USDA Chief Economist: “Beef demand is strong; there is no question about that.”

Dr. Joseph Glauber, Chief Economist, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Dr. Joseph Glauber, Former Chief Economist, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff. The following is a transcript from a conversation on April 16, 2014 with Dr. Glauber about beef prices. NOTE: Dr. Glauber retired from the USDA at the end of 2014. 

Dr. Glauber, to begin, please tell us about the role of the Office of the Chief Economist within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The office of the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) advises the Secretary of Agriculture on economic data and programs affecting the U.S. food and fiber system. The office also provides publicly available information, such as commodity, farm sector and weather forecasts, to agricultural producers and consumers to make informed decisions. The USDA has had a Chief Economist since the 1920’s.

Often you hear beef consumption reported as an indicator of demand for beef, can you clarify the difference.

During periods of high beef prices, consumers tend to look for more value cuts of beef. For example, if steak prices are high relative to ground beef, shoppers will be more likely to purchase ground beef for their beef needs. Or consumers may switch to lower priced meats like pork or poultry though prices for meats typically follow one another. However, beef demand is strong; there is no question about that. Demand is strong in both the foreign and domestic markets. It is also important to note, when you look at published inflation numbers and beef prices, this data does not necessarily capture how the item’s being featured (sale prices and discounts) in grocery stores.

Lately it has been widely reported in the media that beef prices are the highest since 1986; is that true?

This data is based off of individual cuts of beef, not beef as a whole. Overall inflation and inflation of all food items has increased a lot since 1986; if you look at inflation in real terms, meaning adjusting for the purchase price of the dollar, it’s not a record. We are down from those price levels. In nominal terms, meaning no adjustment to the purchasing power of a dollar, you are seeing some cuts at record levels.

There is a lot of mention of the domestic cattle herd size, and the herd size being the lowest is has been in a significant number of years. When do you forecast cattle producers will begin to rebuild the nation’s cattle herd?

We have been expecting the herd to be rebuilt for a number of years now. But because of high feed costs and drought we have not seen the expansion that we might have thought possible given the high price of cattle. Typically when there are higher prices for cattle, the domestic herd expands. Expansion takes time. If you look at a poultry flock, they (poultry producers) can make adjustments pretty quickly. Hogs take a little more time, cattle take the most time. A calf can take two years or more to go to market.

If you look at production numbers, we did see some increase in the cow herd in the Upper Midwest and the Eastern Corn Belt area. However, most of the areas west of the Mississippi did see a decline. The concern is that 45% or more of the cattle inventory is currently in a drought area. Some of these areas have been under persistent drought for over four years. There is also feeder cattle from Canada and Mexico being imported, those additional cattle help with the supply as well.

We believe we will see positive signs toward herd size increase in 2015, but that means we will not see significant supply changes until 2016.

You mentioned drought as a cause of higher prices and a smaller cow herd, what does the drought actually mean for cattle producers?

Some cattle are being moved out of areas where we are seeing drought conditions. They are being moved to areas with better pasture conditions. Long-term drought does take a toll. It would help to have better pasture conditions in the highest cattle-producing regions of the country. We are now in the fourth year of consecutive drought, and there is certainly a concern that drought will take a further toll before we are done.

 We often get the question, will the nation run out of beef. Is that a possibility?

We are not going to run out of beef. We are seeing the results of tighter supply in the form of higher prices, not shortages.

For more information about the Office of the Chief Economist visit

Having Agony Over the Agonists? Perspective from a Former USDA Food Safety Official

RaymondBy Richard Raymond, M.D., former Undersecretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With beta-agonists being in the news lately, I find myself frequently being asked questions about these animal feed ingredients and why they’re used in raising some livestock today.  Beta-agonists have been used in US swine production since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in1999 and in US cattle production since 2003. Approval for use in turkey production has followed, but is not used as widely as in cattle and swine.

Beta-agonists have been approved for use in finishing animals raised for food in more than two dozen countries, many of them major producers of red meat to feed a hungry world.

Beta-agonists promote heavier, leaner carcasses, providing less expensive meat and healthier choices.

It is estimated that beta-agonists used as feed ingredients at targeted points in the life cycle of animals raised for food increase pork yields by about 6-7 pounds per pig, and increase beef yields by an estimated additional 30 pounds of lean meat per cow.

If only half of the 24 million head of cattle harvested annually, a conservative estimate to be sure, yielded an additional 30 pounds of meat, this would provide 360 million more pounds of lean beef during a time when drought and high grain prices are forcing a reduction in the size of the American cattle herd. That would equate to 1.4 billion additional quarter pounders to help feed the world’s children, too many of whom go to bed hungry every night.

