NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

To Stop Deaths, Irradiate Meat

February 10, 1999

Recently, nine people who ate tainted hot dogs died and the meat caused three stillbirths. Yet experts say that the technology to make meat safe, irradiation, has been around for years. Why, they ask, has the U.S. Department of Agriculture dragged its feet on approval to utilize it?

  • Each year, more than 1,250 people -- the elderly, small children and people with weak immune systems -- get sick from Listeria-laced meats, not to mention meat infected with other pathogens.
  • Irradiation has been around since the 1960s and foods such as fruits, vegetables and spices are regularly treated by it.
  • Yet in the $100 billion a year beef, pork, lamb and poultry industries, the technology has gone nowhere -- since the federal government has so far failed to approve its use.
  • The Food and Drug Administration sat on a request for approval for three-and-a-half years before it finally consented in December of 1997.

Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture exercised its right to look into irradiation safety, because it controls meat-packing. It still hasn't given the go-ahead.

Moreover, the current proposal applies only to raw meat -- which leaves out hot dogs, since the meat is pre-cooked. Covering cooked meat will require a new petition which, observers predict, could take years to wend its way through the regulatory labyrinth.

Source: Michelle Conlin, "These People Didn't Have to Die," Forbes, February 8, 1999.


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