BEEF bits

Sep 11, 2009
by WLJ


BEEF bits


Smithfield posts quarterly loss

Smithfield Foods Inc. posted a wider-than-expected quarterly loss last Tuesday, hurt by low hog prices and a drop in pork sales due in part to consumer nervousness over the H1N1 flu. But the company assured investors it is on better financial footing as new measures, including a $1 billion credit facility and note sales, have reduced its risk of violating debt covenants. The Smithfield, VA-based company reported a loss of $107.7 million, or 75 cents per share, for the fiscal first quarter ended Aug. 2, compared with a year-earlier loss of $13.2 million, or 10 cents per share. Excluding one-time charges of $41.5 million, or 19 cents per share, to reduce its hog herd and for debt extinguishment, it posted a loss of $80 million, or 56 cents per share. Revenue fell to $2.72 billion from $3.14 billion.

Scientists able to detect live E. coli

University of Missouri (MU) food scientists have come up with a new method to detect live E. coli cells in ground beef. The MU researchers developed a two-step method that can distinguish between dead and living E. coli cells. Dead cells won’t make you sick, but as few as 10 live cells can inflict a severe intestinal illness.The research employs a technique called a realtime polymerase chain reaction (PCR). However, because PCR can’t differentiate viable from dead microbial cells, the possibility of false-positives exists, which could lead to unnecessary product recalls. To prevent this, researchers stain samples with a dye which can’t penetrate live cells, but it can enter dead cells, making them invisible to PCR tests. Testing takes about 12 hours, as opposed to older methods which require up to two days for results.

FDA works to improve recall speed

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last Tuesday announced a new database where manufacturers must notify the government if they believe one of their products is likely to cause sickness or death in people or animals. Regulators said the database will help FDA prevent widespread illness from contaminated products and direct inspectors to plants that pose a high safety concern. “There’s been a lag time; we learn about problems after people get sick,” said Michael Taylor, senior adviser to the FDA’s commissioner. “This is intended to inform us of contamination problems before people get sick.” The law creating the database was passed in 2007 after Congress criticized FDA for its handling of safety problems with a range of foods and drugs.

USDA provides value-added grants

USDA plans to award approxinately $18 million in value-added grants nationwide to farmers and business owners to help them add value to the commodities they produce. USDA will award planning grants of up to $100,000 and working capital grants of up to $300,000 to successful applicants. Applicants are encouraged to propose projects that use existing agricultural products in non-traditional ways or merge agricultural products with technology in creative ways. Businesses of all sizes may apply, but priority will be given to operators of small- to medium-sized farms operating as a family farm—those with average annual gross sales of less than $700,000—USDA said.The application period for USDA Rural Development Value- Added Producer Grants closes on Nov. 30.

Russia may increase U.S. beef quota

Russian officials are considering raising the import quota for beef, according to the country’s National Meat Association (NMA), said Bloomberg news. The Russian head of NMA said the decision, which will affect import quotas for the next three years, should be announced later this month. Proposals include raising the country’s beef import quota by 100,000 metric tons to 550,000 tons in 2010, and the duty on supplies exceeding the limit to 50 percent from 30 percent. Meanwhile, Russian producers propose cutting quotas for poultry by 100,000 tons to 850,000 tons, and for pork by 32,000 tons to 500,000 tons. Upping the beef quotas would allow Russia to allocate larger volumes to different countries. The European Union has 80 percent of the current beef quota, but the bloc has become a net importer and therefore cannot fully utilize it, the report noted.

GIPSA sets new scale rules

The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would set a more definitive timetable for testing scales. The proposal states that “stockyard owners, market agencies, dealers, packers, or live poultry dealers that weigh livestock, live poultry, or feed, have their scales tested at least twice per calendar year at intervals of approximately six months.” Also, the proposal would include swine contractors on the list of regulated entities. This proposal would require scale owners to complete the first test between Jan. 1 and June 30 of a calendar year, with the second test completed between July 1 and Dec. 31 of that same calendar year. A minimum 120-day interval would be scheduled between the two tests. Also, more frequent testing would be required when scales do not “maintain accuracy between checks.”