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FDA Move to Stop Requiring Labels on Irradiated Foods Generates Controversy

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed easing labeling requirements for irradiated foods, allowing some zapped products to be exempt from disclosure and others to use the term "pasteurized."

The controversial plan - part of an effort to alleviate consumer fears about the use of radiation in reducing food-borne hazards - is one of several labeling changes pending before either the FDA or the U.S. Department of Agriculture that involve information on how food is processed, where it comes from and what it contains.

At issue, besides irradiation, is a long-stalled requirement for country-of-origin labeling; the use of non-organic ingredients in "organic foods;" the definition of gluten-free foods; and whether meat and milk from cloned animals, if eventually approved for sale, should be labeled as such.

While details of the cases differ, they raise important questions about science, health, marketing and the consumer's right to know, with the food industry and consumer groups generally at odds over what should or should not be included in the labeling.

"There is always a struggle between consumers who want more and more useful labeling and various industries who don't think it is in their interest to let the information out," said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

Regina Hildwine, senior director for food labeling and standards for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said the right to know doesn't mean everything consumers are interested in must be placed on a food label...

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