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Articles from 2003 In June

Preventing Enteric Disease In Calves

You already may have had a calf or two with some kind of intestinal (enteric) disease this year. Reviewing possible causes and presentations may help in discussing preventive programs with your veterinarian.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterial disease primarily occurring in calves one week old or younger. Certain types of E. coli attach themselves to the intestinal wall, then secrete an enterotoxin that interferes with the gut's normal function.

This disease occurs so early that the best prevention is to vaccinate cows (particularly heifers) to bolster their colostrum with antibodies to the disease. Oral calf vaccines are also available, but the results are much more variable.

Rotavirus and coronavirus cause disease by a different mechanism than E. coli. While E. coli interferes with intestinal function through a toxin, rotavirus and coronavirus infect the cells of the intestinal villi (small projections that increase the intestinal surface area). Under the microscope, the result is intestinal villi that appear “mowed off.” This loss of surface area needed for nutrient absorption causes diarrhea due to malabsorption.

Rotavirus typically occurs in calves 5-15 days old. Coronavirus may occur in calves from 5 to 30 days old. The most important preventive factor is to calve in a clean, dry environment where cattle are spread over a large area. Vaccines can be effective if the strains in the vaccine and those in your calves are the same. Because these are viruses, antibiotic therapy won't help.

Salmonella is a bacterial enteric disease resulting from overgrowth of the pathogen in calves from one week to 30 days old, although salmonella infections may occur any time in cattle's life. Like E. coli, these pathogens can release enterotoxins, and also invade the intestinal lining to invade the bloodstream.

Some salmonella species (e.g., salmonella typhimurium and salmonella newport) have become resistant to many antibiotics. Salmonella is a zoonotic pathogen (moves from animals to humans), so care should be taken when handling diarrhetic calves of this age. This devastating disease generally enters a herd when a calf is purchased to put on a cow that lost her own calf — always a bad idea.

Clostridium perfringens types C and D are common inhabitants of the calf intestinal tract. Type C is the most common cause of hemorrhagic enterotoxemia (bloody diarrhea resulting from an intestinal infection).

Clostridium perfringens causes disease by secreting toxins that increase permeability of blood vessels, rupture red blood cells and destroy the intestinal lining. The disease occurs in calves from birth to two weeks old and may cause death so quickly that bloody diarrhea is never observed.

The organism overgrows when the intestine is flooded with protein and readily available energy such as starch or milk. The calves most at risk are those aggressively nursing on high-milking cows.

There are numerous vaccines against type C and D toxins, and these should be used on the cows and heifers (twice on the heifers for a booster effect) to engender good colostral immunity. Calves may be vaccinated at birth, but many believe vaccination with this product under four months of age is blocked by maternal immunity sufficiently such that an additional vaccination is necessary after four months of age.

Cryptosporidium parvum is a zoonotic pathogen and, therefore, highly contagious to people. Cryptosporidia cause disease in calves by infecting cells on the tip of the villi and causing malabsorptive diarrhea. The disease is generally apparent in calves between one and three weeks of age. Cryptosporidia can become infective in the gut without being excreted, so the organism can grow very quickly in the host.

Discuss any recommended treatments very clearly with your veterinarian as some treatments are of questionable efficacy. One extra-label treatment used in the field may be fatal to calves if used in a high dose. It's also possible to have relapses that are more severe than the original case.

Other Zoonotic Diseases

Giardia, known among campers as “beaver fever,” is another zoonotic disease that merits careful handling of affected calves. This water-borne parasite is typically seen in calves from two to four weeks of age.

Coccidiosis is largely thought of as a feedlot disease, but it can affect neonatal calves. The single-celled parasite infects intestinal lining cells in the lower large intestine, which causes cell swelling and death. Affected calves develop bloody diarrhea after 21 days of age (more common at 30-45 days of age), can experience severe straining and are markedly depressed.

No vaccine is available and treatment must be early and vigorous. Anticoccidial treatment, along with aggressive fluid therapy, are needed for a successful outcome.


Treatment of the different infectious agents varies. Some of the pathogens won't respond to drugs used for other causes.

Work with your veterinarian to achieve a diagnosis that will target therapy so calves have a full chance at recovery. Oral electrolyte solutions are used in nearly all neonatal calf diarrhea cases, but once a calf can't get up, oral fluids and/or antibiotics are unlikely to save it. In this case, an intravenous catheter is needed to maintain kidney function and body hydration.

Prevention revolves around environmental control and biosecurity. Biosecurity means taking steps to isolate the diseased, or potentially diseased, animals to prevent disease spread.

One of the best preventive measures is to calve cows and heifers separate from each other on open grass traps. Too often, disease problems in calves are caused by their birth in a mud/manure lot where their mothers' teats become coated with pathogens for which the calf isn't yet prepared.

If you had neonatal calf disease this calving season, make an appointment with your herd health veterinarian to formulate next season's plan of prevention. We see many herds that consistently have zero incidence of neonatal calf disease.

The key is to identify the herd's risk factors. While immunization of the dam with an appropriate vaccine is a factor in prevention, the neonatal disease will surely continue if environmental and biosecurity issues are not addressed. Other tips include:

  • Calve at a time of year of minimal weather stress.

  • Separate cows from heifers 50-60 days precalving until breeding or pasture turn-out.

  • If you have a neonatal calf disease outbreak, leave cows with calves on the contaminated ground and move the cows yet to calve to a new, clean and dry calving area.

  • Be sure calves suckle adequate colostrum within a few hours of birth. If unsure if calves have nursed, give the cow 1cc of Oxytocin intramuscularly in the neck, milk the cow out and tube the calf.

These tips are a good start to prevention of neonatal disease, specifically diarrhea, but each operation has unique challenges. Producers need to routinely work with their veterinarians to diagnose infectious diarrhea problems. If manure or tissue samples are needed for exact diagnosis, be sure to collect samples at the initial phases of the disease outbreak. It's also essential to invest in post-mortem examinations to get a clear picture of any disease challenges in your cow herd.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an associate professor of beef production medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.

BEEF Chat: The Walmart Way

BEEF Chat: The Walmart Way

Bruce Peterson's experience in the grocery business dates back to 1970 when he bagged groceries in a supermarket in his hometown of Detroit, MI. Today, as senior vice-president and general merchandise manager of perishables, Peterson directs beef purchasing and marketing operations for the grocery goliath Walmart.

Based in Wal-Mart's home offices in Bentonville, AR, Peterson oversees all meat, produce, dairy, frozen, floral, bakery and commercial bread operations for Wal-Mart Stores, its domestic Supercenters and the new Neighborhood Markets.

