Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it will allow fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to be treated with ionizing radiation. Nearly two years after a major E. coli outbreak was linked to California spinach, it is unbelievable that the FDA‚ first action on is this issue is to turn to irradiation rather than focus on how to prevent contamination of these crops. This just illustrates once again how misplaced this agency‚ priorities really are. Instead of beefing up its capacity to inspect food facilities or test food for contamination, all the FDA has to offer consumers is an impractical, ineffective and very expensive gimmick like irradiation.
Very little testing has been conducted on the safety and wholesomeness of irradiated vegetables. Treating lettuce or spinach with the equivalent of tens of millions of chest X-rays can ruin its flavor, odor, texture, color, and nutritional value. The cellular structure of these foods may not be able to withstand the effects of irradiation, which along with killing bacteria, damages everything else in its path.
There also is no system in place to irradiate large amounts of perishable vegetables and deliver them to market. Today, only two commercial irradiation facilities specifically designed to irradiate food are in operation. Building an infrastructure of irradiation facilities to treat a meaningful portion of the 9 billion pounds of lettuce and nearly 1 billion pounds of spinach consumed in the United States each year would be a massive undertaking.
Irradiation is a Band-aid, not a cure. Allowing spinach and lettuce to be irradiated would simply mask unsafe production practices, while supplying lower quality, less nutritious and potentially hazardous food. Instead of pursuing irradiation, vegetable growers and processors should improve flawed sanitation practices and FDA should inspect vegetable-processing plants more thoroughly. American consumers expect more and deserve better than questionable treatments like irradiation.”