Beef-pork pepperoni rolls recalled for extraneous materials – Food Safety News

An Ohio bakery is recalling almost 3,000 pounds of pepperoni and mozzarella rolls after consumers complained of finding extraneous materials in the Gia Russa brand product.

recalled pepperoni rollThe 2,959 pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat beef and pork products produced by P&S Bakery Inc. of Poland, OH, were shipped to retail locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as to distributors in those states that may have shipped the product on to other locations.

In a recall notice posted Friday night by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the extraneous materials in the pepperoni rolls was described as “clear meat casing utilized in food production.”

“The problem was discovered after the firm received consumer complaints through one of their distributors,” according to the recall notice. “FSIS has received no reports of injury or illness from consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider.

“Consumers who have purchased this product are urged not to consume it. This product should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.”

The recalled pepperoni rolls can be identified by the following label information:

  • Gia Russa brand
  • “Double Stuffed Pepperoni Roll Pepperoni & Mozzarella”
  • 5.25-ounce roll in plastic wrapper
  • lot/case code 17088
  • “EST. 27274” inside the USDA mark of inspection

Consumers with questions about the recall can contact John Houser, quality assurance manager, at 330-707-4141.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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Cattle producers prepare for China to open its doors to US beef – Fence Post

When the Chinese open their borders to American beef this summer, the promise of significant premiums and a substantial new market is real and is prompting many beef producers to go through verification programs to be among the first to export beef to the new market. Ranchers Connecting Ranchers and RaeMarie Knowles stand at the ready to help producers through the process.

Ranchers Connecting Ranchers (RCR) was established in 2014 after Knowles had spent six years in the cattle verification industry and hoped to better serve cattle producers. Knowles, who lives near Kiowa, Colo., is the managing partner and CEO of the company that provides verification services to beef producers who are hoping to participate in programs that might mean more dollars per head.

RCR verifies cattle for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Source and Age Verified program, Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC), and the now defunct Never Ever Free which was previously the USDA’s natural program. Additionally, RCR offers a Saudi Arabia export verification program and will also offer the verification for cattle intended for Chinese export as soon as those standards are released in the coming weeks. Verification can be completed for either ranches or feed yards through RCR.

Private label programs are also available to cattlemen through RCR to complement the USDA programs. RCR Natural replaced the previous natural and grass fed beef program. The Feed Bunk Ready Vaccination Verified program is a third-party verification program of vaccination, handling and the weaning history of a ranch. When those cattle go to a feed yard, this verification can add to the feed yard owners’ confidence in the quality of cattle purchased and lend additional credibility to vaccination programs. The RCR Natural and Gently Raised program satisfies consumer demands for beef raised naturally with an added handling component.

“On the USDA side, the large premiums for Source and Age verified went away when Japan opened their borders to cattle 30 months and under,” she said. “There is still value because it shows buyers that they’re forward thinking and the buyer perceives those cattle to be higher quality.”


In recent months, the premium for NHTC cattle has been approximately $4 per head as opposed to $35 or more per head at its 2008 inception. The NHTC and Source and Age Verified are cost prohibitive compared to the premium and are typically only completed by large producers. However, Knowles said, the Saudi Arabian beef and Chinese beef hold promise to be excellent premiums.

“China has the potential to be pretty substantial because we’re marketing to 1.4 billion Chinese consumers,” she said. “In 2003, it was a totally different demographic. There wasn’t nearly that amount of people or that amount of people with the disposable income to pay for animal protein from the U.S.”

Forward thinking ranchers, the kind Knowles said makes up her clientele, who participate in the verification programs will see a decent premium for their efforts. Even those who do not participate in the programs or market beef to the Chinese markets will reap the reward of an invigorated cattle market.

“Even in the beef cuts we think they’re going to want specifically, we could send them all the beef we produce in the U.S. and not meet their demand,” she said. “It’s a huge market for us and there will be, more than likely, verification requirements tied to those products.”

July 16 is the anticipated latest date that China will open its borders to U.S. beef and cattlemen hoping to participate in the export market and verification companies are all anxiously awaiting requirements so the process can begin in earnest.

“Based on the basic idea of supply and demand, we’re going to see the markets for even conventional beef jump up so it’s a win-win all the way across the board,” she said.

The Chinese market also has the potential to add value to beef carcasses as the demand in China for cuts like tongue and other variety meats is significantly higher than in the U.S. Knowles and her counterparts in verification programs are anxiously awaiting the details to be released so producers can market the type of cattle that the Chinese market demands.


