Irradiated Foods - Bad News Folks

Irradiated Food
For those not knowing what irradiated food is; one form of irradiation  means subjecting foods we consume to gamma rays which are  photons or bundles of energy; waves of electromagnetic radiation traveling the speed of light (286,000 miles/second) through space with no mass in a sine wave.  When a gamma ray  penetrates matter ionization of some of the cells of the material it passes through occurs, it breaks DNA molecules, changes molecular structure, and kills things that are alive in its path including bacteria.  This energy is not dissimilar to light from a light bulb, radio waves from a TV tower or cellphone tower, or the microwaves from your microwave oven that cook food.  The energy used in food irradiation differs only in wave length, frequency, and thus energy level and also importantly; source.  Gamma rays are emitted from the nucleus of an atom undergoing radioactive decay.   Particle accelerators are another source of this high energy to subject food to  which will kill the bacteria present.  The concept of destroying bacteria to preserve the food is good; the problem is what other molecular changes in the food were also a byproduct of destroying the bacteria.  That is what is at issue; and it looks like the changes are significant enough to cause sufficient side effects for us to stop and take another look at whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks.  Please consider the following two studies.  
Plus another major article below the horizontal line below.  Ber

Wenonah Hauter
Director, Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, Public Citizen

For starters, numerous public opinion polls confirm that most Americans don't want to eat food that has been exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation. In a 1997 CBS News poll, 77 percent of people surveyed said they would not eat irradiated food including 91 percent of women. And, from 1998 to 2000, the percentage of shoppers who told the Food Marketing Institute that they would buy irradiated food dropped from 60 percent to 38 percent.

Understandably so, consumers have a visceral reaction against eating food that has been "treated" with a linear accelerator originally designed for the "Star Wars" program, or (perhaps one day) with radioactive waste left over from the production of nuclear weapons.

From a scientific perspective, the jury is still out on whether irradiated food is safe to eat. Early research, most of which was conducted or funded by the U.S. government, revealed a wide range of health problems in animals that ate irradiated food: premature death, fatal internal bleeding, a rare form of
cancer, stillbirths and other reproductive problems, genetic damage, organ malfunctions and nutritional deficiencies, to name a few.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits that no toxicology research has been conducted in the past 20 years. Consequently, scientists have little or no idea whether irradiated food is safe for human consumption.

Moreover, the FDA failed to follow its own safety rules when the agency legalized the irradiation of beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fruit, vegetables, eggs, juice and sprouting seeds. Consumer organizations are actively challenging some of these questionable decisions.

From a nutritional perspective, exposing food to the equivalent of up to 1 billion chest x-rays depletes vitamins, often significantly. Especially vulnerable are A, the B-complex, C, E, and beta-carotene.

For instance, irradiation destroys up to 80 percent of the vitamin A in eggs, and about half of the thiamin in wheat flour. Essential fatty acids can be damaged, as can amino acids. And, beneficial microorganisms are killed along with the harmful ones.

Making matters worse still, because irradiation can significantly extend shelf life, food can be stored for days or weeks on trucks, ships and trains until it reaches the market. The food arrives even further depleted of vitamins, and tasting and smelling nothing like the way an apple, a tomato or a pork chop should taste and smell.

From a chemical perspective, irradiation blows apart the bonds that hold food molecules together, resulting in the formation of hundreds of new compounds.

Some of these compounds are known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, such as:

methyl ethyl ketone,
and toluene.
From an aesthetic perspective, irradiation can ruin the flavor, odor and texture of food. Beef can smell like a wet dog, pork can turn red, produce can become mushy, and eggs can become runny and difficult to cook.

Recently, a food irradiator in Florida was sued by a seafood company for allegedly over-irradiating thousands of boxes of gourmet salmon products, rendering them inedible.

From an economic perspective, irradiated meat can cost up to 75 cents per pound more than regular meat, and irradiated produce can double in price.

