The Food and Drug Administration's approval of beef irradiation raises many serious health and environmental concerns. Irradiated beef has never been proven safe to eat, and the irradiation of food fails to address the root causes of our food-safety crisis. But this summer's massive beef recall in conjunction with congressional pressure and recent legislation motivated the FDA to approve beef irradiation anyway.
Rather than taking immediate steps to clean up and slow down our out-of-control food production system, both the beef industry and government advocate zapping E.coli, salmonella and other dangerous bacteria with nuclear waste. But this technology will create many more health crises than it will ever prevent.
No long-term studies on the safety of eating irradiated beef have been conducted, and the effects of a radiation-exposed diet on humans is unknown. The food and nuclear industries have received the green light from government to launch a massive human experiment in the name of food safety.
And what we already know is cause for great concern.
Irradiation destroys essential vitamins and creates carcinogenic chemicals in food, like Benzene in irradiated beef.
Existing irradiation facilities have poor safety records, with nuclear contamination, spills and dangerous exposures to both workers and surrounding communities.
Scientists, including the chair of the 1982 FDA irradiation committee, found the studies used to demonstrate irradiation's safety inadequate and flawed.
Food irradiation is also not the cure its advocates want us to believe it is. The approved radiation doses will not sterilize the food; rather, it will kill only 90 percent to 99 percent of the organisms. The bacteria that survive are radiation-resistant, and their effects and characteristics remain unknown.
At the same time, irradiation will allow the causes of meat contamination to flourish while giving the false impression the problem is being solved. Instead of being forced to clean up inhumane and filthy processing facilities, corporations will be able to continue the practices that lead to contamination and simply irradiate the fecal contaminated meat products that should have been discarded in the first place.
But we're confident the public will continue to reject the technology for actual use on the food supply. A recent CBS News poll found that nationwide 73 percent of people oppose irradiation, and 77 percent say they wouldn't eat irradiated food. As the poultry and produce industries quickly learned when irradiation was approved for these foods, government approval does not mean the public will buy irradiated food.
Americans do not want to participate in a massive irradiation experiment. They do not want nuclear irradiation facilities in their communities. And as they've shown repeatedly, they will not eat irradiated food.
MICHAEL COLBY is executive director of Food & Water Inc., a national, non-profit food-safety organization.