Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Beef Industry Asking Ottawa to Approve Irradiation to Kill Dangerous E. Coli

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Beef Industry Asking Ottawa to Approve Irradiation to Kill Dangerous E. Coli

Article excerpt

Beef industry wants irradiation to kill E. coli

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Canada's beef industry is about to ask the federal government to approve the use of irradiation in meat-processing plants to kill dangerous E. coli bacteria in a full range of meat products.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association says it is updating an application that was first made to Health Canada in 1998 for ground beef, but was turned down because of public concerns.

Irradiation involves bombarding meat with radiant energy similar to X-rays.

"Food irradiation is likely the most effective intervention remaining that we don't already use. And when you add irradiation, on top of the existing food safety system, we could essentially eliminate E.-coli-related illness from beef products," said Mark Klassen, the association's director of technical services.

"Our proposal now is saying we would like to get permission to irradiate any kind of beef."

The updated proposal to be filed with Health Canada follows recent E. coli outbreaks in beef that made national headlines. E. coli linked to frozen beef burgers from Cardinal Meat Specialists in Ontario made eight people ill in that province, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan last December and this past February.

Last fall, 18 people in British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador got sick from E. coli linked to beef from what was then the XL Foods plant in southern Alberta. The tainted beef led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

The cattlemen's association says its proposal calls for irradiated beef to be clearly labelled to give consumers the choice if they want to buy such products. The proposal closely mirrors a policy that has been in place in the United States since 2000.

Labelling could include the international green-and-white Radura symbol that indicates food has been irradiated and wording that states the meat has been treated with radiation.

Klassen said proper labelling and consumer education will be key to winning over consumers if the proposal is accepted.

"What I have found is that you start out with support for this probably from about 50 per cent of Canadians. And then you tell them what it is and what it can do, and you explain how it can reduce bacteria like E. coli 0157, and that number goes up probably to three-quarters."

A survey commissioned by the Consumers' Association of Canada last year suggested most people didn't know what food irradiation was, but when it was explained, two-thirds said they supported irradiated meat being sold in stores.

While the industry is asking for approval to irradiate a full range of beef products, Klassen said meat companies would focus on the ground beef market. …

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