Organic Consumers Association

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U.S. Accepts First Irradiated Fruit Imports

For more information on the hazards of irradiated foods, visit OCA's Irradiation Page.

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2007 (ENS) - The United States Tuesday began to accept shipments of irradiated mangoes from India, the first U.S. imports of irradiated fruit.

Irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to disinfect, sanitize, sterilize, preserve food or to provide insect disinfestation. It serves as an alternative to other pest control methods such as fumigation and cold and heat treatments.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says irradiated food does not become radioactive, and the nutritional value of the food is "essentially unchanged."

Irradiation was approved in 2002 as a treatment for all pests in some fruits and vegetables entering the United States. In 2006, irradiation was approved for a wider range of food products, including Indian mangoes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA.

USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service approved commercial shipments of fresh mangoes from India that are treated with specified doses of irradiation at an APHIS certified facility prior to export to ensure that plant pests do not enter the United States.

"This is a significant milestone that paves the way for the future use of irradiation technology to protect against the introduction of plant pests," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

The nonprofit public interest group Public Citizen objects to irradiated food, which it says caused "a myriad of serious health problems in laboratory animals that ate irradiated foods, including premature death, fatal internal bleeding, a rare form of cancer, stillbirths and other reproductive problems, mutations and other genetic damage, organ malfunctions, stunted growth and vitamin deficiencies."

Concerns have been expressed by public health groups that irradiation, by killing all bacteria in food, can serve to disguise poor food-handling practices that could lead to other kinds of contamination.

In the United States, wheat flour, white potatoes, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, pork and poultry are USDA approved for irradiation.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said import of the irradiated fruit "signals the determination of both India and the United States to forge deeper and stronger trade ties and create significant new economic opportunities for the people of both of our vast countries."

U.S.-India trade has been growing at an average rate of almost 20 percent a year since 2002. The United States and India want to double their bilateral trade to $60 billion by 2008, said Schwab.

Schwab said more Indian organic food products certified according to USDA standards by Indian agents are expected to begin flowing soon into the United States. Irradiation is not permitted on organic foods. 

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