic improvement or testing, additional samples will need to be collected. A good portion of the semen collected in the repository comes directly from producers. Breed associations have also been very helpful to the preservation center. According to Blackburn, this is done on a strictly voluntary basis and producers are not compensated in anyway. "The response from the beef cattle industry has been phenomenal," said Blackburn. The gene bank also contains samples from many varieties of chickens, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, farmed fish, such as rainbow and trout, as well as 450,000 seed types. Producers wanting more information on the gene bank or how they can submit samples to the gene bank for collection can contact Blackburn at 970/495-3268 or visit their web site at www.ars-grin.gov/nag/. — Sarah L. Swenson, WLJ Associate Editor  

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Monday, September 20,2004

Auction reactions to ID wildly varied

by WLJ
— Cost, time, labor remain primary deterrents. Japan's announcement that they will open the borders to beef from animals proven to be under 20 months of age could certainly push along efforts to implement a mandatory national animal identification program (NAIP). But, is every segment of the beef industry ready for a mandatory ID program? One thing is for certain, auction markets are stuck in the middle between what is coming from the ground up from producers and what is being passed down from government and packers. Some auction markets are ready to take the leap into a NAIP and balance what is coming their way, while others choose to take a wait-and-see attitude. Dwayne Mays, co-owner of Ogallala Livestock Market in Ogallala, NE, is expecting a real problem in their area of NAIP. "If we had a livestock market that just sold a few head of cattle, and you could run them through the chute one by one, animal identification wouldn't be that much of a problem," said Mays. "But, when we sell such a volume, I can't see how it can be feasible." Last Thursday, Mays said they ran 5,600 cattle through the ring. "If you had to run everyone of those down an alley, for the process USDA is talking about, it might have taken us 24 hours to sell them," said Mays. The other dilemma he foresees is untagged animals arriving at the sale barn. He said that cost would be handed back down to the producers to cover their expenses and Mays doesn't think producers will be willing to incur the additional cost for the tagging service. "We live in an area that is pretty big country and sizeable operations where a lot of the ranchers don't even tag their cattle. So getting them to do something like that is going to be a different animal anyway," said Mays. "And, we don't understand why we have to do it because we don't have a BSE problem in this country anyway." Jim Schaben, part owner of Dunlap Livestock Auction in Dunlap, IA, also has some concerns. Schaben is very informed about the ID program since he is also a member of the USAIP working group. At Dunlap they sell fed, feeder and breeding cattle, so any changes in the industry Schaben said affects them all the way around. "The government seems to be on a fast track for animal ID and I understand that, but they are trying to set down all these standards for traceability and laying out parameters and they haven't given an okay to the funds," said Schaben. "What the government is projecting is just a drop in the bucket." As a market operator, Schaben also has concerns about revamping their facilities to make an ID system work. Schaben said it is very important for producers, market operators and dealers to be involved in the process of developing a NAIP. "It is something that is coming down the pipe and it will have to be addressed," he said. "You have two ways to deal with it. One is to get involved and have something to do with the decision making process as it goes along. Or, you can stand by the sidelines and complain about what comes out of Washington (DC) because there is a lot of work yet to be done." Schaben also hopes that producers and auction market operators make USDA aware that there is a lot more to talk about than just hardware cost—federal agencies need to be aware of shrink and what happens when each animal is run through a chute. Another economic impact Schaben thinks is being overlooked is the effect a NAIP will have on the small farmers and ranchers that have 25, 30 or 50 head of cattle. "These people make up the majority of the cow herds across the country," said Schaben. "I see a big flight of those people out of the industry if this comes along." Monte Bruck, manager of Fallon Livestock Market in Fallon, NV, is also not sure what to expect with a NAIP. Bruck said he hopes the state of Nevada releases funding for a pilot project and then hopes to learn from a pilot project how to make an ID program feasible. Dr. Gary Cole, an auction market vet in Nevada, said he met with cattle producers to discuss a pilot project and hopes some ranchers will agree to participate in the pilot project in the form of tagging cattle and following through on those tags to the slaughter facility. But, at this point, Cole said the sale barn may not be responsible to participate because there is not enough money at this time to buy the readers for the tags. Jack Robertson, manager of Producers Livestock Marketing Association in Oakdale, CA, also hopes to be one of the first auction markets to gain some experience with animal identification through a pilot project. Robertson said auction markets have been left in the dark because the government hasn't officially decided or told them what is going to be expected of them. With a pilot project, Robertson said he hopes the grants will help buy readers and equipment to absorb some of the cost they may have to incur with a NAIP. Andy Peek, general manager of Shasta Livestock Auction, said a national ID program is going to be a "jumbled mess." "The way that it is written now, it is all but unworkable," said Peek. "If I have 4, 5 or 6,000 cattle I am selling, to physically run each one through a chute and ID it, I just don't have the labor or the time. It would be time-consuming, labor intensive and cost the consigner." Peek added that any producer with a number of cattle will avoid coming to the sale yard and having their cattle checked. On the other hand, he does expect it will boost video sales business. "The technology is moving ahead very quickly, and if we can mass scan cattle, then it might be a different deal," said Peek. "But, I think we have to wait for the technology to get there before we implement a mandatory program." Peek added that national ID is still evolving, but the U.S. beef industry needs to take a very cautious approach to it. More favorable outlook Jim Warren, owner of 101 Livestock Market in Aromas, CA, has a slightly different take on a NAIP his livestock market has had an animal identification program in place for the past four years. This livestock market began an ID program by tying an animal identification number (AIN) to their vaccination program. The AIN would be activated with the vaccine information in the computer. When animals were sold, the records were available to verify vaccines and that the animals had been given shots in accordance with quality assurance standards. The first year, 101 producers were given the tags to start the program, according to Warren. Then if there was a problem with any of those cattle, Warren said they were able to access an immediate read back of where that animal came from. This year, 101 Livestock is moving to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and hopes to have every animal that goes through their market identification, not just the ones in the vaccination program. "The tags will cost $3, but hopefully we'll be able to get our customer back 6, 8, 10 or $20 back for that $3 investment," said Warren. Since this is simply one step up for the Aromas auction market, Warren doesn't anticipate too many problems. He said they plan on reading the RFID tags only once, when cattle come off the scale, which will require some remodeling of their alleys, but shouldn't be much of a problem. Warren said right now their alley way is eight feet wide and they will narrow it to two, three-foot alleys to accommodate the reader capabilities. "Every market across the country is different, so it is not always going to work the same way," said Warren. "But, we need to have pilot projects across the U.S. to work out the bugs in each region." Warren added that all the negatives of a NAIP could be listed, but in order to provide the best quality product and protect the auction method of marketing, operators and owners will just have to bite the bullet and do it. "If it takes us a little extra time and costs us a little extra money, so what?" said Warren. "The reality is a national animal identification program is probably where we're going to go, so we just as well better figure out a way to get there as fast and as easy as we can." — Sarah L. Swenson, WLJ Associate Editor

