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Consumers Win as European Parliament Rejects Expanded Food Irradiation

Dec. 17, 2002

Consumers Win as European Parliament Rejects Expanded Food Irradiation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The European Parliament’s (EP) rejection today of an extension of the list of foods that can be irradiated in the European Union bolsters the contention that there is insufficient scientific evidence proving that it is safe to eat irradiated food, Public Citizen said today. The EP’s votes on two irradiation-related amendments are the strongest statement yet that we need more research on irradiation.

The European Commission (EC), which implements legislation for the European Union, usually heavily weighs the EP’s opinion before acting.

“I am glad to see that when Europe is faced with a contentious issue, it heeds the scientific advice on this questionable technology,” said Andrianna Natsoulas, an international food irradiation organizer with Public Citizen. “While the United States is caving in to industry pressure by adding to the list of foods that can be irradiated, Europe holds the health and interests of its citizens above profits.”

The winning amendment, which passed by a 214-182 vote, states that the current list of spices, dried herbs and seasonings should continue to be the only items approved for irradiation until adequate scientific research proving irradiation’s safety is conducted. It was the most restrictive policy, passed even in the face of severe opposition by the irradiation industry.

The EP defeated an amendment that was more lenient on the food industry. That amendment called on the EC to yield to the World Health Organization (WHO) in commissioning and disseminating information andresearch on the safety of irradiated foods. Despite more than 40 years of research indicating that severe health hazards may be associated with the consumption of irradiated food, the WHO still endorses the technology. The United States defers to the WHO when legislating irradiation, even for school lunch programs. Food irradiation is the treatment of food with high doses of ionizing radiation.

“It is widely accepted that irradiation destroys vitamins and other nutrients, forms chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects, and masks unhygienic food production practices,” said Michel Baumgartner, a lobbyist representing Public Citizen in Brussels. “Today’s vote is therefore also a vote for consumer protection and the Precautionary Principle.”