On the heels of another massive nationwide recall of meat products tainted with foodborne bacteria, a chain of grocery stores in the Midwest has announced that it will offer customers the option of purchasing regularly irradiated ground beef. Other stores will inevitably follow suit, if consumers show interest.
John A. (Sean) Fox, associate professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, has conducted numerous studies to determine how much consumers are willing to pay for safe food. His other research interests include consumer response to irradiated meat, and food from animals injected with somatotropin. He said consumers -- armed with the true facts about the process -- are ready to purchase the irradiated meat because of the overall safety of the product.
"I think consumers are ready for it but they need to be educated about the process," Fox said. "It's unfortunate because simply with the word 'irradiation' it is very easy for opponents to scare consumers away from the process, just because of the negative connotations associated with irradiation. But again, when consumers have been informed and they know the facts, a majority of them are expressing a preference for the irradiated product. If that holds true, we will see a lot more irradiated ground beef in the stores in the upcoming months or years."
Fox said surveys indicate when consumers have been provided with information about irradiation, a strong majority of about 70-80 percent favor the process.
According to Fox, irradiation eliminates 99.9 percent of the pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria without changing the taste, texture, appearance or nutritional value of the meat. In spite of its name, the process cannot make food radioactive.