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Rule to Permit Higher Doses of Food Irradiation Is Flawed, Public Citizen Says

Jan. 24, 2005

Rule to Permit Higher Doses of Food Irradiation Is Flawed, Public Citizen Says

FDA Failed to Consider Long-Term Health Effects of Increased Radiation Doses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision to increase by 50 percent the maximum radiation dose that can be used to irradiate food raises questions about the health effects of consuming such food and should be reconsidered, Public Citizen told the agency today in a letter. Public Citizen believes the rule should be revoked and is requesting a public hearing.

The rule, on which final comments are due today, would significantly boost the dose of X-rays that could be used to irradiate fruit, vegetables, beef, poultry, pork, eggs and spices from 5 million electron volts to 7.5 million electron volts. The higher doses will allow large portions of food – such as shipping containers from overseas – to be irradiated in one blast. 

The rule may result in some radioactivity in food depending on the energy applied, the type of food and how soon it is eaten after it is irradiated. While the radioactivity is likely to be temporary, questions about its effect on food and consumers remain. The FDA was reckless to not assess cancer risks associated with the new rule, the letter said.

The FDA has a long history of ignoring questions about the long-term effects of eating irradiated food. Numerous health problems have been observed in lab animals fed irradiated foods, including premature death, stillbirths, mutations, tumors, organ damage and stunted growth. Chemicals formed in irradiated foods called 2-alkylcyclobutanones have been linked to colon cancer in rats and genetic damage in human cells.

“This is a risky call considering there is evidence to suggest that irradiation’s byproducts may be dangerous for our health,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s food program. “The government’s first priority should be the health and safety of American consumers, but this ruling is designed to benefit industry. Before issuing a rule of this magnitude, the FDA should conduct safety studies on how this increased dosage will affect consumers. Otherwise, we all become guinea pigs.”

To read Public Citizen’s letter, click here.