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From the Editor

Read commentary from Progressive Cattle editors, ranging from the origin of specific magazine articles to thoughts about industry trends.

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To see progress in the beef industry, you have to measure where it was and where it is now.

Twenty years ago, when the National Beef Quality Audit began, the area most in need of improvement was with the product itself. What customers were buying didn’t always equate to a pleasurable dining experience.

Two decades later, those culinary targets are being met more favorably. And as far as the beef audit is concerned, those criteria remain a priority, along with other areas such as food safety, sustainable and ethical production, genetic quality and size of cattle.

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Two major news stories involving the beef industry. Two disturbing labels. One big fat double standard.

It was in early June that the blogosphere erupted upon hearing news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses certain aircraft to survey farms, ranches and feedlots from the air and enforce the Clean Water Act.

Then those initial reports morphed into a new lead – that the government was using unmanned drone planes to do its eye-in-the-sky inspections.

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Spend enough time on the road and you’re bound to rub shoulders with travelers who take a casual interest in your work. Included in that category would be those who outright loathe the product you represent.

Such was my experience on a recent flight to Ohio. After buckling in and exchanging pleasantries with the passenger beside me, I shared that I was a cattle magazine editor. She then promptly replied that she was a devout vegan.

To be quite honest, I could foresee where the discussion was going right from the start. But for the most part we wandered down the conversational path without any rhetorical scrapes.

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The beef industry may be stricken with its occasional three-alarm crises, be they in the form of pink slime, animal rights activists or the return of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but the bones of every cattleman are steeled with fiery survival.

Few other professions handle natural or fabricated challenges quite like the men and women in the beef industry, where “taking the bull by the horns” is more than a descriptive idiom, but a practical routine in ranch life.

But as well equipped as today’s rancher may be for the daily grind, it’s more apparent each year that the industry’s future is at risk.

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The beef industry’s aggressive push to defend finely textured lean beef in the aftermath of “pink slime” reporting is completely warranted, even if it comes a day late and a dollar short.

We could certainly blame social media, slipshod reporting or an uninformed consumer base. But that would ignore a fundamental modern-day reality.

The uproar over lean trimmings in ground beef shows, yet again, that a seismic shift has hit the marketplace.

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Sometime in the coming weeks, you can expect to hear that Japan will raise the age limit on U.S. cattle processed for beef imports from 20 months to 30 months.

The policy change, which officials started planning for in December, represents a major turn for the U.S. beef industry and its long saga to recover from the December 2003 BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis.

The mad cow scare that crippled U.S. beef exports forced producers, government officials and trade experts to work through a four-year slog that crippled the industry. It also taught those same folks a few lessons as well.

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