Food Fight

New U.S. meat labeling
requirements could ignite trade war

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a $1 trillion farm bill into law that sets U.S. agriculture policy for the next five years. Despite intense lobbying by meat industry giants, the law upholds controversial rules that took effect in November requiring imported meat to be sorted and labeled differently than American meat.

Previously, catchall labels were required to indicate whether meat was a "product of United States" or "product of United States and Canada." But now, fresh cuts of beef, pork, lamb, poultry, goat, and wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish are subject to country of original labeling (COOL) regulations.

Labels must specify where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered—for example, "born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States." The mandate also prohibits the commingling of meat (except ground beef) of different herds and countries in the same package—a common industry practice before the COOL rule. COOL also applies to fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and several varieties of nuts.

COOL supporters, including consumer and environmental groups and some independent farmers, say the new labeling requirements give customers valuable information about their food. Livestock trade groups and meatpackers, however, contend it’s costly and laborious to segregate and track animals along the entire supply chain, and that the labels provide little to no benefit to consumers.

"That’s a really big label on a package of meat that doesn’t really guarantee anything," said Cory Eich, president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

Fearing U.S. meatpackers will stop sourcing livestock from other countries, the Canadian and Mexican governments have filed complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO). They allege the new label requirements infringe on WTO trade agreements. If COOL is found to be noncompliant, Canada and Mexico would be allowed to impose retaliatory tariffs on agricultural and industrial goods manufactured in the United States. Resolution could take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Meanwhile, the groups representing the American, Canadian and Mexican meat industries are fighting the issue in U.S. federal court on the grounds that COOL regulations violate the first amendment because they compel certain commercial speech without advancing a substantial government interest. The meat industry is emphasizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) own statement that the program "is neither a food safety or traceability program but rather a consumer information program."

Last year, a judge denied the meat industry groups’ request for an injunction because compelled commercial speech is generally held to "less exacting constitutional standards." The groups are working to appeal the decision.

Foreign meat safe to eat?

Some say COOL is misrepresented as a food safety issue in the meat and poultry industries because all meat and poultry sold in the United States is already inspected by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Before a country is eligible to export meat or poultry into the United States, it must show its food safety system is equivalent to the system in the United States through document reviews and on-site audits by the USDA FSIS. Each animal is inspected by FSIS personnel before and after slaughter. Meat that is free of disease or pathological conditions can be passed without restriction and may enter the food supply. The inspection of most fish falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"COOL is really a push by the marketplace after the mad cow disease scares," said John Surak of Surak and Associates, a food safety and quality systems consulting firm in Greenville, SC. "But you have to ask: ‘What are you really getting for the label?’ I’ve read some estimates that say customers can expect to pay at least 5% more for their meat and poultry after COOL."

Although COOL labels aren’t meant to ensure food safety, Chandler Goule, the National Farmers Union vice president of government relations, said it’s information U.S. consumers can use to make informed decisions. Knowing the origin of a product can be important if a common importer has been linked to an outbreak of food poisoning, for instance.

"Every country has different production practices and different production standards," he said.

A survey of 1,000 people conducted by the Consumer Federation of America found 90% of respondents favored labels with the country of origin on meat, and 87% favored labels indicating where the animal was born, raised and processed.

Cost of compliance

In October 2013, Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat processor, stopped buying slaughter-ready Canadian cattle.

"This law has increased costs by requiring additional product codes, production breaks and product segregation without providing any additional value to our customers," Gary Mickelson, spokesman for Tyson Foods, said.

Other meat providers such as Cargill and Hormel agree the costs of compliance are an unjustified burden that could increase prices for U.S. consumers and damage U.S. trade relationships.

About 7.7% of beef, 3.3% of pork and 46% of lamb and mutton were imported into the United States in 2012. Almost all the chicken in the United States is hatched and processed domestically.

Canada’s Federal Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz, called Tyson’s decision "devastating" and said it would be "catastrophic" if other meat processors took similar action. Since 2008, Canadian meat exports to the United States have been sliced by half.

"By refusing to fix country of origin labeling, the United States is effectively legislating its own citizens out of work and harming Canadian and American livestock producers alike by disrupting the highly integrated North American meat industry supply chain," Canadian ministers said in a statement issued before the farm bill was signed.

If the WTO rules in its favor, the Canadian government warned it would establish tariffs on U.S. exports—such as meat, cereal, fruit and desserts. In addition to potential new tariffs imposed by Mexico, the United States could lose $2 billion due to retaliatory actions.

Farm to table

For some consumers, the most important label on a product is the price tag. But there is a growing movement of consumers interested in the origins and social implications of their food and making purchasing decisions based on whether a product is fairly traded, organic, seasonal and more.

The segment of U.S. consumers concerned about their meat’s origins is on the rise, according to Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. While factory farmed meat still accounts for most sales, some shoppers will pay two or three times as much as typical grocery store prices to guarantee the animals they eat were, for example, raised on organic feed, had plenty of living space and sufficient time outdoors, and were not fed antibiotics or growth hormones.

