Is it beef or Pink Slime

One of the largest defamation lawsuits in American history revolves around something known as “pink slime,” and that term is at the center of a dispute between ABC News and Beef Processors Inc., of Iowa.  Over one billion dollars is at stake, depending on the outcome of the case.   According to examiner.com, the lawsuit is a result of a series of ABC News investigative reports on how one of the nation’s biggest meat producers prepares its products for the marketplace.  What ABC News characterized as pink slime is what the beef processor calls “lean, finely textured beef.”

Beef cattle farmers await a ruling on "Pink Slime"

Beef cattle farmers await a ruling on “Pink Slime” (Photo by Chad Smith)

Carissa Nath is a meat scientist with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, which specializes in finding new uses for agricultural products and technology, with the goal of expanding business and employment opportunities.  She explained what Lean, Finely Textured Beef is: “When carcasses are fabricated (cut; broken down) into steaks, roasts and other retail cuts there is always some amount trim left over.  This trim is mainly fat, but often times there will be a good amount of lean that could still be salvaged from this trim.  Due to the fact that carcasses are fabricated manually (by human hands), it is impossible to capture all this lean at the time of fabrication.  This trim can then be slightly heated and spun rapidly (think of a large salad spinner) to remove all the fat and retain all the lean.  The resultant product (beef lean tissue) is LFTB, 100% beef. LFTB is then used in the beef industry by adding it back into other trimmings (ground beef) to make varying levels of lean to fat ratios (85/15 (85% lean 15% fat); 90/10 (90% lean 10% fat), etc, to meet consumer demands.”

Mark Malecek is a cattle farmer from Redwood Falls, Minnesota, and said the goal is to “make the nation’s beef supply go farther, and make beef more affordable for the consumer at the grocery store. They’ve been using this process since 1990.”   The controversy arises when the separated beef is processed, heated, and treated with a cloud of gaseous ammonia to kill E. Coli and other bacteria.  In 2001, the Food Safety and Inspection Service okayed the process, and agreed that the ammonia was a “processing agent, and didn’t need to be listed on the ingredient label.”

According to Reuters, Dr. Gerald Zirnstein was a microbiologist at USDA, who sent an email to fellow scientist, first using the term “pink slime.”  In the email, he said he was “disgusted by the process and USDA’s approval of it,” and coined the term pink slime.  He said “USDA undersold it to the public and the meat industry soft-sold it to consumers.”

The issue came back into the public eye thanks to British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, devoted an episode of his television show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” to Pink Slime in 2011.

ABC News then picked up the Pink Slime story and ran a series of reports in 2012 about the product.

 

According to the Pink Slime Wikipedia page, as a result of the series run by ABC News, grocery chains, restaurants, and even school districts announced they would no longer be purchasing beef with the Lean, Finely Textured, beef product.   The beef industry was hit hard by the Pink Slime controversy.

On May 8, 2012, Beef Processors Incorporated announced it would be closing three of its four processing plants in the Midwest.  On April 12, another producer, AFA Foods, a ground-beef processor, announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Beef prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange hit a three and a half month low.  Malacek said the cattle prices on the Mercantile “went down about three and a half dollars per hundredweight, which is a significant chunk of the local cattlemen’s profit.”  Malecek said prices have returned to where they were before the controversy became news headlines across the country.

Beef prices have rebounded, pending a judge’s decision on “Pink Slime” (photo by Chad Smith)

Beef prices have rebounded, pending a judge’s decision on “Pink Slime” (photo by Chad Smith)

As a result of financial losses, BPI announced on September 13, 2012, that it had filed a 1.2 billion dollar lawsuit against ABC News, claiming damages as a result of the pink slime controversy.  ABC News denied the allegations, and tried to get the case moved from state court to federal court.  In June 2013, a federal judge sent the lawsuit back to state court.   According to Reuters.com, on December 17 of last year, lawyers for ABC News asked South Dakota State Judge Cheryle Gering took under advisement oral arguments from both sides in the case, and will issue ruling in the near future as to whether or not the case will proceed to trial.

