According to Canada Press, and other newspapers, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) wants the Federal Government to approve the irradiation of beef (supposedly to kill dangerous E-Coli). Irradiation is a process by which a food product is exposed to high doses of radiation to kill bacteria, parasites, and mold. In the U.S. three types of ionizing radiation are permitted: gamma rays, high-energy electrons and X-rays. I am told that both X-rays and gamma rays involve high energy photons which, when they strike a molecule, can disrupt that molecule. All kinds of other molecules can be created which may or may not be harmful. However, sometimes all it takes is one harmful molecule to randomly cause a cancer.
Doug O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, says the processing line at the XL Foods Lakeside plant in Brooks moves too quickly. Between 300 and 320 carcasses go by workers every hour and employees make between 3000 and 4000 cuts a shift which has resulted in considerably less time to make sure knives are sanitized after each cut.
Cattle are supposed to be washed before they enter to ensure their fur is free of manure, but sometimes the water is not hot enough to get off all the excrement, resulting in that excrement backing up on the killing floor forcing workers to traipse through the waste and track it through the plant.
Dr. Patricia Whisnant, a graduate of the University of Tennessee College Of Veterinary Medicine (1981) says that 60 per cent of the largest United States meat plants failed to meet federal food safety regulations for preventing E. Coli bacteria in their products. What are the statistics in Canada?
As Whisnant states “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.” As Whisnant further states “Our efforts in the meat industry should be aimed at removing the filth from the source, not just making cow manure safer to eat.”
While the CCA says its proposal calls for irradiated beef to be clearly labeled, irradiation is just a band-aid on the problem. It is better to deal with the origins of the problem and not irradiate at all.