Sounding Circle: Government Approves Hazardous Irradiation of Shellfish

 Government Approves Hazardous Irradiation of Shellfish0 comments
18 Aug 2005 @ 23:42, by Raymond Powers

Government Approves Hazardous Irradiation of Shellfish

From: Environment News Service
Irradiation of Oysters, Mussels, Clams Approved

WASHINGTON, DC, August 16, 2005 (ENS) - When it comes to announcing new regulations that allow ionizing radiation to be used on food, the U.S. government always calls the process "safe."

Today The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is amending the food additive regulations "to provide for the safe use of ionizing radiation for control of Vibrio species and other foodborne pathogens in fresh or frozen molluscan shellfish" such as oysters, mussels, clams.

But Wenonah Hauter, director of the Food Program for the campaign group Public Citizen, is not so sure.

Calling the FDA's decision to permit the use of irradiation on oysters, clams and mussels "misguided," Hauter says despite years of consumer resistance to eating irradiated food, "the government continues to forge a path down which very few consumers are willing to tread."

"Grocery stores rarely carry irradiated meat because it doesn't sell. The National School Lunch Program has yet to order a single pound of irradiated ground beef despite the federal government's 2003 approval of such purchases for the program," said Hauter. "Several food irradiation facilities have closed their doors in the past two years due to lack of business."

The FDA is promoting irradiation despite the fact that questions about long-term health impacts of irradiation remain unanswered and despite the fact that alternatives exist, she said.

On August 8, FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford told the International Congress on Meat Science and Technology that the risk of food-borne illnesses in shellfish can be reduced by cutting the time from harvest to refrigeration, freezing, and using high pressure or mild heating.

He said, "85-90 percent of Vibrio illnesses in the Gulf Coast states could be eliminated if the product were iced within four hours or refrigerated within one hour of harvest."

On August 13, the agency conducted a public hearing in Alabama to present findings from a risk analysis for Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacteria found in oysters that causes food poisoning.

Irradiation was one of many treatments mentioned in the study, but the study's conclusions contained no endorsement of irradiation or evidence that it is the best mitigation technique.

The FDA quotes the World Health Organization that concluded that while levels of some vitamins are decreased when food is irradiated at doses relevant for food irradiation, few vitamins are severely affected, with the exception of thiamine and vitamin E. "These losses are small (on the order of 10 to 20 percent or less) at or below an overall average absorbed dose of 10 kGy (kiloGray) and are comparable to losses seen with other forms of food processing, such as thermal processing and drying," the FDA said.

The FDA cites the international non-binding Codex organization made up of member governments who say this level of radiation is "of no concern."

A long risk analysis of all the historical data on food irradiation follows in the Federal Register notice of this change in the regulations, found here.

In the end, the FDA concludes irradiation is "safe" and no environmental impact statement is required.

Again, Hauter is not so sure.

"Few studies have been done on the effects of irradiating shellfish," she says, and one study cited by the FDA risk analysis study as demonstrating the effectiveness of irradiation also finds that irradiation doses at very low levels produced an unpleasant yellow byproduct.

"The risk analysis does not discuss the safety or nutrition issues surrounding this or other byproducts, such as the class of irradiation byproducts called alkylcyclobutanones," Hauter says. "These have been linked with tumor promotion and genetic damage and are produced when fat is
irradiated. Shellfish have fat, so alkylcyclobutanones could be formed when shellfish is irradiated."

Alkylcyclobutanones are not mentioned in the FDA analysis.

Today in the United States irradiation is legally applied to a variety of foods including wheat flour, white potatoes, pork, poultry, meat, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices.

"The government should ensure a procedure is safe before permitting its use," Hauter says. "We urge the FDA to rescind this rule and deny other pending petitions that would allow more kinds of food to be irradiated."

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