Yes. Current plans for wide introduction of irradiated foods will make it hard to assess safety and nutritional effects. Several major questions should be answered first.
Is food irradiation safe? An Indian study, albeit flawed, found malnourished children and primates fed irradiated food had chromosomal abnormalities. This raises concerns that, to my mind, virtually forbid wide application.
The fact that healthy young Chinese showed no chromosomal changes from the food doesn't negate the Indian study. Further well-planned studies are needed among malnourished children and old people, two groups likely to eat large amounts of the foods.
The FDA's assumptions concerning safety are based on mathematical calculations and five "impeccable" studies. But authors of two of the studies claimed abnormalities and unexplained deaths among test animals weren't significant.
Of some 2,000 irradiation studies, nearly half showed deleterious effects. Basing a decision that will affect millions of people on five animal studies is imprudent, at best.
What are the nutritional effects? Proponents admit radiation can damage nutrients but say levels won't be that high. In fact, using 100,000 rads may cause significant vitamin loss. And cooking may destroy more vitamins in irradiated than untreated food.
The Department of Energy wants to use cesium 137 extracted from nuclear waste that also yields plutonium. Some of us fear this may be a ploy to get more plutonium for the war machine.
Alternative technologies can kill food pests and prolong shelf life. We don't have to rush into irradiation.
Dr. Donald Louria Chairman, Department of Preventive Medicine New Jersey Medical School, Newark
No.Food irradiation has proved to be very safe as well as effective in ending or greatly reducing food-borne illness here and abroad.
In the U.S., 2 to 4 million cases of food poisoning result in 2,000 to 4,000 deaths each year. Animal studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated food irradiation's safety. So have human feeding trials like those done with astronauts and conscientious objectors.
A U.S. hospital has found that a radiation-sterilized diet reduces infections among immunosuppressed patients.
About 1 billion pounds of food are being irradiated each year in 35 countries that have approved the technology. They haven't linked a single death or illness to its consumption. Of course, there's no telling what will happen in 20 generations. But people like me who began eating irradiated foods 35 years ago are still here to tell our tale and surer than ever about safety.
Irradiation does change the nutrient makeup of food, but far less than other methods of preservation, such as boiling, freezing, canning, salting or smoking. The critics never like to compare.
People fear man-made risks such as PCBs and all the chemicals they're trying to chase out of the environment, when in reality our food is loaded with naturally occurring carcinogens like safrole in black pepper and aflatoxins in peanut butter.
Opponents of food irradiation want zero risk. There's no such thing. But irradiation won't add any new chemicals that aren't already in foods.
By virtually eliminating food-borne illness and prolonging food's shelf life, irradiation should save Americans about $2 billion a year.
Dr. Edward Remmers Biochemical Engineer; Associate Director, American Council on Science and Health, New York