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USDA says OK to irradiation

In late December 1999, USDA issued its long-awaited rule permitting the irradiation of frozen or refrigerated raw meat and meat products to kill harmful microorganisms.

The rule, which came more than two years after FDA issued similar approval, takes effect this month. Packages of irradiated meat or meat products must bear the radura international symbol for irradiation and a statement that the meat was treated with irradiation.

Packages of other products that contain irradiated meat, such as sausages, must be similarly labeled. The labeling requirements do not apply to products purchased through foodservice operations, such as restaurants.

The food industry applauded USDA’s action and encouraged further action on petitions to allow irradiation of processed meat and poultry products, such as deli meats. To that end, USDA is streamlining its approval process for food additives where both FDA and USDA must issue approvals. Currently, once FDA issues its approval, USDA must conduct separate rulemaking in order for the additive to be used with meat and poultry.

The American Meat Institute predicted irradiated products would be available within months of the approval date. AMI believes consumer acceptance and purchase of irradiated meats ultimately will determine their availability. According to the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a high-level consumer education campaign is the most important next step for increasing acceptance of irradiated foods. FDA, with input from GMA and other organizations, is developing a consumer education brochure that provides factual information on irradiation.

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