NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

USDA Allows Irradiated Meat

December 15, 1999

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the O.K. for beef producers to use irradiation on fresh and frozen meat to kill foodborne microbes. Irradiation, which proponents call "electronic pasteurization," kills germs by exposing them to high-levels of radiation, which disrupts their DNA.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 765 milion foodborne illnesses occur each year in the U.S.
  • The illnesses cause 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
  • According to the USDA, irradiation is the only known method for eliminating the deadly E. coli bacteria in raw meat.
  • It also reduces salmonella, listeria and other organisms.

While irradiation adds, according to an owner of a pastuerization facility, "about a penny per hamburger" to the cost of ground beef, the process doubles the shelf life of meats.

The USDA will require that packaged meats and poultry carry a logo and statement that the food has been treated with radiation. Labelling isn't required on food sold in restaurants.

Source: Anita Manning, "USDA Approves Irradiated Meat," USA Today, December 15, 1999.


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