Irradiation: Expensive, Ineffective, and Impractical
Irradiation is an expensive, ineffective, and impractical technology for addressing food safety.
Not the Solution to Food Safety Problems
That 5,000 people in the United States die every year from food-borne illnesses is tragic. Food producers need to address the source of the problem, too fast processing lines and dirty conditions at plants , not promote an expensive, impractical and ineffective technology like irradiation.
Irradiation is Expensive
Irradiating the U.S. food supply would be extraordinarily expensive. In order to effectively irradiate the 8 billion pounds of hamburger that Americans eat every year, we would have to build approximately 80 multi-million dollar irradiation facilities. Further, irradiating the entire U.S. food supply would mean building thousands of plants. The costs of these facilities and the costs of transporting and handling irradiated food would be passed on to consumers. While U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that irradiated ground beef should cost an additional 13 cents to 20 cents per pound, surveys of supermarkets reveal an additional cost of 50 cents to one dollar per pound for irradiated ground beef products.
Irradiation is Ineffective
Irradiation does not kill all the bacteria in food and may undermine other food safety efforts by masking filthy conditions and encouraging improper handling. In 2007, Food & Water Watch complained to the USDA that Wegmans supermarkets improperly encouraged consumers to under cook irradiated meat in their “Some Like It Pink” press release.
“While irradiation may reduce the numbers of bacteria present in raw product, the technology does not necessarily render it commercially sterile . . . Therefore, FSIS advises consumers that all raw ground beef, including raw ground beef that has been irradiated, should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit,” wrote the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services in a letter about Wegmans to Food & Water Watch.
Irradiation can mask filthy conditions in today‚ mega-sized livestock slaughterhouses and food processing plants. Slaughterhouses process up to 400 cows per hour or 200 birds per minute, posing an enormous sanitation challenge where E. coli, Salmonella and other potentially deadly food-borne pathogens can be spread through feces, urine and pus. Instead of encouraging expensive treatments like irradiation, USDA should give meat inspectors the tools to test products at the plant and ensure that contaminated meat never reaches restaurants or supermarket shelves.
Infected manure from a nearby beef cattle ranch was blamed for the E. coli spinach outbreak in California. In response, testing of water used for irrigation and washing should be improved, vegetable processing plants should be inspected more thoroughly, large livestock operations operating near cropland should be more tightly regulated, and employees processing vegetable should be better trained, she said.
Irradiation is Impractical
Irradiation damages many foods and can ruin their flavor, odor, and texture. The process destroys vitamins, protein, essential fatty acids and other nutrients, up to 80 percent of vitamin A in eggs and half the beta carotene in orange juice. A dose of radiation sufficient to kill bacteria in fragile produce such as spinach would render it inedible.
Today, there are only two operating commercial irradiation facilities, located in Iowa and Florida, specifically designed to irradiate food. Finding hubs for irradiation facilities to treat vegetables produced by farms all over the country would be difficult. And, fresh lettuce, spinach and other vegetables have a very short shelf-life, so they very likely could not survive the additional transportation and handling time that irradiation requires.
Irradiation May Be Dangerous
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved food irradiation for many foods in spite of paltry and flawed data on safety and in violation of their own safety protocols. However, between the cost, the practical problems, and consumer distaste for the technology, very little irradiated food is on supermarket shelves today. A push to irradiate a significant portion of the U.S. food supply would be effectively subject the American public to a huge experiment on the safety of irradiated foods, Hauter said.
Scientists have observed serious health problems in lab animals fed irradiated foods. Those include premature death, cancer, tumors, stillbirths, mutations, organ damage, immune system failure and stunted growth. In one experiment, genetic damage was detected in young children who ate irradiated wheat. In some foods, irradiation forms chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects. One chemical, 2-ACBs, has been linked to cancer development in rats and genetic damage in human cells.
American‚ deserve better food safety solutions from their government and the food industry than expensive, impractical, ineffective, and potentially dangerous technologies like irradiation.