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December 15, 2006

Table of Contents
Can We Learn Something From The Auto Industry?
R-CALF Quick To Take Credit For Voluntary NAIS
Immigration Gets A Beef-Industry Spotlight
Food Safety To Get Look-See In New Congress
Senators Send Warning On Korea FTA & Beef
Vietnam PNTR Approved
McDonald's Tests Angus Burgers in Six L.A. Stores
Senators Concerned About Cloned Meat And Milk
U.N. Report Takes Aim At Cattle Production
New Jersey Case Seeks To Set Farm-Animal Precedent
Federal Sweep Of Illegal Workers Hits Six Swift Plants
TCFA Presents Year-End Review And Outlook
U.S. Still Wanting In Emergency Preparedness
Congress Adjourns For The Year
Final Election Results
Keenum Confirmed for USDA Post
APHIS Seeks Change In Brucellosis Regs
USDA Annual Outlook Forum


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Our Perspective
Can We Learn Something From The Auto Industry?
I've always thought coaches and business leaders are fed a raw deal, with everything focused on the now rather than the future. In both cases, while much is beyond their control, they will keep or lose their job based on whether they win.

Looking at the U.S. auto industry, one needs a scorecard to keep abreast on the upper-level management, where changes come fast and furious. But while management changes are many and quick, the firms themselves haven't changed. In fact, they've become more entrenched, focusing almost solely on cutting costs.

Without question, their cost structure wasn't competitive, but as Forbes columnist and auto-industry expert Jerry Flintin writes: "That's why they were always cutting costs and never bringing inspired products." He also uses the analogy that the traits needed in a great peacetime general aren't the same as those needed in a great wartime general.

The same probably could be said of the cattle industry -- the skills needed to keep a business successful in the glory years may be considerably different than those needed in a cycle downturn. Cutting costs is a great answer when facing record price levels and a largely commodity pricing structure. Creating value and gambling a large percentage of one's net equity on a bold, innovative marketing plan and business model may be the skill set required.

The U.S. beef industry is transforming from production to product. Some are transitioning away from product quality (efficiency and meeting market specifications consistently) to creating value through new marketing models. The ability to manage this shift in emphasis is crucial, as the point of differentiation is shifting.
-- Troy Marshall


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R-CALF Quick To Take Credit For Voluntary NAIS
USDA's announcement to forever retain the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) as a voluntary program at the federal level wasn't a big surprise. And I'll take USDA at its word that, at the federal level at least, NAIS will always remain voluntary.

Still, you know as well as I do that word definitions are much more fluid in government use than in general society. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe the folks at USDA are honorable, trustworthy folks; it's just that administrations change, and events can quickly reshape priorities.

After all, we can all recall Bill Clinton's shifty explanation about what "is" is. And there's no better historical lesson regarding the shelf life of government pronouncements than what happened to Native Americans when a young nation decided to reach across the continent for its Manifest Destiny.

More surprising to me about the USDA pronouncement was R-CALF's claiming of credit for it. In a Dec. 1 news release following the USDA announcement, R-CALF president Chuck Kiker said:

"Several R-CALF leaders have worked for many months with various USDA officials to prevent implementation of a mandatory animal identification system, and USDA's recent decision shows that this organization has made progress."

What's interesting is that in February 2006, another R-CALF release had Kiker criticizing his National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) counterpart, Mike John, for declaring a voluntary national ID program was even feasible.

"To imply to cattle producers that the NAIS has any chance of being voluntary is not 'straight talk,' Kiker wrote. "The USDA had made it clear that a voluntary program would not achieve the results it desires. The voluntary checkoff program didn't work; voluntary COOL (country-of-origin labeling) hasn't worked; and voluntary animal ID won't work."

Now, that's some tap-dancing that would cock the eyebrow of Fred Astaire; a flippity flop worthy of the best freshly beached carp. It isn't, however, particularly surprising given R-CALF's history.

