Irradiated Beef Will be a Tough Sell for Farmers

Debra Murphy, 2013

owenWith the recent flooding that’s plagued Alberta, cattle producers understandably have other things on their mind besides new technology. But at some point, when the situation settles down, they’ll find themselves in a delicate position – that is, heading for the front lines of science, promoting irradiation for beef.

Irradiation would help kill nasty E-coli bacteria and, according to this effort’s promoters, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, it would offer up one more consumer safeguard.

In theory, this should not be a big deal. Health Canada, the governing body fielding the association’s irradiation petition (actually, re-fielding the petition…it was first brought forward in 1998, but shelved by the feds), already approves it for potatoes, onions, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, whole and ground spices and dehydrated seasoning preparations.

And if you check the question-and-answer section of Health Canada’s irradiation information, you’ll find very supportive statements. For example, it says, food irradiation has been approved in almost 40 countries, including the U.S. It says irradiation can prevent food poisoning and spoilage, increase shelf life, and leave the food unaltered.

And finally, this: “Food irradiation reduces disease organisms in food, and the irradiated food remains nutritious and safe for consumption.”

Sounds good. But I don’t think irradiation passes the smell test with consumers. When they see scary terms such as gamma rays, x-rays and electron beams associated with food production, they head for the hills.

For this petition to advance, cattle producers need a lot of industry friends armed with good science and a good reputation on their side. I haven’t seen them surface yet, but presumably they had them lined up before they knocked again on Ottawa’s door.

Moreover though, they need consumers on their side. And with the simplistic charm of local food all the rage, the association may indeed find less public appetite for irradiation than it did before

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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2 Comments

Richard Barrett

Is it true that the potatoes that do not have sprouts on them when they get old are irradiated? Are all foods that have had irradiation got the irradiation symbol on them?

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I_play_a_76_Custom

Richard, I’m not sure about your potato sprout question, but here’s what Health Canada says about irradiated food labelling:

“All irradiated foods must be labelled. In addition to a written description, such as ‘irradiated’, a distinctive logo, the ‘Radura’, must be on the package to identify the product as irradiated.”

Here is the URL for the Health Canada question-and-answer section about irradiated food:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/irridation/faq_food_irradiation_aliment01-eng.php

I hope this is helpful.

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