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Articles from 2014 In July

USDA releases its poultry inspection modernization rule

After over two and a half years since it was first proposed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced its New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), which it touts as an “updated science-based inspection system that positions food safety inspectors throughout poultry facilities in a smarter way.”

Poultry companies will have to meet new requirements to control Salmonella and Campylobacter, and up to 5,000 foodborne illnesses will be prevented each year, USDA estimates.

"The United States has been relying on a poultry inspection model that dates back to 1957, while rates of foodborne illness due to Salmonella and Campylobacter remain stubbornly high. The system we are announcing today imposes stricter requirements on the poultry industry and places our trained inspectors where they can better ensure food is being processed safely. These improvements make use of sound science to modernize food safety procedures and prevent thousands of illnesses each year," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

FSIS will now require that all poultry companies take measures to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs. Also for the first time ever, all poultry facilities will be required to perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter. These requirements are in addition to FSIS' own testing, which the agency will continue to perform.

FSIS is also introducing the optional NPIS, in which poultry companies must sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors. This system allows for FSIS inspectors to focus less on routine quality assurance tasks that have little relationship to preventing pathogens like Salmonella and instead focus more on strategies that are proven to strengthen food safety. More inspectors will now be available to more frequently remove birds from the evisceration line for close food safety examinations, take samples for testing, check plant sanitation, verify compliance with food safety plans, observe live birds for signs of disease or mistreatment, and ensuring plants are meeting all applicable regulations.

Line speeds changed

The proposal was first published on January 27, 2012, and the modernization effort has been significantly informed by the feedback FSIS received from the public, as well as from interagency partners such as the Department of Labor. Specifically, USDA received numerous comments on the proposed rule related to worker safety, and it has partnered with the federal agencies responsible for worker safety to address those concerns.

In response to public comment, the maximum line speeds for plants that newly adopt the NPIS have remained capped at 140 birds per minute, consistent with the maximum speed under existing inspection programs. The original proposal had allowed plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute with a single inspector on the slaughter line. Currently, plant line speeds are limited to about 35 birds per minute per inspector.

National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said, "Regarding line speeds:  It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that politics have trumped sound science, 15 years of food and worker safety data and a successful pilot program with plants operating at 175 birds per minute.  The rule also goes against global precedent, in which the limiting factors for line speeds are the ability to meet food safety standards, keeping workers safe, and the capability of the equipment to run effectively –   not government regulations.  Broiler plants in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Belgium and Germany, among others, all operate at line speeds of 200 or more birds per minute." 

Additionally, all companies operating under the NPIS must maintain a program to encourage the early reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses, and FSIS employees will receive new instructions on how to report workplace hazards that may affect plant workers, including access to a confidential 1-800 number to report concerns directly to OSHA.

FSIS estimates that the NPIS will prevent nearly 5,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter foodborne illnesses each year. Salmonella illnesses have remained steady, with some spikes, in the past ten years, while Campylobacter is the second most reported foodborne illness in the United States. This new inspection model is a key part of the agency's Salmonella Action Plan, unveiled in December 2013, which is the agency's blueprint for addressing Salmonella illnesses from meat and poultry products. Also included in that plan are revised pathogen reduction performance standards for all poultry, and first-time-ever standards for poultry parts, which consumers commonly purchase. These new standards are expected to be announced later this year.

USDA announced that the final rule is being sent to the Federal Register and plans to post the text on their website at www.fsis.usda.gov/poultryinspection.

ROI study shows $11.20 return on checkoff

In the most comprehensive study ever rendered about the Return on Investment (ROI) of beef checkoff assessments, Dr. Harry Kaiser of Cornell University concludes that each dollar invested in the Beef Checkoff Program between 2006 and 2013 returned about $11.20 to the beef industry.

“The news for beef checkoff investors couldn’t be better,” said Kaiser, the Gellert Family professor of applied economics and management at Cornell and director of the Cornell Commodity Promotion Research Program, who is sharing study results this week at the 2014 Cattle Industry Summer Conference.

“It is clear to me that activities funded through the Beef Board budget have a substantial impact on beef demand in the U.S. and in foreign markets. The return on producers’ and importers investments into this program is vastly greater than the cost of the program.”

