A Few Things You
Should Know About Food Irradiation
- 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. 1,2
- In legalizing food irradiation, the FDA relied on laboratory
research that did not meet modern scientific protocols, which
federal law requires. 1,4
- 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. 5,6,7,8
- 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 contaminate beef, pork, chicken and other meat.
Irradiation will not kill the pathogen that causes mad cow disease.
- 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. 9,10
- 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. 13,14,15
- 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
- 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. 18,19
- 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.
- 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
- U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, ß 170.22.
- Federal Register, various filings, 1983-2000.
- U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, ß 170.20.
- Federal Register, various filings, 1983-2000.
- 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.
- Kesavan, P.C., Swaminathan, M.S. "Cytotoxic and mutagenic
effects of irradiated substrates and food material." Radiation
Botany, 11:253-181, 1971.
- Schubert, J. "Mutagenicity and cytotoxicity of irradiated
foods and food components." Bulletin of the World Health
Organization, 41:873-904, 1969.
- Spiher, A.T. "Food Irradiation: An FDA Report." FDA
Papers, Oct. 1968.
- Nestor, F. and Hauter, W. The Jungle 2000: Is Americas
Meat Fit to Eat? Washington, D.C.: Government Accountability Project,
Public Citizen, Sept. 2000.
- Piccioni, R. "Food irradiation: Contaminating our food."
The Ecologist, 18:2:48-55.
- FDA Memorandum, from Kim Morehouse, Ph.D. to William Trotter,
Ph.D. April 11, 2000.
- FDA Memorandum, from Antonio Mattia, Ph.D. to William Trotter,
Ph.D. Nov. 2, 1999.
- Webb, T. et al. Food Irradiation: Who Wants It? Rochester, Vermont:
Thorsons Publishers, 1987.
- 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,
- 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.
- Murray, D. Biology of Food Irradiation. Somerset, England: Research
Studies Press Ltd., 1990.
- Op. cit. Note 5.
- 18.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.
- 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,
- Last radioactive capsules taken from DeKalb plant." Macon
Telegraph, Nov. 20, 1990.
- A Citizens Guide to Fighting Food Irradiation. Washington,
D.C.: Public Citizens Critical Mass Energy and Environment