Source and Age Verified offers traceability and age verification and is the simplest of the programs, requiring only a calving date and identification that traces back to the ranch. Group identification and brands can be used if the cattle go to an approved feed yard. Otherwise, EID tags may be used. Non-Hormone Treated Cattle may not receive implants and heifers that have been given Lutalyse may not return to the program. Cattle in this program must have EID tags and must move directly from the verified ranch to the feed yard. This program also has an age verification component requiring cattle to be under 30 months of age.

All verifications with the exception of Source and Age Verification on the ranch require an onsite review from RCR staff. Knowles insists that RCR staff all be well-versed in the cattle industry and all are ranch raised. The verification process can be a bit daunting so every effort is made to streamline each step.

“It is important for potential customers to know that our auditors are top of the line industry professionals, who are ranch raised and appreciate the culture,” she said. “We try and put the ranchers and feeders at ease as much as possible.”

Producers who sell cattle through video marketing like Superior Productions tend to gravitate toward verification programs as well as producers who market to feed yards who participate in verification programs. The premiums are not paid through more traditional, local marketing but, Knowles said, getting the cattle in front of buyers specifically looking for cattle that qualify for the different programs equates to premiums.

Ryon Massey, a cattleman from Kiowa, Colo., was among the first to go through the verification process with Knowles and RCR. Massey markets about 80 calves as a split load on Superior and anticipates that his return on investment will continue to grow as his operation grows and the market changes with the addition of the Chinese market.

Massey completed the NHTC verification on his ranch and said a process that could have been daunting and stressful was quite the opposite.

“I did the NHTC verification and was curious to see how it worked,” Massey said. “Down the road I’m going to pursue more of it. I’m just trying to add some value to those calves and RaeMarie and her folks know the business from a grassroots level,” he said. “They know what it takes to raise a calf from point A to point B.”

The requirements for Saudi Arabian beef exports have been released and American producers have begun both the verification process and exporting to the market. These verification requirements have an age component and the calves cannot receive any prohibited protein post weaning, fish oil and milk replacer. For the entire lifetime of the animal, they may receive supplements but tallow must be beef tallow and it must be sourced from an approved rendering facility.

“For Chinese beef, going all the way back to 2015, there have been all sorts of ideas thrown around,” she said. “There is more than likely going to be a source component, specifically tied back to the ranch. They’re not necessarily worried about what happens between ranch and packer but will want the sources verified for the ranch and packing facility.”

Hormones will also likely be a concern for Chinese beef, specifically Beta-Agonists. According to Penn State Extension, Beta-Agonists bind to receptors on fat cells in the cattle’s body and redirect and reduce the metabolism of fat, resulting in more muscle and less fat. Beef imported from Australia and Canada to China is currently not allowed to contain Beta-Agonists and Knowles said testing is likely.

“We expect to have requirements and an understanding of the protocol as early as the first week of June,” she said.

-Spencer is a freelance writer from Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats. She can be reached at or on Facebook at Rachel Spencer Media.

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Ground beef recalled from N.J. ShopRite store –

HILLSIDE — The ShopRite on Route 22 West in Hillside has recalled all store-made ground beef produced and sold Friday, citing possible metal fragments in the meat.

The store is recalling regular-size packages of 80, 85 and 93 percent lean ground beef, as well as 80 and 85 percent family-size ground beef with a sell-by date of May 12. 

A mechanical problem with the grinder may have caused small pieces of metal to fall into the beef, ShopRite said in a press release. The company has not gotten reports of any injuries.

Customers who bought ground beef Friday can return it to the store for a refund or replacement. ShopRite said it contacted Price Plus club card customers who bought the meat to alert them to the recall. 

Other meat sold at the Hillside store and ground beef sold at other ShopRite locations have not been affected. 

Questions or concerns can be directed to 1-800-ShopRite (1-800-746-7748).

Marisa Iati may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Iati or on Facebook here. Find on Facebook. 

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Advanced Micro Drops 12%: Where's the Beef? Ask Bears – Barron's

[Updates with stock decline.]

Shares of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) are plunging, down $3.24, or 24%, at $10.38, breaking down the entire session, and extending last night’s after-market losses,  after the company yesterday afternoon reported Q1 results more or less in line with consensus, and forecast this quarter’s revenue higher, but raised questions about its comeback given what seemed to some lower-than-expected gross profit margin.

