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Food Safety

As beef consumption continues to decline, producers need to take advantage of programs like Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) to help the industry retain its market share.

Consumers are concerned about issues like animal welfare and are not convinced ranchers have animals’ best interests at heart, according to Colorado State University Livestock Extension Specialist Kacy Atkinson.

Since the 1970s, beef consumption has steadily declined, while other meats have remained steady or show positive growth. In the 70s, the nutritional value of beef was questioned, with some research indicating beef was bad for consumers, and it was hard on the heart.

In the 2000s, beef had palatability issues, and now, its production concerns are the focus. Many people feel cattle are bad for the environment while others see beef as non-sustainable.

Production practices

There is also concern amongst consumers about production practices used to raise beef.

Atkinson believes these issues need to be fixed at the production level, using the BQA program as a base.

“The mission of BQA is to maximize consumer confidence and acceptance of beef by focusing producers' attention to daily production practices that influence safety, wholesomeness and quality of beef and beef products,” she said.

BQA has helped the industry enhance carcass quality, so consumers can continue to enjoy beef, she continued.

“Our goal is to produce a good product consumers want to put on their table, and get enjoyment from eating,” she said.

BQA has also helped the industry reduce quality problems like drug residue in carcasses, eliminate pathogen contamination and E. coli and reduce carcass defects.

Consumer confidence

The second part of BQA is working toward maximizing consumer confidence.

“We need to communicate with the consumer that we’re using the best management practices available,” Atkinson said. “We understand their concerns, and we are using accepted practices to address those concerns. We need to keep informed where our industry is and where it is going. Most importantly, we need to learn how to communicate with consumers what we do in a way they will understand.”

Evolving program

BQA is constantly evolving to meet producer needs, she said. The focus of BQA is on feedstuffs, health, animal care and husbandry.

Unfortunately, less than 30 percent of cattlemen have sat through a BQA program, and fewer than 20 percent have become certified. Atkinson said this needs to change.

“The very last antibiotic approved for veterinary medicine was created in 1978,” she said. “There will never be another antibiotic we are allowed access to in veterinary medicine. Any new antibiotics will be for human medicine only.”

“If we don’t do a good job stewarding antibiotics in our industry, and we create resistance problems, we won’t have anything left to use,” she said. “That’s why it is very important for us to use good practices with the antibiotics we have.”

Consumers are concerned about antibiotic use in livestock. In fact, 82 percent of consumers believe producers misuse antibiotics on a regular basis.

“They don’t understand that a bottle of Draxxin costs $3,000, so we are probably not giving that shot for the fun of it if the animal doesn’t need it,” Atkinson said.

“There is a huge knowledge gap,” she continued. “Seventy-eight percent of consumers think antibiotics should be used to treat sick animals, and 72 percent didn’t have an issue with it being used to prevent disease.”

Misinformation

Unfortunately, thanks to the wealth of misinformation being circulated by beef activists, consumers don’t think beef producers are doing a good job taking care of their animals and are raising them in inhumane ways.

There are documentaries, webinars, books and protestors that all present animal agriculture in a negative light. These protestors aren’t afraid to use social media to their advantage, she added.

“These protestors want to see the animal agriculture industry go away,” Atkinson stated. “There are even companies out there working on beef alternatives that taste like beef, but they aren't beef.”

Reacting

“A food service company has to respond to these consumer concerns if they want consumers to continue shopping at their establishment and eating the food they provide,” she continued.

To address these concerns, companies like Panera Bread, General Mills and Walmart are creating their own set of standards for how the products they will eventually sell to consumers are raised.

“They have to address consumer concerns because they are the end point of the food chain,” she stated.

Consumer concerns

When consumers were surveyed about their biggest concerns related to the food they chose to buy and put on the table, they indicated their number one concern is the impact of the food on the environment.

Their second concern is sustainability and whether or not their food choice was sustainable, and third is animal welfare concerns.

Atkinson said it all comes down to trust.

“Consumers don’t know how to trust,” she said. “They think farmers and ranchers are trustworthy, but they don’t think ranchers exist anymore because they don’t understand agriculture.”

Beef producers need to tell their story, be more transparent and explain their production practices so consumers can understand what they do and why.

“If we don’t step up to the plate and address these concerns, as an industry, we are going to see our market share continue to decline, and we may be regulated from the top down,” she said.

Gayle Smith is 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..

