Updated August/25/2008

from OrganicConsumers Website

 


Who Regulates Food Irradiation?

Food irradiation in the United States is primarily regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) since it is considered a food additive.

 

Other federal agencies that regulate aspects of food irradiation include:

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) - meat and poultry products, fresh fruit

  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) - safety of the processing facility

  • Department of Transportation (DOT) - safe transport of the radioactive sources

Each new food is approved separately with a guideline specifying a maximum dosage; in case of quarantine applications the minimum dose is regulated.

 

Packaging materials containing the food processed by irradiation must also undergo approval.



Which Foods Can Be Irradiated in the U.S.?

  • 1963: wheat flour

  • 1964: white potatoes

  • 1986: spices, herbs, herb teas, pork, fruits and vegetables

  • 1992: poultry

  • 1997: beef

  • 1999: refrigerated or frozen raw beef, pork, lamb, and poultry

  • 2000: eggs in the shell, seeds for sprouting (like alfalfa)

  • 2002: Imported fruits and vegetables

  • 2002: meat purchased by the National School Lunch Program

Organic foods cannot be irradiated.


 


What Are the Current Labeling Requirements in the U.S.?

All irradiated foods must be labeled using the radura and some wording, but only to the FIRST PURCHASER, who is often NOT the consumer.

Consumers should be able to see the wording and radura symbol (posted to the right) on:

  • Plant foods sold in their whole form in a package (e.g., a bag of wheat flour or oranges)

  • Fresh whole fruits and vegetables. (on the fruit, the box or a display)

  • Whole meat and poultry in a package (like chicken breasts)

  • Unpackaged meat and poultry (like from a butcher) (display label)

  • Irradiated meat and poultry that are part of another packaged food (like irradiated chicken in a frozen chicken potpie).

Consumers will NOT see the wording or radura for:

  • Multiple ingredient products where some, but not all of the individual ingredients were irradiated

  • Irradiated ingredients in foods prepared or served by restaurants, salad bars, hotels, airlines, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc.

  • Irradiated foods prepared by delis or supermarket take-out counters

  • Spices and herb teas

  • Sprouts grown from irradiated seeds

  • Ingredients in supplements

  • Plant-food ingredients that are processed again (like apples in applesauce or papaya in a salad-bar salad).

When labeling is required at the consumer level, the following is required:

  • There must be wording, either "treated with radiation" or "treated by irradiation". In 2007, the FDA proposed a new rule which would allow irradiated foods to be labeled as "pasteurized". To date, this proposal is still being fought.

  • For packaged foods, the wording does not need to be bigger than the smallest type on the ingredient label, or in any special colors or typeface.

  • For bulk fruits or vegetables, the words must appear on a card or display (or on each piece of food), but no size is specified and there is no enforcement.

  • In Summer 2002, Congress created a loophole long sought by the meat and poultry industries. Companies that wish to use a term not approved by the FDA like "electronically pasteurized" on their labels can go over the FDA's head and petition the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Secretary can then allow them to use the term.

The USDA consumer labeling requirements for for meat and poultry are the same as the FDA requirements, with the following differences:

  • Multi-ingredient products that include an irradiated meat product must reflect its inclusion in the ingredient statement on the finished product's label. This is the major difference from the FDA's requirements for processed nonmeat products, which do not have to be labeled to the consumer at all.

  • Packaged meat products irradiated in their entirety must either include the word "irradiated" as part of the product name (this option is not allowed for plant foods) or must bear a statement such as "Treated with radiation" or "Treated by irradiation."

  • Unpackaged meat products irradiated in their entirety are required to have the radura symbol and a statement "prominently and conspicuously" displayed to purchasers either through labeling on a bulk container or "some other appropriate device." The USDA does not define what this "other appropriate device" could be.

  • The USDA allows claims regarding the "beneficial effects" and the purpose of irradiation (like "treated to kill Salmonella"). The FDA does not allow these claims for the foods it regulates.



What Are the Current Labeling Requirements Internationally?
 

Codex Requirements
The Codex Alimentarius is the international standard for world trade in food. What it says is important, because a country that requires different labels from the Codex requirements cannot keep out food from other countries that is labeled according to Codex requirements.

 

At this time, the FDA-required irradiation policy does NOT match Codex requirements, which are stronger.

If the US stops requiring labels, under world trade rules other countries will not be able to exclude unlabeled US imports - because the other country's labeling policy is an "import barrier." Therefore, there will be a conflict between the US FDA policy of unlabeled exports, and the Codex requirements. It just so happens that the Chairman of Codex is Tom Billy, the man at the USDA in charge of deregulating the meat industry and introducing irradiation.

 

So put your money on the Codex LOWERING its labeling requirements to match whatever final labeling policy the FDA comes up with in 2001-2.

 

See why the FDA labeling policy is so important?

