USDA wants to weaken food labeling

According to the Center for Food Safety:
Currently, irradiated food must be labeled as "Treated with irradiation" or "Treated by radiation" and must display the irradiated "radura" symbol. But now, in yet another attempt to appease industry at the expense of the public, the FDA has proposed a new rule that would allow irradiated food to be marketed in some cases without any labeling at all. In other cases, the rule would allow the terms "electronically pasteurized" or "cold pasteurized" to replace the use of "irradiated" on labels. These terms are not used by scientists, but rather are designed to fool consumers about what's been done to their food.

What is Food Irradiation?

Food irradiation uses high-energy Gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays (all of which are millions of times more powerful than standard medical X-rays) to break apart the bacteria and insects that can hide in meat, grains, and other foods. Radiation can do strange things to food, by creating substances called "unique radiolytic products." These irradiation byproducts include a variety of mutagens - substances that can cause gene mutations, polyploidy (an abnormal condition in which cells contain more than two sets of chromosomes), chromosome aberrations (often associated with cancerous cells), and dominant lethal mutations (a change in a cell that prevents it from reproducing) in human cells. Making matters worse, many mutagens are also carcinogens.

Research also shows that irradiation forms volatile toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects. Irradiation also causes stunted growth in lab animals fed irradiated foods. An important 2001 study linked colon tumor promotion in lab rats to 2-alkylcyclobutanones (2-ACB's), a new chemical compound found only in irradiated foods. The FDA has never tested the safety of these byproducts. Irradiation has also been shown to cause the low-level production of furans (similar to cancer-causing dioxins) in fruit juice.

Food Safety Concerns

In addition to the proposed weakening of the labeling requirements for irradiated food, FDA's rule would also severely limit them by requiring companies to label irradiated food only when the radiation treatment causes a 'material change' to the product. Examples include changes to the taste, texture, smell or shelf life of a food. Published research on irradiated foods reveals that irradiation does change, and can actually ruin, the flavor, odor, appearance, and texture of food. Such research repeatedly finds that irradiated foods smell rotten, metallic, bloody, burnt, grassy, and generally off. The taste has been described as like sulfur, singed hair, burnt feathers, burnt oil, and rancid fat. Beyond the obvious yuck factor, serious questions remain as to whether irradiated foods are safe to eat.

Irradiation Destroys the Vitamin Content of Foods

Irradiated foods can lose from 2-95% of their vitamins. For example, irradiation can destroy up to 80% of the vitamin A in eggs, up to 95% of the vitamin A and lutein in green beans, up to 50% of the vitamin A and lutein in broccoli, and 40% of the beta-carotene in orange juice. Irradiation also doubles the amount of trans fats in beef.

Despite 50 years of research, food scientists still do not fully understand how these changes take place. Much of the ongoing research, in fact, is focused on devising new ways to hide these changes, rather than addressing the cause of the changes themselves.

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