Chemical Formed in Irradiated Food Causes Mutations, Recent Study Reveals
In a rare opportunity to speak publicly about food irradiation before a captive audience of government officials and food industry executives, Public Citizen this week released the world’s first English translation of a recent German study revealing that a chemical formed in irradiated food can cause genetic mutations.
The study confirmed what safe-food advocates and many pioneering researchers have known for more than 30 years: Exposing food to ionizing radiation can lead to the formation of bizarre new chemicals called “unique radiolytic products” that can cause serious health problems. One such chemical, known as 2-DCB, caused “significant DNA damage” in the colons of rats that ate the substance. The chemical – – which, ironically, is a well-known “marker” for determining whether food has been irradiated – – has never been found naturally in any food on Earth.
The study was conducted in 1998 under the auspices of two prominent pro-irradiation organizations. It was performed at one of the most prestigious food irradiation labs in the world, the Federal Research Center for Nutrition in Karlsruhe, Germany. And it was co-funded by the International Consultative Group on Food Irradiation, a United Nations-sponsored organization that promotes food irradiation worldwide.
Public Citizen released an English translation of the study at a Feb. 13 meeting at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C. The meeting was held to preview an upcoming meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets food safety standards for most nations of the world.
Codex officials, meeting March 12-16 in The Hague, will consider a proposal to completely remove the maximum dose of radiation to which food can be exposed. The current maximum dose is 10 kiloGray – – the equivalent of 330 million chest x-rays and enough radiation to kill a person 2,000 times over.
At this week’s FDA meeting, Public Citizen told government officials and food industry executives that health authorities have used a variety of excuses to dismiss dozens of studies conducted since the 1950s that suggest irradiated food may not be safe for human consumption. In these studies, lab animals have suffered premature death, a rare form of cancer, fatal internal bleeding, stillbirths and other reproductive problems, chromosomal aberrations, liver damage, nutritional deficiencies and low weight gain. The excuses most commonly given are that the studies are old, inconclusive or poorly designed.
None of these excuses apply to the German study, however, which was conducted three years ago, yielded conclusive results, and was performed under the guidance of cutting-edge scientific protocols. Despite the study’s clear findings and high quality, it was distorted and dismissed by the World Health Organization, which has endorsed the irradiation of any food at any dose – no matter how high. And, because it had never been translated into English, FDA officials never reviewed it.
Now, FDA and WHO officials have no excuse. Now they know that Irradiated food holds the true potential to harm people who eat it. Now they know that if they continue to approve the food industry’s requests to irradiate food – such as the pending request to irradiate ready-to-eat foods such as deli meat and pre-cut salads – – they will be defying the truth. Now they should know better. The question is: Will they?