It is also estimated that over 700 million pigs have been supplemented with beta-agonists since its approval 14 years ago. I am not an Ag Economist, but I can do the simple math that says if each of those 700 million pigs produced an additional 6 pounds because of beta-agonist supplementation, that would be over 4 billion additional pounds of pork, or put another way, an additional 16 billion four ounce servings of protein.

As the former Undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA, I also know that in those billions of servings of pork and beef, not one single incident of a foodborne illness or side effect in a human has been reported. That should make us feel confident as far as human safety goes.

So, why are beta-agonists used in animals raised for food of no significance to our health? There are multiple reasons.

First and foremost, these compounds have a very short half-life, meaning the animal’s organs break down, metabolize and excrete them very quickly. They are not, for the most part, ever detected in meat sampled by the USDA.And when the rare positive does pop up, it is far below the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) established for human safety by the FDA n and by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Secondly, beta-agonists have been used and studied in human medicine for decades. In human medicine, their route to the intended smooth muscle tissue is a direct entry into the cardio-pulmonary system in some of our most vulnerable patients.

Young children inhale beta-agonists directly into their lungs to relax the smooth muscle that is constricting their airways during an asthma attack which leaves them fighting for air. Beta-agonists are life savers.

Pregnant women in premature labor have beta-agonists injected directly into their blood through IVs, to relax the smooth muscle of the uterus to prevent a premature birth. Once again, Beta-agonists are life savers.

If we give them in significant doses to our most vulnerable patients, including young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, most people would agree then that it is safe to consume meat from animals supplemented with beta-agonists when it is basically undetectable.

As two billion more residents of the planet Earth enter the middle class and seek increasing amounts of protein, we can only supply safe, affordable food through technology. We won’t have more land, water or feed.

I believe that people should be able to have choices when it comes to food. I have no problem with people having food choices such as organic, cage free, antibiotic free, hormone free, etc. If they can afford to pay more for more expensive production methods, more power to them. However, I also believe that we should not reduce the use of safe, proven technologies—this would ultimately result in increasing costs from farm to form, meaning higher priced meat to the consumer and subsequently limit choice for those with a less disposable income.

It is a common myth floating out there in the media that 160 countries have banned the use of beta-agonists in animals raised for food. In fact, the Codex Alimentarius Commission is a joint effort of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, two subdivisions of the United Nations. Codex is comprised of over 180 countries, and is charged with establishing, among other things, MRLs for food additives and veterinary drugs.

Last July, the annual Codex meeting voted on MRLs for ractopamine, one of the beta-agonists used to promote heavier, leaner carcasses in animals raised for food. The majority approved the recommendations from the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives. How can we still think there are another 160 countries out there “banning” beta-agonists?

Some countries, such as the European Union and China, do have restrictions on beta-agonists due to prior illegal use of beta-agonists such as clenbuterol, which has a much longer half-life and has caused human illness because of high residues in muscle meats.

But the lack of a registration, or approval of the sales of a drug for use in animals, does not equate to a ban. For many countries, a registration has never been sought, and they have no ban in place.  The reason many have not sought registration is simply that they have no animal agriculture industry in place to use such technologies.

US beef and pork were exported to more than 100 countries in 2012 with no restrictions against beta-agonist use.

As a former “top food safety official in the US,” I see no reason, personally, to pay more for food based on how it was raised. I do not fear for my health, nor do I fear for the health of my Grandkids when they come to Granddad’s house for a sleep over and eat the less expensive meats I buy at my mainstream grocery. I feel confident that the FDA has approved this product as safe for humans and safe as a feed ingredient for animals. I’m incredibly proud of the efficient, sustainable and safe food supply that we have here in the United States and I feel incredibly fortunate that we’re able to pay less for our high-quality food than any other country in the world. Personally, I’m thankful that I can use this cost savings to spoil my Grandkids and donate to efforts to find the cure for true health problems, such as Multiple Sclerosis.

Beta-agonists, Zilmax and Optaflexx, and Cattle: How Targeted Use Results in Leaner Beef

Myth: Beta-agonists cause cattle to grow unnaturally large and are bad for my health.

The Facts: Zilmax and Optaflexx, which are beta-agonists, are animal feed ingredients that help cattle make the most of the food they eat resulting in more lean muscle instead of fat. They have been proven safe for cattle and humans.

