Daily Archives: February 21, 2006

Japan in no rush to buy US beef

Japan in no rush to buy US beef

Mon Feb 20, 1:00 PM ET

Yahoo News

Japan said it was in no rush to resume buying US beef after the United States outlined new precautionary measures it would take to ensure against madcow disease.

“We must not be hasty in dealing with this and we should consider how to handle this issue after carefully analyzing the report,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.

Asked about US demands that its close political ally lift its beef ban, Koizumi said: “It is very difficult. There is a gap between Japan and the United States over the understanding of food safety.”

He was speaking after his farm minister told him that Japan still had “various questions” about US beef following a 475-page US probe into a shipment that led Japan to impose a new ban on imports.

“The content of the report was insufficient for Japan,” Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters after meeting with Koizumi.

“There are many questions and things that we want to confirm. It will take several days to examine the details as we make inquiries,” he said.

Nakagawa said Koizumi responded by saying: “Please work on it thoroughly.”

In the report issued Friday, the United States said that the shipment which broke Japanese safety guidelines was sent due to confusion among US meat inspectors on what could be exported to Japan.

Japan had agreed to examine the report to determine if the same mistake could be repeated.

Japan, which had been the largest overseas market for US beef, initially suspended imports from the United States in 2003 after a case of madcow disease was discovered in a herd in Washington state.

Under intense US pressure, Japan resumed imports in December only to impose a new ban a month later after the objectionable shipment, which violated Japanese rules that risky body parts such as spinal matter be removed.

The United States has apologized for the impounded shipment but called it an isolated case, saying US beef is safe for human consumption.

“This report recommends additional steps that will be taken to tighten and strengthen our enforcement mechanisms,” US ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said as he presented the report Friday.

“We hope that this investigation will assure all our Japanese customers that we take their concerns seriously and intend to honor the agreement we made to open their market to American beef,” he said.

But surveys have shown that most Japanese consumers are hesitant about US beef, perceiving that it is more risky than domestic meat.

Japan is the only Asian nation to have detected madcow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in its own herd. Unlike the United States, Japan tests all cattle to be slaughtered for consumption.

US farms-state senators had demanded trade sanctions against Japan unless it opened up by the end of 2005. The US industry sold Japan 1.7 billion dollars worth of beef in 2002.

Beef prices expected to be stable through most of 2006

Beef prices expected to be stable through most of 2006

By The Associated Press

The price of beef probably won’t change much in 2006, researchers say, unless additional export markets open up.

“We are growing the herd again,” said Dillon Feuz of Scottsbluff, an agricultural marketing specialist. Feuz spoke at a Cornhusker Economies Management and Outlook Conference in Cozad, sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Feuz said U.S. beef cow numbers are up by 1 percent from a year ago, and dairy cow numbers are also up slightly.

He said the current tight supply and larger feedlot capacity created high demand and high prices for feeder calves.

According to the UNL publication “Cornhusker Economics,” 550- to 600-pound feeder steers sold for an average of $126.16 a hundredweight a year ago, and $140.88 on Jan. 27.

Feuz said feeder calf prices will stay high in 2006, but probably drop to $120 by the fourth quarter.

Heifer replacements are up 4 percent in the past year, Feuz said, which is another demand for calves. And as calf numbers increase in the next year or two, prices can be expected to drop.

Feuz said prices could be lower in 2007 “particularly if we don’t gain enough export markets to offset that (increased) production.”

He also said U.S. inventory of hogs and pigs has grown steadily since 1998, and pork gained markets lost by U.S. beef.

Forecasts of higher pig crops mean prices could average 10 percent lower or more in 2006.

Feuz also reported that poultry producers are expanding production at a cheaper price, making the markets a little more difficult for beef and pork.

Recovery of export markets is still a big unknown for 2006, and more access to these markets, especially Japan, would be good for beef, Feuz said.

At peak sales, foreign buyers purchased 10 to 12 percent of the U.S. beef production. Japan bought one-third of that.

Kentucky vies for bioterrorism lab

Kentucky vies for bioterrorism lab

State joins forces with Tennessee to put facility in Pulaski

By John Stamper, Greg Kocher And Bill Estep


FRANKFORT – Political and academic leaders in Kentucky and Tennessee will jointly compete against other states for a $451 million federal bioterrorism research lab in rural Pulaski County, U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers announced yesterday.

About 400 workers, including more than 200 highly paid scientists, would study some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens in the planned 500,000-square-foot lab, said Rogers, a Somerset Republican.

“This is an effort that could literally change the economic landscape of the region,” Rogers said in a morning news conference attended by political and academic leaders, including Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

With a Biosafety Level 4 designation — the nation’s highest — the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will join a handful of other labs equipped to research bioterrorist threats, foreign animal diseases and other emerging public health threats.