(See my colleague Teresa Rivas’s defense of the stock in this afternoon’s Barron’s Take.)

In focus today is the company’s outlook for gross profit margin of 33% this quarter, a point below the 34% achieved last quarter.

To the disgruntled, after a sharp run-up in the shares, a decline in gross profit from one quarter to the next is not acceptable given new “Ryzen” processors coming into the market were supposed to boost margins.

Despite a discussion of the matter by CEO Lisa Su and her executive team on the conference call following the report, that hasn’t obviously stopped the stock fall nor prevented some critical language in the Street coverage this morning.

There is at least one downgrade of the stock this morning, by Macquarie‘s Srini Pajjuri, who cut his rating to Underperform from Neutral, and cut his price target to $10 from $14, writing that the results and outlook are simply not enough given high expectations.

That’s the view of several this morning.

Stacy Rasgon with Bernstein Research, reiterating a Market Perform rating, and an $8 price target, asks “Where’s the beef?

He notes “gross margins were seen only in-line at 33%, and down QoQ even with better Q1 performance and a full quarter’s worth of Ryzen parts. And, updated annual guidance (low double-digit revenue growth, YoY gross margin expansion and positive EPS) demonstrated no upside to current consensus.”

The company has yet to prove itself, he writes:

Unfortunately AMD has not yet provided investors with the inflection point that many have been hoping for as the story begins the transition from hopes and dreams to reality. The stock (after the strong run) likely needs perfection to continue the trajectory, and while last night’s results were not necessarily disastrous, they certainly weren’t perfect. To paraphrase Clara Peller, right now we taste too much bun, not enough beef, and we’re still hungry.

Goldman Sachs’s Toshiya Hari, reiterating a Sell rating, and a $10.60 price target, writing that the company “failed to exhibit the 2Q upside the Bulls were anticipating.”

Hari cites “poor free cash flow” in particular, with inventory rising 12% from the prior quarter, versus what had been an expectation for it to be roughly flat.

Concludes Hari, “Bottom line, as we illustrated in our April 6 initiation, we believe the stock at 33x our CY19E op EPS is priced for perfection (as can be implied by the 11% after hours price decline) and recommend investors stay cautious.”

Stifel Nicolaus’s Kevin Cassidy reiterates a Hold rating, calling the results “respectable,” writing that the results and outlook show a “successful Ryzen launch” and therefore “remove some near term execution risk,” as do the indications the other product debuts are on schedule.

He notes disappointment with the margin outlook and writes that the share gains so far “priced in a successful new product cycle.”

Credit Suisse’s John Pitzer, reiterating a Neutral rating, and a $10.50 price target, writes that “investors will be disappointed that a full quarter of Ryzen is not driving better leverage,” even if “bulls argue that Ryzen is still a small percentage of mix and Naples has not yet shipped,” referring to the company’s forthcoming server processors.

Pitzer doesn’t like the company’s days of sales outstanding, at 117, which “are the highest in company history and a risk.”

He concludes of the margins that “disappointing gross margin and higher operating expenses support our long term concern that even if Ryzen/Naples are successful, operating leverage will be disappointing as AMD raises investments after multiple years of below trend spending,” even though he realizes “increasing investments is the right long-term strategy.”

Not everyone was disappointed, and the Bulls largely argue the sell-off is an over-reaction.

Jefferies & Co.’s Mark Lipacis, reiterating a Buy rating, and a $16 price target, writes that “while semis are in the part of the cycle where those that beat and raise still trade down, the 11% aftermarket sell-off appears like an overshoot to us.”

“AMD is executing on its first high-end desktop MPU in two years, which we think is a positive indicator for a robust product cycle and GM expansion in second-half 2017.”

Canaccord Genuity’s Matthew Ramsey reiterates a Buy rating, and a $17 price target, writing that the “sell off is a bit of an overreaction,” even though he admits “this wasn’t the clean beat and raise that we hoped for.”

Ramsey pintpoints part of the problem in an accounting change pertaining to how the company reflects expenses for the “mask set” for Ryzen, a critical piece of the manufacturing process that showed up in cost of goods:

Finally, an accounting change in regards to capitalizing versus expensing foundry FinFET mask costs added some confusion to near-term margin and expense modeling. While we believe the accounting change is inconsequential to the company’s future and cash flows, we believe the confusion added to the AH sell-off in shares given heightened expectations.

To Ramsey, the stock is still worth holding for the payoff of new product.