Cattle farmers use these feed additives in targeted ways, only adding small amounts to the animals’ feed at a specific time in their lives. They are metabolized quickly by cattle so they are not stored in the body over time. Beta-agonists are approved for use in the United States, Canada and two dozen other countries across the developed world.

Get the top five facts behind beta-agonists in cattle:

1. What are beta-agonists and what do they do? A beta-agonist is simply a feed ingredient given to some cattle to help the animals make the most of the food they eat (ractopamine and zilpaterol are examples of beta agonists approved for use in cattle). When cattle are young, they use their food to build muscle, but as they age they begin to instead put on more fat. Beta-agonists help cattle maintain their natural muscle-building ability, resulting in the leaner beef that consumers demand.

2. How and why are they used? Beta-agonists, a feed additive, can be used as part of a healthy, balanced diet for cattle according to label guidelines. The decision to use this feed ingredient is an individual one that every farmer/rancher/feedyard manager makes in consultation with their veterinarian and animal nutritionist.

  • Many factors guide the decision to use beta-agonists, including type and condition of cattle, customer expectations (yield and quality grades), as well as leanness, weather or seasonal conditions, which may affect cattle health and growth.
  • A farm’s environmental goals are also considered because these feed ingredients reduce the farm’s demand on natural resources like land, water, feed and fuel.

Feedyard owner and operator Anne Burkholder of Cozad, Nebraska explains beta-agonists and why she chooses to use them.

3. Do they harm the animal? Animal welfare is a top priority. All animal health products are reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to use in animals to ensure there are no adverse impacts on animal health. Caring for their animals and making sure they grow healthfully is important to the people who raise cattle. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest, too. It’s as simple as this – healthy animals produce high-quality meat.

  • In a feedyard, professional cowboys called “pen riders” ride horseback among their cattle to observe the health of every animal daily to make sure they are getting the care they need.

4. How do I know they are safe? All products used in food animals must go through dozens of studies and be shown to be safe for both animals and humans before approval by the FDA.

In the case of beta-agonists, hundreds of studies have been done. But the evaluation does not stop there.  After animal health products are approved, they are continuously monitored to improve their performance and how they are used. And, since beta-agonists are metabolized quickly by cattle, they aren’t stored in the body over time.

  • The safety of meat from animals fed ractopamine (a beta-agonist) has been affirmed by 28 regulatory bodies, including the international food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission, which was created by the World Health Organization.
  • The U.S. Food Safety and Inspective Service (FSIS) routinely tests meat to ensure its safety.

5. Do beta-agonist fed cattle still produce quality beef? Yes. Today’s beef increasingly meets consumer expectations for a great-tasting meal. The entire beef community is committed to raising the highest-quality beef possible and consistently providing people with great-tasting beef. Learn more about how beef quality is measured.

  • Over the past 20 years, overall beef quality grades (such as Prime or Choice) have steadily improved, thanks to cattle genetics, the way cattle are fed and proper cattle handling to prevent stress.

If you prefer beef from cattle that was not fed a beta-agonist, there are great beef choices available for you in the grocery store. Products labeled USDA organic or “naturally-raised” would not have received any growth promoting product like a beta-agonist. Regardless of the type of beef you choose, you can feel confident that it’s safe, delicious and nutritious.

Investment in Safety Means Beef is Safer From E.Coli

Myth:  Recent E. coli recalls of beef means beef is less safe today than it used to be.

News about recalls of beef because of E. coli may cause concern that beef is not as safe today as it once was. In reality, improvements by the beef community mean that beef is safer today and chance of foodborne illness related to beef has decreased.

The Facts: The safety of the U.S. beef supply continues to improve due to the commitment of the beef community and oversight from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The beef community has a long-standing commitment to providing the public with the safest beef possible – a pledge that is backed by research, best practices and public education.

Here are some answers to common questions about recalls of beef due to E. coli: [Read more…]

Is meat consumption out of control, and is it making us unhealthy?

Myth: Meat consumption is too high, and this overconsumption is leading to increased health problems.

There seems to be a lot of talk about how much meat Americans are eating and suggestions that this leads to health issues. You may wonder if we have too much meat on our plates or if a vegetarian diet is the healthier way to go?

The Facts: Contrary to popular belief, protein consumption has remained consistent over the past 40 years. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report says it all: the daily caloric contribution of flour and cereal products increased by 193 calories per person from 1970 to 2008, compared to only a 19-calorie increase per person from meat, eggs and nuts during the same period. The average American consumes about 5.1 oz of protein foods each day (i.e. from meat, poultry, egg, fish/seafood, nuts and seeds and soy products) and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an average of 5.5 oz of protein foods daily.