Such facilities have been controversial in other parts of the country, where opponents have questioned the safety to both humans and animals should any of the diseases being studied escape from the laboratories.

While officials say there has never been an accident at such a facility, watchdog groups disagree, alleging that the government does not report them to the public.

The lab will not develop offensive bioweapons, said Rogers, who chairs the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rather, researchers will work to create vaccines and treatments for viruses that might be unleashed, purposefully or by accident, on the nation through its food supply. Such pathogens include Ebola, foot and mouth disease and the Hendra virus. (See glossary at right.)

The average salary of workers at the proposed 150-acre compound would be about $74,000, which would create $1.5 million in state income tax revenue each year, said Stan Cave, chief of staff for an ailing Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was in the hospital and couldn’t attend the announcement.

Rogers said the lab would be a magnet for scientists and technicians from around the world.

The proposed site, owned by real estate appraiser Brook Ping, sits in the sparsely populated Mark-Welborn community about 12 miles northeast of Somerset, off a narrow road named Fish Trap.

The Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation has an option to buy the land for $2,600 an acre, or $390,000, said Carroll Estes, executive director of the group.

Ping said he had signed an option to buy the proposed lab site before the local economic-development authority approached him about possibly selling it.

Local officials, who were briefed by Rogers on Friday, promised yesterday to marshal support for the project through a series of public meetings.

Nearby dairy farmer Steve Wall, 34, will need some convincing. His Milky Way Dairy is less than a mile from the proposed site.

Wall said Pulaski County needs more good paying jobs, but he worries that the facility might have harmful effects on his family or dairy herd.

“I’ve got my concerns just like any normal human being would. We’ve all got our little herds, and we don’t want anything to happen to them.”


FDA urged to ban carbon-monoxide-treated meat

FDA urged to ban carbon-monoxide-treated meat

From The Northwest Herald

WASHINGTON – Picture two steaks on a grocer’s shelf, each hermetically sealed in clear plastic wrap. One is bright pink, rimmed with a crescent of pearly white fat. The other is brown, its fat the color of a smoker’s teeth.

Which do you reach for?

The meat industry knows the answer, which is why it quietly has begun to spike meat packages with carbon monoxide.

The gas, harmless to health at the levels being used, gives meat a bright pink color that lasts weeks. The hope is that it will save the industry much of the $1 billion it says it loses annually from having to discount or discard meat that is reasonably fresh and perfectly safe but no longer pretty.

But the growing use of carbon monoxide as a “pigment fixative” is alarming consumer advocates and others who say it deceives shoppers who depend on color to help them avoid spoiled meat. Those critics are challenging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the nation’s powerful meat industry, saying the agency violated its own rules by allowing the practice without a formal evaluation of its impact on consumer safety.

“This meat stays red and stays red and stays red,” said Don Berdahl, vice president and laboratory director at Kalsec Foods in Kalamazoo, Mich., a maker of natural food extracts that has petitioned the FDA to ban the practice.

If nothing else, Berdahl and others say, carbon-monoxide-treated meat should be labeled so consumers will know not to trust their eyes.

The legal offensive has the meat industry seeing red. Officials deny their foes’ claim that carbon monoxide is a “colorant” – a category that would require a full FDA review – saying it helps meat retain its naturally red color.

Besides, industry representatives say, color is a poor indicator of freshness as meat turns brown from exposure to oxygen long before it goes bad.

“When a product reaches the point of spoilage, there will be other signs that will be evidenced – for example odor, slime formation and a bulging package – so the product will not smell or look right,” said Ann Boeckman, a lawyer with the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson. It represents Precept Foods LLC, a joint venture between Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. and Hormel Foods Corp. that helped pioneer the technology.

Much is at stake. The U.S. market in “case ready” meats – those packaged immediately after slaughter, eliminating the need for butchers at grocery stores – is approaching $10 billion and growing, said Steve Kay, of Cattle Buyers Weekly, which tracks the industry from Petaluma, Calif. Tyson Foods, for example – one of three meat packagers that has received a green light from the FDA to use carbon monoxide – just opened a $100 million plant in Texas to churn out more case-ready “modified atmosphere” packaged meats, Kay said.

The Washington Post


Tiny devices to feed advances in food safety and quality

Tiny devices to feed advances in food safety and quality


Laboratory testing of agricultural produce in the wake of the food scares of the 1990s has made the food on European dinner tables safer than ever before. But, say a team of researchers, an even better job could be done by taking the laboratory to the farm, slaughter house or processing plant.