The Farm Bill fight continues

Legislation In Gridlock:

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that sets America’s farming and food policy, usually in four-to-five year increments.  According to the American Farmland Trust website (http://www.farmbillfacts.org/2012-farm-bill), the Farm Bill has been around since the Great Depression.  Congress first enacted the bill to support the nation’s farmers and help maintain their land.

A Rochester, Minnesota farm sits and waits for the 2014 planting season.

A Rochester, Minnesota, farm sits and waits for the 2014 planting season.

The most recent version of the Farm Bill expired in 2012, and has been stuck in limbo ever since as Congress haggles over renegotiating the new bill.  America is beginning to feel the negative effects of not having a Farm Bill, and not just on the nation’s farms.

 

Frustrated farmers:

Michael Landuyt farms in near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, with his wife Kari and their three children.  He raises corn, soybeans, and wheat on their fourth generation farm.  They also finish roughly 1,400 livestock per year.  Landuyt said the lack of consistent farm policy does affect his business, mostly when it comes to planning for the future.

Landuyt said the lack of long-term policy “makes it hard to know what the government is going to throw at you.”  Farmers rotate different crops on different fields on a yearly basis.  That’s where long term planning comes in.   Farmers have to buy inputs, like seed and fertilizer, well in advance of the growing season.

For example, Landuyt will take one of his farm fields through a three-year cycle, planting corn the first year, corn the second year, and soybeans on the third year.  In fact, Landuyt said “I’m 90 percent sure of what I’m going to plant on my fields in fifteen years.  Therein lies the potential problem for him.

With the development of a new Farm Bill, the government could impose new regulations on his business that force him to completely change his plans.  If new regulations force him to change plans just ahead of a growing season, that could potentially mean having to purchase thousands of dollars of new inputs on very short notice, which is hard to do. “That’s where it affects me.  It doesn’t affect me today.  It doesn’t affect me next week. But it affects me two to three years down the road,” said Landuyt.

 

Farm Income is struggling:

South Dakota rancher lost thousands of livestock and millions of dollars in an early October storm

South Dakota rancher lost thousands of livestock and millions of dollars in an early October storm

One of the most beneficial parts of the Farm Bill is disaster relief for the nation’s farmers.  Never has this been more evident than the livestock disaster this year last October in western South Dakota.

One of the earliest snowstorms on record dumped massive amounts of snow in South Dakota last October.  According to a story on the Washington Post’s website (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/10/11/blizzard-lack-of-farm-bill-threatens-south-dakota-cattle-ranchers/), tens of thousands of cattle were killed when the storm swept in unexpectedly.  The storm came in so early that the livestock hadn’t even developed their winter coats yet.

A Rochester, Minnesota John Deere implement dealership is one of many businesses who feel the pinch of lower farm income

A Rochester, Minnesota, John Deere implement dealership is one of many businesses who feel the pinch of lower farm income

Thom Peterson, the Government Relations Specialist with the Minnesota Farmers Union, said a Farm Bill would have been a huge benefit to farmers.  “The freak snowstorm in South Dakota killed a lot of cattle.  No Livestock Indemnity Program means no help for ranchers who desperately need it.  That could result in farmers and ranchers going out of business.”

 

Consumers will feel it at the store:

The price of a gallon of milk is set to take a potential price jump in January

The price of a gallon of milk is set to take a potential jump in January

When farmers go out of business, the law of basic economics will kick in.  Lower numbers of crops that go into making the nation’s food supply mean a higher demand.  When food manufacturers have to pay higher costs to get the inputs they need, then the higher costs will be passed on to consumers.

The dairy industry is a good example.  With the expiration of the Farm Bill, milk prices are set to take a jump on January first because of no government subsidies.  Landuyt said if the government isn’t subsidizing the dairy industry to keep milk prices low, then consumers are going to feel the pinch at the grocery store.  He said, “The government isn’t subsidizing the dairy industry to make the farmer rich.  It’s so the farmer can sell milk for three dollars a gallon to the processor instead of six dollars a gallon, which would mean more money for consumers when they run to the store for a gallon of milk.”

