In 1998, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association brought forward a petition to Health Canada to amend regulations so that irradiation of ground beef could be used in Canada. The scientific review proving the safety and efficacy of the bacteria-killing process was completed by Health Canada. The petition moved to step one of a two step process (the first step being publication in Gazette 1) and then moved no further.
Shelved for more than a decade, the CCA says it plans to reactivate its petition before Health Canada with an eye to approving the irradiation process in Canada — a food safety measure that’s been in place south of the border for 13 years. Mark Klassen, director of technical services for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says that the initial petition stalled out, with Health Canada citing consumer concerns of the process as a reason. But support for irradiation is growing, as the public becomes informed about what irradiation is (and isn’t) and how it can be used as a powerful tool against E. coli contamination in packing plants.
Irradiation, similar to an x-ray, damages living cells. As Dr. Reynold Bergen, also with CCA, points out in this blog post, damaging through the cells of a large organism, like a human, can have a temporary effect, but one we recover from. For a single-celled organism, however, damage to its one and only cell is fatal, and that’s a good thing when we’re talking the cells of nasty food-borne pathogens. Bergen also adds that irradiation is not and would never be the only means to keeping our beef supply safe, only that it’s another tool that the Canadian industry should have access to.
“There is certainly increased interest from the government (in irradiation),” Klassen says. The U.S. has been irradiating meat for 13 years, he says. The science is there to support the food safety measure, of course, but Klassen notes that the petition includes a labeling component. Meat that has been treated with irradiation would be clearly marked, making it very easy for consumers to make an informed choice.
Klassen says the CCA plans to reactivate its petition this week. An optimistic timeline of a change to the regulations would be within a year, he says.