Finally, irradiation is not a panacea to killing food-borne pathogens. It cannot kill the prion that causes mad-cow disease. It cannot kill viruses, such as hepatitis and Norwalk virus. And, while irradiation does kill certain harmful microorganisms, it does nothing to remove the feces, urine and pus that often sullies meat in the slaughterhouse.

Consumers do not want to eat filth, whether it's been irradiated or not. Americans demand and deserve fresh, wholesome, safe food that has been grown and processed in clean environments.

The bottom line is that irradiation will not make food cleaner. It merely masks unhygienic slaughtering and processing practices, while corrupting nutritional integrity.

On behalf of our 150,000 members and American consumers at large, Public Citizen is running a national (and a growing international) campaign to inform people about the hazards associated with irradiated food. More than 200 organizations representing more than 1 million Americans have joined our

Public Citizen, April 11, 2001

I knew food irradiation was not good and have warned about it over three years ago all the way back to issue #25.

It turns out that Belgium - based Ion Beam Applications (IBA) has received USDA approval to open the first gamma ray irradiation facility for beef and poultry in Schaumburg, IL, scheduled to open sometime in the spring of 2001. The facility will be operated by Sterigenics International, IBA's Chicago - based subsidiary.

Gamma ray irradiation uses a radioactive source, either cobalt 60 or cesium 137 isotopes, for the purpose of pasteurization. Studies on the effect irradiated food has on lab animals point to grave questions about its wholesomeness.

Aside from the numerous unique radiolytic products (URP's, chemicals not known to naturally occur in any food) it forms during treatment, lab animals were often shown to have massive increases in tumor rates, chromosomal damage, reproductive disorders, and immune system compromise when fed an irradiated diet.

Food for thought. 

Ten Top Reasons For Opposing Food Irradiation

April 15, 2001

1. In legalizing food irradiation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not determine a level of radiation to which food can be exposed and still be safe for human consumption, which federal law requires. I, II

2. In legalizing food irradiation, the FDA relied on laboratory research that did not meet modern scientific protocols, which federal law requires.I, IV

3. Research dating to the 1950s has revealed a wide range of problems in animals that ate irradiated food, including premature death, a rare form of cancer, reproductive dysfunction, chromosomal abnormalities, liver damage, low weight gain and vitamin deficiencies. V, VI, VII, VIII

4. Irradiation masks and encourages filthy conditions in slaughterhouses and food processing plants Irradiation can kill most bacteria in food, but it does nothing to remove the feces, urine, pus and vomit that often contaminates beef, pork, chicken and other meat. Irradiation will not kill the pathogen that causes mad cow disease..IX, X

5. Irradiation destroys vitamins, essential fatty acids and other nutrients in food-- sometimes significantly. The process destroys 80 percent of vitamin A in eggs and 48 percent of beta carotene in orange juice, but the FDA nonetheless legalized irradiation of these products. XI, XII

6. Irradiation can change the flavor, odor and texture of food-- sometimes disgustingly so. Pork can turn red; beef can smell like a wet dog; fruit and vegetables can become mushy; and eggs can lose their color, become runny and ruin recipes. XIII, XIV, XV

7. Irradiation disrupts the chemical composition of everything in its path-- not just harmful bacteria, which the food industry often asserts. Scores of new chemicals called "radiolytic products" are formed by irradiation-- chemicals that do not naturally occur in food and that the FDA has never studied for safety.XVI, XVII

8. The World Health Organization did not follow its own recommendation to study the toxicity of "radiolytic products" formed in high-dose irradiated food before proposing in November 2000 that the international irradiation dose limit-- equal to 330 million chest x-rays-- be removed.. XVIII, XIX

9. Soon, some irradiation plants may use cesium-137, a highly radioactive waste material left over from the production of nuclear weapons. This material is dangerous and unstable. In 1988, a cesium-137 leak near Atlanta led to a $30 million, taxpayer-funded cleanup.XX

