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Articles from 2012 In March


Backlash Against LFTB Changes Market Dynamics

Backlash Against LFTB Changes Market Dynamics

Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) announced last Monday that it’s temporarily suspending operations at three of the company’s four plants that process lean finely textured beef (LFTB). For the record, the plants are located in Garden City, KS; Amarillo, TX; and Waterloo, IA. Those plants represent more than 650 jobs.

As you likely know, BPI was forced to suspend operations by consumer backlash, based on false information presented in an ABC News report March 7. At least that was the trigger.

LFTB is beef. It’s safe. It’s USDA-approved. It’s been in use for decades, in billions of meals. But, consumers clamored so loudly against it that major grocers decided to quit offering ground beef containing LFTB.

LFTB has been the primary source of 100% lean beef protein used in high-demand products such as 90% lean ground beef, according to the National Meat Association.

If you’re unfamiliar, think of it in these inexact terms. Grain-fed beef carcasses produce lean trim that’s approximately 50% fat and 50% lean. Mixing the lean grinds of hamburger consumers want requires adding more lean meat to the 50-50 mix. That’s where LFTB has been such a boon. Mechanically, lean is removed from fat in 50-50 lean trim, leaving basically 100% lean. That 100% lean can then be mixed with fattier mixes to arrive at the 84% lean, 90% lean and so on that you see in the meat counter.

Before the advent of LFTB, coming up with lean ground beef meant using higher value cuts of lean muscle or importing lean trim from other countries where the cattle are, well, leaner. If consumers continue turning their noses up at LFTB, that’s the way it will be again. That means less value for the carcasses produced in this country and higher ground beef prices for consumers.

No one knows for sure how this will play out, but there is already economic fallout.

“So far, the impact of the misrepresentation of LFTB has cost the 50% ground beef market about $10/cwt.,” market analysts with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) said Friday.

During the past week, the drop credit – in part tied to the LFTB mess – had plunged 55¢/cwt. or roughly $6-$7/fed slaughter animal.

According to a statement from Tyson Foods last week, “…The reduction of BPI's operations means less lean meat will be recovered and more of the beef trimmings will be converted into lower-value products…we believe the decrease in BPI's production will result in less lean beef available in the market and may result in higher consumer prices. Alternatively, we believe there may be an increase in the supply of some of the raw materials used to produce ground beef, and this may result in lower values that could ultimately affect livestock prices.”

Some retailers are sticking with LFTB. For instance, Hy-Vee, with 235 retail stores in eight Midwestern states, explained in a statement last week: “Following our recent decision to stop purchasing ground beef containing LFTB, we heard from many customers who asked us to continue carrying this product. They’ve sent us a clear message: They want a choice when it comes to ground beef, and they want to support companies that provide thousands of jobs in our Midwest trade area. In response to this feedback, Hy-Vee has made a decision to offer both kinds of ground beef – both with and without LFTB. Both products will be identified so customers can determine for themselves which type of ground beef they want to buy.”

Tumbling Futures Suggest Tougher Sledding At Auction Markets

Tumbling Futures Suggest Tougher Sledding At Auction Markets

Calf and feeder markets last week were like the proverbial duck floating merrily along, while the feet beneath the surface—surrounding markets in this case—pedaled furiously amid the kind of chaotic uncertainty that markets abhor.

Overall, feeder and stocker cattle trended mostly steady to $4 higher, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Analysts at AMS say the exceptions included steady money to $3 lower for yearling feeders weighing more than 850 lbs., as well as prices $4-$8 higher for lightweight stockers located near the vast grazing regions in the Central U.S.

That relative calm belied a week of hasty retreat in the cattle futures markets. Week-to-week, nearby Feeder Cattle (April-Aug) were down an average of $4.46, most of that in the last three sessions. Nearby Live Cattle contracts (Apr-Aug) were down an average of $4.17; the heaviest losses also came in the last three sessions.

There continued to be the drag of eroding wholesale beef values, with Choice boxed beef cutout down $4.04/cwt. week-to-week. Select was $1.93/cwt. lower week-to-week.

Lower wholesale values helped spawn cash fed cattle trade that was mostly $1 lower (mostly $125/cwt.) on a live basis and mostly $1 lower (mostly $202/cwt) in the beef.

Then came Friday’s surprisingly bullish Prospective Plantings and quarterly Grain Stocks reports from USDA that propelled nearby grain contracts up the limit and near the limit. The surge in grain prices, coupled with high fuel costs, is already leading to renewed worries about consumer price inflation.

