food irradiation threat

Question? Does food irradiation threaten sustainable agriculture?

I think it does.

Since irradiation is legal in the United States and it is endorsed by
pratically every agency in the U.S. i.e. the FDA, USDA, ACSH
(the American Council on Science and Health),and the ADA, it seems
inevitable that we will see irradiated foods with the radura symbol on our
grocery shelves in the near future. This posting is not questioning the
health benefits of food irradiation, i.e. the destruction of pathogenic
food borne organism nor is it putting it down for its potential negative
effects which for example has occured on December 4, 1982 at International
Nutronics (a medical sterilization facility) in Dover, NJ where 600
gallons of contaminated water leaked from a pool containing a Cobalt 60
source (a nine count federal indictment was issued on June 24, 1986), it
is questioning what will happen to sustainable agriculture. 

Since food irradiation plants are relative expensive, real costs are
between 1 to 12 million dollars (an Isotron plant in Britain cost 4.5
million dollars) there are not going to be that many of them which means
the tendency toward centralization of the food system will be reinforced.
Large producers of foods like chicken or strawberries or grains will ship
their foods to irradiation plants, using more gasoline, and then ship them
to large warehouses or distribution centers which will be then shipped to
larger supermarkets who can boast of the benefits of food irradiation.
Meanwhile small independent producers with little capital are forced to
compete with these products. This is not saying that they will not be able
to have a niche market where they sell there products along side the
irradiated products, but seeing how market studies conducted with
irradiated foods in small stores have, with "education" outsold
nonirradiated food on the basis of looks, safeness, and shelflife, it does
not sound like a very large one since the shoppers of the year 2000 and on
will continue to want convenience foods and irradiation will allow large
producers to extend shelf lives, looks, and safety dates, which means more
consumers can buy in bulk at larger corporate markets and more
restaurants will want these products because it will reduce liability
(i.e. nobody want to become the next jack in the box and restaurants do
not have to disclose to the consumer under current law if irradiated
products are used, just like processed foods do not have to disclose to
the consumer if the igredients of the product like spaghetti sauce's
spices or tomatoes were irradiatiated, only if the whole product was
irradiated) and global markets will be more available because of
increaseed shelf life and reduced risk of importation of grains or fruits
with infestations (such as the medfly in CA)

Thus I propose that food irradiation, with its high plant costs and
probable big business only access and convenience appeal will negatively
impact sustainable agriculture which is based on small, independent
growers who produce locally, not globally (which irradiation will allow).

Teige Davidson
Tufts University