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Irradiated Meat Fails in Florida, Wisconsin; Major Chain, Producer Drop Controversial Beef Patties

Sept. 10, 2001

Irradiated Meat Fails in Florida, Wisconsin;
Major Chain, Producer Drop Controversial Beef Patties

Wal-Mart, Publix Also Shun Irradiated Hamburgers;
California Irradiation Companys Stock Price Tumbles

WASHINGTON, D.C.   Citing poor sales and low consumer interest, more than 80 grocery stores and meat markets in Florida and Wisconsin that began selling irradiated ground beef last year have pulled the products from their shelves, representing a significant test-market failure for the irradiated food industry. Also, one of the first major meat packers to market irradiated hamburgers in the U.S. has stopped making the products.

Additionally, major retailers Wal-Mart and Publix have backed out of deals to sell a Florida meat packers irradiated ground beef, according to an official from the meat-packing company, Colorado Boxed Beef. And despite claims of increased sales, the stock price of a major California irradiation company has fallen by more than 50 percent since May.

“Consumers are voting with their dollars,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Based on these early returns, irradiated food is losing by a landslide.”

In Florida, six independently owned grocery stores and meat markets that started selling irradiated hamburger patties last year have since pulled the products from their shelves, according to store owners or employees contacted in the past week by Public Citizen. Owners said there wasnt enough consumer demand and that customers werent buying the meat.

The Florida stores that have pulled the products are DeLoachs Meat Mart in Lakeland, Laurenzos Italian Specialty Food Market in North Miami Beach, Macs Meat Market in Winter Haven, Smittys Old Fashioned Butcher Shop in Fort Lauderdale, Stuart Fine Foods in Stuart, and Wyndles Foodland in Plant City.

“We experimented with it for a short time, but there was not enough consumer demand or interest,” one store owner told Public Citizen. “For us to carry an item, we actually have to sell the stuff but it didnt sell. It was almost as though people didnt care.”

Added another store owner, “Weve tried selling it two or three times. The last time we tried it, the guys who work on the front line of our store said, Not again. “

The six stores were purchasing irradiated beef from Colorado Boxed Beef of Auburndale, Fla., which made national news in June 2000 when it began distributing its “New Generation” line of irradiated hamburger patties. Macs Meat Market stopped selling Colorado Boxed Beefs irradiated hamburger patties even though two of three brothers who co-own the beef company   Bryan and Steve Saterbo   are also corporate officers of Macs, according to Florida Secretary of State records.

When Colorado Boxed Beef announced plans to sell irradiated hamburger patties, the company said in a press release that it had commitments from two major supermarket chains to sell the patties. However, not only have all six independently owned stores in Florida dropped irradiated beef, but the two major chains, Wal-Mart and Publix, have backed out of deals to sell the products, a company executive told Public Citizen last week.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in July that the 80-store Pick n Save chain in Wisconsin has stopped selling irradiated hamburger patties. A Pick n Save spokesperson told the newspaper that “there has been absolutely no consumer acceptance.” The newspaper stated that “interest in the so-called safer meat is virtually non-existent in the Milwaukee area,” despite last years E. coli outbreak that killed a 3-year-old girl and sickened dozens of other people.

Pick n Save had been selling irradiated ground beef products by Emmpak Foods of Milwaukee and irradiated by SureBeam, which is devoted solely to irradiating food and is an affiliate of San Diego-based defense contractor Titan Corp. Since May, SureBeams stock has plummeted from $19.45 a share to $8.55 at the close of business Friday. The Journal-Sentinel also reported that Emmpak, one of SureBeams first clients, had stopped producing irradiated beef altogether.

Other states where irradiated beef is still being test-marketed include California, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Except for the Twin Cities, sales are predominantly occurring in rural areas.

Few irradiated food items are being sold even though the Food and Drug Administration legalized the irradiation of wheat in 1963, potatoes in 1964, spices in 1983, pork in 1985, fruit and vegetables in 1986, poultry in 1990, red meat in 1997, and eggs last year. Public opinion polls show that a vast majority of Americans do not want to eat irradiated food. Despite claims by several companies that their irradiated food products are selling well, no company has ever made its sales figures public. Omaha Steaks recently began giving away irradiated hamburger patties to customers who purchase steaks.