Long-standing reservations about food standards are a major barrier when it comes to future trade deals between the US and UK, but beef producers in the US firmly believe they are on the right path.
Richard Halleron visits the US to find out more...
On Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK last month, he was keen to discuss the benefits of a United States trade deal with the UK, which undoubtedly would include farming and food.
The immediate response from the NFU president Minette Batters was to highlight what she regarded as questionable management practices allowed within the various US livestock sectors.
However, it should be pointed out the management team at the largest beef feed lot in Texas, Cactus Feeders, believes President Trump is bang on the money.
They totally buy-in to the benefits which the likes of hormonal implants and in-feed antimicrobials bring to the party, when it comes to finishing cattle.
All these products are widely used to help finish cattle across the US. But, of course, these very same products have been banned in the EU for the past two decades.
Dr Ben Holland, who heads up the research division of Cactus Feeders, says: “All the research clearly shows there are no additional hormonal residues in beef from cattle treated with hormonal growth regulators when compared with animals that do not receive these treatments.”
Currently finishing 1.2 million cattle per year, the company is operating from 10 locations in the southern US. Dr Holland works at the Wrangler feed yard, near Tulia, in the Texas Panhandle.
Randy Shields, manager of the Wrangler feed yard, explains the site can accommodate 50,000 cattle at any particular time.
Animals arrive there at the yearling stage, weighing about 340kg. They are brought through to finishing liveweights of between 570kg and 680kg in 180 days.
Dr Holland says: “These growth promoters allow us to finish cattle faster from the same daily feed inputs, as will be achieved by steers and heifers that are not implanted. The issue of meat residues does not come into it.”
Dr Holland also says feed grade anti-microbials are routinely specified in the rations fed to all the cattle in the Cactus Feeders’ system. These include monensin and tylosin.
“We use tylosin to reduce the levels of liver abscesses in finished cattle,” he explains.
“The general public in the US are becoming more aware of the threat posed by antibiotic resistance. However, the US cattle industry makes the point that antibiotics should be divided into two categories – those used in animal production systems and those required for as human medicines.”
Dr Jenny Jennings, a member of the scientific team, working at the Texas A. and M. University’s beef cattle research lot on the outskirts of Amarillo, agrees and says there is a growing awareness of the challenge posed by antibiotic-related management procedures within the US livestock production sector.
She says: “The completion of the Veterinary Feed Directive by the United States’ Department of Agriculture has done a lot to improve management practices in this regard.
“For example, tylosin can now only be administered to beef animals on the back of a veterinary prescription. This must identify the use to which the product is being put and the feed rate that must be used.
“But even with these steps having been taken there is growing pressure from consumers to have the use of tylosin banned as a feed additive within the beef industry.”
Both Dr Holland and Dr Jennings confirm the intention of the US beef industry to secure new export markets for its output.
However, Dr Jennings admits that the lack of a comprehensive birth to slaughter animal traceability system was a major drawback in this regard.
“We buy-in feeder cattle for our commercial trial work. In most cases, I can work out which state they came from,” she says.
“But to go back beyond that is impossible at the present time. We just do not have the records.”
USA’S STANCE ON LABORATORY-CULTURED MEATS
THE US beef industry is campaigning to get the manufacturers of ‘laboratorycultured meats’ to come clean on all their production practices.
Many of these products are due to become commercially available in the US over the coming months.
South Dakota-based Amanda Radke, a blogger for Beef Magazine, addressed these issues during her presentation to the recent Alltech ‘One 19’ conference, held in Lexington, Kentucky.
She said the public must be made fully aware of the processes that are followed in producing these new meat alternatives.
“We already know of at least five points in the manufacturing process which require direct human intervention,” she said.
“This, in turn, raises the potential for contamination of the product and the possible use of antibiotics to address these challenges.
“People are also querying the cancer-creating potential of these meats. We are talking about cell cultures that have been specifically grown in laboratories.
So the question is: do these cells stop growing once they enter the human body?
“We need effective regulation of these new petri dish proteins. Effective labelling requirements must also be put in place.
“Beef farmers have committed large sums of their own money over generations in promoting and communicating the benefits of the meat they produce.
“The new laboratory meat companies must not be allowed to piggy-back on this investment.”
Ms Radke said she saw the subject of alternative meats playing out as a major political issue in the US over the coming months, with a number of 2020 presidential election candidates already involved in the debate.
She also took issue with the claims made by the manufacturers of the latest generation of plant-based meat alternatives.
“Some of these are portrayed as being direct alternatives for beef,” she said. “This is absolutely wrong. Again, new labelling regulations must be introduced to put this right.”
Ms Radke, who was brought up on a South Dakota ranch and continues to play a role in the family business, said: “The beef cow is an amazingly flexible animal.
“At a fundamental level, she is converting forage, which humans cannot derive nutrition from, into an extremely valuable food.
“She is also helping to maintain ecosystems which would be lost under any other form of land use management policy.
“The cow is also a source of numerous by-products, including insulin, which are widely used by humans.”
She also stressed laboratory meats cannot regenerate soils.
“The manufacturing process entails the use of a wide range of natural resources. The sector has also a significant waste challenge to cope with,” she said.
“Production agriculture must engage with the public at large in communicating the tremendous benefits which beef cattle offer the food industry and environment.
“The beef cow is a truly regenerative animal.”