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Articles from 2005 In May

USDA Extends ID Comment Period By One Month

USDA extended the public comment period on its national animal identification system (NAIS) draft strategic plan and draft program standards to July 6. Notice of the extension was published in the May 20 Federal Register.

Send an original and three copies of postal or commercial delivery comments to Docket No. 05-015-1, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. To submit electronic comments, a link to the NAIS docket and comment form is available on the NAIS home page at

Japan Asks Watchdog Agency To Approve U.S. Beef Imports

Reuters reports that, as early as next week, Japan's government will ask the Food Safety Commission (FSC) to approve resuming imports of U.S. beef verified by the U.S. government as being from cattle 20 months of age or younger. After receiving the request, FSC will review U.S. BSE safety measures to ensure they meet Japanese standards, a process that could take several months, the article says.

FSC is an independent body of experts that conducts risk assessments of food scientifically and make policy recommendations to relevant ministries. The move comes after a series of public meetings that ended this week.

USDA Reveals National Livestock ID Documents

The U.S. government has moved a step closer toward realization -- near the end of this decade -- of a state-federal-industry program to allow 48-hour traceback of all U.S. livestock. Yesterday, Secretary Mike Johanns unveiled USDA's 22-page "Draft Strategic Plan for the National Animal Identification System" (NAIS), and its "Draft Program Standards" (36 pages). See both documents at:

Basically, the program proposes mandatory premises ID and individual animal ID by Jan. 1, 2008, and mandatory reporting of cattle movement in commerce by Jan. 1, 2009. The USDA is seeking public comment on the proposal for 30 days.

There is, however, as Wes Ishmael points out in the upcoming BEEF Stocker Trends newlsetter, no proposed solution for program funding or confidentiality of data is included in the just-release document.

"While the USDA document hints at the need to make NAIS data available for other purposes than disease surveillance directly, it never addresses, for example, whether birth dates collected for NAIS will be made available to the marketplace for verifying age, or if producers will be expected to pay for NAIS compliance, plus market compliance, thus duplicating cost," Ishmael writes.

Johanns says the documents were created with guidance from the NAIS advisory committee and input from producers.

"We're proposing answers to some of the key questions about how we envision this system moving forward. Now, I'm eager to hear from farmers and ranchers so we can develop a final plan," Johanns said.

Submit comments by June 6 by sending an original and three copies of postal or commercial delivery comments to Docket No. 050-15-1, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD; 20737-1238. Electronic comment forms will be available at

Once the comment period is ended, USDA will follow the normal rulemaking process before any aspects of NAIS become mandatory. The public will have the opportunity to submit additional comments on any proposed regulations.

Three tips for profitable stocker grazing

Stocker grazing is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to traditional cow-calf production in many areas. Two main reasons are that some producers are tired of messing with cows year-round and/or greater profit potential.

Many stocker producers, however, are disappointed when they ship cattle and find gains of 1.4 lbs./day instead of the 2+ lbs. they had expected.

The first inclination is to blame poor genetics. I don't buy that excuse.

For a stocker to gain 2 lbs./day, it has to consume pretty specific amounts of energy, protein, minerals and water. Most cattle have that genetic potential. If they didn't make the expected gain, it's usually because they didn't get enough of one or more of those nutrients from the pasture and water made available to them.

“Cow-quality” pasture

For the life-long cow-calf producer, a particular pasture may have looked pretty good, but stockers' higher nutritional requirements mean “cow-quality” pasture might not be good enough. Either the forage was too mature or it just wasn't good enough pasture to supply the energy and protein levels required for 2 lbs./day gain.

Maybe calves always looked good coming off that pasture, but how did the cows look? The beauty of cows is they can take a low-quality pasture and still produce a good calf. They might look rough at weaning, but as long as they have a few months to recover before their next calf is born, they will be fine.

Stockers, however, don't have mama to buffer the low-quality forage; they're on their own. As a result, stocker pastures should be kept less mature, contain more legumes and avoid toxicity problems.

