WASHINGTON - The American Meat Institute urged the Food and Drug Administration to speed up the approval of a 3-year-old petition to permit beef irradiation to destroy a virulent strain of E.coli.
An irradiation equipment maker asked the FDA to approve the irradiation of red meat in July 1994, recognizing that the treatment had already been approved for use on poultry, pork, spices, fruits and vegetables.
"For over three years, the meat industry has been assured that the irradiation petition is moving forward within FDA," the institute's president, J. Patrick Boyle, said in a letter to FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Friedman.
"In the wake of the recent, highly publicized outbreak of food-borne illness linked to E.coli 0157:H7, we are compelled to ask, what is delaying this improtant petition?"
Since Hudson Foods Inc recalled 25 million pounds of hamburger in August because of suspected contamination by the E.coli 0157:H7, the government, industry and consumer groups have been searching for ways to improve food safety and reassure the public.
Consumer groups and industry opponents argue irradiation raises environmental and worker safety issues, strips nutrients and affects food taste.
Boyle said 38 other countries had embraced the technology for a variety of foods and the United States has the toughest regulations on the doses of radiation energy allowed.
The institute said its foundation's research had shown that irradiation was effective in destroying the potentially deadly strain of E.coli in ground beef patties.
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