To the editor:

Filling the order of millions of health-conscious Americans, McDonald's announced that a new low-fat burger would be on menus nationwide in April. But few news accounts recognized that it was the American beef industry that helped make the innovation possible. Beef producers have quietly made great strides during the past decade to address the health concerns of Americans.The beef industry began funding research to develop low-fat ground beef in 1987. McDonald's McLean burger is a result of one such research project at Auburn University that found a way to replace much of the fat in ground beef with water and a natural food additive that helps retain moisture during cooking.

Hamburgers aside, most beef reaching American plates is now leaner, and that trend will continue as new advances are made. In addition, retailers are reducing the fat in beef through closer trimming. A recent two-year study of supermarkets showed that the amount of external fat on retail cuts has decreased by 27 percent. Today, more than 40 percent of retail cuts carry no external fat.

Such advances have recently led experts to emphasize the importance of beef in lower fat diets, noting that "lean beef can be included in diets recommended by the American Heart Association, the surgeon general and the National Academy of Sciences."

As the beef industry works to address consumer health concerns, it is also winning recognition for its attention to the health of the environment. In fact, our country's increased interest in environmental issues mirrors a longstanding concern of beef producers.

Every day is Earth Day for American cattle growers, who continually work to protect and improve the nation's 1.1 billion acres of pastures and rangeland. At least 85 percent of America's grazing land can't be used to grow crops. It is only through grazing livestock that this renewable natural resource - representing half the land area of the United States - becomes a food resource.

Just last year, the director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management reported that public rangeland used by beef producers for grazing was in better shape than at any time in this century.

Glen Larsen, president

Utah Cattlemen's Association