Overall, though the stock will likely be weak in overreaction to the results, we believe a host of positive catalysts are still to come during the remainder of 2017 and our BUY thesis remains very much intact. While we recognize roadmap execution and competitive risks remain, 2017 is a critical year for the company with new product introductions across the PC, GPU and server segment that (if successful) should all yield materially higher gross margins versus today’s offerings.

 reiterated an Outperform rating and raised his “valuation range” to $13 to $15 from a prior $11 to $13, writing that the company “continues to execute well,” and that the sales rise of 18% in the quarter, and its outlook for 12% growth this quarter, shows “AMD is continuing to demonstrate a recovery in sales and move towards profitability.”

Wong doesn’t dwell on the margin issue, but rather notes the company is “on track” with its upcoming product introductions:

AMD noted that it remains on track to launch Zen-based servers (Naples) and its new Vega GPU chips in the second quarter of 2017. AMD indicated that it expects to launch Ryzen 3 desktop processors early in the second half of 2017, and Ryzen mobile processors towards the holiday cycle in the second half of 2017. AMD also expects to launch of Radeon Instinct accelerators in mid-2017.

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Futures File: Beef slices higher –

A look at futures prices on commodities that impact the Des Moines metro area and greater Iowa.

Cattle futures charged over $1.30 per pound this week, reaching a 12-month high. Cattle are rallying as steer weights decline and beef export sales continue to boom.

Alongside rising beef prices, cattle producers received more great news this week as corn prices fell near a six-month low. Cattle are predominantly fattened up on a diet of corn, making grain costs a major concern for producers. This week’s drop, combined with the rise in cattle futures, are creating significantly larger profit margins for cattlemen. Using the futures markets, they are able to lock in these profits by buying corn and pre-selling their cattle.

The market was especially active Friday as ranchers, meatpackers, and traders positioned themselves ahead of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly Cattle on Feed Report, which was released after the market closed. This means that prices could have a sharp move when trading resumes Monday.

Even as beef prices exploded, pork prices collapsed, with June hog futures falling to the lowest price since October, trading Friday for $0.68 per pound. For shoppers looking ahead to grilling season, this means that pork chops might present an appealingly cheap alternative to steaks.

Petroleum sinks

Oil prices suffered the largest one-day drop in over six weeks, falling $2.00 per barrel on Wednesday. Oil prices are falling as nationwide petroleum supplies are rising.

Despite large U.S. energy stock piles, the global supply situation could give the market strength; the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced this week that it would extend its production cuts, which took 1.2 million barrels of oil per day out of supply.

As oil slid, so too did gasoline and diesel fuel, which each lost about five cents per gallon this week.

Chocolate prices grow tempting

The price of cocoa, the commodity from which chocolate is made,  spilled down to 10-year low this week as a sharp rise in the British pound made prices much cheaper in US dollars. Economic problems in the Ivory Coast (the world’s largest producer) and the approaching harvest of Brazilian Cocoa (the No. 2 largest producer) contributed to the glut which is driving prices down to bargain levels for chocolate and candy makers.

The price of coffee, generally grown and exported from  the same regions as cocoa, also took a tumble adding to the chance that both breakfast beverages will be discounted at your favorite café.

Opinions are solely the writers’. Walt and Alex Breitinger are commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan. They can be reached at 800-411-3888 or This is not a solicitation of any order to buy or sell any market.

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To avoid beef with the US, China is willing to do a quick deal on beef – Quartz

The literal beef between China and the US wound up being an asset for US president Donald Trump during a weekend summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

For Trump, the meeting was a daunting first chance to deliver on one of his main campaign promises—to rein in perceived unfair practices by China without triggering a trade war that would roil global markets.

The Financial Times reports (paywall) that, during the first meeting between the two leaders, a tentative agreement was struck to rush trade talks. In exchange for easing restrictions on the sale of some high-tech US products to China, Xi is considering ending a 14-year ban on US beef imports that has been in place since 2003.

(Xi may also offer the US financial sector better access to the Chinese market, the FT reported—currently, non-Chinese investors cannot hold a majority stake in Chinese securities and insurance companies.)

Access to the Chinese market would be a welcome development for US beef producers, who see the China as a vast, untapped market. Revenue from beef exports have generally been on the rise during the last decade. A more open China would only increase those numbers.

The Chinese government initially banned beef from Europe in 2001 as a response to mad cow disease. The disease appeared in the US in 2003, prompting a similar ban that was never lifted.

