A recent fire at a large Kansas beef processor has boosted margins for other processors. The Tyson Foods facility in Holcomb, Kansas, represents about five percent of the U.S. daily slaughter, or roughly 6,000 head of cattle.
The fire has closed the facility indefinitely as Tyson makes repairs. Reuters says the fire spiked margins for packers, such as Tyson, Cargill and JBS USA to $344 per head of cattle slaughtered, up from $153 the week before the fire. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association responded last week sending letters to federal watchdogs and agencies urging them to assist the market and closely monitor sales.
In order to compensate for the loss of capacity at Holcomb, NCBA says major packing plants in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa, would need to slaughter 8.2 percent more cattle per week, or run 3.3 more hours per week. Department of Agriculture undersecretary Greg Ibach says that “as the cattle industry adjusts, USDA stands ready to assist our customers however we can.”
Tyson, one of the country’s largest meatpackers, is petitioning the Trump administration to reduce the number of government inspectors at a Kansas beef plant — a proposal that has raised alarms among some consumer and food safety advocates, who fear the changes could jeopardize public health.
In the request, Tyson Fresh Meats proposes using its own employees, rather than independent Department of Agriculture inspectors, to take a first look at the meat being prepared at its factory in Holcomb, Kansas. Tyson’s employees would identify unsuitable beef carcasses and trim away defects, before USDA inspectors check every carcass that is allowed to go forward for disease and contamination, Tyson said in its March waiver proposal, which was obtained by the advocacy group Food and Water Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request. The shift would allow Tyson to speed up its factory line.
The USDA is considering Tyson’s request — the first of its kind for a beef plant — as part of a broader overhaul of beef inspections that aims to shift quality control from government inspectors to factory workers, while focusing the USDA’s attention on more targeted safety checks.
“We have to utilize our resources in order to do those tasks that have a direct impact on public health,” Carmen Rottenberg, administrator for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said.
Consumer advocates warn that the changes could threaten food safety by keeping red flags out of the sight of expert inspectors. Dr. Pat Basu, the USDA’s former chief veterinarian, said that Tyson factory workers without adequate training might miss critical signs of disease, drug injections or bacterial contamination — and remove the evidence before USDA inspectors can examine the carcasses.
“They are bypassing safeguards,” Basu, who retired from the USDA in early 2018, said. “It could be devastating for the whole country — you cannot turn it over.”
Tyson’s request comes as the Trump administration is finalizing a similar overhaul for pork plants, which will allow them to reduce the number of USDA inspectors by having factory workers take over more quality control tasks.
James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform, believes the USDA’s efforts are the latest example of federal agencies “moving forward further and further towards industry-led oversight.” Industries play a significant role in the routine work performed by many regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, which has manufacturers test new drugs, then send the results to the government for approval. But Goodwin warns that the hazards of the broader shift are clear, pointing to the Federal Aviation Administration’s practice of delegating critical safety assessments of planes to the airline industry — a policy that’s now under investigation in the case of the fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes.
Tyson declined to answer specific questions, but emphasized that the company was “proactive” in working with USDA officials to alter the inspection process.
“Tyson Foods is committed to ensuring a safe work environment for our team members, food safety for our consumers, and responsible care and treatment for animals in our supply chain,” the company said in a statement.
The company is currently rebuilding the Holcomb plant, which stopped production last week after being damaged in a fire.
A decision made behind closed doors
The USDA has been testing these changes in pork and poultry plants since the late 1990s, through pilot programs based on extensive public input.
But the administration isn’t planning to create a formal pilot program to overhaul beef inspections, which in the past has created opportunities for public comment. Instead, USDA officials said they would rely on individual company requests like Tyson’s to inform the agency’s next steps, praising the industry’s role in driving innovation.
“If you have an interest in waiving the regulation to test a new technology or approach, then we’re happy to consider that,” Rottenberg said.
Food safety advocates have slammed the USDA for making such decisions behind closed doors, without public input. The agency has privately met with beef industry representatives at least six times since May 2018, according to public calendar records. Tyson, which attended two of those meetings, spent more on lobbying and campaign contributions than almost any other meatpacking company in 2018, according to data from OpenSecrets.org.
The USDA has regularly used waivers to make changes to the meat inspection process, including a 2018 move that allowed poultry plants to request permission to speed up their production lines. “We have found that the waiver process is the best way to gather data for potential rulemaking” that the agency might not otherwise have access to, the USDA told NBC News in a statement last week.
