Food irradiation is being promoted as a safe method of decontaminating foods for human consumption. But government and industry approval has apparently been provided without full consideration of the impact of ionizing radiation on the molecular content of food.
Ionizing radiation sources used to irradiate spices, hides, medical supplies and other consumer goods include gamma rays or high-energy photons from cobalt-60 or cesium-137. These byproducts of nuclear power production are used in several plants in Ontario and Quebec. Cobalt-60, with a half-life of eight years, is preferred over cesium-137 and its longer half-life of 30 years.
The world’s largest irradiating centre, New Jersey-based Isomedix, located in Whitby, Ontario, uses cobalt gamma rays to sterilize medical supplies, packaging and ginseng. Electron beams or lower-energy beta rays are also used for commercial irradiation and research in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.
One radiation absorbed dose, or RAD, represents the amount of radiation absorbed by a person from one X-ray. The amount of radiation used on products is measured in kiloGrays. One kiloGray (kG) equals 100,000 RADs.
Most fresh foods receive a dosage of one kG, meats up to seven kG, while herbs, spices and medical supplies are bombarded with 30 kG–10,000 times the lethal dose of 50 percent of the human population!
The larger the genetic structure of unwanted organisms, the more susceptible they are to irradiation. Fungi and parasites are more susceptible than bacteria, which in turn are more susceptible than viruses. Most unwanted organisms, including salmonella and E. coli 0157, die at levels ranging from 140–600 RADs, making it unclear why herbs and spices require three million RADs. Prions, the organisms responsible for mad cow disease, are resistant at dosages used for irradiating food!
During irradiation, cell membranes and DNA strands within microbes are broken. Chromosomes mutate when the broken shards recombine. There are no studies available on the effects of consuming large amounts of mutated microorganisms over time on the microbiology of the human digestive system or on the resulting human physiology.
In addition, irradiation does not eliminate all bacteria. Some are not affected by dosage levels used on foods. These include the botulism-causing Clostridium and Deinococcus radiodurans, which actually repairs its own DNA after exposure. Surviving bacteria pose a concern because they inevitably produce resistant generations until irradiation becomes an ineffective method of sterility.
In addition to the above considerations, food irradiation further affects the nutritional value of food. Free radicals, precursors to cancer, and other carcinogens including formaldehyde, benzene and lipid peroxides are formed.
Free radicals combine with pesticides and food additives to form new chemicals called "unknown radiolytic compounds" (URPs). Promoters of food irradiation have theoretically dismissed concerns about URPs based on conservative estimates of chemicals present and the amount of irradiated food consumed. The long-term effects of these newly-produced chemicals have not even been researched.
Vitamins neutralize free radicals, but nutritional losses of vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B4 and folic acid can occur in irradiated foods–up to 80 percent of pre-irradiation levels. Losses of essential fatty acids to oxidation also occur. Irradiated fats tend to become rancid quickly; carbohydrates are hydrolyzed, reducing starches to simple sugars. Officials consider the impact on protein minimal; however, as is the case with microbes, the DNA content is damaged and the digestive and assimilative effects on humans over time have not been researched.
The most profound oversight of nutritional impact rests with the effect of irradiation on the mineral content of foods, herbs and spices in particular, since they receive the highest doses of radiation. All minerals are capable of becoming a "radioisotope," which is their radioactive counterpart.
Silica, for example, is an trace mineral that is essential for the formation and proper functioning of many body systems. Clear glass made from melted sand, composed of silicon (silica) and oxygen, turns a dark brown color after irradiation due to atomic changes in the silica molecule.
The silicates within spices, grains and fruits are tested by thermoluminescence to determine if they have been irradiated, revealing that authorities are aware of the impact of irradiation on minerals. Discoloration of clear glass is evidence of drastic changes to the mineral and undoubtedly drastic changes to human physiology and function could only be expected over time. However, references on the impact of irradiated silicates and all other essential minerals on bodily processes appear to be non-existent.
Politics Of Nuclear Power
Canada considers itself technologically advanced because of its use and control of nuclear power production. Apparently the Canadian government is willing to dispose of its own radioactive waste, and that of other nations, on their own people through food irradiation to maintain that claim.
To justify the use of irradiation, filling the stores with denutrified and mutated food products with extended shelf-life would benefit retailers more than consumers. And spreading the use of radioactive material across the country in privately-owned irradiating facilities only benefits the nuclear power industry and perpetuates their outdated, hazardous methods of energy production.
The United States Department of Agriculture has announced a proposal to irradiate imported fruits and vegetables. The agency wants to use irradiation to kill bugs that could threaten American agriculture, including foreign fruit flies and the mango seed weevil. However other methods exist to control these bugs, such as temperature treatments and stricter cleanliness standards.