USA TODAY, January 22, 1992
The nation's first irradiated food, fresh fruit and vegetables, is
soon to go on sale at a small Miami supermarket. This food was treated
with massive doses of ionizing radiation (100,000 rads, roughly equivalent
to 10 million medical X-rays) at large cobalt-60 facility, Vindicator
Inc., which plans to treat 800 million tons of food a year for nationwide
Food irradiation was the brainchild of the Atomic Energy Commission's
efforts in the Eisenhower administration to find practical uses
for the flood of radioactive wastes from nuclear weapons.
Energy of Canada (Nordion Ltd), with its virtual monopoly on cobalt-60
and with strong backing from the International Atomic
Energy Agency, hopes to operate a chain of U.S. plants with U.S.
Industry and the Food and Drug Administration
insist that irradiated food has been thoroughly tested and is absolutely
New York, New Jersey and Maine have prohibited the sale and distribution
of irradiated food, as have foreign governments, including Germany,
Denmark, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. Claims of safety are
unproven at best. High-energy irradiation produces complex chemical
changes in food with the formation of poorly characterized radio
lytic products, including benzene, organic peroxides and carbonyls.
Radio lytic products kill bacteria, molds and larvae and thus ensure
spoilage-free food, a major attraction to the purveyors of marginal
produce and contaminated poultry. However, concentrated extracts
of these products have never been tested for cancer and other delayed
adverse effects. The overdue need for such studies is further emphasized
by numerous reports of chronic toxic effects in insensitive studies
on test animal fed unextracted whole irradiated food. These include
reproductive damage in rodents and chromosomal damage in rodents,
monkeys and children.
Besides food safety, irradiation poses serious occupational and
environmental hazards due to the transport and handling of radioactive
Accidents have already been reported in facilities sterilizing
medical supplies by irradiation. Irradiation also reduces levels
nutrients in food, especially vitamins A, C, E and the B complex.
Cooking irradiated food reduces these levels still further. The
industry reluctantly admits this but suggests that the problem
could be taken
care of by vitamin supplements!
In spite of this substantial evidence, Food and Drug Administration
approved food irradiation in 1986. The FDA based its decision on
five questionable or allegedly negative tests and on theoretical
estimates on cancer risk, which was claimed to be insignificant
This position is consistent with the administration's revocation
of the Delaney law, which banned the deliberate contamination of
food with any amount of cancer-causing chemicals, and its substitution
by rubber number standards based on "acceptable" cancer
risk. Cancer rates have now reached epidemic proportions, striking
one in three and killing one in four, with 500,000 deaths last year.
Further risks to the entire nation of cancer, besides other health
effects, hardly seem justified by the narrow economic interest of
a small industry supported by a highly politicized federal bureaucracy.