Peterson's ascension from bag boy to one of the world's top food merchandising strategists has been steady. He started his own produce wholesale business in 1979. Two years later, he moved to Dallas, TX, to join a supermarket chain before returning to Michigan in 1984.

In Michigan, Peterson spent several years as a produce specialist supervising stores in several states. In 1990, he served as produce director for a supermarket chain in Omaha, NE. A year later, he joined Walmart Stores as produce director of its new Supercenter Division.

Walmart ventured into the fresh meat business with the opening of its first Hypermart USA in 1987 in Garland, TX. While the firm doesn't make its food numbers public, trade publications project its market share at 12-14% of the total U.S. retail grocery business. Estimates are that Walmart's meat sales generally follows its overall food penetration.

BEEF Chat with Bruce Peterson

BEEF recently spent some time with Peterson at Walmart's home offices in Bentonville.

BEEF: How are you positioning beef in your meat cases as you continue to establish Wal-Mart in the food business?

Peterson: We've tried to apply our value proposition to all the meat products that we sell. The same principles of value, price and quality that apply to things like television sets also apply to food. We offer cuts of meats and meat products that fit the demand of our local customers. This “right-item, right-store” concept is a huge initiative for us.

BEEF: You transfer meat though 29 of your distribution centers. Can you walk us through this process?

Peterson: Meat orders are generated from our stores and sent directly to our suppliers, who in-turn ship orders to a distribution center.

Looking at it simply we have a process that when a T-bone steak goes through checkout, the cash register recognizes a T-bone has been sold and another T-bone steak is needed in that store. We don't maintain inventories — the product just flows through the center.

The whole idea is to minimize the time the product resides in the supply chain and maximize the time the customer can keep it in the home.

BEEF: What roles are you expecting beef producers and your suppliers to play in providing Walmart's meat customers with a safe beef supply?

Peterson: The customer doesn't expect the producer or the processor to take the responsibility for providing safe food. They expect the retailer to do all the things necessary to assure that the products they have in their stores are safe.

We follow all the government and industry rules and guidelines in our own safe-handling protocol. Our suppliers also follow those regulatory guidelines.

I think you're going to see more retailers looking for ways to eliminate or reduce risk as the understanding and technology to control pathogens like E. coli improve. But, the relationship we have with our suppliers is very collaborative — we're not going to impose any activity on a producer without first sitting down with a supplier and assessing its overall impact.

BEEF: We see a heavy emphasis on IBP products in your meat cases. Did this come with Walmart's move to case-ready meats?

Peterson: Depending on the community, we do business with all the major meat suppliers. We've had a case-ready proposition in all our proteins for about 18 months now. Of course Walmart has been leading that charge (see sidebar). IBP was the first company we worked with in a big way with case-ready beef — so they probably have a more significant penetration than do our other suppliers.

BEEF: A great deal of your fresh beef products are “enhanced” with a water-based solution. What drives the decision to merchandise beef this way?

Peterson: I think the whole idea of solutions, or “pumped” product, is going to revolutionize the meat industry over time. The solution process will ultimately be one of providing a flavor profile. This is no different in meat than in other foods. “Cooking” at home is becoming a lost art — much by choice — therefore the consumer is expecting to buy a piece of meat that has a particular flavor profile, stick it in the oven for 15-20 minutes and yet have something they remember eating when they were growing up.

Food additives, whether in solutions or otherwise, are becoming part of our food experience. The fresh beef area is one of the last great food bastions that have been generally untampered.

Preservative issues are more a factor of the packaging, as opposed to the solution itself. Clearly there are color stabilization benefits with the herb-based solutions we use.

BEEF: How are you going to address the country-of-origin labeling law (COOL) that's due to become mandatory next year?

Peterson: There are two issues with it — one is legislation, the other is regulations.

This is the only labeling law in the U.S. that requires the retailer to validate information on a label. In the past, it has always been the supplier's responsibility. The regulations are going to change and I'm sure they are not going to be as onerous as they appear today.

Whatever the regulations though, Walmart will obey the law. But, for us to comply with the law by Sept. 30, 2004 we have to impose some pretty strict things on our suppliers. The tracebacks simply don't exist. I cannot validate with 100% assurance the accuracy of information that I'll be required by law to provide without demanding things from suppliers. The bottom line is there's no way today that the meat industry can comply with the current regulations of COOL. The industry could do it in a few years, but all the documentation is not in place for the calves already born.

One thing I'm going to demand is indemnification. If I get a $10,000 fine, I've got news for you — it's going upstream. Suppliers are going to have to make sure the system is mistake-free.

Ideally, we think the law should be repealed. But, I don't know that there's an attitude in Congress to cause that to happen.

BEEF: How do you perceive your customer's attitudes with regard to COOL?

Peterson: COOL sounds good, until you try to enact it. But, if you ask our customers what factors go into their purchasing decisions, country of origin isn't even on the chart. I have 40 million people/week buying food in my stores and I've never had a single call or letter — not one — asking where something is produced.

Who do you think is going to hear from a consumer first — a producer or me? If consumers were clamoring to know the country of origin — retailers would already be labeling products. We'd be idiots not to take advantage of something like that.

What's nuts about COOL is that if it's such a big consumer right-to-know issue, why is poultry exempt? Why are food service entities and restaurants, where 53% of American food is consumed, exempt?

The only reason COOL is out there today is because some producers think the customer will believe something must be wrong with a product if it comes from anywhere but the USA. That's just not the case. We're simply not going to — and are not able to — market a product that has something wrong with it, no matter where it comes from.

If you're a beef producer, the enemies are not Argentina or Canada. The enemies are the other protein choices out there. If you want people to eat more beef, don't drive them into buying the enemy.

It's clear the proponents of COOL don't understand the consumer. COOL applies costs to the system and provides zero benefits to the consumer.

BEEF: Are you concerned about future beef supplies and the relationships necessary to insure an adequate supply of beef?

Peterson: It's my sense that current U.S. beef production levels will, even though they may be falling, support our needs for quite some time.

The conventional supermarket business is growing at only 1-1½%/year. So, in order for Walmart to grow I must take business from my competition. In doing so, I must also penetrate into my competition's supply base.

Beyond that, beef producers should know that jointly, we have the same customer. Everything we do must be geared toward benefiting the end-user. If we do that, the customer will reward the supply chain. If we don't, the customer will punish the supply chain.

Producers should keep in mind that behind retailers are shareholders demanding a return on their investment. Producers might not like some decisions we make; but if viewed in that light, it might help understand why we operate the way we do.

Evolution Or Revolution?

