Canadians For Safe Access  
grassroots, action-oriented patient rights
Home >> Research >> Flin Flon >> Gamma Irradiation

From Public Citizen a national U.S. non-profit public interest organization devoted to "protecting health, safety and democracy".

Food Irradiation Q&A’s

Question:  Is irradiated food safe to eat?

Answer: No.

· Irradiated food has caused a myriad of serious health problems in laboratory animals that ate irradiated foods, including premature death, fatal internal bleeding, a rare form of cancer, stillbirths and other reproductive problems, mutations and other genetic damage, organ malfunctions, stunted growth and vitamin deficiencies.

· Irradiation can lead to the formation of Unique Radiolytic Products (URPs), mysterious chemical compounds that have not been adequately identified or studied for their potential harm to humans. One such type of chemical, called cyclobutanones, was recently found to promote the cancer-development process in rats, cause genetic damage in rats, and cause genetic and cellular damage in human and rat cells. This chemical is a radiation byproduct of palmitic acid, a type of fat that occurs in virtually every food.

· The World Health Organization did not follow its own recommendation to study the toxicity of URPs before proposing in Nov. 2000 that the international irradiation dose limit _ equal to 330 million chest x-rays _ be removed.

· Irradiation leads to the formation of free radicals, which can set off chain reactions in the body that destroy antioxidants, tear apart cell membranes, and make the body more susceptible to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, liver damage, muscular breakdown and other serious problems.

· Irradiation does nothing to remove the feces, urine, pus, vomit and tumors often left on beef, chicken, and lamb after processing in filthy and inhumane slaughterhouses. These conditions have worsened because government has allowed companies to increase the number of carcasses processed each hour by increasing conveyer belt speeds (more than 300 cows per hour and 100 chickens per minute). Public oversight of slaughterhouses has also been reduced.

· Irradiation can spawn mutant forms of E. coli, Salmonella and other harmful bacteria, making them more difficult to kill.

· Irradiation destroys vitamins, nutrients and essential fatty acids, including up to 80 percent of vitamin A in eggs and half of the beta carotene in orange juice. In some foods, irradiation can intensify the vitamin and nutrient loss caused by cooking, leading to “empty calorie” food.

· Irradiation can lead to the formation of chemical known and suspected to cause carcer and birth defects, including benzene, toluene and methyl ethyl ketone.

· Irradiation can corrupt the flavor, texture and other physical properties of some foods, leading to meat that smells like a wet dog, onions that turn brown, and eggs that are runny.

· Irradiation kills beneficial microorganisms, such as the yeasts and molds that can help keep botulism at bay, as well as the microorganisms that create the aromas that tell us when food has gone bad.

Question:  Can the research into food irradiation be trusted?

Answer: Not all of it.

· Research conducted at public universities is increasingly industry-funded. A prominent Iowa State University professor who’s been researching food irradiation for many years was just hired by Titan Corporation, a leading irradiation company (and erstwhile defense contractor). And, Titan recently entered a research contract with Texas A&M University.

· Much of the early research into food irradiation, done during the 1960s and 1970s, was conducted by an Army-hired firm that was eventually convicted of fraud for fabricating the results of its work on other research projects.

· Very little toxicological testing has been done on irradiated food during the past 20 years. New, updated tests should be performed with the benefit of improved scientific methods.

Question:  Are consumers receiving credible information about irradiation?

Answer: No.

· Food irradiation companies have been increasingly successful in persuading the media to compare  irradiation to “pasteurization,” which is an entirely different process by which microorganisms are killed by quickly heating and cooling food. Public Citizen has filed false advertising complaints with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against two meat companies—Omaha Steaks and Huisken Meats—that have either used the phrase “electronically pasteurized” or outright failed to mention in their advertising material that their products have been irradiated.

· Companies that irradiate with “e-beam” technology such as the Titan Corporation are seeking to distinguish themselves from companies that irradiate with gamma rays from radioactive sources. This is highly misleading, as both e-beam (electrons fired from a linear accelerator at nearly the speed of light) and gamma rays (high-frequency electromagnetic waves) are forms of ionizing radiation—meaning that they obliterate the bonds that hold atoms and molecules together, form new chemical compounds and destroy nutrients.