Over all of this, the cloud surrounding lean finely textured beef (LFTB) grew thicker (see below). Besides the psychological drag, packer kills were down, due at least in part to the necessary retooling of logistics to sort out what to do with the trimmings they were sending to LFTB plants, as well as how to serve customers who no longer want ground beef that contains LFTB.

“Auction receipts were respectable this week but were still more than10% lighter than a year ago, and cash feeder cattle buyers know that offerings will soon dry up,” AMS analysts say. On the other hand, they add, “The pressure from higher feed costs and losses on the board will undoubtedly be felt in next week’s feeder cattle market.”  
 
Incidentally, I visited with Derrell Peel this week about the state of domestic beef demand. He’s the Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University.

“The jury is still out, but I don’t think demand is as weak as wholesale prices might suggest,” Peel says. For one thing, he notes that middle-meat prices are higher than they were a year ago. For another, he points out the monthly Restaurant Performance Index calculated by the National Restaurant Association indicates that food service continues to regain ground lost during the Great Recession.

I also visited with Glynn Tonsor, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.

Though he expects the Beef Demand Index (BDI) he maintains will be lower in the first quarter this year compared to the previous quarter, and perhaps compared to a year earlier, he points out the BDI increased for six consecutive quarters through the end of last year.

“I don’t think the floor is falling out,” Tonsor says. “I think there has been a pause in some of the bullishness.”

Western Veterinary Schools And Pfizer To Collaborate With Chinese Veterinary Medical Association

The Chinese Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the International Veterinary Collaboration for China (IVCC), a consortium of leading veterinary medical schools in the United States and United Kingdom and Pfizer Animal Health, announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding through which the CVMA will collaborate with the IVCC to advance veterinary medical education and animal health in mainland China. 

“I am confident our collaboration with the IVCC will make possible scientific exchange of best practices in veterinary medicine between the professional communities in China, the United States and United Kingdom,” said Dr Jia Youlin, President of the CVMA.  “This increased access and sharing of knowledge and ideas will enrich and strengthen veterinary education in China especially at the undergraduate education level.” 

The CVMA, founded in 2009, is the first organisation representing the veterinary profession in China.  It is devoted to introducing standardization and bringing harmonization to the veterinary profession in China.

“The memorandum of understanding marks a significant milestone for Pfizer Animal Health, our fellow IVCC partners and for China’s veterinary medicine profession,” said Dr Michelle Haven, Vice President, Business Development, Global Alliances and Strategic Planning at Pfizer Animal Health.

According to Dr Haven, the individual IVCC partners had on-going professional activities with several Chinese centers of veterinary excellence when the IVCC was founded in 2010.  The idea of the IVCC came from recognition amongst Pfizer and its academic partners that more could be accomplished by joining together in a consortium to pursue diverse activities with a common goal to advance veterinary education and animal health in China. 

“This agreement with the CVMA moves us closer to a new era of cooperation and collaboration with the veterinary professional community in China.  It is a privilege for Pfizer Animal Health to play a leadership role with our distinguished academic partners in making this possible.” 

The IVCC is a consortium of Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of California Davis, University of Minnesota, University of Nottingham, the Royal Veterinary College and Pfizer Animal Health.  IVCC works intensively to forge closer links with the Chinese veterinary community and in the interest of sharing experience and knowledge.

“The support of academic institutions from Europe and the United States in collaboration with Pfizer has an objective to enhance global standards of veterinary care of both companion animals and livestock,” said Professor Ralph Richardson, Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University.  “We will work together to enhance the level of veterinary education in China and to harmonize and internalize excellence in professional practice.” 

The initial focus of the IVCC is in three areas: enhancing dairy and swine health and productivity through improved management; veterinary education; and increasing veterinary public health awareness and education.  A number of initiatives have already been launched in these areas.

“China has a vast and growing animal population with correspondingly large and increasing veterinary needs,” said Tony Zilong Tan, Group Director,  Business Development and Global Alliances, Pfizer Animal Health. “Given the tremendous population of China, as the leading company in animal health, we have the responsibility to collaborate with organizations and academia to promote veterinary training in China.”

