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Food Irradiation Q&As

Question: Is irradiated food safe to eat?

Answer: No.

Irradiated food has caused a myriad of health problems in laboratory animals (and people in a few studies), including chromosomal damage, immune and reproductive problems, kidney damage, tumors, internal bleeding, low birth weight, and nutritional muscular dystrophy.

Irradiation leads to the formation of Unique Radiolytic Products, mysterious chemical compounds that have not been identified or studied for their potential harm to humans. These products are free radicals, which set off chain reactions in the body that destroy antioxidants, tear apart cell membranes, and make the body more susceptible to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, liver damage, muscular breakdown, and other serious health problems.

Irradiation does nothing to remove the feces, urine, pus, vomit and tumors often left on beef, chicken, and lamb as the result of filthy and inhumane slaughterhouse conditions. These conditions have worsened as conveyer belts have speeded up (400 cow carcasses are processed per hour nowadays) and public oversight of slaughterhouses has been reduced.

Irradiation can spawn mutant forms of E. coli, Salmonella and other harmful bacteria, making them more difficult to kill.

Irradiation destroys vitamins, nutrients and essential fatty acids, including up to 95 percent of vitamin A in chicken and 86 percent of vitamin B in oats. In some foods, irradiation can actually intensify the vitamin and nutrient loss caused by cooking.

Irradiation can lead to the formation of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, octane, butane and methyl propane in certain foods.

Irradiation can corrupt the flavor, texture and other physical properties of certain foods, leading to meat that smells like a wet dog and onions that turn brown.

Irradiation kills beneficial microorganisms, such as the yeasts and molds that help keep botulism at bay, as well as the microorganisms that create the aromas that tell us when food has gone bad.

Question: Are irradiation facilities safe?

Answer: Not always.

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 45 accidents at U.S. (food and medical-supply) irradiation plants were recorded from 1974-89, at least two of which were covered up by irradiation company executives, some of whom were criminally charged in federal court and given prison time.

Irradiation plant workers are exposed to dangerous radiation hazards. Several have died or been exposed to near-fatal doses of radiation at facilities throughout the world.

Irradiation plants emit smog-forming, ground-level ozone into the environment.

Neighbors and the environment are endangered by plants that use radioactive cobalt-60 or cesium-137, which must be replenished after several years of use. Most of the cobalt-60 comes from a facility in Canada, creating transportation hazards when "fresh" material is driven to and waste driven from the plants.

Irradiation encourages the proliferation of nuclear technology at a point in history when a vast majority of Americans and people throughout the world are demanding that we back away from the use of nuclear material. A facility in Florida is owned by a company associated with a Canadian outfit that has sold nuclear technology to China, India and Pakistan.

Question: Did U.S. officials thoroughly study irradiation before legalizing it?

Answer: No.

The FDA relied on only 5 of more than 400 scientific studies to determine that irradiated food is safe to eat. Of those five, only three have been published in peer-reviewed journals. In two of the studies, researchers used doses of radiation at or far below those approved by the FDA, rendering the studies virtually if not completely useless.

The agency has rejected every study that has drawn into question the safety of irradiation.

The FDA used 38 studies that agency scientists once declared "deficient" to support the safety of irradiated food.

The FDA has not followed its own rules that require elaborate toxicological experiments be conducted before legalizing irradiation, including a requirement that the Unique Radiolytic Products generated by the process be subjected to in-depth testing.

The FDA has begun to conduct and approve expedited reviews of food irradiation applications from industry, admitting-in at least one-that certain packaging materials may not be safe when exposed to radiation.

No long-term studies have been done on the consumption of irradiated food, a problem the FDA admits but has done nothing to correct.

Question: Can the research into food irradiation be trusted?

Answer: Not all of it.

Research conducted at public universities is increasingly industry-funded. A prominent Iowa State University professor who's been researching food irradiation for many years was just hired by Titan Corporation, a leading irradiation company (and erstwhile defense contractor). And, Titan recently entered a research contract with Texas A&M University.

Much of the early research into food irradiation, done during the 1960s and 1970s, was conducted by an Army-hired firm that was eventually convicted of fraud for fabricating the results of its work.

Very little toxicological testing has been done on irradiated food during the past 20 years. New, updated tests should be performed with the benefit of improved scientific methods.

Question: Is food irradiation good for the economy?

Answer: No.

Food irradiation encourages the further consolidation of the food production, processing, distribution, marketing and retailing industries by giving the advantage to giant companies that can afford this prohibitively expensive technology. In the process, the food product marketplace is further homogenized and family farmers are put at a greater disadvantage.

If the U.S. government allows imported food to be irradiated-as it may do in the near future-more of our fruit, vegetables and meat will come from other countries, resulting in the closure of farms and the loss of agricultural jobs here at home. Plus, this imported food will be older, more bland and less nutritious than food grown in the U.S.

Food irradiation adds unnecessarily to the cost of food when less expensive alternatives are available. A recent survey by Consumers for Science in the Public Interest showed that irradiated ground beef being sold in the Midwest cost up to 75 cents more per pound-more than 40 percent higher than non-irradiated beef-and that the irradiated beef contained 25 percent fat.

Question: Are consumers receiving credible information about food irradiation?

Answer: No.

Many "unbiased" supporters of food irradiation in reality work on behalf of the food industry. The corporate-funded American Council on Science and Health, for instance, is chaired by A. Alan Moghissi, whose anti-environment and anti-consumer positions include fighting the removal of asbestos from schools and proclaiming that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a good thing for the agriculture industry.

Food irradiation companies have been increasingly successful in getting the media to call irradiation "pasteurization," which is an entirely different process by which microorganisms are killed by quickly heating and cooling food.

Companies that irradiate with "e-beam" technology such as the Titan Corporation are seeking to distinguish themselves from companies that irradiate with gamma rays from radioactive sources. This is highly misleading, as both e-beam (electrons fired from a linear accelerator at nearly the speed of light) and gamma rays (high-frequency electromagnetic waves) are forms of ionizing radiation-meaning that they obliterate the bonds that hold atoms and molecules together and create new chemical compounds.

Furthermore, Titan and other irradiation companies are comparing irradiating food with cooking food in a microwave oven. This comparison is bogus. The radiation used to irradiate food is ionizing, meaning that it drastically changes the chemical composition of food (see above). Microwave radiation is non-ionizing, meaning that the chemical structure of food is largely left intact.

Question: Should vegetarians care about irradiation?

Answer: Yes.

Food processing companies aren't irradiating just meat. Fruit and vegetables are being irradiated, too-all of which suffer nutrient destruction as bad or worse than in meat. Spices such as garlic powder and paprika are being irradiated as well, and can be added to processed foods without being labeled.

Everybody should be concerned about E. coli contamination. Irradiation does nothing to prevent this and other harmful bacteria from winding up in drinking water supplies. Just last may, E. coli-tainted drinking water killed at least seven people and sickened more than 2,000 others in Ontario, Canada.

Public Citizen's Critical Mass and Energy Project


Dr. Mercola's Comment:

I would encourage anyone in Illinois interested in this issue to contact Paul at 773-907-9845. Or you can sign on to his eGroup at [email protected]

Related Articles:

SteriGenics: The Untold History

FDA Failed to Follow Safety Rules Before Legalizing Irradiated Food

Public Citizen and Others Charge FDA Fraudulently Approved Food Irradiation

FDA Allows Irradiation for Meat

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