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U.S. Beef Industry Working To Regain Beef Access In Russia

russia ractopamine limits us beef exports

Last year was the best ever for beef trade with Russia, as U.S. exports topped $300 million. Russian demand for U.S. beef was outstanding, and the U.S. industry capitalized on a larger tariff rate quota that was negotiated as part of Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Russian customers showed a growing appetite for high-quality, grain-fed U.S. beef. What had once been primarily a market for U.S. beef livers was now purchasing large volumes of round cuts for processing, and a wide range of muscle cuts for its rapidly expanding foodservice and retail sectors.

However, trade slowed dramatically toward the end of 2012 as Russia stepped up enforcement of its zero-tolerance policy for residues of the livestock feed additive ractopamine. Despite diplomatic efforts to address this issue, the Russian market formally closed to U.S. beef on Feb. 11. Not surprisingly, the impact on 2013 beef exports to Russia has been dramatic. When compared to 2012, first-quarter exports sank 87% in volume to 1,858 metric tons and 96% in value to $2.3 million.

“Although Russia’s position on ractopamine has been on the books for some time, they really only started enforcing it last fall,” explains Thad Lively, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) senior vice president for trade access. “Russia contends that it closed the market because the U.S. government did not come forward with a program for shipping beef from cattle that hadn’t been fed ractopamine. Russia has imposed new requirements and restrictions on beef from other suppliers as well, but the extreme step of closing the market only applies to the U.S.”

Lively says USDA officials have been working closely with the U.S. beef industry in recent weeks to develop a plan for resuming exports to Russia. Great care must be taken, however, to ensure that the proposed program is feasible and economically viable before it’s presented to Russian veterinary officials. Though some final details are still being worked out, Lively expects this process to move forward soon.

“After much consultation with USDA and representatives of the U.S. cattle and beef industries, USMEF is comfortable that the program being developed will satisfy Russia’s requirements,” he says. “We also feel it’s workable for packers that are able to develop a source of ractopamine-free cattle – and this is critical, because there is no point in declaring that Russia has reopened to U.S. beef if exporters who produce ractopamine-free beef are still not able to access the market. The U.S. industry had built Russia into a destination that delivered a strong return for U.S. beef, and that’s the environment we need to restore.”

The next step is for USDA to present the elements of this program to their counterparts at the Russian Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service. It's too soon, however, to speculate on when shipments will actually resume.

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“It’s important to move carefully on this because Russia has always been a market in which the terms of access have been a bit hard to define,” Lively explains. “We are frustrated by the interruption in export activity and we want back in the market as soon as possible. But this has to be done right if U.S. beef is going to have long-term success in Russia.”

The fact that Russia is now a WTO member could be beneficial to U.S. efforts to restore access to the market. However, Lively cautions that addressing this trade impasse through WTO channels can be a complex proposition.

 “Certainly by joining the WTO, Russia has taken on certain treaty obligations,” he explains. “When WTO members choose to deviate from international food safety standards, they are required to come forward with a scientific risk assessment that justifies their position. There is an international standard for ractopamine residues that is recognized by WTO, but it’s not the zero-tolerance policy that Russia is imposing. When officials from the U.S. and Russia meet to discuss a solution to this matter, Russia’s obligations under the WTO are likely to be a key part of that conversation.”    


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Mark Bittman Tells Dr. Oz We Should Be Vegan Before 6 (VB6)

Mark Bittman Tells Dr. Oz We Should Be Vegan Before 6 (VB6)

I’m not sure Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist, pleased anyone when he appeared on the Dr. Oz Show last week to promote his new book, “Vegan Before 6” (VB6). VB6 basically encourages folks to become “part-time vegans.” Of course, vegans are outraged because to follow the vegan diet and lifestyle requires an all-or-nothing approach. And, I’m a little perplexed that Bittman is proposing that we would all be healthier if we were vegan “most of the time.”

According to Dr. Oz, “The program has just one simple rule: Avoid meat and dairy from breakfast until dinnertime. Instead, load up on foods that are packed with nutrients, not calories – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils. When dinnertime rolls around, however, you can eat whatever you'd like. The plan is easy, doesn't require a lot of sacrifice and works: Mark lost 36 lbs. after just four months of eating vegan during the day.”

After a reader tipped me off about this program last week, I checked out the interview online.

Here are some real gems (that’s sarcasm, by the way) from Bittman’s interview with Dr. Oz:

• “If you look at the process from corn to cattle, we could be doing much, much better by the animals we raised and by fellow human beings if we eat much more responsibly and consciously. I think the way of eating I have developed has been good for my health, the planet and my pants size.

• “Two things have surprised me. One is the really tragic way we are treating the environment and the animals, and the terrible effect it is having on our health right now. And, the other is that we’re not particularly alarmed about it.

