Eight new convenient beef items now carry the Brand Mark™. Winning the beef industry Mark of Quality are Betty Crocker® Cookbook Favorites' Beef Stroganoff and Pasta with Beef Marinara Sauce, Old El Paso® Taco Sauce with Seasoned Ground Beef, Kin's Command Foods® Fully Cooked Seasoned Ground Beef, and Mosey's® Time for Dinner Corned Beef, Beef Pot Roast, BBQ Beef Brisket and Mesquite Seasoned Beef Brisket.

The Brand Mark program is managed by the Cattlemen's Beef Board and is designed to highlight the beef industry's focus on consumer needs and wants. A total of 57 convenient retail beef products have been approved to carry the seal since the effort began in 1997.

Finland, Austria and Slovakia have reported confirmed or suspected cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In early December, Finland found its first confirmed case in a 6-year-old cow at slaughter. The Finnish government has stepped up testing as a result.

Meanwhile, Austria reported it had a suspected case of BSE. If the infection is confirmed, it would be the country's first.

And Slovakia reported its fifth case since September. Officials have thus far destroyed more than 100 head of cattle.

Meanwhile, the Kyodo News reports that sales in Japanese beef barbecue restaurants have tumbled in the wake of three confirmed BSE cases in Japanese dairy cows since September. Sales were off by 38.1% in November 2001 compared to November 2000. In addition, business is off by 5.3% in Japanese fast-food chains and 4.4% in the restaurant industry overall.

Three groups want a “BSE-Free” label on U.S. beef exports to Japan. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the American Meat Institute and the U.S. Meat Export Federation are urging USDA to include the statement on all beef shipped to Japan.

In a letter to USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, the groups say the label is needed to reassure beef consumers in Japan, where demand has fallen off sharply after the discovery in late 2001 of four cases of BSE in Japanese dairy cattle. The drop in Japanese demand has impacted U.S. fed beef prices by 50¢ to $2/cwt., says Cattle-Fax.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumer confidence in U.S. beef is at an all-time high. A record 89% of consumers say U.S. beef is safe from BSE, a checkoff-funded survey found.

Retired IBP chairman Bob Peterson is going to farm. The Des Moines Register reports that Peterson paid $9 million for a 10,040-acre property near Grand River in south-central Iowa that included 5,600 cows and calves, a feedlot and farm machinery. Peterson plans to grow corn and soybeans and raise cattle.

Steve Kay of the Cattle Buyers Weekly reports that Peterson also plans to build a new breeding herd. Those plans should fit well with the farewell gift of triplet Angus heifer calves given him at his IBP farewell party.