Irradiated food.

I look at this sign and it looks so benign. A green, growing vegetable. This is the Radura sign, which shows that food has been irradiated.

I had never seen this sign anywhere except when studying microbiology a couple days ago. I was taking a quiz on the different methods of microorganism sterilization, and came up on this question: ''What is not a benefit of food irradiation?'' The correct answer, in that case, was that it renders the food ''not as nutritious'' as its non-irradiated counterpart.

Interesting. I know that conventional, non-organic dry spices are irradiated. But I had no idea how many more conventionally-grown vegetables and fruits are irradiated in order to be sold in supermarkets. Not only vegetables and fruit, but grains, meat, pork and poultry as well.

This is a list available at the UW Food Irradiation Education Group. It shows foods that are irradiated, and for what purpose. Note that it does not kill bacteria, only reduces it. For bacteria to be killed, more radiation is necessary. Viruses are resistant to the irradiation doses approved for food.

1963Wheat flourControl of mold
1964White potatoesInhibit sprouting
1986PorkKill Trichina parasites
1986Fruit and vegetablesInsect control
Increase shelf life
1986Herbs and spicesSterilization
1990 - FDA
1992 - USDA
PoultryBacterial pathogen reduction
1997 - FDA
1999 - USDA
MeatBacterial pathogen reduction

This site also states that ''Irradiation is a safe and effective technology.'' There is no mention about the loss of nutrients, which I had read about in the microbiology quiz. According to  Food and Water Watch, irradiation causes the formation of free radicals, which interact with vitamins to alter and/or degrade their structure. Add to that the longer shelf life that irradiation gives food, plus the fact that produce looses vitamins as it ages... and I come up with basically no vitamins left. Here are a couple examples of vitamins that are affected by irradiation. Thiamine is vitamin B1.
Mango61.0 kGyVitamin C
Mandarin orange71.0 kGyVitamin C
Grapefruit81.0 kGyVitamin C
Apple91.0 kGyVitamin C
Potato101.0 kGyVitamin C
Oats111.0 kGyThiamin
Wheat flour121.0 kGyThiamin
Pork131.0 kGyThiamin
Chicken143.0 kGyThiamin & Vitamin E
Turkey153.0 kGyThiamin
Beef164.5 kGyThiamin
Lamb174.5 kGyThiamin

I know for a fact that my body is not capable of synthesizing its own vitamins, and that I must obtain them by eating food that contains them in order for my body to function properly. What is the point, then, of eating produce that has no vitamins?

I think back on the Radura sign, and wonder why I have never seen it.

Apples and Cobalt 60
The information is out there. But it is hard to find, and confusing. Some articles say school lunches are irradiated, others say it is not, some say fruit is irradiated, others say fruit has only been ''approved'' for irradiation... and then I read the rules on irradiation labeling. It reminds me of one of those kids games that, no matter which route you take, you end up in the same place ==> no label.

The FDA, USDA and other government agencies create the regulations that control and manage the food we eat; in this case, the labeling of the food we eat. The FDA also manages to frequently employ former executives of corporations such as Monsanto's Michael Taylor. Conflict?

I have also found conflicting information on the safety of food irradiation. Articles in the  NY Times and Grist list pros and cons; the Organic Consumers Association gives me info on free radicals, public health, and a detailed analysis of the FDA's food irradiation brochure.

The USDA site supports food irradiation, and gives me facts on the safety of irradiation.

The USDA also supports the use of GMO's and pesticides. DDT, for example, is a pesticide that was once considered safe, until it was banned in 1972.

Given these facts...

  1. Irradiated foods are less nutritious
  2. I do not know for sure that irradiated foods are safe
  3. There is no way for me to tell which food is irradiated
  4. The only foods that cannot be irradiated, by law, are organic foods
... I choose to eat, as much as possible, organically and locally grown produce, meat, poultry, grains and eggs. I know that I, and my children, need the nutrients that those foods are meant to provide.

As for the Radura sign... I finally found it here:

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