Irradiated beef orders pulled by Schools

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 27, 2004
by WLJ
Nebraska, Minnesota and Texas schools have all pulled their standing orders for irradiated beef this school year as USDA contends suppliers continue to charge too much for the product.
According to USDA, suppliers were still asking approximately $2.50 per pound for irradiated hamburger and ground beef, as early as the first week of September. That price is almost 75 cents more than the cost for non-irradiated product.
Officials with Nebraska, Minnesota and Texas indicated that all orders for irradiated beef have been scratched, and that individual schools will have to wait to the summer of 2005 before ordering irradiated beef.
A total of 221 schools in those three states had planned on allowing kids the opportunity to eat school lunches made with irradiated ground beef, which has been manufactured on the premise it is freer of contaminants, specifically pathogens including E. coli 0157:H7.
All three states were under pressure from the USDA to decide earlier this month whether to keep their orders for the meat.
The USDA received bids from suppliers of irradiated beef ranging from $2.25 to $2.50 per pound, compared to $1.65-1.75 usually paid for non-irradiated beef. USDA officials would not specify how many pounds of irradiated product were specified in all the school orders, however, it was indicated that bids came in on more than 30,000 pounds of ground beef, from potential suppliers.
USDA indicated that it expected the cost of irradiated beef to be about 20 cents more per pound than untreated beef, but officials said much more expense than that was unacceptable.
The first bid to supply irradiated ground beef to schools in the three states came in at $2.50 a pound. The second was $2.25 a pound. The USDA rejected both. No supplier names have yet been released.
While the states were displeased with the inability to get any irradiated product procured, they said that canceling their orders went a long way towards stemming controversy over the situation.
While science has shown irradiated beef to be safe and of no consequence to taste or smell, there are still fears concerning the process.
Irradiation involves directing electron beams or gamma rays at food to rid it of harmful bacteria. Studies show that most of the radiation passes through without being absorbed. The small remaining amount kills bacteria.
USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have deemed irradiation safe, and numerous food safety experts say it is one way to prevent consumers from getting sick from E. coli and other bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
The USDA donated 131.85 million pounds of beef worth $184.35 million for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs in 2003, according to government data. The agency expected the school lunch program to deal in at least that amount of beef this year, if not a couple million pounds more. — WLJ