To be sure, if China agrees to lift its American beef ban, it wouldn’t be entirely the Trump administration’s doing. Indeed, the Chinese first indicated they would lift the ban during the Obama years, though bureaucrats on both sides had not dived into the technical negotiations.

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You Shouldn't Underestimate Drake in a Beef With Kendrick Lamar – Complex

I have witnessed a lot of tomfoolery on my Twitter timeline in recent days. As soon as Kendrick Lamar ended his hiatus with the monstrous “The Heart Part 4,” Rap Twitter had to bring up Drake. Why? Because that’s what rap Twitter does. Its members debate Drake and Kendrick Lamar until the data plans tap out. Even when it was determined that K-Dot was more than likely giving Big Sean bars on the track, the Twitter fingers returned to TDE vs. OVO.

It’s a running cycle that will never end, and that’s fine. While I mostly block out this debate in 2017, there was some fuckery that came up during this last go around that I just had to address.

There were ridiculous claims that Drake wouldn’t be able to hold his own in a beef with Kendrick. The debate wasn’t even about if Drake would win said imaginary beef—no, it was a really a question of if he could even hang. Get a bar or two off, sections of rap Twitter with Ab-Soul Control System hats wondered. Let me make this easy for you: Yes, Drake could hold his own in a beef with Kendrick Lamar. Of course he could.

All of a sudden Rap Twitter forgot how Drake handled the Meek Mill beef. He dismantled Meek not only with diss tracks—including the immaculate “Back to Back”—but cold-hearted, Internet-born tactics that drove the nail in the coffin. (See: the meme-filled demolition derby that was OVO Fest 2015.) To this day, Drake keeps punching at Meek when he’s down. Despite his persona as the soft Canadian perpetually in his feelings, Drizzy and the OVO gang are ready for that action. Sitting and plotting in a Toronto studio like it’s the Legion of Doom HQ.

Kendrick is not Meek, though—he’s far more savvy, he’s a better rapper and a better songwriter, and has a far more capable brain trust in his immediate corner—which would make this the biggest challenge of Drake’s career. But to say this would be a walk in the park for Dot is willfully ignorant of historical evidence. Sure, Kendrick can out rap everyone, but beef is about more than just that. And it’s foolish to think that Drake hasn’t already prepared for this moment, that he doesn’t have doesn’t already have evergreen bars for Kendrick on deck.

Despite the ghostwriter allegations Drake has continually proven that he’s ready for action, even while cuttings tracks like “Blem” and “Passionfruit.” His game has been continually tested and he’s over and over come back with the needed response. Again, a battle with Kendrick would be a whole different animal and Drake could very well lose, but let’s not act like this is David and Goliath. They’ve exchanged subs for years now, both throwing the bait out there, and to this point neither has really taken it. Will that change in the immediate future? Could be. But recall that the Jay Z and Nas situation bubbled for years before turning full blown. This story is still getting started.

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Waco-Based H&B Packing Co. Recalls Boneless Beef Products … – CBS DFW

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WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Sunday that Waco-based H&B Packing Co., Inc. is recalling approximately 73,742 pounds of boneless beef products due to a possible E. coli contamination.

The FSIS said the boneless beef products were produced on March 6, 2017.

The products subject to recall are a 60-pound box containing boneless beef with case code 69029 and production date March 6, 2017 and multiple combo bins containing about 73,682 pounds of boneless beef with case code 69029 and production date March 6, 2017.

The recalled products also have the establishment number “EST. M13054” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The beef products were shipped to food manufacturers in Texas.

There have been no confirmed reports of illnesses due to the products.

The FSIS and H&B Packing Co., Inc. are urging customers to throw away or return any product that’s subject to the recall.

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Beef and Potato –

Makes 4 servings

11/3 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled

2 medium onions

11/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or other neutrally flavored oil

14 ounces boneless rib eye steak, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Scant 1 cup dashi (See note)

4 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 scant cup water

Peppercress or watercress, for garnish

1. Cut the potatoes into bite-size chunks, then rinse in water and drain. Cut the onions in half from top to bottom, then into 1/3-inch-thick slices.

2. Place a cold, damp cloth near the stove top. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil sizzles, remove the pan from the heat and place it on the damp cloth. Add the meat once the oil stops sizzling; this will help keep the meat from sticking to the pan.

