We are routinely told that irradiation can’t possibly make food radioactive. It’s a lie.
The official stance of both the US and UK, that radiation is not induced by the process, is false. It is, in fact, an outright lie. It has been understood for decades that irradiation of food renders it radioactive. The question isn’t whether it happens. The question is how serious the health risk is.
The fact that food irradiation carries significant and well-documented danger to health should have resulted in it being stopped before it was ever implemented. That it hasn’t tells us all we need to know about the purpose of our regulatory agencies.
Ultimately, though, what’s more upsetting is learning that we’ve been outright lied to about the most fearful aspect of food irradiation. Radioactivity is induced by it.
Documentation for Irradiation-Induced Radioactivity
No less an authority than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has clearly documented that irradiation of food induces radioactivity. Medical journals have documented it. The FDA regulates the acceptable amount of induced radiation in food packaging, all the while claiming that the food itself isn’t affected!
While documenting that irradiation induces radioactivity in food, the IAEA’s report(1) tries to diminish its significance by comparing it with background radiation. However, it isn’t a matter of one or the other, background radiation or irradiation-induced radiation. It’s the sum of both that matters—not to mention other sources that should be added in, such as medical test devices and airport scanners. They are all additive.
Another problem is that food is ingested. Foods that have become more radioactive through irradiation are taken into the body and become part of the cellular makeup. Therefore, the effects of irradiation-induced radiation in foods may be worse than other sources.
Should We Be Concerned About Irradiation-Induced Radioactivity in Food?
Exactly how bad is irradiation-induced food radioactivity? That’s a good question—one that is studiously ignored by the powers-that-be. After all, it’s rather difficult to do research on something when the official stance is that the problem doesn’t exist.
Of course, we do know that many studies documenting harm from irradiated foods have been done. Interestingly, much of that harm tends to coincide with the sort of damage done by radiation.
FDA Once Banned Irradiation
In 1968, the FDA ended the practice of irradiating bacon for military personnel after learning that lab animals fed irradiated food died early and suffered from a rare cancer, other tumors, reproductive problems and inadequate weight gain. All of these are associated with radiation exposure…yet the FDA now says that irradiation doesn’t harm foods or make them radioactive.
This is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) answer to the question(2), Can irradiation make food radioactive?
No. Food does not come in contact with radioactive material during food irradiation, and cannot be contaminated this way. Radiation that is too energetic, however, can disrupt the energy balance in the nuclei of food atoms, making them unstable (radioactive). This is known as induced radioactivity.
Electron and x-ray beams can be energetic enough to induce radioactivity. To prevent induced radioactivity, FDA limits the energy of the radiation from these sources to less than 4 mega-electron volts. Radiation from cobalt-60 sources is not energetic enough to induce radioactivity.
Isn’t that cute? First, the EPA answers with an unequivocal no, stating that food “cannot be contaminated this way”. Then, they go on to describe two methods that can induce radioactivity, while claiming that the FDA’s limits prevent it from happening. But, that simply is not true. The IAEA’s report clarifies that fact.
There are three methods of irradiating food: gamma rays, x-rays, and electron beams. At first glance, it would seem that electron beams and x-rays would be preferable, since they are not radioactive. The issue, though, isn’t whether the tool used to irradiate foods is radioactive, but whether it results in radioactivity in the food. Remarkably, there is some information to indicate that x-rays produce more radiation in food than the other methods.
Comparisons between irradiation methods can be difficult. Further complicating things is that different elements in foods react differently. Iodine, for example, is a necessary nutrient that is easily made radioactive, and is the element on which most emphasis is placed. Because different foods respond in different ways, absolute conclusions about all foods and all methods of irradiation can’t be made. However, some generalities can be drawn.
A paper entitled Report on the Safety and Wholesomeness of Irradiated Foods (The Report) was produced in 1985 by the Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods, a UK agency. It was reviewed by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which concluded the following:
The Report clearly stated that gamma rays and high-speed electrons can induce radioactivity in food.
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