Commissioned through the checkoff’s Joint Evaluation Committee, this new ROI study could be a useful tool for producers who make decisions about how to invest checkoff dollars.

“This really tells us that we’re on the right track with how we plan our checkoff programs,” said cattleman Ted Greidanus of California, who chairs the checkoff’s Evaluation Committee. “We are accountable to beef producers and importers who fund the work we do with checkoff dollars, so we wanted to know how much difference we were really making in the marketplace, good or bad -- and I must say that I am quite pleased at how good the news really is.”

Some additional key findings in Kaiser’s benefits-cost analysis include:

  • Had there not been any CBB-funded marketing between 2006 and 2013, total domestic beef demand would have totaled 15.7 billion pounds – or 11.3 percent less than it was with the checkoff programs in place. Holding the effects of all other demand drivers constant, the activities funded by the CBB resulted in an increase in beef demand of 2.1 billion pounds per year.
  • Had the national Beef Checkoff Program not invested in foreign-market development between 2006 and 2013, foreign demand for U.S. beef would have been 6.4 percent lower.
  • The statistical results indicate that all eight CBB demand-enhancing activities -- generic beef advertising; channels marketing; industry information; new-product development; public relations; nutrition research; beef-safety research and product-enhancement research -- have a positive and statistically significant impact on increasing per capita beef demand. 
  • At the bottom line, the increase in beef demand due to CBB-funded marketing efforts resulted in higher prices for beef producers and importers, which means higher net revenue than they would have experienced without those checkoff programs.

Given the tremendous budget challenges of the checkoff in recent years, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board commissioned the all-encompassing study to provide a more thorough evaluation possible of checkoff activities than it traditionally has. As a result, this new study presents a more complete and accurate picture of checkoff returns and provides a new benchmark.

“Let me caution against trying to compare the results of this study with the 2009 study, which reported a return of $5.55 on each checkoff dollar,” Dr. Kaiser said. “This time around, the Beef Board asked for a more comprehensive study than ever before, so I evaluated all commercial beef disappearance, including retail, foodservice, and international data over eight years, whereas the 2009 study looked solely at domestic retail data for a five-year period.

“Furthermore,” Dr. Kaiser continued, “my study analyzed individual categories of nine marketing categories separately, and then brought the categories together to identify an overall beef checkoff return on investment. In 2009, the Beef Board commissioned a study analyzing only the checkoff as a whole.”

Greidanus said he is quite confident in the study results.

“As chairman of the Evaluation Committee, I know that Dr. Kaiser’s research methods are well-respected, so we are very confident about the analysis and very pleased with the results,” Greidanus said. “And this tells us that the benefits of all CBB programs are 11.2 times more valuable than their costs… As a cattleman who pays into the program, it’s invigorating to know that my investment is making a difference.”

Kaiser, who has performed similar analyses for other checkoff programs, said the results should be encouraging to the country’s beef producers and importers.

“If I was investing my hard-earned dollars into the checkoff, as beef producers and importers are, I would be proud to do so, based on the findings of this study,” Kaiser said. “Most of us probably wish we could get that kind of return on all of our expenditures!”

ARS solicits stakeholder input regarding USSES

In a July 31 Federal Register notice, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced two virtual listening sessions on the research activities conducted at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) in Dubois, Ida.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which oversees the station, the listening sessions on Aug. 6 at 2:00 p.m. (EDT) and Aug. 7 at 11:00 a.m. (EDT) to collect stakeholder input.

Pre-registration and call-in instructions are available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/07/31/2014-18027/solicitation-of-input-from-stakeholders-regarding-the-us-sheep-experiment-station-in-dubois-idaho

Stakeholders can also submit comments — not otherwise presented or submitted for the record at the virtual listening sessions — by close of business Aug. 14 to: Agricultural Research Service, Jamie L. Whitten Building, Room 302A, 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250, or via email at USSES@ars.usda.gov.

The virtual listening sessions will be held so that any interested ARS stakeholders and/or any interested parties, can offer support, concerns or opinions on the research activities conducted at USSES. ARS plans to consider stakeholder input received from this meeting as well as other written comments and stakeholder input in developing an appropriate course of action for USSES.

These virtual listening sessions are open to the public and any interested individuals wishing to attend.

