Daily Archives: February 15, 2006

Ag chief’s take on slaughter

Ag chief’s take on slaughter

He says law comes first; animal-rights groups sue over horse fees

12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, February 15, 2006

By ALLEN PUSEY / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns denied Tuesday that his department tried to derail efforts to curb the slaughter of horses for meat. He said his department has simply been trying to deal with a legal quandary Congress created.

“We were all scratching our heads around here,” Mr. Johanns said of legislation passed last year that cut off federal funding for legally required pre-slaughter horse inspections.

The action affected all three U.S. horse-meat plants: Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth and Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill.

Industry critics had hoped the move would shut down the $41 million-a-year industry that exports horse-meat to Europe, Japan and Mexico. Instead, the Agriculture Department agreed to let the industry pay to continue the inspections.

Mr. Johanns told reporters Tuesday that in allowing the fee-based system, his department was addressing a legal problem: The law still required the inspections, but Congress allotted no money to pay for them.

“On one hand, the legal mandate wasn’t removed. On the other hand, the money was,” Mr. Johanns said.

A legislative report regarding the budget limitation acknowledges that the Agriculture Department is “obliged” to inspect horse-meat for human consumption. Because pre-slaughter inspections are part of the process, the fee-based solution was all but suggested, Mr. Johanns said.

Even so, the department will have to defend its reasoning in court. The Humane Society and other animal-rights groups filed suit Tuesday in federal court in Washington to block the new fee-based system.

The suit charges that the department ignored Congress’ intent, which it says was to end the slaughter of horses for human consumption and bypassed rule-making procedures to make an “end-run” around last year’s legislation.

Mr. Johanns was asked whether Congress should simply outlaw horse slaughter for human consumption if that is its intention.

“I don’t know what Congress will do. I know what we had to do,” he said. “We had to deal with this issue.”

E-mail apusey@dallasnews.com

Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla Warfare

And with rampant antibiotic resistance, we just might be on the losing side

Phil Head
Gateway Student Journalism Society

1945, Sir Alexander Fleming, the biologist responsible for the discovery of penicillin, cautioned the world that if his miracle drug was overused, the bacteria that it was so effective in killing gradually became resistant to it. Since that time, antibiotic resistance has become one of the most important issues facing modern medicine. In the last 60 years, more and more bacterium have become resistant to more and more antibiotics, creating, among other things, “super bugs” that are virtually invincible in relation to some of our most powerful drugs.

Though, as Fleming’s warning demonstrates, resistance has been around as long as antibiotics, the issue has only recently been pushed to the forefront, thanks chiefly to the fact that, in the last while, new antibiotics have become increasingly scarce. Drug companies, wary of the phenomenal amounts of time and money that need to be spent to come up with antibiotics, some of which might only be effective for periods as short as five years due to resistance among bacteria, have focused research on other, more reliable sources of income. As a result, in the past decade, only one or two new classes of antibodies have been developed.

As a result, doctors and scientists are more acutely aware of the place antibiotics have in society, and in particular how we can prevent our relatively small supply from losing its efficacy.

But how does antimicrobial resistance develop in first place? According to Dr Susan Jensen, a professor in the Microbiology department at the U of A, resistance has always been around, in some form or another.

“There are a number of different components to (antibiotic resistance), but often the most troublesome is when the bacterium that you’re trying to kill with the antibiotic has acquired an enzyme that will destroy the antibiotic.”

Scientists believe the presence of the enzyme is an evolutionary holdover from when antibody-producing organisms needed protection from those antibodies. Now, explains Jensen, those enzymes are present in many types of bacterium in nature, and are only increasing as use of antibiotics becomes more prevalent.

“The spread of that type of resistance is aggravated by exposure to antibiotics. The more exposure that these bacteria have to antibiotics, the more they are liable to evolve to pick up these resistant mechanisms, and that’s why we try to keep the use of antibiotics to a minimum, have them used only when its really necessary,” she explains.

One area where the use of antibiotics has become a hot topic is in agriculture: many farmers and ranchers use antibodies to help keep their animals healthy. While most of the public worry with this is fear that humans will be unknowingly ingesting those antibodies—a generally unfounded fear, since withdrawal times are specifically planned to ensure the antibiotics have passed through the animals system before they are sent to slaughter—the real issue is that this animal exposure might be affecting human diseases. In other words, the medicine we give our cows might be making it harder for us to kill bacteria that are harming us.

“When you’re talking about the use of antibiotics in agriculture, the question becomes, is that necessary enough to justify the problem that it may lead to in resistance?” summarizes Jensen of the debate.

Dr Trisha Dowling, a professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, believes that, although supplying low doses of antibiotics in feed provides conditions that promote resistance, the threat to human health is minimal due to the way in which livestock is processed.


Reality hits hard

Reality hits hard

By Kris Ringwall
NDSU Extension Service

DICKINSON, N.D. – The complexity and ramifications of the current processes involved in marketing beef are starting to surface. The calves are doing fine, the beef supply is as healthy as ever, but the paperwork is a mixed bag of yes, no or maybe.