Arlington, Va. – USDA’s 92nd Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum was held in Arlington, Va. on Feb. 25-26, built on the theme of transforming agriculture – blending technology and tradition.

One of the featured speakers was Howard G. Buffett, chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a private, charitable foundation that invests in global food security and conflict mitigation.

Buffett encouraged forum attendees to put more emphasis on conservation agriculture, while acknowledging the challenges of changing human behavior.

Challenge of change

“Changing people’s behavior is one of the hardest things to do,” Buffett stated. “We have to get information out there, and then, people have to decide they’re going to try it.”

Producers should also give new techniques a chance, since they may take time to develop into fully successful practices.

“We all have challenges in everything we do, but we can’t just quit,” he noted.

Buffett continued, “Most of us don’t like it when someone tells us how we are going to do something.”

However, he encouraged producers to make choices about how things will change, before changes are forced.

“If we want to maintain flexibility, we have to determine what our solutions are going to be, and we have to show the world that we are willing to use those,” he explained.

Alternative practices can be difficult to implement and it takes some time to learn about new systems, for example, what kinds of equipment are necessary in no-till fields.

Transferring techniques between different scales of operations can also be challenging, since some practices will have to be adjusted.

Starting out

“It is easier for someone who is just starting out. When I got into no-till, one of the biggest challenges was making a change in my equipment,” Buffett commented, adding that there is usually less equipment for a no-till system, so there should be a net gain financially.

“I got to be very good friends with the IRS. I found out that when someone auctions off all of their equipment, they pay a lot of taxes,” he remarked.

However, Buffett took advantage of his chance to start over, learning about what equipment was best and how to use it.

“Number one, we have to get set up right. If we do it right, we’re going to make more money,” he said.

To encourage producers to consider alternate options on their places, he asked, “If we use conservation ag in difficult times to save money, why would we give away money in good times?”

In good times, producers are not always forced to look at their operations critically to determine where things can be improved, but applying the same critical thinking when things are going well has the potential to make more money.

“There is nothing I have done in 30 years of farming that has been easy,” commented Buffett. “I don’t think no-till is any more difficult than anything else. It just takes the right equipment, knowledge and support.”

U.S. advantages

Through his organization, Buffett works with agriculture in many different countries, and he praised some of the programs available to producers in the United States. Although he acknowledged that university research can at times be bitter-sweet, he gave a lot of credit to the advantages of Extension programs and land-grant universities.

“There is no way the American farmer would be where we are today without the land-grant university system,” he stated.

Private sector research has also been beneficial, according to Buffett, who emphasized the importance of research related to agriculture.

He also noted that the USDA and government programs have an important role in the progress of agriculture because government support can provide the resources producers need to move toward better practices.

“USDA has to be a leader,” he said.

Buffett told the audience that USDA programs have set a new standard for conservation, and more producers are starting to understand that soil is a living ecosystem all by itself.

“If we treat it like dirt, that is what we will get,” he remarked.

Business sense

Farms and ranches are ultimately businesses, and USDA also has the potential to contribute to the success of sustainability from an economic standpoint, Buffett added.

For example, many producers consider crop rotation in simplistic terms, such as alternately planting corn and beans because it is an economically viable combination from a business standpoint.

“It doesn’t work well economically to do the types of rotations that we really should do to protect our lands and our soils,” he mentioned.

However, with government subsidies and incentives, producers may be able to approach changes in their operations with a different attitude.

“If there are programs in place that allow farmers a different way to do things in terms of financial risk, I think a lot more farmers would transition from traditional farming to no-till, strip-till or even using cover crops,” he suggested.

Respecting nature

Buffett also warned his audience against becoming too reliant on technology, explaining that although technology can provide useful tools, nature will not be changed.

“The more we understand nature and the more we appreciate it and incorporate it into how we behave and what we do, the better off we will be in the long run as farmers, land owners, conservationists and people who care about the world,” he said.

Maintaining biodiversity is underrated, he noted, explaining that it should be better incorporated into production systems.

“American farmers are the biggest conservationists in the world,” he stated. “We have saved tens of millions of acres of bio-diverse jungles and forests because we are efficient at high-production agriculture. We never get credit for that.”

However, he continued that doesn't mean producers shouldn’t continue to become even better at what they do.

