August 2, 2000

Irradiated Hawaiian Fruit Hits the Mainland

Public Citizen Urges Consumers to Ask Their Grocers: "Do You Know Where Your Papayas Have Been?"

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Hawaiian papayas and other exotic fruits "treated" with radiation are being made available to American consumers without full disclosure that the experimental food products could pose health risks. The irradiated fruit will be sold in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

"Consumers should not be fooled into thinking that they are buying fresh, healthy, wholesome fruit," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Fruit — in fact, all food — that has been exposed to radiation has been reduced to nutrient-deprived, chemically altered mush."

The Hawaiian fruit is being "treated" with equipment manufactured by the Titan Corporation, an erstwhile defense contractor that is using technology originally designed for the "Star Wars" program. "Instead of trying to zap enemy missiles, Titan is zapping the vitamins and minerals out of our food supply," Hauter said.

Titan calls its irradiation process "electronic pasteurization." This is misleading, Hauter said. In pasteurization, food is rapidly heated and cooled. "E-beam," however, involves shooting food with a stream of electrons travelling nearly the speed of light — the equivalent of tens of millions of chest x-rays. Titan also inaccurately compares "E-beam" to microwaving. Microwaves use non-ionizing radiation, meaning that food is largely left intact. "E-beam," however, uses ionizing radiation, which obliterates the chemical bonds that hold together the atoms and molecules in food.

The papayas and other fruits are being irradiated for the purpose of killing or sterilizing fruit flies, a risky proposition given that fruit flies readily mutate when exposed to radiation.

"We urge consumers to watch for labels and ask their local grocers if the fruit they’re getting from Hawaii has been irradiated," Hauter said.

Irradiation has numerous harmful side effects, including the destruction of vitamins and nutrients, poor flavor and texture, and the generation of chemical compounds whose possible effects on the body have not been fully studied. Federal government officials have legalized this technology despite a half-century worth of research revealing serious health problems in lab animals that have eaten irradiated food, including premature death, cancer, immune and reproductive problems, liver and kidney dysfunction, and chromosomal damage.

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