Many producers rotationally graze stockers and believe it will automatically provide the magical 2-lb. daily gain. While most producers recognize a good pasture when the cattle go into a new pasture, most don't recognize when to remove them.

In a number of trials at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center, we measured forage intake and found it to be 20-25% correlated with pre-grazing forage availability but 80-85% correlated with post-grazing residual. In other words, when it comes to determining performance, the forage left in the pasture when you take the cattle out is 3-4 times more important than the forage when the cattle went in.

Almost everywhere I go in the country I've observed stocker graziers take their pastures too short. The operations I see consistently achieving more than 2 lbs./day of gain are leaving significantly taller residuals. Rather than graze it to 2 in., leave it at 4 in. and you might be shocked at the difference in gains.

Grazing duration

How long stockers stay on your pasture also will make a big difference in overall gain. Through the Midwest and Upper South, stocker programs generally begin in March or April with cattle frequently staying on pasture through September. If you believe stockers gain at a constant rate throughout the season, guess again.

Numerous studies in Missouri and other states show 85% of gain comes in the first 90-100 days on pasture. In our research, we weighed cattle every 21 or 28 days, which allowed us to determine when performance changes occurred. In a 150-day stocker program, calves might gain 2-3 lbs./day for the first 90 days and less than 1 lb./day for the last 60 days. You made money the first three months and lost money the final two.

READ: Stocker Trends special section

Most stocker graziers just get a beginning and ending weight and don't know when the gain occurred. In the Deep South, most gain occurs by mid June. In the Upper South and Midwest, most gain occurs before mid July.

Gains remain higher and steadier longer in the North and Intermountain West. But, the season is short and pastures frequently run out of growing weather while the cattle still have growth potential.

If you draw a line from Lincoln, NE, to Washington, D.C., the area south of that line has summer stocker performance limited by high nighttime temperatures. This region is also where endophyte-infected tall fescue dominates. The combination of high temperatures and fescue toxicity makes it difficult to maintain stocker performance for much of the year. Even on non-fescue pastures, it's difficult to keep stocker gains above 1.5 lbs./day through the summer months in this region due to heat stress.

My bottom-line tips for successful stocker grazing are: graze stockers only when they're likely to perform in your environment, have stocker quality pastures, and leave taller residuals to maintain high intake level.

Jim Gerrish is a grazing management consultant and lecturer based in May, ID, and former lead pasture researcher at the University of Missouri's Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus. Reach him at 208/876-4067, [email protected], or visit

Who we work for

I became editor of BEEF magazine almost 12 years ago, taking over from the magazine's patriarch and founding editor, the great Paul Andre. At the first National Cattlemen's Association annual convention I attended after my promotion, I ran into Bill Daniel, a Wentworth, SD, commercial cattle feeder and the father of my friend, Dale.

I remember he greeted me with a handshake and his customary big, beaming smile. He congratulated me and we chatted a bit. Before parting, he took on a more serious tone and said to me: “You have a big responsibility. You speak for the industry now.”

The comment hit me hard because it put in cold perspective the responsibility of my new duties and the potential reach of BEEF magazine. I doubt Bill gave the comment a second thought, but it's one I've always kept in mind and use as a guide in producing monthly editorials and working with the great staff at BEEF.

A powerful pulpit

I'm not egotistical enough to believe that what I write, or what we cover in BEEF magazine, is anything close to the final word on any issue regarding the beef industry. But it does provide a powerful pulpit with which to reach those responsible for producing the majority of U.S. beef cattle. And, as BEEF magazine staff, we respect that privilege.

That BEEF commands attention and respect, I feel, is attested to by the number and fervor of those who correspond with us to register their compliments or complaints. While we receive a lot of supportive messages, the makeup of the correspondence probably tends to tilt more toward the negative. I guess, or I hope, that riled people tend to be more moved to take the time to register their personal opinions.

I don't mind the negative feedback, though. While it's always great to get an “atta boy,” most times it's just as good to hear a different perspective. In my book, almost any feedback is good.

