The entire food industry, not just the meat industry, owes Minneapolis-based Dairy Queen a hearty thanks and a big thumbs up for its courage in doing what's right for American consumers.

In mid July, the national chain expanded its test of irradiated ground beef to a total of 43 Minnesota locations. The move is certain to accelerate the availability and consumer acceptance of irradiated ground beef on a national level.

So far, however, Dairy Queen's competitors, as well as commodity groups like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and major packers (with the exception of Excel), have largely chosen to timidly peek from the shadows. The experiences of an outfit like Dairy Queen just might get them out into the light.

Dairy Queen began market testing SureBeam®-irradiated ground beef in two franchises in Hutchinson and Spicer, MN, in February. The test was expanded to 11 more out-state locations in May. Now, Dairy Queen has taken a huge step by serving irradiated patties exclusively in 30 Minneapolis-St. Paul metro stores.

Dairy Queen didn't attempt to “hide” or soft-pedal the technology, either. News releases touted the “irradiated beef test.” Point-of-sale pieces, such as posters, tray liners and brochures, blanketed the test locations.

Dairy Queen also conducted on-location training of staff to school them on the safety and benefits of irradiation. That way, in-store personnel could better address their customers' concerns.

Obviously, the Dairy Queen folks understand the importance of education. But Glenn Lindsey, Dairy Queen vice president of research and development, says the reason such food-safety technology “sells” in Minnesota is because of the outstanding groundwork laid the past several years by a partnership of the Minnesota Beef Council, beef producers, public health agencies and a Minnesota ground beef processor (Huisken Meats).

“Dairy Queen is fortunate to be a citizen of Minnesota where education and awareness regarding irradiated ground beef patties is very high,” Lindsey says.

In fact, the public education and awareness effort has been so effective in countering opponents' misinformation and scare mongering that Lindsey says opponents have said very little during the test period. Little wonder when one considers what Mike Osterholm, former Minnesota state epidemiologist, told reporters attending the Dairy Queen press conference announcing the expanded test.

Now director of the University of Minnesota's Center For Infectious Disease Research and Policy, Osterholm told reporters, “You'll go out and try to inject what you think is balance to the story by getting opponents (to comment). There is no other side to this issue.”

Calling irradiation the single, most-studied food safety process in the history of human kind, Osterholm added, “I can find very, very few issues in the area of medicine and public health that have the unanimous agreement and support of every major public health, medical, scientific and professional organization in the world,” he said.

Yet, industry groups and companies have tip-toed around the irradiation issue like 10-year-old girls dancing around a spider. As a result, irradiation opponents have essentially been able to define the terms of the debate in most states.

The beef industry owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Minnesota Beef Council (MBC) and Minnesota's cattlemen and women. Led by Ron Eustice, MBC's executive director, Minnesota stepped forward and developed the model that every state beef council should seriously consider.

And many already have, thanks to training provided by Eustice and MBC dietitian Michelle Torno. Beef councils in 15 states are or will be adopting the Minnesota model.

Just think what the progress could be with a national leadership presence and checkoff dollars fueling the effort. Thanks once again, Minnesota!

My sincere thanks to the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) for awarding me its Ambassador Award during their annual meeting in Omaha last month. It's truly a great and unexpected honor to receive this recognition given annually to a media person whose efforts BIF deems helpful in promoting a greater awareness of the concepts of performance evaluation of beef cattle.