I would like to make an additional comment on Boone Carter's article on low-stress cattle handling regarding the use of electric prods (“Don't Stress,” April BEEF, page 32).
My recommendation for allowing the use of electric prods on up to 25% of the cattle is for meatpacking plants only. To get an “excellent” score, the plant can use it on only 5% of the cattle. On ranches and feedlots, National Cattlemen's Beef Association guidelines are 10% or less.
In feedlots with good facilities, I have reduced electric prod use down to 1%. That 1% consists of stubborn animals that refuse to enter the squeeze. In this situation, the prod is preferable to hitting or hard tail twisting.
Electric prods should NEVER be a person's primary driving tool, and they should not be constantly carried around. After the stubborn animal is moved, the electric prod should be put away. I have observed that the handler's attitude becomes quieter and gentler when they stop carrying the prod.
Colorado State University
Irradiation's time is now
As one of the few public health professionals who has taken a strong, public stance in favor of food irradiation, I agree with Iowa State University's Dennis Olson that the public-health community needs to exercise stronger leadership in support of irradiation (“Whatever happened to irradiation?” May BEEF, page 32).
However, the introduction of public-health standards that we take for granted today — iodinization of salt, fluoridation of water, mandatory vaccinations for school attendance and, yes, pasteurization of milk — were not accomplished overnight. Despite advocacy beginning early in the 20th century, Minnesota did not require pasteurization until 1948.
The time for mandatory irradiation of ground beef and other high-risk foods, like lettuce and tomatoes, is coming. The case gets stronger with each new outbreak. In fact, a new E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in romaine lettuce was reported in Washington state in early June, and by later that month the Food and Drug Administration advised restaurant chains to stop serving tomatoes because of an outbreak in 16 states traced to raw tomatoes.
Mandatory irradiation will come sooner if beef producers accept that irradiation is in their best interests. Are the costs of outbreaks — lost sales, lawsuits and recalls — really a necessary part of doing business? Are you at risk of losing your business if an outbreak is traced back to your establishment?
The bottom line for me, though, is whether it would be acceptable for your child to end up on kidney dialysis in the hospital with hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Let's all get moving together on using irradiation to make ground beef even safer!
Harry F. Hull, M.D.
St. Paul, MN