Golden age of feedback

Right now, I believe we are in the Golden Age of feedback. Certainly, the industry and its producers seem to pull into two camps on just about any issue you care to consider.

For instance, we continue to receive numerous notes and letters from readers complimenting us on our coverage of industry issues. At the same time, I can't count the number of times I've received notes and calls regarding those same issues accusing me of being on the payroll of big packers, big feeders, big business, you name it, as long as they're something big.

A few have little compunction about pointing out what they see as my ignorance, lack of character, candlepower, etc. Every once in a long while, someone will offer to give me a physical whupping, though only one person ever0 signed his name to that type of letter. I hereby compliment the man.

To set the record straight, as BEEF editor, I don't work for anyone else beyond my immediate employer. I do, however, consider it my job to provide and articulate what we as a BEEF editorial staff believe beef producers need to know about the industry they're engaged in and the forces and environment with which they must contend.

You may not agree with everything you see and read in BEEF magazine, but you can rest assured we prepare and publish what we feel is in the best interests of beef producers and the U.S beef industry at large, whether or not it runs with the popular emotion of the minute. That includes providing coverage of important industry news and information and — through our editorials — giving seasoned and reasoned opinions on those important issues of the day. Count on it.

The worst and best herds

Managing a profit into beef cows without detailed management data is becoming increasingly difficult. Inflating production costs tend to negate much of the profit potential for many of today's ranchers, despite current record cattle prices.

My studies suggest that since 1997, costs have risen $14/cow/year, or $112/cow over the last eight years. If you've suffered a drought sometime since 2000, your costs inflated even more.

Increasing your management intensity is effective in combating cost inflation. Let's look at the value of intensified management provided by my 1999 Northern Plains IRM Benchmark Herds.

In this economic analysis, “worst” and “best” are defined by profit/cow, with “profit” being the value added by the beef cow herd to a producer's family resources. So, what did these cow herds contribute to family resources?

The answer is defined as “earned-net-return to the unpaid family and operator labor, management and equity capital.” Rather than use this long term, I will use the word “profit.” When you see “profit,” think “earned-net-returns.”

Average weaning weight (AWW) for these benchmark herds ranged from 476-715 lbs. Figure 1 presents these herds' AWW sorted from smallest to largest. The AWW for the worst three herds was 496 lbs., while the best three herds' AWW was 667 lbs. — a 34% difference.

Figure 2 sorts these benchmark herds by profit/cow, with averages ranging from $46-$281/cow. Profit for the worst three herds averaged $62/cow while the best three averaged $250/cow, a profit range of 403%.

Three key factors

Three key variables sorted the best 10% from the worst 10%. These are accrual-adjusted-gross-income/cow, winter feed costs/cow, and unit cost of producing a cwt. of calf (UCOP). Let's examine these three variables in order of statistical significance, starting with the most significant.

  • UCOP is calculated by dividing a herd's total production costs by total cwts. of calf produced. The equation is:

    UCOP = Herd's total production costs/Cwts. of calf produced

    In every analysis I've performed, UCOP has surfaced as the single most important variable determining profit/cow. UCOP gets its management power from the fact it's a ratio of economic costs to calf production pounds. Any factor impacting economic costs or pounds is included in this ratio.

    Figure 3 presents a worst/best graph for UCOP by three profit groups. UCOP is highest for the three lowest profit herds, and lowest for the three highest profit herds. This suggests a significant trend relationship between UCOP and profit.

    Statistically, UCOP explains 87% of herd-to-herd variation in per cow profits. Clearly, UCOP is the single most important variable sorting the worst 10% of herds from the best 10%.

    Sadly, however, few ranchers calculate their herd's UCOP. This suggests ranchers are trying to run profitable beef cow herds without even measuring the single most important variable determining profitability.

  • Accrual adjusted gross income (AAGI). Figure 4 presents the AAGI relationship with profits per cow in a worst/best graphical format. The visible trend is confirmed by statistical analysis. Statistically, the AAGI variable alone explains 57% of herd-to-herd profit variation in the study herds.

