The Swedish Consumer Coalition 


Brussels – The European Parliament's (EP) rejection to expand the list of food products that are permitted for irradiation in the European Union indicates a growing concern about the safety of food irradiation.

‘It is widely accepted that irradiation destroys vitamins and other nutrients, forms chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects and masks unhygienic food production practices,’ said Michel Baumgartner, a lobbyist with Public Citizen in Brussels. ‘Today’s vote is therefore also a vote for consumer protection and the Precautionary Principle.’

The winning amendment, which passed in a 214-182 vote, states that the current list of spices, dried herbs and seasonings should be the only approved food for irradiation. The most dangerous amendment was defeated, which called on the European Commission to yield to the World Health Organization (WHO) in commissioning and disseminating information and research on the safety of irradiated foods. Despite over 40 years of research indicating severe health hazards associated with irradiated food, the WHO still endorses it.

‘For consumers in a country like Sweden, any other result from the European Parliament would have gone against common sense,’ said Martin Frid at the Swedish Consumer Coalition. ‘We are not convinced that food should be traded around the world if it means more contamination, which requires irradiation to avoid disease. If the European Union goes ahead with a ban on a practice like food irradiation, other trading partners should respect this and not threaten us with the WTO like in the case of genetically modified organisms.’

Food irradiation is an avenue to globalization and harmonization. There is growing international pressure from the irradiation and agribusiness industries to increase the use of irradiation on food, but the spread of this technology has many potential dangers for consumers, workers, the environment, farmers and fishermen. As more consuming nations accept food irradiation, multinational corporations will grow food in the global south - where labor rights and environmental regulations are weak.

‘Food irradiation would facilitate the transnational food companies to delocate agricultural and food production in countries where safety regulations do not respect the conditions of the EU,’ said Gérard Choplin of the European Farmers Coordination (CPE). ‘This technology, to which family farmers and small cooperatives have no access, will increase the power of the big companies in global markets.’

Food irradiation is the treatment of food with high doses of radioactive cobalt-60 or cesium-137 or near speed of light electrons fired by linear accelerators. It sets off a chain reaction within food, changing its molecular structure and nutritional content. Research shows serious health conditions in lab animals that ate irradiated foods - including mutations, fatal internal bleeding, suppressed immune systems, organ damage, tumours, stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies.