Key events in U.S. beef production history
Created by dvestal on Nov 28, 2012
Last updated: 12/07/12 at 05:49 PM
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Beef Products Inc. files a defamation lawsuit against ABC News for its coverage of a meat product that critics have dubbed "pink slime," alleging that the network misled consumers into believing that the product is unhealthy and unsafe. The meat processor is seeking $1.2 billion in damages for roughly 200 "false and misleading and defamatory" statements about the product officially known as lean, finely textured beef.
The worst U.S. drought in half a century and record feed prices spur farmers to shrink cattle herds to the smallest in two generations, driving beef prices higher.
The USDA sends part of the proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) rule to the White House for final approval. The final rule abandons the portions of the proposal that would have helped independent cattle and hog producers.
About 143 million pounds of beef is recalled because of violations of animal care regulations taking place at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co., in Chino, Calif., from where the meat originated. This particular recall centers on beef that was not likely to cause illness and much of which was likely consumed by the time the recall was initiated. The incident spurs remarks from the head of the Senate Agricultural Committee to encourage a tightening of the laws for slaughterhouses.
JBS Beef, the third largest beef processor in the United States, announces that it intends to purchase rival processors, National Beef Packing Co. and Smithfield Beef Group. Although the Smithfield acquisition is allowed to proceed because it did not present significant competitive concerns, the Attorney General, along with the U.S. Department of Justice and several other state attorneys general, file suit to block the National Beef merger. In the face of opposition from the Attorney General and his co-plaintiffs, JBS and National Beef Packing Co. abandon their proposed merger.
Human Rights Watch releases a report entitled "Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants," which concludes that the working conditions in America's meat packing plants are so bad they violate basic human and worker rights.
A federal appeals court throws out a jury verdict that awarded $1.2 billion to producers who had sued Iowa Beef Packers, which became part of Tyson Foods in 2001, claiming the packer drove down cattle prices by controlling the supply of cattle available on the market. The court, like others, held that a violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act requires proof of "harm or likely harm to competition." Supporters of the rule change say it's almost impossible for small growers or producers to prove a broad claim of harm to competition.
Creekstone Farms, a beef processing company in Arkansas City, Kan., builds a testing lab, the first inside a U. S. meat packing plant, and hires the necessary personnel to test for BSE. However, the USDA,which controls the sale of testing kits, refuses to sell Creekstone enough to test all of its cows.
First cow in the United States tests positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”). Beef market crashes, USDA withheld the fact that the cow was from Canada. Countries such as Japan and South Korea ban U.S. imports, yet Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and other department officials insist that the diseased Holstein in Washington state was an isolated case and that they were acting quickly to address the issue for the “North American” herd. Veneman makes a show of saying that she intends to serve beef to her family at Christmas. About a week after the BSE discovery, USDA announces that it would impose some of the stricter rules that independent analysts had long been advocating. These included a prohibition on the use of downer cows (those unable to walk because of injury or illness) and a ban on the use of certain body parts (such as brains and spinal cords, which are most likely to harbor BSE). The latter applies only to cows older than 30 months. The downer cow policy comes as a surprise to most Americans, who had no idea that their hamburgers may have come from crippled animals. Yet, for more than a decade, the beef processing industry had successfully thwarted efforts in Congress to ban the practice.
USDA lifts a ban on the use of irradiated ground beef in school lunches.
Federal judge throws out an Iowa ban on packers owning feedlots.
A GAO report, based on a survey of federal meat inspectors, concludes that, under HACCP, companies are gaining control of the inspection process and letting dirtier meat get distributed to consumers. Inspectors, who joked that HACCP really stood for “Have A Cup of Coffee and Pray,” report that they felt pressured to “let the system work” and not to shut down the line, even in cases of serious contamination. The HACCP program was supposed to provide for comprehensive pathogen testing, yet what was put into effect was a requirement for routine microbial testing only for salmonella, with limited random testing for other pathogens. It was also left ambiguous as to whether government inspectors would have access to the results of testing done by the company.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduces legislation he intended to undo some of the damage he thinks the Supreme Beef decision wrought. His proposed legislation would clarify the USDA's authority to shut down plants based on failed salmonella tests. When introducing the legislation, he voices his concerns that the meat industry was trying to undercut the USDA's power: "We have an industry that appears dead set on striking down USDA's authority to enforce meat and poultry pathogen standards. And sadly, we are now at the point where the food-safety reforms USDA enacted in 1996 are on life support." The American Meat Institute will oppose the proposed legislation. "Senator Harkin's bill is a political effort to legislate what science and the judicial system do not support and what Congress has rejected twice before," the AMI's J. Patrick Boyle says in a statement.
