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Organic Consumers Association

FDA Plots To Dissolve Labelling Requirement For Irradiated Foods

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to relax its stance on food labeling to allow some foods which have been irradiated to be labeled as "pasteurized" instead.

The proposed rule changes would allow companies to label food as pasteurized when the treatment of irradiation doesn't cause any material change in the product or any material change in the consequences that may arise from ingesting the product. This could include changes to the texture, smell, taste, and shelf life; as well as the nutritional, organic or functional properties of food.

"This move by the FDA would deny consumers clear information about whether they are buying food that has been exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation. . . an industry attempt to make consumers buy products that they otherwise might avoid," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy group that "challenges the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources."

Companies looking to take advantage of the new labeling allowances simply will need to prove to the FDA that irradiating food kills microorganisms as effectively as pasteurization. This proposal also allows companies to use alternate terms to describe "irradiated" foods other than the word "pasteurized."

Pasteurization is the process of destroying viruses and harmful organisms like mold, yeast, protozoa and bacteria by bringing liquids to a high temperature. Irradiation, on the other hand, is a process of exposing an item to radiation - whether intentional or accidental. The only similarity between the two methods seems to be that both effectively kill germs. But the two terms are hardly synonymous.

"Louis Pasteur would be rolling in his grave if he knew that the FDA was about to attach his name to a process of irradiating foods," said Mike Adams, executive director of the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (www.ConsumerWellness.org). "This attempt by the FDA to blatantly mislead consumers by falsely labeling irradiated foods as pasteurized is just the latest example of this agency's total abandonment of its mission to protect and inform consumers about what's in their food."

Irradiation is a way to control potential microbiological hazards in food and extend the shelf life of processed foods, but it can also be a dangerous practice. Food companies claim that through this radiation technique, bacteria is eliminated without making the food radioactive, but there is a substantial body of evidence they seem to be ignoring.

According to an independent study detailed in Radiation Research, after having ingested irradiated sucrose solutions, a great deal of radioactivity was present in the kidneys, liver, stomach, gastrointestinal tract, and blood serum of laboratory test rats, as well as in their urine and feces samples.

Other independent and governmental studies have linked irradiation to cancer, severe internal bleeding, vitamin deficiency, lack of blood clotting, marked edema, loss of coordination or movement, chromosome damage and death.

However, the proposed rule is making some large industrial groups, such as the Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association, very happy about the switch. Groups like these believe the term "irradiated" gives treated food a negative connotation and acts as a warning label to consumers. However, they are misleading American consumers as to exactly what happens to food during the process of eliminating germs.

"Consumers are justifiably wary of foods bombarded with nuclear waste or powerful x-rays or gamma rays, since irradiation destroys essential vitamins and nutrients, creates unique radiolytic chemical compounds never before consumed by humans, and generates carcinogenic byproducts such as formaldehyde and benzene," according to the Organic Consumers Association.

"Although irradiation, except for spices, is banned in much of the world, and prohibited globally in organic production, U.S. corporate agribusiness and the meat industry desperately want to be able to secretly 'nuke' foods in order to reduce the deadly bacterial contamination that is now routine in industrial agriculture and meat production."

In 1984, the FDA proposed allowing certain irradiated foods to be sold without being labeled as such. This action garnered more than 5,000 comments to the agency and, within two years, the FDA required all FDA-regulated irradiated foods to be labeled with the radiation symbol or similar identification. Now, the agency seems to be changing its position once again.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO): "Irradiating can bring about chemical transformations in food and food components resulting in the formation of potential mutagens, particularly hydrogen peroxide and various organic peroxides. . . In view of the serious consequences to the human population which could arise from a high level of induced mutations, it is desirable that protocols for irradiated food should include in vivo tests on mammals for possible mutagenicity."

The FDA acknowledges that allowing companies to describe irradiation in alternative ways may confuse consumers. "Research indicates that many consumers regard substitute terms for irradiation to be misleading," according to the new FDA rule proposal. The FDA has posted the proposed revisions to the rules on food irradiation and is accepting public comments on their website regarding this proposal for 90 days from the date it was first posted (April 4).

"The proposed rule would apply only to foods regulated by the FDA. However, if and when the rule is finalized, the Department of Agriculture could undergo a similar process to change the irradiation labeling requirements for the food it regulates, including meat and poultry," said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Irradiation seems to be a good enough reason to stay away from processed foods entirely; as sticking with local and organic foods may prove to be the best idea of all.

About the author Christian Evans is a freelance journalist with a passion for promoting the "Natural Health Paradigm". He enjoys reviewing products by up and coming natural health companies and has espoused a natural lifestyle and a diet of primarily raw foods. In his spare time, Christian enjoys surfing, fly fishing, and observing nature.

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