Food Irradiation:

Federal Requirements and Monitoring

HRD-90-118: Published: May 3, 1990. Publicly Released: May 10, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the safety of food exposed to radiation for preservation purposes, focusing on: (1) federal agencies responsible for monitoring food irradiation activities, including inspecting firms that irradiate food; (2) food products approved for irradiation; (3) companies licensed to operate food irradiation facilities in the United States; and (4) state actions to restrict food irradiation.

GAO found that: (1) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) were responsible for regulating food safety, including irradiation; (2) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was responsible for licensing firms to use nuclear materials to irradiate products, including foods; (3) FDA was responsible for ensuring that food products and food additives were safe to eat; (4) USDA was responsible for administering food laws, which prohibited the marketing of adulterated meat, poultry, or egg products; (5) both FDA and USDA approved the irradiation of pork; (6) companies irradiating products, including foods, were required to meet NRC design, operating, management, training, and other requirements; (7) FDA required that irradiated foods be labelled, but did not require radiation labelling for processed products containing multiple ingredients; (8) FDA and USDA had little data on food irradiation, and did not know the extent to which food was irradiated; and (9) neither agency collected information on food products that were irradiated, irradiated ingredients used in foods, or companies that irradiated food. GAO also found that: (1) federal inspections did not target companies irradiating food; (2) FDA and USDA found no irradiated food imported into the United States, but said that irradiated foods were difficult to identify and there was no practical method to test imported food products for irradiation; and (3) eight states took or were considering actions to restrict food irradiation.

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