Scientists, Citing Disease and Death from E. Coli, Call on FDA to Approve Irradiation of Beef

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The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) today called on the Food and Drug Administration to approve irradiation of beef to limit Americans' exposure to E. coli bacteria

ACSH noted that a petition to the FDA has been pending since 1994 to authorize the use of irradiation on beef but no action yet has been taken. At least five children have died from eating E. coli -contaminated Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers, and there have been at least 12 cases of illnesses due to the latest incident that resulted in a recall of 25 million pounds of hamburger by Hudson Beef. Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, ACSH President noted that, "Had irradiation been used, these deaths and illnesses could have been avoided. But the government has failed to properly react to the situation. Instead of endorsing irradiation, a safe and efficient way of treating meat, Agricultural Secretary Dan Glickman has asked for more government regulatory authority to impose civil fines and order recalls of contaminated foods."

Irradiation is the use of ionizing energy on foods. Once raw meat is pasteurized by irradiation, life-threatening bacteria such as E. coli are eliminated. Irradiation pasteurization does not change the taste or quality of food; it simply kills the germs that cause disease. Irradiation is already used in more than 40 other countries Japan alone irradiates 15,000 to 20,000 tons of potatoes each year to inhibit spoilage due to sprouting.

Opponents of irradiation have been circulating claims that the procedure makes food radioactive and that irradiation poses a health hazard. But Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH's Director of Nutrition, declared, "Irradiation is a safe, effective means of breaking the cycle of foodborne disease, and there is no reliable scientific evidence to support claims that it increases risks to health."

The U.S. government has already approved the use of irradiation on pork to control trichina, and on poultry to curb salmonella. ACSH called upon the FDA to stop responding to the scaremongers and extend the protection of food pasteurization by irradiation to beef.