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Monday, September 13,2004

Bacteria holds key to less beef spoilage, pathogens

by WLJ
Researchers have isolated a strain of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) with the potential to not only reduce meat spoilage, but also reduce contamination by food-borne pathogens including E. coli O157:H7 and listeria monocytogenes. "Meat processors tell us that one of their biggest concerns is LAB," said Dr. Frances Nattress, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher based in Lacombe. "Processors say that LAB are a frequent reason for product return, because some strains contribute to the spoilage of vacuum-packed meat, which is a $200 million per year problem for the Canadian beef industry." Nattress and colleague Dr. Christopher Yost used molecular genetics to successfully identify the specific LAB populations that grow on vacuum-packed meat and then conducted further research to determine if specific strains have any benefits. The research was funded in part by the Canada Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (CABIDF). Currently about 80 percent of Canadian beef for domestic and international markets is vacuum-packed. Vacuum packing allows for a longer shelf life—vacuum-packaged beef stored at zero degrees, Celsius, can have a storage life of 10-12 weeks. For beef packaged in 100 percent CO2 stored at two degrees Celsius, the storage life can be as long as eight weeks. However, these vacuum-packaged environments often allow LAB to flourish. "LAB are a very hardy and versatile group of organisms," said Nattress. "Their growth is difficult to control and they are resistant to environmental conditions, such as low pH, refrigeration, and packaging in the absence of oxygen, that would inhibit the growth of most other bacteria." However, Nattress's research has led scientists to believe that one particular LAB strain could be beneficial in vacuum-packaged meat. "We've identified one LAB strain that prevents the propagation of other spoilage-causing strains and has the ability to reduce numbers of food-borne pathogens, such as E. coli O157:H7," she said. In week zero of the research, Nattress found a mixed LAB community on the beef, consisting of lactobacillus curvatus, lactobacillus sakei and leuconostoc spp. However, by week six, a single leuconostoc strain dominated, which demonstrated an antagonism towards the growth of all other LAB isolated during the study. Furthermore, it appeared to inhibit the growth of pathogens E. coli O157:H7 and listeria monocytogenes, both of which are significant food safety concerns. Further DNA sequencing suggested that the isolate was a l. gelidum strain. Using molecular typing methods, researchers will be able to further probe the benefits of this l. gelidum on vacuum-packaged meat. "Now we have to gain a better understanding of exactly how this and the other strains of LAB interact, so that we can make the best use of the positive strain, while reducing negative strains," said Nattress. "This research has opened the door to other projects aimed at inhibiting the growth of spoilage organisms on beef, which could lead to significant savings for Canada's beef industry," she added. "Heading into the fall, we'll be doing more trials with contaminated meat, to gain an even greater understanding of how this particular strain works to reduce spoilage and food-borne pathogens. Eventually we may be able to introduce it to the beef industry as an 'ingredient' that could improve their product." — WLJ

