Health Canada is consulting until September 1 on using ionizing irradiation on fresh and frozen ground beef.
NFU said it was concerned it will be used as a final “control point” to kill some pathogens from fecal contamination of carcasses that occurs when processing high volumes at high speeds without adequate inspection of lines.
Irradiation can destroy vitamins, affect flavour and odour, mask unfreshness and does not eliminate toxins produced by pathogens prior to irradiation, it added.
The proposed amendment would allow beef processors to subject fresh ground beef to 1-4.5 kilogray (kGy) and frozen ground beef to 1.5-7 kGy absorbed dose of ionizing radiation respectively.
It is already approved for potatoes, onions, wheat, flour, spices and seasonings.
The union said a previous request asking Health Canada to approve irradiation of ground beef came from a meat industry lobby group in 1998. The request led to a regulatory proposal in 2002 that failed because of public opposition.
A second, similar request came from the same lobby group in 2013, which has resulted in the regulatory proposal.
“Canada’s beef packing industry is dominated by two foreign-owned multinational corporations that slaughter over 90% of federally inspected beef in Canada: JBS and Cargill, with headquarters in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Minnetonka, Minnesota respectively.
“Irradiation equipment is costly, thus we can assume that these two companies would be in the best position to benefit from the proposed regulatory change.”
The union said JBS and Cargill would have the capacity to spread the cost over their volume of sales.
“This means they could choose to use irradiation to cut costs, which would allow them to undercut smaller companies and thereby increase their market domination by driving these competitors out of business. With fewer abattoirs and packers, the options of both farmers and consumers would shrink, as they would increasingly be forced to sell/buy from JBS and Cargill.”
It added reducing choices makes it easier for the companies to pay beef producers less for animals and to charge higher prices to retailers and consumers.
Canadian market would suffer
Japan and the European Union do not allow irradiation of meat, although some member states do, so the move would not help Canada export more but make it easier for the US to export into the Canadian market.
If adopted, the regulation would make it possible to import irradiated ground beef from the US.
“These imports would displace beef slaughtered and processed in Canadian plants. Jobs associated with meat packing in Canada would be lost as a result.
“Cattle prices paid to our farmers would also be pressured downward to compete with cheaper imported US beef.
“If the proposed regulation leads to more ground beef imports from the US, there would be even more pressure on Canadian meat packers to cut costs by increasing line speeds and reducing wages, worsening the related food safety problems.”
Irradiated food packages must display a written description and the Radura symbol.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the Consumer Association of Canada support treating foods with irradiation.