“Farmers deserve a lot of credit, but we have to stop for a minute and ask what we can do better,” remarked Buffett.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Denver, Colo. – “In round numbers, about nine out of every 10 pounds of meat produced go into the domestic market. It’s exciting to talk about our export channels, but that domestic market is also still very important, and will continue to be going forward,” commented Director of Extension for Agriculture & Natural Resources and Professor of Agriculture Economics at Purdue University James Mintert during the International Livestock Congress (ILC) held in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo. on Jan. 11.
“We’ve done some research looking at beef demand and drivers in our domestic markets. We asked how does one measure beef demand, and is it just the quantity being consumed?” continued Mintert.
He added that the research in which he was involved aimed to include the measures of demand capturing both price and quantity. A beef demand index was created from the study, and index values were based against the year 1980, with that year’s number set at 100.
“Prior to 1980, beef demand was growing, then we saw some bad changes, and beef demand declined through the 1980s and 1990s. It was at about 50 in 1998, which is a huge decline in retail beef demand over two decades,” explained Mintert.
He blamed the drop in demand on changing U.S. consumer behavior. However, in the late 1990s demand started to increase again, and by 2004 the index number was back up to 63.
“There are things we can do to impact demand, and the four I will focus on are food safety, health, nutrition and convenience,” stated Mintert. He added that information in all four areas was collected from 1982 to present, and used to determine all figures presented during his speech.
“One challenge is how to measure those things. How do you measure food safety? We chose to measure it in our models by looking at food safety recalls by quarter. We went back to 1982, and there were some quarters with zero recalls, which is a good thing. But there are some other quarters where recalls really spiked, which is a bad thing that consumers notice and respond to.
“Looking at it from the average perspective, it doesn’t look like recalls have a big impact. But, when those recalls jump, they can have a devastating impact on the industry, both as a current impact and a lagged impact,” said Mintert.
He continued, saying that for every 10 percent increase in beef recalls, there is a 0.2 percent decline in beef demand. Consumers remember recalls for long periods of time, and that lagged impact keeps prices suppressed.
“Consumers expect their food to be safe. They want to walk in the store and pick up a product, and they don’t expect to have any problems when they get home. When they hear about problems, it has a negative impact on their behavior over long periods of time,” added Mintert.
In the area of health information, Mintert noted there are many current issues. His study chose to look at medical journals, counting the number of articles published mentioning heart disease and diet, and taking that one step further to those mentioning beef.
“There was a long term rise in articles published referring to heart disease from the 1980s up to about 2001, then it dropped off. The results of those articles indicate that beef demand does decline in response to information consumers receive about diet, fat, cholesterol and heart disease,” stated Mintert.
“For every 10 percent in medical journal articles, there is a 0.2 percent decline in beef demand. From the early 1980s to the early 2000s, that alone gave us about a nine percent decline in beef demand. That information is still out there, too, being accumulated and having a negative impact,” explained Mintert.
Nutrition is another area of concern for consumers, and Mintert noted that consumers also respond to nutritional information.
“Looking at the Atkins diet and the beef index chart, in the mid-1990s interest in the Atkins low carb, high protein diet starts to go up, then it drops off. We realized we needed to measure both the pros and cons relative to diets like Atkins, and see if that fad did have an impact on our industry.
“Atkins-type diets did give beef demand a boost. Media support of Atkins-type diets boosted beef demand about two percent. The take-home message is that when the consumer receives information about beef or meat that was positive, they also responded. They didn’t just respond to negative information,” noted Mintert.
He listed another example of a 10 percent increase in articles referencing zinc, iron and protein leading to a 0.25 percent increase in beef demand.
“When looking at convenience, we first looked at female employment outside the home, because as female employment outside the home goes up, the underlying thought is that there is less time available inside the home for food preparation,” explained Mintert.
“We saw some dramatic changes, and beef demand declined as female employment increased. Every one percent increase in female employment resulted in a 0.6 percent decline in beef demand.
“We also took a measure of the convenience of food consumed away from the home, which is usually because there isn’t time to prepare dinner at home. As food consumed away from the home increased by one percent, there was a 1.6 percent decline in beef demand,” said Mintert.
He added that the poultry industry has done a great job of benefitting from these two trends through new product proliferation and an emphasis on convenience.
“Think how much different the poultry display in the grocery store looks today compared to the 1970s. My mother would buy whole fryers on sale, then she and my dad would process them how she liked to cook them, and freeze them. My kids have never seen that,” noted Mintert.
“For every new product in the beef marketplace that has convenience embedded in it in some way, there are between 1.5 and two poultry products that come out,” he added.
“There are changing demographics in our country. We need to provide information that tells the positive story about consuming beef, and do it from credible sources. When we can tell a good story about beef and human nutrition, the consumer responds. It’s a challenge for our industry going forward to identify the ways that beef fits into a healthy lifestyle, and tell that story to consumers through those people who provide advice to them, like those in the medical professions.
“Communicate directly to consumers and those health and nutrition professionals, and make sure they’re seeing both sides of the story, and being cognizant of the positive aspects of beef consumption too. The consumers will respond,” concluded Mintert.
Heather Hamilton is 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..

