Food Irridation News Update

Irradiation in Illinois

Recent government approval is bringing food irradiation to a suburb near you. Earlier this year, Ion Beam Applications (IBA) announced that its Schaumburg, Illinois, facility obtained approval from the U.S. government to use gamma radiation on meat and poultry. The announcement has consumer-advocacy groups up in arms.

"The all-American breakfast is quickly becoming the all-irradiated breakfast," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

Despite concerns that irradiated food may cause adverse health reactions in humans, irradiation is now reaching mammoth proportions, thanks to the approval of irradiated products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Most recently, fruit and vegetable juices were added to the growing list, which already includes flour, spices, whole fruit and vegetables, poultry, pork, and beef.

Irradiated foods are exposed to a radiation dose equaling that of up to one billion chest x-rays to kill bacteria and increase shelf life.

In recent years, the FDA was able to ignore consumer outrage, as many of the studies showing health risks of irradiated food were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s; consequently they were deemed "outdated" by FDA standards.

Interestingly, much of the research the FDA has used to show that irradiation is safe is now decades old as well.

The good news is that the FDA may be losing its stronghold, thanks to the recent release of the world's first English translation of a German study revealing that a chemical formed in irradiate food can cause genetic mutations.

According to the study, conducted in 1998 by two prominent pro-irradiation organizations, exposing food to ionizing radiation can cause the formation of new chemicals, called "unique radiolytic products," that can cause serious health problems, including "significant DNA damage" in the colons of rats that ate the treated food.

In light of a pending request by the food industry to irradiate ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats and precut salads, Public Citizen, the group that released the translation, is now asking the FDA to reevaluate its position on food irradiation based on the new findings.

The FDA has chosen to ignore findings such as those of the German study. However, it appears that the agency also ignores its own scientists.

The recent legalization of juice irradiation was made despite concerns from FDA researchers that the process destroys nutrients. These findings are nothing new. The FDA approved irradiation of eggs in July 2000 despite evidence that radiation destroys about eighty percent of the vitamin A in eggs.

In addition to being nutrient-deficient, irradiated eggs are difficult to cook with and contain elevated levels of free radicals (unstable chemical compounds that react with and weaken cell membranes, making the body more susceptible to cancer and diabetes).

Free-radical formation and nutrient deprivation are just two of the long list of side effects of food irradiation.

According to Public Citizen, the process can also spurn the development of mutated forms of E. Coli, salmonella, and other harmful bacteria; can lead to the formation of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals; can corrupt the flavor and texture of foods; kills beneficial microorganisms; and does nothing to protect consumers against meat produced under filthy and inhumane slaughterhouse conditions.

Food irradiation is not a new process. It began in the 1950s as one of the nuclear technologies in President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program. After Hiroshima, the U.S. government's plan was to create a friendlier "peaceful atom" that would draw the public's attention away from the destructive forces of nuclear power and toward domestic uses.

Under the guise of Atoms for Peace, the government could continue the nuclear weapons program, while offering the American public such inventions as food irradiation, nuclear heart pacemakers, atomic planes, and the nuclear-powered coffee pot. Food irradiation is one of the Atoms for Peace inventions that has lasted.

Consumers have little protection against irradiated foods. Irradiated meat sold in supermarkets must be labeled as such, but restaurants are not required to provide that information.

Whole fruits and vegetables must also be labeled, but labeling is not required for such products as canned fruit salad. The recent approval of the Schaumburg IBA plant to irradiate meat only brings the process closer to home.

For more information on what you can do to protect yourself from the hazards of irradiated food, visit the Public Citizen Web site at http://www.citizen.org/.

This article is from the magazine, Conscious Choice, April 2001

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