- WASHINGTON (www.nando.net) -- Irradiation of food should become a national
priority to reduce illness caused by dangerous microbes, despite some consumer
skepticism, a top food industry executive and a leading health advocate
- Dr. David Kessler, former head of the
Food and Drug Administration, and ConAgra Inc. chief Bruce Rohde told an
irradiation conference that consumers must overcome unfounded fears that
the process might harm them.
- "Not to do something at this point
is to condemn us as a country to suffer the consequences of these foodborne
illnesses again and again," said Kessler, now dean of the Yale University
School of Medicine. "Food irradiation is a food safety tool that we
as consumers should not ignore."
- Rohde is one of the first major food
executives willing to publicly outline plans to install irradiation in
meat processing plants when the technology becomes feasible on a large
- "We're ready to make those investments,"
Rohde said in an interview. "The investment in food safety is a priority
for us." His Omaha, Nebraska-based Fortune 500 conglomerate is among
the top four beef packers and includes brands such as Butterball turkeys,
Armour meats and Eckrich cold cuts.
- Irradiation has been used for years on
limited amounts of produce, spices and other foods.
- However, last year's FDA approval of
the process for red meat has sparked new interest as the food industry
tries to tackle problems with bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and
- Those bacteria and others cause some
33 million gastrointestinal gastrointestinal illnesses and 9,000 deaths
a year, although some researchers believe the true number could be far
- Most scientists agree that low-level
doses of gamma ray or electron beam irradiation to kill bacteria are safe
in food. But anti-nuclear groups have been vocally opposed, and some health
advocates worry that use of irradiation might reduce other safety techniques
such as proper handling and plant sanitation.
- Threats of protest and worries about
consumer views have prompted many large meat processors to take a wait-and-see
attitude. Grocery chains say that attitude itself could slow consumer acceptance
of products once they do reach the market.
- "Retailers cannot carry the flag
alone for food irradiation," said Mike Wright, chief executive officer
of Supervalue Inc. of Minneapolis.
- For that reason, ConAgra's unequivocal
statements of support for irradiation and its potential marketing power
could make a big difference -- just as its "Healthy Choice" line
of foods helped lead the way in lowfat products.
- "A number of consumers want that
added layer of protection," Rohde said. "It's an option we would
like to give to consumers."
- Eventually, Kessler said, irradiation
labels on food should mean the same thing to consumers as pasteurization
in milk, another process that was viewed critically when first tried in
the early part of this century.
- If consumers are properly educated about
irradiation, he said, "they will likely choose the packaging that
displays the radura symbol giving them an extra feeling of safety."
- Irradiation still has some government
hurdles to overcome. The Agriculture Department this summer is expected
to release proposed rules regarding its use in processing meat and poultry
and on what labels should say. Final rules are expected by the end of the