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Consumer Groups Run Ad Against Harkin?s Farm Bill Food Irradiation Provisions

March 11, 2002

Consumer Groups Run Ad Against Harkin?s Farm Bill Food Irradiation Provisions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumer groups Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) today unveiled an ad that will appear for five days this week in the electronic newsletter, Roll Call Daily, a publication that is widely read on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The ad focuses on provisions slipped into the Senate version of the farm bill by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that are designed to expand the consumption of irradiated food by consumers.

Entitled “Is Senator Harkin Sniffing Too Much Irradiated Mail?”, the ad has a picture of Harkin smelling some mail that had been irradiated at the SureBeam food irradiation facility in Sioux City, Iowa, on Oct. 26.

The ad criticizes two provisions that Harkin added to the 800-page farm bill just before the Senate vote to approve the bill. One provision redefines the term “pasteurization” to include irradiation (Section 1079E). The second provision (section 442) directs the Secretary of Agriculture to allow irradiated foods to be used in nutrition programs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers, including the National School Lunch Program.

“Senator Harkin has embraced positions that are anti-consumer,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “In two recent national public opinion polls, public comments on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposals to weaken food irradiation labeling, and results from the agency?s own focus groups on food irradiation labeling, the message has been loud and clear: Don?t call irradiation ?pasteurization.? Consumers view this as deceptive and misleading.”

Added Andrew Kimbrell, CFS executive director, “Consumers have already registered their opposition to irradiated food being served under the National School Lunch Program. Last year, when it was discovered that the USDA had changed the contract specifications for the School Lunch Program to allow irradiated food to be used, there was a public outcry. The USDA eventually rescinded those contract specifications. What the USDA could not achieve administratively last year, Senator Harkin is attempting to legislate. What makes Senator Harkin?s legislation even more insidious is that neither parents and nor students would have to be informed that their lunches are prepared with irradiated foods.”

Kimbrell said that serious health issues from eating large quantities of irradiated food still have not been resolved, especially for children.

“We understand that Senator Harkin is a proponent of irradiation,” Kimbrell said. “CFS disagrees with him because we are concerned that the new chemical compounds formed after irradiation are not safe for human consumption. Neither the FDA nor the USDA has done enough research on this issue. The government sent mail to be irradiated without researching its adverse side effects; now, legislators, congressional staff and other federal government employees have been getting sick from handling large volumes of irradiated mail. Similarly, we simply do not know the health ramifications of consuming a steady diet of irradiated food.”

Food irradiation is a process in which food is exposed to high levels of radiation to kill bacteria and extend shelf life. Evidence indicates that irradiation can reduce nutrients and create chemical compounds that may be harmful.

To see the ad, please click here. To log in, use the username peterjenkins@icta.org, and below type “rollcall2002.”

To view the the CFS and Public Citizen information page that the Roll Call ad links to, click here.