USDA Report provides producers with an environmental roadmap


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report that, for the first time, provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities. The report, titled Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory, will help USDA evaluate current and future greenhouse gas conservation programs, as well as develop new tools and update existing ones to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participate in emerging carbon markets.

"America's farm, ranch and forest managers are stewards of the land, and have long recognized the significance of managing soil health, plant productivity and animal nutrition. Conservation practices and other management changes can reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon storage while improving soil health, productivity, and resilience to drought and other extreme weather," said Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie. "In partnership with USDA and the Obama Administration, State and regional GHG offset programs and voluntary GHG markets can help make these practices less costly to implement and increase the producer's bottom line."

Today's report outlines science-based methods for quantifying changes in GHG emissions and carbon storage at the local farm, ranch or forest operation. Reducing GHG emissions and increasing carbon storage builds healthy, carbon-rich soils and more resilient production of food, fiber and fuel. USDA recently established Regional Climate Change Hubs to assist landowners with management challenges that arise from weather variability and climate change. The methods report and the tools provided in it will aid the Hubs in giving landowners information on management options to improve agriculture production, soil health, and resource conservation.

The report is the work of 38 experts in GHG estimation in the cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management sectors across academia, USDA and the federal government. The report was reviewed by an additional 29 scientists, other Federal experts, and the public. While developing the report, reviewers considered scientific rigor, transparency, completeness, accuracy, and cost effectiveness, as well as consistency and comparability with other Federal GHG inventory efforts. The report can be downloaded at www.usda.gov/oce/climate_change/estimation.htm.

Current USDA carbon tools, such as USDA's COMET-Farm, are being updated to incorporate the new methods. Using COMET-Farm, a land manager who is considering a shift to no-till production system, for example, can evaluate the soil carbon benefits of that system and consider revenue opportunities provided by entering into a voluntary agreement with a carbon market. The methods in the report are comprehensive, addressing a wide variety of cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management practices.

For more information on USDA's Climate Change activities, please visit www.usda.gov and click on "Climate Solutions."

Cattle Producers gather in Denver to help establish industry direction


More than 650 cattle producers are expected to gather at the Cattle Industry Summer Conference in Denver this week to help set direction for industry programs. The conference will run July 30 - Aug 2. 

The event includes meetings of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Cattlemen’s Beef Board, American National CattleWomen and National Cattlemen’s Foundation. Among the purposes of the yearly conference is to create a framework for checkoff and policy efforts on behalf of U.S. cattle producers for the 2015 fiscal year, which for NCBA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board begins Oct. 1.

Keynote speaker at Thursday’s Opening General Session is Steffan Tubbs, well-known Colorado reporter on KOA radio and co-host of a community affairs program on Colorado Public Television. Tubbs, who has nearly 25 years of news experienced and has received the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award four times, will talk about his soon-to-be-released documentary film called Droughtland, which focuses on the devastating conditions of the recent drought in Southeastern Colorado and what the drought has meat to a huge portion of the West.

 Also during General Session I, W.D. Farr Scholarships will be presented to two graduate students by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation. The $12,000 scholarships are presented to students who want to further their educations in in meat science and animal agriculture. General Session I is sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.

During General Session II on Friday, Kevin Good of CattleFax will outline the state of the cattle industry, the factors that have gotten the industry where it is and what his organization expects to see in the future. The session is sponsored by Bayer Animal Health. 

“We’re seeing unprecedented conditions in our industry, and the producers who understand all of the factors for how we got here will be best positioned for success in the future,” according to Bob McCan, a beef producer from Victoria, Texas and NCBA president . “The working sessions at the Summer Conference will not only help provide that understanding, but will give participating producers a chance to play a leadership role in determining where we go from here.”

 Joint Committees and Subcommittees will meet on Thursday and Friday to develop proposals for 2015 checkoff-funded research, education and promotion programs. Also on Friday NCBA policy committees will meet to determine priorities and discuss strategies for 2015. The NCBA Board will hold a session on Saturday, as will members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.

 “Though the market has been good, our challenges remain sizeable,” said McCan. “It’s tremendous that we have so many leaders at the state and national levels who take time out of their schedules here to help chart our course.”

