Ed Green Nuffield trip to usa and Canada, June/July 2012 Friday 22 June 2012

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Ed Green Nuffield trip to USA and Canada, June/July 2012

Friday 22 June 2012

Arrived in Philadelphia and met up with my host, Graeme Goodsir, an ex-pat Aussie who has lived and worked in the meat sector in the US for the last forty years. Drove through the city on a historical tour. Pennsylvania's colonial founding father was William Penn. Now fourth largest city in the US and one of the biggest ports in the US.

Drove on out through Amish communities near Harrisburg. They use no electricity (or buttons?!) and use horse and buggies for transport. This area has many 100acre dairy farms. Cold winters here, so cows are housed in winter. Lots of maize crops and soya beans. Maize is a nice dark green colour, and three feet high (unlike the three inch yellow stuff in the UK at the moment).

Met up with Graeme's wife, Esme, in the evening for a meal in Mechanicsburg in a "neighbourhood restaurant" (family oriented). Beef steaks presented more dynamically with more interesting spices, flavours and things like Bourbon.

Then back to a motel where I'll be staying for the next two nights. It's noticeable how all staff, whether in the airport, cafes, restaurants or motel, all go out of their way to provide the best service they can and constantly ask if there's anything else they can do. Much more than in Europe. I had been in my motel room for about 15 minutes when the phone rang and the lady in reception wanted to know if I was happy with the room.

Few points to mention whilst driving with Graeme. Beef futures markets work in the US but they have significant volume to play with. Without this volume, hedging movements would have too big an impact on a small pool in the UK situation. It works if you're hedging against risk, but not if you start to act as a speculator.

Very powerful beef industry lobby in US. They are a little blind to the importance of giving the consumer assurances on food safety and animal welfare and environmental protection. "Pink slime" controversy was handled badly, and antibiotics and hormones used will increasingly become an issue. Farmers markets popular here and often with permanent premises and open three or four times a week.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Hot and humid again today at 28 degrees.

Took a tour around the Harrisburg Capitol Building which is amazingly ornate for a legislative building and now uninsurable due to its lavish decor. Built around 1905, it hosts the Senate and House of Representatives for Penn State. Currently there is a lot of scandal around political corruption here, with an Occupy Harrisburg camp outside. Big spending cuts are being made now in the public sector, with lots of teachers losing their jobs.

The other big story here at the moment is the court conviction of a previously hero worshipped football coach for child molestation.

Three Mile Island, where a disastrous nuclear accident occurred in the 1960s, is just downstream the main river here.

Visited a newly opened Asian supermarket. This is likely to struggle in the current economic climate. The beef on offer included ox tail, tripe, pizzle, brisket. Other offerings included live fish in a tank, fish heads, chicken feet and pigs trotters.

Visited the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. In the latter 18th century, there was increasing opposition to slavery in America, predominantly from northern states like Pennsylvania. This caused friction with southern states where slavery was seen as more acceptable and necessary to provide labour on the plantations. Southern states didn't like being told what to do, whilst the northern states argued for a common union of rights across all the states.

This culminated in the mid 19th century with civil war between the southern confederates, led by General Lee, and the northern federal unionists, led by President Abraham Lincoln. More lives were lost in these battles than in any other wars since, with many ordinary people and immigrants dragged unwillingly into battle. Ultimately, the unionists won leading to the modern day USA. Shortly after victory, Lincoln was assassinated.

Drove with Graeme and Esme Goodsir down to Gettysburg. Here we had lunch with Tom Vossler, a retired army colonel, and his wife Barbara. Upon retirement in 1999, the Vossler's started from scratch their own pedigree Simmental suckler herd. Mountain View Simmentals is now a widely respected herd, and often win prizes in the show ring across the US. Tom has also become widely respected in the beef producer association world.

