Emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres on a national basis has been approved. U.S. Ag Secretary Ann Veneman made the authorization Sept. 9 to provide relief to farmers and ranchers in areas hit hardest by drought and other natural disasters. Previously, emergency haying and grazing was limited to 18 states.

CRP is a voluntary program offering annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving cover on eligible land. Veneman's action will permit CRP participants to graze livestock or hay on CRP acreage.

Generally, to be approved for emergency haying or grazing, a county must have suffered at least a 40% loss of normal moisture and forage for the preceding four-month qualifying period. Veneman's authorization rescinds that condition, allowing haying and grazing unless a state's Farm Service Agency (FSA) committee limits eligible areas.

CRP participants, where authorized, have until Nov. 30 to submit applications for the emergency program with their local FSA office. Conditions for participation and other details are also available there.

To check out a variety of USDA programs available to help ranchers affected by this year's drought and adverse weather, contact your local FSA office or visit www.usda.gov.

For more on the drought, visit www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.

Lowes Foods, a Winston-Salem, NC-based food chain of 105 stores in North Carolina and Virginia, began selling fresh, irradiated ground beef in 48 locations in September. Lowes says the beef treated with the SureBeam® electronic pasteurization process, provides “another layer of security for those especially concerned about eliminating the threat of E-coli bacteria in the ground beef they consume.” The beef is available in 1-lb. packages of 93% lean ground beef and in 93% lean ground beef patties.

In a related happening, SureBeam will supply equipment for the new Brawley Beef processing facilities. The multi-year agreement will allow Brawley Beef, which is based in California's Imperial Valley, an opportunity to evaluate use of the irradiation technology on its ground beef product line.

Brawley Beef's new 372,000-sq.-ft. facility utilizes multiple food-safety intervention systems, such as steam vacuuming, organic acid sprays, wash and rinse and thermal pasteurization to help eliminate the threat of pathogens. Greg Beck, Brawley president and COO, says irradiation fits the processor's goal of “using the latest livestock handling and processing technologies to assure consumers that they will receive consistent — and most importantly — the safest beef products on the market.”

Meanwhile, Iowa beef producers served more than 32,000 hamburgers made with irradiated ground beef during the Iowa State Fair this summer. More than 1,200 cattle industry volunteers from 70 Iowa counties helped serve the 60,000 customers who annually dine in the Cattlemen's Beef Quarters restaurant, located on the fairgrounds.

Nancy Degner, vice-president of consumer marketing for the Iowa Beef Industry Council, which handled publicity for the event, says the promotion garnered “positive coverage” on television, radio and in print. “There was absolutely no controversy from consumers,” she reports.

Terri Carstensen, production coordinator at the Beef Quarters, says a goal of the promotion, was to “make both the public and cattle producers aware of the process and the food safety potential it offers.”

Effective Oct. 21, U.S. companies and those exporting products into the U.S. have new USDA labeling guidelines for organic products.

  • “100% organic” — products can contain only organic ingredients. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or hormones are allowed in their production.

  • “Organic” — products containing 95% organic ingredients by weight.

  • “Made with organic ingredients” — must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

  • Products containing less than 70% organic ingredients can't use the term “organic” on the label but can use in the ingredients list.

Companies that meet the labeling standard for “100% organic” or “organic” can use USDA's green-and-white seal. A civil penalty of up to $10,000 can be levied on any person who knowingly sells or labels as organic a product that isn't produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program's regulations.

One in 90,082,667. Those are the one-year odds the National Safety Council (NSC) calculates for a person to die from consuming food and poisonous plants. NSC made the calculations, based on 1998 statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, in response to frequent media inquiries.

You can compare those odds with those dying from 39 other injuries listed on the NSC Web site at www.nsc.org. From the home page, go to “research & statistics” and then click on “What are the odds of dying?”

This monthly column is compiled by Joe Roybal, 952/851-4669 or e-mail jroybal@primediabusiness.com.