Irradiated Beef: It's What's For Dinner

Busy working moms like me are always on the lookout for innovative menu ideas for the family, and that's why I'm so excited about a new item that's showing up on grocer's shelves.

It's irradiated beef, a technological breakthrough that enables health conscious families like yours and mine to be protected from the dangers of E.coli, salmonella and listeria. Even if cattle holding lots are not exactly hygienic, and once in a while beef is improperly processed or past its expiration date or you eat your burgers blood rare, you will still be safe from food poisoning. Because once your beef is irradiated, no living organism can survive.

Just imagine the fun you'll have preparing irradiated hamburgers, irradiated chili, spaghetti and irradiated meatballs, and that all-time family favorite, irradiated kebabs barbecued on the backyard grill.

In fact, it tastes so much like the old familiar burger that you won't even know you're eating irradiated beef unless you read the fine print. Last winter, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin inserted last minute provisions into the Senate farm bill, allowing irradiated beef to be labeled as "pasteurized," instead of the Food and Drug Administration's suggested "Treated By Irradiation" label.

Food irradiation has been on the table since 1953, when it was named one of the "atoms for peace." According to Food and Water, Inc. of Walden, Vermont: "The U.S. Department of Energy initially encouraged food irradiation as part of its Byproduct Utilization Program, created in the 1970s to promote the commercial use of nuclear byproducts. Cobalt 60 and Cesium 137 are the radiation sources used to irradiate food. But Cesium 137 is the only isotope available in sufficient quantities for large-scale irradiation, and it's also one of the deadliest. With a half-life of 30 years, Cesium 137 remains dangerous (i.e., radioactive) for nearly 600 years."

In 1985, pork was approved for irradiation, and in 1986 the FDA approved irradiation for fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and spices. In 1997, the United States passed a law to reduce labeling requirements for irradiated foods and gave the FDA 60 days to approve the process.

The FDA approved irradiation of meat for "pathogen control" in 1997, and the USDA approved it in 1999. According to the Center for Consumer Research, even though irradiation of beef was fast-tracked through the FDA, "realistically, all safety concerns have been answered."

Irradiated beef: It's what's for dinner.

Who says so? Leading experts and renowned meatheads from all across this great nation of ours. Like Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute: "This is a victory for consumers and the red meat industry. I know for a fact that there is sincere interest on the part of the meat industry processors, retailers, and food service operators."

Van Amundson of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association: "In order to maintain the safest food supply in the world, the beef industry needs the flexibility to use new technologies as they become available."

And C. Manly Molpus, president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America: "The decision is good news for consumers. Attention now should be turned to helping consumers understand the benefits of irradiation for themselves and their families."

Meatnews.com, the industry bible that provides such special interest features as "Carnivore Club" and "Agency Hits Back over Haggis," hails the introduction of the new SureBeam technology by California's Brawley Beef, which turns cattle into burgers "using the latest livestock handling and processing technologies to assure consumers that they will receive consistent, tender, good tasting and most importantly, the safest beef products on the market. Much like milk pasteurization, SureBeam's technology will be employed as a last layer of safety after a food product has been processed and packaged."

In fact, the safety of our food supply, and especially the protection of the health of our growing children is so important to our own President that more than a year ago the Bush administration proposed introducing irradiated ground beef into the National School Lunch Program.

According to Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago: "The government's assertion that irradiated food is safe for human consumption does not even pass the laugh test. Exposing America's school children to the hazards of irradiated food is reckless negligence, compounded by the absence of any warning to parents.

"Irradiated meat is a very different product than natural meat. This is hardly surprising as the Food and Drug Administration's approved irradiation dosage of 450,000 rads is approximately 150 million times greater than that of a chest x-ray. Apart from high levels of benzene, new chemicals known as 'unique radiolytic products' were identified in irradiated meat in U.S. Army tests in 1977, and recognized as carcinogenic. Later tests identified other chemicals shown to induce genetic toxicity."

For more comprehensive information on the safety of irradiated foods in particular and the food supply in general, visit organicconsumers.com, or contact Food and Water, Inc. in Walden, Vermont. You may just decide to become a vegetarian.

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