Clean Beef or Irradiated Dirty Beef?

Clean Beef or Irradiated Dirty Beef?
A Veterinarian’s Perspective

“Our efforts in the meat industry should be aimed at removing the filth from the source not just making cow manure safer to eat!” says Dr. Patricia Whisnant, a veterinarian and grass fed beef expert.

The USDA recently stated that 60% of the largest United States meat plants failed to meet federal food safety regulations for preventing E.Coli bacteria in their products. According to the CDC this bacteria causes an estimated 73,000 infections and 61 deaths each year. The safety of our food supply is a real issue with most Americans.

Modern corporate centralization and integration of the meat industry has produced high speed, factory assembly line processing which handles 400+ cows an hour by unskilled labor. Speed means profit and it can, also, mean careless practices which are greatly responsible for the occurrence of bacterial contamination in beef.

We have seen over the last few years that outbreaks of E.coli can cause nationwide recalls. Often by the time the tainted beef is recalled, the majority has already been consumed. Large corporate processors can’t afford to slow down the assembly line and are resistant to the time consuming measures it takes to sanitize the process and minimize the risk of contamination.

Irradiation may provide an excuse not to tackle the real sources and practices responsible for the contamination of beef . . . mainly the filth in the confined environment of the feedlot and the fecal contamination that occurs in the high speed slaughter facility. I am afraid that the “safety net” irradiation holds out to the meat processing industry will be the excuse needed to continue current processing practices rather than clean them up.

Irradiation is a process by which a food product is exposed to high doses of radiation to kill bacteria, parasites, and mold. Three types of ionizing radiation are permitted: gamma rays, high-energy electrons and X-rays.

This sanitation process is endorsed by a majority of health institutions such as The World Health Organization, CDC, AMA, American Dietetic Association, American Meat Institute, Grocery Manufactures of America, and the National Cattleman. These organizations hail this new technology as the gold standard of food decontamination.

These organizations believe irradiation is a positive process which will contribute to our public health . . . as beneficial as milk pasteurization, immunization against disease, and chlorination of our water.

On the other side of this debate are activists, health care providers and those who view this technology with a bit more skepticism and believe that irradiated food may have the opposite effect . . . actually causing harm to long term health.

According to Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago: “The government’s assertion that irradiated food is safe for human consumption does not even pass the laugh test.”
“Irradiated meat is a very different product than natural meat. This is hardly surprising as the Food and Drug Administration’s approved dosage of 450,000 rads is approximately 150 million times greater than that of a chest x-ray. Apart from high levels of benzene, new chemicals known as ‘unique radiolytic products’ were identified in irradiated meat in US Army tests in 1977, and recognized as carcinogenic. Later tests identified other chemicals shown to induce genetic toxicity.”
Dr. Epstein and many opposed to irradiation believe that the FDA’s claims of safety are based on grossly inadequate testing which fails to meet minimal standards and which its own expert committees explicitly rebutted. After review of over 400 irradiation studies only 5 were used to base FDA approval. Many others presented scientific evidence that eating irradiated meat poses grave risks of cancer and genetic damage.Studies show that irradiation damages food by breaking up molecules and creating free radicals, causes a loss of 5-80% of many vitamins, and damages the natural digestive enzymes found in raw foods.

The longest human studies involving eating irradiated food only lasted for 15 weeks. The long term effects are still very much in question. Animal studies have shown increased tumors, reproductive failure, kidney damage, and vitamin deficiencies.

Consider the following points in deciding if irradiated food is a technological breakthrough or another adulteration of our food supply:

  • Even if you are not a humanitarian . . . cattle raised in feedlots are exposed to diseases and high levels of fecal contamination from their confined environment which can impact your health.
  • Irradiating meat to neutralize fecal matter does not eliminate the fecal matter on the beef carcass during careless processing..
  • Feeding corn/grain in feedlots changes the pH of the cow’s stomach from neutral to acid.  This practice has allowed the development of acid resistant ‘super’ E.coli which would normally be killed in an acid environment such as the human stomach. Are we breeding a new set of super bacteria that are irradiation resistant?
  • Cattle processed at the rate of 400+ cows per hour using unskilled labor with nearly a 100% turnover rate contributes to mistakes in processing and increases the risk of cross contamination.
  • Irradiation helps to reduce corporate legal risks,  allows corporations to maintain high speed processing operations, increases beef shelf life, increases distances that beef can be shipped and masks beef deterioration . . . advantages which are not focused on your health but on corporate profits.
  • In the past 12 years, the USDA has cut over 12,000 meat inspector jobs and in many cases has allowed USDA inspectors to be replaced by in-house inspectors under corporate payrolls and corporate authority.
  • The lobbying efforts of the meat, irradiation industries and FDA are working to eliminate the word “irradiated” in favor of “electronic or cold pasteurization” . . . marketing phrases which they feel will be more acceptable to Americans.

Marketing efforts are increasing American’s acceptance of irradiated beef each year. According to a report by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, only 15% of the participants in a recent marketing study of irradiated beef rejected every aspect of irradiation, saw no benefits and questioned the risks.

They stated that the remaining 85% could be favorably influenced by changing the word ‘irradiation’ to a word that sounds less like “radiation,” with better education of the irradiation process, a choice of irradiated vs. non-irradiated beef and improvements in product quality.

Have you ever eaten irradiated beef?

Restaurants, caterers and institutions are not required to tell you when their beef is irradiated.

Beef which is an ingredient combined with several other ingredients does not have to be labeled as irradiated. Popular “meals to go” in grocer’s shelves using beef as an ingredient would NOT have to be labeled as irradiated.

The government proposes to use irradiated ground beef in the national school lunch program without parental warnings in most cases.

Even the largest mail order gourmet steak provider in this country (which is left unnamed in this article) sells irradiated ground beef.

If you are a beef consumer . . . your chances are very good that you have eaten irradiated beef either knowingly or unknowingly.

Is there a safe alternative to irradiated beef?

Cattle raised in natural open grass pastures 100% of their lives harbor significantly lower numbers of E.coli (according to the USDA . . . literally a million-fold). As an added benefit, grass fed cows are exposed to fewer pathogens grazing in clean, open areas vs cramped, contaminated feedlot pens.

Grass fed beef or grain fed beef should NEVER be processed in high speed processing facilities. To further reduce your risk, cattle MUST be processed individually by a skilled butcher to avoid cross-contamination and deadly processing mistakes.

The processing plant needs to strictly adhere to a HACCP protocol with a USDA inspector supervising the entire operation. Proper processing requires time, skill and extreme care.

Dry aged grass fed beef has the outer layer removed in the final step thus decreasing the risk of E.Coli. Wet aged and non-aged beef would not have this added benefit.

Not only do cattle raised on natural grass without grain, corn or animal by-products have significantly lower disease rates and E.coli numbers, but grass fed beef is high in cancer and heart disease fighting omega 3 fatty acids, CLA and Vitamin E.

Grass fed beef actually helps to lower your harmful LDL cholesterol levels. It is an excellent source of healthy protein when processed properly.

At we have opted to provide our customers with clean dry aged grass fed beef processed individually by a skilled butcher in a USDA facility. Personally, we feel that “dirty irradiated beef” is disgusting and not fit to feed our pets MUCH less our health conscious customers.

Patricia Whisnant, DVM
Grass Farmer and Veterinarian

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