Their Simmentals are black and red in colour and look similar to Stabilisers. Furthermore, the black cattle (and any black cattle in general) can be sold as Certified Angus. Females are sold in the spring and fall as in calf heifers for between $1800-$3200. Bulls are sold at weaning to other herds for around $1800. Pasture rights on their national champion prize bull, Maximus, are sold to work on a herd during the summer for around $100 per week. Semen is also sold.

The Vosslers have built their own sale ring to facilitate the spring and fall sales, and invite other selected vendors so around 75 cattle are on offer each time. The Vosslers have also participated in "shoot side training" on their 60 acre farm. This is part of the Beef Quality Assurance scheme run by the National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA), and involves injecting an animal in undesirable areas of the carcase, eg the rump, or injecting way over the required dose, and then carrying out a post mortem to show the effects this has on carcase quality. This is maybe something EBLEX could try.

Tom is also now an official tour guide on the Gettysburg battlefields so took us on a brief tour. The Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 lasted three days and was the defining battle in ending the civil war. General Lee's southern confederates tried three times to break through Union lines but ultimately failed. The battlefield is huge and is covered with statues, plaques, monuments and canon. Around 50,000 lives were lost. Tom's knowledge on the subject is immense and he has appeared on UK tv in Battlefield Detectives.

Ended the day in Lancaster by going to the Dutch Apple Diner Theater and watching a touring company perform Legally Blonde. This is a flat level theatre auditorium filled with dining tables with a buffet style service and drinks brought by waiters whilst you watch the show. A bit like a UK cabaret club, but bigger, and maybe something that could work in the UK.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Looked at a couple supermarkets in Harrisburg. "Wegmans" is a high end Waitrose type supermarket. When you first walk in the store you walk into a blaze of colour from low level fruit and vegetable displays laid out on rustic looking wooden crates. Distinct lack of bright lighting and high shelving. Staff are well treated, had knowledge of what they were selling having had long term hands on training.

Yellow footprints on the floor lead to $6 meal bargains and many food products had price freeze promises right up until August 10th. Ground beef sold as 80, 90 and 95% lean. Steaks and roast joints sold with no attached fat, but do have marbling. "Irradiated" beef is also sold as a safer option to combat ecoli risks, and some packs suggest meat should be cooked at certain temperatures for a certain length of time, also to combat e coli. Meat is not sold in a bright red colour and is not in trays but in shrink wrapped packs.

"Kards" supermarket is less aesthetically pleasing but does have a good reputation for its meat, which is completely cut and prepared in store.

Drove to Washington DC and took in a whistle stop car tour of the sights; Capitol Hill, the White House, the Washington Monument. On the way stopped at a sports bar in Fredericksburg and watched England lose again on penalties.

Had a late supper in the Silver Diner in Washington DC. Promoted itself as "fresh, local and healthier" and worked with 15 local farmer suppliers. Menu included "nitrate free bacon", "antibiotic and hormone free beef", "certified Angus beef", "reduced sodium teriyaki". Flat iron steak we eat had a layer of silver skin running through it, so wasn't a good eating experience. Ribeye steak Philly sandwich was not ribeye but more like poor quality kebab meat strips. Diner was great though; jukeboxes, bar stools at the counter and cubicles with neon lighting and chrome walls. The Chunky Monkey milkshake was good too!

Staying in the Highlander Motel in Washington DC tonight.

Monday 25 June 2012

Met with Bill Roenigk, Vice President of the National Chicken Council in Washington DC. Chicken price reporting is voluntary as contracts predominate with a minimum set price and bonuses for low level condemnations. GIPSA (Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Agency) arbitrate disputes.

Bill rated the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Research Service for its short term commodity outlook and long term pricing projections over 10 years. The annual Outlook conference was also worthwhile.

A new Farm Bill is legislated every five years. 80% of its budget goes to 40 million people below the $20k poverty line in the form of food stamps using an electronic card "Snap" program. This is paid on the first of each month. Recipients spend 97% of it in the first three days. Retailers know this and target their promotions accordingly.