USDA implementing crop insurance provision

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced progress in implementing provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill that will strengthen and expand insurance coverage options for farmers and ranchers. The new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), available through the federal crop insurance program and set to begin with the 2015 crop year, is designed to help protect producers from yield and market volatility.

"America's agricultural producers work hard to produce a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food for the country," said Secretary Tom Vilsack. "It's critical that they have crop insurance options to effectively manage risks and ensure that they do not lose everything due to events beyond their control. Following the 2014 Farm Bill signing, USDA has made it a priority to ensure the Supplemental Coverage Option was available to help farmers in this upcoming crop year."

The 2014 Farm Bill strengthens and expands crop insurance by providing more risk management options for farmers and ranchers and by making crop insurance more affordable for beginning farmers. According to USDA, SCO, which is administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA), further strengthens the farm safety net.

SCO will be available for corn, cotton, grain sorghum, rice, soybeans, spring barley, spring wheat, and winter wheat in selected counties for the 2015 crop year. Producers should contact their crop insurance agents to discuss eligibility in time to sign up for winter wheat coverage. RMA plans to make SCO more widely available by adding more counties and crops. Selected counties for other commodities will be released later this summer.

U.S. Ethanol lowest cost motor fuel, octane source

Ethanol produced in the United States has been the most economically competitive motor fuel in the world over the past four years and has played an important role in reducing consumer fuel costs, according to a newly released analysis by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

The analysis, conducted by ABF Economics, examined actual wholesale prices paid for ethanol, gasoline, and alternative octane sources in several key U.S. and world markets in the 2010–2013 timeframe.

Based on the market data, the report concluded that “…U.S.-produced ethanol is an exceptionally competitive additive and fuel source…” and that “…U.S. ethanol has emerged as the lowest cost transportation fuel and octane source in the world over the past several years.”

“As proven by the recent boom in exports, American-made ethanol has evolved into the most cost competitive transportation fuel and octane source in the world,” remarked RFA president and chief executive officer Bob Dinneen. “Through rapid technology adoption and innovation, U.S. producers have proudly earned the distinction of being the global leader and low-cost producer of clean-burning, renewable ethanol.”

“Despite the fact that ethanol offers greater consumer choice at a lower cost, entrenched petroleum companies continue to erect barriers that deny access to larger volumes of renewable fuels,” Dinneen continued. “In a truly free market, consumers would always choose a fuel that is produced domestically, is better for the environment and climate, and costs much less than gasoline. Unfortunately, free markets only exist in text books, underscoring the need for monopoly-breaking policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The ABF Economics study found that even after accounting for transportation costs to the reference markets of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, “The ‘spread’ between ethanol and RBOB [gasoline] has averaged 30 to 40 cents per gallon over the past four years in these three key markets, and the difference averaged more than 60 cents per gallon in 2012.”

As a result of this cost differential, “…ethanol blended with RBOB to produce reformulated gasoline at a 10% (E10) blend has reduced the cost of motor fuel to consumers.” Importantly, the author noted that ethanol’s impact on gas prices goes far beyond the wholesale price spread: “This does not include the additional downward impact ethanol has on gasoline prices as a result of extending supplies and reducing demand for crude oil.”

The report also showed U.S. ethanol isn’t just outcompeting gasoline on price—it is also outperforming ethanol from other key exporting countries, like Brazil. According to the report, “…even with depreciation of the real, U.S. ethanol has been more cost competitive than Brazilian ethanol in key U.S. and world markets over the past several years.” This has particular relevance in the California market, according to the study, because that state’s fuel policies strongly compel fuel suppliers to import Brazilian ethanol in lieu of U.S. ethanol.

“Use of Brazilian ethanol in place of U.S. ethanol theoretically raised the price of E10 for California consumers by 8 cents per gallon over the past four years,” the study found.

In closing, the study indicated that the competitiveness of U.S. ethanol will only improve in the future: “This competitive advantage is expected to increase further, as U.S. ethanol and feedstock producers adopt new technologies and crude oil prices continue to trend higher.”

The Maschhoffs acquire two sow farms from JBS United

The Maschhoffs LLC, headquartered in Carlyle, Illinois, has announced that it has acquired two sow farms from affiliates of JBS United, Inc. The two farms are located in Morristown and Crawfordsville, Indiana. The transaction includes two farms capable of housing up to 7,500 sows.