· Furthermore, Titan and other irradiation companies are comparing irradiating food with cooking food in a microwave oven. This comparison is bogus. The radiation used to irradiate food is ionizing, meaning that it drastically changes the chemical composition of food. Microwave radiation is non-ionizing, meaning that the chemical structure of food is largely left intact.

· Many “unbiased” supporters of food irradiation in reality work on behalf of the food industry. The corporate-funded American Council on Science and Health, for instance, is chaired by A. Alan Moghissi, whose anti-environment and anti-consumer positions include opposing the removal of asbestos from schools and proclaiming that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be a good thing for the agriculture industry.

Sworn affidavit of University of Texas toxicologist William Au
 raising concerns about the risks posed by chemicals formed in
irradiated food

In the Matter of Food Irradiation Petitions
Pending before the United States
Food and Drug Administration

October 28, 2001

Expert Affidavit on Safety of Irradiated Food

By William W. Au, Ph.D.

William Au, being duly sworn, hereby deposes and says:

  1. My address is: Division of Environmental Toxicology, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Ewing Hall, 700 Harborside Drive, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555-1110, where I have been employed as a Professor since 1991. My Curriculum Vitae is attached hereto indicating my professional qualifications as a toxicologist. My primary research interest is in conducting molecular and cellular studies to elucidate toxicological mechanisms for the induction of human disease. Since obtaining my Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati, I have more than 20 years of experience teaching, conducting and publishing peer-reviewed research, consulting and speaking internationally, editing professional publications, and serving on numerous expert committees. I am a member of the major scientific societies related to toxicology and have received approximately one dozen awards recognizing my professional contributions. I have delivered more than 35 invited lectures internationally and published or co-published more than 100 articles in the toxicology field.
  2. I submit this Affidavit on the food irradiation petitions pending before the United States Food and Drug Administration, most specifically FAP 9M4697 (Docket No. 99F-5522), addressing "ready-to-eat foods," however, the conclusions herein also apply generally to other past and pending irradiation petitions.
  3. I submit this Affidavit on behalf of two Washington, DC, non-profit groups, the Center for Food Safety and Public Citizen, who have retained me as a consulting expert. Prior to this consultation I had no prior involvement with those or any other non-profit groups involved in food irradiation issues.
  4. In formulating my opinion, I have reviewed relevant documents and studies that were provided by my clients and conducted independent research including several publications that I have selected from the literature.
  5. My opinion, based on a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, is as follows:
    1. Ionizing radiation is a well-documented teratogen, mutagen and carcinogen whereas some other procedures for food decontamination/sterilization such as heat and steam are not. Ionizing radiation interacts with cellular macromolecules that are also present in food products to generate toxic products. Therefore, the use of radiation to decontaminate/sterilize foods that are destined for human consumption should be evaluated for health concerns very carefully. Whenever other processing methods or combination of methods that are equally effective in reducing the risk of food borne disease are available, the use of the radiation procedure should be avoided. Therefore, it is surprising to learn from the Food and Agriculture Organization/International Atomic Energy Agency/World Health Organization report (1999) that those agencies gave a blanket statement of approval in the conclusion section "the study group concluded that no upper dose limit need be imposed." (p. 161). This decision can lead to misuse of the procedure in processing food for human consumption.
    2. Some reports in the peer-reviewed literature on mutagenic activities of irradiated foods were not considered in the 1999 FAO/IAEA/WHO report (Bhaskaram and Sadasivan, 1975; Vijayalaxmi, 1975, 1976, 1978; Vijayalaxmi and Sadasivan, 1975; Vijayalaxmi and Rao, 1976). Although the observations from these studies are not confirmed by some publications in the literature, the positive findings have support from other publications (Bugyaki et al, 1968; Moutschen-Dahmen, et al., 1970; Anderson et al., 1980; Maier et al., 1993). Furthermore, repeated observations of activities that have significant public health implications such as polyploidy in somatic cells, genetic alterations in germ cells and reproductive toxicity should not be ignored, but should be considered seriously and explicitly by FDA with respect to the pending food irradiation petitions.
    3. Radiolytic products are formed during the irradiation of food (Schubert, 1969). Their potential health hazards have not been adequately evaluated. An emphasis should be placed on the products that are unique to the irradiation process and that are potentially mutagenic, e.g. 2-dodecylcyclobutanone (Delincee and Pool-Zobel, 1998; Delincee et al., 1998). The quality and quantity of these radiolytic products may be different from one food type to another. Without conclusive evidence regarding the safety of these products, the safety of irradiated food cannot be assured. Conclusive evidence of safety of these products can be derived from in vivo studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
    4. The formation of hazardous free radicals in irradiated food that can cause DNA damage is of serious concern. For food with high water content, the free radicals are rapidly degraded after irradiation. Therefore, human exposure to the free radicals through the food chain is minimal. For food with low water content, the Food and Drug Administration stated that "irradiated dry spices and seasonings are examples of foods in which free radicals are known to persist for long periods of time." (FDA, 1986, p. 13379). However, the FDA concluded that this should not be of concern based on the manner in which these foods are used. On the other hand, the concerns for other dry foods that are consumed without further cooking and that are consumed in large quantities, such as dried fruits and nuts, are not considered. This possibility should be evaluated to determine the potential for exposing consumers to free radicals. This concern should be included in the FDA s analysis of the "ready-to-eat food" irradiation petition, FAP 9M4697.
Dated this 10th day of October, 2001, at Houston, Texas.
State of Texas
County of Harris
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 10th day of October, 2001.
Josie Jones
Notary Public
State of Texas
(C.V. attached)
References Cited:

