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Toxic Chemicals Detected in Irradiated Beef; FDA Urged to Ban Products

February 26th, 2003

Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety today formally petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval of irradiated ground beef. This follows lab tests that detected chemicals linked to cancer promotion and genetic damage in irradiated ground beef sold at a Dairy Queen restaurant and three grocery store chains, including Publix and Safeway. The groups’ findings were released today in a report, What’s in the Beef?

This marks the first time since the FDA began regulating irradiated foods in 1958 that the agency has been formally petitioned to ban an irradiated food product. Legalized in 1997, irradiated ground beef is reportedly on sale at more than 5,000 grocery stores and restaurants in the U.S. And, the federal government recently lifted its ban on serving irradiated hamburgers to schoolchildren.

“If you’re going to permit irradiated meat on grocery store shelves and school lunch trays, then you need to be 100 percent certain that the product is safe–and no study has been able to adequately demonstrate that our long-term health won’t be affected,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The FDA has the moral responsibility to keep these potentially hazardous products off the market.”

“Given the new toxicity questions, our children simply should not be fed irradiated hamburgers in school,” said Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety. “Allowing our national school lunch program to distribute this irradiated meat would be to use 27 million children as unknowing guinea pigs to test the safety of these products.”

The two groups purchased and tested three types of irradiated ground beef:

  • Fresh ground beef irradiated with an electron-beam irradiator by SureBeam Corp. of San Diego, from a Safeway store in Washington, DC, and a D’Agostino’s store in New York City.

  • Frozen ground beef patties irradiated with a gamma-ray irradiator by Food Technology Service of Mulberry, FL, and sold under the “New Generation” label, from a Publix store in Florida.

  • Ground beef irradiated with an electron-beam irradiator by SureBeam Corp. of San Diego, from a Dairy Queen restaurant in Minneapolis.

All three types of irradiated beef tested positive for 2-alkylcyclobutanones, or 2-ACBs, which are formed when commonly occurring fats are exposed to radiation. These chemicals have never been detected in any non-irradiated foods. Cooking the irradiated beef generally reduced the amount of 2-ACBs but did not eliminate the chemicals. No 2-ACBs were detected in non-irradiated ground beef samples, whether raw or cooked.

Recent experiments funded by the European Union determined that concentrations of 2-ACBs promoted the growth of colon tumors in rats and caused genetic damage in human cells. In addition to raw and cooked ground beef, 2-ACBs have been detected in other foods that the FDA has legalized for irradiation, including chicken, eggs and mangoes.

Despite claims by the food industry that irradiation is widely considered safe, many prominent scientists have argued that serious toxicity questions remain unanswered.

Professor William W. Au, Ph.D., of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, stated: “Consumption of an improper diet together with food that contains 2-ACBs, which act as a tumor promoter, can increase the risk for the development of colon cancer. Without a systematic investigation in the population, this serious concern has not been addressed yet.”

Chinthalapally V. Rao, Ph.D., of the nationally recognized Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, N.Y., stated in an earlier written opinion: “A full-length study investigating the cancer promoting effects of 2-ACBs in irradiated foods, per se, and their mechanisms of action is urgently needed to address public health concerns.”

This report is being released as part of an international effort to raise public awareness of food irradiation around the world. A network of consumer, public interest, and citizens groups is holding a series of educational events, rallies, and protests to be held this week to recognize the global impacts of food irradiation.

Company Information

  • Dairy Queen, based in Edina, MN, has about 6,000 restaurants in the U.S., Canada and 20 other countries. Irradiated hamburgers are reportedly on sale in Minnesota, South Dakota, and certain parts of the Northeast and Southwest.

  • D’Agostino’s, based in Larchmont, NY, has about 25 stores in the New York City area. Irradiated, fresh ground beef is reportedly on sale at all stores.

  • Publix, based in Lakeland, FL, has more than 700 stores inAlabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Irradiated, frozen ground beef patties are reportedly on sale in all stores.

  • Safeway, based in Pleasanton, CA, has more than 7,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Irradiated, fresh ground beef is reportedly on sale in about 135 stores in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.

To view the petition, click HERE.
View report: What’s in the Beef?

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