Updated August 27, 2002
Food Irradiation: Supplemental FAQ
1. News stories and press releases from the Internet.
We say "scientific evidence is never final. The scientific evidence of today is not enough to show safety. Therefore, we want a moratorium on these technologies."
Because the media treats irradiation only as a human-health issue, we try to point out the larger picture. Therefore, we include information about the social and economic impacts of the use of irradiation. Those documents are factual but we include them because they help our argument.
Several nuclear-powered facilities in the US are operating or under construction for food irradiation.* However, most of the irradiation we will see in the near future in the U.S. will be done using electron beams, to "open the door" for irradiation and neutralize people's fears about nuclear irraidation. The only environmental effect of e-beam irradiation is the need for production of more electric power.
However, if e-beam irradiation is accepted by the consumer for ground beef, then nuclear irradiation will be widely used internationally. Why? Several reasons: a) the source of irradiation is not listed on the label (where labels are required), b) e-beam irradiation is only usable for small, evenly shaped foods like beef patties or papayas (bulky items, like medical supplies or boxes of fruits, must be irradiated using x-rays or nuclear materials), and c) other countries without cheap and reliable sources of electricity will use nuclear materials.
*Operating: Mulberry, FL. Under construction: Schaumburg, IL. A nuclear facility is under construction in Queensland, Australia.
No. If your fresh fruit turns a funny color or never ripens, it might have been irradiated. But there's no way for the consumer to be sure.
To confirm irradiation of a food has taken place, shippers plan to use radiation-sensitive labels on the boxes of food. These labels will change color if the food has been irradiated at the appropriate dose.
Because irradiation creates new chemicals called URPs (unique radiolytic products) in the food, a chemist can test for certain URPs to find out if a food has been irradiated.
Induced radioactivity is not useful as a marker of irradiation because foods vary in their naturally occurring radioactivity and also in the radioactivity acquired by uptake of radioactive materials--for example, meat from animals that graze near the Chernobyl nuclear accident site."