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Who Opposes Food Irradiation and Why?

Two groups are known to oppose food irradiation, Food and Water Inc, located in Vermonth and Public Citizen, located in Washington D.C.

Opponents claim that irradiation produces unique compounds and specifically cite benzene and formaldehyde as hazardous by-products of the irradiation process.

Response: Chemicals are formed during irradiation, however they are similar to those formed when food is cooked. Benzene and formaldehyde may be formed in some products; however the level is many times less than found in commonly eaten foods. It is not the presence of a compound that is hazardous, but the quantity. Animal and human testing indicate no harmful effect, even when one hundred percent of the diet is irradiated.

Opponents say irradiated food may cause cancer in children.

Response: A study conducted in India, in which 5 malnourished children were fed freshly irradiated wheat is the basis for this claim. Those who completed the study deny this association and no study with people or experimental animals has shown increased incidents of cancer.

Opponents fear that nuclear energy can not be safely used.

Response: Nuclear energy has many applications in medicine. Many common household products, like bandages, articles of hygiene, even tires, are irradiated.

Opponents believe that if irradiation is used as a final sanitation process, food handlers will be careless in food preparation.

Response: This arguement was levied against pasteurization of milk and juice. Sanitary practices have increased overtime. Since microorganisms are a natural part of the enviroment, pasteurization by heat or energy must take place to increase product safety to today's high standards.

Opponents believe irradiation will be an excuse for careless and unsanitary practices in meat a poultry operations.

Response: Meat and poultry facilities must have an approved safe handling plan where they are inspected, and the end product is tested to be sure it meets microbiological safety standards before it may leave the plant. Irradiation takes place after the meat or poultry meets the USDA requirements, therefore it is not possible to bring an illegal product into compliance with irradiation processing. Furthermore, there is an incentive for processors to produce the highest quality (lowest microbiological count) product because a lower dose treatment will be used. This reduces the cost of treatment and assures a higher quality product.