While the Chinese market remains closed to U.S. beef, a major contributor to China’s beef supply, Brazil, has been banned from the market as a result of recent scandal.

“China has temporarily suspended red meat and poultry imports from Brazil,” reported the Daily Livestock Report (DLR) on March 20. “The decision appears to follow the widening scandal in the Brazilian meatpacking industry.”

Inspection scandal

On March 17, federal police in Brazil found evidence that meat packers in the country had been selling rotten and sub-standard meat for several years.

BBC News reported, “On March 17, federal police raided meat-producing plants and arrested more than 30 people. The government suspended more than 30 senior civil servants who should have spotted the unhygienic and illegal practices.”

“They are being investigated for corruption,” BBC News continued.

In addition, three meatpacking plants have been closed in the country, and 21 more are being investigated.

Operation Weak Flesh, as the effort was termed, was launch on March 17 after a two-year investigation in six Brazilian states.

“The investigators allege that some managers bribed health inspectors and politicians to get government certificates for their products,” added BBC News.

The Brazilian federal police were quoted as saying, “They used acid and other chemicals to mask the aspect of the product. In some cases, the products used were carcinogenic.”

Industry leaders

In the U.S., American-owned meatpacking company JBS also has a branch in Brazil, and on March 18, they clarified that none of their brands or products were implicated in the incident.

In a full-page advertisement released by the company, JBS said, “Quality is the foremost priority of JBS and its brands.”

However, JBS competitor BRF was questioned in the incident. BRF Executive Roney Nogueria turned himself into police for questioning following the incident.

“BRF never sold rotten meat,” the company said, adding that the implications were tied to smaller meatpackers in the country.

Around the world

In 2016, China imported 30 percent of its beef from Brazil, with 27 percent coming from Uruguay, 19 percent coming from Australia and 12 percent from New Zealand.

“China does not allow beef imports from the U.S., so the U.S. does not appear to benefit from this change in Chinese policy,” DLR analysts wrote. “However, we would argue that this move does indeed support U.S. beef exports.”

DLR further explained that China’s other two largest sources of beef – Australia and Uruguay – are stiff competitors of the U.S. in Japan and South Korea.

“As Chinese buyers start to compete more aggressively for Australian beef, this will make life more difficult for Japanese and South Korean buyers and shift more of that demand towards U.S. products,” they explained.

DLR analysts further asserted that, if the scandal reveals more systematic and extensive food safety issues, China may re-evaluate their policies in favor of longer-term solutions to meat deficiencies.

At the same time China issued a ban, other countries began to suspend meat imports from Brazil, including South Korea and the European Union.

“The European Union (EU) has announced it was suspending imports from four facilities,” DLR said, summarizing a Reuters report. “If the scandal widens, we could see EU authorities act more forcefully, but for now, officials want to be careful about disrupting trade.”

Impacts

“The reason this is such a major issue is because it brings into question the integrity of the food safety inspection a key global producer,” DLR said.

Scandal and corruption is not unfamiliar to Brazil, they noted, mentioning that the Brazilian president was kicked out of office and charged with corruption.

However, Brazil has also emerged as a major supplier of global red meat and poultry products.

“According to USDA data, exports of Brazilian chicken accounted for almost 40 percent of exports from the major supplying countries,” DLR defined. “China and Hong Kong accounted for 18 percent of Brazilian chicken exports in 2016.”

As smaller countries search for supply to replace Brazilian product, DLR also noted that U.S. product may be more expensive or importers have not yet developed relationships with U.S. exporters to allow them to easily replace the product.

“We don’t know how this will play out, but it is one of those issues that bears watching,” DLR said.