Folks might recall how R-CALF teamed up with anti-meat groups in a June 2004 Washington, D.C., media event aimed at retaining closure of the U.S. to trade in Canadian live cattle. At that time, the U.S. had but one case of BSE, but it was in a Washington state cow of Canadian origin.

Intended to woo U.S. legislators and consumers to its cause, the press conference -- and the national advertising that accompanied it -- invoked such phrases as "mad cow," "fatal disease" and "high-risk."

At the same time R-CALF was spreading the alarm about "dangerous" Canadian cattle, even the consumer media reported some R-CALF members were buying up cattle in Canada, where prices had tanked following closure of the U.S. border. At that time, Canada had little packing capacity of its own and was almost totally geared for export, something it has since remedied.

Later that fall, the first "domestic" case of BSE was found in the U.S. Luckily, consumers rejected R-CALF's posturing like a vending machine spitting out a tin slug, and a brilliant crisis-management plan by USDA and NCBA minimized the domestic impact.

In fact, beef consumption continued to rise, with U.S. beef producers realizing record prices and profitability in the ensuing years. R-CALF took credit for that, too.
-- Joe Roybal


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Industry Structure
Immigration Gets A Beef-Industry Spotlight
The big news this week were the raids by the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division on six of Swift's meat packing plants. See "Federal Sweep Of Illegal Workers Hits Six Swift Plants" in this issue of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly.

Not surprisingly, the reaction in the market place was swift (no pun intended), with concerns that production schedules would be seriously interrupted and raids were forthcoming in Tyson and Excel plants, as well. Later in the week, all Swift plants had resumed operations but at reduced production levels. Estimates are the raids could cost Swift upwards of $100 million, and ultimately lead to new ownership of Swift.

The raids have been billed as the largest workplace site enforcement action ever taken. They will undoubtedly raise the level of this debate significantly within the industry and nationwide.

The bottom line is ag has historically employed a relatively large number of immigrant workers. While no one advocates hiring illegal immigrants, our immigration system failed to provide enough documented workers to such a degree that a cottage industry has emerged to provide workers with documentation.
-- Troy Marshall


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Food Safety
Food Safety To Get Look-See In New Congress
The Democratic-led Congress plans to make food safety a top priority, which could include placing all governmental food safety divisions under a single jurisdiction.

"We've just got to go in and have, really, a top to bottom look at what is going on," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) tells Reuters, following highly publicized cases recently of E. coli infections following consumption of Taco Bell products in the Northeast. DeLauro will head up the House Ag Appropriations Committee in the 110th Congress.

In the article, Susan Stout, VP of federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, says more staffing, inter-agency coordination and inspection of imported foods are possible solutions.

"I just hope Congress doesn't think building a single federal agency (to oversee food safety) is the answer," she says.

Despite the recent high-profile cases, USDA says E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella cases have declined 9-32% since 1998.
-- Joe Roybal


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Foreign Trade
Senators Send Warning On Korea FTA & Beef
Seven members of the Senate Ag Committee sent a letter to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and USTR Ambassador Sue Schwab stating that, without South Korea's resumption of U.S. beef exports and the acceptance of a bone tolerance for future shipments, they would oppose a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea. The Senators said: "As Members of the Senate Committee on Ag, Nutrition, and Forestry, we regret coming to this decision since Korea is an important ally and trading partner. However, we cannot reward bad behavior and must stand behind farmers and ranchers in the U.S. who produce the safest, highest quality product the world has to offer."

