Myths And Facts About Food Irradiation Biology Essay

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Myth: Irradiation would not be necessary if food production and processing facilities were cleaner. Meat and poultry processors won't strive for safe or clean products if they know the products are destined for irradiation.

Fact: Microorganisms are a natural part of the ecosystem. Microbiological safety must be achieved; it does not occur automatically, even in a visually clean environment.   

Food irradiation is not a substitute for good manufacturing practices. Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) inspects all meat and poultry products, including those that are irradiated. Establishments that use irradiation must meet the same sanitation and food safety standards required for all meat and poultry plants. Only federally inspected establishments and State-inspected establishments that meet FSIS regulations are able to irradiate meat and poultry products.

Since bacteria are nearly everywhere, measures must be taken to control them. These include chemical dips, rinses or sprays, treatment with energy, i.e. food irradiation, or treatment with heat (pasteurization) or cooking.

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Proper cooking destroys Salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens; however the potential for cross-contamination is increased when contaminated food enters the kitchen. Irradiation helps to prevent contaminated food from entering the kitchen. Chemical or energy treatments destroy the microbes before they are brought home or to the restaurant.

Irradiation of tropical fruit and spices eliminates the need for chemical fumigation and is thus far more consumer friendly.

Irradiation is not the "silver bullet," but is another layer of protection for the consumer. The food industry has made a huge investment in food safety technology and intervention strategies. Irradiation is considered another tool to make the world's safest food supply even safer. Irradiation offers the greatest opportunity for food safety and optimum product quality.

Myth: Irradiation will mask low quality and contamination from filth. It is an excuse for the sale of contaminated food.

Fact: Critics made the same comments about milk pasteurization 80 years ago. Sanitation on dairy farms and dairy plants is far, far better today than at any time in history.

Irradiation doesn't substitute for good manufacturing practices, and will not replace inspection or sanitation procedures already in place. Intervention strategies such as steam pasteurization, organic rinses and others have significantly reduced the incidence of bacterial contamination in beef.

USDA has standards that must be met. Irradiation can not hide foreign matter or be used as an excuse for sale of contaminated food. Meat and poultry facilities must have an approved safe handling plan where they are inspected. Routine end product testing is done to be sure it meets microbiological safety standards.

Irradiation takes place after the meat or poultry has already met stringent USDA requirements, therefore it is not possible to bring an inferior or 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. Irradiation is just another tool to eliminate pathogens.

Myth: Irradiation destroys the nutritional content of food. Irradiated foods taste "different.".

Fact: All food preservation processes affect nutritional content. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that nutritional losses are insignificant. 

Scientific studies have shown that food irradiation does not significantly change the nutrient content, flavor, or texture of food. While there is some loss of vitamins during the process of irradiation, this loss is comparable to that of other processing technologies, such as cooking, canning, micro-waving and freezing.

There is substantially more vitamin content in irradiated fruit than non-irradiated fruit because fruit can be harvested ripe, irradiated and shipped. Non-irradiated fruit must be picked green and then shipped well before it is mature.

Opponents claim high nutrient losses because they refer to studies that expose food to high doses not permitted in the United States or they cite older studies that failed to accurately measure nutritional value.

Numerous taste tastes comparing irradiated and non-irradiated foods have shown that the organoleptic qualities of irradiated foods remain constant. In fact, the taste of irradiated fruits and vegetables is often superior to non-irradiated because it retains freshness longer and can be harvested when the vitamin content is optimum.

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Myth: Irradiated foods will glow or become radioactive.

Fact: The amount of energy used in food irradiation is not strong enough to cause food to become radioactive. In fact, food passes on a conveyor system into an area with the radiant energy source, and never comes into direct contact with the energy source.

Myth: Activist groups who oppose food irradiation reflect public views and are protecting the public interest.

Fact: Activist groups have their own agendas, and they differ in their reliance on science-based information. All activist groups, however rely on membership for fundraising. Many have demonstrated a tendency to identify and exaggerate "risks" and solicit funds in order to "protect the public interest", thus maintaining the financial solvency of the organization.