The challenge producers face is concentrating on the ramifications of doing business in an absolute, no-exceptions environment. Know what you are signing. Understand that determining for the life of the calf, the place of birth, the date of birth and the journey the calf walked from birth to slaughter is not going to be taken lightly.

Leave the good ol’ cowboy jokes in the barn. The world is taking on a very serious tone.

One thing just became perfectly clear. The ramifications of wrong, even though well-meaning or misinformed, are still wrong. A name, place and date are quickly attached to any violation for cattle moving through the marketing channels.

No one wants to be singled out and placed in a position of justification after the fact. The scenario usually results in fewer friends at the table.

In the past, producers managed cattle as a herd or pen, and, for the most part, producers have attended educational meetings much as they manage cattle. If the understanding of the group passed, the meeting was successful. After all, producers often rely on other producers to forward along needed information.

Keeping informed isn’t easy

Keeping informed is a struggle, but the struggle is not getting any easier. Most meetings quickly become a set of notes that probably took in most of the meeting. The details come later.

After the recent news of a shipping violation involving beef exported to Japan, I reviewed the notes from one of the many early meetings to help recap what was said and how the process was to work.

In summary, the essence of the meeting says, “QSA requirements set the procedures and requirements for export to Japan. Companies must address 1030J procedure. Packer approval needed, age verification is necessary along with individual identification. The type of identification may be specified by program, but the animals must be traceable to birth date records, e.g., a Dec. 15 harvest date, March 16 birth date required. Beef needs to be traced, period. Cattle must be traceable to individual or group age and source verification. Calves can be carcass verified through A40. Canadian cattle can be enrolled. One-time use ear tags, ISO standards and feedlots can develop their own programs through PVP and QSA programs. Documentation can be simply through the specific EV (Export Verification) for Japan. A40 carcass evaluation is permissible. An affidavit signed by the producer will not meet the requirements. Fabrications not up yet, but will be the next round of audits.” End of notes.

A very typical set of notes, but not enough depth to completely understand the approaching program. Ironically, no questions were asked. An old and alive message is that the world changed.

It is important to keep in mind domestic beef production is alive and well. Not all calves need to be source and age verified now. It is better to wait and do the processes right, rather than punt, sign the forms and hope for a little marketing edge.

The bottom line is to get those calves tagged this spring at birth and write down the date of birth. If not at birth, sometime before marketing, tag the calf with an electronic ID to prepare the calf for market.

For now, grab a good calving book, a good pen, bag of ear tags and applicator, and start tagging. If you don’t have a good calving book, let me know and I will send you one.

May you find all your NAIS-approved ear tags.

Japan Cites Concerns About Mad Cow Audit

Japan Cites Concerns About Mad Cow Audit

AP Food and Farm Writer
Asia Pacific News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Japan is expressing concerns about whether the United States has sufficient safeguards against mad cow disease in slaughterhouses and packing plants.

The concerns were cited in a phone conversation Tuesday between Japan’s agriculture minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

During the call, Nakagawa asked about an audit released earlier this month saying investigators were unable to determine if rules were being followed.

Johanns pointed out the department had agreed to make changes recommended in the audit.

“Actually, we’re in great shape to respond to whatever questions come up by Japan, because we’ve already been there with the inspector general,” Johanns said.

Japan suspended imports of U.S. beef last month after finding a veal shipment containing backbone, considered by Asian officials to be a mad cow disease risk. The cut of veal, a hotel rack, is eaten in the U.S.

In the audit, investigators said they couldn’t find that at-risk tissues – brains, spinal cords and other nerve parts from older animals – had entered the food supply. However, they couldn’t determine whether slaughterhouses and packing plants followed the rules for keeping those tissues out of the food supply.

The audit also raised questions about “downer” cattle, animals that can’t walk on their own and are considered at-risk for mad cow disease. Downer cows were banned from the food supply in response to a 2003 case of mad cow disease.

Sometimes cattle collapse after they have already passed inspection; government inspectors allow those animals into the food supply if they have an acute injury, such as a broken leg, but show no signs of central nervous disorder. Auditors said there was no documentation in at least 20 of these cases.

Japan had only recently reopened its market to U.S. beef, which had been banned since the U.S. confirmed its first case of mad cow disease in December 2003. The U.S. is still investigating what went wrong with the recent shipment to Japan, Johanns said.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, a degenerative nerve disease in cattle that is linked in humans to the rare but fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Retail Food Costs Drop

Retail Food Costs Drop
Fourth-Quarter Prices Down About 3 Percent

By Dan Wright
Daily News Record, Edinburgh, VA

Retail food prices dropped 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005, says the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The Marketbasket Survey of 16 grocery items was $38.83, down $1.13 from the third quarter and down 4 cents from the fourth quarter of 2004.

Some grocery items are more volatile than others, but overall, prices float with market forces, said Steve Burkholder, owner and operator of Broadway Supermarket.

Sugar and flour are commodities subject to market changes, and beef and pork prices change weekly, he explained.

