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Irradiated Food Labeling Law Wins Reprieve; Congress Responds to Consumer Pressure, Critical FDA Report

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 weeks congressional decision marks a significant shift in the federal governments 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 Citizens 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 FDAs 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.