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Federal Food Inspectors Join Fight to Stop Food Irradiation

May 18, 2000

Federal Food Inspectors Join Fight to Stop Food Irradiation

Irradiation a Cover for Dirty Food, Union Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals has joined a nationwide fight to stop food irradiation, bringing the strength of its 7,500 members to the campaign.

The Council, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE, in turn affiliated with the AFL-CIO), represents federal food inspectors throughout the country. The council joined out of concern that changes in the meat inspection process are making for a dirty meat supply and thus endangering consumers.

Those changes include a move to allow the meat industry to police itself ? rather than relying primarily on federal inspectors ? and to use food irradiation to replace inspectors. The industry is poised to rake in greater corporate profits by speeding up its slaughter and processing lines, irradiating meat, then passing the increased costs on to consumers by selling them so-called premium meat at higher prices.

“The meat industry wants to use irradiation as an excuse to push inspectors out of their facilities,” said Arthur Hughes, vice chairman, National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, AFGE. “Irradiating meat is the meat industry’s answer to filthy meat processing practices that leave meat contaminated with feces, urine and pus. Consumers will be the losers, because no one will be around to ensure the food supply is safe.”

The Council joins Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program and the Government Accountability Project, which are leading a campaign on behalf of more than 170 state and national organizations to reverse the federal government?s decision to permit food irradiation. The food inspectors will help educate consumers about the perils of food irradiation and will lobby the government to curb the use of irradiation. Members of the coalition ? which includes the Center for Food Safety, the Campaign for Biodemocracy, Friends of the Earth, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ? worry that food irradiation isn?t safe.

Food irradiation is a process in which food is exposed to high levels of radiation to kill bacteria and extend shelf life. Although the meat industry claims that irradiation will make food safer, the health impacts of eating irradiated food are uncertain. New chemicals called unique radiolytic products are created in the irradiation process. No testing has been done to identify these chemicals, much less to determine if they are safe for human consumption. Evidence indicates that chromosomal damage (among other problems) could occur as the result of consuming irradiated food. Further, meat that is treated using irradiation often gives off a very strange odor.

“No long-term studies have been done to determine the health effects of eating irradiated food. Food irradiation has not been proven safe,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The body of research on irradiated food has yielded conflicting results.”

“Taking on powerful government agencies and big corporate special interests to protect American consumers is an enormous undertaking,” said Felicia Nestor, director of the Government Accountability Project’s food safety program. “The involvement of the Food Inspectors Union will make a significant contribution to protecting consumers.”