Natural Foods Merchandiser

Labeling change for irradiated foods?

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a ruling that would relax its requirements on labeling irradiated foods, allowing products where radiation does not change the taste, texture, smell or shelf life to be called "pasteurized."

Said George Whitmore, a spokesman for the FDA: "The Farm Bill of 2002 directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to publish a proposed rule, consider public comment and issue a final rule that would revise, as appropriate, the current regulation governing the labeling of foods that have been treated by irradiation." The FDA will accept public comments on the bill until July 3, 90 days after posting the proposed revisions on its Web site.

Current FDA regulations require all irradiated foods to bear the radura logo and the statement, "Treated with radiation" or "Treated by irradiation." If the proposal is finalized, companies whose products are zapped with radiation may continue to use the logo and label, but will not be required to do so if the irradiation does not result in a significant change in the food with respect to its nutritional or functional properties, Whitmore said.

Consumer groups have voiced concern over this proposal, worried that it will confuse shoppers.

"We think it's nonsense," said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit organization that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the proliferation of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other sustainable agriculture. "Calling irradiation 'pasteurization' is like saying 'free-range broccoli.' There's no such thing."

Irradiated food cannot be labeled organic, but Margulis said naturals consumers still are likely to be affected. "If this proposal goes through, natural foods producers will try to avoid irradiation, but it may be difficult for them to do so when some irradiated foods are labeled 'pasteurized,' " he said. "Consumers may buy a multi-ingredient product and not realize that some of the ingredients have undergone radiation."

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, food cannot be irradiated without approval by the FDA. The most commonly irradiated foods include spices, shell eggs, fruits and vegetables, but the FDA reports only a small fraction of these foods is actually irradiated.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 5/p.1

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