We've seen our fair share of outbreaks of foodborne illness over the past few years.
In an effort to address this problem, the FDA announced last week a final rule that allowed the use of ionizing radiation on iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach to control foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, and to make the products last longer on the grocery store shelf.
Currently, some hamburger meat, poultry and spices are irradiated to kill bacteria, but until now U.S. producers were not allowed to irradiate fruits and vegetables for food safety.
Fresh iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach that has been irradiated will have to be labeled with a radura logo along with either the statement Treated with radiation or Treated by irradiation.
The FDA insists the practice is safe, and the agency says that when irradiated under the conditions specified in the final rule, the greens retain their nutrient value.
But does this really address the source of the problem?
Stephen Hedges in the Chicago Tribune writes that this is the latest example of the FDA using a technical fix to treat a biological problem.
He suggests that each of these decisions approving irradiation on meat, approving the application of carbon monoxide gas to keep meat red, approving the sale of meat and dairy products from cloned cows "has broadened the philosophical divide between food manufacturers, which generally favor the expanded use of such technology, and many food safety and organic food groups that oppose it."
Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety in Washington, is quoted in the article: "Food irradiation is a pseudo-fix. It's a way to try to come in and clean up problems that are created in the middle of the food production chain. I think it's clearly a disincentive to clean up the problems at the source."
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