About Pfizer Animal Health

Pfizer Animal Health, a business unit of Pfizer Inc, is a world leader in the discovery, development and manufacture of innovative animal health vaccines, medicines, diagnostic products and genetic tests.  Pfizer Animal Health invests more in research and development than any other animal health company.  We work to assure a safe, sustainable global food supply from healthy beef and dairy cattle, swine, poultry, sheep and fish while helping dogs, cats and horses live healthier longer lives.  We strive to be the animal health company that provides full healthcare solutions to veterinarians, livestock producers, and pet owners. To learn more, visit https://animalhealth.pfizer.com.

 

Beef

Composting Solved Their Expansion Dilemma

Composting Solved Their Expansion Dilemma

When Darin Mann decided his future lay with the family feeding and farming operation in Parma, ID, he and his father Kent knew M/M Feedlot had to expand. One big challenge was how to dispose of the manure produced by an additional 4,000 head. Their resolution wasn’t more land, it was less manure – via composting.

M/M Feedlot lies about an hour west of Boise. The operation got its start back in 1947 when Darin’s grandfather settled in the area, cleared out the ubiquitous sagebrush, leveled the land and installed an irrigation infrastructure. Kent returned to the family operation in 1972 upon graduating from Brigham Young University (BYU). By that time, cattle feeding had been added to the operation.

In 1982, the operation added another component, a dairy heifer-development enterprise, which Kent eventually grew to 6,000 head. Today, the operation has a one-time capacity of 12,500 head and supplies replacement heifers to six large dairy operations in the Northwest.

Those dairy calves come to the M/M Feedlot at six months of age; at 12-13 months of age, they’re bred artificially to their owners’ specifications. At 20 months of age and about seven months pregnant, the heifers are returned to the dairies, where they give birth and enter the milking string. Their calves will return to M/M Feedlot and the cycle continues.

Darin graduated from BYU in 2001, after which he and wife Alison spent a year in China teaching English. He returned to the family farm operation nine years ago.

“Because manure contains a high percentage of water, it was cost-prohibitive to spread it on crop ground more than three miles from our feedlot,” Darin says. “We could only spread manure two times/year – after the fall harvest and before spring planting. That meant we had to stockpile manure for basically six months.”

The Manns began composting on a small scale about seven years ago, trying to learn “the science and the art,” as Darin puts it. “Once we kind of figured out what we were doing and the market, we set aside some land, got some equipment and jumped in big time about four years ago.” Today, they compost almost 100% of the manure produced in their feedlot.

The composting program results in corrals getting cleaned year-round and the concrete pads around the feed bunks and water troughs weekly. Cleaning is done with a tractor and a box scraper, moving the manure into concrete holding areas.

Once the holding area is full, the manure is transported to one of two composting areas on either side of the feedlot. Constructed of packed natural clay, the two composting areas comprise about 30 acres. At the low end of each composting site is a large collection pond to capture runoff. The runoff is used as added moisture to the compost windrows during the first stage of the composting process. 

Once the manure reaches the composting site, it’s placed into a 6-ft.-tall, 16-ft.-wide windrow about 800 ft. in length. Typically, the Manns have a total of 40 windrows under management. Once the windrows are constructed, it takes approximately 120 days for the composting process to be completed, depending on temperatures.

Part science, part art

“Producing compost is part science and part art,” Darin explains. “We’re working to achieve an optimal balance of nitrogen, carbon, water and oxygen. I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and we finally have a solid process in place. We typically turn the windrows twice/week and, as we move through the process, it decreases to once/week. If water needs to be added, we drizzle it over the top of the windrow.”

Within the first 30-40 days, they attain the desired internal windrow temperature of 131° over a 15-consecutive-day period required to kill the E. coli, salmonella, weed seed and pathogens present in the manure. Temperature is monitored daily by inserting a 4-ft.-long probe into the windrow every 200 ft. during the first 15 days of the composting process. The readings help determine if the windrow needs to be turned to add more oxygen, or if water should be applied to help further activate the process.

M/M Feedlot uses a Wildcat 616 towable straddle compost turner in their operation. The unit’s 275-hp engine can process up to 3,000 tons/hour of compost, allowing them to completely turn all their windrows within one day.

Once the composting process is completed, the material is cured and screened according to customer specs. Ninety-five percent of the compost is sold to area farmers and is screened to 3/4-in. The rest is sold to landscapers, nurseries and garden centers and is processed using a 3/8-in. screen.

The Manns currently sell the compost for $13.50/ton, which Darin says is much cheaper than the true nutrient value.

“We never intended for the composting operation to be a revenue generator for our feedlot – we did it because it made environmental sense for our feedlot,” Darin says. “However, we’ve been surprised with the demand, which has allowed us to turn a small margin.”

