May 2, 2000
Civic Leaders and Public Citizen Tell Wal-Mart
“DO NOT SELL IRRADIATED FOOD,
Arkansans wont buy meat treated with radiation!”
(Fayetteville, AR) Civic leaders, concerned citizens and Wal-Mart customers todayjoined Public Citizen in a news conference urging Wal-Mart not to test-market irradiatedmeat in its Supercenters. The event took place at the Fayetteville Hilton.
Food irradiation is a process where food is exposed to high levels of radiation inorder to kill bacteria and extend shelf life for up to 35 days. While proponents of theprocess state that irradiation will make food safer, no one really knows the healthimpacts of eating irradiated food. New chemicals called unique radiolytic products arecreated in the irradiation process and no testing has been done to identify thesechemicals, much less to determine if they are safe. The evidence indicates thatchromosomal damage and reproductive dysfunction (among other problems) could occur as theresult of consuming irradiated food. Known carcinogens such as Benzene and Toluene arealso produced by irradiation.
“We oppose food irradiation because it merely masks the problem of poor meatprocessing practices that leave meat contaminated with feces, urine and pus,” saidMarquette MyCue, a local community leader in health related issues. “At a minimum,Wal-Mart should warn consumers of the dangers of irradiated meat with labels that stateirradiation does not kill all bacteria, that it destroys important vitamins and enzymes,and that it leads to the formation of potentially carcinogenic chemicals in food.”
“Irradiation translates into big profits for Wal-Mart, but something entirelydifferent for consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public CitizensCritical Mass Energy Project. “Corporate agribusiness has convinced the government toabandon its protective role, allowing companies like Wal-Mart to use food irradiation toextend the shelf life of meat beyond what is appropriate and mask the unhygienicconditions in which animals are raised, slaughtered and processed.”
Most American consumers share the views expressed at the news conference. A 1999 pollcommissioned by the American Association of Retired Persons and Center for Science in thePublic Interest found that 88.6 percent of Americans want labels to indicated food hasbeen irradiated. A 1997 CBS News poll found that 77 percent of Americans would not buyirradiated food.
Another problem with irradiated meat is the threat to small farmers in the UnitedStates as well as around the globe. Family farmers and small food producers are finding itimpossible to compete economically with corporate factory farms. The extended shelf liferesulting from irradiation will enable foreign meat producers to drive the small Americanfarmer out of business.
The body of research on irradiated food is sketchy at best and has yielded conflictingresults. There are no studies on the long-term health effects of irradiated food onhumans. Among the unknowns: whether irradiation has different effects on frozen food ascompared to fresh food; how irradiation affects irregularly shaped foods; its effects onhelpful bacteria; and the effects of irradiation on plant workers who oversee thetreatment of food.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents, a 1982 FDA review of 413studies found 344 to be inconclusive or inadequate to demonstrate either the safety ortoxicity of irradiated foods, while 32 indicated adverse effects and 37 showed theprocedure to be safe.
In February, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) legalized theirradiation of raw meat and meat products such as ground beef, steaks and pork chops. Thegovernment declared food irradiation safe by using mathematical calculations supported byjust five animal studies conducted primarily in the 1960s and 1970s that were ofquestionable quality.
Under the USDAs labeling requirements, meat served in such places as restaurantsand cafeterias will not have to be labeled, so consumers will have no idea when they areeating irradiated meat. However, irradiated meat sold in stores must be labeled as such.