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Government, Industry Panel Approves

Nov. 15, 2000

Government, Industry Panel Approves
High-Dose Radiation ‘Treatment’ of Global Food Supply

Dose Limit Is Removed Without Studying New Chemicals Formed in Food

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Government officials and corporate executives from around the world have decided that the planet’s food supply can safely be “treated” with any dose of radiation, a conclusion reached without studying whether new chemicals formed by high-dose irradiation are harmful to humans. In response, Public Citizen is urging that these new chemicals be studied to avoid harm to the public.

During a three-day meeting at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva that was closed to the public, the International Consultative Group on Food Irradiation (ICGFI) decided earlier this month that the maximum radiation dose for food could be eliminated without posing additional hazards to people. The current international radiation limit is 10 kiloGray – the equivalent of 330 million chest X-rays, or 2,000 times the fatal radiation dose for humans. The ICGFI reasoned that some food has to be irradiated at high levels to kill certain microorganisms, but it ignored evidence that food irradiated at high doses is nutritionally deficient and may be harmful when eaten.

In reaching the decision, the ICGFI also ignored its own 1994 recommendation to study whether the new chemicals created by high-dose irradiation can cause cancer, mutations, immune system disorders, reproductive malfunctions or other health problems in people. Public Citizen has requested that this recommendation be followed. The request was made to the three international agencies that oversee the ICGFI: the WHO, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“The events in Geneva are doubly disturbing,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Democracy and science were both thrown out the window, and the population of the entire world could suffer as a result. At a time when the need for thoughtful, transparent decision-making has never been greater, the outrageousness of this action cannot be overstated.”

The ICGFI, which met Nov. 1-3, effectively barred a Public Citizen staff person from entering the meeting room. U.S. government officials invited the staff person to join their delegation, but under ICGFI’s rules, doing so would have made the organization a de facto supporter of U.S. food irradiation policies. Therefore, Public Citizen declined the invitation.

Meanwhile, allowed in the meeting room were representatives from several irradiation companies and food industry trade groups, including Titan of San Diego, Isomedix/STERIS of New Jersey, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and the Association of International Industrial Irradiation. In fact, some of the corporate executives are government-appointed delegates to the ICGFI.

“This is a classic example of how corporations are granted special rights to shape public policy to their liking,” Hauter said. “It shows how citizens are left out in the cold.”

Public Citizen is formally challenging several recent decisions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including this year’s rulings to legalize the irradiation of eggs and sprouting seeds. In both rulings, FDA staffers relied on research they admitted was inadequate, requested no scientific data from corporate applicants, and made false statements in the Federal Register (the official record of federal agencies), research by Public Citizen reveals.

For nearly two decades, the FDA has relied on admittedly flawed scientific research, failed to follow its own safety rules, misled members of Congress, and ignored evidence suggesting that irradiated food may be harmful to people who eat it, according to a recent report co-authored by Public Citizen, A Broken Record. Because of the report s findings, Public Citizen is requesting investigations into the FDA s handling of food irradiation by the Health and Human Services Department s Inspector General and appropriate congressional committees.