Oct. 8, 2002

World Health Organization Ignored Hazards of Irradiated Foods, Declared Them Safe

New Report Contains Evidence That Serious Health Problems Dismissed;
Emphasis Placed on Commercialization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared irradiated foods safe for human consumption, has ignored a growing body of evidence clearly indicating otherwise, according to a report released today by Public Citizen and Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE). Despite this evidence, the WHO and other international agencies are working to expand the legalization, commercialization and consumer acceptance of irradiated foods, the report found.

The WHO has dismissed 50 years’ worth of research documenting a wide range of serious health problems in laboratory animals that ate irradiated foods, including premature death, mutation, prenatal death and other reproductive problems, fatal internal bleeding, suppressed immune systems, organ damage, tumors, stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies, according to the report, Bad Taste: The Disturbing Truth About the World Health Organization’s Endorsement of Food Irradiation.

The WHO also has dismissed recent evidence linking cyclobutanones, chemical byproducts formed in certain irradiated foods, to cancer development and tumors in rats, and genetic damage in human cells, the report states. Cyclobutanones have never been found to occur naturally in any food.

Government officials throughout the world, including the United States, have relied on the WHO’s findings to legalize food irradiation. In the United States, beef, poultry, pork, fruits, vegetables, eggs, wheat, spices and sprouting seeds can legally be irradiated.

"The WHO’s negligence could put at risk the health of millions of people throughout the world. These risks will only deepen as food supply systems become more globalized," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "It is irresponsible to promote the use of a questionable method while ignoring evidence that points to the dangers associated with it."

Bad Taste reveals that, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, the WHO proclaimed in 1999 that "treating" foods with high doses of ionizing radiation "does not result in any toxicological hazard."

"The WHO’s job is to protect the health of the world’s citizens – not use them as guinea pigs for experimental food products," said Alice Slater, president of GRACE. "The WHO should immediately get out of the irradiated food business."

The report also found that:

● The WHO has abandoned its original research agenda crafted in 1961, which urged comprehensive research on the basic human health implications of irradiated foods.

● The WHO has ceded to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose mission is preserving the nuclear industry, not the health of people, the ultimate power of researching the safety of irradiated foods. The IAEA is leading a global campaign to further the legalization, commercialization and consumer acceptance of irradiated foods. "We must confer with experts in the various fields of advertising and psychology to put the public at ease," one IAEA report states. The consultants recommended that "identification of the process should not be required on the label."

● The IAEA and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also have misrepresented a vast body of research that revealed health problems in animals that ate irradiated foods and stated instead that no such problems were attributable to irradiation. Further, some compelling research was omitted from key WHO reports.

Public Citizen and GRACE recommend the following:

  • The WHO should promptly shift the focus of its peer-reviewed research into the core safety and wholesomeness issues and investigate the presence of various toxic chemicals in irradiated foods.
  • The WHO, IAEA and FAO should immediately withdraw their endorsements of irradiation for all foods at any dose and refrain from recommending the further expansion of food irradiation. 
  • The United Nations should appoint an independent panel of experts from the fields of toxicology, food science, radiation chemistry and nutrition to conduct a comprehensive review of the WHO, IAEA and FAO activities related to food irradiation.

###