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Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

TLBLogoAs the fall approaches, we are preparing to send large numbers of our animals to the butcher. The problem is, so is everyone else who raises cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Then deer hunting season arrives, and you can forget about booking a meat processor until January. Lucky for us and for everyone else in southern New Hampshire, a brand new USDA-inspected red meat processing facility, “The Local Butcher,” is opening up in nearby Barnstead.

The proprietor, Russ Atherton, is a pro at handling animals, having been a dairy farmer in his previous career. Low-stress handling is important to us for its own sake, but it is also vital for meat quality. We are eager for Russ to succeed, and we have already reserved a number of dates on his calendar. This means our customers who have ordered whole sides of beef and pork will have to fill out a different cut sheet this year. But not to worry, Russ has done a great job designing a cut sheet that is logical and clear.

The Local Butcher is having an open house on Saturday September 21, 2013 at 9:00 am to celebrate their Grand Opening. There will be a presentation to explain their cut sheet, plus a tour of the facility and refreshments. We’re going to check it out. We hope to see you there!

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Chicken RunOur friend Nancy Stewart alerted us that the dispute over organic egg regulations took a strange turn last week.

The USDA rules require that organic egg-laying hens be allowed access to the outdoors. But advocates for animal welfare feel that large-scale organic egg producers do not currently provide their hens with enough outdoor access. There is an effort to convince the USDA to strengthen the outdoor access requirement.

Now, it turns out that the FDA has a rule of its own for egg farmers. (That’s right, the FDA—a completely separate government department). The FDA “Egg Rule” says if you are a large scale producer (over 3,000 hens), you must takes steps to prevent your hens from picking up the Salmonella Enteritidis bug. The Egg Rule is not new. But the FDA just recently issued a “draft guidance” which basically says that the Egg Rule means that laying hens—even organic ones—should never be allowed outside. At least not in the real world. You can let the hens into an outdoor area as long as you keep them away from all wild birds, rodents, and flies.

Setting aside the annoyance of two different agencies playing tug-of-war with the rules, it just seems wrong that the term “organic” should be watered down in this way. Outdoors where the wild birds are, where the rodents and the flies are—that is exactly where chickens naturally belong. If we can’t let the hens interact with nature, I don’t think we should be calling their eggs “organic.”

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InspectionAnother first for us this month was a visit from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service. Small producer-growers like us are not required to have a government inspector present when we process chicken. However, we ARE required to abide by all the food safety requirements of the law–and the government can theoretically drop in whenever they want to see if we are doing it right.  Normally for an operation as small as we are, that theoretical possibility is remote. However, mobile processing units like ours have been popping up around the country, and the USDA is curious and concerned to learn more about them. For our part, we have been bragging about our training, our planning, our testing, and our documentation. So the USDA decided to see how we like the taste of a little scrutiny.

Craig was understandably nervous about the visit—as was our food safety consultant Ellen Weist (herself an ex-military meat inspector). Those USDA guys don’t smile or chat very much. But we did get a one-word report card before they left: “Phenomenal.” Afterward, Craig had to sit down, and we made him breathe into a paper bag.

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Happiness is a Hot Bath

For me, the hardest part of buying beef in bulk this past year has been planning dinner two days in advance to allow for the meat to defrost in the refrigerator. The refrigerator has always been recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture as the ONLY safe method of defrosting beef. It was said that every other method keeps meat in the “danger zone” of temperature too long, possibly permitting the growth of bacteria that can make you ill.

According to this article in the New York Times, the government is getting ready to change its mind. A study has determined that dunking a package of frozen beef in a bath of hot water will defrost it safely, and the resulting meat is just as juicy and tender as refrigerator-defrosted meat. And it only takes ten minutes! Yay!

Now if only the government would also discover that we don’t have to exercise 30 minutes every day…

Cow in Bathtub by Michele Bornert

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The USDA has just adjusted the official nutritional information about eggs after testing a random sampling of eggs throughout the country. The last time they did this was in 2002. Present-day eggs average 14% less cholesterol and 64% more vitamin D than previously measured. Everything else is about the same. Nutrition labeling on eggs will soon reflect these new data.

According the American Egg Board, “Some researchers believe the natural decrease in the cholesterol level of eggs could be related to the improvements farmers have made to the hens’ feed.”  Well, duh! And what would happen if we let hens eat living plants and bugs out in the sun?

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