 

 

The Farm Bill is more than just farming:

A recent projection of spending for the upcoming Farm Bill

A recent projection of spending for the upcoming Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a bit of a misnomer.  More than 75 percent of the Farm Bill monies go to funding nutrition assistance programs around the country.  The food stamp program of the past is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.  The lack of a Farm Bill has Jill Martinez of Hunger Solutions in Minnesota concerned.

Martinez said as of right now, 10 percent of Minnesotans are enrolled in the SNAP program.  She said all SNAP programs  are temporarily unchanged from their previous policies.

With potential changes coming to the program with a new Farm Bill, she said, “our biggest concern is that if you need food assistance, you can get it.  We don’t want any barriers to access limited.”

 

On to January for a vote:

Tom Vilsack is the current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and spoke recently as a guest on the agriculture news show Agri Pulse (http://www.agri-pulse.com/Audio-Thursday.asp). He’s tired of waiting for a new Farm Bill:

 

Debate on a new Farm Bill, with a potential vote, is now scheduled for January in both Houses of Congress.  Meanwhile, farmers and consumers are stuck in limbo, along with the legislation that governs the food they raise and eat.

 

 

 

 

Minnesota is the new frozen tundra with lots of snow

I took the camera out to take a few pictures to get in that holiday spirit with all the SNOW in Shoreview, Minnesota.  It’s going to be a white Christmas!  This snow isn’t going away till spring!

My wife Monique will not be on the Mommy Swing in Shoreview anytime soon!

My wife Monique will not be on the Mommy Swing in Shoreview anytime soon!

The leaves didn’t even have time to fall here in Shoreview before the snow fell!

The leaves didn’t even have time to fall here in Shoreview before the snow fell!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..!

A beautiful(?) sight, we’re happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland!!

Fighting for the little guy on the family farm

 

“Nothing gets done without politics.”  Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a 4th generation farmer, but it’s a philosophy that Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson has lived by his entire life.  He’s using that philosophy on a relentless campaign to improve the lives of farmers in Minnesota, and across the country.

 

Doug Peterson at a recent FarmFest near Redwood Falls, promoting agriculture at the Farmers Union booth (photo by: Mn Farmers Union)

Doug Peterson at a recent FarmFest near Redwood Falls, promoting agriculture at the Farmers Union booth (photo by: Mn Farmers Union)

Growing up on the farm:

Doug grew up on his father’s 300-acre farm south of Madison, Minnesota.  After his birth in 1948, he attended a one-room schoolhouse.  He spent a lot of his early childhood years at Farmers Union county meetings, where his father was the county President.  Some of his earliest memories at those meetings include “sitting in mom’s lap and riding on dad’s shoulders.”

 

A family of his own:

Doug is married to Elly Peterson, his high school sweetheart, who he began dating in ninth grade.  They have two sons, Aaron, who’s a lobbyist, and Ryan, a virologist who conducts stem cell research at Cornell University.

After graduating from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he played college football for four years, the family settled in to life at Glencoe, Minnesota, where Doug worked as an art teacher and football coach for ten years.

 

Back to the Farm:

Doug returned to the family’s 300-acre farm soon after his father passed away from cancer in 1978.  He planted his first crops on the farm in 1981, and farmed actively until 2000.  He also worked full time as a teacher in the Canby and Montevideo school districts. It was during this stretch that he began his foray into politics.

 

Off to the state Capitol:

Doug was elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 1990.  It was there that he gained “very valuable legislative experience,” according to Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish.  Doug accomplished a lot during his time in state government.  One of his biggest accomplishments was authoring a bill mandating the use of 10 percent ethanol in every gallon of gas dispensed in Minnesota, a law that is still in effect today.

 

The Farmers Union comes calling:               Farmers Union Logo                        

After serving in the Minnesota Legislature for 12 years, Doug was elected President of the Minnesota Farmers Union, a job he’s held since then.   Doug describes Farmers Union’s main purposes as Legislative and Educational.

 

His knowledge of how to play the political game is very valuable, as Farmers Union spends a lot of time at the Minnesota State Capitol, as well as Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., advocating for policies that aid farmers in doing their jobs as efficiently as possible.  Farmers Union Vice President Wertish said Doug’s political experience and personal connections have proven invaluable as they make the rounds in state and national government offices.