Corn oil posted the largest decrease in price, according to the survey, down 27 cents to $2.67 for a 32-ounce bottle.

Pork chops were down 24 cents to $3.24 per pound, while apples dropped just 2 cents to $1.07 per pound.

About half of the items in the Marketbasket Survey increased in price.

Sirloin tip roast was up 11 cents to $3.65 per pound, while potatoes rose 7 cents to $2.30 per 5-pound bag.

Price Stability

The Marketbasket Survey’s prices have remained stable for the past two years, although the overall price varies from quarter to quarter, said Terry Francl, Farm Bureau senior economist.

Some prices react to current events, said John Garber, manager of Red Front Supermarket in Harrisonburg.

Reports of mad cow disease will bump prices of beef, while storms in Florida and California will lead to a spike in produce prices, analysts say.

“Some things are static,” Garber said. “A 2-liter drink has been a buck or $1.19 for years.”

Last year was the second consecutive year that hurricanes disrupted the fall supply of tomatoes in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

“Tomatoes were close to $50 for a 25-pound box two to three weeks ago,” Burkholder said. “Now, they’re $18 to $20.”

Retail food prices rise more slowly than the general inflation rate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The food industry is intensely competitive and has low profit margins, the department said.

“I’m surprised that grocery prices haven’t been more inflationary, and I guess they will eventually,” Burkholder said. “I think we’re lucky that prices are as stable as they are.”

Contact Dan Wright at 574-6293 or dwright@dnronline.com

Boost for White House over farm bill overhaul

Boost for White House over farm bill overhaul

By Jeremy Grant
in Washington for Financial Times
Published: February 14 2006 23:47

The Bush administration on Tuesday received a boost in its attempts to persuade US farmers to accept a far-reaching overhaul of the farm bill when the chairman of the Senate agriculture committee said it should be reformed to ensure compliance with World Trade Organization rules.

Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia, has been a staunch defender of US government agricultural subsidies, which include trade-distorting counter-cyclical payments in which government support rises as the price of farm commodities falls.

The Bush administration fears such support is open to legal challenge at the WTO after the successful challenge to US cotton subsidies by Brazil last year.

It has been hoping US farmers will agree to cuts in crop subsidies if the US can win expanded market access for its agricultural exports from foreign trading partners, principally the European Union, at the current Doha round trade talks.

However, Mr Chambliss, whose state includes the heavily subsidised cotton, sugar and tobacco industries, said: “Whether we’ve concluded negotiations or not, we’ve got to have programs that we are satisfied are not trade distorting.

“I don’t want to put my farmers at risk. I don’t care whether they are corn farmers in Iowa or wheat farmers in Kansas or cattle farmers in Texas. We don’t [want to] lose in any additional case that may be filed as being … a trade distorting programme under the WTO,” Mr Chambliss told a seminar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

His comments are in contrast to some farm groups, which are still waiting to see what comes out of Doha before considering changes to the farm bill.

Some farm programs could be “tweaked” but others might require “major changes” if deemed trade-distorting, Mr Chambliss said.

His comments come a week after the Bush administration urged Congress to enact some of the deepest cuts in support to farmers in its annual budget proposal. They included a proposal to reduce agricultural commodity support by $2.2bn, or 11 per cent, next year.

Born yesterday — Warm weather ushers in spring livestock ritual

Born yesterday — Warm weather ushers in spring livestock ritual

By ROD DANIEL – Ravalli Republic

More than a few ranchers are taking afternoon naps these days as the spring ritual of livestock bearing begins again in the Bitterroot.

Rod Hudson and his son Tim started calving in late January on the Hyatt Ranch off Tammany Lane and are now busy with the yearly, round-the-clock routine of checking calves. Sleeping in a trailer adjacent to the cow pasture, the father-son team trades off though the night, making sure there are no problems.

“I check ’til about midnight, and Tim checks ’em at 3 a.m.,” the elder Hudson said. “Then I get up at sunrise and check ’em again.”
With about 250 bred cows – mostly black Angus with a few red Angus and Herefords mixed in – the Hudsons don’t try to check the entire herd, rather they focus on the younger bred heifers.

“We’re watching the heifers round the clock, because they’re the ones that are most likely to have problems calving,” he said.

Hudson said his cows probably start calving a little earlier than those of most ranchers in the valley, because he’s aiming for a little older animal at market. And while they’ve already got about 50 calves on the ground, the really busy time is yet to come.

“We’re just now getting in the thick of things,” he said, “February and March are the big months, and by the first part of April we’ll pretty much have it wrapped up.”

After ranching for 30 years, Hudson said calving is his favorite part of the year, despite the loss of sleep. And this year, so far, has been easy because of the milder-than-normal temperatures.

“The weather has been fantastic,” he said. “We had one night of snowing and blowing, but other than that it’s been perfect. You never know what you’re gonna get going into it, and it’s always a challenge. What’s really the worst is when it gets down below zero.”

Cattle ranchers aren’t the only ones busy with animal midwifery this time of year; the valley’s sheep herds are rapidly multiplying as well.