Signing the letter were Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senate Ag Committee chairman; Norm Coleman (R-MN); Kent Conrad (D-ND); Pat Leahy (D-VT); Pat Roberts (R-KS); Jim Talent (R-MO); and Craig Thomas (R-WY).
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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Vietnam PNTR Approved
Congress on the last day of session approved permanent normal trade relations status (PNTR) for Vietnam, which was strongly supported by the ag community. Products benefiting will be beef, pork, dairy products, grapes, apples, pears and soybeans. Under the bilateral agreement, tariff rates for about 75% of U.S. ag exports to Vietnam would decline to 15% or less. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, tariffs would be reduced as follows:
  • Beef: Tariffs on U.S. beef offals will be reduced from the rate 20% to 15% immediately, and phased down to 8% over four years. Boneless beef will be cut from 20% to 14% over five years. The duty on beef sausages, currently at 50% will drop to 40% immediately and will be reduced to 22% over five years.
  • Hides and Skins: Tariffs on hides and skins will be bound at zero immediately. This is currently one of the largest U.S. exports to Vietnam.
  • Pork: Tariffs on pork offals will be immediately cut from 20% to 15% with further reductions to 8% over four years. Tariffs on other key pork and pork products will be reduced by 50% over five years, including tariffs on hams and carcasses, which will fall from 30% to 15% in that timeframe. Rates on processed pork products will be reduced from 20% to 10% over five years.
  • Grains: Vietnam will bind its applied rate of 5% for both corn and wheat.
  • Soybean products: Tariffs on full fat soybean meal and flour will be reduced from 30% to 8% over five years. Tariffs on soybean oil also will be significantly reduced, from 50% to 30% with additional reductions to 20% over five years.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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Beef Marketing
McDonald's Tests Angus Burgers in Six L.A. Stores
In a bid to go head to head with its competitors' high-end burgers, McDonald's is testing hamburgers made with Angus beef at six Los Angeles-area restaurants, Reuters reports. A McDonald's spokeswoman says customer response to the burgers over the past month has been positive, but no decision about expanding the test has been made.

Being tested are three new products, called Angus Third Pounders. They include: Angus with cheese, Angus Deluxe with lettuce and tomato, and Angus Mushroom and Swiss, and are priced between $3.39 and $3.99. A double cheeseburger, McDonald's biggest seller, costs $1.
-- Joe Roybal


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Biotechnology
Senators Concerned About Cloned Meat And Milk
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and other Senators have written the Secretary of Health and Human Services about concerns with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to allow the inclusion of meat and milk from cloned animals in commercial markets. The Senators ask FDA to resubmit FDA's new draft risk assessment to scientific peer review by the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee.

The letter states, "The availability of new scientific data demands that FDA pursue comprehensive scientific scrutiny on this issue." Others signing the letter were: Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), and Arlen Specter (R-PA).
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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Environment
U.N. Report Takes Aim At Cattle Production
A U.N. report takes aim at the world's livestock industry but particularly singles out beef production, calling for the taxing of beef products as a way to decrease demand, thus decreasing the greatest threat to the world's environment and biodiversity, it says.

The 400-page report from the U.N. Food and Ag Organization, entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow," also considers sheep, chickens, pigs and goats, but points the finger mostly at the world's 1.5 billion head of cattle. It says consumers, "because of their strong and growing influence in determining the characteristics of products, will likely be the main source of commercial and political pressure to push the livestock sector into more sustainable forms."

The report -- read it online or download it at: www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.pdf, says livestock are responsible for 18% of climate change, 9% of CO² emissions, 37% of methane emissions, and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions. The report concludes that without drastic changes, damage caused by livestock will more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases.

"Beef has been identified as carrying the largest costs in terms of land and water requirements for its production, as well as in terms of contribution to climate change," the report says. "Since immediate changes in land and water prices for its production may be difficult to implement, governments may consider the option of taxing beef. Demand for beef would then decline relative to other meats and the pressure on both extensive grazing resources and feedgrain areas would be reduced."
-- Joe Roybal


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Activist News
New Jersey Case Seeks To Set Farm-Animal Precedent
Castration of livestock without use of anesthetic is one practice at the center of an animal-cruelty lawsuit in New Jersey by activist groups. The Humane Society of the U.S. and Farm Sanctuary claim New Jersey's Department of Ag failed to establish humane standards for farm animals as required by a law implemented in that state in 2004. Reuters reports the groups hope the lawsuit might help set national standards for the treatment of livestock.

