Food Irradiation Supports Agribusiness, Harms Health

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Food Irradiation Supports Agribusiness, Harms Health

Agribusiness is polluting and destroying the food on which we depend . Irradiation destroys nutrients and creates poisons. Despite claims, it's largely hidden from us. It exists for the benefit of Agribiz, not for our health.

by Heidi Stevenson, originally published on Gaia Health.

Food Irradiation Supports Agribusiness, Harms Health

Agribusiness is polluting and destroying the food on which we depend . Irradiation destroys nutrients and creates poisons. Despite claims, it's largely hidden from us. It exists for the benefit of Agribiz, not for our health.

by Heidi Stevenson, originally published on Gaia Health.

Food irradiation exists only because Agribusiness exists. It isn't to support your health. As we've seen recently with outbreaks of food-borne disease, modern food production is innately unhealthy. It utilizes monoculture, long term storage, and chemicals. None of these are good for us, but all create enormous profits for a money-hungry industry. The need to sterilize foods on a mass scale simply did not exist until Agribusiness changed the nature of what we eat.

Modern food processing and distribution is highly mechanized, with tremendous pressure placed on employees to simply push things through and money carefully spent to grease the palms of those who might have called a stop to the madness. Agribusiness considers it cost-effective to irradiate foods, which sterilizes them and significantly increases their shelf life.

The efforts to utilize irradiation cover the spectrum from propaganda to hiding it from the public. We're told that food irradiation is safe, effective, and doesn't affect food quality. Let's call these claims the myths that they are and examine them.

Myth: Irradiation is effective.

Fact: This is a very slippery claim. Yes, it does kill many infectious organisms, in particular, bacteria. However, it does not protect against toxic elements, such as the neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism. Killing the bacteria can create a sense of security, though the actual disease cause is still present.

Irradiation's effectiveness against viruses is limited, so anthrax and hepatitis may still survive after irradiation. Prions, the cause of mad cow disease, are untouched by it.

Reinfestation of food is not prevented by irradiation. In fact, it holds the potential of allowing worse contamination. By eliminating most infectious organisms, beneficial ones are also destroyed. This results in there being nothing to prevent reinfection, allowing opportunistic bacteria and viruses free rein in irradiated foods.

Factory farms are not healthy places. Pigs are kept for their entire lives in horrifically unsanitary conditions, with their droppings and urine left uncleared where they fall through the cages, so they rot and release constant toxic fumes. Irradiation is a means to avoid dealing with this inhumane and unhealthy situation.

Urine, feces, pus, tumors, and vomit are not removed by irradiation.

Myth: Irradiation is safe.

Fact: This is simply false. As documented in Food Irradiation, Cats, and Doublespeak: Researchers Reinvent Reality, it's well known to cause neurological damage in cats.

Irradiation generates furans in food. Carbofuran is a member of this class. It's the poison, which is banned in Europe and severely curtailed in the US, that FMC sells under the name of Furadan, as reported in PsychoCorp #1—FMC Product Banned in U.S. Kills Lions in Africa. All furans are considered carcinogenic. Fruits, in particular, are affected by the generation of furans.

Public Citizen reports laboratory animals fed irradiated foods suffered "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."

The growth of aflatoxin, implicated in liver cancer in southern states, is stimulated by irradiation. The World Health Organization considers aflatoxin to be a significant health risk. Unique Radiolytic Products (URPs) are produced by irradiation. These chemical compounds have not been well studied, but one group of them, cyclobutanones, have been found to promote cancer and genetic damage in rats, and to cause genetic and cellular damage in both rats and humans. Cyclobutanones are radiation by-products of palmitic acid, which is present in nearly all foods.

Other chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects are formed by irradiation, including benzene, toluene, and methyl ethyl ketone.

Free radicals are formed by irradiation. These are the targets of antioxidants, supplements that are very popular now. Consider that some antioxidants, such as vitamin A, are destroyed by irradiation. So irradiation holds a double whammy against health—destroying the antioxidants that might help resolve the chemicals it creates.

The journal, Nutrition and Cancer reported in 2002 that colon cancer can be caused by a chemical compound found only in irradiated food.

Myth: Irradiation doesn't affect food quality.

Fact: There is extensive documentation for the loss of key nutrients from irradiation of food. The Center for Food Safety reports that anywhere from 2-95% of the vitamins can be lost. They cite losses of as much as 80% of vitamin A in eggs, 95% of vitamin A and lutein in green beans, 50% of vitamin A and lutein in broccoli, and 40% of beta carotene in orange juice. Irradiation is also reported to destroy the B, C, E, and K vitamins.

Irradiation doubles the trans fats in beef. See Why Trans Fat Is So Bad – and What Is It, Anyway? for more information about how harmful trans fats are.

The taste of irradiated foods is known to be changed. Odors have been described as rotten, off, metallic, bloody, burned, like a wet dog, and grassy. Tastes have been described as like sulphur, burned feathers, burned oil, singed hair, and rancid.

Beneficial organisms are killed along with harmful ones. Yeast and molds, which help prevent botulism, are destroyed, and others that create nasty odors telling us food has gone bad are also wiped out. So, you could purchase irradiated food that is rotten without even realizing it.

Irradiated raw foods may look fresh, but they aren't. Their nutritional content has largely been destroyed, and what's left is further deteriorated with the extra storage time that irradiation provides. It can make fresh-appearing food no better than junk food—empty calories.

An informative and highly readable document written by Public Citizen discusses the top 10 problems with food irradiation:

Myth: The public is well informed about irradiated foods.

Fact: Serious attempts to mislead the public are already in place. The FDA has ruled that the terms "electronically pasteurized" and "cold pasteurized" may be used. Shades of George Orwell!

In the U.S. the FDA requires labeling only for the first purchaser of a product. In today's world, that is rarely who ends up eating it. Products that also contain nonirradiated food do not have to be labeled. Food sold by restaurants doesn't have to be labeled. None of these must be labeled: Herbs and spices—Supplements—Foods served in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, airlines, bars, or any other place where prepared foods are sold. The USDA requires that irradiated meats, but not veggies, must be labeled. On top of all these exemptions, enforcement is lax.

Myth: The process of irradiating foods is not harmful to people or the environment.

Fact: Food is irradiated with gamma radiation, which is ionizing and holds the potential for risk. Accidents have occurred. In one mishap in 1991, a man lost four fingers from receiving a 5,000 rad dose, and another man lost a hand and some fingers in 1992.

Meat irradiator Food Technology Service describes the energy that passes through food as nothing more than, "a ray of light [that] passes through a window". This is just not true. According Consumer Reports in "Irradiation and your food" (August 2003), the amount of energy used, 1.5 kilo Grays, is "15 million times the energy involved in a single chest X-ray, or 150 times the dose capable of killing an adult."

Worker safety in processing plants is indirectly affected by pushing them to work at an even faster pace, since concerns about contamination are lessened. The job of cutting up animal carcasses is already dangerous, and this makes it even more so.

Radiation exposure of nuclear power plant employees is known to be greater than for the general public. It beggars belief to suggest that food irradiation employees would be better protected. Radioactive materials are stolen for terrorist purposes, and concerns that a dirty bomb might be utilized have never been higher. The two elements used for food irradiation's gamma rays are cobalt 60 and cesium 137. It's absurd to suggest that the food industry is going to be more careful than either nuclear power generation or the military.

In 1988, radioactive water from a Georgia irradiation plant was spilled. People carried radiation into their homes after stepping in it. Taxpayers had to foot the $47 million cleanup bill. In Hawaii, 1967, and New Jersey, 1982, radioactive water was discharged into the public sewage system.

The waste left from spent nuclear material carries the same innate problem that nuclear waste from any other source does: How and where should it be stored? We're no nearer the answer to those concerns than we were 50 years ago.

A primary tactic in selling food irradiation to the public is directing people's attention to a straw dog argument: that irradiated foods do not contain any radiation. This is certainly true. However, that does not demonstrate anything regarding taste, safety, or nutritional quality. As documented here, it's clear that irradiation has none of these qualities. This, though, is one of the primary tools used to persuade people that food irradiation is desirable.

We have been experiencing an unanticipated effect of antibiotics—the rise of drug resistant and more virulent bacteria and fungi. Could we end up with more pernicious radiation-resistent diseases as a result of this technique? We likely won't know until it's too late. We do know, though, that the potential exists, because laboratories have developed radiation-resistant salmonella.

Irradiation means that food known to be contaminated with a disease like E. coli can be zapped and sold. This brings us to the heart of the matter. Food irradiation does not exist to benefit the public. Its purpose is to allow Agribusiness to continue its horrific practices, including extreme congestion of hapless animals in airless, windowless, and filthy environments. They will be able to continue practices that result in contamination of veggies with feces, as in the recent spinach-borne salmonella outbreak. Rather than resolve the underlying problems, Agribusiness will be allowed even more latitude to pollute and destroy the very nature of food.


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