In the following three ways, Codex requirements differs from current USDA and FDA regulations: For Codex:

  1. A text statement is required and the use of the radura is optional.

  2. When an irradiated product is used as an ingredient in another food, this shall be so declared in the list of ingredients.

  3. When a single ingredient product is prepared from a raw material which has been irradiated, the label of the product shall contain a statement indicating the treatment.

 

OCA's Recommendations for Labeling

  • Permanent labeling (no expiration)

  • Prominent labeling that is readable to all consumers

  • Retain mandatory use of the radura

  • No misleading terminology

  • Labels that reflect the vitamin loss in "fresh" foods caused by irradiation



Political Background and History of Labeling


The idea of irradiating food is not new.

 

We have had nearly 70 years of experimentation with it. The treatment was tested on strawberries in Sweden in 1916. The first patents on the idea were taken out in the United States in 1921, and in France in 1930.

 

Little progress was made, however, until 1953, when President Eisenhower announced the "Atoms for Peace Program". Public attention was to be shifted away from nuclear weapons by the promotion of nuclear power and other uses of nuclear technology, so that the academic and industrial infrastructure could be developed behind which the weapons program would continue.

 

There followed a decade of intensive research into food irradiation, funded and supervised by the United States Department of Defense.

The United States Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1958 defined the irradiation process as an additive. Users have to petition the Food and Drug Administration for permission to market irradiated products. This has resulted in stringent requirements for testing of irradiated foods in the United States. Not until 1963 was clearance given for sterilization of can-packed bacon and the inhibition of potato sprouting and wheat disinfestation already in use elsewhere.

 

The FDA, however, rescinded the bacon approval in 1968, citing possible health problems with the test animals and deficiencies in the way some experiments were designed and conducted.

In the 1980's, the U.S. Department of Defense saw irradiation as a way to privatize nuclear materials. At the same time, deregulation of the meat and poultry industry resulted in outbreaks of food poisoning and product recalls. The 'status quo' method of food production was simply becoming too expensive. Irradiation provided a means to 'clean up' the product of high-speed slaughter and decreased meat and poultry inspection.

In November 1997, Congress passed the FDA Modernization Act.

 

Hidden in this large bill were two provisions concerning irradiated foods.

  1. The first provision told the FDA (which Congress oversees) that the labels required for packaged irradiated foods did not need to be any larger than the typeface on the ingredient label.

  2. The second told the FDA to revise the current labeling requirement, because labels were scaring consumers from buying irradiated foods.

The Congressmen responsible for pushing the labeling change are these friends of the factory farming industry:

  • Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

  • Representative Greg Ganske (R-IA)

  • Senator James Jeffords (R-VT)

  • Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a vocal advocate of irradiation

In February 1999, the FDA submitted its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the first round of public comments. It asked for surveys to find out if labels scare people and for suggestions on how to write a label so it doesn't cause consumers "inappropriate anxiety."

The original deadline of May 1999 was extended to July 1999 after a public outcry. The FDA received a total of approximately 10,000 comments addressing the labeling issue and 19,000 petition signatures opposing food irradiation. Over 99% were in favor of continued labeling and consumer right-to-know. Many people expressed outrage at the condescending language used by Congress to describe their opposition to this technology.

On February 22, 2000, the USDA allowed meat producers to begin selling/ shipping irradiated products. A number of beef and chicken packers have begun planning to sell irradiated products, primarily to food service, and the roll-out began in late spring and summer 2000.

In 2002, The FDA allowed meats in the National School Lunch Program to be irradiated.

In 2007, the FDA proposed a rule that in some cases would allow certain irradiated foods to be marketed without any labeling at all. Under the new rules, only those irradiated foods in which the irradiation causes a material change in the food, or a material change in the consequences that may result from the use of the food, would bear the Radura symbol and the term "irradiated", or a derivative thereof, in conjunction with explicit language describing the change in the food or its conditions of use.

 

In the same rule FDA is proposing to permit a firm to use the terms "electronically pasteurized" or "cold pasteurized" in lieu of "irradiated", provided it notifies the agency that the irradiation process being used meets the criteria specified for use of the term "pasteurized".

 

 






FDA proposes softening irradiated food labels
Posted April/4/2007

from USAToday Website

WASHINGTON (AP) The government proposed Tuesday relaxing its rules on labeling of irradiated foods and suggested it may allow some products zapped with radiation to be called "pasteurized."


The Food and Drug Administration said the proposed rule would require companies to label irradiated food only when the radiation treatment causes a material change to the product. Examples includes changes to the taste, texture, smell or shelf life of a food, which would be flagged in the new labeling.

The technique kills bacteria but does not cause food to become radioactive. Recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have revived interest in irradiation, even though it is not suitable for all food products. For example, irradiating diced Roma tomatoes makes them mushy, the FDA says.

