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Scientists in row over safety of irradiated foods

 25th October 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.'

Further information

Details from Merav Shub tel: 020 7837 9229.

1. www.iaea.org/programmes/rifa/icgfi/documents/summary-press.pdf

2. SCF report SCF/CS/NF/IRR/26 ADD 3 Final, 3 July 2002 http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scf/out135_en.pdf

New report questions WHO approval for irradiated foods

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 http://www.citizen.org/documents/BadTaste.pdf