Senate leaders have expressed concern about the objectivity of the USDA regarding its actions surrounding the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) proposed livestock procurement rule and the ongoing USDA/DOJ competition workshops.

In a letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Tom Coburn (R-OK) noted that even though the USDA has assured that ongoing workshops would provide an opportunity for diverse viewpoints to be heard, recent press accounts and an email sent by a USDA official suggest otherwise.

To that end, the Senators made the following requests:
1. the number of USDA and non-USDA recipients who received the email in question from an official email account;
2. the content of subsequent email messages to and from the official email account responding to the original message;
3. any memoranda or directives sent to USDA employees asking for assistance in soliciting workshop participants;
4. a description of how the Administration will ensure the August 27, 2010, joint DOJ/USDA workshop will be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner; and
5. all solicitations or position statements from any USDA agent or employee regarding the competition workshops.

In addition, the Senators requested that USDA clarify whether comments from the workshops will be incorporated in its evaluation of GIPSA’s proposed rule.

“Our nation’s livestock industry is critical to the success of rural America and a positive contributor to our national balance of trade. As the Administration moves forward with regulations affecting all participants in the industry, it is vital they do so in an open, unbiased and deliberative process,” the letter concludes.

To view a copy of the letter in its entirety, go to

In a separate letter to Secretary Vilsack, Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) called for a sound economic analysis to judge both the need and the utility of the proposed GIPSA rule.

“In my view, it is unprecedented for a federal agency to propose such a wide-sweeping regulation and not conduct an economic analysis,” Kingston said. “I am concerned that despite Congress having appropriated $13 million in the current fiscal year for the USDA Office of the Chief Economist, GIPSA has seemingly ignored this resource to analyze the proposal.”

In addition to a lack of economic analysis, Kingston said there are other questions that have been raised with the rulemaking that require immediate response, including what some view as an attempt by the agency to circumvent the intent of Congress and what Kingston says appears to be a carefully choreographed effort by the agency and others within the USDA to lobby Congress, press, industry and public officials on the proposed rule.

“ … Anyone who witnessed the recent Livestock, Dairy & Poultry Subcommittee hearing on the Administration’s proposed rule got the message that there are broad, bipartisan concerns that the proposed rule goes far beyond the scope of the 2008 Farm Bill, lacks a sound economic analysis necessary to judge both the need and utility of the proposed rule and may be the result of a flawed rulemaking process,” Kingston said. “I am troubled that while the USDA and the Department of Justice are in the midst of conducting a series of workshops throughout the nation to gather information on a range of topics addressed by this proposal, USDA has chosen to focus its resources on efforts to promote this regulation rather than carefully consider the consequences, intended and unintended, particularly for those it purports to protect — producers,” Kingston concluded.

To view this letter in its entirety, go to

Source: American Meat Institute

Salmonella in egg recall also found in chicken feed

Federal authorities that are investigating the Salmonella-tainted egg recall announced that they found samples of the pathogen that match the strain in the recall in the feed and barns of Wright County Egg. Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms have been the two egg producers at the center of the recall.

The New York Times reports that Sherri McGarry, a Food and Drug Administration official, said salmonella was found in feed given to young birds, known as pullets, that were raised by a Wright County facility for use at both its own farms and at Hillandale Farms. The bacteria was also found in bone meal, an ingredient used by the DeCoster operation to make its feed. In a statement, Wright County Egg suggested the contaminated ingredients could have come from a supplier.

FDA officials said that the discovery did not mean that the illnesses -- more than 1,100 people have been sickened -- were due to contaminated feed. It could mean that the pathogen could have been spread to the feed by rodents, workers or another manner.

Source: New York Times

Russia ban on JBS beef exports due to “pathogen issue”

Russia suspended beef imports from JBS Swift's Grand Island, Nebraska, beef plant because of a "pathogen issue", a company spokesman told Reuters on Thursday.

The suspension, which becomes effective from Sept. 8, was announced by the USDA on Wednesday. The USDA notice had, however, not given a reason for the import halt. The fact that Russia is nearing its quota of 21,700 tons of imported beef product from the U.S. did not play a role in the decision. Russia is still accepting beef from other U.S. plants.

Source: Reuters

Fast casual sales on the rise

According to a recent Mintel foodservice report, the fast casual restaurant category accounted for estimated sales of $23 billion in 2010, up nearly 30% since 2006. Restaurants in this market claim to combine the quality of family casual with the convenience of fast food. At $6-12 per ticket, pricing falls between fast food and casual dining. Fast casual restaurants distinguish themselves from fast food through their modified table service, higher food quality, greater attention to healthful foods and, in some cases, availability of beer and wine.

“The relatively new fast casual category has fared well through the recession as people can see the added value in the food and atmosphere, despite the slightly higher price point,” comments Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. “The majority of restaurant-goers say quality is the most important determinant in their choice of a restaurant, which will continue to help this category grow.”

Fast casual restaurants have not yet displaced fast food, casual dining, pizza or family dining restaurants, but this fairly young category makes its strongest statement during the lunch hour, with patronage levels almost equaling that of casual dining (26% of respondents have visited a fast casual restaurant in the past month and 28% a casual dining restaurant). However, fast food still holds a strong lead with nearly 60% of Mintel respondents frequenting a fast food establishment for lunch within the past month.

According to Giandelone, the main reason fast casual restaurants lag so far behind fast food is simply that there aren’t as many of them. One of the most successful fast casual chains, Panera Bread, had 1,388 locations as of March 2010, meanwhile fast food leader, McDonald’s had 10 times that number of restaurants in the US.

Nearly 30% of those surveyed cite the reason for not frequenting a fast casual restaurant in the past month as “there are no/not many fast casual restaurants by me.” Just over a quarter of respondents (26%) claim they are too expensive and 22% prefer a regular wait staff when they dine out.

Source: Mintel

Texas Hill Country Barbecue forms restaurant division

Texas Hill Country Barbecue Inc., a provider of smoked meat products, announced the formation of its Restaurant and Hospitality division.
Jason Ford, CEO of THCB, said, "I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Arvind Sharma as the Director of Franchise Development to develop and design that segment that will compete nationally."

Sharma stated, "The dining segment of 'fast casual' with great food and hospitality is the 'Wave-of-the-Future.' We have produced quality food and products for nationally recognized institutions such as Wal-Mart and HEB for years. The company has a top-notch quality Op's Team that will organize and launch this Texas Size experience nationally. Look for more to come in the future, as we are planning over 30 sites in 18 months in a combination of corporate and joint venture (JV) units with JV partners already in place."

Texas Hill Country Barbecue manufactures smoked meat products throughout the United States. The production of smoked meat products including brisket, sausage, pork ribs, pulled pork, barbecue sauce and other products have been in continuous production since 1971 under various production labels.

Source: Texas Hill Country Barbecue Inc.