Feb. 21, 2001

Public Citizen Urges FDA to Deny Food Irradiation Petitions Until
Up-to-Date Toxicology Tests Are Conducted

FDA Failed to Follow Safety Rules Before Legalizing Irradiated Food

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Public Citizen is urging Dr. Bernard Schwetz, acting commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to deny all pending applications to "treat" food with ionizing radiation until new and up-to-date toxicology tests on irradiated food are performed. In legalizing irradiation, the FDA relied on tests from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Conducting modern tests is critical, because among the pending applications is a request from the food industry to irradiate ready-to-eat foods, which comprise more than one-third of the typical American s diet.

Since 1983, the FDA has legalized the irradiation of numerous classes of food, including beef, poultry, pork, lamb, fruit, vegetables, eggs, juice and spices ? at the equivalent radiation dose ranging from 33 million to 1 billion chest X-rays. Although it has given the go-ahead for foods that comprise about half of the U.S. food supply to be irradiated, the FDA has failed to determine a level of radiation to which food can be exposed and still be safe for human consumption, according to Public Citizen research detailed in the recent report, A Broken Record.

Additionally, the FDA has relied on decades-old tests that do not meet current scientific protocols designed to determine whether irradiated food could be toxic, or cause mutations or reproductive problems in the people who eat it.

The FDA has dismissed a vast body of scientific evidence suggesting that irradiated food may not be safe to eat. Dozens of experiments conducted since the 1950s have revealed a variety of health problems in animals that have consumed irradiated food, including premature death, a rare form of cancer, fatal internal bleeding, chromosome aberrations, stillbirths, nutritional deficiencies and liver damage. Additionally, irradiation cannot kill the pathogen that causes "mad cow" disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

In a letter to Schwetz, Public Citizen urged the FDA to deny the ready-to-eat food application, as well as requests from the food industry to irradiate crustaceans (such as shrimp, lobsters and crabs) and mollusks (such as oysters, clams, scallops, mussels, octopus and squid).

"The very integrity of our food supply is at stake, as are the health and well-being of the American people," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The FDA s record on food irradiation is a national embarrassment. The time to go back to the drawing board is now."