Thoughts on food irradiation

 I believe that consumers are responsive to environmental considerations,
but I also believe that they often don't act on those feelings i.e. buy
organic products because they are more expensive. The culture of the US
has taught our consumers to buy what is the best value (short term i.e.
wallets and pocketbooks) and I believe that food irradiation will serve
the conventional grown food market that does not take sustainability into
consideration. Food iradiation does have benefits, but when intergrated
into the conventional food system, it could further divide the consumers.
This is because they will get longer shelf life and less health risks from
beef and pork and even fruits and vegetables but with more elaborate
modified atmosphere packaging. Organics will most likely have nothing to
do with irradiation and thus create another barrier for buyers. Fear is a
strong deterent and it is a very justifyiable argument given the history
of the food industry.

E coli incidents like those that ocurred in the Pacific Northwest i.e.
Jack in the Box in 1993, and in Japan with the 6000 sick school children
and the 3000 adults could have very strong influences on purchase decisions of a
consumer when left to decide between a safe cut of conventional chicken
that has been irradiated and the organic that has not. Considering that
anyhere between 6.5 and 30 million people could have food related illness
each year, and 9000 death occur, one would probablely buy the irradiated
product. Also in the world of sanctioned health claims being made through
labelling such as on Cheerios, about cholesterol, safety claims could also
be allowed.

I propose that this dilema could be partially  ameliorated by conventional
growers being regulated to make more sustainable agricultural choices, but
until then the dollar will rule the market and health considerations and
liability issues such as in institutions like schools or hospitals
possiblely feeding unsafe food to an involuntary consuming population
will drive purchasing decisions.

Teige Davidson
Masters student
Tufts University