Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cattle industry sees little or no profit, prospects of stricter country-of-origin labeling

The cattle industry is experiencing hard times all around, with almost no sector currently making a profit, writes Julie Harker for Brownfield Ag News. USDA livestock analyst Shayle Shagum says less consumer demand for beef is lowering prices so that no one in the industry is doing more than breaking even. "Packer margins had been high until recently but we have seen them deteriorate," he said. "Cow-calf operators, obviously, saw poor returns last year given the fact that they’re gonna have their feeder cattle prices pushed down in the first part of this year, it’s probably going to take awhile for those returns to recover as well." (Read more)

At the same, the industry also faces new country-of-origin labeling standards, but is pleased that new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack continued the timeline set by the Bush administration, which would introduce the labeling on March 16. However, the National Cattleman's Beef Association expressed concern over Vilsack's encouragement of more stringent labeling. "Any time that you add additional steps in the processing and packaging of meat products, you’re going to add cost," said Colin Woodall, the NCBA's executive director of legislative affairs. "Woodall says the extent of labeling is not part of the Farm Bill compromise hammered out by NCBA and other organizations," says the story, also from Brownfield. (Read more)

"USDA plans to do a retail review of products carrying COOL labels in six to nine months, to see how well processors covered under the law are adhering not only to the legal requirements, but also the tighter, voluntary procedures" Vilsack outlined, reports Lisa Keefe of MeatingPlace.com. Craig Morris, deputy administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service, told processors at the National Meat Association's convention in Las Vegas that the agency is already "reviewing the level of compliance to COOL by taking stock of labels as seen in retail outlets around the country," Keefe reports. In six to nine months, "If [Vilsack] is not pleased with what he sees, he'll take steps to address what he sees as the industry's reluctance." (Read more)

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