Eighteen additional U.S. pork plants will be able to resume shipments to Russia, and reports state that more plants could follow, after the U.S. agreed that its supplies would be free of an antibiotic that violated Russia’s food safety rules.

"I have signed documents lifting restrictions on practically all U.S. suppliers," Sergei Dankvert, head of the Rosselkhoznadzor watchdog, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference, Reuters reports.

Rosselkhoznadzor spokesman Alexei Alexeyenko later clarified that 18 U.S. enterprises were on the list of companies no longer subject to the ban. He said the documents were signed on Thursday and would take a few days to come into force.

"This is the start of some very serious work. A decision has been taken in principle and the list can be widened," he said. "The American side has given official guarantees of the safety of its products."

Source: Reuters

University of Maryland lawsuit against Perdue angers lawmakers

A suit by the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic that accuses poultry giant Perdue Farms and a small Eastern Shore farmer of pollution has angered Annapolis lawmakers, who are threatening to hold up hundreds of thousands of dollars in the university's budget.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the lawmakers are concerned that the suit could harm the state’s agricultural industry. They believe that the poultry farm owners at the heart of the lawsuit, Alan and Kristen Hudson, as victims of a student project, and they want to send a message that the school should not use taxpayer funds to battle a small business during a recession. A total of 35 state senators have demanded that the law clinic turn over a list of clients and expenditures for the past two years and are threatening to hold up to $250,000 is it doesn’t comply. A similar demand in the House would hold up an additional $500,000.

"What I'm hoping is they'll have more sensitivity," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and farmer. "Engage in a lawsuit against an individual, struggling farmer? It could be any of us. It makes the rest of us wonder, 'Is it worth it?' Farming and agriculture on the Eastern Shore seems to be under attack." A lawyer for the Hudsons said it's unlikely that the couple can defend against the lawsuit without losing their land.

The lawsuit alleges that the Hudson’s farm was contaminating a drainage ditch that led to the Pocomoke River. The clinic students filed the suit in December on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastkeeper. The suit also names Perdue Farms, marking the first attempt to hold a poultry processor responsible for the environmental impact of the farms that raise the birds under contract. It argues that Perdue dictates so much of how farmers handle their flocks, that it effectively shares operational control of the farm.

Other senators harshly criticized the lawmakers’ actions. Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore Democrat, said the measure "will make our law school the laughingstock of higher education." Sen. Brian E. Frosh said the General Assembly was "holding a gun" to the school. Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, called the required report a move "straight from Communist China."

While the lawmakers maintain that their concern lies with protecting small family businesses, Scott Edwards, director of advocacy for the Waterkeeper Alliance, believes they're really acting at the behest of Perdue, the nation's third-largest poultry company.

A Perdue spokesman declined to comment. Shortly after the suit was filed, Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue went to Annapolis to ask Shore legislators for help, calling the lawsuit "one of the largest threats to the family farm in the last 50 years," according to Capital News Service.

Source: Baltimore Sun

New York Times: lack of slaughterhouses hurts locally grown movement

An article in theNew York Timesdetails the lack of U.S. slaughterhouses, and how that is hurting small farmers and the growing locally grown movement. Due to the slaughterhouse shortage, farmers are reporting that they have to make slaughter appointments before the animals are even born and are forced to drive hundreds of miles to the facilities, adding to their costs and causing stress to the animals.

“It’s pretty clear there needs to be attention paid to this,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. “Particularly in the Northeast, where there is indeed a backlog and lengthy wait for slaughter facilities.”

According to the USDA, the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992, while the number of small farmers has increased by 108,000 in the past five years.

To read the article, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/us/28slaughter.html

Source: New York Times

Top 500 chains posted $2 billion drop in sales

The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered a decline in sales, posting 0.8 percent annual sales decline in 2009. According to data released today by Technomic Inc., in its annual reporting on the top U.S. restaurant chains, the leading foodservice consultancy found that U.S. systemwide sales for the Top 500 declined to an estimated $230.0 billion in 2009, down almost $2 billion over 2008.