• “I eat a strict vegan diet -- real whole foods, really good for you -- until dinnertime, and then I let her rip. If you are willing to eat real, whole healthy until 6 p.m., we can do the things we like to do at night. Have a glass of wine; have a steak.”

Furthermore, in other interviews promoting VB6, Bittman continues to take jabs at farmers and ranchers. In quotes pulled from The Huffington Post, Bittman says, “Of all the changes you can make to your diet, eating fewer animal products has the most dramatic impact on the health of the planet because eating meat is a top cause of global warming; depletes land, water, energy, and mineral resources; requires 80% of all antibiotics produced in the U.S.; and more. To live more environmentally, we should be cutting back on our meat intake.

“Animals grown in factory farms live in horrific conditions. They're drugged, mutilated, and denied the opportunity to fulfill every natural instinct. So eating less meat (and boycotting factory-farmed meat entirely) also allows us to live out our universally shared opposition to factory farms, which treat animals as if they were widgets, with little to no care for their welfare."

Plain and simple, Bittman is using fiction and emotion to sell copies of VB6.

Frankly, I’ve never met a rancher who treats his animals as Bittman describes. Watch this video, “Animal Welfare: Why It Is Always Important To You,” featuring comments from Dan Thomson, Kansas State University veterinarian.

What’s more, the wastefulness he describes in meat production can be debunked in this blog post, “Clearing The Air On Cattle And The Environment.”

Additionally, his reference to antibiotic use in meat production causing antibiotic resistance in humans also raised my B.S. flag. Burt Rutherford offers some answers in this December 2012 article, “Overcoming Antibiotic Resistance Is A Tough Task.”

I think Bittman has to rely on ruffling feathers to sell copies of his book. After all, recipe suggestions from VB6 include dishes like scrambled tofu with spinach and eggplant un-parmesan. It stands to reason that VB6 isn’t advocating for veganism (sorry, tofu lovers), as much as calling for portion control. In a nutshell, Bittman says you can eat fruits and vegetables to your heart’s desire because they are low-calorie foods. He saves the rich, calorie-dense items (which also make the vitamins in fruits and vegetables more absorbable) for dinner time. This means that, at dinner, he is getting the protein and fats he needs for brain function, energy and cell repair. Although I haven’t read VB6, I suspect the diet plan is simply a fancy way of reducing calories for folks to lose weight.

Bittman is playing on two hot topics right now -- veganism and obesity. Diet books are major sellers right now. Just walk into any bookstore, and you’ll notice rows and rows of new and improved meal plans, all designed to reduce inches and lower that number on the scale. Bittman isn’t a nutritionist or a doctor; he is a sensationalist journalist who wears a chef’s hat, on occasions. With those qualifications, you or I could also pen a diet book. Of course, without the celebrity status or endorsement of Dr. Oz, it might be tough to sell too many copies.

Don't be too upset with Dr. Oz, however. Tomorrow, he'll probably have another new and exciting way for folks to lose weight and be healthy. His endorsements sometimes tend to be a bit like the weather here in South Dakota -- constantly changing.

What do you think about Bittman’s “Vegan Before 6” book? How would you counteract some of the statements he made in his interviews? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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5 Ways To Celebrate May Beef Month

Beef Checkoff may beef month by beef checkoff

It’s day eight of May Beef Month, and checkoff-funded celebrations showcasing America’s favorite protein are underway across the country. There are plenty of ways for all of us to enjoy beef throughout the month of May, and here are five exciting ways that beef is the star of the show this month.

1. New Voice For Beef Campaign

For starters, it was recently announced that there is a new voice for beef. Admittedly, I’m still a fan of the old-fashioned “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner,” commercials featuring the deep voice of Sam Elliot, and I know many women crooned when Matthew McConaughey talked about, “Discovering The Power Of Protein In The Land Of Lean Beef." But I’m really looking forward to the new commercials featuring the theme, “Above All Else.”

The new ad campaign builds upon the core benefits that only beef offers -- great taste and 10 essential nutrients. The nutritional profile of beef is what makes it a powerful protein, “above all else.” Actor Garrett Hedlund’s voice will take a starring role in the campaign’s radio spots. Hedlund up on his family’s cattle operation near Roseau, MN. He has had several big-screen roles including: "Troy," "Friday Night Lights," "Tron Legacy," "Country Strong" and "On The Road."

2. New York Celebrates Cinco De Mayo, Beef Tours, And Best Burger

May 5 has come and gone, but the holiday-inspired recipes can be used anytime. The New York Beef Industry Council (NYBIC) provides a list of easy meal solutions for family taco night including: steak tacos with poblano-mango salsa, buffalo-style beef tacos, confetti beef tacos, and Mexican steak soft tacos. Check out all the recipes here.

NYBIC is also hosting May Beef Month Tours. The tours will explore the beef industry from farm to fork. Check out the details here.