Anderson, D., Clapp, M.J.L., Hodge, M.C.E., Weight, T.M. Irradiated laboratory animal diets dominant lethal studies in the mouse. Mutat. Res. 80, 333-345, 1981.

Bhaskaram, C., Sadasivan, G. Effects of feeding irradiated wheat to malnourished children. Am. J. Clin. Nutri. 28:130-135,1975.

Bugyaki, L., Deschreider, A.R., Moutschen, J., Moutschen-Dahmen, M., Thijs, A., Lafontaine, A. Do irradiated foodstuffs have a radiomimetic effect? II. Trials with mice fed wheat meal irradiated at 5 Mrad. Atompraxis 14:112-118, 1968.

Delincee, H., Pool-Zobel, B.L. Genotoxic properties of 2-dodecylcyclobutanone, a compound formed on irradiation of food containing fat. Radiat. Phy. Chem. 52:39-42,1998.

Delincee, H., Pool-Zobel, B.L., Rechkemmer, G. Genotoxicity of 2-dodecylcyclobutanone. Food Irradiation: Fifth German Conference, Report EFE-R-99-01, Federal Nutrition Research Institute, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1998.

FAO/IAEA/WHO report. High dose irradiation: wholesomeness of food irradiated with doses above 10 kGy. World Health Organization, Geneva, 1999.

Food and Drug Administration. Final Rule, Irradiation in the Production, Processing, and Handling of Food, 51 Fed. Reg. 13376, Fri. Apr. 18, 1986.

Maier, P., Wenk-Siefer, I., Schawalder, H.P., Zehnder, H., Schlatters, J. Cell-cycle and ploidy analysis in bone marrow and liver cells of rats after long-term consumption of irradiated wheat. Fd. Chem. Toxic. 31:395-405, 1993.

Moutschen-Dahmen, M., Moutschen, J., Ehrenberg, L. Pre-implantation death of mouse eggs caused by irradiated food. Internat. J. Rad. Biol. 18: 201-216, 1970.

Schubert, J. Mutagenicity and cytotoxicity of irradiated foods and food components. Bull. Wld. Hlth. Org. 41:873-904,1969.

Vijayalaxmi. Cytogenetic studies in rats fed irradiated wheat. Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 7:283-285,1975.

Vijayalaxmi. Genetic effects of feeding irradiated wheat to mice. Canad. J. Genet. Cyto. 18:231-238,1976.

Vijayalaxmi. Cytogenetic studies in monkeys fed irradiated wheat. Toxicology 9:181-184,1978.

Vijayalaxmi and Sadasivan, G. Chromosome aberrations in rats fed irradiated wheat. Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 27:135-142,1975.

Vijayalaxmi and Rao, K.V. Dominant lethal mutations in rats fed on irradiated wheat. Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 29:93-98,1976.