Walmart's entry into case-ready meats dates back to March 1996. Walmart meat executives and representatives of one of its ground beef suppliers traveled to the United Kingdom to observe the production and marketing of case-ready meat prepared with a process known as modified air packaging (MAP). Robert Reiser & Company Inc., Canton, MA, developed this process. Today, case-ready drives Walmart's ground beef and muscle-meat merchandising.

Case-ready technology eliminates the need for in-store processing. Meat is packaged in rigid foam or plastic box-shaped containers at a packing plant or processor.

The retail product is sealed in a highly oxygenated mix of gases injected into the container. Before the package is placed in the sales case, the outer, non-permeable layer of film is removed, leaving a gas-permeable layer of film beneath, allowing the meat to “breathe” and “bloom,” and assume the colors associated with fresh meat.

Walmart DATA SHEET April 2003

Wal-Mart Stores 1,555
Wal-Mart Supercenters 1,288
SAM'S Clubs 525
Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets 50
Wal-Mart International Units 1,293


  • First Walmart opened in 1962 (Rogers, AR)
  • First SAM'S Club opened in 1983 (Midwest City, OK)
  • First Supercenter opened in 1988 (Washington, MO)
  • First International unit opened in 1991 (Mexico City)

Company Trade Territory

Walmart serves more than 100 million customers weekly in 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, China, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, United Kingdom, Argentina and South Korea.

Total Associates

  • United States — more than 1 million
  • Internationally — more than 300,000
  • Total associates — more than 1.3 million worldwide

Distribution Centers

105 locations


  • Fiscal year ended 1/31/03: $244.5 billion
  • For the month of March 2003, $23.175 billion; a 7.8% increase over the same period last year

Walmart Is Expanding Worldwide

It's no secret that Walmart is expanding. The company plans to open approximately 45 to 55 new discount stores and 200 to 210 new Supercenters this year in the U.S. It also plans to construct three new regional general merchandise distribution centers and six new food distribution centers during the next fiscal year.

Walmart is due to expand its Neighborhood Market concept with 20 to 25 new units in the upcoming fiscal year. Sam's Club division will open 40 to 45 domestic clubs, most of which will be relocations or expansions of existing facilities.

Walmart International plans to open 120 to 130 units in existing markets. The announced units include two restaurant formats, specialty apparel retail stores and supermarkets in Mexico.

Risk management series offered

A risk management series called “Marketing Your Way To Profitability” is set for selected states. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) are teaming up with cattlemen's associations to feature hands-on training in the use of futures and options in a cattle operation. CME representatives and Cattle-Fax analysts will teach the two-day course.

Upcoming workshops include: Nebraska (one-day sessions on June 30 and July 1); South Dakota (July 7-8); Kansas (July 14-15); Kentucky (Aug. 5-6); Florida (Aug. 7-8); Texas (Sept. 11-12); and Colorado (Sept. 18-19). For more information, contact your participating state cattlemen's association or Renee Lloyd, NCBA, at 303/850-3373 or [email protected].

There's no link between SARS and livestock production. Some media speculation has contended a link between severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and intensive livestock production. But, Peter Roeder, an officer of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Animal Production and Health Division, says of a potential link: “There is currently no evidence for an origin in farm animals [cattle, pigs, poultry, etc.] and it seems unlikely, even if the origin of the virus is still a mystery.”

Roeder says that genetic fingerprinting of the SARS virus shows it to be very different from any other known animal or human coronavirus. Roeder says all the evidence points to SARS being “a human pathogen transmitted primarily by droplet infection from the respiratory tract of affected people.”

In mid-May, the World Health Organization reported that global deaths from SARS had surpassed 500 with 7,000 infected. The agency also ratcheted the global death rate to 14-15% from the previous level of 6-10%.

Trade war with Mexico may be on the horizon. Mexican farmers are upset over the Jan. 1, 2003, next-to-final step in elimination of tariffs on most U.S. agriculture imports under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico's top trade official says Mexico plans to analyze the possibility of renegotiating NAFTA's agriculture provisions.

Under NAFTA, most tariffs on U.S. agricultural imports into Mexico have been reduced to an average of 2%. The National Corn Growers Association and the U.S. Grains Council have contacted U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, urging him not to reopen NAFTA.

But, Mexican farmers say they're unable to compete against their subsidized U.S. counterparts. If NAFTA isn't reopened, they threaten to blockade agricultural imports at U.S.-Mexico border crossings.

Gregg Doud, National Cattlemen's Beef Association economist, says Mexican concerns about U.S. beef exports could also become a political issue as Mexico's national elections are coming in July.

Currently, the U.S. exports more beef to Mexico than any other country. Last year, 80% of Mexico's beef imports came from the U.S — 12% more than the year earlier.

Mexico's cattle herd has steadily declined since 1994 as a result of extended drought and a weakening peso. This has forced many medium and small feedlots to go out of business due to high production costs and an inability to repay loans.

Advancing U.S.-Uruguay ag trade. The U.S. and Uruguay signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) establishing a U.S.-Uruguay Consultative Committee on Agriculture (CCA) in May. The aim is to help foster cooperation on global and regional trade issues.

The U.S., Uruguay and other countries are currently negotiating trade issues for the global Doha Round of the World Trade Organization and the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The goal of FTAA's 34 hemispheric partners is to create the largest (more than 800 million people) and wealthiest ($13-trillion, annual, gross domestic product), free-trade area.

Ag officials from both countries say the CCA will increase communication and coordination in market access, food safety, research, technical assistance and standards.

Last year, the U.S. exported more than $17 million in ag products to Uruguay, with consumer-oriented products like snack foods, red meats, pet foods and dairy products leading the way. Meanwhile, the U.S. imported nearly $58 million in Uruguayan ag products, with consumer-oriented and fish and seafood products comprising the largest import categories. Due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, imports of fresh/chilled and frozen beef from Uruguay are banned into the U.S.

The first annual meeting of the CCA will take place later this year and will be co-chaired by senior officials from USDA and Uruguay's Ministry of Agriculture.

BEEF magazine's 2003 State Of The Industry Report is now available. The report, available at advertis, is provided exclusively for BEEF magazine readers by Iowa State University Extension economists Gary May and John Lawrence. The 13-page report is a great reference piece on U.S. beef industry statistics and the status for various sectors.

Two new stocker-cattle fact sheets are available at for free download — “Comply or Die: Country of origin labeling essentials” and “Missed Management.” The second is a comprehensive discussion of managing risk by building and utilizing stocker health programs effectively. is the industry's number-one source for stocker cattle production and management information. It's a cooperative venture between BEEF magazine and Kansas State University.

Taiwan's The Target

In a move that would delight Sun Yue, the ancient author of The Art of War, four former foes — Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. — have joined hands to convince the modern Taiwanese housewife to buy more beef.

