Consumers purchasing raw poultry will finally get a fair shake after January 2002. That's when USDA will require poultry processors to begin disclosing the water content of raw poultry products, and justify why it's there.

Until now, USDA inspection rules had allowed poultry to be sold with as much as 9% added water, when beef and pork could not have any.

The beginning of the end came when a group of Iowa cattle producers led by cattleman/attorney Wythe Willey sued USDA in 1994 over the inspection inequities between poultry and red meat. In 1997, a federal judge agreed and ordered USDA to develop new rules.

The new rule mandates zero added water for all poultry and meat products unless the products are labeled. This will allow consumers to know how much water they are purchasing with their poultry. It's estimated that consumers have overpaid more than $1 billion annually for the added water in poultry. USDA officials anticipate that the new rule will add 1/lb. to the consumer price of chicken.

Beef was front and center at the inauguration of George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the U.S. Mary Lou Bradley's B3R Meats of Childress, TX, was the chosen supplier of tenderloin steaks for nearly 1,000 dignitaries attending the Texas State Society Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C.

U.S. pork producers voted 15,591 to 14,396 to end their industry's national pork checkoff. Established in 1985, the law mandated that pork producers pay 45 on each $100 they receive for hog sales. The resulting $54 million raised annually was used to pay for pork research, promotion and education.

The vote was held last fall, but vote totals weren't announced until mid-January. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said he would direct USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to issue a final rule on terminating the program, the end of which could come as early as March 2001.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) denounced the vote, citing flaws in the voting and signature validation process. One issue, the NPPC contends, is that of the 30,000 votes cast in the referendum, only 26,000 were validated as eligible votes by USDA. At press time, the NPPC, individual pork producers and state associations were set to file an injunction to overturn the voting results.

The number of livestock operations classified as confined animal feeding units (CAFOs) and required to have permits under the Clean Water Act will grow to 39,000 from the current 2,500. That's under the regulation changes proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA's goal is to eliminate water pollution problems caused by manure and other pollutants coming from livestock operations. Besides promising to extend regulation to more producers, the proposed changes also will require more acres over which to spread manure.

Among other highlights are:

- All permitted operations must have a nutrient management plan.

- Livestock operations on range and pasture continue to be exempt from the permit program.

- Land applications of manure must be based on nitrogen and phosphorous.

- The general public will have input on the issuance of permits.

- The current focus on protecting surface water will be expanded to include ground water.

The comment deadline is April 1. The proposal can be viewed online at www.epa.gov/owm/afos/proposedrule.htm. In addition, copies are available through local Extension or Natural Resource Conservation Service offices.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) does not cover isolated ponds, wetlands or mud flats, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in mid-January. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the CWA only applies to navigable waterways or marshes that drain into navigable waters.

The decision overturns the so-called "migratory bird rule." The rule was a tool of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent landowners from filling or altering wetlands used by migratory water fowl.

The case was brought by 23 Illinois municipalities that had bought a 523-acre property for use as a landfill. The parcel was the site of a former sand and gravel pit that had been flooded and was now used by migrating birds. The consortium sued after the Corps of Engineers refused to issue a permit for development.

Justices ruled on the case as a question of state vs. federal power rather than the environment vs. property rights. While the ruling limits the federal reach, individual states still have regulatory jurisdiction over land and water use.

Capitalizing on the distrust of homegrown beef in the wake of a "mad cow" panic, Argentina has begun its worldwide campaign to promote its pasture-fed beef in Europe. "Argentine cows are old-fashioned, they only eat on pasture," is the tag with which the Argentine government recently launched its promotional campaign in Germany.

Europe is in a panic as cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) have been found in countries throughout Europe. The cause is thought to be the feeding of animal by-products to cattle as supplements. While "mad cow" disease will not be mentioned in the promotion, the natural pasture element of Argentine beef will be heavily stressed.