Insights by Goldie
FDA's new food irradiation follies: Déjà vu again

Sound Consumer | June 2007

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

It just never seems to stop — the industry-tainted, short-sighted and consumer-unfriendly actions that keep coming from the nation's two primary food safety regulators, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Of imminent concern is a pending proposal from the FDA about irradiated foods that has been published in the Federal Register; we have only until July 3 to register our comments and concerns. Essentially, the FDA is proposing to grant the food industry conditions where it can eliminate or severely restrict all use of the word "irradiation" on food labels. (This includes certain drugs that qualify for being irradiated.)

Under certain circumstances, the FDA proposal would allow companies to substitute the word "pasteurized" or possibly some other euphemism (if a company successfully argues its preference) on labels of irradiated foods. So instead of seeing any reference to irradiation, most labels could suggest something altogether different. Chilling!

Currently, all irradiated food must be labeled with wording such as "treated with ionizing irradiation." However, labels are not required on any food with multiple ingredients, foods that are processed again (like apples in applesauce), or on spices and herb teas. Labels are only required at the retail level, and never at restaurants, schools, or other institutions. (For the record, PCC prohibits irradiated foods, which most typically include meat and imported fruits and spices.)

Menus and signage in restaurants, institutional cafeterias, or other food service establishments do not have to notify us of whether any food or ingredient has been irradiated.

The radura logo

In addition, the FDA is considering removal of the "radura" (which resembles a tulip in a pot), the icon that has been used for several years to indicate irradiation. The radura — though laughably ridiculous (if this were a laughable subject) — originally was promoted by the FDA as an unthreatening symbol that we would come to associate with "enhanced food safety."

Even though there's very little awareness of the radura among most consumers (since very, very few foods display it), the FDA, together with the irradiation industry and manufacturers of irradiated foods, now proposes removing that, too.

The real issue is this: We have an absolute right to know what is in or done to our food. That's really what this is about.

You and I, as consumers, have until July 3 to send comments to the FDA. If you think, "Oh, it won't matter what I say," that's not true. Citizen comments do matter and comments in opposition can make a difference.

Tell the FDA to label anything that has been irradiated as "irradiated" and that terms such as "pasteurized" or any other euphemism is not acceptable. If a product or ingredient is irradiated, that must be stated on the label.

If the FDA does not hear that message clearly and enacts this proposal, it will seriously weaken the already inadequate information provided about irradiated foods sold in this country.

More about: FDA, food safety, irradiated food

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