“Low beef consumption in Taiwan contradicts the belief that as people get richer they eat more red meat,” says Timothy Kelf, regional manager, South Asia, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

The MLA is one of four members of the Taiwan Beef Alliance (TBA), the second phase of which was officially launched in Taipei on April 10. The other participating groups include Meat New Zealand (MNZ), the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the Canada Beef Export Federation.

The first phase of the TBA campaign began in April 2002 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city and a major port in the south. It ran seven weeks and was delivered primarily via television infomercials with additional newspaper and radio advertisements.

The first phase targeted food service outlets, retail stores and wet markets in Kaohsiung. In addition, all member countries continued their individual country promotional programs at the restaurant and retail levels.

Last month, the TBA launched phase two, an advertising campaign with a message tailored to the Taiwanese housewife's maternal instincts and Chinese cultural background. Roughly translated, the marketing proposition, which doubles as a slogan, is: “To enjoy physical vitality and mental acuity, the iron in beef is the place to start.”

The Taiwanese are rich by any standard. Taiwan's per-capita income of $13,000 rivals that of Western countries. Problem is, the Taiwanese consume a mere 9.25 lbs. (4.2 kilos) of beef/person/year. That pales next to Taiwan's average annual consumption of 95.8 lbs. (43.5 kilos) of pork and 63.4 lbs. (28.8 kilos) of chicken.

“We want to share in some of that volume,” Kelf says, “and it's not unreasonable that we could take two kilos from each, and raise beef consumption to seven or eight kilos [15½ to 17½ lbs.].”

Nearly all of Taiwan's 23 million people are ethnic Chinese. Most emigrated in past centuries from China's Fujien and Kuangtung provinces where agriculture was based on the rice paddy, and pork, chicken and fish were the staple meats. Another lingering ghost is that, in rural Chinese villages, the water buffalo was a near member of the family, and eating beef was akin to cannibalism.

“The cow was the tractor,” Kelf says in a practical analogy. “If you eat your cow, you pull your plow.”

Beef Builds Strong Minds

How does TBA intend to overcome Taiwanese reluctance? Advertising, of course, but the approach also includes countering culture with culture.

Just like parents anywhere, Taiwanese want their children to grow up healthy, to excel academically from kindergarten through college.

“Feed your kids beef and they'll get good grades,” is a subtle subtext of the TBA ad campaign.

Three TV commercials convey that message by linking dietary iron to a child's physical and mental development. Each demonstrates beef's vast superiority as a source of dietary iron. The viewer learns that a few slices of beef have as much iron as a tall pile of pork chops, a whole roast chicken and a haystack of spinach.

The TBA isn't publicizing the size of its war chest, but it budgeted more than $200,000 for April and May, most of it for airtime on the island's TV and cable channels. Supporting the campaign are newspaper ads and educational events for children and mothers.

The campaign is strictly generic advertising — promoting beef as a meat category — without mention of country of origin. The goal is to encourage Taiwanese to eat more beef and, in turn, increase the sales of each of the alliance's members.

Joel Haggard, vice president, Asia-Pacific, USMEF, says: “There was a clear trend that beef consumption started to stall out in the late 1990s,” Haggard says. “This was a concern because it was unusual at such low per-capita levels at a time when import costs — for example, tariffs — were declining.”

Yet, Taiwan remains an important market. Of the island's demand for beef, 90% is met by imports, virtually all of which is sourced from the four alliance countries. Last year, Taiwan imported 65.1 million metric tons (MT) of beef, with Australia supplying 33.2 million MT, New Zealand 14.7 million MT, the U.S. 13.2 million MT and Canada 3.6 million MT.

Each of these beef exporters has staked a claim on a particular segment of the Taiwan market. Australia, for example, dominates the retail trade by supplying reasonably priced shin, shank and intercostal cuts. The U.S. leads in the sale of special-quality beef (SQB) steaks, while New Zealand takes the biggest share of non-SQB steaks sold to hotel, restaurant and institution (HRI) channels.

These product positions are fixed — the U.S. isn't going to switch from grain-fed to rangeland production, vice versa for Australia and New Zealand. This makes it difficult to justify the overlapping advertising campaigns waged in past years.

“We came to realize we were just shuffling around the deck chairs,” Kelf says. “We decided to stop beating each other to death and work together.”

Alliance Slow To Start

But forming an alliance was an unusual step — perhaps a first. Gaining participation from the home offices was a slow process.

“I believe the MLA approached the USMEF several years ago with the idea,” recalls USMEF's Haggard. “Because it was novel and, on the surface, counterintuitive in terms of competitors working with each other, it took some time to gel into a working plan.”

To test the proposition, a pilot program was launched in April 2002 in Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung, where the advertising used in the current campaign was tested on air for seven weeks.

Polled months later, 62% of the Kaohsiung residents who remembered the test ads could cite some nutritional benefit of beef. And, 28% recalled that beef is a natural source of iron, while 23% recalled that the iron in beef is easily absorbed.

One year later, the TBA formally launched its promotion program in Taipei, the island's political, cultural and food service center.

Even so, the launch of the alliance doesn't mark an end to the rivalry between its members.

“Each country is still doing its own promotional work by calling on the trade,” says Irvine Paulin, director of the New Zealand Trade Development Centre in Taipei. “Meat New Zealand, for example, has a roster of calls it makes, especially in the HRI sector, to explain the benefits of New Zealand beef.”

In a way, it is business as usual in Taipei.

“In our own countries, we promote beef based on its nutritional values,” Kelf says. “Here in Taiwan, four groups have joined hands to do the same thing through the Taiwan Beef Alliance.”

Glenn Smith is a freelance journalist based in Taipei, Taiwan.

Get serious about irradiation

May 16 marked the third anniversary of the commercial availability of irradiated ground beef in the U.S. On that day in 2000, frozen ground beef patties treated with electron beam technology to kill food-borne pathogens were offered for the first time at retail in 84 grocery stores in the Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, metro area.

Today, both fresh and frozen irradiated ground beef is available in more than 7,000 retail outlets and 2,000 restaurants across the U.S. In fact, around 15 million lbs. of irradiated ground beef were sold in the U.S. in 2002. Still, that's just a fraction of all the ground beef moved in the U.S. last year.

The U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) reports that 5,000 Americans will die of food-borne illness this year, while 76 million will be sickened and 325,000 hospitalized. The vast majority will be due to contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, but pathogens in ground beef — particularly E. coli 0157:H7 — will also be a factor.

