Irradiated Foods

Is it dangerous to eat foods that have undergone “radiation treatment”? It’s hard to be sure when the experiment is far from over.

Irradiation is a controversial development in food technology whereby manufacturers expose foods to high-intensity beams of gamma rays. This is done to kill or render insects incapable of reproducing, to destroy microorganisms in food, to delay the ripening of fruits and vegetables by changing the biochemistry of their cells and to inhibit sprouting during storage. Is it dangerous to eat foods that have undergone “radiation treatment”? It’s hard to be sure when the experiment is far from over.

Billions of lbs. of food are irradiated every year in North America and it’s literally impossible to know for certain which foods at the grocery store have been exposed to radiation. The USDA recently yielded to pressure from the food industry to relax legislation pertaining to the labeling of irradiated foods (if people even know what irradiation is to begin with). Manufacturers are now permitted to use the same size print on the package to declare that the food has been irradiated as they use to list their ingredients (we all know how small that print can be). Now the food industry is petitioning the FDA for the right not to label irradiated foods as being such. Seems we’re going in the wrong direction.

Physicists at Melbourne University discovered that levels of free radicals increased three to fifty times- depending on the type of food that was irradiated. The human body is very sensitive to free radicals caused by gamma radiation. In fact, these free radicals are capable of causing cancer and premature aging. The effects of eating irradiated foods over a lifetime become impossible to predict.

Furthermore, chromosome damage may not become apparent until later generations. A variety of studies in which animals were fed irradiated foods (another reason to be wary of these foods- animal testing) showed effects such as damage to bones, liver, spleen, kidneys, testicles, and ovaries as well as premature death, fewer offspring, higher numbers of still-births, lower birth weight, retarded growth, chromosome damage, tumors, and cataracts. Just to name a few.

In 1987, the Shanghai Institute of Radiation Medicine and Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research conducted a study on seventy healthy male and female subjects. The study confirmed the development of chromosome abnormalities that developed in healthy adults who ate stored irradiated foods. In 1968, the FDA reported that laboratory animals who were fed irradiated foods showed increases in testicular tumors, pituitary cancer, weight loss, shortened lifespan and reduced fertility.

Lab rats in the former Soviet Union who were fed irradiated foods, had increased rates of kidney and testicular damage.

In Canada, studies revealed that laboratory animals who ate irradiated foods, developed an extra set of chromosomes.

In the 1960’s, the U.S. army and the Atomic Energy Commission were pushing for the use of irradiation on food destined for frontline troops. The high levels of radiation needed to permanently preserve food made the plan unfeasible as it destroyed food nutrients and produced new chemical substances that were suspected of being highly toxic and possibly carcinogenic. Test animals were severely damaged when fed these irradiated foods and in 1966, the WHO recommended extreme care in their use.

Vitamin Destruction

The huge jolts of irradiation destroy vitamins and other essential nutrients. Researchers claim that irradiation diminishes or destroys vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, carotene and thiamin. Ironically, proponents of food irradiation suggest that irradiated foods simply be fortified with vitamins or that people take vitamins and supplements. (I guess it never occurred to them to just not irradiate food).

In the United States, the FDA permits manufacturers to irradiate a wide variety of foods. Recent outbreaks of E.coli bacteria in beef has prompted industry and some members of the public to press for irradiation of beef- as if eating meat isn’t already bad enough for you.

Dr. Noel Sommer and the late Dr. Edward Maxie spent years researching irradiation with the support of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. (AECL) and said there is considerable evidence indicating that some diseases of post-harvested citrus fruits occur because of the cellular injury that happens when they are irradiated. Irradiation lowers the fruit’s normal resistance to disease. Researchers also tell us that irradiated strawberries “weep” when cut; citrus fruits are more sensitive to the cold and foods suffer changes in color, odor, flavor, and texture. Manufacturers may then have to add synthetic colors, flavors or other additives to correct these deficiencies before marketing.

Many countries have banned the process of food irradiation. Among them are Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, Romania, Abu Dhabi, the Dominican Republic, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. It would be nice if North America could become enlightened to the unnecessity of this process and the horrors resulting from it.

To read more on this topic, see the book “Hard to Swallow: theTruth About Food Additives” by Doris Sarjeant and Karen Evans (from ALIVE books).

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