The Manns live and share that environmental focus. M/M Feedlot was the Region V semifinalist for the 2012 Environmental Stewardship Award, and the operation regularly hosts field trips by school children, as well as government officials from the local, state and national levels. A lush one-acre park located in the very center of the feedyard is the showplace of the operation.

So many folks think that a farm is a little red barn on a green hill with a white fence, and a few cows and chickens wandering around. But that’s not a farm anymore. That’s a hobby farm; that’s somebody’s weekend activity.

“This is a farm,” Darin says, sweeping his arm. “We represent modern-day production agriculture. And we need to let people know that that’s what it is and not be afraid of it. Let’s tell our story first, rather than react.”

Beef

Deworming After Drought Needs A Targeted Approach

Deworming After Drought Needs A Targeted Approach

Strange things can happen when you try to make one size fit all situations, because it flat doesn’t,” says Tom Craig.

And when it comes to deciding whether or not to worm your cattle this year, trying to make one program fit all situations is particularly fraught with potential problems, says Craig, a parasitologist in Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. That’s because of the profound influence Mother Nature has foisted upon cattlemen in a large chunk of the country this year.

Normally, Craig recommends treating all cattle for internal parasites, and in many regions of the country, that still may be a sound strategy. But, while he still recommends deworming calves, he’s not so sure about deworming mature cows on drought-withered pastures.

“The reason for this is, most years, we’ve got a lot of worms out there in the pasture. This year, I don’t think there are very many,” he says.

Take the brown stomach worm, for example. For the parasite to complete its lifecycle, the cow passes eggs in her manure, where they become larvae. Given the right combination of temperature and moisture, the larvae leave the fecal pat, squirm up a nearby blade of wet grass, and hope another cow comes along and eats the grass. For much of 2011 in the drought areas, those conditions didn’t happen.

That’s not to say, however, that the hot and dry conditions completely sterilized cows and pastures alike. The worms are still there. It just makes the probability of the larvae getting into the animal much lower, Craig says.

But even in harsh conditions, problems can occur. “We saw some wrecks with flukes down on the Gulf Coast last summer,” Craig remembers. “What I think happened is cattle were going into areas where there was something green, even though it wasn’t very digestible. They were going in and picking up vegetation they would normally avoid. Those were the only places the snails could live.” (Read more about flukes here.)

Other internal parasites, like the brown stomach worm and Cooperia, likewise can survive extended drought conditions, he says.

“There was some work done following a drought in Australia about 10 years ago, where they showed a few worms could survive in that fecal pat a year or more,” Craig says. “As soon as it did rain, they got out and got into the animals grazing near the fecal pat. Normally the cattle wouldn’t graze that close to a pat, but that was the only place anything was green.”

That means, given the winter and early-spring moisture that much of the drought area has received, some reinfestation could occur. While Craig has some concern there, he cautions that it’s important to work with your veterinarian to make decisions on a ranch-by-ranch basis.

“I’m an advocate of letting the animals be exposed to a moderate number of parasites so their immune system can turn on. Now when you get to a feedlot, that doesn’t make any difference because it’s an all-in, all-out sort of thing. But cattle on pasture, I think they need some exposure,” he says.

The take-home message is that if there’s even a little green, there will be worms. The question is where’s the tipping point? “Parasites are a numbers game,” Craig says. “Keeping numbers low but not getting rid of all of them is the way the game should be played.”

Feeder Cattle

While mature cows will build immunity to internal parasites, calves take a different approach. As they graze, they’ll pick up larvae, and their immune systems aren’t yet equipped to deal with the challenge. So, even in a “normal” year, and especially in a dry year when nutritional stress is a concern, worming calves can pay.

So can worming stocker cattle. “And I don’t have a problem with giving a full therapeutic dose of each (type of wormer – an avermectin and a ‘white’ wormer) to the animal at the same time. As long as the two drugs are in different families, you’re not going to increase the toxicity to the calf, but you may increase the toxicity to the worm,” Craig says.

He only recommends this for cattle headed for a feedyard. Stockers aren’t going to stay on the pasture permanently and any internal parasites that survive and possibly build resistance will move on with the calves when they get a feedyard address. “I wouldn’t do that with a bunch of older cows,” he stresses.

However, he thinks worming any new arrivals, not just stockers, is a sound strategy.

