- WASHINGTON - U.S. meat companies can use irradiation to kill deadly
- bacteria but only if they prominently
label packages to inform consumers,
- the U.S. Agriculture Department said
- USDA issued the proposed rules
at a time when an outbreak of
- listeria in hot dogs and lunch meat produced
by a Michigan plant has
- killed 16 and sickened many others.
- Irradiation has been embraced by
some experts as an efficient
- way to kill potentially dangerous bacteria
in ground beef and other cuts
- of meat. Consumer groups are less certain
benefits outweigh the risk to
- worker safety, and meat companies are
concerned about the cost of
- installing the equipment.
- Irradiation exposes food to small
amounts of radiation from
- X-ray machines or electron accelerators
that penetrate and kill bacteria
- without raising the temperature.
- Companies would not be required to use
- The most controversy over the USDA
regulations is likely to
- center on the department's proposed labeling
- The USDA wants to require that
package labels contain the
- international symbol for radiation and
a statement telling consumers the
- product was treated with irradiation.
The symbol must be "prominently"
- placed on the package and the statement
printed on the front of the label,
- the USDA said.
- But regulators said they might
also allow companies to adopt a
- more consumer-friendly label that states
a product is free of E. coli or
- other pathogens because of irradiation.
- More than 25 percent of Americans
are expected to purchase
- irradiated ground beef products, the
- The cost of treating beef would
include between two and six
- cents a pound for the equipment and labeling,
amounting to between $35 and
- $105 million for irradiating 1.7 billion
pounds of ground beef, the USDA
- Those expenses would be more than
offset by fewer food
- poisoning cases, which mean reduced costs
for doctor bills and lost work.
- Tom Billy, administrator of the
USDA's Food Safety and
- Inspection Service, said the rules must
give companies "significant
- flexibility" in using irradiation.
- "The Food Safety and Inspection
Service has endeavored to
- propose regulations for the irradiation
of meat food products that set
- forth performance objectives, rather
than prescribe specific processing
- methods," the USDA said.
- That means setting a cap on the
maximum dose of irradiation for
- beef, and allowing plants to develop
their own procedures for use.
- The new rules will also cover poultry.
The USDA approved
- irradiation for poultry several years
ago, but few companies have used it
- because of the expense. Consumer and
industry groups have until April 26
- to offer their views on the proposed
regulations. The USDA will then spend
- several more weeks developing a final
set of rules.
- An estimated 9,000 Americans die from
food poisoning annually, according to
- government figures. The exact number
of illnesses is difficult to track
- because many consumers mistake food poisoning
for other ailments.