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Two groups seeking a more competitive edge for marketing American meat and dairy are petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change its 2005 policy that allows “deceptive” labeling as a “Product of the USA.”

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) received a petition on June 18 from the Organization for Competitive Markets and American Grassfed Association. Originally, the comment period for the petition was set to close Aug. 14.

“However, the petition has generated significant interest from stakeholders, and on Aug. 14, FSIS received a request to extend the comment period. Therefore, FSIS is extending the comment period for an additional 30 days,” the agency announced in mid-August.

Guidelines

The FSIS 2005 policy guidebook defines what can be labeled as “Product of the USA.” 

“Labeling may bear the phrase ‘Product of USA’ under one of the following conditions,” according to the handbook, “if the country to which the product is exported requires this phrase, and the product is processed in the U.S. or the product is processed in the U.S.”

Consumers are demanding more information about where there food comes from, according to the two organizations’ petition.

“Consumers place a higher value on food that is local, regional and from the United States,” the petition states. “For U.S. consumers, the current labeling practice can lead to the disguising of the true origin of meat and meat products and allows foreign interests and multi-national corporations to take advantage of increased U.S. market opportunities.”

Deceptive labels

Further, this current labeling policy “allows for deceptive and misleading labeling of foreign imported meat and meat products,” the petition states. 

“As outlined in the FSIS Policy Book, meat products may be labeled ‘Product of USA’ if ‘the product is processed in the U.S.’ With a lack of clarity in the definition of ‘processing,’ the current policy allows foreign meat to be imported into the United States and bear the label ‘Product of USA’ if it passes through a USDA-inspected plant,” the petition states. “The current language must be clarified.”

The petition argues other federal statutes prohibit “this misleading labeling and practices.”

Organizational backing

Consumers’ ability to identify domestic meat they want to purchase is harmed, it adds, as are American farmers and ranchers. 

The Organization for Competitive Markets was instrumental in passing mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in 2002, and it continues to advocate for “truth in labeling.”

The American Grassfed Association (AGA) is a leading organization for development of grassfed meat, dairy and pastured pork production and market development, the petition continues.

AGA pushed USDA to develop a legal definition for “grassfed,” and when it did in 2006, AGA’s certification program introduced its own “more stringent standard” in 2009.

Changes

Together, the two groups are petitioning to have the second paragraph of the FSIS 2005 policy changed to read, “If it can be determined that significant ingredients having a bearing on consumer preference such as meat, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, etc., are of domestic origin, minor ingredients such as spices and flavorings not included. In this case, the labels should be approved with the understanding that such ingredients are of domestic origin.”

This language would restore the 1985 FSIS policy memo that was canceled by the existing 2005 policy, according to the petition. It also claims that FSIS, being the primary agency for policies and regulations about labeling meat and meat products, has the legal basis to grant the petition.

Consumer preferences

The petition cites research showing consumers’ preferences for country of original labeling. As far back as 2003, consumer surveys stated their preferences for meat with its country of origin on a label.

A 2010 poll showed 93 percent surveyed want meat to have country of origin labels and a majority feels that the original countries’ name should be meat from animals brought into the U.S. In 2011, researchers concluded “the origin of beef was a ‘deciding factor’ when purchasing beef steaks.”

The petition also argues that in addition to harming consumers, “One of the biggest threats to America’s family farmers and independent ranchers who are losing out, as well.”

The petition asserts, “One of the biggest threats to America’s family farmers and independent ranchers is lax importation regulations” that allow imported meat and products to pass through a USDA-inspected plant and “come out on the other side of the plant bearing the brand ‘Product of U.S.A.’”

