BEEF bits

Mar 19, 2010
by WLJ

Michigan gov. declares meatout day

Jennifer Granholm, Michigan’s Democratic governor, declared March 20 to be “Michigan Meatout Day.”

The move angered the state’s agricultural producers and brought swift condemnation from the Michigan Farm Bureau Federation after the proclamation by Granholm, which highlighted the benefits of a plantbased diet, pointed out the dangers of E. coli and salmonella, and requests that Michigan residents not eat meat on “Meatout Day.” Michigan Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood says, “It’s inconceivable to us that the governor could stoop to this level of telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat based on the philosophies of food elitists.” Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Granholm, is trying to make amends with the meat industry by working with the Department of Agriculture to also celebrate all-purpose agriculture on the 20th. Boyd says Granholm is not a vegetarian and the proclamation was not intended to offend farmers, hunters or meat eaters. She goes further, stating the governor is as likely to eat meat on Saturday as any other day.

Vilsack to meet with Japan ag minister

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Japan April 5-9 to meet with Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Hirotaka Akamatsu as well as U.S. exporters and Japanese importers. “My mission on this trip will be to continue to push hard to open markets and to bolster an open, rules-based international trading system,” Vilsack said in a release announcing the trip. While in Japan, Vilsack will give a keynote address at the Global Food Security Symposium. He will also meet with students at the University of Tokyo in a town hall meeting and speak at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The U.S. Congress has taken up a resolution calling on Japan to drop its unscientific ban on U.S. beef from cattle older than 20 months of age. The resolution was recently introduced in the Senate by Mike Johanns, R-NE.

Smithfield returns to profitability

Smithfield Foods Inc. said last week that it has returned to profitability after a string of quarterly losses going back to 2008. The company said hog production and improvement in the packaged meats side of the business showed continuing improvement. Smithfield’s hog production unit cut its third-quarter losses to $55.6 million, from a loss of $253.6 million in the year-ago period, as costs of production decreased and sales prices rose. Raising costs decreased by $10 to $51 per cwt., while prices rose $4 to $44 per cwt. “It looks like the cycle in hog production has turned,” CEO Larry Pope told investors in an analysts’ call. For the quarter ended Jan. 31, Smithfield’s net income was $37.4 million, or 22 cents per share, compared with a loss of $107.5 million, or 74 cents per share, in the same quarter last year. Sales fell 14 percent to $2.88 billion, with an extra week in the reporting period accounting for half the decline.

Consumers ignore safety rules

A study conducted by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute showed that consumers are frequently ignoring safety guidelines when preparing ground beef products. The study, which videotaped consumers cooking beef products, said they frequently fail to cook beef to proper temperatures and often cross-contaminate their food with raw meat during the preparation process. The study found that 25 percent said they prefer their burgers pink, eightythree percent said they used visual clues, rather than a meat thermometer, to determine the doneness of their burgers. Seventy-five percent said they were unlikely to use a meat thermometer on burgers. Potential cross-contamination occurred in 74 percent of the households. Even after the exercise, only 23 percent of participants said they would use a meat thermometer on burgers in the future despite the fact that some consumers were cooking their beef to temperatures far lower than recommended, with one recording a temperature of just 112 degrees Fahrenheit. When asked about irradiation of ground beef and told that the process kills pathogens, 49 percent said they would buy irradiated burgers, 29 percent said they would not, and 22 percent were not sure.

Consumers to see 4-5 percent inflation

Consumers can expect to pay 4 to 5 percent more for food by late this year than at the end of 2009 largely because of higher costs for such staples as beef, dairy and pork, a Nebraska-based economist said. “We have beef, pork, and dairy prices all increasing substantially since December, in the area of roughly 10 percent,” Bill Lapp, economist and president of Advanced Economic Solutions, told the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit last week. Food inflation, like overall inflation, has been tame for the past few months. But food inflation should gain traction as the year proceeds, Lapp said. Higher meat prices are due to cattle and hog producers shrinking herds after years of losses. That should mean less beef and pork, with USDA estimating 2010 U.S. beef production down 1.3 percent from 2009 and pork production down 2.5 percent.