The food industry is going high-tech with a seemingly innocent procedure called irradiation – a process that delays ripening by exposing food to radioactive materials that kill insects, mold, and bacteria.
Critics point out that irradiation may produce food products that at best have lower nutritional value; at worst are carcinogenic. Irradiation also poses significant health threats to workers and the public in transportation, storage, and disposal of radioactive waste. There is real concern over the safety of radioactive devices used in food, beverage, cosmetic, and drug industries.
This story, which appeared in the UTNE Reader in May/June 1987, was the 19th ranked censored story of 1987.
The following year, The Workbook featured an investigative piece in its April/June 1988 issue that cautioned readers about the problem of radioactive waste and the dangers of food irradiation. It was the #4 ranked censored story of 1988.
It warned that “Despite serious questions concerning effectiveness and consumer safety, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to set-up 1000 food irradiation facilities around the country within the next 10 years. Food irradiation is a process where food is put on a conveyor belt and exposed to radiation from a radioactive source such as cobalt-60 or cesium-137. Since it is a process which can utilize radioactive waste, it is particularly attractive to DOE since it ‘completes the nuclear fuel cycle’ reducing wastes that require disposal to a minimum.”
In 1988, Project Censored concluded that the only thing that can be honestly said about food irradiation is that neither the FDA nor anyone else knows if it is safe but that substantial evidence indicates that foods treated with radiation are damaging to your health.


More than two decades later, on February 2, 2009, the New York Times announced that the “Debate over safety, cost, effectiveness of irradiation continues, as do outbreaks.”
It pointed out that “Before the recent revelation that peanut butter could kill people,’ and even before the earlier spinach scare, the “nation’s food industry made a proposal. It asked the government for permission to destroy germs in many processed foods by zapping them with radiation.”
After spinach tainted with a strain of E. coli killed three people in 2006, the FDA gave the food industry permission to irradiate spinach and iceberg lettuce but the industry still hasn’t. Food manufacturers worry that the apparent benefits do not justify the cost or the potential consumer backlash.
In any event, food poisoning continues along with the endless, non-conclusive discussion. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 76 million cases of food-borne illness each year in the United States. The vast majority are mild, but the agency estimates there are 5,000 deaths from food borne disease and 225,000 hospitalizations each year.”
Perhaps the new administration will provide the FDA with the resources it needs to effectively monitor our food and drugs and to make decisions the public can trust.

Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it!
— George Santayana