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Monday, September 13,2004

Battle against irradiated beef in schools rages on

by WLJ
Public Citizen, a national nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, continues to play the part of the Achilles heal for the USDA and its effort to get irradiated beef fully accepted by the country. Since March 2003, before irradiated beef was approved for the National School Lunch Program, Public Citizen made four separate attempts to persuade the government to provide "more accurate information, about irradiated beef, to food service directors, school officials, and parents." The most recent request was made August 16. Irradiated beef became available to the National School Lunch Program in January 2004. School officials and food service directors for each district choose whether or not they want to purchase irradiated beef for their schools. Public Citizen advocates that before permitting irradiated beef in school lunch rooms and grocery stores that the public needs to be assured that the product is safe. In other words, that there are no long term affects the meat may have on humans, such as increased risk of colon cancer. Public Citizen has said it is not satisfied with the information the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are giving school officials, directors, and parents. Public Citizen wants the USDA and FDA to go into further detail of past test results and current data about irradiated beef and its safety requirements for human consumption. FDA has evaluated the safety of irradiated foods for over 40 years and has found it to be safe for human consumption. Scientific studies have shown that irradiation does not reduce nutritional quality by a significant amount nor does it change the taste, texture, or appearance by any significant degree. American astronauts have eaten irradiated foods in space since the early 1970s and people with weakened immune systems eat irradiated foods to avoid the chances of a life threatening infection. Some spices sold wholesale in this country are irradiated to eliminate the need for fumigation to control pests. As a part of irradiated beef's approval, FDA requires that the meat be labeled "treated with radiation" or "treated by irradiation" and have the symbol for irradiation, a radura, on the package. Irradiation is not used as a substitute for improper meat manufacturing and handling, but is very affective in killing harmful bacteria and reducing potential hazards. In 2001 more than 80 grocery stores and meat markets in Florida and Wisconsin pulled irradiated ground beef off the shelves due to poor sales and low consumer interest, representing a test-market failure for the irradiated beef industry. — Matt Summers, WLJ