Tyson buys IBP after conquering chicken.
Responding to the concerns of labor and public advocates, former Nebraska Gov. Michael Johanns (later U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) issues the Nebraska Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights. Though only a voluntary set of guidelines, the bill recognized the rights of meat packing employees to organize, work in safe conditions, and to seek help from the state.
American Foods Group voluntarily recalls approximately 1.1 million pounds of ground beef that may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7
National Research Council releases a report that directly links the use of antibiotics in food animals, microbial resistance to those antibiotics, and human disease.
Supreme Beef Processors Inc., a Texas-based meat processor and grinder that at one point supplied millions of pounds of ground beef to the public school system, fails the USDA's salmonella tests three times in eight months; in one test 47 percent of ground beef samples in the plant were contaminated with salmonella. Pursuant to the HACCP regulations, the USDA notifies the company that it would pull federal inspectors out of the plant, an action tantamount to shutting it down. The company immediately files suit against the USDA in federal district court. The same day, the court granted a temporary restraining order forbidding the government to remove the inspectors. The USDA appeals the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which (in 2001) upholds the lower court decision. The appeals court rejected the USDA's argument that the salmonella tests could serve as a proxy measure for other contaminants because measures taken to control salmonella would also likely reduce other pathogens. The court found that since the presence of salmonella alone does not render the product "injurious to health," the performance standards were not within the USDA's enforcement authority. The decision prompts vociferous protest from food-safety advocates who believe that the elimination of the salmonella testing takes away an important enforcement tool from the government.
FSIS established a zero-tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7.
Hudson Foods recalls 25 million pounds of potentially contaminated ground beef from a plant that had a HACCP plan.
FSIS enacts a rule requiring Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans at all beef processing plants. Testing is supposed to be done scientifically. And inspectors, instead of looking at carcasses, are put into offices and looking at paperwork to make sure that all the various testing is being done. This does give the government the power to test for disease-causing pathogens in meat and hold companies accountable scientifically for the meat that they are shipping.
Grass-roots groups led by the Western Organization Resource Councils submit a petition for rulemaking under the Packers and Stockyards Act to USDA that would prohibit packers from procuring cattle for slaughter through the use of forward contracts unless the cattle are sold in the open market. The groups comprise independent ranchers and producers who were being marginalized by the practices of the dominant meat packers.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service identifies E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant, and a sampling program begins in federally inspected establishments and retail stores. FSIS enacts a rule mandating safe food handling instructions on fresh and frozen meat and poultry package labels.
Following the beef industry’s increased attention to food safety in the wake of the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, Eldon Roth starts developing a pH Enhancement System to reduce the number of pathogens in beef. Roth’s idea employs an ammonium hydroxide gas treatment, which eventually paves the way for the development of Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) — or pink slime.
After the USDA commences administrative proceedings against Kansas cattle producer Jerry Goetz for refusing to pay a portion of the Beef Checkoff fees, Goetz sues the government. After a long and exhaustive administrative and judicial process, including a petition before the Supreme Court, Goetz is ultimately ordered to pay past due assessments, late fees and penalties.
Four children die and 700 people are sickened in a major E. coli outbreak tied to ground beef served at Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants in four western states.
McDonald's begin testing for salmonella.
General Accounting Office report concludes that the meatpacking industry is less competitive now than compared to before the passage of the Packers and Stockyard Act.
