Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 24, 2003
Irradiation brings its own fears
By SUZANNE ELSTON
The legacy of the Walkerton tragedy has extended far beyond our concerns for water safety. There is a growing paranoia among Canadian consumers about food safety in general.
As a result, we are seeing a whole new line of consumer products on store shelves. Items such as single-use disposable chopping boards and facecloths, along with various forms of hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial sprays are becoming popular retail items.
But rather than promote proper food safety and handling techniques, these unnecessary and costly products are doing little more than fanning the fires of paranoia, while increasing corporate profits.
This increasing public concern has also given new life to an old technology that is rapidly gaining support within the Canadian scientific and medical communities. Food irradiation has been around since the early 20th century. It was first used in 1908 when a farmer used x-rays to kill tobacco pests. The first patent for irradiating food was taken out in the U.S. in 1921.
Modern food irradiation preserves food by exposing it to high doses of gamma radiation from Cobalt 60, Cesium 137 or an electronic accelerator. After decades of pressure from the nuclear industry, the U.S. recently approved food irradiation. Despite the fact the process can add up to 40 per cent to the cost of food to consumers, Health Canada is dangerously close to approving food irradiation for widespread use in this country. (Currently in Canada, only spices sold in specialty shops can be irradiated.)
The danger to consumers doesn't stop there. Irradiation doesn't prevent bacteria from re-contaminating food once it has been irradiated. This is dangerous because it gives consumers a false sense of security. In addition, irradiating food doesn't remove toxic chemicals from food, but actually creates chemicals known as unique radiolytic products (URPs). Three of these URPs tested are suspected to either cause cancer or promote tumour growth.
Food irradiation does kill good bacteria (such as the kind found in yogurt) that are actually good for human health. According to Marion Odell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH), killing off these good bacteria - or pro-biotics as they are sometimes called - can also give greater scope to harmful pathogens.
In her submission to Health Canada entitled, Our Children, Our Guinea Pigs, Odell writes, "The toxins that were already formed in the foodstuffs will still be there, as well as contamination such as by feces or insects. Not only that, the usual smells that identify meat and fish as contaminated will likely not be present." This adds another danger to consumers, because odour is an effective way to tell if food is unsafe.
Food safety is a critical issue for Canadians and a basic human right. According to IICPH founder, Dr. Rosalie Bertell, "Basic to the question of food irradiation is an understanding of wellness. Food is not just another form of pills or an inert pile of chemicals. One doesn't choose to have sickly chicken or to eat mouldy eggplant for the evening dinner.
"A healthy plant or animal is able to balance harmful and healthful bacteria so that it maintains its normal size, shape, texture and colour. Even a child can distinguish between a rotten apple and a red, juicy, wholesome apple freshly picked."
A decision regarding the approval of food irradiation in this country is imminent.
Health Canada will receive comments regarding this critical issue only until March 24.
What you can do:Send your comments to Health Canada to the exact address below. Please note comments will not be received after March 24. (Don't forget to send a copy to your local MP.)
Mr. Ronald Burke, Director, Bureau of Food Regulatory International and Interagency Affairs Department of Health Room 2395 Address Locator 0702C1 Health Protection Building, Tunney's Pasture Ottawa Ontario, K1A 0L2. Reference (very important): Canada Gazette Part 1, Nov. 23, 2002, Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (1094-Food Irradiation.) E-mail address: sche-ann@hc.-sc.gc.ca
Recommended websites:The reports Our Children, Our Guinea Pigs and Food Irradiation can be downloaded from the IICPH website at www.iicph.org.
The Organic Food Association's position is that the science of today is not adequate to prove the long-term safety of food irradiation. For more information, visit www.purefood.org/irradlink.html.
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