3. Return the pan to the stove over medium heat; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the beef turns lighter brown. Add the potatoes and onions; cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan continuously, until they begin to soften.

4. Stir in the dashi, sake, sugar, mirin, soy sauce, and water; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for about 5 minutes, skimming off scum that rises to the top.

5. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Place a lid slightly smaller than your pot – so it can fit inside it – on top of the ingredients, to cover. (Alternatively, you can make a circle with vent holes in the middle with aluminum foil or parchment paper.) Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the lid, increase the heat to medium, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the liquid has reduced slightly.

6. Remove from the heat. Divide among individual bowls, garnish with the peppercress or other greens, and serve right away.

– Adapted from Cook Japanese at Home: From Dashi to Tonkatsu, 200 Simple Recipes for Every Occasion (Kyle Books, 2016)

Note: To make dashi, combine 1/2 teaspoon Ajinomoto brand HonDashi and 1 cup boiling water, stirring until the powder has dissolved.

Per serving: 410 calories, 25 g protein, 45 g carbohydrates, 13 g sugar, 13 g fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 510 mg sodium, no dietary fiber, 13 g sugar

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Trump Administration Seeks to Loosen Hiring Requirements to Beef … – Foreign Policy (blog)

Trump Administration Seeks to Loosen Hiring Requirements to Beef Up Border Patrol

The Trump administration is seeking to loosen some security requirements for hiring Border Patrol agents in order to meet a dramatic surge in immigration enforcement, according to internal memos obtained by Foreign Policy and analyzed by five current and former officials in the Department of Homeland Security.

Customs and Border Protection, part of DHS, is seeking approval to relax some stringent standards that have made it difficult for the agency to meet recruitment targets in recent years. That includes a request to potentially loosen congressionally-mandated requirements such as a polygraph, as well as an entrance exam and background check.

According to the five-page, Feb. 17 memo from CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, changes to hiring standards are urgently needed if the agency is to expand as now planned from 19,627 Border Patrol agents to about 26,370. One former DHS official said the current requirements, especially the lie-detector test, are “insanely cumbersome,” and a big reason the agency has trouble recruiting compared with other law-enforcement agencies and even other immigration bodies within DHS, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We do face headwinds,” McAleenan allowed, in an interview with Foreign Policy on Saturday. While declining to discuss internal planning documents, he emphasized, “Secretary Kelly has made it absolutely clear we are not going to lower standards to speed up our hiring.”

The memo estimates that even with the measures to accelerate hiring, it will take five years and cost about $2.2 billion to help fill out CBP’s ranks to meet President Trump’s quota.

“The taxpayer demonstrated in the November election very clearly that border security is a very important issue for them,” McAleenan told FP. “The investments are justified to protect our communities.”

But some former officials said the plan, despite bland bureaucratic language, clearly suggests loosening requirements in order to ramp up hiring.

“Most of the measures are worded in terms that look neutral on their face,” Stephen Legomsky, former senior counsel to the Secretary of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Barack Obama, told FP after reviewing the memos.

“But because all of that is prefaced with how they need to make changes for the express purpose of enhancing their hiring ability, then obviously these things are meant to loosen those standards, not to tighten them,” he said.

And some current and former DHS officials and outside experts are concerned that lowering standards could allow the influx of less-qualified candidates who may be susceptible to corruption. CBP is uniquely targeted by drug-trafficking and other transnational organizations seeking out agents they can bribe — with money or sexual favors — to allow drugs, undocumented immigrants, or other contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We actually lived through this,” said Jay Ahern, a deputy CBP commissioner under George W. Bush, when the agency doubled in size. When reviewing tens of thousands of applicants, he said, mistakes are inevitable.

“If you start lowering standards, the organization pays for it for the next decade, two, or three,” Ahern said. (He did not review the memos.)

McAleenan’s memo is part of CBP’s effort to figure out how to meet the Trump administration’s increased immigration enforcement. In one of his first acts as president, Trump issued an executive order that mandated building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and beefing up enforcement by adding 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, and 10,000 additional ICE officers, tripling their number. DHS Secretary John Kelly expanded upon the executive order with directives released on Feb. 21 that dramatically expand the pool of immigrants subject to deportation.

“CBP has insufficient agents/officers to effectively detect, track, and apprehend all aliens illegally entering the United States,” Kelly wrote in the directives, released three days after the internal CBP memo was stamped. He directed DHS department heads, such as McAleenan, to immediately begin the process of hiring, “while ensuring consistency in training and standards” and “subject to the availability of resources.”