Others support the new labels for a different reason.

"It secures our space on the meat shelf," said Kenny Graner, president of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota. "We’re proud of the product that we raise, and we shouldn’t disguise it."

In addition to keeping the COOL mandate in place, the new farm bill also cut $23 billion in federal spending and eliminated
direct subsidies for farmers by replacing them with a crop insurance program. The bill also cut $8 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade.

—Megan Schmidt, contributing editor


Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Randy G. Aschbrenner.


EDUCATION: MBA from Upper Iowa University.

FIRST JOB RELATED TO QUALITY: Aschbrenner worked for a distributor that was on the road to obtaining an ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS) certification. An internal auditor was needed, and Aschbrenner was approached for the task. He accepted the challenge and was promptly sent to a lead assessor course. Soon after successfully completing the course, he joined ASQ.

CURRENT JOB: Senior quality assurance engineer at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA. Responsibilities include managing the improvement efforts of internal processes, policies, methods and instructions. Also provides the customer interface during quality system and product audits.

PREVIOUS JOB: Every position Aschbrenner has held can relate to quality: food service at a local college, packaging and labeling nuts and bolts, conducting internal audits, performing first article inspections for electronic assemblies, conducting supplier audits and maintaining QMSs.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: At the section level, he has held various positions including section chair, program chair, membership chair, secretary and now internet liaison. Aschbrenner said this type of involvement is a great way to build your network within the quality industry, see how local companies manage quality, and build project management and leadership skills.

OTHER ACTIVITIES/ACHIEVEMENTS: Cooperating with other professional organizations and speaking at Society of Manufacturing Engineers and Project Management Institute section events. Served as an examiner for the Iowa Recognition for Performance Excellence award.

RECENT HONOR: Aschbrenner was included in the 2013 class of ASQ fellows.

PERSONAL: Married and the father of twins.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Spending time with his family traveling, camping or hiking; home brewing.

QUALITY QUOTE: Everyone has an eye for quality. Take note of what you see and make things better.


Quality Thought Leaders To Be
Honored at Annual ASQ Event

ASQ medals and awards will be presented to 21 thought leaders on the eve of this year’s ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement May 5-7 In Dallas. The recipients are:

Honorary ASQ member: Douglas C. Montgomery, regents’ professor of industrial engineering at Arizona State University in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, Tempe.

Distinguished Service Medal: Dennis Arter, Columbia Audit, Kennewick, WA; Robert Camp, Best Practice Institute Inc., Ithaca, NY; Kenneth E. Case, School of Industrial Engineering and Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; Grace L. Duffy, Management and Performance Systems, Eustis, FL; Elmer "Bud" Gookins Jr., Times Recorder, Zanesville, OH, (posthumously); and Michael D. Jones, retired, Gulf Shores, AL.

Crosby Medal: Debashis Sarkar, Asia’s service lean pioneer and author, Mumbai, India.

Deming Medal: Michael D. Tveite, Polaris Industries, Minneapolis.

Freund Marquardt Medal: Dorothy P. Bowers, Matawan, NJ.

Grant Medal: Robert E. Cole, Haas School of Business and Department of Sociology, University of California-Berkeley, and Institute for Technology, Enterprise and Competitiveness, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan.

Hutchens Medal: Staffan Söderberg, AMAP Sustainability, Stockholm.

Ishikawa Medal: Gregory H. Watson, Business Excellence Solutions Ltd., Espoo, Finland.

Juran Medal: Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, MI.

Lancaster Medal: Yuanzhang Liu, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

Shainin Medal: Patricia A. Cyr, Harris Corp., Rochester, NY.

Shewhart Medal: Bovas Abraham, University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Brumbaugh Award: William Q. Meeker Jr., Iowa State University, Ames; Georgios Sarakakis, Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, CA; and Athanasios Gerookostopoulos, ReliaSoft Corp., Tucson, AZ.

Gryna Award: John R. Latham, Monfort Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.

For more about the award and medal recipients, visit www.asq.org/media-room/press-releases/2014/20140206-asq-awards.html. For more details about the three-day conference, visit http://wcqi.asq.org.

Word to the Wise

To educate newcomers and refresh practitioners and professionals, QP occasionally features a quality term and definition:


The condition of a product or process design that remains relatively stable, with a minimum of variation, even though factors that influence operations or usage, such as environment and wear, are constantly changing.



Website Woes Lead to More
Dissatisfaction With Feds

Americans were less satisfied with services provided by the U.S. federal government last year, according to a recent report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

ACSI results showed citizen satisfaction with federal government services dropped 3.4% to 66.1 (on a scale of zero to 100) compared with the prior year.

The decline, which erased two years of consecutive gains, occurred amid widespread downturns in satisfaction with federal government websites, including widely publicized problems with the rollout of Healthcare.gov. The negative impact of the site’s launch reverberated at the department level, too, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ overall score dropped 4% to an ACSI benchmark of 66.