Elsa Murano, USDA's undersecretary for food safety, told attendees of the World Food Irradiation Congress in Chicago in early May that irradiation is the only technology, other than thorough cooking, that can handle the problem of pathogens in ground beef. She was careful to point out that irradiation isn't a substitute for good sanitation in American meat plants, nor does it replace proper cooking and safe food handling practices.

Irradiation, she said, is just “one more tool available — in addition to other methods such as antimicrobial sprays and rinses — to reduce contamination on meat and poultry products.”

With that statement, Murano went one giant step farther than attendees of the E. Coli Summit who gathered in San Antonio, TX, in January. At that meeting, more than 200 representatives of every segment in the ground beef chain from producers to retailing laid out a strategy to eliminate food-borne pathogens in ground beef.

Their five-point plan included:

  • Expanded research and fast-tracked approval of interventions such as cattle vaccines and feed additives.

  • Standardization of safety testing and verification at packing plants.

  • Uniform sampling, testing and negative confirmation before meat processing.

  • Microbial control systems for foodservice suppliers.

  • Consumer information regarding cooking temperatures and thermometer use at point of purchase.

But Murano said in Chicago that the group's task is unlikely to be accomplished without the use of irradiation.

“You have to have a step that actually kills all the bacteria and irradiation is the most effective at doing that. Even though we've seen other methods like acid rinses of carcasses and so forth, those haven't been 100% effective. To achieve the same effect (as with irradiation), you'd have to have similar technology or several steps that give you an additive effect and there's nothing that is as effective as that today,” she said.

It's interesting that the CDC's Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases listed in a December 2000 news release a series of challenges the agency felt it faced in beating E. coli 0157:H7. Among them were: “Developing farm and slaughterhouse-based methods to decrease contamination of meat, and encouraging use of irradiation to increase the safety of ground beef.”

Three years later, the challenge still apparently exists. The San Antonio E. Coli Summit addressed the first point, but participants chose to ignore the second. When all the segments responsible for ensuring the safety of ground beef leave the only proven, most effective and available tool off the table, what message does it send regarding the industry's commitment toward protecting the consumers of its ground beef products?

High-protein diet pioneer Robert Atkins died April 17 as a result of injuries suffered in an April 8 fall. Any individual interested in health and a life free of nutrition-related disease owes a debt to Atkins. Increasingly, his Atkins Nutritional Approach is becoming a mainstream tool of the medical community to control the growing world epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other medical conditions. For more on Atkins, go to

Don't Short SALT

As a veterinary pathologist, I've clinically studied and performed necropsies on numerous cattle with grass tetany for more than 30 years. In this time, I've observed a relationship between grass tetany and reproductive losses in cattle and horses grazing the same pastures, especially lush spring pastures after drastic changes in climatic conditions.

High potassium, particularly spikes in potassium during sudden climatic changes, is now known to be associated with grass tetany. I believe high potassium may also induce other disease conditions including reproductive losses in cattle, horses and other herbivores.

The old theory held that grass tetany in cattle was caused primarily by magnesium deficiency in soils and grass. We now know grass tetany (see “Watch for grass tetany” p. 14, April 2003 BEEF), milk fever and, likely, downer cow syndrome are primarily induced by high-potassium forages.

During cool, wet conditions — including situations that frost and freeze cool-season grasses — sodium, calcium and magnesium decrease in forages, while potassium increases.

Such sudden shifts in cool-season grasses can be catastrophic during drastic weather changes. Not only are soils affected, but the grasses grown on them. The most dramatic shift seemingly occurs in prolonged droughts, followed by sudden changes after abundant rainfall, along with frosts and freezes to forages, then sudden heat elevations that cause a rapid grass growth in frost-damaged plants.

A Sudden Shift To Discovery

Such a shift occurred in the Midwest in spring 2001 when reproductive losses occurred in several thousand horses, cattle, sheep and goats. During the same period, numerous cattle were found dead in pastures a few hours after frosts and freezes to lush, rapidly growing grasses.

Horses and cattle examined postmortem had very elevated levels of potassium in their eye fluid. Meanwhile, cattle were affected in some pastures but not others. We also discovered that affected pasture forages had very elevated potassium levels and wide potassium-to-calcium ratios.

Meanwhile, cattle in adjacent pastures on similar forage types with access to loose sodium chloride were less affected. This is consistent with my observations over the past seven years that producers feeding loose sodium chloride salt rarely have grass tetany in their cattle. Conversely, cattlemen feeding high levels of magnesium and other macronutrients (with a low level of sodium chloride salt) in mineral mixes frequently have grass tetany and downer cow syndrome in their herds.

Excessive potassium in forages not only causes metabolic disorders like grass tetany and milk fever, but seems to be associated with immune suppression followed by a host of opportunistic and infectious diseases of livestock. Excessive potassium and deficiencies of calcium and sodium may induce imbalances of macrominerals as well as essential micronutrients like copper and selenium that are essential for the immune system.

Potassium promotes the overgrowth of saprotrophic (microorganisms that normally grow on dead matter), commensal (organisms that live together but don't harm each other) and pathogenic (microbes that cause disease) microorganisms in plants, especially plants damaged by droughts, frosts and freezes. Thus, such forages become the source of many opportunistic, potentially pathogenic bacteria and fungi.

After ingesting them, livestock face an overgrowth of opportunistic, pathogenic organisms in the gut. The organisms rapidly proliferate to produce toxic by-products, like excessive ammonia, which is acutely toxic to fetuses and the immune system.

These pathogens infect not only the foraging animals but their fetuses. Early and mid-term fetuses may abort, while near-term fetuses may suffer premature birth, and/or septic weak neonatal birth.

Similarly, it's felt that high-potassium forages encourage excessive growth of endophytic and other pathogenic fungi, especially in fescue and rye grasses. The toxins these fungi produce add to the reproductive problems in cattle and horses.

Feeding readily available sodium appears to counteract excessive forage potassium. It also discourages overgrowth of potentially pathogenic opportunistic organisms in the gut, while potassium encourages their overgrowth in the gut.

One solution to high-potassium forage is to apply potassium and nitrogen to pastures in optimum amounts for the desired forage growth. Fertilizing with high-calcium lime will decrease forages' potassium-to-calcium ratio, and likely discourage the growth of endophytic and other pathogenic fungi in pasture forages. Such practices must be ongoing, as years will likely be needed to correct severely imbalanced soils.

Since chloride drastically increases in forages when potassium levels spike, it's theorized that sodium bicarbonate may neutralize the effect of excessive chloride as well as potassium. In fact, many dairymen force-feed sodium bicarbonate, as well as sodium chloride, to neutralize excessive potassium while reducing many metabolic disorders in high-producing dairy cows.