The Cancer Prevention Coalition and Illinois Food Safety Coalition
 Announce a Public Information Campaign to Warn of the Serious
 Dangers of Food Irradiation

January 17, 2002

The irradiation industry, with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, claims that irradiating meat and other food is essential to preventing E.coli O157 and other serious bacterial food poisoning. In fact, this could readily be prevented by basic sanitary practices in feedlots and meat packing plants which the powerful meat and irradiation industries are unwilling to do. Furthermore, industry and the FDA claim that irradiated food is safe.

However, these claims are false. "There is well-documented scientific evidence on the cancer and other risks of irradiated food," emphasizes Dr. Samuel Epstein, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC). Furthermore, Paul Fehribach, Director of the Illinois Food Safety Coalition (IFSC) states: "The posters will warn of the risks to Schaumburg and Glendale Heights communities where irradiation plants have been recently constructed."

In order to inform unsuspecting consumers, the CPC and IFSC are displaying 46" x 30" posters (see attached), at two platforms in each of the four major Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) stations--the Washington and Jackson Red Lines, and the Washington and Jackson Blue Lines--for up to five weeks from today. Additionally, mini-versions of the posters will be distributed at locations including select CTA stations outside downtown.

These warnings are endorsed by 20 statewide citizen and consumer groups including: Alden Ponds Foundation, Chicago Diner, EarthSave, Families Against Rural Messes (F.A.R.M.), Food Animal Concerns Trust (F.A.C.T.), Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE), Illinois Greens, Illinois Peace Action, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Lake Michigan Interleague Group of the League of Women Voters (LMILG), Living Upstream, Media Watch, Natural Needs, Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Nukewatch, Nutrition for Optimal Health Association (NOHA), Organic Consumers Association, and Organic Food Network.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition, 312-996-2297
Paul Fehribach, Director, Illinois Food Safety Coalition, 773-294-4551

Why is the FDA Ignoring Toxic Chemicals in Irradiated Food?

Since their work began in 1998, government researchers in Germany have made some alarming discoveries about unique chemicals formed in food when it is “treated” with radiation.

Cyclobutanones – which do not occur naturally in any food – were shown to promote cancer development and cause genetic damage in rats. The chemicals have also been shown to cause genetic and cellular damage to human and rat cells.


Under the Microscope

Research into the potential toxicity of cyclobutanones came to light in 1998. Henry Delincée of Germany’s Federal Research Center for Nutrition found that a specific cyclobutanone called 2-DCB caused genetic and cellular damage to human and rat colon cells. [5]

In three subsequent experiments, Delincée  and his colleagues found that 2-DCB caused genetic damage in rats [6]; that related chemicals called 2-TCB and 2-TDCB caused genetic and cellular damage in human cell cultures [7]; and – most disturbing of all – that cyclobutanones promoted cancer development in rats. [8]


Europe Takes It Seriously

Meanwhile, the FDA’s counterparts in Europe are treating the matter far more cautiously.

In spring 2002, the 15-member European Union succeeded in delaying an international proposal by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (which sets food safety standards for more than 160 nations) to allow any food to be irradiated at any dose – no matter how high.

And, the EU has delayed its own proposal to allow irradiation for shrimp, frog legs, cereal grains, egg whites and other foods. until ongoing experiments into the toxicity of cyclobutanones are completed.

This approach to policy-making, known as the precautionary principle, is more prevalent in Europe than in the U.S., where government officials are much more inclined make political decisions before all the facts are in.

Righting the Wrongs

In the interest of protecting the public health, we have called on the FDA to:

