A REFUTATION OF ENVIRONMENTALIST PROPAGANDA:
IRRADIATING LETTUCE WILL SAVE KIDS' LIVES
By Dennis T. Avery
FDA permission to irradiate produce is the biggest step forward in U.S. food safety since irradiation was approved for meat (read hamburger) in 1990. That followed dozens of needless “burger deaths,” due to the rare but vicious E. coli O157 bacteria.
There’s a problem, however: Environmentalist scare-mongers have warned the public that irradiation itself is not safe. We are not even irradiating much of our hamburger, even as recalls continue to warn us of the danger.
One scare-monger, a former university professor of environmental medicine, said, “Every man, woman and child who takes a bite of irradiated food increases his or her chance of getting cancer.” Could he say that publicly without evidence? He could, and the papers quoted him. The truth, based on thousands of studies: Irradiation does not create dangerous cancer-causing organisms, nor does it make the food radioactive.
“In 2006, there were an estimated 50 billion servings of green, leafy salads served in this country, and there were approximately 1,200 people made ill,” says Sam Beattie of Iowa State University. Fortunately, our bacterial risks are low, but they are not zero. Irradiation can make them nearly zero.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that irradiation of high risk foods, certainly including hamburger, poultry, spinach and lettuce, could prevent up to a million cases of food poisoning per year, more than 6,000 catastrophic illnesses, and hundreds of American deaths, mostly children.
Remember the people who died from eating spinach contaminated with E. coli O157 a couple of years ago? It was organically grown spinach, carefully washed and packed in a state-approved processing facility. But organic systems and washing don’t eliminate the bacteria! Authorities, after the fact, found cattle in the region -- a potential source of O157 -- and evidence that wild pigs could have carried the bacteria through the fence, where they snacked on the spinach. But dangerous bacteria always surround us — in the soil beneath our feet, and in the air we breathe. Organic farmers brag about using manure, which, after all, spreads dangerous bacteria. Fresh produce is not cooked, as meats are, so there’s no “kill step.”
Can food processors use irradiation to pass along bad food? No. Irradiation kills only rapidly growing cells — those of insects and bacteria. As a bonus, the spoilage bacteria are killed too, so produce can be left to ripen longer. It’s not that irradiation makes the food taste better, but it gives farmers the chance to successfully market better-tasting produce. Repeated studies have confirmed that irradiation cannot mask off-flavors or the smell of spoiled foods.
What about irradiation destroying food value? Irradiation has less impact on nutritive factors than canning or cooking because it produces virtually no heat.
If you’re uncomfortable with cobalt-60 irradiation, the industry also offers “electronic pasteurization.” That’s like putting your food through a low-power microwave, but it also kills any insects or bacteria.
By rights, the food industry should charge a premium for irradiated food. Its safety and peak flavors are benefits we can rely on and even taste. Meanwhile, we keep spending big money to “buy organic,” as still another study — this one from the University of Copenhagen — found no demonstrable benefit from organic foods.
It took us a while to get used to seat belts and pasteurized milk, too. But it’s time to start relying on the science-based safety of irradiation.
Science, Ethics, & Human Health:
Human Health & Public Policy
Political Environmentalism Versus Human Progress & Prosperity:
Policy Issues Relating to Energy, Environment,
& Natural Resources
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and is the Director of the Institute's Center for
Global Food Issues (www.cgfi.org). Formerly he was a senior policy analyst for the United
States Department of State, where he won the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. He is the co-author, with
atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, of the book, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years (Blue Ridge Summit,
Pennsylvania: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006). Avery's book, Saving the Planet With Pesticides and Plastic: The Environmental
Triumph of High-Yield Farming (Washington, D.C.: Hudson Institute, 1995), continues to be popular as a readable overview
of realistic agriculture for the future and for today. Readers may write Avery at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, Virginia, 24421.
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