In the memo, McAleenan described some of the changes CBP is considering — waiving the polygraph for some applicants such as police in good standing, making background investigations less stringent, and easing the entrance exam — as making CBP “more competitive.”

Some officials said the steps outlined are long overdue to reduce unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and meet the staffing shortfalls at CBP; it is still 1,600 agents shy of its authorized strength, and turnover is prevalent. In the last budget cycle, CBP requested funding for 300 fewer officers than the prior year, preferring to upgrade old equipment than chase “unrealistic” hiring expectations.

In addition to the lie-detector test, CBP applicants undergo cognitive, fitness, and medical exams, as well as fingerprinting, financial disclosure, drug testing and background checks. Even veterans with security clearances have to undergo an additional security screening to be hired at CBP, the former DHS official pointed out.

McAleenan said Saturday CBP is also looking at better pay equity, incentivizing remote locations, opening up more opportunities for veterans, and continuing to streamline the hiring process. In the last two years, McAleenan said, CBP has reduced its hiring timeline from 400 days to 170.

But social changes, he added, have added to the hiring difficulty. “We’re dealing with an environment around law enforcement that’s challenging in our society right now,” he said. And marijuana legalization in some states “makes it challenging for young people to meet our standards.”

Yet the polygraph has become the biggest hurdle, officials and experts say. Two out of three CBP applicants fail — more than double the average rate for eight other law enforcement agencies, according to the Associated Press.

McAleenan observed in the memo that the lie-detector test “has been identified as both a significant deterrent and point of failure.” ICE, he noted, does not require a polygraph test, and that agency’s own drive to hire 10,000 more agents will “greatly hinder” CBP’s own staffing.

The polygraph “helps us insure our integrity,” and has helped identify cartel lackeys trying to infiltrate CBP, McAleenan said Saturday. But he’s looking for ways to ensure it’s not being used “as an investigative tool,” and to allow some applicants — such as former members of the military or other law enforcement agencies — to skip it.

“We’d like to have the flexibility to make those decisions, instead of having every single person who applies be subject to the polygraph,” McAleenan said. “But we’re going to make those decisions very carefully in balancing the risk against the benefits.”

Yet those tough standards, including a mandatory polygraph, were put into place by Congress in 2010, after Customs and Border Protection suffered acute growing pains during the Bush administration, when CBP doubled in size. Some Border Patrol agents didn’t complete background checks before they deployed to the frontlines, officials reported, and the agency saw an increase in cases of internal corruption, and questions over its use-of-force training following a spate of deadly incidents.

And problems have persisted. According to rights group Southern Border Communities Coalition, between 2010 and 2015, media reported 40 deadly incidents involving CBP, and only one agent was prosecuted. The former head of internal affairs at CBP, James Tomsheck, who declined to comment for this story, claims he was pushed out in 2014 because he fought against a “paramilitary” mindset and a culture of evading accountability for abuses. This week, the Supreme Court is hearing a case to determine whether parents of a Mexican teenager shot and killed by a CBP agent can sue.

The administration’s rush to beef up border security comes as illegal crossings into the United States from Mexico have sunk to their lowest levels in four decades; among Mexican immigrants, the flow has in fact reversed since 2009. Still, “we have not reached the level where we have more people than we need for the crossings,” McAleenan said.

The additional agents would primarily be placed in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where the bulk of border traffic is today, as well as the Tucson and Yuma sectors in Arizona, but also at the northern border with Canada.

“In many ways, you know, the border is more secure than it’s ever been, we have fewer people trying to cross,” McAleenan said of the southern line. “But we still have significant risks, and we need to address them across the entire border.”

The moves, especially the staffing plans, have made Mexico nervous, even beyond the public pronouncements of President Enrique Peña Nieto and other officials, who rejected the new directives as “unilateral” and “inappropriate.”

The Mexican government reached out to CBP immediately after Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order with a number of questions over how carefully the agency selects, recruits, and trains agents, according to a separate series of emails obtained by FP.

While some former officials said Mexican and American counterparts frequently communicate over new directives, others described the correspondence as atypical, and indicative of increased tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over Trump’s rhetoric.  

“It’s a bit unusual, but it’s a really unusual transition,” said David Martin, a former counsel for DHS and the Departments of State and Justice, and now a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia law school. “Particularly with the focus on immigration so early and so vehemently in the new administration.”

Photo Credit: John Moore / Staff

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