Health Canada has announced that meat producers will soon be permitted to sell fresh and frozen ground beef that’s been irradiated. The sterilization technique could help to eliminate E. coli and other foodborne pathogens from the meat products.
The proposed changes to the Food and Drug Regulations were first published in Canada Gazette I. The amendments regarding the use of irradiation on Canadian beef were open for public comment for about a month and a half.
Of the 18 comments received by Health Canada, 72 percent were in favour of allowing the irradiated beef to be sold in Canada. The remaining 28 percent were concerned about the proposed change to food safety regulations.
In all, 34 percent of the comments came from consumers, while 44 percent were submitted by those in industry or industry associations. Comments issued by members of government or consultants totaled 11 percent.
For the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) – a group which represents the 68,500 beef farmers in the country – the road to allowing the sale of irradiated beef has been long. The CCA first submitted a petition for approval of the practice to the government over 20 years ago.
“The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) has long supported the principle that Canadians should be able to choose to purchase ground beef treated by irradiation, a scientifically proven and highly effective means to enhance food safety,” said a press release issued by the CCA. “The ability of irradiation to reduce E.coli O157 and other pathogenic E.coli is well established. When combined with food safety interventions already in use, irradiation could essentially eliminate E.coli related illness associated with ground beef.”
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a number of irradiated foods are already for approved for sale in Canada. Potatoes, onions, flour and spices are all foods that may be irradiated to eliminate foodborne pathogens, and even to prevent sprouting in the case of vegetables.
In addition to Canada, over 60 countries around the world use irradiation to improve food safety. In the US, for example, irradiated ground beef has been available to consumers since 2000.
A process called E-beam uses electricity to kill harmful bacterial which may be present in the ground beef. The technology does not trigger any changes in the food that would be harmful to the person who eventually consumes it.
While the new amendment – published in Canadian Gazette II – does not require Canadian meat producers to use irradiation, those in the beef industry will be welcome to do so. In accordance to existing labelling requirements, irradiated ground beef – whether fresh or frozen – will be required to be labelled as such.