Furthermore, research suggests many Americans could actually benefit from including high-quality protein, such as lean beef, to their diet because of its positive role in weight management, healthy aging and disease prevention.  A nutritionist and health writer for provides a brief overview of the benefits of lean beef consumption in this article.

Read on for the truth about beef consumption, and how consumption of lean meat, including beef, can positively impact Americans’ diets.

Beef Consumption Patterns

  • Beef Consumption and Healthy Eating: Americans are eating beef in a variety of nutritious eating patterns that can meet health outcomes and goals
    • On average, Americans consume 5.1 oz of protein foods each day (i.e., from meat, poultry, egg, fish/seafood, nuts, seeds and soy products). The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least 5.5 oz of protein foods daily. Therefore, Americans are consuming protein foods within the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.
    • According to NHANES data, Americans consume 1.7 oz of beef daily, on average.
  • Saturated fat and cholesterol: Reports indicate that the proportion of total and saturated fat from meat, poultry and fish has slowly declined, according to this report from the USDA.
    • Beef consumption contributes less than 10% of total fat and saturated fat in the American diet, according to NHANES data.
    • You might be surprised to hear that pizza and grain-based desserts contribute more saturated fat to Americans’ diets than beef.
    • About half the fatty acids found in beef are monounsaturated fatty acids, the same heart-healthy kind found in olive oil.
    • Beef consumption contributes less cholesterol to Americans’ diets (11%) compared to chicken (12%) and eggs (25%), according to the Dietary Guidelines.

Beef Consumption and a Healthy Diet

  • Lean Beef's Competitive Advantage_FINAL ARMS 110415-03Lean beef consumption and heart health: Heart health is top of mind for Americans and recent research shows that including lean beef, even daily as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle, improved cholesterol levels.
    • The BOLD (Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet) study demonstrated that when including lean beef to the most recommended heart-healthy diet, it reduced levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol by 10% from baseline when included as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle containing less than 7% of calories from saturated fat. This is just as effective as the DASH diet, which US News & World Report has recognized as “Best Overall Diet” and “Best Diet for Healthy Eating” and is a gold-standard for heart-healthy eating.
    • Good quality evidence from numerous randomized controlled trials consistently demonstrates that consuming 4-5.5 ounces of lean beef daily, as part of a healthful dietary pattern, supports good health.
  • Powerful nutrients: A substantial body of evidence shows lean beef consumption contributes protein, iron and B-vitamins, which can help keep you full and maintain a healthy weight, build muscles and fuel a healthy and active lifestyle.
    • A 3-oz serving of lean beef provides about half (48%) of the Daily Value for protein, according to the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, 2015.
    • For more reasons why eating beef can help fuel an active lifestyle by helping conserve energy and build muscles, read this post.
  • Many of America’s favorite cuts of meat are lean. Lean beef cuts all have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3 ½-oz cooked serving.
    • Today, 66 percent of beef cuts sold at retail are lean (when cooked and trimmed).
    • Thanks to increased trimming practices, the external fat in retail cuts has decreased by 80 percent in the past 20 years.
      • For example, Sirloin Steak contains 34 percent less fat now than it contained in the 1960s
    • Learn more about lean cuts, including many favorites such as Flank Steak, Strip steak and Sirloin Steak.
This images shows the number of beef cuts that meet the USDA guidelines for lean

The beef community has increased the number of lean beef cuts available to consumers over the past several years, which can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.




What’s going on with the school breakfast and lunch program?

For the first time in more than 15 years, there have been major changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National School Lunch and Breakfast Program standards. This has sparked a lot of discussion about the food kids eat at school and whether the new standards are providing adequate amounts of protein and calories.

Below is a Q&A with Shalene McNeill, Ph.D., RD, and Executive Director of Human Nutrition Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a Contractor to the Beef Checkoff.

What are the new school breakfast and lunch guidelines?

[Read more…]

The truth about undercover videos

Myth:  Undercover videos  show abuse and are representative of the entire beef industry.

Fact:  These videos represent abuses that are extremely disgraceful to a beef community that is fully committed to raising animals humanely and does not tolerate mistreatment of cattle.

Hope Hull 0110

Despite undercover videos showing footage of disturbing animal abuse, it is not a normal or acceptable occurrence.  The beef industry does not condone any mishandling of livestock on the farm or ranch or in the packing facility. The actions depicted in these videos are disgraceful and not representative of the entire beef community.  The vast majority of cattlemen adhere to the absolute best animal care and handling guidelines established by veterinarians and other experts. [Read more…]

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