"Don't have a cow, kid!"
Because of the timing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's May 2003 announcement regarding the approval of irradiated ground beef for use in the National School Lunch Program, many citizens who were puzzled by the speedy construction of CFC Logistics' food irradiator suspected a government connection to the plant in Milford Township. They asked whether a USDA contract was waiting in the wings, requiring the installation of the irradiator to be completed virtually overnight. As it turned out, they were right!
Another Pennsylvania company, Qualipaq Meats of Swoyersville, was chosen by USDA as the sole supplier of irradiated ground beef and hamburger patties to the National School Lunch Program. (They would use CFC Logistics as their provider of irradiation services.) CCMT first learned this information in a July 2004 article published by Bucks County's newspaper of record, the Doylestown Intelligencer.
A startling development at Qualipaq was revealed by Public Citizen in the February/March 2005 edition of their newsletter, "Food Alert!" The company was cited by USDA for repeated food safety violations; a sample of meat originally destined for the school lunch program was contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Fortunately, none of the contaminated meat reached school lunches. (To read the article "What is the USDA Hiding?," jump to page three of the newsletter.)
As it turned out, no school district in the United States ordered irradiated ground beef through USDA as a participant in the National School Lunch Program. Three states (Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas) seriously considered doing so but ultimately decided against the purchase because of the significant increase in price per pound (eight to thirty cents) made necessary by irradiation processing.
The troubling events at Qualipaq provide a cautionary tale. As opponents of food irradiation, we dispute the industry's "quick fix" food safety claims. Instead, we assert that their primary motivation is to sell a service intended to increase the profitability of large food production and grocery companies.
Food irradiation does succeed in accomplishing the following objectives:
it could save money if regulatory authorities decide that testing for salmonella and other types of bacteria is no longer required at food processing facilities, and
it can extend product shelf life,
it can be used as a "quarantine treatment" for meat and produce imported from foreign countries,
it eliminates the need for some (well-paying, domestic) meat cutting jobs in supermarkets since the meat arrives in stores already pre-packaged,
it limits corporate liability in connection with food poisoning outbreaks caused by the consumption of undercooked meat contaminated by these bacteria.
Consumers should be aware that, by thoroughly cooking meat and following proper food sanitation practices, they can prevent the same types of food poisoning cases targeted by the food irradiation industry.
Instead of cleaning up food processing operations and supporting strong Country of Origin Labeling Laws (COOL), proponents of irradiation continue to resist more stringent regulations and oversight. The conditions found on overcrowded, filthy livestock farms and in unsanitary meat packing plants are the cause of the bacterial pathogens destroyed by food irradiation. Irradiation does not kill viruses or prions, responsible for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a deadly human wasting condition. Variant CJD is believed to be acquired from the consumption of meat contaminated by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as "mad cow disease."
Below are links to information about CFC Logistics, the company that CCMT opposed during the irradiator struggle, its parent company and closely-related subsidiaries:
Clemens Family Corporation is a privately-held, family-run umbrella corporation. This wealthy, conservative Christian business has deep roots in a Mennonite-settled community in southeastern Pennsylvania. It began in 1895 with a meat packing operation. Today, the Clemens Family Corporation owns and finances the activities of CFC Logistics, the company that operated the nuclear food irradiator in Milford Township, as well as other subsidiaries, including Hatfield Inc., Country View Family Farms and Wild Bill's Foods. There is no official website for the parent corporation as far as we can determine. For a brief snapshot of that company from Hoover's Online, please visit the link above.
To gather insight into the mind of Phillip Clemens, current Chairman and CEO, CCMT found the following article instructive: Creating an Animal Welfare Mindset in your Company. In this article, Mr. Clemens identifies seven core corporate values. After reading these values, a key question emerged: was an ultrahazardous, unwanted and unnecessary gamma nuclear irradiation facility, that exposes an entire community to possible cobalt-60 contamination, consistent with these corporate values and family principles?
CFC Logistics, the owner/operator of the Milford Township irradiator, initially poured a lot of resources into its corporate website about food irradiation but removed them as the market dried up for irradiated ground beef intended for the National School Lunch Program. The site offered extensive pro-irradiation information and was a well-developed PR tool for the entire irradiation industry. Today no references to irradiation services of any kind remain on the company website since the announcement of the company's exit from that business.
Country View Family Farms might be more aptly named “Country View Factory Farms.” This large factory farm operation, based in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania, is partly owned by the Clemens Family Corporation. Factory farms are also known as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and are huge environmental polluters. The filth they produce is a key reason behind the need for meat irradiation.
The rise of factory farms across the Commonwealth and the country is alarming. Most CAFOs in Pennsylvania are pig farms, not cattle operations. They are most highly concentrated in Lancaster and Franklin Counties. Intense community opposition to local factory farms gave rise to the Franklin County Coalition under the guidance of its parent group, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Click here to read more about Pennsylvania's CAFOs in a story published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For helpful information about sustainable food production options, visit the website of the GRACE Factory Farm Project.
Hatfield Inc., doing business as Hatfield Quality Meats, is a large pork processing company known locally as the “Home of the Smiling Porker.” Its operations are based in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Hatfield developed a colorful new website and homespun local television advertising campaign during the period of the irradiator struggle. Smiley, the longstanding grinning hog mascot, did not appear anywhere on the new site or in the TV commercial. Instead, a character named "Henry," a “fresh check” Hatfield meat inspector, took center stage.
By emphasizing freshness in its marketing push during the irradiator struggle, Hatfield appeared to distance itself from a possible misperception by consumers that it irradiates its pork products. Hatfield officials have stated, on the record, that the company does not use irradiation in its meat processing activities. While food irradiation is well known to extend shelf life, it has not been readily adopted by pork producers because of its negative effect on the meat's texture.
Wild Bill’s Foods is a beef jerky meat snack company, based in Lancaster, PA. The company was purchased by the Clemens Family Corporation.
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Clemens Family Markets is another highly visible consumer-driven business based in Southeastern Pennsylvania that is owned and operated by various members of the Clemens family. Its CEO, Jack Clemens, disavowed all financial connections to the Clemens Family Corporation. According to company officials, the Clemens family businesses were restructured a few years ago and the decision was made to separate Clemens Markets from the meat packing operations.