- June 29 - Thousands of citizens from around the country are writing to the Food
and Drug Administration to protest a proposed new regulation that would result
in consumers unknowingly buying food that has been treated with radiation.
Members of the public have
until July 18 to register their complaints about the FDA proposal to eliminate
the labeling of poultry, meat, vegetables and other food products that have been
irradiated to prolong shelf life and kill food-borne pathogens that can result
from unsanitary farming and food processing practices.
The FDA has received more
than 3,000 comments from the public, in addition to a petition with 13,000 names.
The public comment period was extended from May 18 at the request of Public Citizen
and other consumer groups.
want to know whether their food has been exposed to radiation, because they are
concerned about the long-term health impacts of
irradiation, as well as the environmental problems and the possibility of
accidents involving the handling of radioactive materials used in the process,"
said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical
Mass Energy Project.
In April, a poll commissioned
by the American Association of Retired Persons and the Center for Science in the
Public Interest found that 88.6 percent of Americans favor labeling of irradiated
food. A 1997 poll conducted by CBS News found that 73 percent of the public opposes
irradiation, and 77 percent of the public would not eat irradiated food.
the label information that would inform them that a food product has been exposed
to radioactive elements cobalt-60 and cesium-137 is a back-door method of forcing
irradiated food down the throats of Americans," Hauter said. "The truth
is that many consumers dont want to buy food they know has been irradiated,
so the food processing and nuclear industries are using their political muscle
to force-feed Americans irradiated food without their knowledge."
Public Citizen, a consumer
advocacy organization with 120,000 members nationwide, is organizing a grassroots
campaign to oppose the anti-consumer regulation.
The long-term health effects
of eating irradiated food are unknown. Irradiation reduces the vitamin content
of food and creates new chemical substances called radiolytic products. Some of
these substances are known carcinogens, like benzene, and others are completely
new substances that have not been tested for toxicity.
Food irradiation has been
approved in 40 countries but is used infrequently both here and abroad. Some countries,
including Australia, Germany, Sweden and New Zealand, dont allow it.
In irradiation facilities,
food is exposed to large doses of ionizing radiation as it moves on conveyor belts
past a radiation source. The primary materials used for irradiation are cobalt-60
and cesium-137. Cesium-137 is readily available in the form of waste from nuclear
power plants and weapons facilities. The Department of Energy (DOE) processes
the cesium-137 and makes it available to irradiation facilities. An increase in
food irradiation will require an increase in the production and transport of these
Over 550 new irradiation
facilities would need to be built to irradiate various foodstuffs if irradiation
expands according to industry projections. Existing irradiation facilities are
already experiencing accidents. The likelihood of a serious accident happening
in the future at one of these facilities is high. From 1974 to 1988, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) recorded 50 accidents at irradiation facilities in
the 20 states in which irradiation is directly regulated by the NRC. Many of these
facilities are used to sterilize medical equipment.
interests have lobbied the government for food irradiation because their unsanitary,
inhumane and environmentally destructive factory farming practices have led to
scandals about contaminated meat. In December 1997, the FDA amended food regulations
to permit the irradiation of red meat, and the Department of Agriculture is now
writing new regulations for the operation of irradiation plants. Congress, responding
to corporate pressure, passed the 1997 FDA Modernization Act, which required the
FDA to examine the labeling issue.