Canada's beef industry is about to ask the federal government to approve the use of irradiation in meat-processing plants to kill 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, reports the Canadian Press.

"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."

Last year, Canadian processors experienced several beef recalls due to foodborne pathogens, including the largest recall in Canadian history from an XL Foods facility in Brooks, Alberta. This proposal calls for irradiated beef to be clearly labeled to give consumers a choice, much like the policy that exists in the United States.

Klassen said proper labeling 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 O157, 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.

There is no specific timeline for the approval, and any changes would require amendments to federal food and drug regulations. The CCA expects the earliest it could get a ruling would be next year.

Source: The Canadian Press, CTV News