It was heartening to see that, in his February editorial (pg. 4, “E. coli Summit ignores irradiation”), Joe Roybal is still beating the drums for irradiation of ground beef. That's despite the fact that some recalcitrant, head-in-the-sand types at an “E. coli Summit” in San Antonio chose to ignore irradiation as a legitimate topic for discussion as they addressed their stated purpose, namely, to “ensure that safe, wholesome U.S. beef becomes even safer.”

In stark contrast, it was saddening to read that, according to an attendee, “… in at least two of the summit's discussion groups, irradiation was taken off the table.” It was even more saddening to read the tired platitudes for dealing with the issue of E. coli-contaminated ground beef in the “five-point consensus for industry action” trotted out by the summit major-domos.

It wasn't clear who sponsored this whitewash summit, but it is clear — to me, at least — that those who were the presumed stakeholders in organizing and leading the summit conference, i.e., those who presumably were purported to represent the best interests of the beef industry as well as public health, left their commitment behind them as they departed for San Antonio.

What other conclusion can a reasonable person draw? In a related news item in the same issue of BEEF (pg. 11, “Three More Chains Go Irradiated”), we read, “The Buffalo News reports the product [irradiated fresh ground beef] … is expected to cost 20¢ to 30¢ more per pound than regular ground beef.”

For goodness sake, is that modest extra outlay too much of a financial burden for the average consumer who is not at all interested in hiking to the emergency room in a hospital in the event he/she happens to ingest viable E. coli 0157:H7 along with cheaper ground beef?

Spare me the cost/effectiveness arguments that anyone might put forward on this issue! In the Seattle area, where I live, thousands of naive, gullible consumers pay a hefty premium for “organic” or “natural” meat cuts, and are quite happy to be able to do so. Yet, they haven't the slightest understanding that “non-organic” or “non-natural” meat cuts are just as wholesome and organoleptically pleasing.

I would like to know more about the San Antonio summit folks who ostensibly got together to advance frontiers of knowledge on wholesomeness of ground beef, yet managed to suppress credible information on the safety and efficacy of ground beef irradiation.
Albert Koltveit, DVM
Port Ludlow, WA

More On Grass-Fed Beef

Regarding the grass-fed beef discussion in BEEF magazine's “Reader's Viewpoint” sections in the January and February issues, I offer this: Everything in this world has a balance, which is optimal for proper functioning.

Man, whom evolved eating what was available as a hunter-gatherer for millions of years, has the best balance for performance of his genes by eating what he evolved eating. This primitive diet had a ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 of around 1:1 to 1:2.

In the letter by Steve Smith of Texas A&M University, published on page 8 of the January issue, he cites a Journal of Animal Science article that shows a ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 of 1:1.35 for grass-fed beef versus the grain-finished ratio of 1:8.84.

It's not just getting the scientific estimated minimal daily intake of Omega 3 that's important, but the ratio of the Omega 3 to Omega 6, which is even more important. These two fats are essential fats, which means we can't produce the shortest form of them ourselves but must ingest them.

In beef, the predominant Omega 3 fat is linolenic acid and the predominant Omega 6 fat is linoleic acid. These fats are precursors of other fats within their family of fat, which are elongations of these two essential fats.

The elongated Omega 3 family of fats is particularly common in fatty sea fish, which have been shown to reduce the incidence of myocardial infarcts and strokes. We have the enzymatic machinery in our bodies to make these favorable elongated fats in a proper proportion if we eat the proper ratio of the essential fatty acids.

The Omega 6 fats have many effects that are opposite to the Omega 3 fats. The high ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 appears to increase the risk for atherosclerotic disease, the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke. This high ratio is also thought to promote inflammatory diseases.

Another concern is the amount of total calories that Western countries, particularly the U.S. population, ingests. By decreasing the amount of fat ingested, we get fewer calories per unit of weight of food. This would help with our obesity problem and all its associated diseases.

Personally, I enjoy my grass-fed beef taste even though my beef grades low Select. Marbling is not the only predictor of the enjoyment of eating beef.

Both the USDA food guide pyramid and the new healthy eating pyramid allocate an amount of red meat per person that is less than what is currently consumed. We producers of beef need to try to produce and market beef that's the healthiest for our customers, something that certainly could be fulfilled by producing grass-finished beef.

Secondarily, we need to finish our beef on grass without the expensive inputs required of the grain industry. We're currently producing beef using grain to furnish a market for the government-subsidized (taxpayer) grain industry to the detriment of the beef industry.

Let's fight for ways to better produce grass-finished, consumer-friendly beef rather than the high-volume, less-healthy beef for which we have such low profit margins.
David Brown, MD
Springdale, AR

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