Myth: Consumers do not want and will not accept irradiated foods.

Fact: Marketing studies clearly demonstrate that many consumers prefer irradiated food and will select it over non-irradiated when given the opportunity. Numerous university studies show that support for irradiated foods can reach as high as 85-90% when accurate information is provided.

Myth: Control of the irradiation process is not adequate.

Fact: International standards established by an international panel of experts are adopted by all countries.

Myth: Irradiation is not safe, and the scientific community opposes its use.

Fact: All respected national and international health organizations support irradiation. Groups such as the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, American Dietetic Association, and the World Health Organization, endorse the safety of irradiated foods.

Irradiated food has been fed to multiple generations of laboratory animals and to human volunteers with no ill effects. When used to destroy microorganisms, irradiation always improves food safety.

Myth: The public will not know what foods are irradiated and what are not.

Fact: Labeling of irradiated foods is required, except in restaurant foods and when irradiated spices and dried vegetables are used as flavorings in mixed dishes. The required identification symbol (Radura) and the words "irradiated for food safety" must be clearly displayed on packaging.

Myth: There have been no "long term" studies on the safety of irradiated foods.

Fact: The process of irradiation has been more thoroughly studied than any other food preservation method. There have been more than 500 scientific papers published on the safety and effectiveness of irradiation during the past 50 years. Our astronauts have consumed irradiated food since 1972.

Myth: Irradiation will make foods radioactive.

Fact: Irradiation does not change the radioactivity of food and does not leave any residues. Irradiation by E-Beam (electrons) and X-rays uses ordinary electricity. No radioactive material is involved in electron beam or X-ray irradiation.

Myth: Irradiation facilities will add significant amounts of radioactive waste to the environment.

Fact: Companies that produce cobalt60 in the western hemisphere, estimate that all the cobalt60 produced in North America could be stored in a space the size of an office desk. Cobalt used in food irradiation facilities could be "recycled" from that used to sterilize medical equipment.

Myth: Organic food is healthier. We should buy only "organic or "naturally  raised" food, it's safer.

Fact: Organic chickens are three times more likely than traditionally-bred birds to be contaminated with a bacterium that causes food-poisoning. The Danish Veterinary Laboratory in Aarhus recently found that each of 22 organic broiler flocks they investigated were infected with Campylobacter. Only one-third of the 79 conventional chicken flocks studied were infected.

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

Fact: Chemicals are formed during irradiation, however they are similar to or less than changes that occur when food is cooked, baked, boiled or fried.

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. For example, a boiled egg contains a 100 times more benzene than irradiated beef, and no one has questioned the safety of boiled eggs. Scientists conclude that these levels are of no toxicological significance. Numerous animal and human testing indicate no harmful effects, even when one hundred percent of the diet is irradiated.

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Myth: Opponents say irradiated food may cause cancer in children.

Fact: A study conducted in India, over 30 years ago, 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.

Additional Points:

Irradiation offers health and convenience benefits for the public; however misconceptions about the process and its impact on people and the environment are sometimes presented.

Myth: Irradiation would not be necessary if food production and processing facilities were cleaner.

This view fails to recognize that microorganisms are a natural part of the ecosystem. Microbiological safety must be achieved; it does not occur automatically, even in a visually clean environment. Since bacteria are ubiquitous, measures must be taken to control them. These include chemical dips or sprays, treatment with energy, i.e. food irradiation, or treatment with heat. Irradiation doesn't substitute for good manufacturing practices, it augments them.

Proper cooking destroys Salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens; however the potential for cross-contamination is increased when contaminated food enters the kitchen. Chemical or energy treatment destroys the microbes before they are brought home.

Treatment of spices is sometimes overlooked. Some believe the choice is natural, wholesome spices or irradiated spices. Actually, most spices are fumigated to control microorganisms and/or insects. Irradiation produces a high quality product with greater worker and environmental safety. Irradiation is a positive move along the continuum of safety. Ten, twenty, or fifty years from now another process could replace irradiation; but today, it offers the greatest safety and quality.