The FDA also proposed letting companies use the term "pasteurized" to describe irradiated foods. To do so, they would have to show the FDA that the radiation kills germs as well as the pasteurization process does. Pasteurization typically involves heating a product to a high temperature and then cooling it rapidly.

In addition, the proposal would let companies petition the agency to use additional alternate terms other than "irradiated," something already allowed by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 but that no firms have pursued, according to the FDA.

The FDA posted the proposed revisions to its rules on irradiated foods on its website Tuesday, a day before they were to be published in the Federal Register. The FDA is publishing the proposal as required by the 2002 law.

FDA will accept public comments on the proposal for 90 days. A consumer group immediately urged the FDA to drop the idea.

"This move by FDA would deny consumers clear information about whether they are buying food that has been exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.

The FDA acknowledges in the proposed rule that allowing alternative ways of describing irradiation could confuse consumers:

"Research indicates that many consumers regard substitute terms for irradiation to be misleading," the proposal reads in part.

But the requirement that the new labeling explain why a product was irradiated should clear up some consumer confusion, said Barbara Schneeman, director of the FDA's office of nutrition, labeling and dietary supplements.

"You would be told the material fact: what is it about this product that is different from some other product," Schneeman said. "If a food were irradiated but left unchanged and indistinguishable from an identical but unradiated product, it wouldn't have to be labeled," she added.

A 1984 FDA proposal to allow irradiated foods to go label-free garnered the agency more than 5,000 comments.

 

Two years later, it reversed course and published a final rule that requires the small number of FDA-regulated foods now treated with radiation to bear identifying labels, including the radiation symbol.

"We have long argued that the use of the term irradiation or radiation has such a negative impact on the consumer that it basically acts as a warning label," said Jeff Barach, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association, an industry group.

 

"Fixing this problem will help in food industry efforts to provide consumers with safe and wholesome foods with reduced risk of food-borne pathogens."

Foods still require FDA approval before they can be irradiated. Examples currently radiated include a small number of fruits, vegetables, spices and eggs.

The proposed rule would apply only to foods regulated by the FDA.

 

However, if and when the rule is finalized, the Department of Agriculture could undergo a similar process to change the irradiation labeling requirements for the foods it regulates, including meat and poultry, said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
 

 


 

 



Bush Administration Proposes Easing Rules for Labeling Irradiated Foods
by Andrew Bridges

Published on Wednesday, April 4, 2007

by Associated Press

from CommonDreams Website

WASHINGTON - The government proposed today relaxing its rules on labeling of irradiated foods and suggested it may allow some products zapped with radiation to be called "pasteurized." The Food and Drug Administration said the proposed rule would require companies to label irradiated food only when the radiation treatment causes a material change to the product.

 

Examples includes changes to the taste, texture, smell or shelf life of a food.

The FDA also proposed letting companies use the term "pasteurized" to describe irradiated foods. To do so, they would have to show the FDA that the radiation kills germs as well as the pasteurization process does. Pasteurization typically involves heating a product to a high temperature and then cooling it rapidly.

In addition, the proposal would let companies petition the agency to use additional alternate terms other than "irradiated."

The FDA posted the proposed revisions to its rules on irradiated foods on its Web site today, a day before they were to be published in the Federal Register. FDA will accept public comments on the proposal for 90 days.

 

A consumer group immediately urged the FDA to drop the idea.

"This move by FDA would deny consumers clear information about whether they are buying food that has been exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.

The FDA acknowledges in the proposed rule that allowing alternative ways of describing irradiation could confuse consumers:

"Research indicates that many consumers regard substitute terms for irradiation to be misleading," the proposal reads in part.

FDA officials were not immediately available for comment. A 1984 FDA proposal to allow irradiated foods to go label-free garnered the agency more than 5,000 comments.

 

Two years later, it reversed course and published a final rule that requires the small number of FDA-regulated foods now treated with radiation to bear identifying labels, including the radiation symbol.

"We have long argued that the use of the term irradiation or radiation has such a negative impact on the consumer that it basically acts as a warning label," said Jeff Barach, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association, an industry group.

 

"Fixing this problem will help in food industry efforts to provide consumers with safe and wholesome foods with reduced risk of food-borne pathogens."

Foods still require FDA approval before they can be irradiated.

 

Examples currently radiated include a small number of fruits, vegetables, spices and eggs. The technique kills bacteria but does not cause food to become radioactive. Recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have revived interest in irradiation, even though it is not suitable for all food products. For example, irradiating diced Roma tomatoes makes them go mushy, the FDA says.

The proposed rule would apply only to foods regulated by the FDA.

 

However, if and when the rule is finalized, the Department of Agriculture could undergo a similar process to change the irradiation labeling requirements for the foods it regulates, including meat and poultry, said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.