Joy Ufford is editor of the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner and a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A new loan program released by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) last fall is unique from anything the agency has previously offered, as it doesn’t require a producer be denied at a commercial bank for qualification.
The Conservation Loan (CL) Program is aimed at helping producers pay for projects that enhance conservation on their land, and it does require that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) approve the proposed project.
“Going back to the agency’s beginning in the 1930s, this is the first time we’ve been able to make a loan without that producer first having to go get denied at a bank,” says FSA Farm Loan Programs Marketing Coordinator Brian Harrell. “That’s strictly because it’s for conservation purposes. For those conservation practices that are approved, we can make the loan whether they can get a commercial loan or not, and that’s a big piece of this new program.”
“The basic intent of the program is to provide financing to farmers and ranchers for the promotion of conservation practices,” adds Harrell, explaining the partnership with their sister agency.
The new loan rate effective March 1 is 4.875 percent, and loans can be made up to a 20-year term if they’re secured by real estate. The maximum loan amount under the direct loan program is $300,000, and Harrell says the agency can also guarantee conservation loans from a bank up to a maximum of $1,119,000.
“They have streamlined the application. If you meet the qualifications, are current on all payments to all credits, have a debt to asset ratio of 40 to 60 percent and net worth three times what you request on the loan, I’d make a loan,” says FSA Farm Loan Officer Bill Morrison, who serves Hot Springs, Washakie and the southern portion of Big Horn County. “You don’t have to have anything else if you meet those qualifications.”
According to the loan program fact sheet, “For those applicants with a strong financial position, paperwork requirements can be significantly reduced. The streamlined application process reduces paperwork for applicants, lenders and FSA staff by eliminating the requirement to provide a cash flow statement and its supplementary documentation. To submit a streamlined CL application, the applicant must: be cur- rent on payments to all creditors; have a debt-to-asset ratio of 40 percent or less; have a minimum Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) score of 700; have a net worth of at least three times the loan amount; and not have received FSA primary loan servicing within the past five years.”
Harrell says he thinks FSA decided to shift gears with the eligibility on this new loan program because of the mutual benefit that’s derived from promoting conservation practices.
“We’ve always been in a position where we don’t want to compete with commercial lenders,” Harrell says. “We’ve always required applicants to first try to obtain financing through commercial sources, but I think they waived that requirement on this loan because of the benefit derived for everyone through conservation of water, soil, etc.”
“We used to be the lender of last resort, and now we’re the lender of first opportunity,” says Morrison.
Because the program is still relatively new, Harrell says he has had inquiries but no official applications have been received.
“There are a few people in my area I’m working with to discuss what they want to do, because producers first need to work with NRCS to get their conservation practice approved,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a two-step process – getting the conservation practice or measure approved, and then coming to us for the financing.”
Harrell says in his area around Riverton he would expect to see producers apply for the conservation loan to help with financing a center pivot irrigation system or other strategies for water conservation.
“Producers can get considerable cost sharing for center pivots with the NRCS office – even up to 60 or 70 percent cost share – and we could finance the other 30 or 40 percent with favorable rates and terms because the project is for conservation,” he notes.
Of conservation practices that might be implemented, the loan fact sheet suggests, “Conservation Loan funds can be used to implement a conservation practice approved by the NRCS, such as to reducing soil erosion, improving water quality and promoting sustainable and organic agricultural practices. This would include installation of conservation structures; establishment of forest cover; installation of water conservation measures; establishment or improvement of permanent pastures; transitioning to organic production; manure management, including manure digestion systems; adaptation of other emerging or existing conservation practices, techniques or technologies.”
“It’s pretty much open to anything approved by NRCS, and that will vary from region to region, state to state and even within our state,” says Harrell.
“If you’re doing an EQIP project – and some are 75 percent cost share – I could finance 100 percent, and once the project’s complete the cost share would pay off 75 percent and you’d have a loan on the remaining 25 percent,” says Morrison.
“I’m pretty sure a large percentage of producers are unaware we can make this loan to them, even though they may be larger and stronger financially than the clients we traditionally work with,” says Harrell.
“This is a program that’s exciting for us because of the expanded eligibility, and that it can be beneficial across the board,” he adds.
For more information and eligibility requirements, visit your local FSA office or fsa.usda.gov. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

After nearly two weeks of being closed, the impact of federal government shutdown continues to affect agriculture producers across the country. 

One of the major impacts of the shutdown is the lack of data being released by USDA.

“Livestock producers, packers and end users are trying to adjust now that all of the USDA market reporting they had come to depend upon has stopped,” commented CME Group on Oct. 4. 

The result, they continue, is that packers are working closely with producers and customers to establish the parameters of pricing product that in the past was done on a formula basis.

“Price discovery has always been challenging,” added CME Group. “In recent years, however, thanks to congressional mandates and the expansion of USDA’s ability to collect market information, price discovery for many participants became almost costless, sometimes an afterthought.”

Missing reports

Included in the reports that have been postponed are September’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report and production and price summary data.

Other reports that will not be released include the October Crop Report. 