New Jersey is the only state requiring officials to set humane standards for the treatment of farm animals. Lawyers for the groups told a judicial panel that the state bowed to industry interests by allowing inhumane methods to persist on the grounds they are common practice for farmers and ag colleges, Reuters reports. The groups also cite poultry feeding and management methods, sow gestation crates, and tail-docking of cows as inhumane practices.
A decision by the three-judge panel isn't expected for months.
-- Joe Roybal


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Industry News
Federal Sweep Of Illegal Workers Hits Six Swift Plants
Swift & Company plants in Cactus, TX; Grand Island, NE; Greeley, CO; Hyrum, UT; Marshalltown, IA; and Worthington, MN; were raided by federal agents this week. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested a total of 1,282 people -- 1,217 on immigration charges and 65 on identity theft crimes. No charges were filed against Greeley-based Swift.

ICE says the operation is part of a worksite-enforcement probe that's identified a large identity theft scheme that's victimized large numbers of U.S. citizens and lawful residents.

News reports said the arrested workers were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff says the investigation is continuing into several groups that may have sold identity documents to illegal immigrants.

The raids followed a 10-month investigation into illegal immigrants suspected of buying or stealing other people's identities to secure U.S. jobs, reports the StarTribune.com. The scheme may have had hundreds victims, officials said.

Immigration officials last month informed Swift it would remove unauthorized workers on Dec. 4, but Swift asked a federal judge to stop the action, arguing it would cause "substantial and irreparable injury" to its business, the Star Tribune reports. But the judge rejected Swift's request last week, clearing the way for Tuesday's raids. The six plants represent all of Swift's beef operations and 77% of its pork processing capacity.

In a news release by Swift & Company following the ICE raid, president and CEO Sam Rovit protested the government actions and said the company has never knowingly hired illegal workers and doesn't condone the employment of unauthorized workers.

"Since the inception of the Basic Pilot program in 1997, every single one of Swift's new domestic hires has duly completed I-9 forms and has received work authorization through the government's Basic Pilot program," the release said.

The Basic Pilot program is a voluntary, online verification system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of new hires by checking the personal information they provide against federal databases.
-- Joe Roybal


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TCFA Presents Year-End Review And Outlook
As 2006 rolls to an end, this year of volatility in cattle and corn prices will likely yield to similar conditions in '07, with continued industry pressures coming everywhere from high feed costs and immigration controversies at major packers to struggles with getting export markets back.

That about covered the attitude of Texas Cattle Feeders Association officials at the association's year-end news conference yesterday in Amarillo. Speaking only two days after the nationwide Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids of Swift & Co. plants nationwide, including one in Cactus, TX, TCFA marketing director Jim Gill indicated the impact on live-cattle markets and deliveries seemed minimal in the wake of the Swift shakedown.

"We called yards that had sold cattle to Swift," Gill says. "Many had already shipped last Friday or Saturday. There were still a few to be delivered, but there wasn't much a problem overall."

Cattle prices weren't impacted much, if any, by the plant raids. "Cattle traded in Kansas for $85/cwt. Wednesday (Dec. 15) and $85.50 in Texas," Gill says. "We didn't see a major drop in prices."

On the outlook for future prices, Gill projected '07 first-quarter, fed-cattle prices at $76-$86; second quarter $82-$88; third quarter $84-$90; and fourth quarter $86-$95.

"Prices averaged near $86 ($78-$98) during this year," Gill says. "This was about $1.50 below the previous year, which set a record price of $87.50."

He sees feeder supplies continuing to tighten in '07 for several years as ranchers replace heifers. However, he says the cow herd expansion that started several years ago has slowed or even stopped this year due to drought. Gill expects retail prices to hold steady in the $4/lb. range, due to a level demand.

In the drive to meet export demand, TCFA president Ross Wilson said the association continues to expand its Quality Systems Assessment program for age verification "to meet the needs of the Japanese market."
-- Larry Stalcup


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U.S. Still Wanting In Emergency Preparedness
Five years after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. emergency health preparedness is still wanting. That's according to the fourth annual report, "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Disease, Disasters, and Bioterrorism."

