Manufacturing News

Ag secretary pledges increased beef-import support

US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns told food processors at the Food Safety Summit in Washington, DC, that Canadian cattle ranchers are complying with BSE-related feed bans.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns updates food processors on beef issues at the Food Safety Summit held last March in Washington, DC.
Citing increased federal spending on BSE research and food safety, US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns told food processors at the Food Safety Summit in Washington, DC, that Canadian cattle ranchers are complying with BSE-related feed bans, and his office will appeal a federal judge's temporary restraining order blocking the resumption of imports of Canadian cattle younger than 30 months.

"We cannot destroy trade and expect anything good to come out of it," Johanns told 2,000 executives from companies such as Kraft, Tyson, ConAgra and Pepsi-Cola. "The appeal is based on sound science." He also pledged to rectify "a scientific inconsistency" that allows boxed Canadian beef from animals over 30 months old to enter the US. "This might be a 6-12 month venture," he added.

US District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings, MT, set a July 27 trial date to decide if the Canadian border should be permanently closed, and the US Senate voted 52-46 to quash Johanns's open-border policy, though the White House vows to veto the bill, should it pass the House. Responding to the two-year-old ban, Canadian beef companies have been building packing houses to ship boxed beef into the US.

Besides driving up prices, the ban is reducing production at US plants. Tyson furloughed 2,100 workers at five beef plants for six weeks in February and March, and on March 4 Swift & Co. announced a 20 percent production cutback at its Grand Island, NE, plant "for the immediate future." National Beef and Excel facilities also are operating well below capacity.

FDA Commissioner-Designate Lester M. Crawford also addressed Summit attendees. Noting 46 percent of food spending is on meals out of the home, Crawford said FDA is focusing nutrition-education efforts on restaurants, with hearings planned through October on recommendations such as point-of-sale caloric information "for the asking."

Crawford also said the first modernization in Good Manufacturing Practices in the food code will get underway with the release of a white paper by the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Processing failures are the leading cause of product recalls," he said, and improved GMPs will help curb problems with pathogens and allergens.

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