Filed Under: Food Scares

Irradiation (Finally) Getting Its Due; Anti-Tech Activists Incensed

On Sunday, NBC’s Dateline profiled a cutting-edge technology that could work wonders for the American food supply … if activists would just let it. (Click here for video.) Irradiation — a process that exposes meat, poultry, and produce to extremely low levels of radiation in order to kill food-borne pathogens — is tremendously effective, perfectly safe, and doesn’t compromise food quality. But it’s not an industry standard. That’s primarily because anti-tech activists — like the ones at the misleadingly named Center for Food Safety (CFS) — have successfully stoked anti-irradiation anxieties among consumers.As Dr. Dennis Maki, an epidemiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, rightly noted in a related question-and-answer on

When you realize that every large health organization around the world has basically endorsed irradiation as a mechanism of food safety, that speaks volumes to me. None have refused to [endorse irradiation] … There is no evidence that it has an adverse effect on nutritional content of food.

In the wake of California’s spinach E.coli outbreak, we’ve seen a flurry of legislative cure-all proposals from governments big and small aimed at increasing food safety — most notably a Center for Science in the Public Interest-backed plan that would create a single, overly invasive bureaucratic behemoth responsible for all federal food oversight.

Dr. Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health argues that a "legislate-first" approach is ultimately impractical: "We can’t inspect our way to food safety. It’s just too much production going on at any one time. We can’t be on every site watching every practice."The cohort of anti-tech zealots keeping irradiation from popular acceptance — scaremonger-in-chief being CFS’s Joseph Mendelson — prey on people’s natural inclinations to fear what they don’t understand. (As one produce expert told Dateline, "The problem is it [irradiation] is a scary word.") That’s why activists’ action alerts and scare stories hint at irradiation’s "unanswered questions," while completely ignoring mounds of scientific evidence that provide those very answers.

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