Are you eating irradiated foods? At a time when there has been over two years of incidence in chronic food-borne illnesses in everything from meat to tomatoes, the stakes are growing higher for health in the fight to keep irradiated food off the shelves in supermarkets by consumers. The FDA, the CDC, and the government claim irradiation is safe and effective. Many other organizations, doctors, and others refute that is a dangerous practice that can cause the development of diseases like cancer and genetic damage. Who's right? Let's look at the facts.
What is irradiation?
Irradiation is ionizing radiation, applied to food as gamma rays from radioisotopes, or electron beams or X-rays from machines. It penetrates into food to kill germs, and also kills insects on the surface of foods. Irradiation extends a product’s shelf life. Irradiation is intended to make foods safer to eat, but it cannot stop mad cow diseases such as hepatitis and E. coli. It also kills all bacteria -- both the good and the bad, rendering the nutrient value of the article effectively dead.
What is being said about irradiation?
“It’s the latest in a series of PR moves designed to mislead the public from the fact that the government is asleep at the wheel here,” commented the national director of the Organic Consumers Association, Ronnie Cummins. The OCA is an organic food watchdog group."Food irradiation is a pseudo fix,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety in Washington. “It’s a way to try to come in and clean up problems that are created in the middle of the food production chain. I think it’s clearly a disincentive to clean up the problems at the source.”
Mainstream food growers and producers place high priority on production and profit, meaning that less care is given to sanitation and the manner in which food is produced. Because in the conventional industry quantity is valued over quality, practices have been used for years that are considered unsafe and unhealthy such as the use of genetic engineering, pesticide and herbicides, chemicals, steroids and antibiotics, unnatural feeds for cattle and poultry such as corn, soy, and grains, and now irradiation to take care of problems caused by the aforementioned practices. Accountability has not been made a priority for many years in the farming industry, and each time something negative occurs as a result, a new unnatural process must be designed to come and clean up the mess which reflects in that lack of responsibility.
Those not in favor of this harmful process maintain that irradiation kills vitamins and nutrients, and also changes the chemical composition of foods. The have also issued warning that irradiation will provide license to food manufacturers for cutting corners on other required food safety requirements, since irradiation might be viewed as a more effective food safety measure.
FDA's responds to negligence in farm systems
The 2006 outbreak of E. coli in bagged spinach grown in California was the impetus behind the FDA’s latest decision regarding irradiation. Investigations by the FDA revealed that the most likely culprit of E. coli was the close distance of cattle operations to produce fields, and the likelihood that cattle feces tainted the local water supply. E. coli is a deadly bacteria located in intestinal tracts of cattle - but is generally not found in organically-produced meat. E. coli is more typically found in the factory farm environments where meats are produced due to array of unnatural methods used in farming such as the feeding of corn, soy, and grains, which causes the necessity of using antibiotics and the subsequent overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
The FDA was requested by the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America to approve irradiation of leafy greens several years ago. This legislation was opposed by various consumer groups, and the FDA was requested to requre more stringent farm-to-table safety standards.
Although food that is irradiated must be labeled as such, the industry is in the process of trying to change this requirement.
In the end, the consistency of safe food growing and producing practices required by the FDA and government laws would ensure that harmful bacteria such as E. coli and others would not be able to take over in the way they have in recent years. Accountability and the use of healthy methods to farm is the best defense against these issues, which is why avoiding irradiated food sources and growers that use this process is certainly better for health.