March 7, 2000
Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project, on National Organic Standards
Today’s United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposal for national organic standards – under which no irradiated food can be labeled organic – is a step in the right direction because it will help guide consumers away from irradiated foods. Americans clearly want to know whether their food has been exposed to radiation and are concerned about the impacts irradiated food may have on their health.
However, we urge the government to do more. Every food product that is irradiated should be labeled as such. (Irradiated food sold in restaurants and cafeterias, for example, does not have to be labeled for customers.) Officials should not relax labeling standards, as they are considering doing.
The long-term health effects of eating irradiated food are unknown. Research shows that irradiation reduces the vitamin content of food and creates new chemical substances called radiolytic products. Some of these substances are known carcinogens, like benzene, while others are completely new substances that have not been tested for toxicity.
Corporate agribusiness interests have lobbied the government to approve food irradiation because irradiation masks the unsanitary conditions under which animals are raised, slaughtered and processed. These conditions have set the stage for infection and disease. Irradiation therefore gives consumers a false sense of security that the problem has been solved.
A 1997 poll conducted by CBS News found 77 percent of the public does not want to eat irradiated food. And during a recent period when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed eliminating the labeling of poultry, meat, vegetables and other food products that have been irradiated, it received more than 20,000 comments from the public – the majority of them in favor of maintaining proper labeling.
It is clear that USDA recognizes that irradiation changes the quality of food. Public Citizen supports USDA’s move but calls on the agency to strengthen labeling laws and conduct long-term research on the health effects of eating irradiated food.