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USDA okays irradiated fruit and veg

22-Oct-2002

The US Agriculture Department said on Monday it would begin allowing imports of fruits and vegetables treated by irradiation, a technology used to kill bacteria and lengthen shelf life.

Irradiation, which has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation, exposes food to low doses of electrons or gamma rays to destroy deadly organisms such as E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella. It has been approved by US regulators for use with raw chicken and beef as well as spices and dried seasonings.

Some green groups and environmentalists fear using high-energy radiation in food products could have harmful side effects for consumers.

With USDA's new rule, importers have one more alternative to protect produce from fruit flies and the mango seed weevil. Other choices include fumigation and cold treatment.

"The irradiation alternative allows importers to sell riper, more valuable fruit, with less damage," the USDA said.

Irradiation would most likely boost imports of exotic fruits and vegetables, such as papaya, that need to be treated for fruit flies, it added.

Anna Cherry, spokeswoman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the irradiation rule would become effective on Wednesday when it is published in the Federal Register.

News of USDA's actions helped boost shares of SureBeam, a provider of electronic beam food safety systems. Its price on Monday closed up 34 cents to $3.85 (€4) per share at the New York Stock Exchange.

"This new USDA rule will allow us to expand our patented SureBeam technology into the major agricultural markets around the world," said Larry Oberkfell, president of the San Diego, California-based company.