The Obama administration has ordered tougher steps to contain food contamination in the wake of two recent recalls for cookie dough withSalmonellaand ground beef withE. coli. Part of the step was to create a new deputy food commissioner post at the Food and Drug Administration to coordinate safety, Reuters reports. It will also create a better tracing system for identifying the origin of foodborne illnesses.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service has been directed to develop standards by the end of the year that would reduce Salmonella in poultry products. It is to also improve surveillance and testing in beef-producing plants to reduce E. coli contamination.

The actions were recommended by President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group, created in March after the Salmonella peanut recall. The actions will be further detailed at an event today. The White House issued a statement that read, “The Working Group is recommending a new public health-focused approach to food safety based on three core principles: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement and improving response and recovery.”

Source: Reuters

Fire strikes at Patrick Cudahy plant

A fire at the Patrick Cudahy plany in Cudahy, Wis., resulted in a one-mile radius evacuation of the area because of low levels of ammonia in the air. The fire broke out on Sunday night and had yet to be brought under control by Monday evening. According to theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel, fire officials were projecting another 24 to 36 hours to put out the flames in the 1.4 million square-foot facility.

A statement issued Monday evening from Patrick Cudahy, a Smithfield Foods subsidiary, read, “Employees of the Patrick Cudahy meat packing plant and corporate headquarters facility are being asked to stay home until further notice following a fire that broke out late Sunday evening shortly before 10:00 p.m. Fortunately, there have been no injuries associated with the fire and all employees in the plant at the time the fire was spotted got out safely. A decision about when to reopen the plant will be made pending a damage assessment.”

"We appreciate how much this plant means to the community and to the people who depend on it for their livelihood. We will do everything within our power to make sure the plant is open and operating safely as soon as possible," said Bill Otis, president of Patrick Cudahy.

Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue declared a state of emergency on Monday and called for assistance from the state and neighboring cities. Cudahy residents have been asked to conserve water to allow the firefighters to put out the blaze.

"Obviously, this is devastating for us," Otis said. "Until we actually get in there and take a look at it, we don't know the extent of the damage and what it's going to do to our operations." In a press conference, he said the area affected by the fire is used for microwave bacon processing, and the lower level is used for ham processing.

Source: Reuters, Patrick Cudahy Inc., Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Pegasus Capital takes controlling interest in Hain Pure Protein

The Hain Celestial Group Inc., a leading natural and organic products company, announced that it had reached agreement with Pegasus Capital Advisors L.P. under which Pegasus acquired a controlling interest in the Hain Pure Protein joint venture with the issuance of new shares of Hain Pure Protein. As a result, Pegasus will own approximately 51% of the Hain Pure Protein equity, while Hain Celestial will own 49%. In addition, Hain Pure Protein entered into a $30 million credit facility with Wachovia Bank, N.A.

Hain Pure Protein Corp. was formed in July 2005 to establish FreeBird Chicken, which specializes in natural, organic and antibiotic-free chicken. In August 2007, Hain Pure Protein acquired the assets of Plainville Turkey Farm Inc., a leading supplier of natural and antibiotic-free whole turkeys and deli turkey products in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and in March 2008, the company expanded its turkey operations with the acquisition of a facility in New Oxford, Pa. Earlier this year, Hain Pure Protein commenced operations of the Kosher Valley brand, a new certified kosher brand of all-natural, antibiotic-free, vegetarian fed and humanely raised chicken and turkey products. Hain Pure Protein offers a complete line of antibiotic-free poultry products including FreeBird chicken, Plainville Farms turkey and Kosher Valley chicken and turkey products.

With its increased equity ownership in Hain Pure Protein, Rodney Cohen, co-managing partner of Pegasus, has been appointed chairman of the Board of Directors of the joint venture. Jay Lieberman, formerly vice president-financial planning and analysis at Hain Celestial, has been appointed Hain Pure Protein's COO and CFO. Reporting to Jay Lieberman will be Joseph DePippo, president-sales, marketing and chicken operations and James Reed, president of turkey operations.

Cohen stated, "As we continue to work with Hain Celestial, we're excited about the continued opportunities for Hain Pure Protein. Hain Pure Protein is positioned for continued growth in a growing category as a leader in the natural, antibiotic-free, vegetarian fed chicken and turkey market."

Source: The Hain Celestial Group Inc.

Panorama Meats joins California Rangeland Trust to protect rangelands

The California Rangeland Trust has partnered with Panorama Meats Inc. of Vina, Calif., in a joint effort to support the long-term conservation of California's rangelands. Beginning this week, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of all Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Beef sold in California will be contributed to the California Rangeland Trust to assist ongoing work to place conservation easements on working cattle ranches.

"The partnership with Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Beef and the California Rangeland Trust is an exciting new endeavor to further the sustainability of rangeland conservation and agriculture in California," said Nita Vail, CEO, California Rangeland Trust.

Mack Graves, CEO of Panorama Meats, said, "Panorama's ranchers have a vested interest in preserving the rangelands where their cattle graze. This arrangement demonstrates the strength of their commitment to create sustainable grazing lands for future generations."

The California Rangeland Trust uses conservation easements to protect rangelands from development and other threats. These conservation easements are voluntary, legally recorded agreements between the landowner and California Rangeland Trust, which permanently restrict the land to agricultural and open space uses. Today, California Rangeland Trust holds conservation easements on over 186,000 acres of rangeland on thirty ranches, ensuring that these working landscapes will be forever protected.

Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Beef is produced by a group of family ranchers in Northern California, Southern Washington, Southern Oregon and Wyoming who raise cattle on natural grasses, legumes and range forage. It is sold through Whole Foods stores in Northern California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado and other independent retail grocers.

Source: California Rangeland Trust

U.S. trade rep presses Japan to lower beef export barriers

The United States pushed Japan again to lower its barriers to U.S. beef exports, as well as insurance services. "Normalizing trade for U.S. beef and securing a level playing field for U.S. insurance providers are two issues that remain of serious concern," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, according to Reuters. “I look to Japan to ensure these concerns are addressed as quickly as possible.”

Japan continues to only allow beef from cattle aged 20 months or younger due to fears of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The U.S. is calling on the country to open the market to beef from cattle of all ages, in accordance with World Organization for Animal Health guidelines.

Source: Reuters