“The waiver process is designed to keep the process secret,” Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for Food and Water Watch, said. “Why have regulations if there are innumerable attempts to circumvent them, and an agency that is more than willing to go along with industry schemes?”
One former USDA official cautioned the administration against approving Tyson’s request without careful scrutiny.
LINCOLN, NEB. – Katie Nolles of Bassett, Neb., recently wrapped up a summer in Washington D.C. as the most recent recipient of the Keith R. Olsen Agricultural Policy Internship Award.
Nolles is a member of the Rock County Farm Bureau and is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in Agricultural Education. The Olsen Internship Award enabled her to intern in Congressman Adrian Smith’s office in Washington, D.C., this summer. The monetary award helped cover Nolles’ living and housing expenses.
“I was truly able to observe and be involved with all aspects of working on Capitol Hill. I loved learning about all of the moving pieces that go into making policy happen, applying what I learned in all of my coursework, and connecting with fellow constituents,” Nolles said Aug. 5.
Noells described her experience in Washington D.C. as a dream internship since her early teenage years. Admittedly, life in D.C. and working on Capitol Hill was an adjustment since she comes from a town of 600 people. But everyone was so helpful.
“Visiting with interns from offices across the country, I quickly found out how fortunate I was to have interned in an office where I got to visit with Congressman Smith regularly, where the staff trusted me with projects, and where my values aligned,” Nolles said.
Nolles said her internship has given her valuable insight and understanding of the federal legislative process that she will utilize in her future teaching career. She is minoring in Leadership-Entrepreneurship through the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program and Nebraska Beef Industry Scholars.
“A question that I have been asked frequently since accepting the internship is, ‘Wait, if you want to be a teacher, why are you working in politics?’ I am fortunate that global awareness and understanding of government and democracy was instilled in me from a young age, but many youth don’t understand these concepts. As a future teacher, I am excited to share my experiences with students while teaching them to analyze issues and how policy affects agriculture,” she said.
She is thankful for the Nebraska Farm Bureau’s support and recommends that any student members who are interested in agriculture policy to apply for the Keith R. Olsen Agricultural Policy Internship Award and experience Capitol Hill first-hand.
“Last fall, when I took AECN 345, an agriculture policy course, with Dr. Brad Lubben. I enthusiastically absorbed any information that was shared in his class, and met all of the guest speakers who shared their careers relating to ag policy. When Jordan Dux spoke to our class, I knew that I wanted to receive the Olsen Award. Finding a paid internship in D.C. is a challenge in itself. While I did receive payment for my internship, it was incredibly helpful to receive this award to help fund housing and living expenses. Especially as I student teach this semester and cannot work, I am so grateful to have Nebraska Farm Bureau supporting my growth and alleviating some financial burden, so that I can focus on doing my best work.” Nolles said.
The Keith R. Olsen Agricultural Policy Internship Award was established in 2011 by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation to honor Olsen, who served as Farm Bureau president from 2002-2011 and on the board of directors for nearly 20 years. Olsen had emphasized creating opportunities in agriculture for young people during his years with the organization.
The award provides up to $3,000 to a UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources junior or senior to work as an intern in a Nebraska Congressional office, a Congressional Committee or approved agricultural organization.
For more information, please contact Dr. Brad Lubben at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-472-2235.
Denver, CO– Herd expansion, export markets, corn crop expectations and swine fever ramifications are among the factors that will have an impact on the upcoming U.S. cattle market, Randy Blach, CEO of CattleFax, told more than 700 attendees of the 2019 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting near Denver July 30, 2019. Blach was keynote speaker at the Opening General Session of the meeting, a gathering for leaders of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Cattlemen’s Beef Board, American National CattleWomen and National Cattlemen’s Foundation.
Blach told the group that U.S. cattle herd expansion had slowed to a crawl, with the lion’s share of growth behind the industry. That slowing had been expected, he said. Record beef, pork and poultry supplies are having an impact on the market. For that reason and with record meat consumption expected next year, it’s critical for export markets to be opened and trade policy questions to be answered, he said.
However, consumers have responded well to the increased quality of beef production in this country, Blach said. There has been a 50 percent increase in prime and choice production over the past 15 years, and 80 percent of U.S. beef is now Prime and Choice. Beef has captured an additional 7 percent of market share of meat spending from poultry and pork. “It’s a great, great success story,” Blach said. “We have to continue to be the highest quality protein provider, delivering products we can stand behind that consumers love.”
Blach pointed out that the average consumer works only 12 minutes to be able to pay for one pound of high quality Choice beef. “That’s a bargain,” he said.
