March 5, 2008

NAIS Down Under and Our Own Pin Heads

It has been a crazy week if you are keeping abreast of the beef recall issue. But our recap should start here, from John Carter, former president of the australian Beef Association, who told R-Calf's annual convention goers, Fight NAIS Down to the Last Cowboy. He calls their system "expensive chaos", and this is the system USDA keeps touting as the best of the best, the system we want to copy.

The next item also comes from Australia, more looking elsewhere to see what we are going to be up against. The Australian Parliament (an anagram of partial men, by the way) has proposed a Horse Disease Response Levy bill of $100
which will effect all registered horse owners. Oh, yes, this bill, as I understand it, is so that INDUSTRY can pay their fair share of the clean-up after the equine influenza outbreak but it will affect all horse owners down under.

Now, let's talk about the Hallmark beef recall. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Colin Peterson both are saying that a mandatory animal id would have prevented the meat recall. Then Dr. Randy Wheeler, an assistant state veterinarian at the Iowa Department of Agriculture, piped up and said the same thing. Peterson took it to a whole different level when he warned, "Now, there’s going to have to be some people that are going to have to be forced to come along..." Sir, are you sure you want to open that can of whup ass? I do not think you understand the ramifications of mandating NAIS on we, the people.

The Brownfield Network reported that, "Harkin said, even though much work remains to be done on the current farm bill, he's looking beyond that legislation to the issue of national animal identification. According to Harkin, the Westland/Hallmark beef recall, the largest in the nation’s history, shows the importance of having what he calls a "comprehensive" animal ID system that covers all animals and provides 48 hour traceback to the farm or ranch." Harkin also said he, "wouldn't rule out Congressional action to make national animal ID mandatory." To take a line from Bill O'Reilly, what a pin head.

Yet, there was this excellent article in the Wall Street Journal, which I will post in full because the WSJ is by subscription only, that shows traceback is available even through manufacturing.

Retracing the Beef-Supply Trail

After Recall, Swift Data Collection
Is Paramount for Food Companies
March 4, 2008; Page A12

As food makers scramble to comply with the nation's largest beef recall, their system of data collection -- which can trace the origin of the contents in its products down to the individual can -- is being put to the test.

H.J. Heinz Co. discovered over the weekend that it has one product -- Boston Market lasagna with meat sauce -- that contained beef from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. Yesterday, Heinz recalled 40,000 cases of the product.

Pittsburgh-based Heinz discovered that beef from Hallmark/Westland made its way into the 12.5-ounce cartons of Boston Market lasagna by conducting its own investigation, which involved looking at the source of meat for all of its U.S. products and then determining whether any of its suppliers or co-packers used beef from Hallmark/Westland. Because the beef Heinz used in its lasagna was blended with beef from other suppliers, it took some time to pinpoint the source.

Hallmark/Westland, of Chino, Calif., on Feb. 17 recalled 143 million pounds of beef after a video from the Humane Society of the United States showed sick or injured cattle being prodded to their feet with hoses and electric shocks. Regulators say the company at times slaughtered such downer cows, a practice that is generally banned because the cows carry a higher risk of having mad-cow disease. No reports of illness have been associated with the beef, and it is characterized as a Class II recall, meaning there is a remote probability that consumption will result in adverse health consequences.

In Washington, a congressional panel is moving ahead with a subpoena compelling Hallmark/Westland President Steve Mendell to appear at a March 12 hearing. The House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations panel said it will meet tomorrow to authorize the subpoena after Mr. Mendell declined to testify last week. "As the CEO of the company with the dubious distinction of being responsible for America's largest meat recall, it is important the committee hear Mr. Mendell's perspective," said committee Chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.). Mr. Mendell couldn't be reached for comment.

The Hallmark/Westland recall highlights the complex network of suppliers for large packaged food companies -- but it also shows how quickly they can trace the origin of their ingredients. While many food companies already traced ingredients, laws aimed at stemming bioterrorism in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made it mandatory for companies to trace their production one step forward and one step back, says Craig Henry, chief operating officer of the scientific and regulatory affairs division of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

He adds that large companies are often better able to trace ingredients back quickly than smaller manufacturers, who may not have automated tracking systems. He says he expects to hear about more products affected by the recall.

"We have very deep trace capabilities. All incoming ingredients are tracked. We know into what recipe they're used and at what time those ingredients are used. It's all computerized," says Roz O'Hearn, a spokeswoman for Nestle Prepared Foods Co., a unit of Switzerland's Nestle SA. About 49,000 cases comprising two varieties of Hot Pockets sandwiches made by Nestle were recalled.

ConAgra Foods Inc., of Omaha, Neb., also recalled some products that were made during just a few days of production, including Slim Jim meat and cheese sticks, Pemmican beef jerky, Hunt's spaghetti sauce with meat flavor, one Banquet macaroni & cheese meal, Manwich with beef in a refrigerated tub and a small quantity of food-service and private-label lasagna with beef. "Because we have data and records on our suppliers and on our ingredients, and because the impact overall was small, we were able to determine the scope quickly," says ConAgra spokeswoman Teresa Paulsen.

General Mills Inc., which had to recall one version of soup containing meatballs made, in part, from Hallmark/Westland beef, has thousands of suppliers for ingredients ranging from the oats in its Cheerios cereal to the tomato puree in its Totino's pizza rolls. After news of the recall broke, General Mills pulled from a database the names of its products that contain beef. A team of five people also began reviewing a list of suppliers to see whether any were customers of Hallmark/Westland. They found just one -- and that supplier, whose identity the company wouldn't reveal, sells only meatballs to General Mills.

General Mills' supplier knew from its records that it had purchased beef from Hallmark/Westland only during a two-month window in late 2007. General Mills' sourcing department, which keeps detailed records on every purchase from a vendor, was then able to zoom in on its records from that two-month window and determine that the meatballs made with that beef were added to its Italian Wedding soup only on five days between Sept. 28 and Oct. 26, 2007.

By Friday, Feb. 22, General Mills was calling retailers around the country and sending them emails and faxes, notifying them that it was recalling the more than 200,000 cans of Progresso Italian Wedding soup made during those five days of production.

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