Consider Supplementing Forage

Most forages don't contain enough sodium to meet herbivores' essential requirements for proper electrolyte and mineral balances, so it must be supplemented. A paradox is that cattle and horses appear to consume more sodium chloride salt when grazing more mature forages or forages that are dormant during the winter, which contain less potassium. Thus, metabolic disorders like grass tetany are less likely to occur when cattle graze mature forages.

However, in early spring and early fall during climatic conditions that favor increased potassium in forages, herbivores consume less sodium chloride. It's theorized that this induces acute mineral imbalances.

Since potassium and sodium are similar and may substitute for each other, herbivores may not be able to detect a critical sodium deficiency, as their desire for salt seems to lessen when they graze high-potassium forages. The desire for sodium is apparently being fulfilled with the cation potassium, which is excessive in the ration.

Consequently, they don't consume enough sodium for essential electrolyte and mineral balances. Acute metabolic disorders, and spikes in abortions in horses and cattle may be associated with an acute sodium deficiency due to these potassium spikes, especially after frosts to forages in the spring and fall.

Because of high potassium in forages, force-feeding sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate is essential. Ironically, even when sodium chloride is force-fed at levels recommended on a dry weight basis, many animals will consume additional sodium chloride if available free-choice, which I recommend, in addition to force feeding.

Observations in horses, primarily pregnant mares, show similar benefits to force-feeding salt in the feed, as mares won't consume enough free-choice sodium to neutralize the excessive forage potassium. Placental edema and secondary bacterial infections are less likely if sodium is force-fed to horses and cattle.

When the only supplemental source of sodium is free-choice, cattle and horses can't consume enough sodium chloride from hard salt blocks or hard trace-mineralized salt blocks in periods of acute need. If hard salt blocks are used, additional loose salt must be readily available to all animals during periods of acute needs.

Also, sodium chloride shouldn't be limited in mineral mixes. If large amounts of macro-minerals are fed free-choice, feed them separately, in addition to the sodium chloride salt fortified with trace amounts of macro- and micro-nutrients. Naturally balanced mineralized sea salts are high in sodium chloride and are excellent sources of many essential macro- and micro-minerals.

Be sure to locate salt and mineral mixes near water sources. Readily available, fresh water is essential for animals force-fed sodium, or sodium toxicity can occur.

In addition, be sure to balance rations for all macro- and micro-nutrients. If animals have adequate, readily available sodium and calcium, all macro- and micro-nutrients will more likely remain balanced and induced deficiencies are less likely to occur.

Soils and forages constantly change. Sudden changes in environmental and climatic conditions can, and frequently do, induce mineral imbalances in forages. Farm managers, veterinary clinicians and pathologists, soil and forage specialists, and nutritionists must recognize these induced mineral imbalances in forages. All need to work together to solve the complicated, multi-factor and emerging livestock diseases associated with high-potassium forages.

T.W. Swerczek, DVM, PhD, is a professor in the University of Kentucky's Department of Veterinary Science. He can be contacted at [email protected].

For intensive managers, COOL will be a snap

The country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law that takes effect Sept. 30, 2004 requires ranchers to verify the cattle they sell as born and raised in the U.S. While a lot of air and paper are being expended in debating the verification process and the cost of implementing it, folks with intensively managed herds have little to worry about.

These people already have the data needed to verify U.S. “born and raised.” In fact, the added cost of COOL verification for these intensive managers will be minimal or nothing at all. This is because the same data used to intensively manage a beef cow herd should suffice for COOL compliance.

In my 10 years of analyzing Northern Plains beef cow herds, I've tried to document what makes one beef cow herd more profitable than another. During that time, I've been continually asked what weaning weight, what size of cow and/or what breed of cows generates the highest profit. My answer tends to surprise ranchers.

My database analysis suggests that beef-cow profits aren't highly correlated with weaning weight, cow size or cow breed. Profits are, however, highly correlated with the intensity of the rancher's management program. The more intense the management program, the higher the profits.

On-farm data is what becomes the profit generator. And, one of the first steps in moving into the high-profit arena is to have herd performance records.

High-profit herds tend to have herd performance records (with individual cows identified). Records are kept on each individual cow and all of her calves. All cows in the herd are indexed based on most-probable-producing ability (MPPA), which is based on that cow's lifetime production.

My conclusion is that herd performance records, which are needed to enhance your beef cow herd profits, will work for COOL verification, as well. After all, the on-farm management data needed for high profits can also prove the link of each individual calf back to its dam.

In reality, COOL should actually stimulate more producers to intensify their management programs. As a result, what began as a marketing ploy may end up being an even bigger management ploy. If this indeed becomes the case, COOL could be a major boost to ranchers' bottom lines.

Profitable ranching appears to be changing. Not only does a rancher now need a high level of production skills, he also must have increased business management skills.

Running beef cows without data is getting increasingly harder. In fact, my cost-and-return studies suggest that intensive management is the key business management skill for running the business of beef cows. On-farm data is what separates it from just running beef cows.

Running the business of beef cows requires a lot of on-farm data. Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University animal scientist, defines on-farm data as “factual information used as a basis for reasoning, discussion and calculation.”

Needless to say, on-farm data is where long-term solutions and planning are born. It's also where COOL verification for your calves can be automatically generated.

So, what data is needed to operate a herd performance system? It can be quite simple. For instance, you need to identify your cows, and then your calves as they are born, as well as recording the calves' birth dates and weaning weights.

With these four pieces of information, your computer can generate a number of management reports. For instance, Figure 1 presents a reproductive summary of a study herd compared to the “benchmark averages” on herds in the region. These are reproductive measures suggested by the national Integrated Resource Management (IRM) program's production standards.

The denominator for calculating each number is the females exposed at bull turnout date. The only exception to this is the bottom number for calf death loss. This percentage is based on the number of calves born. Besides knowing your herd's absolute numbers, it's critical that you compare your numbers to the benchmark averages for other herds in your region.

Figure 2 presents a production data summary you should obtain from your herd performance records. Again, knowing your own numbers is important, but additional management power comes from comparing your herd's numbers to benchmark herds for your region.

Figure 3 presents a calving distribution summary for this beef cow herd. I wonder why this particular rancher couldn't get his cows bred in a timely manner? It appears to be a bottleneck to the rancher's profitability.

The important point is that only four pieces of information — cow ID, calf ID, birth date and weaning weight — were needed to generate this intensive management data. Best of all, this same data should work for COOL verification on your herd.

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

Grass Performance Beats Compensatory Gain

Flesh and condition command more money from buyers for a simple economic reason: buy the proper degree at the right price and the returns at the hands of compensatory gain can be exponential.

