FDA permits irradiation of produce

After years of consumer wrangling and wariness over food irradiation, the United States Food and Drug Administration has OKed the irradiation of lettuce and spinach. The Associated Press quotes the FDA’s chief of food additive safety, Dr. Laura Tarantino, as saying “What this does is give producers and processors one more tool in the toolbox to make these commodities safer and protect public health.”

Irradiation is the treatment of food products with gamma rays, X rays, or high-voltage electrons to kill potentially harmful pathogens such as e.coli, and increase shelf life. While highly controversial, irradiation has actually been in place for several years now. Meat and spices are among the items that can be subjected to the process, but food producers have long resisted demands to label foods that have been irradiated, wary of consumer suspicions. Foods that meet USDA organic standards, however, cannot be irradiated.

This latest move is a response by the FDA to counter recent outbreaks of e.coli which essentially shut down the California spinach growing industry in 2006 and resulted in a painfully confused effort by the federal agency to track down another outbreak in Mexican-grown jalapeño peppers in July.

“FDA regulations still require that irradiated lettuce and spinach sold in retail stores be labeled as ‘Treated by radiation’and display the Radura symbol [Dislayed at right] at the point of sale,” according to the Organic Consumers Association, “although irradiated greens served in restaurants, schools, hospitals, and nursing home would not have to be labeled.”

The OCA has been highly critical of irradiation and reporting by other organizations, such as NaturalNews, has been vitriolic to say the least. Nonetheless, concerns about the impact of irradiation on the health value of food are strong, and NaturalNews calls the drive toward irradiation a plot by Big Pharma to destroy the nutritional value of the nation’s food supply in an effort to increase public dependence upon their medications, thereby increasing their profits.

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