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About Food Irradiation

Center for Food Safety

Food irradiation uses high-energy Gamma rays, electron beams or X-rays (all of which are millions of times more powerful than standard medical X-rays) to break apart the bacteria and insects that can hide in meat, grains and other foods. Radiation can do strange things to food, by creating substances called “unique radiolytic products.” These irradiation byproducts include a variety of mutagens – substances that can cause gene mutations, polyploidy (an abnormal condition in which cells contain more than two sets of chromosomes), chromosome aberrations (often associated with cancerous cells) and dominant lethal mutations (a change in a cell that prevents it from reproducing) in human cells. Making matters worse, many mutagens are also carcinogens.

Research also shows that irradiation forms volatile toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, chemicals known, or suspected, to cause cancer and birth defects.  Irradiation also causes stunted growth in lab animals fed irradiated foods.  An important 2001 study linked colon tumor promotion in lab rats to 2-alkylcyclobutanones (2-ACB’s), a new chemical compound found only in irradiated foods.  The FDA has never tested the safety of these byproducts.  Irradiation has also been shown to cause the low-level production of furans (similar to cancer-causing dioxins) in fruit juice.

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