U.S. imports of Brazilian beef are minimal, emphasized DLR, adding that the majority of Brazilian beef imports are fully cooked and comprise only 0.5 percent of imported beef to the U.S. this year.

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from a multitude of news sources, including reports, press releases and industry analyses. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper — Misinformation about American agriculture is running amok among consumers. Proof lays just a power button away on your television or your radio. It’s also been frequenting the nation’s mainstream newspapers on subjects ranging from beef safety to animal handling practices.
Dr. Greg Quakenbush, DVM, Director of Beef Veterinary Operations for Pfizer Animal Health, says it’s time to dispel the myths and spread fact-based information backed by numbers. He says it’s an effort that needs to start fairly close to home.
“Too many cattlemen don’t know the truth about the very issues that affect their industry,” says Quakenbush. He was in Casper for the Range Beef Cow Symposium early December and armed a group of the region’s ranchers with some fairly startling statistics.
“There’s a tremendous lie out there about hormones,” says Quakenbush noting the notion that implanted beef is bad for one’s health. “All meat contains hormones,” he counters. “When somebody says they want hormone-free meat, they don’t know what they’re talking about as it does not exist. ”
A four-ounce serving of beef from cattle that haven’t been implanted contains 1.2 nanograms of estrogen, he says. Comparatively, a four-ounce serving of beef from an animal that has been implanted contains 1.6 nanograms. A four-ounce serving of raw cabbage? He answers — 2700 nanograms.
“Most vegetables contain estrogenic compounds,” says Quakenbush. “It is a naturally occurring component.. The amount that is in beef, implanted or not, is so insignificant that one would have to consume 125,000 pounds of beef to ingest the amount of estrogen included in one birth control pill. “When we see the truth, we have to ask, ‘What are people worried about?’”
In preparing his information Quakenbush typed “beef” and “hormone” into the Google search engine. After reading the articles outlined on the first 10 pages of search results, he says he’d only found three out of 100 articles that even mentioned the facts.
A similar situation, says Quakenbush, exists among consumers misinformed about  antibiotic use in cattle. While quality stewardship with antibiotic usage is important, he says there has been a great deal of unnecessary fear.
“The concern of resistance,” he explains, “is that because of fears that the administration of an antibiotic to cattle, a bacteria becomes resistant and rides on the meat all the way through processing, shipping and cooking to the plate of the consumer. The consumer eats the meat, picks up the bug, and then possibly becomes fatally ill due to this bacteria and the inability of antibiotics to work.  This scenario is a long chain of events with many variables that would require among other things, that the meat was improperly cooked.” The chance of that happening, he says, has been reported to be extremely remote.  An individual’s chance of getting hit by lightning is much greater.
The benefits to humans of antibiotic use in cattle, says Quakenbush, deserves equal consideration.  Quakenbush says there are researchers who estimate that the termination of certain antibiotics in livestock would result in many times more human cases of disease than it would prevent. “Decisions regarding antibiotic usage in livestock should consider all aspects of the impact of antibiotics because animal health has a large impact on human health,” says Quakenbush.
BSE is yet another example of exaggerated concerns that are not based on facts. “Do you know what the risk of mad cow disease is in the U.S.?” asks Quakenbush. “Essentially zero.” He emphasizes that no one who has lived exclusively in the United States has died from this disease. Worldwide there have been fewer than 200 deaths, making it a very small threat.
“It’s important to keep the risk in perspective.,” he says. “We have more people die from peanut allergies.”
Technology is another area where Quakenbush says reality isn’t often enough linked with the stories being told on Main Street, America. “By the year 2050, the world will require a minimum of two times the amount of food we now have,” he says. Meeting that goal is going to take technology and modern tools, he says.
Quakenbush points to the advances already made utilizing the tools available to add efficiency. For example, the United States now produces 440 percent more milk than  in the 1940s, but with 21 percent of the cowherd. The beef cowherd today is half its historic size, but beef production has remained constant. A growing population can’t be fed with agricultural practices from the 1940s, he points out.
“It’s phenomenal,” says Quakenbush. “We use implants, ionophores, antibiotics, parasiticides, genetics and nutritional science. We use all those technologies and look what it has done for us. If we didn’t have those technologies in place today it would require 450 million more acres and 83 million more cattle to meet today’s food demands.”
Jennifer Womack is staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..