    Most beef producers' perception is gross income (thus, profits) is heavily determined by weaning weight (WW). This relationship, however, doesn't exist in any of my data sets, which suggests WW explains only 6% of herd-to-herd variation in profits.

    Part of the answer to why ranchers perceive WW as the primary determinant of profit comes from studying the components of gross income. The gross income number for a beef cow herd comes from six sources — sale of steer calves, sale of heifers not held for replacement, as well as sale of cull cows, bulls, and open two-year-old heifers, plus inventory change.

    WW, however, has no direct effect on heifers held for replacements, cull cows, cull bulls, cull heifers, or inventory adjustment. In fact, WW only affects two of the six sources of AAGI leading to tremendous slippage from WW to AAGI, and even more slippage from WW to profits. Statistically, WW explained only 7% of herd-to-herd variation in gross income for the study herds.

    Ranchers must move beyond WW in their management programs. A good alternative would be to track AAGI.

  • Winter feed cost is the single biggest cost variable for these Northern Plains IRM Benchmark Herds, accounting for 40% of total production costs. Thus, just by their sheer magnitude, winter feed costs also are a key determinant of herd profits.

Figure 5 presents the worst/best graph for winter feed costs. Winter feed costs' relationship to profit isn't very visible from this graph. Statistically, winter feed cost alone only explained 9% of herd-to-herd variation in profits. Of the three variables identified in this study, winter feed costs is the least statistically significant. Still, its 40% share of all production costs warrants continual management attention.

I encourage ranchers to intensify their management systems as quickly as possible by including these three business measures in their beef management systems. If they aren't measured, they can't be managed.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Laramie, WY. Reach him at 701/238-9607 or [email protected].

Japanese rally for U.S. beef

Almost 1.2 million Japanese consumers, as well as restaurants, signed a petition last month urging Japan officials to end the ban on U.S. beef imports, the Associated Press reported. Organizers submitted the petition to Japan's Ag Ministry.

“Most Americans are eating U.S.-grown beef with confidence about its safety — then why can't we?” asked Yasuharu Tagaya Tagaya, campaign spokesman and an official with the Japanese fast-food chain, Yoshinoya D&C Co.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said last month his goal is to have U.S. beef exports flowing to Japan by July.

Meanwhile, Japan confirmed its 17th domestic case of BSE last month. A 4½-year-old Holstein cow was said to have been born in September 2000, the year before Japan's enacted its feed ban on ruminant protein.

Turning Holsteins Into Humdingers

That sea of Holstein calves in California's Imperial Valley is destined to be what's for dinner. With nearly a half-million head of Holsteins on feed at any one time, the region (including Arizona's Salt River Valley) has become an intriguing and integral sector of the nation's beef supply system.

“Please, don't make the mistake of calling them dairy calves,” warns Patrick Hutchinson, a Brawley, CA, cattle production consultant. “The cattle that come out of these feedlots produce some of the best table beef you'll find anywhere in the world.”

Within a short hop of Hutchinson's backyard lie seven cooperatively connected feeding operations that produce the lion's share of the region's fed calves. And, it's a bit ironic that a region that claims to be the 1940s birthplace of large-scale commercial cattle feeding has fine-tuned the science of feeding, processing and merchandising of Holstein beef.

Hutchinson says the advantages of raising beef in the Imperial Valley are the same as in the 1940s — a mild climate with an adequate supply of land and water, and proximity to a large, growing consumer base.

And, with California being the nation's largest dairy state, there's a consistent supply of baby steer calves. California alone places 600,000 Holstein steers in feedlots annually. There are about 4 million Holstein steers born in the U.S. each year.

Misunderstood and maligned

Despite accounting for 10% of the nation's calf crop, Holsteins as beef cattle have been largely misunderstood, underrated and often maligned. The breed suffered an especially bad rap after BSE was discovered in a Holstein cow on a Washington state dairy farm in December 2003. That image is perpetuated by the infamous video showing a Holstein cow stumbling around an auction ring in England — a video that's widely used by television media to depict an animal with “mad cow disease.”

