A report published by two consumer groups, the Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch, has called for the US government to abandon its support for food irradiation, citing what it sees as the many failures of the process.

The report, entitled Gross Failure, says that food irradiation has been marred by decades of problems, ranging from chronic food quality issues to company bankruptcies and weak consumer sales, and has little chance of becoming a mainstream solution to preventing food-borne illness.
“Irradiation is ‘history’ simply because it has no future,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “We’ve witnessed commercial failure after commercial failure in this industry, and we can’t understand why our government is still pushing a technology that consumers don’t want, scientists have warned us away from due to potential long-term health risks, and investors steer clear of year after year.”

Food irradiation exposes food to doses of ionizing radiation to kill potentially harmful bacteria and extend shelf life. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has legalised the process for many types of foods, including fruit, vegetables, beef, poultry, pork, eggs, shellfish, spices and juice.

However, critics claim that the process ruins the flavour, odour, texture and colour of foods. A lack of consumer support, say the groups behind the report, has resulted in many company failures. “Ruined food means ruined food companies,” said Peter Jenkins, policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety. “Not only is the quality of irradiated food worse, an irradiated item typically costs 20% to 30% more than the same unirradiated product. Consumers won’t pay that.”