FDA Approves Meat Irradiation to Fight Contamination

The Food and Drug Administration December 2 approved the use of irradiation to kill foodborne diseases in beef, lamb and pork amid worries by consumer groups that the procedure may be oversold as a solution to growing outbreaks of food contamination. After a record US recall of 25 million pounds of tainted hamburger in August, the meat and food packaging industries lobbied hard for Food and Drug Administration approval of tiny doses of gamma rays to kill bacteria and parasites in beef. The FDA approved its use for poultry seven years ago, but few chicken processors have invested in irradiation technology.

After three years of study, the FDA concluded that irradiation does not make meat radioactive, nor does it noticeably change taste, texture or appearance. Consumers are not likely to find packages of irradiated meat at their grocery stores any time soon. The US Agriculture Department, which has authority over meat inspections, must first modify its regulations over the next few months to include irradiation. Consumer groups contend that scientists need to find better ways to treat food safety problems on the farm. Irradiation is definitely being oversold as a solution to food safety problems by the food industry. It isn't the right approach to take a filthy product and irradiate it to make it sterile. We need to make sure that the filth is removed earlier in the process.

Although the FDA review did not include costs of the technology, experts have estimated irradiation could cost consumers about five cents per pound of meat. That would add about $2 per person to grocery store bills based on average per capita consumption of about 33 pounds annually. Steam pasteurization of beef, pulsed light beamed onto meat and a sterilizing rinse for poultry are other procedures that have been approved by regulators, but all kill only bacteria and germs on the surface of the animal. Irradiation penetrates the meat to kill internal parasites, and can be used after meat is packaged for shipment to grocery stores.

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (1997;45:1423-1433,1529-1531)

COMMENT: As mentioned in the October 12 Issue #18, the FDA did in fact approve the meat irradiation: A reprint of my comments from that issue would be helpful for newer readers.

It is quite obvious that this technology will be shortly approved . This decision could have a MAJOR influence on your health. There is no question that there is a problem with contaminated meat. The FDA proposes to clean it up after the fact rather than addressing the cause which is improperly processed meat by the meat packers. There is also little doubt that this technology will likely eliminate meat born food infections very effectively. I also do not believe that the "nutritional content" will be altered and no harmful toxins will be added.

Well then, what is the problem? Why is this proposed technology so devastatingly dangerous to your health? The answer is quite simple. They are attempting to do the same thing that was done to milk, pasteurization. Those of you who have seen my nutrition recommendations or seen me as patient already know that I recommend ALL people avoid milk because it is the number one food allergy and causes more food related complication than any other food. It is clearly the number one reason for childhood ear infections and colic. Why is this so?

It is most likely related to the pasteurization process. Raw milk contains many enzymes which help the body digest it. When the milk is heated, most infectious bacteria are killed, but additionally the three dimensional shape of the enzymes in the milk are altered and they become non functional . The other major proteins in milk such as albumin and casein are also altered in a way which increases their damaging effects. Homogenization further worsens the process. It is likely that raw milk would be an acceptable, even health promoting food for the vast majority of the population. Unfortunately most states outlaw its sale for fear of spreading salmonella.

There is little doubt in my mind that proposed irradiation process would cause similar problems in meat. It would turn a relatively good health promoting food into one with as many side effects and complications as milk.

The issue is not one of organic versus non-organic. Many people are confused on this issue. There is no question that feeding the animals grains that were sprayed with pesticides will bioaccumulate in their fat and transfer to our fat as soon as we eat the meat or drink the milk. Organically raised cows or milk will avoid this pesticide transfer and the commonly prescribed antibiotics and growth hormones that are given. Organically raised, although more expensive, is clearly preferable when feeding higher up the food chain. However, milk pasteurization or meat irradiation will alter the food's nature from health to disease promoting, even if organically raised.

So, what practical insights can you gain from this understanding? If you are consuming milk products now you should consider stopping them, even if organically raised. If you really enjoy milk try to find a source that is unprocessed and raw. The risk of contamination in clean cows is very low. I doubt any amount of public pressure would stop the FDA from passing this technology. After all they are the agency that refused to take diet pills off the market that were shown in the top medical journal in the world to be killing people.

At this time it does not appear that they will require all meats to be irradiated and you should be able to purchase non-irradiated meat. In the worst case scenario, you might acquire a food borne infection from the meat. This is RARELY a life threatening situation, especially in healthy individuals. Those of you who are Bulls fans may remember game 5 this year in which Michael Jordan acquired a similar infection and rebounded to lead the Bulls to victory in that pivotal game. Unfortunately his physicians did not understand that one teaspoon of healthy gut bacteria such as acidophilus or bifidus taken every hour till better clears up most people in four to eight hours. So there is a solution even if you do get sick. If you value your long-term health I could not encourage you more strongly than to avoid this product and to tell everyone you love and care for to do likewise. BLOOD PRESSURE DRUGS AFFECT INTELLECT Adults who take calcium channel blockers and certain kinds of diuretics to control blood pressure don't perform as well as other patients on tests of intellectual function. And they also tend to have a greater number of white matter hyperintensities, brain lesions that are sometimes a sign of inadequate blood flow to the brain.

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