But beyond BSE, Holsteins have long suffered from perceptions of producing poor-quality beef, says Kenneth Burdine, Extension associate, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kentucky. He's recently completed a detailed study looking at the economics of converting Holsteins to table beef.

The Holstein beef market is seen by many industry insiders and outsiders primarily as a ground-beef market similar to that of cull cows, Burdine says. This perception may stem from the fact many plants slaughtering Holstein steers also slaughter cull cows.

“However, in those cases, the meat is separated and sold in different market channels,” Burdine explains.

Also, he says processors have relied a great deal on Holstein trimmings to upgrade trimmings from cull cows — a practice occurring less frequently as value is added to cuts that previously were destined for trimmings.

Adding to the bias is that Holstein steers traditionally were backgrounded to weights of 800-1,000 lbs. before going on full feed. The result was extremely heavy carcasses and cuts that didn't fit industry standards.

“Cuts of meat from these carcasses were simply too large for many retail and foodservice markets,” Burdine says.

For example, in order to keep portion size at industry-standard levels, steaks had to be sliced extremely thin, which created preparation and presentation difficulties.

On an energy accelerator

Innovations in feeding management are changing the quality perceptions associated with beef from Holstein steers. What's evolved is what Burdine calls the West Coast “calf-fed model.”

At Meloland Cattle Co., located just south of El Centro, CA, Bill Brandenberg — like other Imperial Valley feeders — seems to have the calf-fed model down to a science. The focus is to eliminate the backgrounding stage completely.

When Brandenberg receives 275-lb. Holstein steer calves into his feedyard, the objective for the next 330 days is gain, not growth.

“The last thing we want them to do is frame-up,” Brandenberg says. “We want them to be on a high-energy finishing ration throughout the feeding period.”

Using this concept, Brandenberg manages his calves to yield a 740-lb. carcass — with up to 70% of them grading Choice.

“Actually, we can feed for more Choice than that, if we want,” he says. “But, realistically, from both management and marketing standpoints, 55% to 70% Choice is adequate.”

He grants that, in general, Holstein carcasses are less muscular with a lower muscle-to-bone ratio with smaller ribeye areas. They also tend to have slightly different muscle shapes. Long-term USDA data though, show Holstein carcasses yield only 4.6% less boneless sub-primal meat compared with their “native” counterparts.

The beauty in Holsteins

The beauty in feeding Holsteins is the breed's tight genetic pool, which leads to better consistency in feedlot performance and end-product characteristics, says Paul Cameron, Mesquite Cattle Co, Brawley, CA.

Like Brandenberg, from the time he receives his calves from the region's “calf raisers,” Cameron is able to manage his calves for a relatively predictable outcome — more so, he says, than with native or crossbred calves.

“But while Holsteins may be predictable to a point, it all begins with a healthy, day-old calf; a top-notch calf-raiser and sound feeding practices,” he says. “Genetically flawed calves or a marginal animal from a calf-raiser can be a recipe for disaster.”

Feeding regimes vary somewhat among the Imperial Valley cattlemen, but most utilize an implant program. A common ingredient in gain management is the use of Encore® (estradiaol) “controlled release” growth implants. This product provides a dose of estradiol for up to 400 days.

The Imperial Valley feeders routinely supplement with vitamin E to help enhance retail product shelf life. They also feed Optaflexx® (ractopamine chloride) — an increasingly important part of increasing red meat yields.

Both Cameron and Brandenberg say they get about a double-their-money payback by using Optaflexx.

The biggest variable in feeding Holsteins is economics, they say, particularly the price of corn.

“We're very dependent on Midwest corn,” Brandenberg says. “Because we have to own these cattle so far out in time, we get nervous whenever it looks like the price of corn might increase.” Like what's happening with today's increased fuel and transportation costs.

