Thursday, July 21, 2011


Why is that gamma irradiation is being treated as an outcast technology in spite of the enormous advantage it enjoys compared to other technologies in protecting foods from ravages of microbiological hazards? The only answer could be "ignorance'! added to this many governments have dealt a body blow to this clean process by insisting on declaration of the same on front of the label which probably makes the consumer feel uncomfortable patronizing radiation treated food products. What is perplexing is that in a country like the US where unlimited freedom is given to the industry for using genetically modified foods without any transparent declaration policy, irradiated foods need to be appropriately labeled. If Americans have a choice most of them would not touch a GM food if such label declaration was insisted upon. Recently the meat industry in that country reeling under massive product recalls from the market because of suspected contamination with pathogens made out a case to allow them at least use very small dose of radiation for just surface sterilization and unfortunately same has been denied. Here is a take on this vexed issue.

The American Meat Institute Foundation (AMI) had sought acceptance for chilled beef carcasses to be treated with low dose, low penetration electron beam irradiation to reduce disease-causing pathogens like E. coli. Late last week, FSIS finally issued its official decision on the petition: denied. Winning approval of irradiation as a processing aid would mean the treated beef would be exempt from irradiation labeling. The industry doesn't like the label requirement, because it thinks consumers misunderstand and won't accept irradiation, despite its benefit in reducing health risks. In a letter to the AMI, FSIS said it "has determined that the petition lacks sufficient detail" to warrant a new rule on irradiation as a processing aid, citing a lack of definition for the terms "low dose" or "low penetration," as well as the lack of criteria in controlling the total absorbed dose. Eighteen months ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) signaled that the meat industry's 2005 request to use low-dose irradiation as a processing aid to reduce unwanted microbes -- and not have to label the meat as irradiated -- was not getting much traction. AMI Foundation president Jim Hodges said those issues could have been worked out. "FSIS cites technical reasons for the denial of AMI's petition to treat carcass irradiation as a processing aid, when the petition simply asked FSIS to initiate the process of making a labeling policy change to encourage the use of irradiation technology," Hodges said in a statement. FSIS said the petition was being denied "without prejudice" and that AMI could submit a revised petition addressing the government's concerns. Meanwhile, chilled beef carcasses can be treated with irradiation so long as the products meet existing requirements for total absorbed dose and for labeling, FSIS stated.

Such quixotic policies with out any rationale or justification are difficult to understand for a lay man. Probably the denial was based on the perception, mostly on wrong reasoning, that sub-standard meat would be passed on to the consumer after irradiation! Governments world over are forgetting that their primary role is to ensure food offered is safe to their citizens and quality will be the criterion the market forces will decide. Fraudulent practices that economically cheat the citizen also is a crime that need to be checked but with consumer courts springing up every where there is a remedy forum where consumers can get relief from economic frauds. The double standards in its policies vis-a-vis GM foods and Irradiated foods can make that country look silly in the eyes of others!

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