The GoodFood project aims to do just that by using micro and nanotechnology to develop portable devices to detect toxins, pathogens and chemicals in foodstuffs on the spot. Food samples would no longer have to be sent to a laboratory for tests – a comparatively lengthy and costly procedure – but could be analysed for safety and quality at the farm, during transport or storage, in a processing or packaging centre or even in a supermarket.

“The aim is to achieve full safety and quality assurance along the complete food chain,” explains Carles Cané, the coordinator of the IST programme-funded project at the National Microelectronics Centre in Spain.

Sensors used for screening

The tiny biomechanical and microelectronic sensors can be used to screen for virtually any pathogen or toxin in any produce, although the project partners are focusing their research on quality and safety analysis for dairy goods, fruit and wine.

For the dairy sector they are developing a device based on a fluorescent optical biosensor that measures the reaction of a probe coated with antibodies when it comes into contact with antibiotics present in milk or other dairy products. Though the use of antibiotics as growth enhancers is prohibited in dairy cattle in Europe, farmers are permitted to employ them to treat ailments affecting individual animals. These can enter the milk and could prove harmful to consumers – especially if they end up in baby food – by creating cumulative resistance to antibiotic treatments.

Checking milk for antibiotic residues is typically carried out with a non-reusable litmus paper testing kit. An electronic device of the kind being developed by GoodFood would make the tests faster, cheaper and more accurate.

The same would be true, the project partners say, if a microelectronic device is used to detect pathogens such as salmonella and listeria bacteria in milk, cheese and other dairy products. The partners are therefore also developing a device using DNA biochips to detect pathogens – a technique that could also be applied to determine the presence of different kinds of harmful bacteria in meat or fish, or fungi affecting fruit. Other sensors based on an immunodiagnostic microarray will be developed to identify pesticides on fruit and vegetables.

To date detecting the presence of bacteria or pesticides in different foodstuffs has only been possible by sending samples, usually selected at random, to a laboratory and waiting hours or even days for the results. A portable device would not only accelerate the testing procedure, but would allow more tests to be carried out on more produce samples, increasing the overall safety of the food.

Improving quality as well as safety

Improving food safety is not the only goal of the project, however, which is also planning to use micro- and nano-sensors to increase food quality, with evident benefits not just for consumers but also farmers and processors.

Sensors that measure the quantity of oxygen and ethylene – a gas produced by fruit as it ripens – in fridges where unripe fruit is stored for months until it is ready to go on sale would give suppliers greater control over how well the produce is being maintained. Employed on the farm, sensors to measure environmental and climatic conditions would give farmers important information about their crops, especially when the sensors are connected wirelessly to an analysis system.

This and other systems developed by the project are being tested over the course of this year at a vineyard near Florence in Italy where the grapes due to be harvested in September will have grown under the watchful eye of the GoodFood sensors.

“Wine making is a precise art and a difference of a few days in when the grapes are picked can make a huge difference in the quality of the wine,” the coordinator notes.

With the GoodFood system, the Florence vineyard owner can look forward to 2006 being an excellent vintage. In the future other farmers, processors and consumers will also benefit from better and safer food, with Cané expecting the project’s research to lead to commercial systems, initially for testing and monitoring more expensive foodstuffs such as wine and baby food and eventually for other produce.

New cases of foot-and-mouth in Brazil

New cases of foot-and-mouth in Brazil


Six new cases of foot-and-mouth disease were confirmed in the southern state of Parana, Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry said yesterday.

The first case in Parana was confirmed on December 6.

The new cases concerned an estimated 4,500 animals in herds on six farms in the districts of Bela Vista do Paraiso, Grandes Rios, Maringa and Loanda.

The ministry ordered the animals to be slaughtered.

“These cases occured on farms which had already been banned by the state veterinary service,” the Secretary of Animal Protection Gabriel Alves Maciel said in a statement.

More than 55 countries have curbed meat imports from Brazil since the first outbreak of the highly infectious disease in Brazil’s main cattle state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which borders Parana, on October 10.

Senate bill would give USDA more authority over livestock

Senate bill would give USDA more authority over livestock

by Pete Hisey on 2/21/2006 for Meatingplace.com

Canadian Cattleman’s Association
The Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act of 2006, introduced by Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and Wyoming Republican Sens. Mike Enzi and Craig Thomas, would shift responsibility for the enforcement of the Packers and Stockyard Act from the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to USDA.

The proposed legislation is in response to a recent Inspector General report criticizing GIPSA for inflating the number of investigations it conducts and its lax supervision of the livestock industry, where four companies control over 80 percent of live cattle and another four control nearly two-thirds of the live hog industry.

The bill would also create a special counsel, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, who would investigate alleged violations of the Packers and Stockyard Act, and give USDA more authority over the act’s applicability to the poultry industry.