The prospects for widespread adoption of irradiation as a means of ensuring the safety of ground beef received a huge lift in December. IBP, the world's largest meat packer, announced it intends to install irradiation equipment on its production line. Omaha Steaks, one of the country's top mail-order meat firms, also announced its plans to begin irradiation of its ground beef products.

Both firms will use Titan Corp.'s SureBeam cold-pasteurization technology, which kills bacteria (including E.coli 1057:H7) using regular commercial electricity. The process, however, doesn't change the nutrient profile or sensory factors of the beef.

IBP's decision is a significant breakthrough for proponents of cold pasteurization. Analyst Stephen Levenson says in a San Diego Daily article "IBP has done test marketing. They must feel that consumers are accepting it."

Irradiated ground beef became commercially available May 16 when Huisken Meats of Chandler, MN, introduced 2-lb. boxes of frozen, irradiated ground beef patties in Minneapolis. Irradiated ground beef is now available nationwide.

In a related matter, Congress has asked the Food and Drug Administration to consider allowing alternate terms for irradiation. "Cold pasteurized" is a favorite.

Advocates of a change say irradiated products are neither radioactive nor have they necessarily been exposed to radioactive materials. They say the term "irradiation" is misleading and confuses some consumers. Opponents say changing the name is an effort to hide the process from the public.

Beef demand continued to climb in the third quarter of 2000, increasing 6% over the same 1999 period. In addition, Cattle-Fax estimates that consumer expenditures on beef will surpass $53 billion in 2000, the first time it's topped $50 billion.

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An audit firm to verify beef referendum signatures has been chosen. USDA named PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to validate the 107,883 signatures, or 10% of all U.S. cattle producers, needed to request a referendum from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The process is to be completed by mid-January.

All persons contacted by PwC will be asked to confirm they signed the petition and met the requirements for a valid petitioner. Producers also will be asked to provide by return mail proof of producer status in the form of a sales receipt documenting the sale of cattle during a specified period.

President Clinton used executive order to establish the largest protected area in the U.S. in December. The 84-million-acre reserve contains nearly 70% of U.S. coral reefs, as well as pristine remote islands, atolls and submerged lagoons. The area is now called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

Paul Hitch of Guymon, OK, is the newly selected chairman of Consolidated Beef Producers (CBP). The new Southern Plains live cattle marketing group, with total commitments of 2.1 million head of fed cattle from 129 members, is a non-profit marketing association that aims to use its numerical clout to precipitate "true value-based negotiated pricing" with packers.

Marketing through CBP is set to begin this year. Hitch had served as interim chair during CBP's formation last fall. Neal Odom, McLean, TX, is the new vice chair.

The European Union (EU) plans to destroy as many as two million cattle beginning July 2001. The decision to depopulate, made to calm public panic over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), could cost the EU more than $1.1 billion. Beef consumption has dropped sharply throughout Europe in recent weeks.

The 15-nation EU will begin to destroy all cattle more than 30 months of age that haven't been tested and cleared of BSE by July.

In addition, the EU also passed a six-month ban on the feeding of all forms of animal by-products to all livestock. That measure could also cost billions of dollars in the storage and destruction costs of 3 million lbs. of banned feed, plus the cost of more expensive substitutes.

European consumers are in a panic mode over the safety of EU beef. It began in France, which has seen a dramatic rise in BSE cases this year, from 31 in 1999 to 110 in 2000. In mid-November, Germany and Spain, which had never reported cases of BSE in their herds, found infections.

The EU action mirrors the action taken in Britain, which has recorded more than 170,000 cases of BSE thus far. No BSE cases have been found in the U.S., a record attributable to more than 10 years of intensive government and industry efforts, says Chuck Schroeder, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.