Two Months, Two Beef Recalls

Beef recalls are beginning to make waves, from high-end restaurants to the ground beef counter at the corner grocery. The most recent recall -- more than 4,000 pounds of fresh beef -- is tied to Fruitland American Meat, out of Jackson, Mo. It was issued June 11.

According to information from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, products from this small slaughter and processing facility were recalled "as a result of the way some company employees were recording information and determining the age of various cattle."

The issue was around dorsal root ganglia, considered risk materials in cattle 30 months of age and older. According to USDA's announcement, these materials are more likely to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy tissue. There was no indication any of the cattle slaughtered displayed signs of BSE; the recall was precautionary.

It has made news, however, and included 40-pound cases of bone-in rib-eyes, as well as quartered beef carcasses. All were stamped "EST. 2316". The beef was distributed to restaurants in New York and Missouri, as well as to a Whole Foods distribution center in Connecticut.

This recall was less than a month after a ground beef recall that included 1.8 million pounds of beef possibly tainted with E. coli 0157. At the time of the recall 11 people had been reported ill, and a link had been made to beef from Wolverine Packing Company, out of Detroit, Mich. USDA released a list of stores that received the beef, produced between March 31 and April 18. At last count the recall covered 14 states.

Chuck Sanger, spokesperson for Wolverine, said in a statement to media that none of the company's product tested positive for the pathogen implicated in the outbreak.

Should producers be concerned that these recalls, and the attention they are generating in the media, may slow the cattle market?

DTN Livestock Analyst John Harrington said the recent beef recall linked to BSE would have to intensify a great deal to even be considered a "tempest in a teapot."

"Let's start with the fact that the amount recalled is not enough to wad a shotgun. Next consider that this represents an abundance of caution, recalling product distributed six months ago," said Harrington.

He added: "The packer in question insists it has the birth records to verify that this small amount of beef was in fact harvested from animals no older than 28 months. Keep in mind that the 30-month threshold is largely theoretical to begin with, hardly one steeled by a tall wall of science. Given how cattle futures are sharply higher today (June 13), it would appear I'm not alone in my dismissal."

Kevin Good, fed cattle market specialist at CattleFax, said he's not sure the recalls are even a story.

"We are selling fed cattle at close to record highs; we've been up $5 in the last two weeks. The bigger story here is that this is a long-term bull market, and I don't think we're going to see it derail," Good said.

Major news outlets, including USA Today, CNN, ABC News, Fox news, CBS news and NBC news, have given the stories plenty of play, however. Some recent headlines include liberal use of the terms "mad cow" and "E. Coli."

All the recalls and ensuing publicity may only serve to numb the public to these types of announcements, said University of Georgia beef specialist Curt Lacy.

"Right now I don't see this as a demand shock," he said. "Over the years we've seen so many of these recalls that I think people have just become desensitized to them. Also, while these recall numbers may seem big to us, most of the time in terms of how much beef we consume in a year, it's not."

Harrington agreed it all may be news blown out of proportion. But he balances that with a nod to the past.

"The fact that consumers are facing record beef prices at the meat counter makes me a little nervous about skewed perceptions," he said. "Whoever said there is no such thing as bad publicity clearly never lived through the market chaos following the late 2003 discovery of mad cow in the U.S."

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