Re: Thoughts on food irradiation

The following information is excerpted from an article in Indiana Agrinews, 
March 14, 1997. USDA has signed a Cooperative Research and Development  
Agreement with Gray Star, Inc., a private company in Mt. Arlington NJ to 
evaluate the firm's irradiator for killing foodborne pathogens like E. coli 
0157:H7 on meat, poultry, and other agricultural products....

Donald W. Thayer, a research chemist with ARS at Windmoor PA will conduct 
the studies to evaluate the irradiator. Thayer has earned an international 
reputation for his research on the safety and efficacy of using irradiation 
to control food pathogens in poultry and red meat without significant change 
to the nutritional quality....

The irradiator is transportable and can be delivered to the packinghouse or 
production site where food is being processed for shipment. Foods can be 
prepackaged and a standard pallet of product can be processed at once, 
handling up to 10,000 pounds of produce an hour per unit....The irradiator 
can be used to control quarantine pests as well as food pathogens...

Dynamic Industries, Inc., of Cincinnati will manufacture the irradiation 
units for Gray Star using cesium-137 radioactive isotopes from Babcock and 
Wilcox of Lynchburg VA. Several units have already been ordered by private 
companies, primarily for quarantine disinfestation of fruits and vegetables....

The Food and Drug Administration has approved irradiation to control 
microorganisms in poultry and trichinosis in pork, and is currently 
reviewing a petition to irradiate beef. FDA has also approved irradiation 
use on fruits and vegetables. 

Food irradiation is endorsed by the American Medical Association, World 
Health Organization, Institute of Food Technologists, , American Council on 
Science and Health, Council on Agricultural Science and Technology, and the 
American Veterinary Medical Association.

My notes:
I understand the arguments for irradiation, but still disagree with the use 
of this technology. It, once again, is a use of technology to treat symptoms 
without addressing the root cause -- in this case, food contaminated with 
fecal matter-- which is best addressed through good management. Why do we 
have government food inspectors to detect contamination. Are they not 
effective? Will irradiation replace the need for these inspectors? (Now 
there's a double edged sword in action).

This approach to food safety is reductionist science to the max. It 
generates a measureable reduction of pathogenic organisms (good science), 
while relying on an absence of indicators of detrimental effects on health 
and nutrition (bad science). That is, since ionizing radiation denatures 
(deactivates) DNA and proteins (enzymes, etc.) to kill living organisms, it 
obviously denatures other proteins in plant and animal tissue. Are 
nutritional factors altered by this process? Undoubtably. It is not known 
how irradiation will affect nutrition, in spite of Dr. Thayer's and others' 

Approval of irradiating food is bad policy. The technology favors large 
processors (because of its expense) and becomes a barrier for small 
processors if irradiation becomes mandatory. This in turn adversely impacts 
small and medium sized farmers and becomes another barrier in the 
development of local and regional food systems. It is especially bad policy 
that USDA is promoting the technology and paying for evaluation research, 
once again generating disadvantage to a substantial portion of the population. 

Bad science and bad policy seems something worth opposing vigorously.


Steve Bonney, President
Indiana Sustainable Agriculture Association
100 Georgton Ct.
W. Lafayette IN 47906
(317) 463-9366, fax (317) 497-0164
email sbonney@iquest.net