US meat body demands E-beam irradiation decision

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

US authorities should stop dragging their feet and speed up the rule-making process to allow electron beam irradiation to be used in beef processing, said the American Meat Institute (AMI).

The leading industry body reminded the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that it had submitted a petition on electron beams (e-beams) four years ago, as it urged the safety watchdog to “move forward”​ on the issue.

FSIS fears

But it appears the FSIS has reservations about the technology after the AMI said officials from government body had recently “voiced concerns”​ about giving the green light to e-beams. The AMI has called for a meeting with the FSIS to deal with the hold up after tabling the proposal in July 2005.

“Given the substantial food safety benefits this technology offers it seems that the technical issues being raised four years after the petition’s submission can be appropriately addressed during the notice and comment rulemaking process,”​ said AMI executive vice president James Hodges in a letter to Jerold R. Mande, USDA deputy under secretary food safety.

E-beam technology

The meat association is requesting that authorisation be granted so that e-beam irradiation can be applied to the surface of chilled beef carcasses as a food safety processing aid. The AMI described e-beam irradiation as “a promising technology”.

E-beams have been used for decades in the food and beverage sectors. They work by directing a shower of accelerated electrons through a high-voltage emitter towards a target.

In a tone that seemed to suggest growing impatience, the AMI said it believed it had supplied all necessary proof that the process was both safe and effective.

Hodge said: “The requested action pending before USDA is very simple. AMI has asked that FSIS recognise e-beam irradiation as a processing aid when applied to the surface of chilled beef carcasses and that the agency treat this process no differently than it treats any other processing aid. AMI has provided the necessary research and rationale to support our request.”

First step

The meat body said it recognised that this regulatory decision would be the first step in a process of “developing and further validating the technology in an operational setting​” and implementing the necessary rules to ensure the “safe and appropriate use of the technology”

“We continue to believe this technology can be another effective microbiological intervention to enhance the safety of the meat supply,”​ stressed Hodges.

The AMI has requested a meeting with the FSIS to allay their concerns and clear up any misunderstandings surrounding e-beam irradiation.

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