Irradiated ground beef is now available in 48 states and more than 1,000 supermarkets. So says Titan Corp., the San Diego-based developer of the SureBeam electronic pasteurization technology that uses commercial electricity as its energy source.

In July, the firm debuted the nation's first SureBeam disinfestation facility in Hilo, HA. As a result, tree-ripened papaya and other exotic Hawaiian fruits will begin to show up in mainland supermarkets in August. For 50 years, a federal fruit fly quarantine had prevented access for Hawaiian farmers to the mainland fruit markets.

- The first batches of irradiated fresh ground beef supplied by Colorado Boxed Beef sold out at several Florida retail outlets in July. Some customers driving as far as 60 miles to get the product, says Randy Childers, meat manger for Wyndle's.

Interestingly, Ralph Nader's consumer group, Public Citizen, distributed a press release in late August claiming that two Florida grocery stores had pulled irradiated beef from their shelves due to poor sales. The group said consumers had "voted with their pocketbooks" because they weren't convinced irradiated meat is safe.

But, officials of the two grocery stores, Stuart's Fine Foods and DeLoach's Meat Market, disputed the report. "I'll sell anything that's USDA approved. I don't have it on the shelves right now because it's hard to get, and that's what I told them (Public Citizen)," DeLoach says.

DeLoach said consumer interest and knowledge of the product in his community is soft because the beef industry has failed to aggressively market irradiated meat in Florida.

- Meanwhile, IBP produced its first batch of SureBeam irradiated ground beef. It's the same process used for products produced by Huisken's Meats of Minnesota. Huisken's supplies irradiated frozen ground beef patties to Schwann's home delivery service, which markets the patties nationwide.

- A July 27 "Morning Edition" program on National Public Radio featured commentary by David Ropeik, a director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Regarding the perceived risk of irradiated food, Ropeik says that to avoid the perceived risk from radiation is to condemn oneself to the real risk of bacteria in food. "This kind of emotional decision making about risks is not only irrational, it's dangerous," he says.

Fiber optics and lasers may be the newest defense in battling contamination at meat packing plants. University of Rhode Island researchers say the technology, which is integrated into portable "biosensors," can rapidly test for bacteria, including salmonella, at processing plants.

The new system, which takes an hour, could provide on-site bacterial testing and would make product recalls obsolete. Currently, samples are sent to a lab with a turnaround time as long as a week, during which time the food is already in the consumer pipeline, says lead researcher Garth Rand.

Korea distributes imported beef in a manner meant to suppress sales. So ruled the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding Korea's requirement that imported beef and domestic beef be sold in separate retail stores. The WTO says separate retail stores are illegal under its global trading obligations and excludes imported beef from about 90% of Korea's 50,000 retail outlets.

The WTO also found that Korean subsidies to its beef producers violate its reduction commitment on domestic supports. Korea currently imports about 202,000 metric tons of beef. Nearly half comes from the U.S.

Mexico is accusing the U.S. of more dumping. The August 11 Texas Cattle Feeders Association newsletter reports that Mexican meat industry representatives claimed in a Mexico City newspaper that beef imports are entering "without complying with adequate health safety standards."

They're asking Mexico's agriculture officials to implement new health safety standards for meat imports that would include records of place of origin, date of slaughter, lot number and date of entry into Mexico. Under Mexico's current anti-dumping action against the U.S., importers must certify that beef is less than 30 days old.

The inclusion of animal welfare guidelines in global trade rules is being proposed by the European Union (EU). In a recent policy paper, the EU called for multilateral agreements on animal welfare, labeling goods to show production conditions, and farmer subsidies to stem extra costs. "We only want to ensure that the process of liberalizing world trade supports what we are building in the EU about the protection of animals," the paper says.

Researchers have created a meat-fueled robot, Lean Trimmings reports. "The ideal fuel in terms of energy gain is meat. Vegetation is not nearly as nutritious," says one of the inventors. "Changing food into electricity isn't unique. What I've done is to make it small enough to fit in a robot." Dubbed Chew Chew the "gastrobot," the robot runs on a microbial fuel cell that breaks down food with bacteria and converts it to electrical energy.