Food irradiation refers to bombarding food with ionizing radiation to kill bacteria. Of course just as chemotherapy in humans sometimes destroys healthy cells along with cancerous ones, irradiation can destroy vitamins and minerals as they kill the living bacteria cells. For that reason some people feel stronger than others about buying and consuming irradiated foods.
Since our Wildtree products are proudly said to have NO IRRADIATION, I did some research to decide on my personal position with respect to irradiation.
As food is irradiated, (which can also be called electronic pasteurization, cold pasteurization, or pasteurization with xray), harmful cancer-causing chemical agents such as formaldehyde and benzene can be formed thru the chemical reactions that irradiation can cause. Irradiation damages the natural digestive enzymes found in raw foods. This means the body has to work harder to digest them.
According to the Organic Consumer’s Association, irradiated foods can lose anywhere between 5% – 80% of many vitamins (A, C, E, K and B complex). The amount of loss depends on the dose of irradiation and the length of storage time.
Most of the food in the American diet is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for irradiation: beef, pork, lamb, poultry, wheat, wheat flour, vegetables, fruits, shell eggs, seeds for sprouting, spices, herb teas. (Dairy is already pasteurized). Irradiation doesn’t kill all the bacteria in a food. In a few hours at room temperature, the bacteria remaining in meat or poultry after irradiation can multiply to the level existing before irradiation. Some bacteria, like the one that causes botulism, as well as viruses and prions (which are believed to cause Mad Cow Disease) are not killed by current doses of irradiation. Some opponents of irradiation believe that irradiation encourages food producers to cut corners on sanitation, because they can ‘clean up’ the food just before it is shipped.
There is a difference between IRRADIATION and RADIOACTIVE. The technical term for irradiated food is “radiometric.” However, the effects that can come from eating irradiated foods can be the same type of effects from exposure to ionizing radiation. Meaning, although the food isn’t radioactive, eating it can give you an indirect exposure to radiation. Which, frankly, was enough for me to put irradiated foods on my personal “no thank you” list! From what I find, scientists haven’t published any significant long term studies showing the long term health effects from eating irradiated food, so it’s left up to us (as the consumer) to decide if we feel “no news is good news” with respect to health and safety.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) talks about the chemicals used to perform the irradiation process. Cobalt 60 is manufactured in a commercial nuclear reactor, by exposing non-radioactive cobalt to intense radiation in the reactor core. Cesium 137 is a by-product of the manufacturing of weapons-grade radioactive substances. Thus the supply of these two substances, like that of other radioactive materials used in medicine, science and industry, is dependent on the nuclear industry.
Interestingly (and rather disconcertingly), the FDA does NOT require most irradiated foods to be labeled for the consumer. You should look for the Radura symbol (which logo should show a food that has been treated with ionizing radiation), or in the absence of the symbol, you may see the words “treated with ionizing radiation” or “irradiated to destroy harmful microbes.” However, from the FDA standpoint, the symbol, or the disclosure, is only enforced for labeling to the FIRST PURCHASER. Which in the case of processed foods, can mean a wholesaler or distributor, rather than an end consumer like us.
Foods that are served in restaurants, schools, etc., or receive further processing, do not bear consumer labels. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), it is not required to label a food if a minor ingredient of the food, such as a spice, has been irradiated itself.
If unlabeled, raw foods that have been irradiated look like fresh foods, but nutritionally they are like cooked foods, with decreased vitamins and enzymes. The FDA allows these foods to be labeled “fresh.”
According to the CDC, “Consumers are interested in a process that eliminates harmful microbes from the food and reduce the risk of foodborne disease. In test marketing of specific irradiated foods, consumers have shown that they are willing to buy them. Typically at least half will buy the irradiated food, if given a choice between irradiated product and the same product non-irradiated. If consumers are first educated about what irradiation is and why it is done, approximately 80% will buy the product in these marketing tests”.