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Labeling of Irradiated Foods

Center for Food Safety

Currently, irradiated food must be labeled as “Treated with Irradiation” or “Treated by Radiation” and must display the irradiated “radura” symbol.  But now, in yet another attempt to appease industry at the expense of the public, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a new rule that would allow irradiated food to be marketed in some cases without any labeling at all.  In other cases, the rule would allow the terms “electronically pasteurized” or “cold pasteurized” to replace the use of “irradiated” on labels.  These terms are not used by scientists, but rather are designed to remove the negative stigma of the irradiation label and fool consumers about what’s been done to their food.

Labeling irradiated foods as “pasteurized” is simply untruthful and misleading. Pasteurization involves heating liquids for the purpose of destroying harmful bacteria and other pathogens, and has been used safely for decades.  Using high-energy gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays on foods – is a completely different process than pasteurization.

In fact, FDA’s own research found that the proposed change would confuse consumers, stating, “Research indicates that many consumers regard substitute terms for irradiation to be misleading.”  Consumer data has repeatedly shown that consumers recognize and prefer the current labeling requirements of irradiated food.  In 2001, FDA conducted focus groups of consumers on this issue.  Consumers participating unanimously rejected replacing the term irradiation with pasteurization and reacted with phrases such as, “sneaky,” “deceptive,” “misleading,” and “trying to fool us.”  Allowing the marketing of irradiated food without any labeling is equally misleading.  FDA has yet to take action on this rule.

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