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Irradiation Gets Another Look In House Committee

posted on March 21, 2008


Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Federal administrators and traders alike are trying to make sense of what's happening to the economy.

For the 6th time in seven months the Federal Reserve cut interests rates. This time it was three-quarters-of-one percent, cutting the rate the Fed uses to lend money to banks to its lowest point since 2004.

Despite the interest rate cut, Wall Street spent the holiday shortened week swinging between panic and relief. A four-day see-saw ride left the Dow up more than 400 points at the end of the week.

As the Fed was cutting interest rates, jobless claims hit their highest average level since Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast in 2005.

And on the hill there continues to be fallout from last month's record setting recall of 143 million pounds of meat products processed at a California packing plant. After serving Hallmark/Westland's CEO Steve Mendell a subpoena, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations went a step further and began asking other invited guests, among them Federal Drug Administration head Stephen Sundlof, why irradiation hasn't been given more consideration.

Irradiation Gets Another Look In House Committee Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "No difference."

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois: "I think Popeye would approve."

Lawmakers took part in a congressional taste test this past week on Capitol Hill. During a hearing on food safety and the merits of irradiation, Congressmen Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, and John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, gave irradiated vegetables a positive review.

Irradiation, already approved by the federal government for use on ground beef, zaps food products with concentrated beams of radiation. The technology sends electrons flying through food products at virtually the speed of light, killing dangerous bacteria while leaving food visibly unharmed. But some critics of irradiation accuse the technology of damaging the nutritional composition of produce.

Market to Market profiled the Iowa-based irradiation company Sadex last year. Sadex CEO Harlan Clemmons was so willing to prove the safety of irradiation, he consumed spinach intentionally laced with e Coli and later processed at his facility. Clemmons did not suffer any health ailments following his meal.

Harlan Clemmons, Sadex CEO: "…it will have the same flavor, it will have the same texture, crunchiness, um, smell, everything is basically the same. You won't notice anything different between treated product and untreated product. We just need the FDA to approve it."

FDA approval is one of the critical stumbling blocks for future use of irradiation on fruits and vegetables. Clemmons was on hand at least week's hearing to support Iowa State University Professor Dennis Olsen, a supporter of irradiation technology.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Would it be used as an alternative to prevent food borne illnesses such as sanitation or in other words you wouldn't have to clean things up."

Prof. Dennis Olsen, Iowa State University: "One-hundred years ago when we were talking about pasteurization of milk. The opponents of that said let's clean up the farms. And one of the chief arguments is let's just let the dairy farms be dirtier. If you compared a dairy farm today to a dairy farm 100-years ago they are thousands of times more sanitary. Is sounds more logical, but there is no incentive to be dirty."

Olsen's support of irradiation calls for a swift decision by the Food and Drug Administration on the safety of irradiation. The original FDA petition regarding produce irradiation was filed in 1999.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Nine years now the petition is still pending. Why hasn't the FDA acted on that petition on irradiation?"

Stephen Sundlof, Food and Drug Administration: "During the process of reviewing that information we did find that in certain foods the process of irradiation did result in the production of furans, which are cancer causing chemicals."

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Were there furans in leafy greens?"

Stephen Sundlof, Food and Drug Administration: "My information that I have indicates that irradiation of leafy greens at the rate they would normally be irradiated would create minimal furans so it would very, very small."

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "So there would be no health risk?"

Stephen Sundlof, Food and Drug Administration:: "So yes, that's the direction we're proceding..."

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "So if there is no health risk then why not approve the petition?"

Stephen Sundlof, Food and Drug Administration:: "Again, Mr. Chairman we are working on it and there is a lot of administrative hurdles we have to cross…"

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Yeah, nine years worth."


Tags: Congress food food safety government news radiation