Compared with the private sector, the federal government now lags nearly all industries in the index. Only internet service providers carried a lower customer satisfaction benchmark of 65.

For more information about the results, visit www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/press-releases/press-2014/press-release-federal-government-2013.

Short Runs

WORLD ACCREDITATION DAY will be commemorated on June 9 in more than 90 countries, with a focus on the role accreditation plays in providing confidence in the provision of energy. Visit the International Accreditation Forum’s website at www.iaf.nu for a promotional poster and brochure, as well as other details of the event.

THE ONLINE COLLECTION of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) country codes has been made available. The new collection provides the most recent official country codes used by millions of operations worldwide in the exchange of goods and information. The latest list of country codes and subdivisions and the formerly used codes are now located in one location on ISO’s online browsing platform at www.iso.org/obp/ui/#search.

A SET OF THREE standards to help companies and organizations get value from their assets has been published by ISO. The standards, ISO 55000, ISO 55001 and ISO 55002 can be used to manage any assets. To preview the standards, visit ISO’s online browsing platform at https://www.iso.org/obp/ui.

THE COORDINATE METROLOGY Society has opened registration for its 2014 Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference July 21-25 in North Charleston, SC. This year’s event will highlight state-of-the-art technologies in the portable 3-D metrology industry. For more details, visit www.cmsc.org/cmsc-attendee-information.

THE AMERICAN STATISTICAL Association is accepting nominations for its 2014 Excellence in Statistical Reporting Award. The award honors reporters who display an informed interest in statistical science and its role in public life. To learn more or to nominate a reporter, visit www.amstat.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2014_esranominations.pdf. The nomination deadline is April 1.

THE 26TH ANNUAL Quest for Excellence Conference and Award Ceremony will take place April 6-9 in Baltimore. The event will showcase last year’s three Baldrige recipients—Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin, Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, TX, and Sutter Davis Hospital in Davis, CA. Former award recipients, too, will share best practices on leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus and operations focus. Visit www.nist.gov/baldrige/qe for more information.

THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for Food Protection will hold its annual conference Aug. 3-6 in Indianapolis. The event will feature more than 800 technical papers, posters and symposia on many food safety-related topics. Registration and lodging information are now available at www.foodprotection.org.

Date in Quality History

QP looks back on an event or person that made a difference in the history of quality.

March 7, 1964

Samuel Stanley Wilks, known in many circles as the "statesman of statistics," died at his home in Princeton, NJ. He was 57.

Wilks was born in Little Elm, TX. He earned a degree in architecture, but because of his poor eyesight, Wilks feared his career in that profession might stall. He later pursued a career in mathematics. He studied at the University of Texas and became an instructor before he was awarded a fellowship at the University of Iowa.

In 1933, he was appointed instructor of mathematics at Princeton University. There, his research revolved around multivariate analysis. One of his most influential papers was "Certain Generalizations in the Analysis of Variance."

Over the years, he also worked with the U.S. government in the Department of Agriculture and was a member of the National Defense Committee.

In 1947, Wilks was awarded the Presidential Certificate of Merit for his contributions to antisubmarine warfare and for offering solutions to North Atlantic convoy problems.



Higher-Priced Hospitals Bigger,
But Not Always Better

While higher-priced hospitals tend to be bigger, have larger market shares and offer expensive specialized services, they don’t necessarily provide better quality of care than lower-priced hospitals, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Health Care Reform (NIHCR).

Along with being larger and more likely to provide specialized services, such as level-one trauma care and heart transplants, high-priced hospitals in the study tended to be major teaching hospitals, receive significant revenue from nonpatient sources, treat more low-income patients, and have negative operating margins but positive total profit margins.

Quality indicators for high-priced hospitals were mixed. They fared much better than low-priced hospitals in U.S. News & World Report rankings, which are based largely on reputation, but they generally scored worse on objective measures of quality, such as postsurgical mortality rates.

The study used 2011 claims data for active and retired nonelderly autoworkers and their dependents to examine prices paid by private health plans for 24,187 inpatient stays in 110 hospitals across 10 U.S. metropolitan areas: Buffalo, NY; Cleveland; Detroit; Flint, MI; Indianapolis; Kansas City, MO; St. Louis; Toledo, OH; Warren, MI; and Youngstown, OH.

NIHCR concluded that insurers may face resistance if they try to steer patients away from high-priced hospitals because these facilities have good reputations and offer specialized services that may be unique in their markets.

For more on the study, visit www.hschange.org/CONTENT/1402.

ASQ Journal Spotlight

QP occasionally highlights an open-access article from one of ASQ’s seven other journals. This month, read "Leadership Challenges," which appeared in January’s edition of the Journal for Quality and Participation (JQP).

In the article, Russell T. Westcott reviews the new edition of The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook (ASQ Quality Press, 2014) and the insights it presents on the challenges modern leaders and managers face daily.

To access the article, click on the "Current Issue" link on JQP’s website: http://asq.org/pub/jqp. From there, you also can find a link to information about subscribing to the quarterly publication.

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