by Hilary Oliver
As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week approved the use of irradiation for fresh iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach, consumer and food-safety groups criticized the move, saying it is a false solution that does not benefit farmers or consumers.
The new rule was a response to a petition from industry group The Grocery Manufacturers Association on behalf of The Food Irradiation Coalition, a group of industry trade associations and other organizations. Though the rule only included fresh iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach, the FDA said that other produce such as peppers and tomatoes were also included in the GMA petition and remain under review.
Because irradiated produce—like irradiated meat, which has been permitted since 1997—would have to be labeled as such, it's questionable whether consumers will latch on to the products. Although the FDA has previously allowed some produce to be irradiated to kill insects or to slow spoilage, this is the first time the administration has allowed the higher radiation doses needed to control bacteria.
"Irradiation is not the solution to food-borne illness," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Food Safety, in a statement. "In fact, it serves to distract attention from the unsanitary conditions of industrial agriculture that create the problem in the first place."
Though irradiation kills some bacteria in food, Freese said, it's no substitute for measures to clean up giant animal operations that pollute waterways and irrigation water with raw manure that often carries pathogenic bacteria.
The Organic Consumers Association posted a similar comment on its Web site, saying, "Irradiated fruits and vegetables benefit the packer and grocer, not the farmer or consumer. The consumer receives an inferior product that appears fresh, but has depleted vitamins and enzymes."
A 30-day period for submitting objections or a request for a hearing on the issue began with the announcement Aug. 21. Electronic objections may be submitted to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. The docket number is FDA-1999-F-2405.