If you're retaining ownership in stockers through the feedlot, though, recent research indicates compensatory gains can't overcome gains made in the pasture, even if those cattle actually gain faster in the feedlot. In other words, the highest returns overall come from the cattle that gained the most in the stocker enterprise.

In fact, according to Jason Cleere, Texas Cooperative Extension (TCE) beef specialist at Overton, “Low animal performance during the grazing period resulted in lower carcass value received for each animal. As a result, it may be beneficial for producers to program animals to gain more during the grazing period.”

In the joint study by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) and Texas Tech University, 189 stocker steers and 72 stocker heifers were assigned to one of two winter pasture stocking rates at TAES Overton (Maton Rye and TAM 90 Ryegrass) and TAES Uvalde (TAM 90), TX, during two years. Ultimately, cattle were divided according to their average daily gain (ADG) on pasture: High ADG, Medium ADG or Low ADG (Table 1). Cattle were fed to a constant .4 in. backfat.

Table 1. Average Daily Gain Of Stockers By Location*
Average Daily Gain (ADG) Overton ADG Uvalde ADG
High 2000 2.64 2.91
High 2001 2.22 2.53
Medium 2000 1.78 2.53
Medium 2001 1.45 2.14
Low 2000 1.19 2.10
Low 2001 0.48 1.65
Cattle grazed December to May
Source: Texas Agricultural Experiment Station: Overton and Uvalde; Monte Rouquette, Hagen Lippke

Turns out, the highest gaining stocker cattle hung the heaviest carcasses at harvest. That was regardless of whether they were the top gainers in the feedlot.

Specifically, Cleere explains that feedlot gain wasn't affected by grazing gains in the steers at Uvalde or the heifers at Overton. The highest gaining steers through the stocker phase were also the most prolific gainers on feed. By the end of the trial, the highest gaining steers on grass finished at an average live weight of 1,240 lbs., compared to 1,181 lbs. for the medium gainers and 1,143 lbs. for the lowest ADG steers.

Likewise, the highest gaining heifers as stockers were also the highest gainers in the feedlot. The High ADG heifers hung carcasses 72 lbs. heavier than the Medium ADG heifers, and 94 lbs. heavier than the Low ADG group.

Even when feedlot gains were highest for cattle that gained the least as stockers — as was the case with the Overton steers — they couldn't gain enough to compensate for the extra weight gained by other steers on grass. In this part of the study, the Low ADG steers posted feedlot ADG of 4.03 lbs. Compare that to 3.94-lbs. ADG for the Medium ADG group and 3.50 lbs. for the High ADG group. Yet, the steers that gained the most as stockers and the least at the feedlot still hung up carcasses that weighed an average of 58 lbs. more than steers that gained the least on grass.

In addition to the added gains, Cleere notes that pasture gains typically cost less than those in the feedlot. As a result, the more pounds gained prior to the feedlot should equate to a lower cost of gain overall.

Yes, this notion of stocker gains beating compensatory gain does fly in the face of traditional thinking and plenty of past research. But Cleere explains this study indicates genetic improvement for growth potential is offering stocker operators more opportunity for gain than in the past.

Plus, Cleere explains this strategy is consistent with the industry's evolving focus on holistic management and exploiting the fact that a change in one segment of production necessarily affects production overall.

Figuring The COOL Riddle

When President Bush signed the latest farm bill last May, a tidal wave called country-of-origin labeling (COOL) swept across America. Today, the backwash from the COOL provision that amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 has left the U.S. beef industry mired in controversy, with most producers wondering how they will live in the aftermath of COOL.

The debate is not so much the law's intent as its implementation.

COOL requires any person or entity in the business of supplying a retailer a covered commodity (see sidebar) to provide its country of origin. At the same time, the law prohibits USDA from establishing a mandatory livestock identification (ID) system.

Bill Hawks, USDA under-secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, says COOL is one of the most prescriptive laws on the books.

“This legislation is very clear,” Hawks says. “Covered commodities must be labeled as to country of origin unless they are an ingredient in a processed food item.”

Unlike any other retail labeling law, the burden of proving the source of a covered commodity ultimately rests with the retailer.

The language doesn't specify what's acceptable to verify country of origin claims, explains Hawks. “It only says USDA may require persons in the distribution chain to maintain a verifiable recordkeeping audit trail to verify compliance.”

He says the law will create “a massive burden” on the industry due mostly to additional required recordkeeping. Even in the purest situation, where a calf is born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., documentation will be needed at each stage of the animal's life and through processing and merchandising to prove country of origin, Hawks says.

“The entire production system must have appropriate recordkeeping in place,” he adds.

There's increasing concern that the burden will fall on U.S. ranchers, stockers and feeders to certify that cattle are born and raised in the U.S., says Bryan Dierlam, director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). He refers to recent packer letters to ranchers and feeders outlining requirements that will be placed on producers to verify country of origin.

“Clearly, these firms are reacting to the law in a manner that would reduce their liability by shifting it to producers,” Dierlam says. “The result of this law will be an additional burden on producers — but to what degree is yet to be determined.”

Dierlam says NCBA has long supported the concept of COOL as a way of increasing the value of U.S. beef, but only if it doesn't come at an undue cost to producers.

“It's our mission to protect the business climate of U.S. producers. As we go through the COOL rule-making process, we'll work to lessen its burden on producers and make promotion of U.S. product our number-one goal,” he says.

Easier Said Than Done

In a letter to producers, Bruce Bass, IBP (Tyson Foods) senior vice president for cattle procurement, outlined what his firm must do to meet COOL's documentation requirements of retailers. He then passed responsibility on to feeders and ranchers.

“It will be necessary for you to provide IBP with verifiable information on the place of birth and every location where livestock was raised for each animal marketed,” Bass wrote. “IBP Inc. will require you, as our suppliers, to provide us evidence of your recordkeeping program for gathering and maintaining this information.”

Bass says only producers can document and verify the law's “born-in, raised-in” components. These documentation costs, as well as independent, third-party, verification costs, will be producers' “responsibility,” he adds, and suggested producers raising market cattle for sale to a packer after Sept. 30, 2004 should immediately begin documentation on all their calves.

Ken Bull, Wichita, KS, vice president of cattle procurement for Excel Corporation, agrees that, ultimately, the information on where an animal was born and raised must come from livestock producers. But, COOL will definitely change how packers do business, as well, he says.

“We'll need to retool our plants and build systems to track every animal all the way through the system,” Bull says. “This is something that's nearly impossible in time to comply with the law though.”

The other option, at least for the time being, is for packers to separate animals into “batches” of like-origin animals and maintain the identity of those batches through slaughter, fabrication and distribution. He says 7-8% of cattle in the U.S. represent some degree of foreign or “mixed” origin.

