Re: About Food irradiation

Hey all. Interesting discussion. I'm a professional agrologist and
unfortunately my specialty is in soils and trees. But I do remember
learning something about this in school in my food science classes. 

From what I remember the radiation used to irradiate foods is not
radioactive. I think IRRADIATION is definitely a poor choice of words
to use for a process that is applied to something we put in our body
afterwards. I remember the discussions about this process and how it
was bound to be controversial, but at that time (1988) it was deemed
safe. However, i'm not sure at this time how widespread the practice
is. I wouldnt worry about any "residual" radiation resting in the
foods. Where the dangers could come into play is any kinds of
unexpected chemical changes that may occur in foods during the
process. How valid this is, I'm not sure at this time. 

Being Canadian, there's a lot of foods that we can't get fresh in the
winter (all produce, unless its storable for long periods of time..
i.e. cabbage, or hydroponically grown  foods) and much produce just
doesnt make it here fresh - most of our fresh produce in the winter is
labelled 'Product of the USA". So if irradiation can improve that
situation at the present time i'm all for it - at the present time. 

I also remember reading the testing about irradiation (back in 1988)
it had shown that the changes in food products after irradiation were
minimal. However, with any food and /or chemical testing process we
often see that unexpected or unexplained effects crop up after the
product or process has been in common use for awhile. Science is an
imperfect process, since nobody yet has been able to figure everything
out in the biological world, and unfortunatley sometimes unexpected
results arise after long term testing, or use (i.e DDT a few decades
back - nobody knew the long term effects until it was in use) so I'd
say it pays to be aware of the process, But personally, from what I
know I'd NOT  be hesitant to eat irradiated foods. But that's my own
personal view on this and if anyone doesnt want to eat irradiated
foods then that's their choice too. 

However, I too am interested in learning more about this topic as my
knowledge on this topic, I admit, is still limited. Any food
scientists care to shed some more light on the topic? 

>1) Not that the food becomes radioactive (don't know if it does or not) but
>that it becomes *changed*, modified in ways that we can't predict or
>control, perhaps at a level smaller than we're used to considering
>important, but perhaps still at a level important for life.  

Irradiation doesnt produce major structural changes in the food.
However some chemical changes may be inevitable. At levels to be
harmful to people? You'd probably have to go into EACH food and do a
complete biochemical analysis to find that out. Each food would react
differently. Some may create harmful chemicals, some may not. I'd like
to see the testing and the data on this one. I'd hazard a guess that
there may still be some unknown things in the process. 

>I'm skeptical to think that anything could so effectively kill all the
>kinds of living organisms you mention in your quote and leave the main
>living organism there, the food, unchanged. I don't eat food because it
>looks like the food I want (ex. apple) but because I seek the vitality, the
>life force, in it.  Perhaps irradiated food has such an extended shelf life
>because it's now missing some important component of life force.  I think
>it's arrogant to believe that we know enough about life force - something
>we don't really study, in this materially-oriented world - that we can just
>brush aside this real likelihood.

What spoils food IS the bacteria or moulds in the food. If we lived in
a perfectly sterile world food would never go bad, it would just sort
of dry up but still remain edible. Irradiation, and other preservation
processes don't kill EVERYTHING - that's impossible. Also the bacteria
and moulds, etc that settle into the food after the irradiation
process aren't killed by irradiation. They move in afterwards. All
kinds of preservation processes are still imperfect, however. Some of
the processes have their own side effects and some processes are more
effective than others.  

What we have to be aware of is that in our soceity that has
agriculture far removed from our urban lives, the use of preservatives
is often necessary - some foods just dont stay fresh that long. The
whole trick in any kind of preservation is "out-smarting" the bacteria
and other nasties that spoil your foods.  

One thing about irradiation - it can't harm the food in the way that
it can harm bacteria and moulds, since the food is done living. It's
essentially "dead" - although fruits and vegetables continue to
exchange gases after they are picked. But they are no longer able to
grow or increasing in mass and volume. 