Corn crop uncertainty centered around the number of acres planted and yield potential is also of concern, as the impact of wet weather in grain producing segments of the country will be unknown until the middle of August, Blach said. Furthermore, ramifications of swine fever in China will add some unknowns to the equation. “We’re looking at a lot of volatility as a result of what’s happening in that part of the world,” he said.
“We have to remember that only 4 percent of the world’s consumers live in this country,” Blach added. “Currently 14 percent of beef and beef by products are exported. More than 20 percent of the value of every fed steer is generated by exports. We need to have more outlets for not only our beef, but our poultry and pork.”
Blach said that while an economic recession could have some serious repercussions on the beef cattle industry, the bottom line for producers is profitability, which in general the industry has seen in recent history. “If we’re not profitable, we’re not sustainable,” he said. “I do believe we’re going to stay profitable as we go through this cycle.”
Blach’s comments reflected information shared with CattleFax members in a Long Term Outlook produced last week. The Outlook provides an up-to-date look at the factors influencing the U.S. cattle market and its producers.
The Summer Business Meeting gives industry leaders a chance to meet and discuss the direction of programs for 2020. Beef Checkoff committees made up of members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and directors on the NCBA Federation Division meet to assess authorization requests submitted by checkoff contractors, submitting their suggestions to the Beef Promotion Operating Committee, which meets in September. The BPOC will develop a plan and budget and submit its recommendation to the full Beef Board for authorization. The 2020 program must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before it can begin Oct. 1, 2019.
Meanwhile, NCBA policy committees meet to develop a game plan for the organization’s efforts to support and protect the U.S. cattle industry in Washington, D.C. and across the country beginning in January of 2020. These include livestock marketing; federal lands; agriculture and food policy; cattle health and well-being; property rights and environmental management and international trade.
ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Milk Producers Federation today marked the one-year anniversary of then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s famous observation that “almonds don’t lactate” by reminding the agency it still has not resolved the issue and that citizens who heeded its call for comments with thoughtful responses deserve answers.
“An almond doesn’t lactate, I must confess,” Gottlieb said last July 17, admitting that FDA has been lax in enforcing its own rules on the use of dairy terms on products containing no dairy ingredients. “Have we been enforcing our standard of identity? The answer is, probably not,” he said, while pledging agency action in “something close to a year.”
“FDA’s longstanding inaction on enforcing its own standards of identity is perpetuating the marketing of products using milk and dairy terms when those products don’t match the nutritional content of the dairy products they are imitating,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “Dairy farmers have never called for bans on fake-food competitors, nor have they called for market censorship. They do want the FDA to enforce its own rules defining what a product is and what it isn’t, in keeping with similar standards enforced in other countries around the globe. The clock is still ticking. We are not going away.”
The FDA in January concluded a comment period exploring the issue of consumer confusion regarding the nutritional content of dairy products versus plant-based imitators, with organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics offering evidence of nutritional deficiencies caused by confusion over the contents of plant-based versus dairy beverages while dairy’s detractors submitted thousands of off-topic creeds. After carefully considering comments and noting consumer survey data that clearly demonstrates confusion over nutrition, NMPF in Februaryreleased its own road map offering solutions to how public health, product integrity and free speech could be protected through updated regulations. That Citizen Petition is currently open for comment.
NMPF also supports the DAIRY PRIDE Act, a potential legislative prod for FDA action.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) today sent a letter signed by 39 of its state affiliates to U.S. Senate and House leaders urging them to support the swift ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is NCBA’s latest salvo in the battle to build support for USMCA ratification, coming less than two weeks after the group launched a new media campaign to push the accord.
“American cattle producers need to maintain our unrestricted, duty-free access to markets in Canada and Mexico, and that’s exactly what USMCA would guarantee us,” said NCBA President Jennifer Houston. “Jeopardizing that access by having Congress not take action on USMCA is simply not an option for us.”
In addition to calling on Congress to quickly ratify USMCA, the letter also encouraged the Capitol Hill leaders to oppose efforts to re-instate failed policies of the past, such as mandatory country-of-origin labeling, or MCOOL.
“MCOOL was U.S. law for six years until it was repealed by Congress in 2015 to avoid $1 billion of retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico that were sanctioned by the World Trade Organization (WTO),” the letter says. “The truth is MCOOL cost the U.S. beef industry hundreds of millions of dollars to implement, and the vast majority of consumers never paid attention to it. Our industry has suffered enough with this bad idea and we do not need to relive the sins of the past.”