From the November 2000 Idaho Observer:

Groups pressure FDA over food irradiation practices

Flawed science used to justify dangerous process?

By The Idaho Observer

Several environmental protection organizations joined consumer advocacy group Public Citizen in pressuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change its policy with regard to food irradiation. On October 4, 2000, Public Citizen demanded that the FDA withdraw its approval of ionic food irradiation practices. Irradiation has been approved by the FDA as a means to increase the shelf life of some foods by retarding the growth of bacteria that cause food spoilage.

Public Citizen has submitted proof that the FDA approval of the controversial process is based on the merits of non-credible studies sponsored by special interests that fail to adequately address numerous health risks associated with food irradiation. Public Citizen submitted a lengthy report to the FDA which charges the federally-chartered consumer protection agency with having “failed in its mandate to protect consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

The food industry is aware of the controversy and, rather than meet people's concerns with science that would massage their fears, the industry, through an agricultural appropriations bill currently being considered by Congress, is attempting to remove evidence that food items have been irradiated by exempting the practice from product labeling laws.

Public Citizen researcher Mark Worth stated that FDA approval of food irradiation has been based on at least 100 studies that the agency's own scientists have determined to be incorrect or inconclusive with regard to public safety. “For 17 years the FDA has knowingly and systematically ignored its own testing protocols -- protocols that must be followed before irradiated food can be legalized for human consumption,” said Worth.

The FDA has jurisdiction over the radiation of food since ionizing radiation is considered a food additive. This technology was first approved by the FDA in 1983 for use on spices. Since then the FDA has approved the use of irradiation for fruits, vegetables, beef, pork and poultry. In July 2000, the FDA granted approval for the irradiation of fresh eggs.

Public Citizen and other groups from all over the world that have been protesting food irradiation for many years. These groups attempts to convene public hearings on the issue have been in vain for the most part. The latest petition for a public hearing was submitted by Public Citizen last August in the wake of FDA egg irradiation approval.

According to Reuters, “The Cancer Prevention Coalition and Public Citizen are calling on FDA to rescind all irradiation approvals granted since 1983, for a Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General investigation of FDA's role in regulating the irradiation process, and for an overhaul of farming, ranching, and processing practices to encourage greater sanitation.”

The National Food Processors Association (NFPA), one of the powerful lobbies that favor food irradiation, supports FDA approval of irradiation and has stated that that Public Citizen's allegations that the FDA has ignored its own protocols to approve the process is “just plain wrong.” NFPA Executive Vice-President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Rhona Appelbaum said, “The process by which FDA determines the safety of irradiation for use of various foods is both science-based and rigorous.”

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