The dangers from radiation in a "living" organism are that radiation
affects the genetic makeup of the plant or organism, creating
mutations. So if you, as a human being, were exposed to radiation,
your genetic structure could alter and in the FUTURE you could develop
cancer, or radiation sickness (from nuclear radiation) which is
created from wacked out DNA that produces tumours (in the case of
cancer) or other stuff instead of normal tissue. However, for example,
if you irradiated a tomato plant that was living in order to irradiate
the tomatoes and thus protect them from spoilage, you may see some
weird growth in the plant itself. However, the tomato, itself, picked
at that time wouldnt have any major STRUCTURAL changes within it. If
it was left on the plant to grow, maybe some weird things would happen
in future growth processes.  I dont know on that one. You'd have to go
around zapping some plants and see what happens. 

>2) The second issue I have with it is choice and thus full labelling.  I
>eat my food for life force.  I don't want someone taking that away without
>my being able to make a choice about it.  (Even with labelling, it's not
>perfect, because one still wants to eat in restaurants and other people's
>homes once in a while...)

I agree with this one. Everyone should be able to make the choice. If
they dont want to eat irradiated foods, products should be labelled so
that people could make that choice. 

>3) The third is that I don't buy that it's necessary to take this risk, or
>that the highest levels of necessity are being applied before taking this
>risk. My understanding is that it's commonly used "just in case."  In other
>cases, I consider it highly likely that it's used to cover up food that
>shouldn't be shipped/eaten in the first place.  If the food is so infested,
>perhaps not eating it is the smart response - not just getting rid of what
>infested it (and a bunch of other things as well).  Perhaps the infestation
>indicates something not well about the food.  Just like I think pesticides
>are sometimes used to prop up plants that haven't been nourished, instead
>of nourishing them properly.

Um... I DO have to admit that we have developed a very chemically
dependent agricultural system all over North America. This we have
developed in an ever increasing desire to have a cheap and "efficient"
food supply. (I put that in brackets because it's up to you if you
feel that it's really "efficient") 

I also know that in some cases a return to more "alternative pest
management" approaches is the best case. Rotating crops to prevent
annual, predictable  infestations, to improve soil structures, and to
increase nutrients are all practices that many farmers are returning
to. Simply because it makes good sense and it is proving to be an
effective technique, and sometimes cheaper than buying chemicals to
prevent pests (insect, weed and microorganisms) In many places,
everything old is new again. There have been many chemicals that have
been restricted so new techniques have to be implemented as well.  

Being an environmentally minded person I support any research,
promotion and practice of conservation farming wherever its possible.
However, what you have to understand is that many farmers, especially
family farmers (giant agribusinesses are another story) are often very
close to going broke, therefore they need just about EVERYTHING on
their side, including a whole whack of pesticides and other chemicals,
etc. in order to keep their head above financial disaster. Sometimes
the reduction in production due to organic or other conservation
methods just is not economically feasable to entertain for many
farmers. For giant agribusinesses or very successful farmers that have
lots of profits, I think that's another story. I think there should be
some committment to ethics and the environment in the use of more
environmentally sound practices... but I digress :)

I also don't agree with eating heavily pesticided foods either. But
its hard to tell which foods go through what processes and what
chemicals. I'd still rather eat food protected by irradiation than by
chemicals, given a choice. I'd also rather eat organically produced
foods than anything else, however.  (oops another digression) 

I doubt that irradiation processes would be applied to foods "just in
case" since that would add to the cost of the foods, and either create
increased costs to the consumer, or reduced profits to the producers.
However, I could be totally wrong on this one!!  :)

><<I for one would much rather be able to buy fresh tropical fruits on the
>mainland that are free of tropical fruit fly eggs and other insects than
>take a chance on even one of them getting through.>>

>Or, one can eat local, because that's the food with the highest vitality,
>rather than having to kill food to ship it long distances!

MM.. well the "killing" pretty much happens to food shipped long
distances because often the fruits are picked unripe and ripen on the
truck (sometimes with chemical ripening agents) Shop local wherever
and whenever you can. Despite irradiation, pesticides, etc, it just
makes good sense to support your local farmers. And the food is MUUCH
better, tastier, and will last longer in your fridge and be  that much

Hope this information is useful and I haven't ruffled any feathers.
Many apologies if I have  - this was not intended to be anything
controversial. (I'm Canadian - I dont know HOW to argue!) 

Patti Story, P. Ag. 

If you want to chat more on this off the discussion group drop me an
email at pstory@emr.ca  I'll be happy to share the information that I
know and well, admit to you what I don't know!