Myth: Control of the irradiation process is not adequate.

International standards established by an international panel of experts are adopted by many if not all countries. See : How Food Irradiation is Regulated

Myth: Irradiation is not safe, and the scientific community opposes its use.

Respected national and international organizations, such as the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization, endorse the safety of irradiated foods. Scientists acknowledge that no process can be proven safe; rather, scientists develop scenarios to test safety. Irradiated food has been fed to multiple generations of laboratory animals and to human volunteers with no ill effects. When used to destroy microorganisms, irradiation improved food safety.

Myth: The public will not know what foods are irradiated and what are not.

Labeling of irradiated foods is required, except in restaurant foods and when irradiated spices and dried vegetables are used as flavorings in mixed dishes.

Myth: Transportation of radioactive cobalt is hazardous and people will be harmed by accidents. Community safety is not protected.

Transportation of radioactive material has occurred for more than 50 years without mishap. Containers and irradiation facilities must meet specific U.S. and international standards (WHO, 1991).

Myth: Irradiation facilities will add significant amounts of radioactive waste to the environment.

Cobalt used in food irradiation facilities could be "recycled" from that used to sterilize medical equipment. MDS Nordion, the company that produces cobalt60 in the western hemisphere, estimates that all the cobalt60 produced in North America could be stored in a space the size of an office desk. Irradiation by E-Beam and X-rays do not utilize radioactive material.

Myth: Irradiation destroys the nutritional content of food.

There is some loss of vitamins during irradiation, but this loss is comparable to that of other processing technologies. Opponents claim high losses because they refer to studies that expose food to high doses not permitted in the United States or they refer to older studies that failed to accurately measure nutritional value.

Myth: Activist groups who oppose food irradiation reflect public views and protect the public Interest.

Activist groups have their own agendas, and they differ in their reliance on science-based information. All groups, however rely on membership for fundraising. Some have demonstrated a tendency to identify and exaggerate "risks" and solicit funds in order to "protect the public interest", thus maintaining the financial solvency of the organization.

Myth: Consumers do not want and will not accept irradiated foods.

Marketing studies clearly demonstrate that many consumers prefer irradiated food and will select it over non-irradiated when given the opportunity. Consumers should be given the choice to select safety-enhanced irradiated foods.

Myth: Irradiation will make foods radioactive.

Irradiation does not change the radioactivity of food, nor does irradiation leaves any residues

Notes: Common Myths About Food Irradiation

Myth 1: The product will become radioactive.

Myth Busted: Not true - the product will contain no radioactive elements.

Myth 2: The nutrient loss will be significant (especially Vitamins B and C)

Myth Busted: Studies reviewed by the American Dietetic Association have shown that nutrient loss was "small and often substantially less than other methods of preservation." In fact, any nutrients lost are approximately equivalent to levels that are lost when cooking the food.

II - Health Risks:

� While it is true that some nutrient levels are reduced when food is irradiated, the reduction is generally less than that experienced with canning, drying, heat pasteurization, or sterilization. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are not appreciably altered by irradiation at pasteurizing doses. These are the doses at which most food is currently irradiated.

� Even in the unlikely event that irradiated foods made up a large portion of a person's diet, there is unlikely to be any adverse nutritional effect. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for instance, measured dietary thiamin levels in an "extreme case" where all meat, poultry, and fish consumed had been irradiated at the maximum possible dose. These unlikely circumstances still allowed for thiamin intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance.

� The relevance of C. botulinum to food irradiation remains to be established. C. botulinum is most likely to be found in low-acid foods that have been canned. Canned foods are not irradiated, and irradiated meat and poultry (like non-irradiated meat and poultry) are stored in frozen or refrigerated conditions where C. botulinum does not grow. Further, the spoilage bacteria that remain present in irradiated food would cause the food to spoil, alerting the consumer that the food should not be consumed before botulism-causing bacteria can produce toxins.