Brazil is well placed to supply the extra pork and chicken demand in China. However, Brazil's currency is strengthening, it's labour costs are rising and it's domestic consumption demand is rising.

The US exports 20% of its chicken, equating to 62million lbs. There is a huge demand for chicken feet in China. However, China wants to export chicken to the US and is pushing hard on this issue.

The chicken lobby is working closer now with the red meat lobby over shared issues such as the use of grain for ethanol and animal welfare. This cooperation could increase if meat packers become more multi species orientated.

US consumers eat 87lbs of chicken and 60lbs of beef per capita. This is the lowest beef consumption since the 1930s.

Next came a meeting with the AMI (American Meat Institute), a meat packers lobby organisation with Jim Hodges (Executive Vice President), Dale Nellor (Senior Vice President Legislative Affairs), Bill Westman (Vice President International Trade) and Mark Dopp (Senior Vice President Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel).

90% of beef is not irradiated. Consumer resistance to the idea and the terminology. Pasteurisation would be a better term. AMI consider it a costly and unnecessary process.

Contracts between fatteners and meat packers are widespread. Most small fatteners  and cow/calf producers are opposed to contracts and favour live auctions and spot trading. Ownership of fattening cattle is split between cow/calf producers, backgrounders, feedlot owners, meat packers (5%) and outside investors. Higher value branded products more likely to gain meat packer ownership with a "captive supply". Delivery time is almost more important than carcase confirmation.

Certified Angus brand is 30 years old and accepts any black cattle as there is no compulsory individual tagging of cattle or traceable passport system.

High grain prices are driving efficiency.

AMI don't consider tenderness and eating quality as important enough to require a change to the current system of grading on confirmation and fat level. VIA is widely used and accepted. Consider schemes like Certified Angus as adequate to deliver tenderness and eating quality.

Recent trade agreement with the EU allows 48,000 tons of US and 32,000 tons of Canadian hormone free "high quality beef" into the EU in exchange for putting the EU on the same BSE footing as North America. The EU is a high value export market but has traceability and certification demands. The US uses cold storage facilities in Germany. The EU agreed to hot "carcass washing" with lactic acid prior to entering the chiller to act as an anti microbial. The EU is also now able to export veal into the US.

30% of pork and 13% of beef is exported from the US. When exporting, it is better to deal with government attaches than trade bodies.

Urbanised consumers and politicians are increasingly disconnected from food production, so increasingly unsympathetic with production difficulties and what it takes to produce food at a price. "Pink slime" turned into a huge issue. Animal welfare and food safety will keep moving up the agenda. Issues include antibiotic use, anti microbial resistance and animal welfare. Pathogenic ecoli and salmonella testing and ESTEC 6 testing is costly for meat packers and they favour using the ecoli test as a surrogate indicator for problems with other ecoli strains. AMI also argue nitrates are not a problem, but actually can be used as a therapeutic tool!

AMI see an increase in trade barriers coming as China becomes a battleground for exports. Ractopamine will become an issue.

Next met with Laurie Bryant and Phil Kimball, Executive Directors from NAMA (North American Meat Association). Possible imports from the UK into North America include veal, pork spare ribs and racks of lamb. Currently there are only 3000 calves killed a day for veal in the US with a population 300 million.

Public Health Information System implemented in May 2012.

Inspections on imports for ecoli is now much more intensive and time consuming. The availability of imported product is now much lower too, with the exception of Australia. Trade quotas are restrictive for some, with a 26.4% duty of deliveries above quota allocation. Countries like Uruguay also can't negotiate outside their Mercosur trade block. NAMA arguing for some reallocation of quota volumes.

Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) - retailers and meat packers against this as they argue  it adds cost and bureaucracy. However, producers in the northern US states are for it to help prevent Canadian imports coming down over the border. But US and Canadian markets are merging; Canada Beef are one of NAMAs biggest members.

NAMA argue ecoli could be contained through vaccination at farm level; The Whole Melon Theory - easier to treat a whole melon than when it's in slices!

