March 29, 2001
Public Citizen Files False Advertising Complaint Against
Omaha Steaks for Irradiated Beef Ads
Catalog and Web Site Fail to Tell Consumers That Ground Beef Has Been Irradiated
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public Citizen today filed a false advertising complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Omaha Steaks Inc., because the company?s catalog and Internet advertisements fail to tell consumers that its ground beef products have been irradiated.
Deceptive advertising is illegal under the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Act and is punishable by criminal and civil penalties, including fines, injunctions and corrective advertising.
Earlier this month, Public Citizen filed a false advertising complaint with the FTC against Huisken Meats Inc. of Chandler, Minn. Huisken?s Web site told consumers that its ground beef products have been “electronically pasteurized” instead of irradiated.
“These companies know full well that most Americans do not want to eat food that?s been exposed to huge doses of ionizing radiation. That?s why they are twisting their advertising messages,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “This hoodwinking must stop immediately.”
Omaha Steaks complies with federal law by placing the phrase “treated by irradiation” on its ground beef packages. But because this information is not disclosed in the company?s printed catalog or its Internet advertisements, customers may not be aware that the beef has been irradiated until it arrives in the mail. The company?s Web site receives about 250,000 “hits” per month, according the company.
Omaha Steaks has publicly acknowledged its desire to avoid the disclosure. Omaha Steaks marketing director Vickie Hagen was quoted in The New York Times on Feb. 28, saying that the company is “a little nervous about the word ?irradiation? as far as consumers? perception. . . . People hear it and start thinking something more negative.”
In addition to filing the FTC complaint, Public Citizen has written a letter to Omaha Steaks chair/CEO Alan Simon, asking him to include in all of the company?s advertisements the fact that it is irradiating ground beef products. Public Citizen also asked Simon to inform consumers if the company irradiates any other products in the future.
Based in Omaha, Neb., Omaha Steaks annually sells about $200 million worth of high-end meat and other food products through the mail and at retail stores. It irradiates all its ground beef products, according to the company. Those products are irradiated at a facility in Sioux City, Iowa, owned by the Titan Corporation, a San Diego-based defense contractor that uses linear accelerators originally designed for the “Star Wars” program to irradiate food.
Research indicates that irradiation can destroy vitamins, essential fatty acids and amino acids in food, while corrupting flavor, texture and odor. In addition, studies show that irradiation results in the formation of hundreds of new chemicals, few of which have been studied for their potential toxicity.