Burdine agrees the Holstein calf-fed model is very sensitive to traditional market factors like corn prices.

“The nature of the business is that calf-feds are on feed for a longer period of time and more corn is needed to finish them,” he says, “This tends to amplify the effects of changes in the markets.”

Brawley-area beef producers have all the ingredients to be long-run and significant players in the nation's beef business, Hutchinson concludes.

“Other cattlemen from around the country, along with a whole lot of industry observers, are starting to take these guys and what they're doing very seriously,” Burdine says. “Holsteins, like it or not, are only going to become more integral to high-quality beef production in this country.”

Feeder Notes

New Cargill supplement

Cargill Animal Nutrition (CAN) research has developed a new technology it says will revolutionize feedlot supplements. ROC, a patent-pending technology, makes it possible to provide very high mineral supplements in pelleted form to commercial feedlots.

“ROC eliminates the need for carrier ingredients required in traditional dry and liquid supplements, and corrects product consistency and handling problems prevalent with loose meals,” says consulting nutritionist Clint Calk, Amarillo, TX. “In many cases, lower value carriers like wheat mids in dry supplements, and water or molasses in liquid supplements, can be eliminated from the supplement package.”

ROC saves feedlots from paying supplement prices for low-value carriers. And, because ROC has no carrier, supplement inclusion rates can be reduced by 50-70%, allowing feedlots to replace supplement in their rations with higher energy ingredients. This results in higher energy diets and potentially higher animal performance. Lower inclusion rates also allow the feedlot to reduce its inventory levels and total purchases of supplement.

“ROC is a natural fit for rations that don't need supplemental natural protein, such as rations containing high-protein by-products,” Calk explains. “However, ROC is not for everyone. Our consultants, utilizing the MAX® System for Beef, can evaluate if a customer's feeding program is right for ROC.”

For more information, call the ROC hotline at 866/424-1224.

Discounting light barley

University of Idaho research indicates there's not always a consistent relationship between barley test weight (bulk density) and beef cattle performance. Generally, it's been reported that while daily gains may not be reduced, feed conversions are poorer with light test weight barley compared to heavier test weight barley.

As the barley's test weight increased, daily gains and feed conversions improved. When the net energy for growth (NEg) values were calculated for the different barleys based on cattle performance, the heavy barley (51 lbs./bu.) was worth $15.70 more/ton than the lightest barley (42 lbs./bu).

However, it was found that on an 85% barley-based ration, there was no effect on daily gain, but feed conversions were poorer for the lightest barley (5.80) compared to the heaviest barley (5.26).

These studies show feed efficiency was the poorest for the lightest test weight barley. Based on these two experiments' results, the question becomes: “How much would you discount light test weight barley?”

The answer: Discount light test weight barley by 1% of the value for every pound less than 47 lbs. bushel weight. For example, by value, 44-lb. barley would be discounted 3%.

For more information, contact John Paterson, Montana State University Extension beef specialist, 406/994-5562 or e-mail [email protected].

Nutrition Labeling Is On The Way

Consumers are one step closer to getting nutrition information with the fresh beef they buy at retail grocery stores. That's good news for U.S. beef producers, as research shows consumers exposed to this information generally believe beef is healthy and buy more as a result.

USDA sent a final rule on mandatory nutrition labeling for ground meat and poultry, as well as single-ingredient meat products, to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review Jan. 12. OMB was to provide comments by April 12, with final retail implementation likely to ensue over the following 18 months.

The rule will require on-package, nutrition labeling for ground beef, and either on-package or point-of-sale information for other commonly consumed fresh beef cuts.

The industry has generally supported this move. Research conducted in two major retail chains in 2003 found meat-case nutrition information improved attitudes about beef products. It concluded that using nutrition information on packages or at point of sale to educate consumers about the nutritional value of beef not only increases shoppers' belief that beef is healthy for them, but also beef sales.

