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Today Show airs misstatements on meat imports

DENVER: The President of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union today charged the NBC Today Show with airing “blatant falsehoods” regarding the importation of meat into the U.S., and regarding the ability of consumers to make an informed choice on purchasing imported or domestic products.

In a segment aired today on the Today Show, a representative of the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Corp., repeatedly claimed that all beef purchased by consumers in the United States was produced domestically.
“What we are eating in this country was raised in this country,” Dietician Leslie Bonci told Today Show host Matt Lauer. When asked about avoiding problems from contamination in meat, Bonci added, “That is why it is so very, very important that we are eating meat that was produced in this country.” Dave Carter, president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU), responded to the show, saying, “Consumers need to know the truth about meat imports into the United States. Unfortunately, all consumers heard from Ms. Bonci were blatant falsehoods.”

According to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Commerce, the United States now imports 18 percent of the beef consumed here. In addition, close to 100 percent of ground beef purchased in the U.S. contains meat blended with beef from animals imported from up to 37 different countries.

A U.S. General Accounting Office report indicates that less than 2 percent of all imported meat is physically inspected. RMFU has long been a proponent of better inspection and country of origin labeling. The latter would give consumers a choice in their food purchases.

The Farmers Union President was particularly angered by one segment of the interview in which Ms. Bonci implied that consumers could be assured of the origin of their meat when buying products in the grocery store.
At one point, Lauer asks: “First of all, you want beef that was raised in the United States?”
Bonci responds: “You want beef that was raised in the United States.”

Lauer adds, “Where is that on the label?” Bonci hesitates, then responds, “Well, when we are buying in the United States, we are buying meat that was raised here.”

Lauer concludes: “So we don’t have to worry about that.”

Farmers Union’s Carter said, “Ms. Bonci deliberately misled the American public about the origin of all of the meat in the grocery store. That is a grave disservice to the buying public and to American cattle ranchers who would gladly supply every ounce of beef consumers want to buy. Unfortunately, ConAgra Corporation, which Ms. Bonci mentioned during her interview, and the other large processors, insist on importing large quantities of beef and then hiding that fact from consumers.”

Carter noted that RMFU strongly supports the ban on European meat products and other safety measures taken by U.S. authorities to reduce the chance of importing into the United States meat infected with Mad Cow Disease. Since 1990, the USDA has banned importation of animals and animal products from England. In 1997, the ban was expanded to include all of Europe.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and other producer organizations in Colorado are strongly supporting proposed legislation by State Rep. Kay Alexander, R-Montrose, that would require grocery stores to post signs in the display case listing the country of origin of all meat, produce and honey. The Colorado Retail Council, Kraft Foods, and organizations representing the large packing interests are opposing that legislation.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union operates under the Mission: “Safe, healthy food begins with secure, profitable farm and ranch families.”

Important facts on imported foods:
• Less than 2% of foreign produce is inspected.
• Less than 20% of foreign meat and poultry inspected.
• FDA imports food from countries with food safety standards NOT equivalent to ours.
FDA has to rely on port-of-entry inspections to determine if food is safe. This is INEFFECTIVE:
• These inspections cannot detect certain micro-organisms such as Cyclospora.
• These inspections cannot determine the controls on foreign food systems.
• Condemned shipments find their way to store shelves despite FDA orders.
• 74% of consumers favor labeling.
Source: Federal Efforts to Ensure the Safety of Imported Foods Are Inconsistent and Unreliable. United States General Accounting Office, GPO April 1998