Home Page * Articles * Products & Services * Links

Birth Control Burgers

Irradiated (Nuked) Food Not So Good For Us

By Larry Cook

Eaten Out lately? Chances are, whether it was MacDonalds or your local Four-Star classy joint, some if not most of the food you ate was nuked, and not just microwaved. We're talking irradiation here.

This "purification" process exposes almost any food, especially meat, to gamma radiation in order to kill bacteria which can cause food spoilage and/or food poisoning. The radiation may come from nuclear material such as cobalt 60 or cesium 137 (both highly toxic), from x-rays or electronic beams. Usually, up to 300,000 RADS may be administered-the equivalent of three million chest x-rays! Under ideal conditions, the food doesn't become radioactive; but, this isn't an ideal world, and other bio-chemical changes do take place. Those changes have been shown to cause adverse affects in humans and animals.

Irradiation ionizes the atoms in food, knocking electrons out of orbit and creating free radicals, some of which recombine to form new, sometimes unknown compounds. Though stable, many of these compounds are toxic, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and lipid peroxides. Other free radicals cause destruction at the cellular level. Irradiated foods can lose from 5%-80% of its vitamins, especially vitamins A, C, E, K and B complex, as well as folic acid-the very substances needed to fight free radicals! Irradiation also destroys live enzymes (found in fresh foods and responsible for aiding both digestion and metabolic activity) and friendly bacteria needed to maintain health.

Animals fed irradiated foods have shown various results: tumors, kidney failure, reproductive problems, miscarriages and death of offspring. And those effects may not be limited to animals. In 1975, five malnourished children in India were fed irradiated wheat (at 75,000 rads) for over three weeks. Four of the five children showed gross chromosomal damage just four weeks after initiation of the feeding, and the experiment was stopped. According to S.G. Srikanta, Professor of Food and Nutrition at the University of Mysore, India, such an increase in abnormalities strongly suggests a link to cancer.

Doesn't sound appetizing? You're not the only one who isn't hungry. According to a 1997 CBS nationwide poll, 77% of the American public would not knowingly eat irradiated food. Labeling of irradiated food is not required if it is not packaged for resale to the public. Because the majority of Americans (77%) questioned about irradiation are against it, and want food which has been irradiated to be labeled as such, the industry has tried to re-name the procedure as "electronic pasteurization," "pasteurization with x-rays" and "cold pasteurization."

Though we clearly don't approve, the United States accepts irradiation for beef, pork, poultry, grains, vegetables, fruits, spices and teas. And, if conventional agri-business has its way, irradiation facilities containing highly toxic nuclear materials will be built around the country, increasing the risk of nuclear accidents such as the 1988 leak in Georgia, when radioactive cesium-137 water escaped from one, costing taxpayers $47 million to clean up. Internationally, there are over 150 irradiation facilities in over 40 countries. During a typical irradiation treatment, over 90% of both "good" and "bad" bacteria is destroyed. So, though E. coli is destroyed, so are the foul smelling beneficial bacteria which would tell our noses that the food has gone bad! Unfortunately, viruses, such as the Norwalk virus in shellfish, and the bacteria that causes botulism, are not killed. Interestingly, the natural enemies of botulism are killed during irradiation.

A hypothesis supported by many professionals is that E. coli and other harmful bacteria may develop into radiation resistant bacteria after irradiation becomes widespread. In fact, one bacteria, Deinococcus radiodurans, can survive 1.5 million rads of gamma irradiation (that's 3,000 times the amount that would kill a human!) by putting itself back together in one day after being sliced to pieces by the radiation! 1

So, what's the underlying reason for all this naughty nuking? Rampant fecal contamination of animals destined for slaughter appears to be the reason the meat industry is pushing so strongly for irradiation. Most food poisoning is caused by animal feces in food or water. Unsanitary and foul slaughterhouse conditions severely afflict that industry (Read Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry, by Gail Eisnitz). Rather than zapping the meat, wouldn't a better solution be to literally clean up their s___?

