The Department of the Army's Food Irradiation Program:

Is It Worth Continuing?

PSAD-78-146: Published: Sep 29, 1978. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 1978.

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Food irradiation technology, being developed by the Department of the Army, uses high doses of radiation to sterilize meat and poultry products. In the last 25 years, the Department of Defense has spent about $51 million on research on this technology. Food irradiation is classified with food additives and requires Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before its public use.

The Army's food irradiation program, while not yet succeeding in obtaining FDA approval of irradiated meats, has made progress in advancing the state of the art. A large portion of work performed in a renewed effort to obtain data to meet FDA requirements was wasted because the Army did not adequately review the contractor's work which was later found to be unacceptable. Although default by the contractor hampered progress toward obtaining FDA approval, the Army believes that, with continued satisfactory studies, it could obtain approval of irradiated chicken by September 1983 at an additional cost of about $10 million. Cost estimates for restarting other animal feeding studies to obtain FDA approval and for completing the study on irradiated chicken range from $28 million to $47 million. Some food irradiation proponents believe that classifying food irradiation as a process rather than as an additive would facilitate its commercial adoption, but GAO found no basis for this belief. A potential benefit of irradiated meats for use in military rations is that no refrigeration would be required during storage. However, irradiation of foods may be economically unfeasible because of its lack of acceptance in the commercial market.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should have the Secretary of the Army develop a plan to complete the food irradiation program. The plan should: restrict animal feeding studies to those needed to obtain approval of irradiated chicken; evaluate the need for continuing food irradiation research at the $3-million-a-year level; and determine, using irradiated chicken as a test case, the desirability of further Government investment in high-dose sterilization of meats and the potential for successfully transferring the technology to industry.

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