� Suggesting that irradiated foods could still become contaminated is stating the obvious. Like any food, irradiated foods can become contaminated through improper handling or cross contamination, which is why irradiation proponents repeatedly stress that irradiation is not a substitute for hygienic practices.

On the other hand, irradiated foods do not pose the same cross contamination risk as non-irradiated foods. Having irradiated foods in the kitchen provides an extra level of safety to all foods that may come in contact with the irradiated products.

Misleading Consumers

� Irradiation cannot make an "old" food "fresh" again. No irradiation proponent would claim that it can. Irradiation cannot reverse the spoilage process. If food looks, smells, or tastes bad it is spoiled. Irradiation cannot change that.

� Irradiation kills SOME of the bacteria that alert consumers when a product is spoiling, but not all of those warning bacteria. Therefore, spoilage of irradiated foods will be detected by consumers the same way they can detect spoilage in non-irradiated foods.

Misuse of the Technology

� Irradiation is not a substitute for safe and sanitary food processing and manufacturing. It is another tool in our food safety arsenal. Irradiation is not and cannot be used to mask an unsanitary product. Irradiating a dirty product is illegal, and it does not result in a pleasing product. Irradiation kills bacteria; it does not remove or mask feces, dirt, grime, or any other food contaminant.

The Safety of Workers

� There are numerous safeguards in place to prevent injuries to workers at irradiation facilities. The potential exposure to radioactive materials for these workers is similar to what it would be for an x-ray technician or dental hygienist -- virtually nil.

Security Risks

� The irradiation facilities that do use radioactive isotopes (currently Cobalt 60) often store the irradiating "pencils" in water when the irradiator is idle. These cooling ponds would be nearly impossible for people to access. Therefore, those people with evil intentions would have a difficult time getting radioactive materials from an irradiation facility. Facilities that do not store the irradiating rods in water secure them in ways that would be equally difficult to access.

� It is important to recognize that most irradiation facilities that use isotopes are not �food irradiation� facilities, but rather facilities that sterilize primarily consumer and medical products. Since we are not about to stop sterilizing those items, we should stop talking about the risk of theft of radioactive materials as though it were a problem unique to the food irradiation industry. Rather, no radiation source should go unguarded, and irradiation facilities have the same responsibilities as power plants, hospitals, and other industries to secure their sources.

Environmental Impacts

� There have been few accidents that have caused great bodily harm or death in the last 25 years at irradiation facilities. In most cases, workers did not follow the safety procedures that were in place and willfully tampered with safeguards.

� If new irradiation facilities were built, they would not necessarily be gamma ray facilities. Most of the new facilities being planned and built are x-ray and e-beam units with no radioactive isotope sources, thus the argument that the construction of more irradiation plants would lead to more transportation of radioactive materials is simply flawed logic.

Additional Points: Health concerns

Scientists speak out against the irradiation of food. Scientific studies since the 1950's reveal the harmful effects of consuming irradiated food. Scientists speak out.

Effects of feeding irradiated wheat to malnourished children: In 1973 the National Institute of Nutrition in India, initiated studies on the health effects of consumption of irradiated food using mice, rats, monkey and undernourished children. This report was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 28/2/1975 pp 130 to 135. Studies revealed the development of cells with chromosome abnormalities in their bone marrow and an increase in polyploid (abnormal) cells. However, The World Health Organisation (WHO) dismiss the report on the basis that the report's findings were a 'chance phenomenon' and further states that the findings observed 'occurred by chance'

[Reference: WHO Safety & Nutritional Adequacy of Irradiated Food, Section 6. Toxicology, p95]

Testimony of S. G. Srikantia, B. Sc.,.B.B.S.,D.Sc. Professor of Foods and Nutrition, University of Mysore, India on their findings in 1973. To-date the Institute has not withdrawn its findings and stands fully behind its published articles. http://ccnr.org/food_irradiation.html

