Last week the Food and Drug Administration surprised consumers with the announcement of the final rules allowing the increase of the maximum dose of ionizing radiation limits for irradiation of meat, poultry items.
The amendment comes on the heels of the FDA assurances that they were investigating the possibility of an association with the high-dose irradiated pet treats imported from China and the illness and death of pets, adding that NASA would be involved in the investigation of irradiated pet treats. For consumers who were comforted by the FDA admission of even the possibility of a problem with an irradiated food, however remote, yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise.
The FDA has amended the food additive regulations to increase the maximum dose of ionizing radiation on meat and poultry products, according to final rules released in the Federal Register. Formerly FDA had only permitted a maximum absorbed dose of 3.0 kiloGray (kGy) on poultry products, and required that the packages used must not exclude oxygen. Under the final rule, which went into effect immediately, FDA is allowing for a maximum absorbed dose of 4.5 kGy for fresh poultry products, and a maximum doses of 7.0 kGy in frozen products. The agency is also removing the limitation on oxygen in packaging.
It is important to remember that this amendment is for human food and not for pet food. The regulation of irradiated pet food allows for much greater amount of radiation – up to 50 kGy.
Illusion of Safety
Radiation, in theory, is used to decrease the number of foodborne bacteria present on meat and poultry and to extend the shelf life of those products. Industry has used radiation as method for reducing the number of pathogens which are inherent in the slaughterhouse environment with questionable efficacy and motive. With industry pushing for increasing line speed in production and third-party inspectors is at odds with good manufacturing practices. Radiation may simply be a method of providing consumers and USDA inspectors alike with a sense of safety of meat or at least the illusion of it.
Higher & Higher Limits
The first final rule provides for the use of a 4.5 kilogray (kGy) maximum absorbed dose of ionizing radiation to treat unrefrigerated and refrigerated uncooked meat, meat byproducts and certain meat food products to reduce levels of foodborne pathogens and extend shelf life.
The second final rule amends the food additive regulations to increase the maximum dose of ionizing radiation permitted in the treatment of poultry products, to include specific language intended to clarify the poultry products covered by the regulations, and to remove the limitation that any packaging used during irradiation of poultry shall not exclude oxygen.
For pet parents desperately clinging to hope of the Agency finding the cause for illness and death associated with jerky treats imported from China, this news comes as a disappointment. Many wonder, was the FDA admission that a problem might exist with radiation an insincere gesture of support or do they still plan to examine the possibility despite increasing the limit for human food? Wait and see, but don’t hold your breath.