“The one place I might be concerned is if you brought in cattle from another place; they could bring things with them. And some of these may not be desirable to have as your own,” Craig says. 

Beef

Common Insecticide May Affect Bull Fertility

Common Insecticide May Affect Bull Fertility

Editor's note: This article is a report on a presentation by Dietrich Volkmann, a teaching professor of theriogenology in the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Presented during an August 2011 Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle Symposium in Joplin, MO, Volkmann contended that several pyrethroids can have “devastating effects on the semen quality of bulls.”

Several specialists challenged his contention since publication of the story in the March 2012 issue of BEEF. In addition, one commercial firm contacted BEEF to say it has never received such a complaint in decades of use of its products. Volkmann admits his conclusion isn’t based on controlled studies of the products in cattle but observational findings. In addition, some of the referenced controlled studies conducted in Asia were performed in rodents in which the chemistries were administered orally (rather than topically) and at extreme dosage levels and frequencies.

Volkmann has offered a similar presentation to various groups since August 2011, including the Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC) in August 2012. At that meeting, preliminary data was also presented from a controlled study conducted in breeding bulls at the University of Illinois (UI). That study included a group of bulls in a control group and another group of bulls treated with one commercial pyrethroid product. The preliminary findings did not support the contention that synthetic pyrethroids have a negative effect on the fertility of beef bulls. BEEF will provide a full report on the UI study once final data analysis and peer review is completed. 

 

 

 

One common bull management practice could do more harm than good when breeding season rolls around.

“Several pyrethroids can have devastating effects on the semen quality of bulls,” says Dietrich Volkmann, DVM, a professor of food animal theriogenology at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. “Aerial sprays as well as pour-on formulations have been implicated in the development of severe secondary sperm defects and very poor sperm motility in exposed breeding animals.”

Various pyrethroid formulations are common in cattle insecticides.

According to Volkmann, research suggests pyrethroids may inhibit production of an enzyme necessary for the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is necessary for the proper function of multiple accessory sex glands, including the seminal vesicles and prostate, as well as the epididymedes.

“The toxic effects have been observed within a few days after the first exposure of bulls to the insecticides and lasted for as long as the pyrethroid exposure continued,” Volkmann says. “After the last exposure, the sperm quality and motility of the vast majority of bulls recovered to normal, but only after two to four weeks.”

Case studies Volkmann has been involved with point to the same results.

Here’s one example: A seedstock producer brought 50 bulls (15-24 months old) to Volkmann and his crew for breeding soundness examinations (BSE) ahead of their annual sale.

“We stopped the examinations after about 20 bulls because only three had acceptable semen quality,” Volkmann says. “When I prompted the client, he told us that he had poured these bulls for ectoparasites two weeks earlier; the product contained a pyrethroid. A sample of the bulls was retested almost four weeks after they had been exposed, but semen quality was still too poor for the majority to pass the BSE. A sample of the group was then tested a third time almost eight weeks after the initial exposure, and these bulls all had normal semen.”

In another example, a commercial contractor showed up unannounced to spray the barn walls of a commercial bull stud for fly control. There were about 50 bulls in the barn.

“Within days of the application of the insecticide, ejaculate volume, sperm motility and the freezability of semen declined sharply,” Volkmann says. “Sentinel animals were used to demonstrate the presence of bifenthrin in semen, blood and urine for about 10 days. Semen quality returned to normal about four weeks after exposure.”

He adds that bifenthrin was the active ingredient in the spray. It’s a synthetic derivative of native pyrethrin, which has much longer residual activity than the native compound.

Volkmann understands these examples aren’t controlled studies. But, he adds, “The evidence generated in lab animals over the last 10 years or so demonstrates rather convincingly that pyrethroids are potent endocrine disruptors and do cause malfunctioning in DHT-dependent organs.”

Consequently, Volkmann recommends that all pyrethroid treatments for bulls be discontinued or avoided no later than four weeks before the start of the breeding season.

“In accordance with the above-mentioned concerns, no live-virus vaccines or any type of pyrethroid insecticides should be administered this late before the onset of a breeding season,” Volkmann says.

Opinion: Supreme Court Gives Landowners A Victory

Opinion: Supreme Court Gives Landowners A Victory

While the national news coverage has centered around the lead up to, and beginning of, arguments before the Supreme Court regarding Obama Care, there was a largely unnoticed decision last week that can only be considered a major victory for agriculture and landowners.

