Food Irradiation

The irradiated food lobby’s response to the wide media coverage of Hudson Food’s recent recall of 25,000,000 pounds of meat associated with the deadly E.coli bacteria reminds me of a television ad years ago for a deodorant. The ad’s underlying message was why wash it when you can spray it.

So the irradiation lobby wants the Food and Drug Administration to open the gates to irradiate red meat. And they want to get rid of the logo that the FDA now requires to be displayed prominently on any irradiated poultry, fruit, vegetable and other commodities already approved for these cobalt treatments. Because of consumer rejection, few companies have taken advantage of the unfortunate decision by the FDA to approve irradiating these products.

The latest meat recall has galvanized the irradiation companies to make another effort to persuade the public that food-borne illnesses based in bacterial contamination can be prevented by zapping the food in long tunnels.

But as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has pointed out, irradiated food has never caught on within the food industry. CSPI director, Dr. Michael Jacobson explains that perhaps “companies don’t want to make the huge investment in a strange new technology or risk accidental exposure of their workers to radiation. Or perhaps they don’t want to jeopardize sales due to flavor changes or nutrient losses. Or perhaps they suspect that consumers want food that is free of fecal matter, whether the germs it harbors are dead or alive.”

The effects of irradiation on the chemical composition of food merits much more study than the present day hubris of these companies has produced. Also after irradiation, food can be recontaminated. Far better to enforce sanitation standards that work and do not have such known and suspected side-effects as does irradiation. (Just consider the thousands of exposed workers, the transportation of radioactive materials and wastes through communities etc.).

There are old fashioned safe food practices to pursue. And there are “new safe and sensible technologies,” as Dr. Jacobson calls them as well: “high-tech analytical methods of identifying food-borne pathogens, rinsing poultry carcasses in a soap solution, sterilizing beef carcasses with new steam procedures and suffocating insects with carbon dioxide.”

If there is one corporate obligation the vast majority of the American people agree must be required and enforced, it is the labeling of irradiated foods and, as polls demonstrate, genetically engineered foods and country of origin as well.

Yet, despite the people’s preference, corporate lobbyists, greasing their way on Capital Hill with campaign money, are pushing legislation to weaken or eliminate labeling requirements. This provision is contained in a bill misleading called “The Food and Nutrition Information Reform Act in the House of Representatives and “The Food and Drug Administration Performance and Accountability Act of 1996.” Together with other destructive sections weakening the FDA’s authority to assure you safe

medicines and food, these bills should be resoundingly defeated by an aroused citizenry.

More information can be obtained on irradiated food from CSPI, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009 and Food and Water Inc., Walden, Vermont.

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