Tell the FDA to require labels on irradiated food

Just two days remain in the comment period on the FDA's latest proposal to allow the food industry to mislead consumers. This rule change would eliminate the requirement that irradiated food be labeled as such if the irradiation does not cause "a material change in the food" (e.g., different taste, longer shelf life). The new rules would allow terms like "cold pasteurization" or "electronic pasteurization" in place of "irradiated," and the radura symbol would not be required. In a bizarre bit of logic, the FDA's Federal Register notice considers the label change to be a "benefit" for consumers "because it could allow consumers to make more informed decisions about the food they purchase." "Less is more" might be a great motto for architecture, music, or even cooking, but not for food labels, especially something as significant as irradiation.

The comment period ends on Tuesday, July 3 (soon!). At this late date, you can submit comments in two ways:

  • Faxes can be sent to the Divisions of Dockets Management (HFA-305) at the FDA in Rockville, Maryland, fax number 1-301-827-6870.
  • Electronic comments can be entered in the FDA's comment system. (if that link doesn't work, visit this page and search for Docket ID 2005N-0272)

Be sure to refer to Docket No. 2005N-0272 in your comments. You don't need to write a multi-page tract; a few sentences should be sufficient.

More information

The June 29 Living on Earth program included an interview with Urvashi Rangan of Consumers Union about the proposed rule. Free transcript, audio stream, and MP3 download available.

The Organic Consumers Association has a sample letter on a Take Action page.

If you have an hour to spare, Show #540 of Food Chain Radio (MP3 download available) has guests talking about irradiation of meat and the proposed labeling change (one pro, one con, and a reasonably fair host).

In 2003, Consumer Reports performed a comprehensive study of how irradiated meat will affect consumers.

3 Responsesto “Tell the FDA to require labels on irradiated food”

  1. Whigsboy says:

    There are times when it is so absolutely transparent who our government really works for, and this is one of them. This is a sickening display of an action meant only to prop up the criminals who run this country's meat industry.

    Any doubt about who even wrote the proposed reg? I would guess word-for-word sections of this came straight from industry. Sickening.

  2. Newbie says:

    So does irradiated food taste different? Why is it bad?

  3. I haven't studied the issues around irradiating spices, fruits or vegetables, so I won't comment on how the process affects taste. Perhaps an Ethicurean reader can chime in, especially one who has been eating the Indian mangoes that have been getting so much attention (they are irradiated in India to kill pests before export).

    Meat seems to be the flashpoint of the irradiation debate.

    Considering food safety, irradiation is a technology that will allow meat packers to be sloppier, to speed up the disassembly line, to use sell meat that should have been thrown out. A little bit more feces than usual on the animal carcass in the slaughterhouse? No problem, it'll be zapped after it's ground. Not sure whether the meat was cooked properly? No big deal, it was zapped by the packing house.

    The food industry should spend more money preventing contamination from occurring in the first place instead of using band-aid procedures that the public doesn't want.

    Considering taste, the Consumer Reports study included taste tests of many irradiated beef and chicken products: "Our trained taste testers noted a slight but distinct off-taste and smell in most of the irradiated beef and chicken we cooked and sampled, likening it to singed hair. In the beef, the taste was detectable even with a bun, ketchup, and lettuce. Because it was usually subtle, however, some consumers may not notice it."