Next had meeting at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with Craig Morris, Deputy Administrator. Part of Craig's remit is the public procurement of food for schools. This totals $1.8 billion and feeds 31 million children per day. The State buys meat in bulk commodity form, which is then passed on to the local authorities to turn into meal options.

USDA facilitates the publishing of beef prices, covering around 70% of all transactions, with the smaller abattoirs making up the other 30%. These published prices are the actual prices paid to producers, not the "official" base price announced by the abattoir, so includes any bonuses larger producers can negotiate above the base price.

Following the recent trade deal between the US and EU, veal from Holland and France will be in demand but will have to be marketed well.

Currently, carcases and portion sizes are too big in the US. It seems to me strange then that growth hormones are used. Craig argued that growth hormones provide a good return on capital, do work and are efficient. Meat packers would not be concerned if growth hormones stopped being used. Producers are apparently the ones who want them due to their effectiveness. The payment grid is geared towards size and quantity rather than eating quality. The percentage of the carcass going to ground beef is also increasing, despite the innovations in extracting more whole cuts from the forequarter, like the flat iron steak. Craig thinks there will be less beef options in the future, and more ground beef with a few steak cuts. Processed foods will also turn away from beef to cheaper animal proteins eg chicken sausages.

There is no individual animal ID system in the US, and no desire or move towards one. The UK system was prompted by a big disaster (BSE), and it will probably take the same in the US. There seems to me to be a gathering storm of food safety issues in the US (ecoli, growth hormones, traceability) but all involved seemed to be ignoring the warning signs. The pork and chicken sectors are ahead in this respect as they are export and consumer focused and mainly very business minded. The beef sector is more animal and farmer focused and less aware that ultimately they are producing for a consumer. There are 800,000 cow/calf producers with an average herd size of 42; this is where most of the traditional thinking lies.

In general, the USDA appears to carry a light touch on farm inspections and tries to encourage areas of niche eg organic, farmers markets.

Flew out at night to Denver via Chicago.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Denver, Colorado

Wildfires raging in Colorado Springs and less so now at Fort Collins. Record temperatures of 105 degrees F and dry lightning.

Met with Cattlemens Beef Board (CBB), who oversee the Beef Checkoff Scheme and are the official link to the USDA. This scheme promotes and markets beef generically and is funded by a $1 levy per animal transaction (not point of slaughter) which usually gathers around $2.50 per animal lifetime. Importers of beef also contribute levies and have places on the board alongside producers and meat packers.

96% of beef in display cabinets is of US origin. Canada and Mexico are against COOL, although it appears US consumers don't see COOL as a big issue.

Check out new beef option ideas on www.bovine.uni.edu Convenience orientated new ideas include beef bites and healthy options.

Veal demand is very regional.

As there is no compulsory ID on cattle, age is judged by dentition. Retinal scanning have also been looked at as a possible ID solution, but unlikely to be implemented due to cost. Exporters do individually ID stock for the export market.

Offal - "the tongue to the bung"!

Met over lunch with National Cattlemens Beef Association's (NCBA) Ryan Ruppert (Senior Director BQA) and John Patterson (Executive Director Producer Education). Quote of the day from Ryan: "the French are just bad hunters...that's why they eat snails".

Beef feed yards and cow/calf herds will just keep getting bigger. Beef futures wouldn't work in the UK as beef volume is too small to have enough liquidity.

COOL doesn't make any difference to the actual product and consumers don't care about it.

Gourmet hamburgers a growing trend eg in Red Robin outlets at $9 per lb and 90% lean. Lean beef competing against 99% lean turkey.

National Beef Quality Audit checks on beef quality. Use of electronic tagging and age sourcing up from 3% to 20% of the kill (around 4.5million cattle).

Salmonella more important than ecoli. Gene marking of super shedders of disease could be possible. Market will dictate use of growth hormones.

