My talented musical friend Tyler Yareman asked me a good
question the other day...
"From pesticides to GMO’s to irradiation...I try to buy "Organic" "Local" food as much as possible, but find that it's a bit tricky sometimes with our climate and seasons. What are your thoughts on irradiation?"
Out of all the food insults, I would have to say that food irradiation gets the award as the scariest technology. Exposing food to high doses of ionizing radiation using gamma rays or high-energy photons from cobalt-60 or cesium-137 seems like something out of sci-fi movie. The radiation absorbed by one human x-ray is measured as 1 RAD (radiation absorbed dose). The amount of radiation used on products is measured in kiloGrays that are equivalent to 100,000 RADs. Produce receives 1 kiloGray, fresh meat 7 kG and spices and dried herbs 30 kG…to review the math, this is the equivalent to your food getting 3 million x-rays!
In one 15-week study on rats fed a diet containing 70% freshly irradiated wheat (irradiated at 75,000 rad, or 0.75 kGy), the animals were found to have a lowered immune response. This suggests that irradiated food may inhibit resistance to fight off infections and lower the body's resistance to a wide range of diseases.
Why is irradiation so dangerous?
All cell membranes and DNA strands within certain microbes (bacteria and yeast for example) are broken during irradiation. John Hanselman, an ecological researcher living in Brantford, ON explains in his Alive Magazine article, “Chromosomes mutate when the broken shards recombine. There are no studies available on the effects of consuming large amounts of mutated microorganisms over time on the microbiology of the human digestive system or on the resulting human physiology. In addition, irradiation does not eliminate all bacteria. Some are not affected by dosage levels used on foods. These include the botulism-causing Clostridiumand Deinococcus radiodurans, which actually repairs its own DNA after exposure. Surviving bacteria pose a concern because they inevitably produce resistant generations until irradiation becomes an ineffective method of sterility.”
John went on to raise another good point for concern, “nutritional losses of vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B4 and folic acid can occur in irradiated foods–up to 80 percent of pre-irradiation levels. Essential fatty acids oxidize and free radicals, precursors to cancer, and other carcinogens including formaldehyde, benzene and lipid peroxides are formed.”
So how do you protect yourself?
The upper image is the symbol for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The lower image, called the 'Radura', is the international symbol for irradiated food.
Without getting into conspiracy theory, I think the marketing folks for irradiation knew to create a confusing symbol! The use of this symbol is strictly volluntary and not required by law. Bulk products, such as deli meat and bulk spices, also pose an issue as you do not have a label to work from. It is important to note that food irradiation is sometimes called “cold pasteurization” so be careful to look at the labels when buying meat.
The one surefire way to protect yourself is to buy 100% organic food unless you are buying from a farmer directly and you trust that the food has not been 'processed'. Here is a good guide for trusting organic by Barbara H. Peterson.
Reading 'Organic' labeling:
*If a product is labeled '100% Organic', then it is supposed to contain nothing but organic ingredients and processing aids that are organically produced.
*Products labeled 'Certified Organic' must contain 95% organic ingredients: Up to 5 percent of the ingredients may be nonagricultural substances (consistent with the National List). If not commercially available in organic form, minor ingredients i.e spices, flavors, colorings, oils, vitamins, minerals, accessory nutrients, incidental food additives can be nonorganic but must not be produced using the excluded methods i.e [GMO], sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.
*Products labeled 70-95% Organic or 'Made with Organic Ingredients', can contain the kitchen sink in the 5-30% of ingredients that are not organic. They can be grown with pesticides, but without the sewage sludge, and cannot be irradiated or genetically modified organisms (GMO).
*Products labeled 70% Organic or 'Contains Organic Ingredients', can contain the kitchen sink along with the pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, and GMOs.
The concern you raise is a good one Tyler. If someone buys a product that is only 70% organic, producers may have uses spices that are irradiated. Given the level of radiation that spices recieve, this is a huge concern. Even though organic spices seem like they are worth their weight in gold, realistically the conventional option might be as toxic as uranium!
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