WASHINGTON (FNS) -- A leading consumer group focusing on food and health issues will meet later this month with industry groups to discuss why consumers lack confidence in irradiated food and what uses of the bacteria-killing technique might be worthwhile promoting in the marketplace.
Public Voice for Food & Health Safety said it is convening the two-day event to help further the debate on irradiation, and what kind of role it will play in efforts to improve food safety, particularly since last summer's ground-beef contamination scare with Hudson Foods, said Art Jaeger, executive director of the Washington-based group.
While the scientific and regulatory communities have generally voiced their approval of treating food with irradiation, food manufacturers and retailers haven't embraced irradiation, largely because of the lack of consumer demand for food treated that way.
The Food and Drug Administration only last summer approved irradiation for red meat, and the agency long ago deemed the technology safe for poultry, produce and spices. In addition to killing bacteria, the process can be used to slow the maturing process of produce.
Several consumer groups, meanwhile, have rejected irradiation of food as unnatural and potentially dangerous. Irradiation involves exposing food to gamma or X-rays generated by radioactive material.
Jaeger said the resulting stalemate over irradiation is also getting in the way of the overall debate on how to ensure food safety.
"Our goal is to see if we can overcome some of the major consumer concerns, and see what common ground we have between industry and consumer groups," said Jaeger, whose organization hasn't taken a position on irradiation.
The meeting, to take place Feb. 18 and 19 here, will gather about 40 food industry officials, academics, bureaucrats and consumer advocates.
Discussion will be based on the premise that irradiation is effective in killing illness-causing bacteria and that the process has been deemed safe by the FDA.
From there, the roundtable will touch on whether there are other safety issues outside the scope of the FDA review to consider, and how irradiation compares with other antimicrobial treatments.
The group will also review concerns about whether irradiation adversely affects the nutrition of treated food and whether irradiated beef might convey the message to consumers that it's all right to undercook meat.
Other issues slated to be discussed include whether the word "irradiation" scares consumers, whether it's better used only on certain foods and what would be the best way to educate consumers about irradiated food.
Reflecting the volatility of the irradiation debate, the meeting organizers have barred the press from covering the discussion. Jaeger said reporters are being banned to foster free discussion among participants.
Among the groups to be represented during the meeting will be the Food Marketing Institute, National Food Processors Association, American Meat Institute, Food Distributors International, Grocery Manufacturers of America, the Safe Food Coalition and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.