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Irradiated Food Labeling Law Wins Reprieve;

Oct. 12, 2000

Irradiated Food Labeling Law Wins Reprieve;

Congress Responds to Consumer Pressure, Critical FDA Report

Decision Represents Major Shift in U.S. Policy Toward Food Irradiation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Plans by Congress to weaken a key federal law requiring the
labeling of irradiated food have been postponed for a year, in response to hundreds of
consumer letters and phone calls, and in response to a report revealing that the
government legalized food irradiation by relying on flawed science, sidestepping federal
rules, and ignoring evidence that the process may not be safe.

This week’s congressional decision marks a significant shift in the federal
government’s regulation of food irradiation, an experimental technology by which food
is “treated” with the equivalent of up to 1 billion chest x-rays, which destroys
nutrients and generates new chemicals that have never been studied.

“American consumers have the right-to-know whether their food has been exposed to
massive doses of radiation,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s
Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Complete and accurate labeling is the
last defense against deceptive practices by the food industry. We are pleased that
Congress has done the right thing — and we hope it continues to do so.”

A congressional proposal to weaken the labeling law by next fall would have allowed
food companies to use misleading euphemisms such as “cold pasteurized” and
“electronically pasteurized” to describe food exposed to enough radiation to
kill a person 6,000 times over. In response to a flood of letters and phone calls, the
Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Conference Committee delayed the proposed change by a year.
The committee also backed away from pressuring the FDA to allow food companies to use
“alternative labeling disclosures” intended to prevent “inappropriate
consumer anxiety.”

The shift also came in response to a report revealing that FDA officials legalized the
irradiation of fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs while ignoring federal safety regulations
and relying on 79 experiments that the FDA’s own expert scientists dismissed as
invalid. The report, Broken Record, was released last week by Public Citizen,
Cancer Prevention Coalition, and the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment.

Irradiated meat first went on public sale in the U.S. this past summer in Florida and
six Midwestern states. Poor consumer response, however, has led some shop owners to pull
the products off of their shelves.

Factsheet: Irradiated Food Must Be Clearly