DNA damage caused by irradiated foods: The Federal Nutrition Research Institute in Karlsruhe, Germany conducted experiments on rats which revealed DNA damage. Genotoxicity of 2-DCB report concluded, 'The results urge caution, and should provide impetus for further studies'. http://www.organicconsumers.org/irrad/2dcbrelease.cfm

"Hidden Harm" - A report by Public Citizen and The Centre for Food Safety addresses how the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is ignoring the potential dangers of unique chemicals in irradiated food. www.citizen.org/documents/HiddenHarm_-_PDF.pdf

Irradiation destroys essential vitamins and nutrients: Vitamins 1, B1, B2, B2, B6, B12 folic acid, C, E and K are significantly damaged by irradiation. Essential amino acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids can also be depleted. Numerous food irradiation studies conducted on test animals have indicated that consumption of irradiated food can cause serious health risks with potentially fatal results, for example, cancer, still births, internal hemorrhaging, radioactivity and genetic mutations. Moreover, tests conducted on human cells have shown irradiated foods to be highly toxic and to cause chromosomal damage as discussed above in Genotoxicity of 2-DCB report.

Cancer: "A careful analysis by FDA (Food & Drug Administration) of all data present showed significant adverse effects produced in animals fed irradiated food…What were these adverse effects?…Carcinomas of the pituitary gland, a particularly disturbing finding since this is an extremely rare type of malignant tumor."

[Spiher, A.T. 1968. Food Irradiation: An FDA report". FDA Papers]

Still births: "Two groups of 10 male and 50 female mice were fed diet containing 50% wheat flour,…Cytogenic examinations of the developing spermatogonia in 30 mice of each group revealed that cytogenic abnormalities were significantly more frequent in the group fed irradiated flour than in the control group…a large number of litters were born in which noe of the offspring was viable; the incidence of litters so affected was significantly higher in the group fed irradiated flour…on the average the losses were about 35% higher in the test group than in the controls. The life span of mice fed irradiated flour was slightly shorter than in the control mice." [Bugyaki, L., et al, "Do irradiated foodstuffs have a radiomimetic effect?"]

Internal Hemorrhaging: "A significant number of rats consuming irradiated beef died from internal hemorrhage within 46 days, the first death of a male rat coming on the 11th day of feeding….Post-mortem examination showed hemothorax, the blood had not clotted; there was bleeding also in the epididymis."[Metta, V.C. et al. 1959. "Vitamin K deficiency in rats induced by feeding of irradiated beef'. Journal of Nutrition, 60: 18-21]

Radioactivity: "…considerable amounts of radioactivity were present in liver, kidney, stomach, gastrointestinal tract, and blood serum of rats sacrificed at 3 and 15 hours….Radioactivity was present in urine and feces samples collected from all animals."

[A. K. De, et al. 1969. "Biochemical Effects of Irradiated Sucrose Solutions in the Rat" Radiation Research, 37: 202-215]

Genetic Mutations: "Groups of Swiss albino mice (SPF) fed with normal and gamma-irradiated food …were injected intraperitoneally with Salmonella tympphimirium TA 1530 for the host mediated assay test of mutagenesis. The mutation frequency was calculated in terms of the numbers of mutant colonies per unit of surviving cells. The results indicate that there is a significant increase in mutation frequency induced by the 3 Mrad sterilized food."

[M. Brena-Valle, et al. 1975. "Mutagenicity of irradiated food in the host mediated assay system" Studia Biophysica, Berlin 50: 137-141]

Chromosomal Damage: "Irradiated sucrose solutions…were extremely toxic to human lymphocytes…Degenerated mitoses were observed and the chromosomes were grossly damaged. The chromatin material was clumped or the chromosomes appeared shattered or pulverized…In contrast, treatment with unirradiated sucrose at the same concentration had no apparent effect on the mitotic rate and the chromosomes were not visibly damaged."

[Shaw, M.W and Hayes, E. 1966. "Effects of irradiated sucrose on the chromosomes of human lymphocytes in vitro". Nature, 211: 1254-1255]

http://www.foodirradiationinfo.org/faq.html