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Checkoff hones in on beef safety

More than 160 people from the beef industry, including farmers and ranchers, harvest operations, processors, restaurants and retailers attended the Beef Industry Safety Summit in March in San Diego, Calif. The Summit, partially funded by the beef checkoff, was first held in 2003, and has since emerged as the most important meeting of the year for the beef industry to come together to assess, discuss and identify solutions to beef safety challenges.

The Summit allowed for retailers and foodservice operators to attend special workshops on beef safety; provided updates on the latest beef safety research developments, including results from checkoff-funded beef safety research; hosted technical sessions on recall preparedness, regulatory compliance, designing a safe ground beef patty; and featured a roundtable session for safety communicators.

"This event brings together a cross-section of the industry to discuss the safety challenges faced in each sector of the beef industry," says farmer/feeder Mark Riechers, Cattlemen's Beef Board member from Darlington, Wis., and vice chair of the industry's Joint Beef Safety Committee. "The Summit is a key opportunity for industry leaders to hear the latest science funded with producer's checkoff dollars, and it provides direction for future research needs, outreach opportunities and dissemination projects."

As a part of the 2009 Summit, the checkoff also conducted research to benchmark consumer opinion of beef industry safety efforts. Highlights from the study include:

--Consumers are concerned about food safety: 69 percent of consumers say they believe the number of food recalls and foodborne illnesses is on the rise. That's up from 49 percent in November 2008.

--One quarter of consumers surveyed indicated they are more concerned about food safety than they were six months ago.

--When asked specifically about the beef industry's efforts to improve beef safety, 81 percent agreed that the entire beef industry--from farmers and ranchers to processors and retailers--is working to provide consumers with safe, wholesome food.

--78 percent of consumers agreed that safeguards developed by beef-industry scientists have made ground beef safer than ever.

--77 percent agreed that the beef industry uses cutting edge science and technological innovations to improve beef safety continually.

In recent beef safety efforts, the USDA announced conditional approval of an E. coli O157:H7 vaccine. This vaccine, the first approved in the United States to reduce E. coli O157:H7 shedding in cattle, is a major milestone for beef safety efforts.

"We must recognize the need for several pre-harvest interventions to accommodate a very diverse industry, and I'm very pleased that the USDA has found this vaccine to be a safe and effective tool for producers. Beef checkoff research has played an important role in identifying these opportunities to control E. coli and has helped advance the science supporting pre-harvest intervention technologies," continues Riechers. "This vaccine is one of many such technologies currently in development. This and other pre-harvest technologies have the potential to improve beef safety by reducing pathogens like E. coli O157:H7 early in the production process, before an animal reaches the harvest stage."

Since 1993, beef producers alone have invested more than $27 million of their checkoff dollars in beef safety research, and the industry as a whole invests $350 million annually on safety interventions. For more information about the checkoff's beef safety research program, visit www.BeefResearch.org or www.MyBeefCheckoff.com.



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