10. Because it increases the shelf life of food and is used in large, centralized facilities, irradiation encourages globalization and consolidation of the food production, distribution and retailing industries.These trends have already forced multitudes of family farmers and ranchers out of business, reduced the diversity of products in the marketplace, disrupted local economies in developing nations, and put American farmers and ranchers at a great economic disadvantage.XXI


I. U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, ▀ 170.22.

II. Federal Register, various filings, 1983-2000.

III. U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, ▀ 170.20.

IV. Federal Register, various filings, 1983-2000.

V. A Broken Record: How the FDA Legalized-- and

Continues to Legalize-- Food Irradiation Without

Testing it for Safety. Washington, D.C.: Public

Citizen, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Global Resource

Action Center for the Environment, Oct. 2000.


VI. Kesavan, P.C., Swaminathan, M.S. "Cytotoxic and

mutagenic effects of irradiated substrates and food

material." Radiation Botany, 11:253-181, 1971.


VII. Schubert, J. "Mutagenicity and cytotoxicity of

irradiated foods and food components." Bulletin of the

World Health Organization, 41:873-904, 1969.


VIII. Spiher, A.T. "Food Irradiation: An FDA Report."

FDA Papers, Oct. 1968.


IX. Nestor, F. and Hauter, W. The Jungle 2000: Is

AmericaÝs Meat Fit to Eat? Washington, D.C.: Government

Accountability Project, Public Citizen, Sept. 2000.


X. Piccioni, R. "Food irradiation: Contaminating our

food." The Ecologist, 18:2:48-55.


XI. FDA Memorandum, from Kim Morehouse, Ph.D. to

William Trotter, Ph.D. April 11, 2000.


XII. FDA Memorandum, from Antonio Mattia, Ph.D. to

William Trotter, Ph.D. Nov. 2, 1999.


XIII. Webb, T. et al. Food Irradiation: Who Wants It?

Rochester, Vermont: Thorsons Publishers, 1987.


XIV. Huang, S. et al. "Effect of electron beam

irradiation on physical, physicochemical and functional

properties of liquid egg during frozen storage."

Poultry Science, 76:1607-15, 1997.


XV. Wong, Y.C. et al. "Comparison between irradiated

and thermally pasteurized liquid egg white on

functional, physical and microbiological properties."

Poultry Science, 75:803-808, 1996.


XVI. Murray, D. Biology of Food Irradiation. Somerset,

England: Research Studies Press Ltd., 1990.


XVII. Op. cit. Note 5.


XVIII.International Consulative Group on Food

Irradiation: Review of Data on High Dose (10-70 kGy)

Irradiation of Food. Report of a Consulation,

Karlsruhe, 29 August - 2 September 1994. Geneva: World

Health Organization, 1994.


XIX. High-Dose Irradiation: Wholesomeness of Food

Irradiated with Doses Above 10 kGy. Report of a Joint

FAO/IAEA/WHO Study Group. Technical Report Series 890.

Geneva: World Health Organization, 1999.

XX. Last radioactive capsules taken from DeKalb plant."

Macon Telegraph, Nov. 20, 1990.

XXI. A CitizenÝs Guide to Fighting Food Irradiation.

Washington, D.C.: Public CitizenÝs Critical Mass Energy

and Environment Program, 2000.

Opinion: Food Irradiation Threatens Public Health, National Security

By Samuel Epstein, M.D.

CHICAGO, Illinois, March 8, 2002 (ENS) - Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's last minute provisions in the Senate farm bill allowing irradiated beef to be labelled "pasteurized," instead of the Food and Drug Administration's small print "treated by irradiation" label, is a surprising denial of consumers' fundamental right-to-know.

Consumers are wary of irradiated food, and with good reason even if they don't understand the dangers involved. Irradiated meat is a very different product from cooked meat. Irrespective of whether radiated by radioactive cobalt pellets or rods, X-ray machines or electron beams, the current permissible radiation dosage is about 200 million times greater than a chest X-ray.

A technician removes bundles of cobalt-60 from shipping containers and dismantles them for storage until they are transferred to adjacent processing cells. (Photo courtesy Mechanical Engineering)
As well documented since the 1960s, these massive doses of ionizing radiation produce profound chemical changes in meat. These include elevated levels of the carcinogenic chemical benzene, and also the production of unique new chemicals, known as radiolytic products, some of which have been implicated as carcinogenic.

Additionally, irradiated food has been shown to induce genetic damage in a wide range of studies, including tests on malnourished children by India's National Institute of Nutrition.

Of particular concern in this regard, are a group of readily detectable unique chemicals known as cyclobutanones which have recently been shown to cause chromosomal damage in intestinal cells of rats and humans.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have ignored the strong evidence on the cancer and genetic risks of irradiated food. Instead, they have relied on a group of five studies, selected from a total of over 400 studies prior to 1980, on which their current claims of safety are based.

The FDA has persisted in these claims even though its own expert Irradiated Food Committee warned that the tests are grossly flawed and inadequate.

Furthermore, as admitted by USDA's Agricultural Research Service, irradiation results in major losses of vitamins, particularly A, C, E and the B complex. These losses are substantially increased by cooking, resulting in empty calorie food, a concern of major importance for the malnourished. Radiation has also been used to clean up food unfit for human consumption, such as spoiled fish, by killing odorous contaminating bacteria.

While the USDA is actively supporting meat and poultry radiation, it has been moving to deregulate and privatize the industry by promoting self-policing programs. Irradiation is also aggressively promoted by the Department of Energy's Byproducts Utilization Program to reduce disposal costs of spent military and civilian nuclear fuel by providing a commercial market for nuclear wastes.

Food irradiation plants pose grave dangers to national security. They are relatively small, unregulated, and unlikely to be secure. As such, they are highly vulnerable to sabotage.

Of particular current concern are terrorist attacks to steal radioactive cobalt pellets. These could be mixed with conventional explosives to produce so-called "dirty bombs," whose effects could be devastating.

These plants pose additional dangers to local communities by generating high levels of ozone, a very toxic atmospheric pollutant when it is close to ground level instead of high in the stratosphere where it protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation.

Not surprisingly, the focus of the radiation and agribusiness industries has been directed to the lucrative clean up of contaminated food, rather than preventing contamination at its source. However, bacterial food poisoning, particularly with E.coli O157, which can be dangerous and lethal to young children, can be largely prevented by long overdue improved sanitation, apart from thorough cooking of meat.

Sanitation in cattle feedlots, including reducing overcrowding, drinking water disinfection and fly control, would drastically reduce cattle infection rates.

Moreover, O157 infection rates could be virtually eliminated by feeding hay seven days prior to slaughter, which the industry is unwilling to do because of higher costs. Sanitation would also prevent drinking water contamination from feedlot run off, incriminated in recent outbreaks of O157 poisoning; this would remain a continuing threat even if all meat were irradiated.

Steers awaiting slaughter (Photo courtesy Capitol Land & Livestock Co.)
Pre-slaughter and post-evisceration sanitation at meat packing plants are also highly effective for reducing carcass contamination rates. Practical techniques are available for rapid individual or pooled carcasses for fecal and bacterial contamination.

The expense of producing sanitary meat would be trivial compared to the high costs of irradiation, which would be passed on to consumers, apart from assuring its wholesomeness and safety, besides preventing nuclear accidents and terrorism.

Rather than sanitizing the label in response to special interests, Congress should focus on sanitation, not irradiation of the nation's food supply.

For further information on food irradiation, see the recently published article "Preventing Pathogenic Food Poisoning: Sanitation, Not Irradiation," endorsed by over 20 leading international experts, "International Journal of Health Services," volume 31(1):187-192, 2001.

{Dr. Samuel Epstein is Professor Emeritus Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition}