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Unintended Health Risks Linked to Irradiated Food

from Public Citizen

Chemical by-products found in irradiated ground beef and many other foods "treated" with radiation may increase the risks of colon cancer and DNA damage in people who eat these foods, according to new studies conducted in Europe.

Based on this evidence, the consumer groups Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety filed formal comments urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deny five pending requests to irradiate additional food types, including "ready-to-eat" foods (such as packaged deli meats, frozen meals and snack foods) which comprise more than a third of the typical American's diet. The FDA is also considering legalizing irradiation for shellfish and several other food classes.

In addition, the groups urged the FDA to reconsider its past approvals of irradiation for beef, poultry, pork, eggs, fruits, vegetables, spices and other foods. This series of approvals began in 1983.

The new European studies come at a time when irradiated foods, primarily ground beef, are being made available to millions of Americans. School children throughout the country soon could be eating irradiated ground beef; hundreds of grocery stores and restaurants, including several large chains, have begun marketing irradiated meat; and record-sized recalls have led several huge meat producers to irradiate some of their products.

The new studies call into question the long-held position of the FDA and the food industry that irradiated foods are generally safe for human consumption. But the studies confirm research published in 1998 and 2001 showing that concentrations of chemicals called 2-alkylcyclobutanones (or 2-ACBs) -which are found only in irradiated foods-caused DNA damage in human cells.

Among the new findings, 2-ACBs were shown to promote tumor development in rat colons. Also, scientists discovered that they could not adequately account for most of a dose of 2-ACBs fed to rats. While very small amounts of 2-ACBs were detected in the fat of rats, most of the chemicals could not be recovered, implying that they are either stored in other parts of the body or transformed into other compounds.

Funded by the European Union (EU), the three-year project was conducted by a team of French and German scientists from several institutions. The200-page document, released in December, consists of five primary toxicity studies and several secondary studies.

The groups also have submitted evidence of many and varied health problems in animals fed irradiated foods.

The groups are asking the FDA to convene public meetings to thoroughly explore the health effects of this controversial food sterilization technology.

Taken from the Provender Journal
May/June 2003
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