Thank you to BEEF magazine for honoring me with your 2000 Trailblazer Award (November BEEF, page 14).

Food safety is at the top of the beef industry's list of priorities. It's imperative that we use all available tools to make beef one of the safest foods on the dinner table. I'm convinced irradiation, or cold pasteurization, will do for the beef industry what pasteurization has done for the dairy industry.

In 1997, Minnesota beef producers began a highly coordinated effort to educate consumers, meat processors, retailers, restaurateurs and producers about the benefits of irradiation. We served more than 150,000 samples of irradiated ground beef at fairs, expos, foodservice shows and consumer events. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Education was the key to this widespread acceptance.

On May 16, 2000, Huisken Meats, a third-generation, family-owned business in Chandler, MN, became the first company in the nation to market irradiated ground beef. By Memorial Day, distribution had risen to 800 stores. By the 4th of July, consumers in 20 states could purchase irradiated ground beef patties in more than 2,000 stores.

The product is also being aggressively marketed in 48 states through Schwan's home delivery system. Schwan's markets four different types of irradiated ground beef patties. Their beef sales have risen more than 20% as a result of these efforts.

I'd also like to thank Ron Eustice and the staff of the Minnesota Beef Council for working tirelessly with me on this project. I especially want to thank Minnesota's cattlemen and cattlewomen for their support and countless hours of volunteer work to serve samples and educate the public.

Now, I challenge the leadership of the U.S. beef industry to take a giant stride forward in our battle to eliminate the scourge of E. coli 0157:H7 by making irradiation of ground beef as commonplace as pasteurization of milk.