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Civic Leaders and Public Citizen Tell Wal-Mart



May 27, 2000

Civic Leaders and Public Citizen Tell Wal-Mart

“Nebraskans Won’t Buy Meat Treated with Radiation!”

(Beatrice, NE) Concerned citizens including livestock producers, food inspectors andWal-Mart customers joined Public Citizen and Nebraska civic leaders in a news conferenceand rally objecting to Wal-Mart’s proposal to sell irradiated meat. The event washeld in Beatrice Inn, near the Beatrice Wal-Mart Supercenter where irradiated meat isscheduled to be test-marketed.

Food irradiation (also known as cold pasteurization or electronic pasteurization)exposes food to high levels of ionizing radiation to kill bacteria and extend shelf-life.Irradiation can create new chemicals, called unique radiolytic products, which have notbeen studied or adequately identified. The long-term health effects of consumingirradiated food are equally untested. Scientists have demonstrated that the ingestion ofirradiated food may also result in chromosomal damage and reproductive dysfunction, amongother problems. Carcinogens including benzene and toluene may also be produced inirradiated food.

The Food & Drug Administration declared food irradiation safe using mathematicalcalculations supported by only five animal studies of disputed validity, conducted in the1960s and 1970s.

“Neither consumers nor US livestock producers are well-served by the irradiationof meat,” said Dr. Sally Herrin, president of Nebraska Citizen Action Network.”Irradiation is detrimental to meat quality, including taste and nutrition, andintroduces potentially-dangerous new chemicals into the meat we feed our families.It’s inferior to current steam sterilization technology, and a poor substitute forresponsible meat-cutting practices that remove fecal matter, sores or tumors offcontaminated carcasses.”

Mike Callicrate, a Kansas rancher and cattle-feeder, and spokesman for the CattlemenLegal Fund agreed, “Instead of keeping manure off the meat by insisting onbetter, safer production processes, IBP, Farmland and other major meat packers want to useirradiation to make manure safe to eat. This is treating the symptom to avoid addressingthe cause.”

IBP and Farmland are two of the country’s largest meat processing facilities.

[A representative of the Midwest Council of Food Inspector Locals also spoke outagainst food irradiation. “Irradiating

meat is no substitute for an effective food inspection system,” he said,expressing concern with the government’s attempt to allow meat companies to selfinspect meat quality at slaughter houses and packing plants. ]

Another problem with irradiated meat is the threat to small farmers in the UnitedStates. Family farmers and small food producers are finding it near impossible to competeeconomically with corporate factory farms. The extended shelf-life of irradiated food willhelp foreign meat producers to drive the small American farmer out of business.

“In the long run, irradiation will enable the meat traders to move livestockproduction overseas, where labor and environmental standards are lower,” said Herrin.”They want to raise it offshore, slaughter it offshore, package it offshore and sendit on a slowboat back for sale in the US.”

Most American consumers share the views expressed at the news conference. A 1999 pollcommissioned by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Center for Sciencein the Public Interest found that 88.6 percent of Americans want irradiated food labeled.A 1997 CBS News poll found that 77 percent of Americans would not buy irradiated food.

In February, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) legalized theirradiation of raw meat and meat products such as ground beef, steaks and pork chops. Justlast week, Huisken Meats began distributing irradiated hamburger patties for sale inMinnesota.

Jim Freeman, manager of the Beatrice Wal-Mart Supercenter, admitted last month that hisstore would also participate in the test-marketing of irradiated meat.

“Irradiation translates into big profits for Wal-Mart, but something entirelydifferent for consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’sCritical Mass Energy & Environment Program. “Corporate agribusiness has convincedthe government to abandon its protective role, allowing companies like Wal-Mart to usefood irradiation to extend the shelf-life of meat and mask the unhygienic conditions inwhich animals are raised, slaughtered and processed.”

Under the USDA’s labeling requirements, irradiated meat must be labeled as such ifsold “fresh” in stores. However, this requirement does not apply to processedfoods or meat dishes served in restaurants and cafeterias. Consumers therefore will notknow when they are eating irradiated meat – – unless they ask the chef.