The court case surrounded some homeowners in Idaho who purchased a property and began earthmoving, only to have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) come in after the fact, declare wetlands on the property and order construction stopped. EPA ordered that the property owners remove fill placed on their property and restore the area to its original condition or face penalties of $37,500/day. The property owners hired their own consultant to show the areas they filled were not regulated wetlands but EPA rejected their request for an informal hearing.

The problem is that the compliance order was not considered to be a final act by the EPA and thus the courts had no jurisdiction; this has become a major tactic of depriving landowners of the use of their land without having to provide due process and give landowners their day in court. In Sackett vs. EPA, the court ruled unanimously and harshly criticized EPA for this tactic. The ruling didn’t find that wetlands don’t exist on the property, but gave the landowners their day in court to challenge EPA’s exercise of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

Few people have the resources to outlast a powerful government agency like EPA, but at least landowners now can have their day in court, and can’t be caught up in no man’s land.

Opinion: Pink Slime Issue Exposes Our Industry Traitors

Opinion: Pink Slime Issue Exposes Our Industry Traitors

In the aftermath of the so-called “pink slime” controversy, more accurately known as lean, finely textured beef, we’ve seen some major retail outlets and restaurants electing not to offer the product. We’ve also seen three BPI plants temporarily shut, and there have even been a few school districts that have suspended such product purchases.

On the other hand, we’ve seen the USDA Secretary, academics, scientists and politicians whose state economies have been impacted by the shutdown come out in defense of the technology.

The thing that’s interesting is that no one is arguing the product’s safety – it’s a USDA-approved process and product. The recovery process also makes ground beef leaner (which is a health aspect), plus it lowers the overall cost of ground beef to consumers.

Still, there’s something magical about the words “pink slime,” so christened by a government microbiologist in an email to his colleagues some years ago. The characterization was borrowed for use in media reportage, which aptly fit the need for sensationalism, and – perception being reality – the industry was suddenly playing catch up on the issue.

I don’t believe anyone is surprised that the anti-meat activists jumped on this issue. And, it took no one by surprise that the anti-modern agriculture movement also jumped on the pink slime fiasco as validation that something is fundamentally wrong with how we produce our food. What maybe was a little surprising was that that the anti-modern agriculture movement within our industry also jumped on this opportunity. 

The whole episode raises the question about which principles are worth standing up for and which ones can, or should be, compromised in the pursuit of political or economic objectives.  This particular issue is one that goes beyond the natural, organic, anti-modern, anti-market activists.

Groups like the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) have been struggling, as a result of their losing efforts in remaking the GIPSA marketing rules, as well as mandatory country-of-origin labeling. So these groups, having discarded the goal of converting the majority of livestock industry to their positions, have concluded that topics such as pink slime fit their immediate fundraising needs.

In the end, groups like OCM have concluded that their cause is important enough to join with the enemies of our industry. And the results are sadly pretty predictable. As the saying goes “when you lie down with the dogs, you tend to get fleas.”

Just as the interests of the country should come above partisan politics, the beef industry’s best interest should come above petty internal differences. It’s no accident that hamburger is under attack; it’s the most price-sensitive and a major part of our market. If you hammer the hamburger, you hammer the industry, and these guys are patient and seem to love the idea of using our credibility to destroy ourselves.

The greatest irony is that those who want to destroy the modern packing industry are advocating increased production costs and regulations that will ensure the only ones who can compete are the biggest of players.

Supporters Of BPI's Product Say, "Dude, It's Beef!"

Supporters Of BPI's Product Say, "Dude, It's Beef!"

A host of governmental officials and beef industry leaders gathered in the Midwest this week to tour the South Sioux City, NE, beef processing company, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), and address the media in regard to their disappointment with the recent media frenzy over what has been widely referred to as “pink slime.”

Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Terry Branstad of Iowa, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, as well as Lieutenant Governors Rick Sheehy of Nebraska and Matt Michels of South Dakota, toured the BPI facility and then took part in a subsequent nine-member panel featured at a press conference to express their support of BPI. The company has recently experienced serious economic fallout from what it says is an inaccurate and unsubstantiated accusation that BPI is adding unsafe and unhealthy products to its hamburger.

Among the industry officials also taking part in the tour and panel were Gary Acuff, director of the Texas A&M University Center for Food Safety; Elisabeth Hagen, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety; and Nancy Donley, past president of STOP (listen to Donley's comments here), a non-profit organization she has spearheaded since her six-year-old son Alex died due to an E. coli poisoning in 1993.

