Radiation technology growth hindered: report

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food irradiation, Food safety, Food and drug administration, Nutrition

The growth potential for food irradiation technology has contracted dramatically but the value of the sector is forecast to exceed $2.3bn by 2012, claims a new report into the industry.

Global Industry Analysts said that the market has not lived up to expectations as controversies and narrowing consumer acceptance have limited take up of the technology.

“Market growth thrives on factors such as industry and consumer acceptance and application parameters ranging from types of foods to be irradiated to dosage levels.

“Competition from existing proven food sterilization technologies such as steam pasteurization and refrigeration, coupled with the high capital outlay required to set up an irradiation processing plant, and stiff opposition from certain quarters thwarts widespread acceptance of the food irradiation technique,” ​claim the analysts.

Pathogen killer

The process exposes foods to ionizing radiation that kills insects, moulds and bacterium and the technology can kill up to 99 per cent of pathogens.

Irradiation treatment may also be applied to prevent the germination and sprouting of potatoes, onions and garlic, and for delaying the ripening and ageing of fruit and vegetables.

US market

The analysts said that the US remains the single largest market for food irradiation, accounting for an estimated 32 per cent of global demand in 2008.

According to the report, irradiation technology, though approved for selected products in Europe, has not demonstrated significant penetration in that geography but Asia and Latin America are expected to exhibit potential opportunities in the future.

Fresh produce regulation

In August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of irradiation to kill food-poisoning germs in iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach, claiming the technology will not adversely affect the safety of these products.

The decision follows recalls related to lettuce and the spinach linked E. coli ​outbreak that killed three people and sickened more than 200 in September 2006.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the trade association for global food and beverage companies, first petitioned the FDA nine years ago to extend the number of products that could be irradiated.

The US regulator already approves the use of the technology for meat, poultry, molluscan shellfish and dried spices.

Resistance

Science Policy Analyst at the US Center for Food Safety, Bill Freese, argues that irradiation will rob fresh spinach of some of its essential nutrients and he claims the technology avoids tackling the problem at its source.

"Irradiation is not the solution to food-borne illness," ​said Freese. "In fact, it serves to distract attention from the unsanitary conditions of industrial agriculture that create the problem in the first place."

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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