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Potentially Toxic Chemicals Detected in Irradiated Ground Beef; Consumer Groups Urge FDA Ban

Nov. 25, 2003

Potentially Toxic Chemicals Detected in Irradiated Ground Beef; Consumer Groups Urge FDA Ban


Consumer Groups Test Irradiated Ground Beef Sold at Four Locations, Find Chemicals Linked to Cancer Promotion and Genetic Damage

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety today petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban irradiated ground beef. Included in their petition were the results of recent lab tests conducted at the request of the two groups that detected chemicals linked to cancer promotion and genetic damage in irradiated ground beef sold at a restaurant and three grocery stores. The test findings are contained in a report released today, What’s in the Beef?


This marks the first time since the FDA began regulating irradiated foods in 1958 that the agency has been petitioned to ban an irradiated food product (click here to view the petition). Legalized in 1997, irradiated ground beef is reportedly on sale at more than 5,000 grocery stores and restaurants in the United States. The federal government recently lifted its ban on serving irradiated hamburgers to schoolchildren.

“If you’re going to permit irradiated meat on grocery store shelves and school lunch trays, you need to be certain that the product is safe – and no study has been able to adequately demonstrate that long-term health won’t be affected,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The FDA has the responsibility to keep these potentially hazardous products off the market.”

Added Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety, “Given the new toxicity questions, our children simply should not be fed irradiated hamburgers in school. Allowing our national school lunch program to distribute this irradiated meat would be to use 27 million children as unknowing guinea pigs to test the safety of these products.”

The two groups purchased and tested three types of irradiated ground beef:

• Fresh ground beef irradiated with an electron-beam irradiator by SureBeam Corp. of San Diego. It was purchased at a Safeway store in Washington, D.C., and a D’Agostino’s store in New York City.

• Frozen ground beef patties irradiated with a gamma-ray irradiator by Food Technology Service of Mulberry, Fla., and sold under the “New Generation” label. It was purchased at a Publix store in Hollywood, Fla.

• Cooked ground beef irradiated with an electron-beam irradiator by SureBeam Corp. of San Diego. It was purchased at a Minneapolis Dairy Queen.

All three types of irradiated ground beef tested positive for 2-alkylcyclobutanones, or 2-ACBs, which are formed when commonly occurring fats are exposed to radiation. These chemicals have never been detected in any non-irradiated foods. In the tests, cooking the irradiated beef in a skillet until it was brown on both sides generally reduced the amount of 2-ACBs but did not eliminate the chemicals. No 2-ACBs were detected in non-irradiated ground beef samples, whether raw or cooked.

Recent experiments funded by the European Union determined that 2-ACBs promoted the growth of colon tumors in rats and caused genetic damage in human cells. In addition to raw and cooked ground beef, 2-ACBs have been detected in other foods that the FDA has legalized for irradiation, including chicken, eggs and mangoes.

Despite claims by the food industry that irradiation is widely considered safe, many prominent scientists have argued that serious toxicity questions remain unanswered.

“Consumption of an improper diet, together with food that contains 2-ACBs, which act as a tumor promoter, can increase the risk for the development of colon cancer,” said Professor William W. Au, Ph.D., of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. “Without a systematic investigation in the population, this serious concern has not been addressed yet.”

Chinthalapally V. Rao, Ph.D., of the Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, N.Y., stated in a June 9 written opinion: “A full-length study investigating the cancer promoting effects of 2-ACBs in irradiated foods, per se, and their mechanisms of action is urgently needed to address public health concerns.”

The groups released the report as part of an international effort to raise public awareness of food irradiation. A network of consumer, public interest and citizen groups is holding a series of educational events, rallies and protests this week to recognize the global impacts of food irradiation.

SureBeam and Food Technology Service distribute irradiated ground beef to stores in 45 states. The four retail chains where the beef was purchased for testing sell irradiated beef in Minnesota, South Dakota, New York, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.