Acuff noted that sensationalized reports about the process used to obtain lean finely textured beef (LFTB) products for processing and the nutritional quality of the end product were a “misrepresentation of the characteristics of lean beef trimmings.”

“It’s being called a cheap, low-quality product,” Acuff says, but it's a safe, sustainable product borne from consumer demands over the past 30 years. It helps ensure that consumers have the lean products they desire. The process makes use of advanced intervention technology to reduce the risk of food-borne disease. It is a responsible use of as much use as possible of the lean meat from a beef carcass.”

Governors mobilize

Brownback noted that the media hype (listen to Brownback's comments here) has already resulted in closure of a BPI facility in Kansas, which idled 300 employees. BPI facilities in Waterloo, IA, and Amarillo, TX, were also closed this week. Perry commented that he was uncertain as to why the subject of LFTB had become such a focal point.

“In Texas, beef is a $7.5-billion-dollar industry,” Perry said. “When we have these kinds of false rumors that have the potential to take down an entire company (like BPI), that really hits close to home. If the media feels that one of its responsibilities is to protect the public, it’s important for the media to be responsible to answer to the public. It is the public that’s being hurt here. I advise media leaders to ask and answer the question as to whether one individual has been poisoned, become sick or died from a product that came out of (BPI).”

“Pink slime” is a term coined in a 2002 e-mail that former USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein sent to his colleagues, expressing his concern over the quality of the beef products resulting from the use of ammonium hydroxide in the processing method. Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia combined with water. The compound is used extensively in food processing, including baked goods, cheeses, chocolates and puddings. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration affirmed use of ammonium hydroxide in 1974 after extensive review of scientific literature about the compound and a detailed rule making process.

Use of ammonium hydroxide elevates pH in finished product. This is important, BPI says, because bacteria, especially gram-negative bacteria, like E coli 0157:H7 and salmonella, prefer an environment with a lower pH. By raising the pH, the odds of any pathogenic bacteria in the finished product are greatly reduced.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s name is connected to at least some of the YouTube “pink slime” videos. Oliver is a British chef who began campaigning in the UK nearly 10 years ago to raise awareness of the obesity epidemic in children. Oliver’s mission brought him to Huntington, WV, in 2010 to launch a movement to transform U.S. eating habits and produce and star in his first U.S. primetime network series (featured on ABC), “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” The show received an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Series.

Media misrepresentation charged

Acuff noted that “much harm” has been done to consumers through the use of the derogatory “pink slime” term and “documentaries” misrepresenting LFTB as a “filler.”

“We would like to see the media stop misrepresenting LFTB,” Acuff said. “When there are so many legitimate issues to concern ourselves with regarding food safety, it amazes me how we choose to ignore those hazards of greater significance and focus on issues that can be sensationalized to get attention, regardless of the reality of the concern. If the same amount of time and effort were focused on directing consumers how to properly cook foods, we might actually save some lives.”

Hagen noted that the USDA will not eliminate hamburger containing LFTB from school food choices, primarily because of the nutritional, low-fat quality and cost-effectiveness of the meat. Schools, however, will be able to choose whether or not they purchase hamburger containing LFTB, although alternative products are more costly.

Sheehy expressed concern over the potential beef price increase the hysteria could initiate. He also noted that the public may opt to purchase a higher fat product, which would have an undesirable impact on obesity issues.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstand and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback with a “Over the past 20 years, we’ve worked to encourage people to consume leaner beef,” Sheehy said. “This unwarranted scare could drive up prices and cause consumers to purchase higher fat products. I hope the ‘Dude its beef!’ slogan catches on. That’s what this is, beef.”

Sally Greenberg, National Consumers League executive director, provided a written statement to conference attendees. She noted that, “food scientists and consumer organizations agree that LFTB is safe. BPI pioneered food safety interventions to significantly reduce the risk of pathogens in the meat they produced. Their use of ammonia in small amounts was used to reduce the risk of pathogenic E. coli in their product, and these levels never have posed a health risk to consumers.”

More information about LFTB is available at www.beefproducts.com; www.beefisbeef.com and www.nclnet.org.

BPI, Industry Fight To Regain A Reputation

BPI, Industry Fight To Regain A Reputation

Sioux City, IA, is the epicenter of the U.S. beef industry this weekend, as political leaders, academia, food safety advocates and cowboys gather to fight the negative effects of recent media coverage regarding lean finely textured beef (LFTB).