Til then, we may want to consider eating little or no meat (hey, boycotting sends a mega-message to mega-business). And write your congressperson, or a supermarket /chain store CEO, as New Jersey Assemblyman John Kelly did last April, writing to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott after learning of Wal-mart's plan to sell irradiated meat:

"Contrary to what irradiation proponents would have you believe, the science supporting the safety of irradiated food is woefully lacking and borders on being nonexistent. It is a smoke and mirrors science at its best. In approving food irradiation, the FDA ignored the recommendations of its own toxicology committees. Rather than conduct toxicology studies which would address the issue of long-term health effects, the FDA chose to approve irradiation based on, in their words, 'theoretical calculations in radiation chemistry.'
"There is a body of research on the safety of irradiated food which raises concern and is ignored by the FDA. One recurring theme of many of these studies is the effect of irradiated food on reproduction. A number of studies have raised the issue of miscarriages and fertility. USDA studies found that an irradiated diet resulted in 83% fewer offspring. I would hope you choose not to participate in this experiment with your customer's health and refrain from marketing what I refer to as 'birth control burgers.'" 2

Now, where is our trusty FDA when we need it? On the wrong side, it would appear. From over 2,000 studies on food irradiation, they chose only five as cite-worthy, discarding or ignoring studies which suggested that irradiation can cause harmful effects in animals or humans. The five studies accepted by the FDA have been strongly criticized because of methodology and interpretation of data. For example, since irradiation is known to deplete vitamins, supplements were fed to the rats in one of the studies. In two other studies, 55,000 rads or less was administered to foods fed to animals­significantly lower than the 300,000 rads currently used to treat food for human consumption. In one of the studies, four litters of rats were still-born in the 200,000 rad diet, whereas only one such litter was still-born in the control group, and in another study five of sixteen dogs fed irradiated foods had defects.3 Yet the FDA approved irradiation based on these findings from the five studies!

For those who do care to read it, there is enough scientific literature to suggest that eating irradiated food can cause health problems. In fact, in June of 1987, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment heard expert testimonies from four academic scholars;4 all four spoke against irradiation. George Tritsch, Ph.D. stated, "I am opposed to consuming irradiated food because of the abundant and convincing evidence in the referenced scientific literature that the condensation products of the free radicals formed during irradiation produce statistically significant increases in carcinogenesis, mutagenesis and cardiovascular disease in animals and man."5 Richard Piccioni, Ph.D. states, "We feel that there is no assurance in the scientific literature or the arguments of the FDA that the widespread irradiation of food will not be a significant, if silent, threat to the public health."6 Donald Louria, Ph.D. states, "I do not believe that irradiated foods have been shown to be safe for general consumption [and]the effects of irradiation on the nutrient contents of food are not established."7 S.G. Srikanita, B.Sc., B.B.S., D.Sc., states, "[The National Institute of Nutrition]stands behind its statement that eating irradiated wheat-based diets is associated with undesirable consequences"8

Well said, gentlemen.

1 Environment News Service and BioDemocracy and Organic Consumers Association, http://www.purefood.org/irrad/radiodurans.cfm
2 Public Citizen, Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program, http://www.citizen.org/CMEP/rad-food/njassemblett.htm
3 Public Citizen, Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program, www.citizen.org/cmep/rad-food/researchoverview9912.htm
4 S.G. Srikantia, B.Sc., B.B.S., D.Sc., Professor of Food and Nutrition, University of Mysore, India; Donald, Loria, Ph.D., Chairman, Department of Preventative Medicine and Community Health, University of Medicine & Dentistry, New Jersey; George Tritsch, Ph.D., Cancer Research Scientist, Rosewell Park Memorial Institute, New York State Department of Health; and Richard Piccioni, Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist, Accord Research and Educational Associates, New York, NY; http://ccnr.org/food_irradiation.html
5 http://ccnr.org/food_irradiation.html
6 http://ccnr.org/food_irradiation.html
7 http://ccnr.org/food_irradiation.html
8 http://ccnr.org/food_irradiation.html