"As the U.S. economy remained in a recession, restaurant operators continued to face a host of challenges, including cost pressures followed by declines in consumer dining demand. The data in this report clearly supports what we've been hearing in our consumer research surveys over the past year. Sales among the Top 500 restaurant chains contracted 0.8 percent in 2009, versus 3.4 percent growth in 2008," said Ron Paul, president of Technomic. "Many chains scaled back their U.S. unit expansion efforts and shuttered underperforming stores, growing units by just 0.3 percent compared with 1.8 percent a year ago."

Growth came from the limited-service Mexican, Bakery Café and Donut categories with Chipotle, Panera Bread and Dunkin’ Donuts posting 2009 sales growth of 13.9 percent and an estimated 7.1 and 3.7 percent, respectively. McDonald’s, the largest U.S. restaurant chain, grew 2.9 percent with sales estimated at $30.9 billion. Subway continued to dominate the growing Other Sandwich segment with 4.2 percent sales growth and total sales of $10 billion, which is considerably better than the 0.8 percent growth posted by the Other Sandwich chains collectively. Subway continues as the second-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., followed by Burger King, Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers and Starbucks.

Limited-service chains within the Technomic Top 500 accounted for 85 percent of all U.S. "fast food" restaurant sales. As a whole, this group grew at a rate of 0.1 percent. Asian, which grew at 5.9 percent, was another limited-service subsegment with sales growth well above their segment average. Within this group, Panda Express, a California-based chain, grew 8.8 percent with sales of $1.2 billion.

Growth continued to be driven by fast-casual chains. The Mexican category was led once again by Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill, posting U.S. systemwide sales growth of 13.9 and an estimated 6.5 percent, respectively. Standouts in the hamburger segment included Five Guys Burgers and Fries and The Counter with estimated sales growth of 50.2 and 67.3 percent, respectively.

Full-service chains within the Technomic Top 500 accounted for roughly 40% percent of all U.S. restaurant sales within this segment. As a whole, this group decreased sales 2.9 percent. Asian, which grew at 2.9 percent, was the only full-service subsegment with positive sales growth. Within this group, several mid-sized brands, including RA Sushi Bar Restaurant, Stir Crazy Asian Grill and MuHot Mongolian Grill, drove its growth with double-digit sales increases.

Within Top 500 full-service restaurants, the real story was in the Steak category, which experienced a decline in sales of 6.4 percent, a deeper decrease than the 0.7 percent decline seen in the prior year. This group continued to be affected by declining customer traffic and check averages, slowing unit expansion and closures. Seafood and Mexican categories also posted below-average results with sales declines of 4.2 and 4.0 percent, respectively.

While the Top 500 chains posted a decline in sales in the aggregate, individual results varied dramatically with sales ranging from Yogurtland’s 157.7 percent growth to Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern’s 71.8 percent estimated sales decline. Only 40 percent of the Top 500 restaurant chains posted at least nominal sales increases; 283 of these chains suffered sales declines in 2009 compared to only 213 in 2008. Both winners and losers appeared in each segment and menu category. These widely-mixed results demonstrate the overall competitiveness of the industry and the need for suppliers and operators to carefully identify and focus on the winners.

The Ten Fastest-Growing Chains with Sales Over $200 Million
1 Five Guys Burgers and Fries 50% sales change
2 Tim Hortons 23%
3 Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar 22%  
4 Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop 21%
5 Wingstop 20%
6 Noodles & Company 15%
7 BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse 14%
8 Chipotle Mexican Grill 14%
9 Firehouse Subs 10%
10 Potbelly Sandwich Works  10%

Source: Technomic

Subway to switch to cage-free eggs

The Humane Society of the United States announced that Subway had made a commitment to eventually use 100-percent cage-free eggs, on the heels of the chain’s announcement that it will roll out a breakfast menu.

There is no timetable for when Subway will reach the 100-percent mark, reports QSR Magazine.

"They're starting with 4 percent cage-free eggs, which we can safely say will spare tens of thousands of birds from life inside a cage," says Matthew Prescott, corporate outreach director for the factory farming campaign at the HSUS. "When they reach 100 percent, it will put that figure in the hundreds of thousands."

Source: QSR Magazine