The 16-week, checkoff-funded test was conducted in Harris Teeter, a 150-store chain based in Charlotte, NC, and Fryes, a 108-store Kroger chain based in Phoenix, AZ. It provided messages on the important roles zinc, iron, protein and B-vitamins play in healthy lifestyles, and pointed out beef is a natural source of these nutrients.

Results showed a third of consumers believe beef is, or might be, healthier for them, while 35% said they'd be much more likely or somewhat more likely to shop a store with nutrition information available. Only 1-2% of respondents thought beef was, or might be, less healthful to them.

In addition, beef sales were higher at stores using nutrition information than at control stores.

“We support this regulation because we see it as an excellent marketing opportunity for beef,” says Mary Young, executive director of nutrition for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

The retail industry supports nutrition labeling, as well. “It makes for a happy customer,” says Dagmar Farr, Food Marketing Institute group vice president of legislative and consumer affairs. “It seems to me you can't have a better marketing strategy than that.”

Young says the government's new nutrition guidelines focus on nutrient density. Because beef has an excellent package of nutrients for the calories it provides, the potential for further improving beef's image is excellent.

Voluntary to mandatory

The new regulation is actually a modification of the 1994 FDA law that established nutrition labeling on commonly consumed food products. Called the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, fresh whole-muscle meats, ground meat and poultry were exempted at the time in favor of a voluntary program to be evaluated biennially to assure more than 60% of retailers participated.

A change in the law became necessary when voluntary compliance failed, says Robert Post, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) director of labeling and protection staff. While a 1995 evaluation found 66.5% of retailers were participating, tests in December 1996 and October 1999 found 57.7% and 54.8% participation, respectively.

Post says the industry expected the implementation of mandatory labeling, and prepared for the move by forming the Meat and Poultry Nutrition Labeling Coalition. Its members include the national trade groups for beef, pork, poultry, lamb, meat processors and grocers. The groups are cooperating to prepare the materials retailers will need once the rule becomes law, with the aim to ensure consumers get the complete nutrition story and aren't misled.

“We've been working in a very cooperative way with the coalition,” Post says. “Their representatives have met with me and my staff to provide comments” about the pending regulation.

In its comments to USDA, NCBA pointed out labeling of zinc and significant B-vitamins found in meat should be required, since they're necessary for good health and difficult to obtain from foods other than meat. Young says the list of nutrients on the Nutrition Facts label should account for important micronutrients like these that beef provides to the diet.

NCBA also supports labels on ground beef that combine “% lean/% fat” with a listing of nutrition facts. As consumers already understand this terminology and use it to make their ground beef purchases, it will allow them to determine how a serving of ground beef fits into the overall diet.

Young says the coalition is encouraging FSIS to allow retailers to calculate nutrition data for ground beef with atypical fat/lean combinations. Currently, USDA provides five percentage intervals, but 96% and 97% lean ground beef is commonly available in many parts of the country.

While consumers visually can gauge the amount of fat in whole-muscle cuts, the amount of fat in ground beef can be difficult to assess. That's the rationale for on-package nutrition labeling for ground meats and the option for on-package or point-of-sale information for whole-muscle cuts.

Walt Barnhart is president of Carnivore Communications LLC, Denver, CO, and a former communications director of NCBA.

Beef's retail nutrition history

Since the mid 1980s, the meat industry has helped ensure consumers have accurate nutrition information on its products in grocery stores.

A “Nutri-Facts” program, for instance, was developed by the National Live Stock and Meat Board in cooperation with the American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute from 1985-1987. It provided nutrition data and materials on beef, pork and lamb to stores to share with customers.

In the late 1980s, beef checkoff funds helped update USDA's database on lean beef products. It also enabled work with the American Dietetics Association to update the Nutri-Facts program to conform to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. In the late 1990s, it conducted additional research to update USDA's database for ⅛-in.-trim beef and lean ground beef.

More recently, checkoff-funded research provided nutrition information on new “Beef Value Cuts,” which have increased the value of the chuck and round. That, in turn, should increase the number of cuts recognized as lean by the government. USDA's release of the information is expected this summer.