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Consumer Groups File Documentation Referencing New Evidence on Toxicity of Irradiated Foods

April 23, 2002

Consumer Groups File Documentation Referencing New Evidence on Toxicity of Irradiated Foods

Groups Urge Congress to Drop Farm Bill?s Controversial Pro-Irradiation Provisions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) are urging Congress to avoid further delays in the Farm Bill by dropping two highly controversial provisions slipped into the Senate version in a 396-page, last-minute “technical amendment” by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), in what they have called an abuse of his power as chair of the Agriculture Committee.

“In this election year, Senator Harkin is looking out for the agribusiness industry in his home state, not his constituents,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “He?s essentially saying, ?The heck with consumers.? His actions affect consumers nationwide, and we disagree with him.”

Last week, the consumer groups filed records in the dockets of five pending petitions to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that seek to irradiate a much greater portion of the U.S. food supply. The filings cite recent decisions by the global food safety body, the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants, and the European Union?s Scientific Committee on Food, the EU?s counterpart to FDA, to delay any further irradiation approvals. The decisions were based on new evidence that certain chemicals formed in irradiated food could cause DNA damage.

“This is Congress at its worst,” said Andrew Kimbrell, CFS director. “Senator Harkin knows he would lose in an open debate. Congress needs to consider the critical new evidence on the toxicity of irradiated foods before pushing them onto shoppers, and especially to our children. Senator Harkin’s actions are wildly irresponsible. Using the massive $73 billion farm bill as his leverage to push this not only threatens consumers, it may delay farm payments.”

The provisions, if adopted, would expand the consumption of irradiated food by American consumers. One section (Sec. 1079E) redefines the term “pasteurization” so it can include irradiation, allowing irradiated foods to be labeled and sold as “pasteurized.” The second (Sec. 442) would enable the Secretary of Agriculture to allow irradiated foods into the USDA nutrition programs, including the school lunch program.

Neither section was in the House bill, so the conference committee must resolve these disputed sections.

The groups also announced today that the public has submitted to lawmakers about 15,000 e-mails, 10,000 faxes and 1,500 postcards strongly against the two provisions. The comments are continuing.