Current Edition

current edition

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..

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..

Buffalo – “How many of us have gone and told our local grocery story thank you for carrying commodity beef?” questioned Jennie Hodgen, a food safety and meat science specialist at Merck Animal Health during the Johnson County CattleWomen’s Annual Women's Ag Summit in Buffalo on Jan. 23.

“All retailers have comment sections online. It’s very easy to look up Kroger, Walmart or whoever and thank them for supporting the beef industry,” she said.

Producer voices

Hodgen explained that a small percentage of consumers are demanding niche market products and that producers can have an equally strong voice in the marketplace. She also encouraged producers to create good relationships within their communities.

“I firmly believe that one of the best ways to correct some of the misinformation out there is to have those one-on-one conversations,” she stated.

Something as simple as a dinner party can be a good way to open the door for a conversation about food production and building the relationship encourages consumers to think about speaking to their “ag friends” when they encounter questions.

“We need for people to have these wonderful experiences and memories of eating meat so that when they get questions they pause, like they do with bacon,” she explained.

Antibiotics

One of the issues producers can help address is consumer concerns about antibiotics by helping to explain why and how they are used.

“Find out what their concern actually is,” Hodgen suggested in regards to opening the conversation.

By listening to the questions consumers already have, producers can often provide answers without creating more questions and concerns than they already started with.

For example, consumers are largely concerned about the use of antibiotics used as growth promotants in livestock, but they know very little about antibiotic use for treatment of illnesses.

“Surprisingly, consumers don’t make the leap between antibiotics given to humans and antibiotics given to animals,” commented Hodgen.

FDA approval

She continues, “There are four things that antibiotics can get approved for in the United States – treatment, prevention, control and growth promotion.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will no longer be approving growth promotion uses for antibiotics, but it has been highly popular for drug companies in the past for breaking into the market.

“In the past, the easiest claim to get approved from the FDA was growth promotion. If a drug company could get that claim, they could get their drug out there and then go after claims that are harder to get, like prevention, control and treatment, where the companies have to prove their drugs are controlling or treating a disease,” she explained.

Cattle growth

Large beef cattle are not the sole result of antibiotic use, though, Hodgen said. Producers are paid by weight, and much of the growth seen in the industry is due to genetics.

“What has shifted in the last 20 years in genetics? We get more meat, we are more efficient, and we have a higher class of marbling, overall,” noted Hodgen. “We are trying to be good environmentalists, and we are trying to get our animals to grow faster with less feed and less water.”

Unfortunately, she warns, consumers can be frightened by the word “genetics” because they have negative feelings about genetic modification.

“It’s one of those terms that we all understand but perhaps might not be the proper way to describe it. If we remember to say we use different breeds, it might be more effective,” she shared as an example.

Feedyards

Providing positive reasons for certain management decisions can also be helpful, such as explaining that animals in the feedlot are closely monitored and cared for.

“I’m from New Mexico, and there isn’t much water in New Mexico. If we did not have a place to feed our animals, my family would not still have cows,” she said, explaining that feedlots provide humane options for producers who may not have all of the same resources.

Images that consumers have of feedlots also contribute to their concerns about antibiotics in the environment, although Hodgen explains that sunlight, water and air degrade excreted antibiotics before they transfer into the environment.

“Problems with antibiotics in the environment are usually associated with people,” she noted.

Consumers are also concerned with resistance and the development of “super bugs” due to the overuse of antibiotics. Again, Hodgen pointed out that livestock management is not where problems develop.

Human impacts

“Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) is probably the most prevalent disease in the beef industry. One of the things that eases the consumer’s mind is talking about what kinds of bugs we are worried about,” Hodgen remarked.

The bacteria that cause BVD are not bacteria that cause illnesses in humans, and therefore, the drugs used to treat BVD do not affect how people are treated.

“An antibiotic is a product from a bacteria that kills another bacteria,” she described, adding that resistance occurs for specific relationships between one bacteria and another.

Although many consumer concerns are unfounded, Hodgen noted that one way to reduce antibiotic use is to properly vaccinate animals.

“In 1997, 69 percent of animals going into the feedyard did not receive proper vaccination,” she stated.

Hodgen encouraged producers to be good representatives of the industry, providing good examples for how food is produced.

“We need to remember, the misperceptions around antibiotics are not only an antibiotic conversation. We need to have conversations about everything we’re doing with our animals,” she said.

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..

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..

“While the idea of pink steak might sound good and is safe, the same is not true for a burger,” states Jeff LeJune, a professor in the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“When we put a piece of meat on the grill, the outside of the meat heats up and therefore can destroy the bacteria on the surface, but the interior takes a lot longer to heat up,” he explains.

The interior of a steak is relatively sterile and does not contain the same harmful bacteria that ground beef does.

“For a burger, the meat is put through a grinder and whatever is on the surface ends up in the interior, and the interior ends up on the surface. It’s all mixed up,” remarks JeJune, noting that the bacteria are introduced throughout the product.

To explore this concept, he conducted an experiment using two different kinds of growth media.

“The first one was a non-selective media that is very nutrient-rich and allows all kinds of different bacteria to grow on it. The second one contains bio-salts and other ingredients that would be present in the intestines. It selects for organisms that would grow in the intestine like coliforms and E. coli,” he says.

Samples were created using both mediums for interior and exterior cultures from raw steak and raw hamburger.

“We cooked the burgers and steak to 140 degrees, which would be medium rare. Then we cooked them to 160 degrees,” he notes.

Samples were taken from the interior and exterior of both the steak and hamburger at both temperature points and applied to the two types of growth media.

“We put our petri dishes in the incubator and left them overnight. Bacteria like warm temperatures, so that’s one reason we put our food in the refrigerator when we aren’t going to eat it right away,” LeJune comments.

After removing the samples from the incubator, LeJune and his team compared the samples heated to 140 degrees to look for bacterial growth. There was no bacterial growth from the internal samples of cooked steak, but growth colonies were visible on the samples from the ground beef.

“To make sure that the burger is adequately cooked, we should cook it to 160 degrees. At that temperature, we had no bacterial growth from either the steak or the burger,” he states.

The results of LeJune’s study showed that the surface of both raw steaks and raw burgers can be contaminated with bacteria, but only the raw ground beef was contaminated on the interior.

“As we cooked it, the numbers decreased, but even cooking to 140 degrees leaves bacteria on the inside of a ground burger,” he says.

He suggests using a meat thermometer to test the doneness of meats and cooking ground beef to a160 degrees to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

“Don’t eat pink burgers,” LeJune remarks. “They are not safe.”

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..