May 16, 2001

Groups Call on FDA, International Officials
to Halt Expanded Use of Food Irradiation

Officials Have Ignored Peer-Reviewed Research Indicating That
Irradiated Food Could Pose Health Risks to Consumers

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Center for Food Safety and Public Citizen today filed formal comments with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and international officials opposing industry plans to significantly broaden the types of food that can be irradiated and increase irradiation doses. The groups charged the officials with overlooking substantial evidence that irradiated food is not safe for human consumption and urged further research before more irradiated food goes on sale.

The FDA is currently considering five industry proposals that would legalize the irradiation of "ready-to-eat" foods (which represent more than a third of the typical Americans? diet) -- such as prepared meals, baby food, deli meats and pre-cut salads -- and other major items in the U.S. food supply, such as shellfish.

"Food irradiation is a vast uncontrolled experiment which is using millions of Americans as guinea pigs," said Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell. "Given the growing scientific evidence of potential genetic damage to consumers and their future children from irradiated foods, expansion of this technology would be unconscionable."

The consumer groups told the FDA that more than one-third of the studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that looked at the question of genetic damage caused by consuming irradiated food showed genetic damage in animals, humans or cell cultures. The groups claim that these findings raise serious questions about the safety of eating irradiated food.

Additionally, FDA officials have ignored recent revelations concerning a chemical -- which does not naturally occur in any food -- that is formed when certain meats, fruit, eggs and other foods are irradiated. This chemical, called 2-dodecylcyclobutanone (or 2-DCB), has been shown to cause genetic damage in rats fed the substance and in human cell cultures exposed to it. The researchers who made this discovery have urged caution and said that further experiments are needed.

"The FDA has virtually no scientific evidence to justify approving these proposals and should promptly reject them," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The agency should pursue a comprehensive research program using modern techniques to determine -- once and for all -- whether irradiated food is safe for people to eat."

The groups have filed formal comments opposing industry proposals that would:

? Legalize the irradiation of ready-to-eat foods;

? Legalize the irradiation of crustacean shellfish, such as crabs, lobsters and shrimp;

? Legalize the irradiation of molluscan shellfish, such as clams, oysters and scallops;

? Legalize the irradiation of a variety of processed meats and byproducts, such as beef tongues, hearts and other internal organs (though irradiation does not kill the pathogen that causes mad cow disease); and

? More than double the allowed radiation dose for poultry.

Separately, the international Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets food standards on behalf of more than 160 nations, is considering a proposal to eliminate the current maximum limit for irradiation doses. The Center for Food Safety and Public Citizen today also sent formal comments to Codex Commission Chair Thomas Billy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture opposing this change. The groups also objected to Codex proposals that would substantially weaken food quality and nuclear safety standards by making them optional rather than mandatory.

The Center for Food Safety and Public Citizen are working to stop the proliferation of irradiated food and food irradiation technology through coordinated campaigns, featuring grassroots organizing, citizen petitions, legal action and efforts to ensure companies are honest with consumers about the benefits and harms associated with irradiated food.

Earlier this year, 26 prominent doctors and researchers, in addition to numerous consumer, health and environmental protection leaders, endorsed an urgent warning about the dangers of irradiated food published in the International Journal of Health Services.

"A wide range of independent studies have clearly identified mutagenic and carcinogenic products in irradiated food," the endorsement said. "Congress should focus on sanitation and not irradiation of the nation?s food supply."

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