I applaud BEEF magazine's continuing crusade (“Do the right thing,” August BEEF, page 4) to promote acceptance, if not a mandate, from consumers and regulatory bodies for irradiation of ground beef to help ensure a wholesome supply of beef. While many consumers might have doubts, if not closed minds, about the proven safety and efficacy of irradiation in preventing food-borne illness, education of the uninformed is the key to resolving the issue.

I also salute Harry Hull, M.D. (August BEEF, pages 17 and 20) and other public health-minded readers of BEEF who in recent years have spoken out about the folly of living with the threat of, and possibly dying from, the effects of E. coli O157:H7 infection.

In the name of common sense, the whole nation needs to get on with the program, with the prime mover being USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Perhaps it is time for all citizens, not just readers of BEEF, to lobby that organization for a call to action.
Albert Koltveit, DVM, MS
Port Ludlow, WA

The time is right

FDA's decision to approve irradiation of fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to kill deadly bacteria has generated a flurry of positive publicity for the technology. A Wall Street Journal editorial was entitled: “Lettuce Rejoice,” and the New York Times entitled its piece “Safer Salad.” These respected publications consider the FDA decision to be a step in the right direction.

It may be a while before irradiated spinach and lettuce show up at the supermarket, but irradiated produce is already available. Irradiation is not only used to kill harmful bacteria but also for disinfestation to protect American agriculture from the importation of harmful insects that might hitch their way to the U.S. mainland on exotic fruits. More than 11 million lbs. of irradiated produce are sold annually in this country and the volume is increasing.

Your August editorial “Do the right thing” must be a call to action for the entire beef industry. The negative publicity from every recall, each case of food-borne illness and death caused by E. coli-contaminated ground beef gives the beef industry a black eye. We can and we must do better.

It's time for our industry to invest effort, time and checkoff dollars in educating consumers, retailers and our own producers about the benefits of irradiation, the most effective technology available to eliminate E. coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef.
Dennis Swan
Balaton, MN

Right on target

Your August editorial, “Do the right thing,” is right on target. Irradiation is the most effective technology available to eliminate the scourge of E. coli O157:H7 and it's disappointing that beef-industry leadership continues to say it supports irradiation but does very little to educate the public about its benefits or to promote its use.

Since the Jack in the Box outbreak brought the E. coli problem to national attention 15 years ago, government and industry have worked hard to reduce E. coli contamination. Millions of dollars have been piled into research to develop technologies to reduce contamination of ground beef, and there has been some success, but we are still far from solving the problem and the beef industry is just as vulnerable as ever.

The goal of most of the research has been to reduce the incidence of E. coli. That target is wrong. Reduction implies that some contamination is still okay. When lives are at stake, no level of contamination with these deadly bacteria is acceptable.

Meanwhile, E. coli outbreaks continue, with millions of pounds of ground beef recalled. Most recently, Nebraska Beef Inc. recalled more than 5 million lbs. of ground beef potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a recall that affected some of the leading retailers in the country, including Kroger and Whole Foods.

I sell many of my cattle to Nebraska Beef. I also live within a few miles of Windom, MN, the home of PM Beef Holdings, which was involved in a recall last year. Recalls from those two firms, as well as more than two dozen others in 2007 and 2008, have resulted in recalls of close to 40 million lbs. of beef that could have been made safe by the use of irradiation.

The illness, death, recalls and lawsuits will continue until routine use of irradiation as an intervention is firmly in place. We hear all kinds of excuses from the doubters, but nearly all the arguments against irradiation are untrue and nearly identical to those raised by critics of pasteurization decades ago.
Mark Pankonin
Lamberton, MN