“That means we'll have to schedule certain days for processing U.S. cattle and portions of days or weeks for harvesting the rest,” Bull says. “We're going to need to know the country of origin before we ever buy an animal and schedule it for a plant.”

If the identity of an animal is lost at any point, that animal will have to be scheduled for harvest and processing in a “batch” destined for food service, he says.

“This, of course, adds another level of batching on top of the batches segregated into U.S.- and mixed-origin cattle,” he adds. “This will all result in a logistical mess where mistakes will be made.”

Sufficient Documentation

Therefore, Excel buyers will be looking for suppliers who can guarantee information of origin. How to do that is a question Bull says needs to be fully addressed in the final COOL rules.

“Whatever comes of the rules, we'll need a permanent, easily readable ID system,” he adds. “A brand on a hide can't be audited after the animal is processed. Ear tags may be part of a record-keeping program, but I'm not sure they'll be sufficient alone.”

The consensus is that cow-calf herd records or papers simply listing a producer's name, address and information on where animals were born and raised are “self-certification.” USDA has indicated that self-certification of an animal's country of origin doesn't comply with the law.

Bill Bullard, Billings, MT, executive director of R-CALF USA, says these packer requirements are overstepping the law because cattle producers aren't covered by COOL.

“These packers have disseminated false and misleading information and have threatened U.S. producers with lower prices, inability to market livestock and packer-initiated audits,” he says. R-CALF has filed a formal complaint alleging the letters were in violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act by engaging the packers in unfair, unjustly discriminatory and deceptive practices.

R-CALF maintains that cattle aren't covered under COOL requirements; that “beef” is the bovine commodity of concern.

“By definition, COOL clearly doesn't include cattle as a covered commodity,” Bullard says. “Because cattle aren't a covered commodity, USDA has no statutory authority to impose a recordkeeping system for cattle.”

R-CALF's stand is that only upon cattle's “transformation” into a covered commodity do the people who then “prepare, store, handle and distribute the resulting covered commodity to retailers” become subject to the USDA's audit verification system.

Therefore, implementing COOL won't be a difficult task, adds cattle producer Jay Miller, Washington, VA, and R-CALF's marketing chair.

“When COOL opponents finally surrender to the fact that the law will be implemented Sept. 30, 2004, only then will the industry be able to collectively concentrate on a low-cost, regulatory-efficient and least-burdensome system of implementation,” Miller says.

Then, COOL can begin returning market power to the U.S. producer, Bullard adds.

“How can we talk about U.S. producer competitiveness if people can't differentiate U.S. production from imported product?” he asks. “How can U.S. producers capitalize on the unique characteristics of domestic production if the consumer can't tell the difference between a domestic product and an imported product?”

Still, Bullard recommends producers keep birth records and purchase and sales receipts, as well as other records they feel will help provide a paper trail of their animals “just in case.”

Cutting The Mustard

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) president Bob McCan, Victoria, TX, says beef COOL is a worthy concept. However, TSCRA supports a voluntary rather than a mandatory program that carries burdensome regulations and undefined costs to the producer.

As a consumer information law, McCan believes COOL fails to cut the mustard.

“About 80% of foreign beef consumed in the U.S. is through food service or processed products,” explains McCan. “Since these two categories are exempt from COOL, consumers will seldom be able to actually identify and choose U.S. beef on a restaurant menu or in a processed product at the grocer.”

Additionally, McCan says, there's insufficient evidence to suggest consumers are willing to pay a premium for strictly U.S. beef, now or in the future.

“Therefore,” he says, “we are extremely reluctant to assume additional costs of a labeling system if there is a chance the benefits won't be sufficient to cover costs.”

The additional costs to the industry and the “unintended consequences” of COOL have everyone from seedstock producers to feeders frustrated, says Jim Peterson, a Judith Gap, MT, rancher and chair of NCBA's international markets committee.

“This law was hastily put together without regard to its impact on producers and the burden it places on the shoulders of feeders and ranchers,” he says. “If this law stands, the entire beef industry will to have to come together and resolve these issues so we can have a law we can live with.”

Frequently Asked Questions

At a minimum, cow-calf producers should maintain cow herd and calf birth records, sales records — including dates, animal number and description, and the names of all animal buyers, says Darrell Peel, Oklahoma State University livestock marketing specialist.

Here are some other points:

Q: What products are covered?

A: Whole muscle and ground product of beef, pork and lamb; seafood (wild and farm-raised fish and shell fish); perishable commodities (fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables); and peanuts.

Processed products are excluded, nor does COOL apply to food service establishments (e.g., restaurants, hotels, convention centers, hospitals, etc.), and butcher shops and retailers with annual sales less than $230,000. Deli foods, canned or cooked products and fresh or frozen processed products are exempt.

Q: What is considered a “processed” product under COOL?

A: These are combinations of raw products that produce a materially different product, or a commodity that is altered by the addition of other ingredients or by further processing (e.g., cooking or curing) to produce a different product.

Q: How will beef products be labeled under COOL?

A: Whole-muscle beef products will be labeled in one of these general ways:

  • Product of USA — if the animal was born, raised and processed in the U.S.

  • Mixed Origin — (e.g., from animals born and raised in Mexico and processed in the USA or from animals born in Canada, raised and processed in the USA).

  • Imported — (e.g., product of Canada).

U.S. and mixed-origin products must provide detail with respect to production stages including where the animal was born, country or countries in which the animal was raised, and the country in which the animal was processed.

Imported product must be labeled at the point of importation regarding the country from which the product is imported. Imported product doesn't require information about production systems or other countries of production prior to importation.

Ground or commingled product must identify product as above for each source and must list each source in descending order of prominence.

Q: What are the retailer responsibilities?

A: Records must be maintained on all sales for two years. USDA may require a “verifiable recordkeeping audit trail” to ensure compliance. Retailers may be subject to a $10,000 fine per violation for willful violation of COOL.

Q: What are the supplier responsibilities?

A: Subtitle D states “Any person engaged in the business of supplying a covered commodity to a retailer shall provide information to the retailer regarding country of origin of the covered commodity.” Buyers may require third-party verification of recordkeeping.

Q: What is meant by “verifiable” recordkeeping audit trail?

A: Precise recordkeeping requirements are so far unclear. The Act specifically forbids USDA from mandating an animal ID system to meet COOL provisions. Current USDA guidelines indicate, though, that a product labeled as “Product of USA” must be traceable from birth to one or more U.S. producers. Currently, self-certification at any stage of production or processing isn't sufficient to verify country of origin.