Released this week by the non-profit Trust for America's Health (TFAH), the 84-page report, available online at: healthyamericans.org/reports/bioterror06/BioTerrorReport2006.pdf, provides state-by-state preparedness scores based on 10 indicators. Based on those 10 indicators, half of states scored six or less, Oklahoma scoring the highest with 10 out of 10; Kansas scored a nine. California, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey scored the lowest with four out of 10.

TFAH's policy recommendations for agroterrorism and naturally occurring toxins are part of the all-hazards approach to public health preparedness and include:
  • Leadership -- No single entity or person in government is designated as in charge of food-safety regulation and oversight.
  • Creating a unified system -- Change from the current fragmented federal food-safety system to a single, independent food-safety agency.
  • Surveillance and disease tracking -- Better integration and coordination of animal-borne disease tracking with human health surveillance is needed, as well as increased lab facilities and personnel better trained in detecting animal disease.
  • Education and communication -- Better education of veterinarians and farm workers regarding terrorist threats (including learning about intelligence sharing and security measures) and naturally occurring disease (including symptoms, treatments and reporting practices).
  • catastrophic planning, including scenario drills, are needed at every level of government and across sectors.
-- Joe Roybal


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Government
Congress Adjourns For The Year
The 109th Congress has adjourned for the year. In the closing days, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the government, including ag, through Feb. 15. A number of tax provisions were renewed, including the research and development tax credit, state sales tax deductions, and college tuition deduction. Other tax provisions important to ag include:
  • Tariff on imported ethanol: extends the 54¢/gal. tariff on imported ethanol until January 2009. The tax was due to expire Oct. 1, 2007.
  • Cellulosic ethanol: 50% bonus depreciation for new qualified cellulosic ethanol plants placed in service through Dec. 31, 2012. This provision applies to cellulosic ethanol derived from feedstocks such as switchgrass, wood fibers, shell hulls, agricultural residue and organic sources.
  • Wind energy: extends the wind energy production tax credit until Dec. 31, 2008.
  • Energy taxes: extends credits and deduction, including credit for electricity produced from renewable sources.
The 110th Congress will begin on Jan. 4, 2007.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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Final Election Results
The last Congressional race was decided this week when Ciro Rodriguez defeated Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX) in a runoff election. Bonilla served as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Ag. The Democrats will control the House 230-205.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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Keenum Confirmed for USDA Post
The U.S. Senate confirmed Mark Keenum as Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said, "Mark has built a reputation as an honest, hard-working and insightful person. Those qualities will serve him well in his new role overseeing both our domestic farm support programs and our global efforts relating to ag trade."

Keenum had served as chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). He's been involved in a number of previous farm bills and is a former assistant professor of economics at Mississippi State University.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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Animal Health
APHIS Seeks Change In Brucellosis Regs
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wants to amend the brucellosis regulations to allow for research on brucellosis-exposed or infected animals. Under current regulations, such research can affect a state's Class Free status, which requires all cattle herds in the state or area be released from quarantine and remain free of brucellosis for 12 consecutive months.

Because the current definition of herd includes animals held in a research facility, a state could lose Class Free status by allowing such research. Providing an exception for brucellosis-exposed or infected animals held within federally approved research facilities would allow necessary brucellosis research in Class Free states.

The deadline for comments is Feb. 12, 2007. Comments can be submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov by selecting "Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service'' from the agency drop-down menu, then click "Submit.'' Or send them by mail (original and three copies) to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0183, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. State that your comment refers to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0183.
-- Joe Roybal


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Industry Meetings
USDA Annual Outlook Forum
USDA announced its 83rd annual Outlook Forum, "Ag at the Crossroads: Energy, Farm & Rural Policy," will be held March 1-2, 2007. The forum will focus on bioenergy and its ag implications. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns says the 2007 meeting "will consider the outlook for renewable energy and the enormous opportunity it represents for ag and rural America." The forum will also feature perspectives on the 2007 farm bill. See additional details at: www.usda.gov/oce/forum.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent


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