 

Doug Peterson speaking with a reporter during a Farmers Union Fly-In campaign to Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mn Farmers Union)

Doug Peterson speaking with a reporter during a Farmers Union Fly-In campaign to promote agriculture in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mn Farmers Union)

 

 They’re having some success at the process.  According to the North Carolina College of Ag and Life Sciences website, farmers, as a mere 2 percent of the population, produce food so efficiently that they feed the nation, and still export close to 100 billion dollars worth of their products too.

Peterson said Farmers Union is on a mission to educate the non-farming public on just what it is farmers do to produce the food on their dining room table.  He said “98 percent of our population is getting further and further removed from having direct access to any kind of farm or farming practices.”  That results in a lot of misconceptions about farming.

Clearing up the confusion on farming:

He said the biggest misconception the non-farm public has, is just how much money it takes to farm.

“If it cost you 400 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and you farm 1,000 acres, you’re looking at 400,000 dollars to plant a crop in a single year.  Most people I know don’t have that kind of money sitting in the bank somewhere as liquid assets.”

File photo of a family farmer at work (photo by Mn Farmers Union)

File photo of a family farmer at work (photo by Mn Farmers Union)

Government farm safety net payments have long raised the ire of non-farmers when it comes to agricultural practices, and Peterson said, “show me other major public investments that don’t have some kind of subsidy.  Things like roads, bridges, airlines, schools, and hospitals always have some kind of governmental help.  New businesses rarely build a new road to their place on their own.”

Farming has changed a great deal in the last few decades.  Most of the off-farm public have no idea that computers are now driving tractors.  The Farm Bill now creates roughly 16 million jobs around the country.  The average dollar spent in the farm sector turns over in the economy 7 times, according to Peterson.  In other sectors of the economy, the dollar turns over a mere two times.

 

Agriculture brings a lot to the table in the nation’s economy.  Peterson said they can’t ever quit bringing that fact to the attention of state and national legislators, and just as importantly, to the American public as well.

 

Minnesota Farmers Union 2012 Year in review:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in a down economy

Thanksgiving in a down economy

It’s no longer just family time. It’s time to punch that clock and get working for the man.

  1. Thanksgiving.  It’s a traditional American holiday set aside for food, family, catching up with long lost relatives, and a lot of antacids after dinner.  Yes, there’s a football game or two as well.

    Thanksgiving is changing rapidly. More and more of us are working.   Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney’s, and Toys R Us are all cutting into the Thanksgiving holiday, rendering it a non-event for thousands of American workers.  Are they rendering the holiday moot for the rest of us by encouraging mass consumerism instead of family time?
  2. The NFL has been a part of Thanksgiving for so long, we do forget that there are a lot of people working to bring the games to national TV.  It’s not just the big, sweaty dudes out there on the field, either.  It’s a whole legion of people working behind the scenes to bring you holiday football.
  3. I don’t know why wal-mart employees are complaining, NFL employees have had to work on thanksgiving for years.
  4. I’m not sure I’d make that last comparison.  I’m very sure the employees of the NFL make a few more dollars per hour than their counterparts at Wal-Mart do.

    There is something to be said for the spirit of the holiday.  Be thankful for what you do have.
  5. Sad I have to work on thanksgiving. But hey at least I have a job.
  6. I have a feeling that you’re opinion of working on Thanksgiving may have something to do with Black Friday, and the fact that we’ve been seeing ads since last month, at least.

    It may also have to do with whether or not you are one of those brave souls who are working on the holiday.  But remember, there are workers who have no choice.
  7. Don’t forget the families of service personnel who are overseas.  They may be spending the holiday by themselves, while wishing their loved ones could be home for the holiday season.
  8. God bless the first responders that give up their holidays to watch over us.  You are special people indeed.

    Lastly, don’t just be thankful today.  Find someone you’re thankful for today, and tell them.  Make it a phone call, email, Facebook post, a tweet, or even a text message.  Just make sure they know you care.  It’ll put a smile on their face, especially if they have to go to work in a few hours and brave the Black Friday elements.

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