There are those who think it would be a good idea to irradiate food, to ensure  it is disinfected (or even sterile) before selling it. For example, one letter to the NY Times, in response to the piece they ran on hamburger  (Environment Memo’s post on that is here) states that irradiation is

the only reliable method of eliminating E. coli O157:H7 and other disease-causing microbes from raw meat and poultry. The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation as safe and effective for use on poultry in 1992 and on meat in 1997. But for more than 20 years, consumer groups led by Public Citizen have worked to scare the public about food irradiation and threatened to boycott companies that market irradiated products.

There are various arguments against the practice of irradiating food.  One is that it could lead to slackening of safety standards and enforcement.  The food manufacturers could slack off, thinking they have a backstop.  And, what if the backstop fails?  How is it assured that the food is properly irradiated?

I have a slightly different take on why the practice should be avoided.  Food irradiation is often done with radio-isotopes such as Cobalt-60.  Frankly I just don’t think we should be disbursing isotopes around the country in this manner because it is difficult to be certain that they will be properly handled, and kept and used safely.  Further, the practice again must be regulated by the USDA (or FDA), and we know that such regulation can be problematic.  These agencies are strapped for funding and other resources.


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