Producers approve making the Beef Checkoff program mandatory, with all producers and importers paying the equivalent of $1/head each and time a beef animal is sold throughout its lifetime for promotion and research programs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announces fines totaling more than $3.1 million against IBP for exposing workers at its plant in Dakota City, Neb., to cumulative trauma disorders resulting from highly repetitive meat cutting tasks. The OSHA report holds that IBP knew about the problems but "did not attempt to devise or implement solutions."
One of the nation's more serious outbreaks of meat-borne illness occurs at two Utah institutions for the mentally ill. Twenty-two residents and 31 employees get sick after eating rare grilled hamburgers containing E coli.
Supreme Court ruling allows a previously blocked acquisition of the third largest beef packer (Spencer Beef Division of Land O’Lakes) by the second largest beef-packing firm (Excel). The leads to a dramatic increase in concentration.
Congress creates the Beef Promotion and Research Act, the “Beef Checkoff Program,” with passage of the 1985 Farm Bill.
Emergence of a "Big Three" -- IBP, ConAgra and Excel – which renews interest in the industry and its competitiveness. Red meats take ‘hits’ from consumer activists because of saturated fat and cholesterol concerns. Growing emphasis on food safety and sanitation.
NBC News broadcast alleges Cattle King's plant north of Denver is selling tainted meat and processing cattle that were dead when they arrived at the plant. After the telecast, the USDA stops buying hamburger from the Stanko companies (sister company of Cattle King) for the federal school lunch program and impounds 18 million pounds already purchased. A Congressional subcommittee holds hearings, and a federal grand jury in Denver indicts seven Cattle King officials and two federal meat inspectors.
IPB builds additional large slaughter-capacity plants close to feedlots in the High Plains. A plentiful supply of high-quality water is an important requirement for these sites, since between 400 and 600 gallons of water are required per head of cattle slaughtered. This need was met by using the Ogallala Aquifer.
Cargill acquires MBPXL Corp., of Wichita, Kan., and enters the beef-processing industry.
The FDA withdraws approval for the growth hormone DES in animal feed; industry appeals.
E. coli O157:H7 is identified as a human pathogen
E. coli O157:H7 is identified as a human pathogen
NY District Attorney Currier Holman and IBP are indicted on charges of conspiring to bribe supermarket buyers and union officials. They are found guilty, given $7,000 fine and no jail time.
Wilson & Co. shuts down in Kansas City, ending meat slaughtering here.
The colonial farmers of New England, who were the first meat packers in the United States, use salt to preserve meat. As the nation expands westward, slaughterhouses are built near population centers so meat can reach the table before it spoils. For sanitary reasons, meat packing operations could be carried out only during the cold winter months, with ice used for refrigeration.
A confirmed outbreak of E. coli is associated with eating ground beef, hamburger, at McDonald's Restaurant outlets in Oregon and Michigan. This was the first time that E. coli O157:H7 was linked to an outbreak; at that time, this serotype was thought of as rare in occurrence.
The Department of Justice sues IBP and Blue Ribbon Beef Pack Inc., who had hoped to merge, saying it would stifle competition in the cattle market.
The Wholesome Meat Act is signed into law, requiring states to maintain inspection programs "at least equal to" the federal program.
IBP opens a plant in Dakota City, Neb., to produce a new product, boxed beef. Instead of shipping carcasses to its customers, IBP removes fat and bone at the plant, thereby retaining valuable waste materials such as entrails (to be used for pet food), and shipped vacuum-packaged portions according to retail specifications. This innovation allowed meat wholesalers and supermarkets to lower their labor costs by eliminating their need for butchers.
The federal government’s Consumer and Marketing Service is reorganized to include the Meat Inspection Division and Poultry Division, merging federal meat and poultry inspection into one program.
Iowa Beef Packers (now known as IBP Inc.) opens its first plant in Dennison, Iowa. The plant, unlike its predecessors in the industry, did not use gravity to move the animals through the plant but instead used a "chain" to move individual cattle along a dis-assembly line. The building of slaughterhouses in the cattle-raising areas undercuts packers whose processing facilities are predominantly in Chicago. The eventual result is a wave of mergers that lead to a dramatic consolidation of the industry in the next couple of decades.
The antibiotic Aureomycin is discovered, which improves animal health and nutrition and makes confinement rearing possible.