Steve Shenk

How would you feel if you found out the piece of fruit you had for lunch had been exposed to radiation? Now what if you found out that this exposure had been done intentionally?

Unbeknownst to a many Americans, irradiation is an FDA-approved process of exposing food to ionizing radiation. The intent is to eliminate fruit flies and other pests from harvested fruits and vegatables along with extending the shelf life of the food and in cases of higher radiation dosages, it is used to kill disease-causing microorganisms (e.g. Salmonella and E. coli).

The food irradiation process works by damaging the DNA of the unwanted pests to the point where it is unable to repair itself. This damage renders the pests unable to reproduce and thereby destroy the food. This allows the food to have a longer shelf life than those foods that are not irradiated. In other words, these irradiated foods can be shipped further and still look as fresh as those locally grown. But as the old saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.”

While looking as fresh, these irradiated foods are far inferior to their counterparts in nutrition and taste. Irradiated foods experience greater vitamin loss. This makes the “fresh” piece of irradiated food have the nutritional values of its canned counterpart. Cooking these foods also accelerates the vitamin destruction.

In addition, the irradiation process also reacts with the water in the food and forms free radicals. These free radicals interact with vitamins and alter them. The free radicals combine with existing chemicals—think pesticides—and form new chemicals called unique radiolytic products (URPs).

Some of the URPs are commonly known toxins, such as formaldehyde, and other URPs are unique to irradiated foods. Regardless whether they are known or unknown, there has been very few studies conducted to determine the long-term effect of consuming irradiated foods in a human’s diet. Studies on animals however, have shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage.

With so many unknown effects, you may wonder why the food irradiation process even exists. It exists to benefit large food production corporations.

Since irradiation provides a longer shelf life, corporations can implement centralized distribution of their products. This allows food to ship over longer distances and help the corporations gain efficiencies, which help grow the bottom line.

However, more disturbing is that irradiation allows companies to cut corners. Knowing that the irradiation process will “zap” any unwanted pests, these producers can cut corners on sanitation. In the case of meat producers, the irradiation process in theory takes care of any fecal contamination during the slaughtering process.

If this news is as disturbing to you is it is to me, I urge you to take steps for your well-being.
First off, don’t buy foods with the radura symbol. Don’t do it. It is just that simple.

What isn’t so simple though is the fact that foods are only labeled to the first purchaser. In other words, foods that are served in restaurants, schools, etc. or receive additional processing do not have this consumer label. You may be eating irradiated food and not even know it. To protect yourself, you need to purchase your food through a reputable supplier who will promise you that your food is free of irradiation.

There are food production processes that if truly understood would cause the average American to shudder. Fortunately, you are not average. Keep yourself informed. It is your right—and literally, a matter of life and death.

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