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Monday, September 13,2004

Cal Poly Bull Test Final Report

by WLJ
The Cal Poly Bull Test final report from San Luis Obispo, CA, completed its 120-day weight period on September 4, 2004. There were 31 Low Birth Angus, with the Test Ave. ADG 3.74, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.09. In the Multi-trait Angus there were 56 animals with the Test Ave. ADG 4.04, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.21. Angus numbered 96, with the Test Ave. ADG 3.95, and the Test Ave. WDA 3.28. There were five Red Angus with the Test Ave. ADG 4.03, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.58. Limousin numbered seven, the Test Ave. ADG 3.20, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 2.84. There were seven Brangus, the Test Ave. ADG 4.38, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.20. Hereford numbered 42 with the Test Ave. ADG 3.79, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.12. There were seven Gelbvieh tested and the Test Ave. ADG 4.29, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.30. Charlolais numbered nine, the Test Ave. ADG 4.19, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.16. There were 13 Simmental Composite with the Test Ave. ADG 4.28, and the Test Ave. WDA for the breed was 3.27. The current results for the 2004 tests are as follows: (Owner, Sire, Index, ADG) Low Birth Weight Angus: Rollingwood Ranch, Potter Valley, CA, S A F Fame, 115.67 test index, 4.57 ADG; Hacienda Angus, Selma, CA, Bon View New Design 878, 114.56 test index, 4.17 ADG; Amador Angus, Modesto, CA, Bon View New Design 878, 114.04 test index, 4.42 ADG; Rollingwood Ranch, Potter Valley, CA, S A F Fame, 113.98 test index, 4.59 ADG; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, Bon View New Design 878, 111.98 test index, 4.34 ADG. Multi-trait Angus: Diablo Valley Angus, Byron, CA, Connealy Forefront, 118.35 test index, 4.77 ADG; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, Bon View New Design 1407, 116.28 test index, 4.87 ADG; Setter Cattle Co., Jackson, CA, Bon View New Design 1407, 113.05 test index, 5.11 ADG; CK Angus, Potter Valley, CA, Alberta Traveler 416, 112.93 test index, 4.93 ADG; Bruin Ranch, Gold River, CA, Bon View Bando 598, 110.74 test index, 4.64 ADG; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, V A R New Design 0140, 110.43 test index, 4.469 ADG. Augus: Circle 7 Angus Ranch, San Luis Obispo, CA, V A R Fame 906, 117.59 test index, 4.37 ADG; CK Angus, Potter Valley, CA, Vermillion Dateline 7078, 116.29 test index, 4.84 ADG; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, Vermillion Dateline 7078, 112.52 test index, 4.81 ADG; CK Angus, Alberta Traveler 416, 112.28 test index, 4.61 ADG; Circle 7 Angus Ranch, San Luis Obispo, CA, V A R Fame 906, 111.87 test index, 4.19 ADG. Red Angus: OR Cattle Co., San Ardo, CA, R Six 26 King Robbin, 115.43 test index, 4.89 ADG; OR Cattle Co., San Ardo, OR Red Smoke 003, 105.01 test index, 4.08 ADG; OR Cattle Co., San Ardo, CA, R Six 26 King Robbin, 96.11 test index, 3.75 ADG. Limousin: Wine Glass Angus, Napa, CA, Voml First Class 96H, 115.66 test index, 3.95 ADG; Highpoint Ranch, Marysvill, CA, Exlr Dakota 3530, 109.13 test index, 3.65 ADG; Highpoint Ranch, Marysvill, CA, Cole Wulf Hunt, 107.35 test index, 3.56 ADG. Brangus: Stardust Farms, Oak Run, CA, SDF Gladiator 314C, 114.67 test index, 5.16 ADG; Stardust Farms, Oak Run, CA, SDF Gladiator 314C, 102.85 test index, 4.43 ADG; Stardust Farms, Oak Run, CA, SDF Gladiator 314C, 101.57 test index, 4.44 ADG. Hereford: O'Reilly Polled Herefords, San Luis Obispo, CA, Remitall Online 122L, 128.81 text index, 5.05 ADG; Rollingwood Ranch, Potter Valley, CA, Remitall Boomer 46B, 118.49 text index, 4.83 ADG; O'Reilly Polled Herefords, San Luis Obispo, CA, Remitall Online 122L, 114.83 test index, 4.53 ADG; Rollingwood Ranch, Potter Valley, CA, Remitall Embracer 8E, 110.82 test index, 4.37 ADG. Gelbvieh: Hames Valley Cattle Co., Bradley, CA, SLC Freedom 178F ET, 109.85 test index, 4.88 ADG; Hames Valley Cattle Co., Bradley, CA, SLC Freedom 178F ET, 107.79 test index, 4.62 ADG; Hames Valley Cattle Co., Bradley, CA, SLC Freedom 178F ET, 105.14 test index, 4.48 ADG. Charolais: Fresno State University, Fresno, CA, M6 Grid Maker 104 Pet, 105.88 test index, 4.31 ADG; Fresno State University, Fresno, CA, LHD Cigar E46, 105.04 test index, 4.34 ADG; Fresno State University, Fresno, CA, CJC Trademark H45, 104.13 test index, 4.32 ADG; Simmental Composite: Circle Ranch, Ione, CA, Altas Blend 101L, 112.74 test index, 4.99 ADG; Butte Country Ranch, BCR Lucy Boy L1, 107.56 test index, 4.92 ADG; Circle Ranch, Nichols Prime Rib E160, 107.46 test index, 4.63 ADG; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, JJ Email, 105.21 test index, 4.61 ADG.

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