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture notes that market analysts heavily rely on the October Crop Report.uDespite the shutdown of the majority of USDA’s services, the Mandatory Price Reporting Datamart is still operative and available at mpr.datamart.ams.usda.gov.

Though new information is not available on the site, historic data is still accessible through Sept. 27.

Farm bill

In the midst of the closure, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) continues its push to resolve the Farm Bill. Especially in the wake of recent natural disasters, NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kristina Butts noted that the Farm Bill is incredibly important now. 

Recent natural disasters, Butts says, such as last year’s droughts, fires, floods and most recently early and destructive snow storms in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, have illustrated the need for disaster assistance provisions for farmers and ranchers. 

The 2008 Farm Bill, which was temporarily extended, included disaster assistance provisions but only for four years, so producers affected by these recent disasters are left with considerable uncertainty.

Though the shutdown is hampering lobbying efforts of NCBA, they continue to push for their additional goals of border security, labor and immigration reform.

NASDA reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has floated the idea of attaching the Farm Bill to a broader budget discussion. 

Despite the shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner (R - Ohio) could appoint conferees to negotiate the House and Senate Farm Bills soon. The Senate is heavily pressuring Boehner to appoint conferees. 

State impacts

In addition to impacts through agriculture, the state of Wyoming required that 233 federally funded employees were placed on furlough, effective Oct. 7.

“It is not easy for me to write today,” Govenor Matt Mead wrote in a letter to those individuals.  “I know there has been great uncertainty for you since the federal shutdown began on Tuesday.  It is a troubling time, and while I cannot change the situation – only Congress and the President can do that – I do hope the situation is resolved soon.”

Wyoming employs 9,867 individuals and of those, 1,600 positions are funded in whole or in part by federal funds. 

The 233 employees immediately impacted are paid with funds not available without a federal budget on Oct. 1. The number of employees subject to furlough may grow if the federal shutdown continues past Oct. 30.

The Departments of Environmental Quality, Family Services, the Military and Parks and Cultural Resources employ the 233 individuals. The furlough impact on each employee will vary depending on the salary percentage of federal funds to other funds, including state general funds. 

In a letter to the affected employees, Mead noted that it is a difficult time, and the action was difficult to take.  He and his staff explored all options, but found that state and federal law required the furloughs of employees.  

“The state cannot pay for all federally funded positions. However, the state is trying to take the best path forward,” Mead wrote. 

Mead has authorized employees to use accrued annual leave, if they choose to do so. They are eligible for unemployment insurance.

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article.

Slater – In a decision made by the Obama administration in early July, Gregor Goertz of Slater has been named the new State Executive Director for Wyoming’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
    Goertz, an organic wheat and natural beef producer in Platte County, says the appointment will be a major change to his and his operation’s everyday life. With the state FSA office in Casper, Goertz says he plans on commuting some and he also hopes travel the state to get a good handle on how agriculture is doing and how the agency is serving the industry.
    “My goal is to make sure the producers of Wyoming are served in a friendly atmosphere and receive all the benefits of the programs passed by Congress that are available to them,” he explains.
    FSA, which is overseen by USDA, works to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural Americans. Some of the agency’s efforts include facilitating income support, disaster assistance and conservation programs, providing operating loans for the procurement of farm equipment, seed and fertilizer, as well as offering ownership loans to help new and veteran producers purchase a farm.
    Goertz says he sees the lack of an adequate budget to adequately staff and administer programs as one of the biggest challenges to FSA. Goertz’s main responsibility will be to oversee the state office and give direction and guidance to county committees.
    “These individuals have a solid understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our rural communities and will help build on the Obama Administration’s efforts to rebuild and revitalize rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement after the announcement of appointees.
    Goertz already served on the Wyoming FSA State Executive Committee from 1995 through 2004 under both President Clinton and President Bush. He served a term as Platte County Commissioner from 1987 through 1990, as well as several other community boards, including Chairman of the Slater Wind Association and the Wyoming Wheat Growers Board of Directors.
    “I’m also involved in renewable energy and our family owns and direct-markets Wyoming Pure Natural Beef, so I have some idea of the requirements of value-added and sustainable agriculture,” says Goertz. “I feel that, being a producer with those experiences, I will be sensitive to the needs and challenges faced by producers.”
    His position as State Executive Director will also require trips to Washington, D.C. “In those trips I’ll have the opportunity to work with the headquarters staff and let them know how things work in the field and how they affect the producers. Being a producer, I have a first-hand knowledge of that,” he says.
    Goertz’s son Jason Goertz has been full-time on the family operation, and he will take over responsibility for the day-to-day operations while Goertz is away. Goertz plans to begin in his new position Aug. 10, following wheat harvest, but he will be in communication with the state office until then.
    In addition to FSA State Executive Director, the administration appointed State Directors for USDA’s Rural Development program. Darrel Carruth of Casper, who retired after 31 years with Rural Development, which was previously the Farmers Home Administration, was appointed to lead Wyoming’s agency.
    Currently Carruth and his wife own a food concession business and travel to various fairs, festivals, and tournaments. Carruth serves on the Casper College Alumni Association Board, of which he was President from 2005 through 2007.
    “These individuals will be important advocates on behalf of rural communities in states throughout the country and help administer the valuable programs and services provided by the USDA that can enhance their economic success,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
    USDA’s Rural Development administers and manages over 40 housing, business, and community infrastructure and facility programs as laid out by Congress through a network of 6,100 employees located in 500 national, state and local offices. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of over $114 billion in loans and loan guarantees.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Beef producers work hard every day to produce the safest, most nutritious, affordable protein,” says Danielle Beck, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association director of government affairs. “They’re really proud of everything that the term ‘beef’ stands for because it’s associated with that legacy.”

