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Changing The Rules About Food

Over the past year, bad news about food came in large helpings: skyrocketing prices, toxins, salmonella, e. coli, listeria, the spectre of third world starvation, animal welfare issues, threat of emerging disease, economic turmoil, trade concerns. The challenges are as daunting as ever for those who work so hard to produce safe, wholesome food.

We sometimes forget the reasons for middle-of-the-night visits to the calving shed, feeding cows at -25or hard choices at a spring bull sale. It’s all about producing food. However, rules have changed and changed in ways that will transform the way beef moves from pasture to the consumer’s plate.

A few rules that matter most:

Rule 1: Leverage experience

For years, many of us have been a part of finding new ways to recreate problems. Talking about needed change and tinkering without altering long-term outlook and being innovative only duplicates mistakes. We only have to look as far as the meat counter and compare how little the beef industry has changed in five decades compared to our biggest competitors.

There is an opportunity to be a part of significant change by engaging in development of animal health and meat strategies. Are they perfect? No way. Most are still in early stages of development, but all will evolve into a long-term plan for an industry in need of restructuring. Ultimately, the effort will impact food safety, food quality and how the industry trades what it produces. The beef industry must be a committed partner.

Rule 2: Pay attention to market signals

The Canadian red meat industry at all stages of production is married to a U. S. market representing 300 million consumers. Representing only 3-4 per cent of its bigger cousin’s red meat market, Canada looks south as a destination for 60-70 per cent of its beef. Because of our beef’s tenuous position in U. S. markets, what the U. S. prescribes as protective measures for its own consumers drastically affects how we do business. Country-of-origin labelling is one example.

The game is poised to get much tougher.

The U. S. food import safety action plan requires careful attention by those wanting to maintain export of food products into that country.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) frankly admits it cannot inspect the American food supply to complete safety. The current system of random border checks fails to stem the tide of faulty imports, especially in the face of a rising number of goods manufactured or processed in Asia.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur in the U. S. each year, causing about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. In response to a system that isn’t meeting its goal of protecting an American public from food-borne illness, the FDA designed a four-pillar food safety plan, backed by the U. S. food industry that also sees the need for more stringent food import strategies.

Products, currently valued at $2.2 trillion currently come from 25,000 importers through 300 ports of entry. For a start, proposed food rules will reduce the total number of ports capable of receiving imported food products to 13 and each port must have a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory in the vicinity to carry out any necessary testing. Simply moving product into the U. S. from Canada could become much more difficult.

The first “pillar,” the one with the greatest potential impact, will require

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