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SCF in U-turn over safety of irradiated food

Press release 6th March, 2003

Europe's most prestigious advisory committee - the Scientific Committee on Food - has reversed its position over the safety of eating irradiated foods.

The Food Irradiation Campaign welcomes the SCF statement issued yesterday which explained that the SCF cannot endorse moves to allow the irradiation of all foods above the current maximum irradiation dose limit of 10kGy. It said it could not support this move because not enough research has been done to assess the safety of eating foods irradiated at doses above this level.

The SCF statement is crucial as it comes shortly before a meeting in Tanzania of Codex - the international food-standards setting body - to decide whether the international standard governing food irradiation should be changed to allow any food to be irradiated above 10kGy. At the forefront in pushing for this weakening of the international food irradiation standard is the USA. However the European Commission, speaking on behalf of the EU member states, has been resisting this move. The strong statement by the SCF serves to reinforce the EC position.

This latest statement by the SCF is in marked contrast to their comment in July last year, when they concluded that there was inadequate evidence of hazard from eating irradiated food and that such foods could be considered safe. 1

The SCF's statement in July was subsequently challenged in a remarkable open letter by EU-funded research scientists who had presented evidence of toxic compounds in irradiated fat-containing foods. The scientists repeated their concerns and emphasised that the chemicals formed in irradiated food '…present cytotoxic and genotoxic effects in cultured human cells, promote colon carcinogenesis in rats and accumulate in adipose tissues of rats fed with these compounds.' 2

2 report SCF/CS/NF/IRR/26 ADD 3 Final, 3 July 2002 

For further details contact Merav Shub on 020 7837 9229.

Bungled Brussels vote on food irradiation puts European consumers at risk

Press release November 5th 2002

A vote today by the European Parliament's Environment Committee on legislation governing food irradiation in Europe has led to confusion.

The vote was on the Breyer report, which originally called for a cautious approach to use of food irradiation, and recommended that no more foods should be added to the list. The report was subject to a number of amendments, the most significant of which was proposed by a French MEP, Francoise Grossetete, of the PPE-DE group.

Her Amendment 18 suggested that the addition of a number of additional food categories including chicken offal, egg white, peeled shrimps, frog legs, deep frozen aromatic herbs, dried fruit, cereal flakes and germs, and gum arabic (additive) is an option worth considering. This Amendment was supported in the vote by the Environment Committee.

Confusion became apparent as the MEPs also voted in favour of Amendment 16 which suggested that the list could be considered complete with no more foods added to it, and that no foods should be added until such time as science had justified this.

Scientists in row over safety of irradiated foods

Press release October 25th 2002

Scientists investigating the toxicity of chemicals in irradiated food have challenged Europe's most prestigious advisory committee - the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) - after the committee decided to ignore the researchers' latest findings, the Food Magazine revealed today.

The EU-funded research team's original study contained important new evidence of the genotoxicity and cytotoxicity of cyclobutanones, found exclusively in irradiated fat-containing food. The researchers' report summary said: 'The experiments demonstrate that pure compounds, known to be exclusively formed upon irradiation of fat-containing food, exhibit some toxic effects including promotion of colon carcinogenesis in rats… Whether these findings are relevant to the human exposure situation needs to be analysed. In our opinion further investigations, including confirmation of our results by other laboratories, will help to elucidate a possible risk associated with the consumption of irradiated fat-containing foods.' 1

However, the SCF concluded on 3 July 2002 that the research was not adequate to make statements about the real risk to human health, and that they would base their recommendations on a 15-year old review which failed to find evidence of toxicity.2 The SCF's decision was important because the discussion of irradiation at the international food standards-setting body Codex was delayed in March pending the opinion of the SCF on the results of the new research. If the SCF gives 2-ACBs the all-clear then Codex will probably follow suit.

In a remarkable open letter distributed in response to the SCF decision, the research scientists repeated their main concerns and emphasised that the chemicals in irradiated food '…present cytotoxic and genotoxic effects in cultured human cells, promote colon carcinogenesis in rats and accumulate in adipose tissues of rats fed with these compounds.'

In a veiled hint against the SCF's dismissalof their work, the researchers emphasise that their 'new data, which will be published in peer-reviewed journals, raise some doubts or at least suggest that caution should be exercised before any risk to consumers by exposure to these compounds is denied'.

Merav Shub, UK Food Irradiation Campaign leader, said 'Consumers are very concerned that the precautionary principle is being abandoned by the SCF. The committee must re-think its position.'

Details from Merav Shub tel: 020 7837 9229.

2. SCF report SCF/CS/NF/IRR/26 ADD 3 Final, 3 July 2002

New report questions WHO approval for irradiated foods

Press release October 25th 2002

Bad Taste: The Disturbing Truth about the World Health Organisation's Endorsement of Food Irradiation, published October 8th by Public Citizen, a US consumer organisation, raises questions over the reliability of the WHO's often quoted assertion that irradiated foods are completely safe and wholesome. The report analyses the WHO's 40 year involvement in assessing the safety of irradiated foods.

Coming at a time when the European Parliament is debating whether to add more foods to the list permitted for irradiation throughout the EU, and when Codex, the international food standards-setting body, is debating removal of the maximum dose limit permitted for irradiation treatment of all foods, this report urges caution over the dangers of food irradiation.

To view the report go to

Government's lack of action on irradiation is outrageous, say campaigners

Press release June 6th 2002

Despite fresh evidence published yesterday in the government's irradiation survey* that companies are flouting the law, The Food Irradiation Campaign is shocked to learn that the government Food Standards Agency (FSA) has no intention of prosecuting those responsible for stocking illegal, unlabelled irradiated food products.

"This displays an inexcusable pro-industry stance," said Merav Shub of the Food Irradiation Campaign. "The law is designed to protect consumers' health from the misuse of irradiation by unscrupulous food processors, and to protect consumers' right to know. These laws are flouted by traders who stock illegal irradiated food products that lack the required labelling. How many more times must companies be warned before any real action is taken? Consumers should be protected through strong legislation that is fully enforced without hesitation."

In February 2001 the FSA sent a written warning to several companies and organisations involved in the food supplement trade, concerning the illegal sale of irradiated ginseng. Since then the BBC, The Food Commission and now the FSA have all conducted surveys, and each of these discovered irradiated ginseng food supplements. The lack of strong enforcement by the FSA is a green light for companies to go on breaking the law.

The latest survey of herbs and spices, food supplements, prawns and shrimps has revealed that unlabelled irradiated products in each of these food categories are still reaching our shop shelves. Particularly alarming was the high proportion of food supplements which tested positive for irradiation. Out of 138 samples, 58 (42%) had been irradiated or contained an irradiated ingredient.

The Food Irradiation Campaign calls on the governments of every EU member state immediately to undertake similar irradiation testing surveys of high risk food products on sale in their countries, and to act effectively in response to their findings. It these abuses can happen in the UK, it is highly probable that they are occurring all over Europe, putting millions of consumers at risk and undermining their freedom of choice. Proper surveillance and enforcement are needed to prevent this.

* For full details see the Food Standards Agency website:

For further information contact Merav Shub at the Food Irradiation Campaign:
Tel: 020 7837 9229, Email: