I found Clint Peck's June issue interview with Wal-Mart's Bruce Peterson, “BEEF Chat: The Wal-Mart Way” (page 24), very interesting. It's very unusual for a Wal-Mart executive to say outright their objective is to take market share from their competition. That certainly isn't what they say when they want to move into a community.

I doubt you would have gotten a straight answer, but Peterson should have been asked if the real reason Wal-Mart is against country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is that it will be such a hassle for Wal-mart to triple its number of product codes and that there could be copyright issues with the labels. I think that is one of the real reasons packers hate COOL. Retailers probably also fear what will happen if they have U.S. and foreign product side by side.

Peterson seems very knowledgeable and I believe him when he says he's never had a call or letter asking where something is produced. The problem with his statement is that meat is sold with a USDA stamp. Thus, consumers assume that means the animal was born and raised in the U.S. People don't ask because they think they already know the origin.

Another funny thing about the interview was Peterson's comments on pumped product. I refuse to buy meat at Wal-Mart because I don't want to buy Thomas E. Wilson(Tyson) pumped product. People who want a good steak don't buy meat at Wal-Mart.
Bret Crotts
Garden City, KS

Outstanding Salt Article

In the June issue of BEEF, T. W. Swerczek (“Don't Short Salt,” page 14), emphasizes the positive effect of sodium supplementation for the prevention of grass tetany. His observation and conclusions about a possible role of sodium deficiency in the pathogenesis of grass tetany are very important from a practical standpoint and easily can be explained by the changes of saliva composition during sodium deficiency.

A deficiency in sodium causes an enhanced production and secretion of aldosterone. This leads to a decrease of sodium and an increase of potassium concentrations in saliva and subsequently in the ruminal fluid.

These alterations are identical with the consequences of a diet with a high potassium intake and the well-known depressive effect that high potassium concentrations in the ruminal fluid have on magnesium absorption from the fore-stomachs.

In some recent work, we fed growing lambs an artificially dried, young spring grass with a sodium content of 0.025% (low but not unusual) in the dry matter. The daily intake of 310 mg of sodium wasn't enough to cover the lambs' requirement, which induced the known alterations of sodium and potassium concentrations in the saliva and ruminal fluid.

We observed potassium concentrations up to 120 milli moles/liter (mmol/L) in the ruminal fluid and reduced absorption of magnesium from the rumen. As far as I know, such a high concentration of potassium never has been observed in studies with increasing potassium contents in the diet. In other words, the endogenous load of potassium via saliva during sodium deficiency is probably as high as at a high potassium intake or even higher.

We can learn the potential risk of sodium deficiency from a simple calculation of potassium inflow into the rumen via saliva. A 150-liter volume of saliva with a potassium concentration of 100 mmol/L amounts to some 600 g. This equals the potassium content of 20 kg dry matter intake with 3% potassium.

Sodium deficiency often has been observed in grazing cows. Sheep and field observations indicate a correlation between sodium deficiency and incidence of tetany.

In a field study, Butler observed an increased incidence of grass tetany at low sodium concentrations in the grass. The statistical significant correlation between sodium content of the grass and the incidence of grass tetany disappeared at sodium concentrations above 0.2%. (A 0.2% concentration of sodium in the grass covers the requirement and hence abolishes all the changes of sodium and potassium concentrations in the saliva and the ruminal fluid mentioned above.)

Furthermore, low concentrations of sodium were found in tetany-prone grass, and Paterson and Crichton prevented grass tetany by supplementing cows with sodium chloride.

Though the relationship has been long known, sodium deficiency is still often an overlooked factor in the pathogenesis of grass tetany, especially in grazing beef cattle. Sodium supplementation is easy, inexpensive and a simple prophylactic tool for the prevention of an important metabolic disease in cattle.
H. Martens, DVM
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Free University of Berlin
Berlin, Germany


Clouding The Issue

In regard to Steve Brake's comments on country-of-origin labeling (COOL) expressed in the July issue of BEEF (Reader's Viewpoint, page 11):

  • Brake's comment that USDA should have held hearings prior to COOL being passed in the farm bill shows either a lack of understanding of the process or an attempt to confuse the issue. The intent of the listening sessions is to gather public and industry input on how to implement COOL efficiently and cost effectively. To have rulemaking hearings prior to passage of the legislation would have been premature.

    The hope was that the industry would pull together in a responsible manner to provide input to USDA as to how to draft the rules. Instead, the hearings are being used by groups opposed to COOL to create fear and confusion.

  • Brake asks why foodservice and restaurants aren't included in COOL. One step at a time, one step at a time.

  • He's also concerned that poultry isn't included in the bill, but what this has to do with implementing COOL for the cattle and beef industry is beyond me. Mildred Haley, who works with the poultry department at USDA, says the U.S. imports very little poultry because of strong barriers in place to protect U.S. poultry producers.

  • Finally, Brake states that having a national animal identification program in place would make COOL much easier to implement. But a country-of-origin mark has little to do with a national traceback system. These are two different things.

The fact is USDA already has in place the simplest, least cost and minimum regulatory program in place. It's called Presumption of Origin and is used by USDA in its Domestic Purchase Program. It allows USDA to only purchase U.S. product (excluding imported feeder cattle).

This isn't a complicated process as beef imported into the U.S. is already labeled as to country of origin. Cattle for immediate processing are shipped in sealed containers and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service requires that U.S. purchasers be notified of such shipments and their country of origin prior to shipment. Feeder cattle and such imported into the U.S. for the most part carry the mark.

Ideally though, for COOL what may be needed is to have the departments of Treasury through Customs require that cattle “not for immediate processing” carry a tag or mark stating country of origin. This shouldn't be a difficult exercise as it's already required on more than 90% of products coming into the U.S.

These cattle can be identified at the packer level and properly marked. Packers already do this for branded programs such as Certified Angus Beef and have been able to maintain their identities.
Leo McDonnell
Columbus, MT

Send reader letters, with name and address, to BEEF, 7900 International Dr., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425; or e-mail to beef@primediabusiness.com. BEEF reserves the right to edit for length.