The Cancer Prevention Coalition and Public Citizen Charge Congress with
Proposing Deceptive Labeling of Irradiated Food, Besides Ignoring Its
Risks to Health and the Environment

CHICAGO, June 6 / PRNewswire/ -- The following was released today by
Dr. Samuel S. Epstein and Wenonah Hauter.

Caving in to industry interests, the House and Senate Appropriations
Committees have introduced legislation to exempt irradiated food from
being labeled “irradiated” in favor of “electronically pasteurized.”
Support for this euphemistic absurdity comes from the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), whose approved 450,000 rads meat irradiation
dosage is approximately equivalent to 150 million chest X-rays, which
has capitalized on recent outbreaks of E.coli 0157 food poisoning to
mobilize public acceptance of food irradiation and its safety. Further
support comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Energy (DOE).

This labeling initiative is reckless. Testing irradiated food by
industry over the last four decades does not meet minimal toxicological
standards which could justify industry and FDA safety claims.
Furthermore, there is persuasive independent evidence of carcinogenic
and genetic hazards of radiated food, apart from catastrophic risks of
accidents from the over 1200 nationwide unregulated nuclear facilities
envisaged for the potentially enormous radiation market.

Irradiated meat is a very different product from cooked meat.
Irrespective whether radiated by X-ray machines, linear accelerators,
or radioactive isotopes, the resulting ionizing radiation produces
highly reactive free radicals and peroxides from unsaturated fats, which
can completely alter the natural chemical composition of meat and poultry.
U.S. Army analyses in 1977 revealed major differences between volatile
chemicals formed during radiation or cooking meat. Levels of the
carcinogen benzene in radiated beef were some ten-fold higher than
cooked beef. In addition, high concentrations of six poorly
characterized Unique Radiolytic chemical Products (URPs), admittedly
“implicated as carcinogens or carcinogenic under certain conditions,”
were also identified.

Based on these striking changes in the chemistry of irradiated meat,
FDA’s 1980 Irradiated Food Committee warned that safety testing should
be based on concentrated extracts of irradiated foods, rather than on
whole foods, to maximize the concentration of radiolytic products. This
would enable development of sufficient sensitivity essential for routine
safety testing. One of us (SE) more specifically warned in a 1984
letter to Science that: “Stable radiolytic products could be extracted
from irradiated foods by various -- solvents which could then be
concentrated and subsequently tested. Until such fundamental studies
are undertaken, there is little scientific basis for accepting
industry’s assurances of safety.” However, FDA has still refused to
require such testing on alleged grounds that it is inherently difficult
and expensive. Instead, FDA has relied on some five studies selected
from over 400 in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, on which its claims of
safety remain based. However, Dr. Gemert, chair of FDA’s Irradiated
Food Task Committee which reviewed these studies, insists that none
were adequate by 1982 standards, and even less so by 1993.
Furthermore, detailed analysis of these studies, by Dr. Louria, Chairman
of New Jersey University’s Department of Preventive Medicine, has
revealed that all are grossly flawed and non-exculpatory.

These results are hardly surprising since several independent studies
prior to 1986 clearly identified mutagenic or carcinogenic radiolytic
products in radiated food. Furthermore, earlier studies reported
evidence of genetic damage in tests of radiated food. Noteworthy are
studies in the 1970’s by India’s National Institute of Nutrition,
knowingly misrepresented by FDA, which reported that feeding freshly
radiated wheat to malnourished Indian children, monkeys, rats, and mice
induced gross chromosomal damage in blood or bone marrow cells;
dominant lethal mutations were also induced in rodents, as confirmed by
others.

As reported by USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, food radiation
results in major micronutrient losses, particularly vitamins A, C, E,
and the B complex. These losses are synergistically increased by
cooking, resulting in “empty calorie” food. Radiation has also been
used to clean up food unfit for human consumption, such as spoiled fish,
by killing odorous contaminating bacteria.

While the USDA is promoting meat and poultry radiation, it has been
moving to deregulate and privatize the industry by promoting a
self-policing “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point” (HACCP)
control program. Food radiation is also being aggressively promoted by
the DOE’s “Byproducts Utilization Program” to reduce disposal costs of
spent military and civilian nuclear fuel by providing a commercial
market for nuclear wastes.

In contrast to major nuclear power reactors, food radiation plants are:
relatively small; unregulated; unlikely to be secure; vulnerable to
sabotage or terrorist attacks; and require regular replenishment of
radioactive isotopes, Cobalt (Co-60) or Cesium (Cs-137), entailing
transportation hazards. The track record of the radiation industry is
unimpressive. Apart from some 49 accidents including worker deaths
prior to 1989, Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Advisor to the
Secretary of Energy, recently warned that NRC files are bulging with
unreported documents on radioactive spills, worker overexposures, and
offsite radiation leakage. It must be further stressed that linear
accelerators, limited by their ability to penetrate thick foods, or
pelletized radioactive isotopes, are subject only to minimal
regulation. Strangely, EPA still does not require an Environmental
Impact Statement prior to the siting of food irradiation facilities.

Not surprisingly, the focus of the radiation and agribusiness industries
has been directed to the lucrative cleanup of contaminated food rather
than preventing of contamination. However, 0157 food poisoning could
largely be prevented by long overdue improved sanitation. Feedlot pen
sanitation, together with water chlorination and fly control, could
drastically reduce cattle infection rates, which could be further
reduced by feeding hay 7 days prior to slaughter. Sanitation could also
prevent water contamination from feed lot run off, incriminated in
recent outbreaks of 0157 poisoning; this would remain a continuing
threat even if all meat were irradiated. Post-knocking (pre-slaughter)
and post-evisceration sanitation at meat packing plants is also highly
effective for reducing cattle infection rates. Testing of pooled
carcasses for 0157 and Salmonella is economic, practical, and rapid.
Costs would be trivial compared to those of radiation, which would be
passed to consumers, apart from assuring its wholesomeness and safety,
besides preventing nuclear accidents. Additional costs could result
from the likelihood of a European, if not international, ban on imports
of irradiated U.S. food.

The Cancer Prevention Coalition and Public Citizen charge that the
House Appropriations Committee’s “electronically pasteurized” label is
a camouflaged denial of citizen’s fundamental right-to-know. Rather
than sanitizing the label in response to special interests, the
Committee should focus on sanitizing food production in response to the
public interest.

SOURCES Cancer Prevention Coalition and Public Citizen

CONTACTS: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman Cancer Prevention
Coalition and Professor Environmental Medicine at the University of
Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago, IL, 312-996-2297; endorsed
by: Dr. Quentin Young, past-president of the American Public Health
Association, 773-493-8212; Dr. Marvin Legator, Professor Preventive
Medicine, University of Texas, Galveston, 409-772-1803; Dr. William
Lijinsky, former Director Chemical Carcinogenesis, Frederick Cancer
Research Center, 410-715-4559; Dr. Barry Castleman, Environmental
Consultant, 410-448-2648. epstein@u...
Web site: http://www.preventcancer.com

Wenonah Hauter, Public Citizen, Washington, D.C., 202-454-5150
Web site: http://www.citizen.org/cmep

 

June 6, 2000