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Groups Call on FTC to Investigate Companies

Aug. 21, 2001

Groups Call on FTC to Investigate Companies
That Advertise Food Irradiation as ?Pasteurization?

Most Irradiation Companies With Web Sites Use Misleading Euphemisms

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety today called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to initiate a thorough investigation into companies that advertise food irradiation as “pasteurization” and irradiated food products as “pasteurized.” The groups are asking the FTC to order the companies to stop the practice and penalize those guilty of disseminating false advertising to American consumers.

Five of the eight U.S.-based food irradiation companies that maintain Internet Web sites predominantly use the euphemisms “cold pasteurization” or “electronic pasteurization” to describe the process by which food is exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation. These euphemisms conceal the truth about irradiation from consumers, who, according to numerous public opinion polls, are overwhelmingly opposed to buying or eating irradiated food.

“These abuses have set a new standard for false advertising,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Consumers have been deceived long enough. Food irradiation companies must stop playing mind games with the American people.”

Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said that calling irradiated food products “pasteurized” is “misleading,” according to a Q&A for industry posted on the agency?s Web site. Deceptive advertising is illegal under the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Act and is punishable through criminal and civil penalties, including fines, court injunctions and corrective advertising. It is important to note that on packages, irradiated food must be labeled as “treated by irradiation” or “treated with radiation,” according to FDA and USDA regulations.

The five food irradiation companies named in the groups? letter to the FTC are:

  Agbeta Inc. of Carpinteria, Calif.;

  BioSterile Technology Inc. of Fort Wayne, Ind.;

  Oasis-Santa Barbara Inc. of Santa Barbara, Calif.;

  Scanmex LLC of Laredo, Texas; and

  Titan Corp./SureBeam Corp. of San Diego, Calif.

The most prominent of these companies are defense contractor Titan and its affiliate, SureBeam, which uses linear accelerators originally designed for the “Star Wars” program to irradiate food. Since March, Public Citizen has filed false advertising complaints with the FTC against SureBeam and two of its clients, Omaha Steaks of Nebraska and Huisken Meats of Minnesota. Omaha Steaks and Huisken have since changed their Web sites to say that their ground beef products have been “irradiated.”

SureBeam, however, has significantly expanded the use of the word “pasteurized” in promotional material, using it repeatedly in advertisements appearing in major newspapers and on television, radio stations and the Internet. In half-page ads that ran last month in daily newspapers in the Twin Cities, for example, SureBeam said that its technique ? which kills microorganisms with electrons fired nearly to the speed of light ? “is much like milk pasteurization.” Pasteurization, however, uses heat to kill food-borne pathogens.

The groups also named Hawaii Pride LLC of Keaau, Hawaii, which “treats” papayas and other tropical fruit destined for the mainland with a Titan/SureBeam X-ray machine. Like the SureBeam ad, Hawaii Pride?s Web site compares irradiation with “heat pasteurized milk.”

“Comparing food that?s been blasted with the equivalent of millions of chest X-rays to pasteurized milk ? it would be funny if it weren?t so deceitful,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney and policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety. “The time has come for these companies to be shamed into telling the truth.”

Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety are working to stop the proliferation of food irradiation through coordinated campaigns, including dialogues with elected officials, grassroots organizing, citizen petitions, legal action and efforts to ensure that companies are honest with consumers about the benefits and harms associated with irradiated food.

The groups have compiled an extensive body of research suggesting that irradiated food may not be safe for human consumption. Irradiation results in the formation of chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects. Lab animals fed irradiated food have developed serious health problems, such as premature death, stillbirth, genetic damage, a rare form of cancer, fatal internal bleeding, organ malfunction and vitamin deficiencies. Further, irradiation does nothing to remove the feces, urine, vomit and pus that often contaminate meat in today?s high-volume, factory-style slaughterhouses and processing plants. Research indicates that irradiation also can destroy vitamins and nutrients, disrupt proteins and essential fatty acids, and corrupt flavor, texture and odor.