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By Jonathan Kuntson, Published February 22 2013

Officials hope meat suspension ends soon

GRANDFORKS U.S. livestock officials are hoping that the Russian suspension of U.S. meat imports, announced Feb. 11, will be short-lived.

But no matter what happens, there are questions about the public perception of ractopamine, the controversial feed additive involved in the Russian action.

The immediate concern, however, is the suspension. Russia, the sixth-largest importer of both U.S. pork and beef, bought more than a half-billion dollars of the two products last year.

Maybe they can get this straightened out pretty soon. Lets hope so, says Dar Geiss, a Pierz, Minn., producer and president of the Minnesota State Cattlemans Association.

He and others note that health experts around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, agree that the additive is safe.

Gerald Stokka, assistant professor of livestock stewardship at North Dakota State University, also thinks ractopamine is safe.

Theres no safety issue, thats for sure, he says.

His concern, however, is whether were making a product thats somehow less favorable and less well-received by the public, Stokka says.

Using ractopamine, even though its safe and beneficial, could seriously damage beefs popularity with consumers, he says.

Were very concerned with what consumers perceive, he says. Some of those issues are still being talked about in the beef industry.

Some U.S. livestock producers add ractopamine to the feed they give their animals. The additive allows animals to convert more of their feed into lean protein and less into fat.

The use of ractopamine is most common with pigs, but its fed to cattle and turkeys, too. Some larger cattle feedlot operations on the Northern Plains use ractopamine, though smaller ones generally dont because use of the additive needs to be managed carefully, Stokka says.

He compares the use of ractopamine in livestock to the use of fertilizer with crops, with both resulting in production gains.

The difference is, public perception is crucial to beef sales. If the public doesnt approve of the additive, the production benefit it provides might be more than offset by the cost of lost sales, Stokka says.

Its something we need to consider, he says.

Russian officials cited concern about traces of ractopamine found in U.S. meat as the reason for suspending imports. The officials insist they have scientific proof that ractopamine is unsafe, according to published reports.

Tim Petry, livestock economist with the NDSU extension service, doesnt buy that.

They say its for safety. Quite frankly, its because they want to increase their self-sufficiency in meat production, he says.

Russian imports of U.S. beef have been growing sharply, and ractopamine was a convenient excuse to end that, Petry says.

Russias action was not unexpected. Even so, Its going to be detrimental (to U.S. meat prices) when you lose an important market, he says.

Last year, Russia accounted for 7.1 percent of all U.S. beef exports and 4.4 percent of all U.S. pork exports, Petry says.

Russia imported roughly $305 million of U.S. beef and $280 million of U.S. pork in the first 11 months of 2012, according the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Its uncertain what percentage of the imported beef and pork actually contained ractopamine, Joe Schuele, communications director for the export federation, tells Agweek.

In any case, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk quickly denounced the suspension.

Vilsack and Kirk, as well as others, stressed that ractopamine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that extensive international studies have found the additive to be safe.

Russia began demanding in December that the U.S. government certify U.S. meat exports to Russia contain no traces of ractopamine. U.S. officials refused, saying traces of the additive are no health risk to consumers.

As a result, U.S. meat exports to Russia dropped sharply after December, Schuele says.

Focus on science

The real issue is whether Russia will use science in formulating its trade policies, says Kent Bacus, the associate director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemens Beef Association.

This is not a science-based decision at all. This is Russia trying to create leverage on trade, he says.

Russian consumers are satisfied with U.S. meat, he says.

Weve been doing quite well to sell a lot to Russian consumers. It was the Russian government that shut us down, he says.

We hope cooler heads will prevail and objective standards will be put in place, he says.

Global business topic of Tuesday conference

The North Dakota Trade Office will host the Global Business Connections conference Tuesday at the Ramkota Hotel, Bismarck.

The conference will include educational breakout sessions, a panel discussion with leading business professionals, and a networking reception and a keynote address by international entrepreneur and business television correspondent, Troy Hazard.

For more information, contact the NDTO at (701) 231-1155.

Aalgaard to speak at FMHRA luncheon

The Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association educational luncheon will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 5 at the Holiday Inn, Fargo.

Nate Aalgaard, executive director of the Freedom Resource Center for Independent Living, will be the keynote speaker. He will discuss employment barriers and solutions for people with disabilities.

For more information or to register, visit www.


Aggregate Seminar set March 5-6 in Fargo

The annual Aggregate Seminar is scheduled March 5-6 at the Holiday Inn, Fargo.

Sponsored by General Equipment and Supplies and General Aggregate Equipment Sales, Fargo, the seminar will offer attendees educational sessions covering the latest in industry trends, an aggregate equipment trade show and outdoor equipment display.

For more information, call (701) 364-2104.