Congratulations on the excellent coverage that BEEF magazine has provided on food irradiation. Your support for irradiation has been a key element in the widespread acceptance of this valuable food safety tool. Thanks to you and other supporters, irradiated ground beef products are now available nationwide.

Since 1994, the beef industry has invested more than $12 million in E. coli O157:H7 food safety research. This research has resulted in steam vacuuming of beef carcasses, “thermal pasteurization” and mild organic acid solutions, all of which reduce pathogens.

Recently, Texas Tech University announced preliminary results from checkoff-funded research in which a marine plant product fed to cattle before harvest reduced the incidence of E. coli. More recently, experts have been pinning their hopes on intervention strategies to reduce pathogens on farms.

The good news is that each of these technologies helps reduce the incidence of pathogens such as E. coli 0157H:7, Salmonella and others. For example, USDA's ground beef sampling program shows that less than four-tenths of 1% of samples they've taken are positive for E. coli O157:H7, and the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef has dropped from 7.5% in baseline samples before 1998 down to 2.8% in 2001.

The bad news is that each intervention strategy has its limitations. Despite our best efforts, a few nasty bacteria slip by the hurdles causing illness, hospitalization and, all too often, death.

While it may be possible to use a combination of strategies that will eliminate most of the bacteria most of the time, the current level of product contamination — four-tenths of 1% for E. coli O157H:7 and 2.8% with Salmonella — is still unacceptable.

The only sure way to effectively eliminate these pathogens from ground beef is to cook it to 160°F or food irradiation.

Consumer acceptance of food irradiation has increased dramatically through education efforts. The list of companies using irradiation or offering irradiated ground beef products increases almost weekly. Used in combination with other intervention strategies, irradiation promises to do for the beef industry what pasteurization did to make dairy products safer a half century ago.

Robert V. Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that if 50% of poultry, ground beef, pork and processed meats were irradiated, the potential benefit would be a 25% reduction in the morbidity and mortality rate caused by infections of E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and Toxoplasma.

This estimated net benefit is substantial. The measure could prevent nearly 900,000 cases of infection, 8,500 hospitalizations, more than 6,000 catastrophic illnesses and 350 deaths each year.

Irradiation is a technology whose time has come. Companies such as Huiskens, Schwan's, Omaha Steaks, W.W. Johnson Meats and International Dairy Queen have proven that consumers are ready for irradiated ground beef. As of this month, all 147 Minnesota Dairy Queen “Brazier” restaurants have the option of carrying irradiated hamburgers.

The beef industry needs to invest checkoff dollars in programs that educate the consumer about the benefits of food irradiation. Instead, we're spending our time and money with “on-farm” research to develop “band-aid” approaches that will be effective only some of the time, when and if all producers and processors use it. Irradiation is a real solution to a very real problem that has plagued our industry too long.
Dennis Swan
Balaton, MN

A Teaching Tool

I wanted to let you know I greatly appreciate BEEF magazine. I'm again preparing for lectures in my beef production class at Missouri this fall, and your magazine is extremely helpful with the process of trying to keep current. This fall, I will have 58 students in the class.
Duane H. Keisler
Professor, Animal Sciences
University of Missouri

Liked The Trade Article

My compliments on Clint Peck's September commentary “10 Trade Myths,” (page 38). This portion of the industry is very important to our industry and directly correlates to why we need to have a checkoff program.

I fully support both the checkoff and what we're doing from the export-import business standpoint. At some point, people have to understand that we've moved into a global economy and that we must deal with the issues.

If we continue to fight among ourselves and to point fingers, the poultry and pork industries will quietly advance, and we will lose market share. As a business, we need to look at what it takes to move ourselves forward to compete for a place in the protein market and forget about “a way of life.”
Jerry Turnbull, PhD
Rogersville, AL

A Heifer Pricing Formula

Wayne Fahsholtz, CEO of the Padlock Ranch in Ranchester, WY, has come across a formula for pricing heifers he wants to run by others in the business. Fahsholtz believes such a formula would protect both the buyer and seller from market fluctuations over the years.

“One of the enterprises here at Padlock has been marketing of coming, three-year-old, second-calf heifers,” he says. “These heifers were range-calved as two-year-olds and rebred to Charolais or composite bulls.”

Padlock raises about 2,000 of these heifers annually. This particular program was designed for terminal breeders of the Future Beef program as well as other terminal programs.

“The pricing formula multiplies the close of the October feeder cattle futures, plus 10¢, for two-year-old heifers; and the same formula, plus $150, for the coming threes.”

Example:

October feeder futures close at 80¢
80¢ + 10¢ = 90¢
Heifer weight is 900 lbs.
90¢ × 900 lbs. = $810
$810 + $150 premium = $960

Fahsholtz's question is this: Does this formula make any sense to readers, or do you know of another one that can be used as a pricing mechanism?

“It's been used for people wanting to contract heifers early,” Fahsholtz says. “With the drought conditions this year, maybe it is a moot point anyway. But I would like to hear your thoughts.”
Wayne Fahsholtz
Ranchester, WY

waynef@wavecom.net

August Issue Was Tops

The August issue of BEEF was the most educational issue of any magazine of late. Great data and articles on folks in the fray and even a great cover. I removed eight pages for my data bank. Good job.
Darol Dickinson
Barnesville, OH

BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly Is Great

Just have to tell you that I really get a lot out of your new electronic newsletter BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly. I hope a lot of cow-calf producers are subscribing to this free newsletter because we need all the useful information we can get.

All the articles are excellent and timely, but your Aug. 9 issue was particularly great. Three items stand out: the piece on the McDonald's rumor, the activist attack on fast food and the so-called obesity “epidemic.”

  • Regarding the McDonald's rumor on imported beef, it's a good thing farmers are only 1.8% of the population, or we could really hurt ourselves with things like calling for a boycott of McDonald's. It is also great to see the National Cattlemen's Beef Association getting some credit for going to McDonald's to work out a solution to the problem.

  • Regarding fast-food outlets: I suppose it would be good if these stores had nutrition labels, but aren't we supposed to be responsible enough to know that balance and moderation are necessary in our diets? I favor labels for another reason — so that those with allergies to beans or peanuts (which can be extremely dangerous) will know if soy or other bean or nut derivatives are used in the foods.

  • Regarding the obesity scam: Didn't that “epidemic” come about because the criteria for obesity were changed, thus moving many more people into that category? If there's a problem, why not address it through an existing bureaucracy like the school lunch program? Or, offer more physical education classes and current nutritional information to kids using existing programs?

Perhaps the problem is absent parents who park their kids in front of a TV with snacks, instead of insisting they play outdoors and eat real food.
Maxine Jones
Midland, SD

Send reader letters, with name and address, to BEEF, 7900 International Dr., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425; or e-mail to beef@primediabusiness.com. BEEF reserves the right to edit for length.