That diverse audience is trying to quench the public relations firestorm initiated by recent media reports, and fanned by activists on social media, about a meat recovery process approved by USDA and in use for almost 20 years. USDA describes LFTB as a category of beef products that uses high-technology food processing equipment to separate lean meat from fat. Doing so garners an additional 12 lbs. of lean beef/carcass, and delivers an additional $15/carcass in value.

LFTB products prevent the waste of valuable, lean, nutritious, safe, beef by using technology to do what hands cannot,” USDA says. The process is strictly regulated and inspected by USDA and “inspectors are present in plants where these products are made every day to ensure that this product is produced in a safe and wholesome manner. During the two decades these products have been produced, they have had an excellent food safety record,” the agency explains.

Product is “slimed”

That testimonial, however, hasn’t stopped its characterization as “pink slime” in a series of sensational reports aired most recently on ABC News over the past couple of weeks. Rather, LFTB has been depicted in media coverage as a cheap, questionable “filler” in ground beef that’s ubiquitous in the nation’s grocery meat cases and on fast-food menus across the nation. By some estimates, LFTB is utilized in 70% of all the ground beef produced in the U.S.

That negative perception was fanned by social media which encouraged consumers to pressure retailers to stop offering the product. Major retailers such as WalMart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Kroger’s, Safeway and HyVee bowed to the pressure, though HyVee relented this week and is now offers its shoppers a choice of products.

The effect on supplier Beef Products Inc., (BPI) in Sioux City, NE, was devastating. Over the course of a week, the world's leading producer of lean beef processed from fresh beef trimmings was forced to temporarily close three of its four production facilities – in Waterloo, IA, Amarillo, TX, and Garden City, KS – and reduce production at its flagship facility in South Sioux City, NE. That translates to a total of about 700 jobs.

The devastating blow, however, set in motion an effort to educate the public on the record and safety of LFTB. In a media event initiated by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the governors of Iowa, Kansas and Texas (see picture to the right), along with the lieutenant governors of Nebraska and South Dakota – states impacted by the plant closures – gathered for a show of support for BPI in Sioux City.

The governors headlined a BPI plant tour and press conference for national media. Also included were USDA officials, as well as representatives of food safety and consumer advocacy groups, animal scientists and academics.

Then, on Saturday, the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce has planned a public picnic and rally, complete with 15,000 free hamburgers. Also on hand will be Branstad and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), research scientists and concerned parents who will address the safety of BPI products and U.S. beef in general.

Changing the terms

“We really need to work to change the argument away from derogatory terms, such as pink slime, and get it into the realm of beef and beef processing,” says Mike Hesse, BPI’s director of sales. “The frustrating thing is that there is no such thing as pink slime. We are 100% beef. We use trimmings that come from the same part of the carcass as 50-50 trim. It just runs a little bit fatter and we’re just able to utilize a mechanical process to efficiently and effectively separate that lean meat from fat,” he says.

Hesse says grassroots efforts are critical. “We need folks in the industry to educate their friends and their families. They need to talk to their local retailers – tell them they want the choice to be able to buy ground beef with lean finely textured beef included, and there can be a choice to have ground beef produced without it.

“Let’s let the consumer decide. Do they want ground beef that’s made with LFTB, which is the highest-quality, safest, nutritional lean beef in the marketplace that helps from a food safety standpoint, helps from a nutritional standpoint and helps from an economic standpoint. Put the two ground beefs next to each other and let’s see what sells. That’s what we need the producer to do,” he says.

The full effects of the past week’s events on BPI and its employees are still not fully calculated, Hesse says. Also still to be reconciled are the effects of BPI’s misfortune on the beef complex and consumers in general. He says the negative impact from the media coverage will be felt across the entire meat chain, and eventually on down to the consumer level.

“The effect will move to the beef processor, who will now have higher costs. From there, it will move to the packer, who will be forced to utilize more raw material into 50-50 trim or not be able to realize the value of it at all. And then it will move down to the producer.”

Meanwhile, he says the industry won’t have sufficient levels of lean meat to continue to make 90% or leaner ground beef. “So your 90s, your 93, your 96s will become very scarce, and the product you will have will be extremely high price. We already have domestic 90s at an all-time record and we’re still in March; we haven’t hit the peak demand cycle, which will be coming in the next several weeks. It could help push domestic 90s to $2.50/lb., which obviously is going to increase ground beef prices 10-15% higher than they are today,” Hesse says.