Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

USDA should require labeling of irradiated meat

September 18, 2008

CU to Testify Before USDA at Hearing September 18 in Opposition to Industry Petition to Not Require Labeling of Meat in Early Processing Stages

Yonkers, NY—Consumers Union today announced its opposition to a meat industry proposal to omit the labeling of early-processed irradiated meat for American consumers. Today, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will review a petition from the American Meat Institute (AMI) calling for the use of low penetration and low dose electron beam irradiation to reduce levels of bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 on of the surface of chilled beef carcasses as a “processing aid” rather than its current defined use as an “antimicrobial food additive.”
This shift in classification would permit this kind of irradiation to be used without being labeled. However, FDA has not made this kind of a shift in its definition of irradiation with regard to the foods it regulates. In the meantime, the AMI is asking the USDA to grant this reclassification and omission in irradiation labeling. Consumers Union is providing public comments before FSIS in opposition to the AMI petition and FSIS position.
“For over a decade, industry has sought to destroy the current labeling requirements for irradiated foods, including attempts to label such foods as ‘pasteurized,’ ” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst, Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Consumers have a right to know if their meat is irradiated at any stage of its processing.”
Currently, FSIS requires that meat or poultry treated with ionizing radiation to bear the radura logo along with a statement such as “Treated with radiation” or “Treated by irradiation.” Processing aids are defined by FDA regulations as substances that are added to a food for their technical effect during processing, but are not present in the finished product at significant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in the food. However, FSIS has said that the use of low penetration and low dose irradiation on the surface of chilled beef carcasses is a unique application of the technology compared to the traditional application because only the surface tissues of the beef carcass are affected, not the entire carcass.
Consumers Union (CU) points out several serious problems with the AMI petition and the position of FSIS. First, CU reiterates its longstanding position that irradiation is not the solution to food-borne illness and that it does not solve the hazardous and sometimes life-threatening conditions created by industrial agriculture. Second, the treatment of irradiation of beef carcasses at an early stage does not prevent re-contamination of the meat during the following stages of its processing. Third, the irradiation of fat forms unique chemical byproducts that do not occur in nature, which should preclude its classification as a “processing aid.” Fourth, this is not a “unique application” because even with a traditional application, there are also issues of how far radiation can actually penetrate.
At the least, CU believes that FSIS should require specific labeling such as “irradiated in early processing,” so consumers can make the most informed purchasing decisions.
“Without labeling, consumers who want to avoid irradiated foods will be misled,” said Rangan. “Without specific labeling, consumers who do choose irradiated foods will also be misled because the end product may not be irradiated, which may have other food safety implications.”

Dr. Urvashi Rangan, 646.594.0212
Naomi Starkman, 917.539.3924