Washington, D.C., on August 26, 2008 – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its decision to allow the irradiation of fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce in an attempt to kill E. coli and other bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses. The move comes in response to a petition filed by The National Food Processors Association, a trade group representing major food companies, and ignores the concerns of scientists and consumers about how irradiation can affect the safety and nutritional value of food.
"Irradiation is a smoke screen intended to prevent consumers from addressing the real root of food contamination: the unsanitary conditions associated with ‘factory farming’ compounded by the lack of environmental responsibility exhibited by many food producers,” said Frank Herd, Jr, Executive Director of Citizens for Health.
Contamination of produce is nothing new. The past decade has seen 20 E. coli outbreaks linked to produce grown in California, including two related to spinach, and just this year there were incidents of salmonella connected with tomatoes and jalapenos.
Besides being the source of 3/4ths of the nation’s spinach, California is home to nearly 5 million cows which produce 15 million tons of manure every year - manure that ends up in nearby waterways, including the ditches and channels of irrigation water for crops like spinach. Dried manure can even blow onto neighboring fields in clouds of dust.
Therefore it is no surprise that in 2006, when California spinach contaminated with E. coli sickened over 200 people, and killed three, the FDA and the State of California investigated and found the same strain of E. coli in cattle feces at a nearby ranch.
"We all know that radiation has the power to kill, and proponents of irradiation believe this is the best approach to ridding food of some bacteria,” said Herd. “However, we should not be focused on using draconian methods to sanitize food that has already been contaminated when we can stop food-borne illness at its source – the huge animal feedlot operations that pollute our waterways and irrigation water with raw manure that often carries dangerous bacteria.”
Radiation is one of the more destructive forces in nature, and scientific studies have documented that irradiation can dramatically lower the nutritional content of foods, particularly vitamin A and folate, an essential B vitamin. The FDA's own proposal concedes that irradiation will make spinach less nutritious.
Citizens for Health also opposes allowing irradiated foods to be labeled as “pasteurized”, a sign that food companies acknowledge growing scientific and consumer concern about the process and want to conceal from consumers the fact that foods are being irradiated.