NYBIC has really set the bar high with May beef promotions, and one of its most famous is the Best New York Burger Contest. Regional winners for 2013 have been announced and include: “Stuffed Banana Pepper Burger” from The Grill At The Dome; “Philly Burger” from River Park Grille; “Power Play Burger” from Ale ‘n Angus Pub; “Bacon Cheese Burger” from Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner; “Buckaroo Burger” from The Spinning Room; “Classic Pub Burger” from McGirk’s Irish Pub; “Habanero Burger” from AJ’s Burger’s; and “Juicy Burkey Burger” from David Burke’s at Bloomingdales. The champion burger will be announced on May 15th.

3. Consumers In The Twin Cities Will Get The Royal Beef Treatment

The Minnesota and South Dakota Beef Industry Councils, as well as the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, have teamed up to promote beef to Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) consumers.

Lund’s/Byerly’s is an upscale retail grocery chain in the Twin Cities with 22 retail locations, and will be offering a coupon for $1 off any fresh beef product between May 16-29. The coupon reads, “Brought to you by your local beef and corn farm families.” Radio, TV and social media promotions will be used, along with a Lund’s/Byerly’s app, to reach consumers about this promotion.

Additionally, attendees at a Minnesota Monthly Grillfest 2013 will be given a reusable “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner,” shopping bag. The event attracts 4,500 grilling and food enthusiasts in the Twin Cities area. Beef partners will grill up samples and give away Beef Bucks certificates, as well.

4. Race Fans Can Celebrate Beef Night At Huset’s Speedway

Once again, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Auxiliary (SDCA) is hosting Beef Night At The Races. Set for May 27, race fans at Huset's Speedway in Brandon, SD, can enjoy free beef burgers at the track, and enter to win Beef Bucks the night of the event. SDCA is also launching a monthly contest on its Facebook page, so stop back often to learn how you could win a $25 Beef Bucks certificate each month.

In addition, the South Dakota Beef Industry Council is hosting Beef Night at Old Market Eatery + Bake Shoppe + Bar in Brookings, SD, on May 22. Featuring three beef entrees, guests will get to try a flat iron steak with grilled corn and cumin-lime butter; fig-balsamic glazed beef kabobs; and pepper steak salad with mango, avocado and jalapeño vinaigrette.

5. Grill Up Some Beef Every Day In May!

Although we grill year-round at my house, there are many who look forward to dusting off the grill with the warm weather that May brings. There are many celebrations where beef should be at the center of the plate, including Mother’s Day (May 12) and Memorial Day (May 27), as well as graduation parties and kick-off-to-summer events.

As an aside, not only is it National Beef Month, but May also pays homage to National Barbecue Month. Whether it’s a burger or a side of short ribs, there are plenty of ways to celebrate beef this month. And, I plan to do it every day. Check out this video blog that I created a few years ago, where I cook up shrimp-stuffed sirloins with garlic-basil butter!

No matter how you celebrate May Beef Month, be sure to post your good eats and family events on your social media sites, so we can spread the good word about beef! Help me add to this list.

How is your state celebrating Beef Month? What promotional events are happening in your area that we should know about? What’s your favorite way to celebrate Beef Month? Post relevant information in the comments section below.


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“I am here to advance the President’s priority of a clean energy future,” said Sarah Bittleman during a conference call with reporters. “We can do that with agriculture as a partner.

“Second, I want to continue to continue to build on the federal, state and local partnerships that EPA has established to engage farmers and ranchers in the important work of continually improving the quality of our water, air and land.”

Bittleman, who grew up in rural New York, acknowledged she has her work cut out when it comes to establishing trust between the agency and agriculture, which are often at odds. “There are some issues of trust definitely in play. My job is to figure out how to restore some of that trust. Some of that can be restored by working directly with the ag groups, with growers and ranchers individually.

“It’s also important that EPA work deeply with USDA, with conservation districts, with state departments of agriculture. We (need to) actually hear from and work with these folks who have more consistently positive relationships with the agricultural community.”

Other government agencies are also working for a cleaner environment. Sometimes, she said, the EPA just needs to ride shotgun. The EPA “doesn’t need to be the face of everything: clean air, clean water. … We can partner with (other government entities) and add to their knowledge base … so that we’re involved in the evolution of cleaner air and water – but we don’t need to be the face of it all the time.”

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Beef Exports For March Mixed

March exports of U.S. beef were down in volume from a year ago but edged slightly higher in value, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

March beef export volume of 83,612 metric tons (mt) was down 7% from a year ago, but export value ($440.7 million) was slightly higher. Beef exports finished the first quarter 4% lower in volume (256,587 mt) but 5% ahead of last year's record pace in value ($1.3 billion).

"We are definitely facing a challenging environment in several of our leading markets," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "Some of these trends are anticipated, such as the lower demand for exports where domestic production is up and inventories are plentiful. But the trade impasse with Russia is very frustrating because we have lost access to a market where demand for our product is extremely strong."

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