Next met with Cattlefax analysts Warren Prosser and Brett Stuart. This is a non profit trade organisation focussing on analysing any data connected to beef. They also carry out market and custom forecasting and offer one hour webinars to chief producers to help their businesses. There are 5000 members, most of which are cow/calf units, but most work focuses on the feed yards.

Global futures market in 90% lean beef in Australia, Brazil and US could possibly work. This is main hamburger and ground beef product.

Beef consumption down from 65 lb per capita in 1990-2010 to 54 lb in 2010-2012. US beef herd also shrinking but currency exchange has stopped imports filling the gap.

Next met with NCBA Director of Market Intelligence and Veal Marketing, Trevor Amen. He is a Beef Checkoff contractor tasked with promoting and marketing beef in the retail and food service sector. One point of interest was a partnership with the American Heart Association to promote sales of lean beef. Also promotion of sub primals for consumers to take home and carve up themselves (Slice n Save). On pack recipe labels that peel back are a good idea also.

Next met the NCBA meat science department. Bridget Wasser (Senior Director Meat Science Technology) focuses on product enhancement to improve quality through research. This has included mapping the carcase for tenderness and muscle profiling. Certain "guaranteed tender" beef lines now in stores, even at " select" level eg "Rancher Select" in Safeway via Cargill. Samples are taken from a batch and tender stretch tested. Grocery stores up scaling on quality with more branded product lines. Fast convenient steaks are increasing in popularity.

Irradiated beef is only 0.2% of sales and has to be labelled as such. Found in Wegmans and Swanns. The technology works but is expensive.

Feed and water additive has been developed to improve meat safety by cleaning the GI tract and specifically targeting bacteria like ecoli and salmonella, but needs regulatory approval. Orange peel has shown to be anti-microbial. There are also vaccines that target pathogens (more info on website).

Checkoff program validates concepts, and then leaves it to private companies to move concepts through licensing, which can take ten years.

Next spoke to Mandy Carr, Executive Director REI Research, about food safety. The Safety Summit is a conduit where the safety issues of the day are debated.

5% lactic acid solutions are approved for use at various stages along the slaughter line (more on this in JBS notes). Versatile and simple to apply but water hardness, water temperature and changes in the water temperature, placement of nozzles for coverage and ambient temperature are all important factors. Some also work better depending on the season. Faeces on hide also important.

Next spoke to Jessica Igo, Director Meat Science Technology, about the nutritional aspects of beef. Beef increasingly promoted as a healthy option, and offered in stores in increasingly lean forms eg 90% lean. Good source of iron and zinc and good for bone health, with research to back it up. Food guidelines undervalue need for protein in diets. Using both reactive and proactive messages.

www.beefresearch.org for colon cancer research on processed meats.

Next spoke to Michelle Murray, Executive Director Food and Nutrition Communication, about consumer marketing. Using online and other media. Advertising budget is $9.5m for magazines, digital and radio to promote 29 different cuts of lean beef. Use colour and mainly 3oz portions together with healthy fruit, veg and whole grains on the same plate. Emphasis on names of cuts so consumers know what to ask for when in store. Provide information on nutritional value of beef and as a food that's good for you. The Food Network tv channel uses celebrity chefs. Food Trends is an info and promotional magazine.

A focus on "millenials" - those born between 1980 and 2000 aged between 12 and 32. These have overtaken the Baby Boomers in importance as this generation has grown up with chicken as a favoured option over beef. Created a cookbook, "Confident Cooking with Beef" in association with a chef.

BOLD - Beef in Optimum Lean Diet, is a research project looking at how people with high cholesterol can use lean beef by trimming off the fat, but leaving marbling as desirable.

Lack of resources for school age targeting. I (heart) Beef campaign on Valentines Day.

I wonder if the next stage is research on the nutritional value of a chicken meal (which is always covered in lots of other gunk which is not healthy), against a beef meal (which is more tasty than chicken so can be eaten on its own with a salad).

Next talked to Barb Wilkinson, who is in charge of governance, people and leadership. A leadership development program has been initiated in 2011.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

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