CLINTON ACTIONS SEEN NOT AFFECTING BEEF PRICES

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- President Clinton's actions recently to offer relief to cattle ranchers by increasing government beef purchases are likely to have little effect on supermarket beef prices, according to industry groups here. Clinton directed the government to increase its beef purchases for the military and school feeding programs and ease grazing restrictions on environmentally sensitive lands,

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- President Clinton's actions recently to offer relief to cattle ranchers by increasing government beef purchases are likely to have little effect on supermarket beef prices, according to industry groups here. Clinton directed the government to increase its beef purchases for the military and school feeding programs and ease grazing restrictions on environmentally sensitive lands, amidst cattle raisers' concerns that soaring feed grain costs and weak beef prices could put many of them out of business.

"I don't see where consumers will see any effect at all by the White House action," said Jens Knutson, director of regulatory affairs for the American Meat Institute, Arlington, Va.

"The government is only talking about speeding up its beef purchases that would have been made anyhow this summer," Knutson said. "The most important aspect of the action is the grazing component, the opening up of environment-sensitive land to grazing, which would lower production costs for some cattle raisers."

Timothy Hammonds, president of the Food Marketing Institute here, declined to comment directly on the White House initiatives. However, he told SN that "retailers recognize that beef producers are in a severe financial crunch, and we are very pleased that retail specials for beef of all kinds have been especially widespread over the past 30 days."

Food retailers, he added, "are doing all they can to expand beef consumption and we feel this will be a substantial help to the cattlemen."

Reston, Va.-based National Grocers Association officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Clinton's initiatives.

Cattle raisers have been complaining to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that prices for feed grains have risen precipitously this year due to poor harvests last year that continued through the spring growing season.

The U.S. cattle herd now stands at about 103 million head, the largest number since the mid-1980s and beef prices are averaging about 55 cents a pound, their lowest level in about a decade, USDA reported.