_ Analyze the cyclobutanone levels of all foods that the FDA has legalized or has under consideration for irradiation;
_ Refrain from legalizing irradiation for any additional foods until comprehensive, published, peer-reviewed research is conducted into the potential health hazards of cyclobutanones; and
_ Convene public hearings to thoroughly explore and educate consumers about the potential health hazards of cyclobutanones.
  1.   Stevenson, M.H. “Identification of irradiated foods.” Food Tech, 48:141-144, 1994.
  2.   LeTellier, P.R. and Nawar, W.W. “2-alkylcyclobutanones from the radiolysis of triglycerides.” Lipids, 7: 75-76, 1972.
  3.   FDA Food Additive Petition 9M4697, Docket No. 99F-5522.
  4.   Personal communication with Laura Tarantino, Deputy Director, FDA Office of Premarket Approval, June 27, 2001.
  5.   Delincée, H. and Pool-Zobel, B. “Genotoxic properties of 2-dodecylcyclobutanone, a compound formed on irradiation of food containing fat.” Rad Phys and Chem, 52:39-42, 1998.
  6.   Delincée, H. et al. “Genotoxicity of 2-dodecylcyclobutanone.” Food Irradiation: 5th German Conference, Karlsruhe, Nov. 1998.
  7.   Delincée, H. et al. “Genotoxicity of 2-alkylcyclobutanones.” (Abstract) 12th International Meeting on Radiation Processing, March 25-30, 2001, Avignon, France.
  8.   Marchioni, Eric et al. “Information about the potential toxicity of 2-alkylcyclobutanones.” International Consulative Group on Food Irradiation, Dec. 2001.
  9.   Annual Report on Activities: 17th Meeting of the International Consultative Group on Food Irradiation. Geneva, Nov. 2000.
  10.   65 Federal Register 45280, July 21, 2000.
  11.   Crone, A.V.J. et al. “Synthesis, characterization and use of 2-tetradecylcyclobutanone together with other cyclobutanones as markers for irradiated liquid whole egg.” Jour Sci Food Agric, 62:361-367, 1993.

Nuclear lunch: The dangers and unknowns of food irradiation

On December 12, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of food-irradiation for beef. Irradiation has been available for years for poultry, pork, spices and vegetables in several other countries. The food industry claims it is absolutely safe and a good way to kill harmful bacteria. But consumer organizations protest food-irradiation as unsafe.

(486.4825) Food & Water - Beginning in 1986, the FDA has given the green light to expose nearly the entire US food supply to nuclear irradiation. Since then, staunch citizens' opposition has kept the technology out of use. Its use in the beef industry would open the door to food irradiation as the "solution" to contamination crises in all food groups, from poultry to fruits and vegetables.

With beef irradiation approved, citizens' opposition, not government regulation, remains the critical component in keeping irradiated food off US store shelves. And from the hazards inherent in the technology to the FDA's own admission that the safety studies are flawed, the risks involved with food irradiation still far outweigh the presumed "benefits".

Food is irradiated using radioactive gamma sources, usually cobalt 60 or cesium 137, or high-energy electron beams. The gamma rays break up the molecular structure of the food, forming positively- and negatively-charged particles called free radicals. The free radicals react with the food to create new chemical substances called "radiolytic products". Those unique to the irradiation process are known as "unique radiolytic products" (URPs).
Some radiolytic products, such as formaldehyde, benzene, formic acid and quinones are harmful to human health. Benzene, for example, is a known carcinogen. In one experiment, seven times more benzene was found in cooked, irradiated beef than in cooked, non- irradiated beef. Some URPs are completely new chemicals that have not even been identified, let alone tested for toxicity.

In addition, irradiation destroys essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, thiamine, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, C, E, and K; animo acid and essential polyunsaturated fatty acid content may also be affected. A 20-to-80 percent loss of any of these is not uncommon.

Safety studies flawed

The FDA reviewed 441 toxicity studies to determine the safety of irradiated foods. Dr. Marcia van Gemert, the team leader in charge of new food additives at the FDA and the chairperson of the committee in charge of investigating the studies, testified that all 441 studies were flawed. The government considers irradiation a food additive in testing food additives for toxicity, laboratory animals are fed high levels (in comparison to a human diet) of potential toxins. The results must then be applied to humans with theoretical models. It is questionable whether the studies the FDA used to approve food irradiation followed this process. In fact, the FDA claimed only five of the 441 were "properly conducted, fully adequate by 1980 toxicological standards, and able to stand alone in support of safety". With the shaky assurance of just five studies, the FDA approved irradiation for the public food supply.