Approximately 30 individuals are employed at the two facilities. “We are excited about this strategic transaction, which materialized due to our long-standing relationship and partnership with JBS United, Inc. We look forward to integrating these farms and their employees into our operations,” said Jason Logsdon, Chief Executive Officer for The Maschhoffs.

The Maschhoffs is the largest independent pork producer in the United States. The company is owned by fifth-generation family members Dave Maschhoff and his wife, Karen, and Ken Maschhoff and his wife, Julie. The Maschhoffs partners with more than 450 production partners across the Midwest. They work with the company to collectively produce enough pork to feed more than 16 million consumers annually.

The Maschhoffs, LLC (www.TheMaschhoffs.com) is a pork production company headquartered in Carlyle, Illinois. As a family-owned business, they have over 100 years of experience in pork production. The Maschhoffs is the largest independent pork producer in the United States, with approximately 208,000 sows and associated market hog production in nine states. The company, which has about 1,200 employees, focuses on creating environmentally and economically sustainable pork production systems by networking with more than 450 other independent farm operations. The Maschhoffs is able to provide enough pork for more than 16 million consumers annually. The company, through a wholly owned subsidiary, also sells branded pork products to retailers, processors and food service operators under the Maschhoff Family Farms label.

JBS United, Inc. founded in 1956, is dedicated to providing research-based solutions that create value for its partners in animal agriculture. JBS United, Inc., with over 325 employees, offers livestock nutrition and health products globally through the JBS United, Inc. or affiliate brands. To learn more, visit JBSUnited.com.

Country of Origin labels upheld

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbus ruled July 29 the federal regulation that mandates disclosure of country-of-origin information about meat products could be implemented. 

The plaintiffs in American Meat Institute vs. U.S. Department of Agriculture challenged the 2013 ruling in the district court as violation of both the statue and the First Amendment by requiring it to disclose country-of-origin information to retailers, who will ultimately provide the information to consumers.

The U.S. Congress had passed legislation requiring country-of-origin labels on a variety of foods, including some meat products.  Congress left the definition of country-of-origins definition up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In particular, for meat cuts the amended statue required the three major production steps –where the animal was born, raised and slaughter- along with the country-to-origin of the meat to be defined on the label.

The question before the appeals court judges as it reheard the mandatory country-of-origins labeling case was whether the government can only require disclosures when it purposes to prevent deception or whether it has wider authority that would cover other types of speech. In the final decision, the appeal court favored the second interpretation.

USDA offers sheep industry $1.5m in grant programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced July 28 two new programs to assist the sheep industry with the production and marketing of its products in the U.S.

Through the new "Sheep Production & Marketing Grant Program," approximately $1.5 million in grant funds are now available to assist the sheep industry. Additionally, AMS' existing verification program for small-scale livestock producers will now include opportunities for the grass-fed sheep industry.

"USDA is committed to working with sheep producers as they continue to provide quality products and increase their returns here at home," USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs Ed Avalos said. "The Sheep Production & Marketing Grant Program, as well as inclusion in the USDA grass fed program for small and very small producers, will create new opportunities for growth and innovation within the sheep industry."

Authorized by the 2014 farm bill, the new grant program is designed to strengthen and enhance the production and marketing of sheep and sheep products in the U.S. by improving infrastructure, business and resource development and by supporting innovative approaches to address long-term needs. Through this program, AMS will award grant funds to at least one national entity that is working to strengthen and enhance the production and marketing of sheep and sheep products in the U.S.

Eligible organizations must submit an application for federal assistance and sign a grant agreement via www.grants.gov by Aug. 27. Additional information will be provided on the program's website at www.ams.usda.gov/SPMGP.

The USDA grass fed program was designed as a verification tool for small and very small-scale producers to certify that animals meet the requirements of the grass-fed marketing claim standard. The program was first announced in April for the grass-fed beef industry, and now sheep have been added to the program. For this program, USDA is targeting producers that market lambs produced from flocks of 99 head of ewes or fewer per year. Producers who are certified under the new program will receive certificates that allow them to market their sheep as USDA-certified grass fed, increasing their market value and creating new economic opportunities for these producers. Additional information is available at www.ams.usda.gov/GrassFedSVS.