BEEF bits

Dec 17, 2010
by WLJ

U.S. beef best in the world

The world’s largest international food and beverage trade exhibition, SIAL, was the setting for a unique blind taste challenge this October that put U.S. striploins, top blades and flank steaks in direct comparison, side by side, with top-quality striploins from Argentina, Ireland, Germany and France. More than 1,000 visitors to the SIAL show sampled unlabeled grilled American steaks alongside unlabeled steaks from Europe and Argentina, and filled out extensive surveys while they chewed. The preparation of the questionnaire and analysis of the results was conducted by an impartial French marketing research firm. And the winner: U.S. beef. The U.S. beef was consistently the most appreciated on the quality criteria addressed by the questionnaire. The volunteer tasters each rated three samples on a scale of 1 to 7 for the meat’s tenderness, juiciness, flavor and overall appreciation. For most other countries, less than 15 percent of participants recognized the country of origin based on the taste. The exception was France, which finished last, where 21 percent correctly identified the steak as being French.

Restaurant business is improving

Consumers are returning to restaurants after multiple years of declining traffic, according to research released by industry consultants The NPD Group. Although sales are on the upswing, high unemployment rates have prevented the group from calling a “recovery.” In the third quarter, restaurant traffic was down 1 percent compared with year-earlier figures. Traffic is expected to grow in the fourth calendar quarter of 2010 and in 2011, but only by about 1 percent, NPD reported in a news release. In commercial foodservice, results look very much like they did in 2008, after notable declines in the category in the third quarter a year ago. Meanwhile, quick-service restaurants were up by 1 percent in the third quarter, NPD reported. Casual dining and midscale full-service restaurants continued to experience traffic declines. Casual dining visits were down 2 percent and traffic to midscale restaurants was down 3 percent.

Cases of BSE declining world-wide

The latest data on BSE surveillance from 2001 to 2009 shows that in all 25 countries examined, the BSE epidemic has been declining and is converging to the sensitivity limit of a surveillance system that uses currently-approved rapid BSE tests, the Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) of the European Food Safety Authority has confirmed. The BIOHAZ Panel recommended that there should be reassessment of the sensitivity of EU surveillance systems. It was also recommended that more results from further test years should be gathered in the group of three countries that has surveillance of animals aged 30 months and over and 24 months and over in order to confirm that the BSE trend is declining. The panel also recommended that if BSE testing of healthy slaughtered cattle was reduced or stopped, the risk of possible entrance of at-risk animals in the nontested population should be considered.

USDA raises meat production forecast USDA raised its forecasts for total U.S. meat production for both 2010 and 2011 in its monthly World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates report and lowered price forecasts for pork and poultry. The beef production increase largely reflected higher forecast placements of cattle during the fourth quarter of 2010 and early 2011. Pork production was raised from last month on slightly higher slaughter. Beef imports were lowered for both late 2010 and early 2011 as exportable supplies of beef for several U.S. suppliers were expected to be relatively tight. Beef exports were raised for 2011 as improved economic growth in major export markets was expected to stimulate sales. The cattle price forecasts for 2010 and 2011 were raised to reflect continued strong demand for cattle. USDA forecast direct steer prices (all grades) to average $95.19 per hundredweight in 2010, up from $94.81 projected last month. For 2011, it forecast the average price range at $96 to $104 per hundredweight, up $1 on the top of the range from a month ago.

China to discuss U.S. beef imports

U.S. administration officials last Wednesday confirmed press reports that China has committed to receiving a U.S. technical team as early as Jan. 3 to begin technical talks aimed at opening China’s beef market to U.S. exports. In response, American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said he was “encouraged” by the news of China’s commitment to addressing beef market access and called the potential market there significant. “Open trade between our nations is in our mutual best interest,” Boyle noted. “We applaud Ambassador Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for a successful conclusion to the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade and for their efforts to open China’s beef market to U.S. exports.”