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Irradiation Provision in Farm Bill a Sellout to Agribusiness


May 1, 2002

Irradiation Provision in Farm Bill a Sellout to Agribusiness

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Any time a huge piece of legislation is being chewed over by Congress, there?s a good chance that big business interests are hovering at the table like pigs at a trough. The farm bill that lawmakers approved today is just such a bill, and agribusiness lobbyists were at the trough.

One disturbing provision in particular bodes very badly for our food supply and for anyone who buys food at a supermarket. That provision guts current rules that prevent irradiated food from being labeled euphemistically as “pasteurized.” Food producers who use irradiation want to label their products with the word “pasteurize” because it conjures up images of wholesome milk. This is designed to confuse and mislead people; they don?t want consumers to know the truth, which is that irradiated food may deplete nutrients and may create harmful chemicals.

The bill?s irradiation language gives the industry several bites at the apple to label irradiated food as being pasteurized. One provision permits the industry to request permission from the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use the term “pasteurization” on the labels of irradiated foods. If the Secretary does not respond within 120 days, the irradiator can label the product as being pasteurized. There is no public notice requirement, nor is any consumer input requested or required before a decision on the industry request.

A second provision directs the secretary of HHS to revisit the issue of food irradiation labeling through the standard regulatory process. However, during that process, any irradiation firm can petition the secretary to use alternative labeling terminology. The secretary has 180 days to respond. Again, there is no provision for a public notice requirement nor an opportunity for the public to comment.

We believe the language was inserted largely at the behest of Sen.Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has accepted $175,591 in agribusiness money in the past two election cycles, and of Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who has accepted $86,225 in agribusiness money in the same period. We are dismayed and disgusted that they chose to do so much for their contributors at the expense of consumers.