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GMA extols irradiation’s virtues for food safety

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 25-Feb-2009

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has been at pains to reassure consumers that it does not consider irradiation a replacement for current food safety procedures, but it could be incorporated into the food safety system to minimize risk of food-borne illness.

The GMA has released a science policy paper, entitled Food Irradiation: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media, which has been released at a time of heightened food industry and consumer concern regarding the safety of the US food supply. It hopes this will convince the public of the safety of irradiated food.

The report includes a review of available irradiation techniques, how they work to kill pathogens including salmonella, E. coli and listeria, and current US government standards on what it considers to be safe irradiation dosage levels for food.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published a final rule allowing the use of irradiation for iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach; the technology can already be used with other foods such as spices, meat, poultry and shellfish.

Chief science officer for GMA Robert Brackett said: “Food irradiation is just one more tool that industry will have at its disposal to provide consumers with safe food products; however, the adoption of this technology cannot in any way serve as a substitute for industry adherence to good manufacturer, agricultural and sanitary practices that are so essential to maintaining a safe food supply.”

The paper also argues that the FDA, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Medical Association have all agreed on the safety of food irradiation at approved doses, following 50 years of research.

Irradiation resistance

However, the feasibility of irradiation becoming widespread for killing pathogens has long been called into question, and the GMA first petitioned the FDA nine years ago to extend the range of products that can be irradiated.

The paper said: “Consumer education is needed to enhance the acceptance of irradiated foods by the public.”

The Center for Food Safety has expressed concern that if the use of irradiation expands, it could take the place of other food safety measures.

“Irradiation is an after the fact ‘solution’ that does nothing to address the unsanitary conditions of factory farms, and actually creates a disincentive for producers and handlers to take preventative steps in production in handling,” it said.

Additional problems

However, reservations about its use go beyond safety concerns, and the paper points out that a product made with irradiated ingredients is not eligible for a natural claim, as irradiation is considered to be “more than minimal processing”. Nor can it be certified as organic.

In addition, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts, the cost of irradiation can be off-putting to manufacturers. Despite this, its report, released last October, forecast the world food irradiation market to be worth $2.3bn by 2012.

Its use is currently approved in 37 countries, but the US is the world’s largest user of the technology, accounting for an estimated 32 percent of global demand in 2008.

The GMA’s full report can be accessed online via this link .

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