To make matters worse, the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health of the New Jersey Medical School found that two of the (five) studies were methodologically flawed. In a third study, animals eating a diet of irradiated food experienced weight loss and miscarriage, almost certainly due to irradiation-induced vitamin E dietary deficiency. The remaining two studies investigated the effects of diets of food irradiated at doses below the FDA-approved general level of 100,000 rads. Thus, they cannot be used to justify food irradiation at the levels approved by the FDA.

Other studies indicate serious health problems associated with eating irradiated food. A compilation of 12 studies carried out by Raltech Scientific Services, Inc. under contract with the US government examined the effect of feeding irradiated chicken to several animal species. The studies indicated the possibility of chromosome damage, immunotoxicity, greater incidence of kidney disease, cardiac thrombus, and fibroplasia. In reveiwing Raltech's findings in 1984, USDA (Department f Agricultur) researcher Donald Thayer asserted: "A collective assessment of study results argues against a definitive conclusion that the gamma-irradiated test material was free of toxic properties."

Studies of rats fed irradiated food also indicate possible kidney and testicular damage and a statistically significant increase in testicular tumors. One landmark study in India found four out of five children fed irradiated wheat developing polyploidy, a chromosomal abnormality that is a good indication of future cancer development.


Not a Silver Bullet

Irradiation poses serious risks, and it still does not ensure safe meat. Although it kills most bacteria, it does not destroy the toxins created in the early stages of contamination. And it also kills beneficial bacteria which produce odors, indicating spoilage and naturally control the growth of harmful bacteria.

Irradiation also stimulates aflatoxin production. Aflatoxin occurs naturally in humid areas and tropical countries in fungus spores and on grains and vegetables. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers aflatoxin to be a significant public health risk and a major contributor to liver cancer in the US South.

In addition, irradiation will likely have a mutagenic effect on bacteria and viruses that survive exposure. Mutated survivors could be resistant to antibiotics and could evolve into more virulent strains. Mutated bacteria could also become radiation-resistant, rendering the radiation process ineffective for food exposed to radiation-resistant strains.

Radiation-resistant strains of salmonella have already been developed under laboratory conditions, and scientists at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge have found that one bacteria occurring in spoiled meat and animal feces can survive a radiation dose five times what the FDA will eventually approve for beef. Scientists exposed the bacteria, called D.radiodurans, to between 10 and 15 kilograys (kGy) of radiation for several hours--enough radiation to kill a person several thousand times over. The bacteria, which scientists speculate evolved to survive extreme conditions of dehydration, survived the radiation exposure.


Excepted from the Food & Water report Meat Monopolies: Dirty Meat and the False Promises of Irradiation by Susan Meeker- Lowry and Jennifer Ferrara, published in Food & Water Journal, Fall/Winter 1997-1998. For a copy of the complete report contact Food & Water Inc. at: R.R.1, Box 680, Walden, Vermont 05873. Tel: +1-802-563-3300; Fax: +1-802-563-3310

How the FDA is Ignoring the Potential Dangers of
 Unique Chemicals in Irradiated Food

Mark Worth and Peter Jenkins / Public Citizen and The Center for Food Safety
- December 2001
Executive Summary

In 1971, two University of Massachusetts food researchers discovered that when certain fats commonly found in food are irradiated, the resulting byproducts include a class of chemicals that had never before been found in food. These chemicals _ called cyclobutanones _ are not just unique to food, they have never been found to naturally occur in any other substance.

Thirty years later, the discovery of these chemicals lies at the center of an international debate that could have profound implications for the future of irradiated food. In recent experiments conducted by German government scientists, one of these chemicals, 2-dodecylcyclobutanone _ or 2-DCB _ was shown to cause genetic damage when given to rats, and genetic and cellular damage to human and rat cells. Two other chemicals in the cyclobutanone family _ 2-TCB and 2-TDCB _ were also shown to cause genetic and cellular damage to human cells.


In the interest of protecting the health of Americans, and in order for the agency to fulfill its federal mandate to protect Americans from dangerous food additives, Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety are calling on the FDA to:

  •  Conduct a comprehensive analysis of the fat levels of all foods that the FDA has legalized or has under consideration for irradiation, and the cyclobutanone levels of these foods after they are irradiated;
  •  Refrain from legalizing the irradiation of any additional foods until comprehensive, published, peer-reviewed research is conducted into the likelihood that cyclobutanones could cause health problems.
  •  Convene public hearings to thoroughly explore the potential health effects of cyclobutanones
‘Since we would like to know whether, in the case of cyclobutanones, DNA [damage] has any significance, ...the results urge caution, and should provide impetus for further studies.’ – Henry Delincée, Federal Research Center for Nutrition Karlsruhe, Germany 

To see the complete study, please go to:

Why Oppose Food Irradiation?

