Target: Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of Food and Drugs with the Food and Drug Administration
Goal: Discontinue controversial use of ionizing radiation to treat shellfish and other food items
Many food products sold in the United States are subjected to ionizing radiation in order to kill bacteria and other microbes while prolonging shelf life. While regulators and many scientists maintain that the process is safe and that the food in no way becomes radioactive, consumer watchdog groups continue to criticize the preservation method. Some studies have shown a deficiency in vitamins and good bacteria can result from high exposure of the type used to irradiate food, and long term testing of effects on humans and pets has been nonexistent.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently included crustaceans such as lobster, crab, shrimp and prawns on the list of foods that can be legally irradiated. Non-profit organization Food and Water Watch condemned the FDA’s decision. “Irradiation continues to be used as a crutch by [the] FDA as a substitute for hiring more inspection personnel and investing in a robust laboratory system that would prevent unsafe seafood from entering the marketplace,” the group said in a recent press release.
More than 80% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. There is a real concern that shellfish raised in raw sewage continues to enter the marketplace via some Asian distributors, and that irradiating food covers up poor quality and contamination rather than addressing the issues themselves. Call on the FDA to immediately end its support for food irradiation.
Dear Ms. Hamburg,
American consumers are increasingly wary of pesticides and other contaminants in their food supply. Ionizing radiation has been viewed by some as a “magic bullet,” able to kill many harmful microbes and pests present due to putrid conditions and other health hazards. But long term testing of the effects of food irradiation on humans has yet to materialize, and the public remains largely skeptical of the process if not downright opposed.
One reason for this is the difficulty consumers have in avoiding irradiated food should they choose to. While distributors are required to label products with the international symbol for irradiation, radura, many multi-ingredient foods do not require labeling nor do food products sold in restaurants. Another concern is that tainted imported foods, like shellfish raised by some Chinese distributors in raw sewage, will enter the marketplace without consumers fully understanding what they are eating. Others worry that irradiation is merely a substitute for the rigorous inspection and regulation the FDA and USDA are obligated to perform in order to maintain a safe food supply.
Many nations restrict the use of irradiation for most types of foods or else ban its use altogether. The United States should ban its use as well rather than expand it to include crustaceans. I urge you to take the bold and necessary step and cease all FDA support for food irradiation.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service via Wikimedia