She continues, “We set out last year looking to protect an even playing field for all products to compete moving forward.” 

Regulators

Today, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration are the key players in regulating lab-grown meat products, but all “barnyard” trade association – ranging from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the North American Meat Institute to American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and more ‒ have all engaged. 

Traditional protein companies, Silicon Valley, animal rights activists and consumer groups are also involved. 

“This conversation has made strange bedfellows, too,” says Beck, who notes that common ground has been found between traditional protein producers and consumer safety groups seeking truth in labeling. 

Formal agreement

On March 7, a formal agreement was announced by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that lays out the framework under which the agencies will share regulation of cell-cultured products.

Under the agreement, FDA “oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to FSIS oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. FSIS will oversee the production and labeling of human food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

“We recognize that our stakeholders want clarity on how we will move forward with a regulatory regime to ensure the safety and proper labeling of these cell-cultured human food products while continuing to encourage innovation,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “Collaboration between USDA and FDA will allow us to draw upon the unique expertise of each agency in addressing the many important technical and regulatory considerations that can arise with the development of animal cell-cultured food products for human consumption.”

Cell-cultured meat 

The American Meat Science Association put out a paper in 2017 seeking to set standards for lab-grown or cell-cultured meat.

“To be considered meat, these products must be comparable in composition and sensory characteristics to meat derived naturally from animals,” reads the paper. “In particular, the essential amino and fatty acid composition, macro and micro nutrient content and processing functionality should meet or exceed those of conventional meat.”

“This is probably the best scientific assessment that we have on hand, but these products are yet to be vetted under a microscope,” Beck emphasizes. “I think it’s critically important that science is driving this debate and the regulatory framework governing these products.”

While requests have been made to analyze samples, cell-cultured meat products have not been microscopically examined. 

Producing cell-cultured meat

The first cell-cultured burger was unveiled in the European Union in 2013, and it cost $300,000 to bring to the table.

“That cost of production has gone down a lot, from $300,000 to $11 for the same burger,” Beck says. “The technology is continuously evolving.” 

At one point, cells were collected from a recently slaughtered animal. Then, they were collected from a biopsy of a live animal.

“Cells can now be collected from the tip of a chicken feather or hair plucked from a hog’s back,” Beck says.

She continues, “The growth medium used to be a fetal bovine serum, and now, that is a plant or algae-based liquid medium.” 

Cells are put in a bioreactor, where they replicate upon themselves, explains Beck.

“Again, this technology is rapidly evolving,” she says. “We can expect the first product onto the market to be a chicken nugget. I’m sure the first beef-like products will be a meat crumble or meatball, but I’m sure they will also eventually be able to produce muscle-like cuts.”

Larger scale production is forecasted by 2019, according to industry participants, and Beck says, “The regulatory framework is the biggest thing holding this up so far.” 

Beck spoke during the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, La. on Jan. 30. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..