  •   Irradiation is not necessary to prevent food borne illness and irradiation merely masks filthy conditions in slaughterhouses which cause meat to be contaminated with bacteria that cause illness.
  •   Irradiation forms new chemicals in food that are known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects; destroys vitamins and other essential nutrients; and corrupts the flavor, odor and texture of food.  A wide range of health problems have been observed in animals fed irradiated foods, including premature death, stillbirths, mutations, fatal internal bleeding, organ damage, immune system dysfunction, stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies.
  •   Irradiated food does not have to be labeled when served in schools, restaurants, hospitals, or nursing homes.  Parents would not know if their children are eating irradiated meat as part of the National School Lunch Program (a change the USDA has recently implemented)
  •   Irradiation exacerbates the problems faced by family farms because it opens the floodgates to imported food.
  •   Irradiation contributes to the consolidation of the food industry because it extends shelf life allowing agribusiness to move their operations outside the U.S., where costs are cheaper, but labor and environmental standards are weaker.
  •   The European Parliament has refused to expand the use of irradiation for additional types of food (currently restricted to spices, dried herbs, and seasonings) due to lingering health and safety concerns.
  •   Irradiation facilities can create air pollution and other environmental and worker safety threats.
  •   In legalizing and endorsing food irradiation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, respectively, ignored a vast amount of research suggesting that irradiated foods are not safe for human consumption.

The Food Commission - UK

Press release Friday 25th October 2002

Scientists in row over safety of irradiated foods

Scientists investigating the toxicity of chemicals in irradiated food have challenged Europe's most prestigious advisory committee - the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) - after the committee decided to ignore the researchers' latest findings, the Food Magazine revealed today.
The EU-funded research team's original study contained important new evidence of the genotoxicity and cytotoxicity of cyclobutanones, found exclusively in irradiated fat-containing food. The researchers' report summary said: 'The experiments demonstrate that pure compounds, known to be exclusively formed upon irradiation of fat-containing food, exhibit some toxic effects including promotion of colon carcinogenesis in rats… Whether these findings are relevant to the human exposure situation needs to be analysed. In our opinion further investigations, including confirmation of our results by other laboratories, will help to elucidate a possible risk associated with the consumption of irradiated fat-containing foods.' 1

However, the SCF concluded on 3 July 2002 that the research was not adequate to make statements about the real risk to human health, and that they would base their recommendations on a 15-year old review which failed to find evidence of toxicity.2 The SCF's decision was important because the discussion of irradiation at the international food standards-setting body Codex was delayed in March pending the opinion of the SCF on the results of the new research. If the SCF gives 2-ACBs the all-clear then Codex will probably follow suit.

In a remarkable open letter distributed in response to the SCF decision, the research scientists repeated their main concerns and emphasised that the chemicals in irradiated food '…present cytotoxic and genotoxic effects in cultured human cells, promote colon carcinogenesis in rats and accumulate in adipose tissues of rats fed with these compounds.'

In a veiled hint against the SCF's dismissalof their work, the researchers emphasise that their 'new data, which will be published in peer-reviewed journals, raise some doubts or at least suggest that caution should be exercised before any risk to consumers by exposure to these compounds is denied'.

Merav Shub, UK Food Irradiation Campaign leader, said 'Consumers are very concerned that the precautionary principle is being abandoned by the SCF. The committee must re-think its position.'

Details from Merav Shub tel: 020 7837 9229.

2. SCF report SCF/CS/NF/IRR/26 ADD 3 Final, 3 July 2002 []

US food irradiation expert Wenonah Hauter states "irradiation significantly alters the composition of food. The negative health effects that irradiated foods have had on lab animals are well documented, including premature deaths, mutations, foetal death, reproductive problems, immune system disorders, fatal internal bleeding, organ damage, stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies".