The Food and Drug Administration is on a roll this week; first it declared Bisphenol A to be safe for babies, and now it is allowing food producers to irradiate spinach and iceberg lettuce. Irradiation has been around for years, and can be used on beef, egges, poultry and spices, but it all has to be labelled and people are afraid of it. "People think the product is radioactive," said Harlan Clemmons, president of Sadex, a food irradiation company based in Sioux City, Iowa in the New York Times. So naturally, the FDA is also considering proposals to weaken or change the labelling requirement. The industry is also looking at euphemisms that sound happier, like "cold pasteurization."
Radiation effectively kills bacteria, so lettuce tainted carrying e-coli would not hurt you. But as Dr. Samuel Epstein told the CBC a few years ago: "You could have fecal material in that and if it had been irradiated, it wouldn't harm you. But do you want to have fecal material in your food? Of course you don't."- it could be used as a substitute for hygienic practices and proper washing.
Irradiated food must now carry the Radura symbol
Some scientists have complained about food irradiation for years; they claim that it reduces the nutritional value of food and introduces new compounds that could be dangerous.
Expert Witnesses At Congressional house Committee Say Irradiation is Unsafe
George L Tritsch, Ph D told a House committee looking at irradiation in 1987:
"I am opposed to consuming irradiated food because of the abundant and convincing evidence in the refereed scientific literature that the condensation products of the free radicals formed during irradiation produce statistically significant increases in carcinogenesis, mutagenesis and cardiovascular disease in animals and man. I will not address the reported destruction of vitamins and other nutrients by irradiation because suitable supplementation of the diet can prevent the development of such potential deficiencies. However, I cannot protect myself from the carcinogenic and other harmful insults to the body placed into the food supplies and I can see no tangible benefit to be traded for the possible increased incidence of malignant disease one to three decades in the future.
Irradiation works by splitting chemical bonds in molecules with high energy beams to form ions and free radicals. When sufficient critical bonds are split in organisms contaminating a food, the organism is killed. Comparable bonds are split in the food. Ions are stable; free radicals contain an unpaired electron and are inherently unstable and therefore reactive. How long free radicals remain in food treated with a given dose of radiation or the reaction products formed in a given food cannot be calculated but must be tested experimentally for each food. Different doses of radiation will produce different amounts and kinds of products."
University of Chicago Research Questions Safety
In 1992, when Canada was looking at the irradiation of meat, the CBC talked to the University of Chicago's Dr. Samuel Epstein. From their Marketplace website:
At the University of Chicago, Dr. Samuel Epstein has studied irradiation in his role at the School of Public Health. He says new research suggests eating irradiated food is unsafe. The research has found that a new class of chemicals is created during irradiation: cyclobutanones. They are chemicals that have been shown to cause genetic and cellular damage in rats as well as people.
"We have solid evidence on the chemistry. Independent groups that have looked at the chemical data, have stated categorically that these chemicals are carcinogenic," Epstein told Marketplace.
Epstein — and other scientists — say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA disregarded all research showing harmful effects of irradiation and based its approval of the process on studies provided by the companies pushing for irradiation."
French protest irradiation
But 40 Governments Say Irradiation is Safe
However, the FDA, the Canadian government, the European union others have all accepted the safety of irradiated foods. But lettuce and spinach? Irradiation enables the huge growers to package vast quantities into those plastic packages and avoid the risk of e-coli disasters. Why not just buy fresh lettuce and spinach, preferably at your local farmers market, and wash it carefully? ::New York Times
TreeHugger on Irradiation
John Laumer saw this coming: A New Year's Prediction - Irradiated Leafy Green Vegetables Are Coming
Nuclear Lunch-The Dangers and Unknowns of Food Irradiation
The European food irradiation campaign
Potential Health Hazards of Food Irradiation
TreeHugger on food safety:
If You Want Safe Food , Know Where It Comes From
Bush Government Sues To Make Testing Meat Illegal
They are Playing With Our Food Again