New FSIS Water Rule Takes Effect

USDA's new rule on water retention in raw poultry and meat products went into effect on Jan. 9. The new Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) rule stipulates that carcasses and their parts can't retain water unless it's an unavoidable consequence of the processes used to meet food safety requirements. In addition, the percentage of retained water must be disclosed on the product's labeling.

The implementation of the rule is the culmination of a long battle by the beef industry to bring equity to federal inspection standards for red meat and poultry. Under the old rule, poultry was allowed to gain as much as 8% water weight in post-evisceration processing (turkey up to 9%), while beef, pork and lamb were allowed to gain no water. The beef industry argued that this inequity cheated consumers purchasing poultry, and was essentially a subsidy to the poultry industry, because consumers were overpaying as much as $1 billion/year for the added water.

In 1994, beef producer/attorney Wythe Willey, the former president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, initiated a lawsuit regarding the inspection inequities between poultry and beef in 1994. It culminated in a 1996 U.S. 8th Circuit Court opinion stating there was no justification for different regulations for poultry versus red meat.

Later, Federal District Court Judge Ronald Longstaff directed then USDA Secretary Dan Glickman to issue new regulations on added water for poultry. The rule was published in 2001 but implementation was delayed until 2003 to allow the poultry industry additional time to prepare for the change.

Future Beef Operations Assets Auctioned

Creekstone Farms Premium Beef (CFPB) LLC, a privately held producer and marketer of Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef, appears to be the new owner of Future Beef Operations' (FBO) former assets in Arkansas City, KS. That is, if the court approves the deal accepted by the Denver bankruptcy court trustee overseeing the liquidation. FBO was placed into Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings in August 2002 and the assets were auctioned Jan. 8 in Denver.

Based near Louisville, KY, CFPB says it plans to use the $100-million, 400,000-sq.-ft. processing plant facility to process its fresh and cooked Black Angus beef products. CFPB had been processing its beef at the former FBO plant in the months prior to its closing in August.

CFPB CEO John Stewart projects that the plant, which had as many as 900 employees under FBO's ownership, will initially employ about 500 people in the startup. The firm plans to supply 1,000 head/week of the plant's needs upon opening, similar to the level it processed at the plant prior to its closing. This number is projected to more than quadruple by the end of 2003.

The former FBO plant also has state-of-the-art cooking and case-ready facilities, which the new owner says it will use to increase value-added product development and production.

CFPB fresh beef products are distributed throughout the U.S. and in Asia. Customers of fresh and fully cooked products include regional and national restaurant chain accounts, regional and national retail grocery chains, food service purveyors and distributors, convenience stores, club stores and retail distributors. The firm plans to significantly expand its value-added products business over the next 18 months to include deli and innovative entree products.

Richard Pombo Heads House Resources Committee

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), a rancher and a top Congressional advocate for property rights, was named chairman of the House Resources Committee on Wednesday. An influential post, the Resources Committee consists of five subcommittees — National Parks and Public Lands; Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans; Water and Power; Energy and Mineral Resources; and Forests and Forest Health.

First elected to Congress in 1992, Pombo has pushed aggressively for revision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). He's a co-founder of the San Joaquin County (CA) Citizen's Land Alliance, a coalition of farmers and other property owners advocating private property rights.

In July 2001, he was elected chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, an organization of 55 members of Congress working to advocate in one voice on issues such as ESA reform, water rights, private property rights and other issues affecting Congressional districts in the West.

California Poultry Industry Struck By Disease

Canada joined Mexico in imposing a 14-day ban on California poultry products last week, reports The action was taken in response to an ongoing California outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease, a disease that poses no human health risk but can kill up to 90% of birds in diseased flocks.

Hoping to minimize the damage to the state's $3 billion/year poultry industry, California state agriculture officials ordered an additional one million chickens destroyed in early January after new cases surfaced. That brought the total number of birds destroyed to 1.2 million. The initial outbreak was in Los Angeles County, which along with Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Orange counties, was quarantined in December. On Jan. 9, the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Imperial were added.

A similar outbreak in the 1970s led to the destruction of nearly 12 million chickens and cost $56 million to eradicate the disease.