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Citizens, Consumer Groups Oppose Proposed Irradiation Labeling Change

July 03, 2007
Center for Food Safety

More than 28,000 citizens oppose a Food & Drug Administration proposal to permit industry to mislabel irradiated food with alternate terms such as ‘pasteurization’ or to remove the requirement for labeling altogether, announced consumer watchdog organizations Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety today. This change by FDA would deny consumers clear information about whether they are buying food that has been exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation.

“Food irradiation is an uncontrolled experiment using millions of Americans as guinea pigs,” said Heather Whitehead of the Center for Food Safety. “Given the growing scientific evidence of the dangers of irradiated food, it is unconscionable that FDA would consider hiding irradiation behind misleading words like ‘pasteurization.’”

“Consumers have a right to know if their food has been exposed to ionizing radiation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “FDA should be implementing rules that guarantee that right, not allowing the meat and irradiation industries to mislead consumers into buying something they might otherwise avoid.”

Irradiation destroys vitamins, protein, essential fatty acids and other nutrients - up to 80 percent of vitamin A in eggs and half the beta carotene in orange juice, the FDA has noted.  In some foods, the process forms chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects. One group of chemicals, called 2-ACBs, has been linked to tumor growth in rats and genetic damage in human cells.

“This FDA proposal is a bad case of déjà vu,” continued Whitehead.  “In poll after poll, consumers have rejected the weakening of labeling rules for irradiated food.  Thousands of consumers submitted comments opposing a similar proposal by FDA in 1999. Now in 2007 the comments submitted show consumers still want accurate labeling.”

Consumers have long been reluctant to purchase irradiated foods.  Only a small percentage of the U.S. food supply is irradiated, and efforts to sell irradiated ground beef to public schools through the National School Lunch Program have failed to produce a single order.  In 2004, a leading irradiation company called SureBeam filed for bankruptcy.

The push to change the labeling rules for irradiated food is not a new one. In 2002, the Farm Bill instructed the FDA to re-examine its labeling rules, which require irradiated food to bear the radura symbol and a disclosure statement (‘treated with irradiation’ or ‘treated by irradiation.’)

“The FDA’s proposal is a gift to the irradiation industry, which has been struggling for years,” Hauter concluded. “The public is no more enthusiastic about changing the label than it is about irradiated food itself.”

The Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch urge FDA to abandon this proposed rule change.  The groups also alerted consumers across the country about the agency’s dangerous proposal, resulting in more than 28,000 public comments opposing the proposal.

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Center for Food Safety is a national, nonprofit organization that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture.  View CFS’ comments to the FDA.

Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer rights group based in Washington, D.C. that challenges the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources.  FWW’s comment to the FDA can be found at www.foodandwaterwatch.org.