- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration should swiftly approve
irradiation to kill illness-causing germs on hot dogs, vegetables, fruits
and juices, a coalition of food and public health groups said Tuesday.
- The Food Irradiation Coalition, led by
the National Food Processors Association, said it would submit a formal
petition to the FDA by the end of July requesting the change in federal
- Irradiation can kill deadly bacteria
such as listeria monocytogenes, which claimed 21 lives earlier this year
in contaminated hot dogs made by Sara Lee Corp.
- 'Essential tool for food safety'
- Consumer groups worried about foodborne
illness in children, the elderly and others with weak immune systems have
reluctantly embraced the technology, which uses tiny doses of gamma rays
or electron beams to sterilize food.
- "This is an absolutely essential
tool for food safety," said Rhona Applebaum, vice president of the
food processors group. The FDA should act on the petition at the end of
a 180-day period for analysis and public comments, she said.
- The FDA took several years to study irradiation
before approving it as a safe procedure for raw ground beef in December
1997, but rules still have not been finalized for meatpackers to use the
- Under complicated federal food safety
laws, the U.S. Agriculture Department has authority over all meat and poultry
plants, and it has yet to spell out how irradiation can be used.
- Food additive or process?
- Officials with USDA's Food Safety and
Inspection Service spent more than a year drafting proposed rules for irradiation
and have promised to finalize them as soon as possible.
- The separate review of irradiation by
the FDA and the USDA is a waste of time and resources and shouldn't be
repeated with the planned petition for ready-to-eat meat, Applebaum said.
- "We're going to continue to press
the USDA and the FDA to get their act together," she said.
- The coalition, which includes the American
Meat Institute, the American Dietetic Association and other food groups
and academics, will also lobby Congress to change a 1958 federal law that
classified irradiation as a "food additive" instead of a process.
By law, the FDA has jurisdiction over all food additives.
- The head of the FDA's Center for Food
Safety and Applied Nutrition said last winter that food safety issues would
be a top priority for the agency this year.