A Nuclear Lunch

 Robert Anderson BSc(Hons) PhD


ANZFA – the Australia New Zealand Food Authority – have approved imported herbs and spices for irradiation treatment. Is this to be the start of a market flooded with irradiated foods?

A recent NZ Heraldarticle proclaimed, “NZ firm backing bid to zap food”. It should send shivers down the spines of those understanding this obnoxious method of denaturing food. Don Turner of Turners and Growers was reported as saying that, “In 25 years, no problem has ever been detected.” Have they had the wink from ANZFA, that it will be a smooth passage.

Whatever the facts are, irradiating food for human or animal consumption is dangerous.

This recent push by ANZFA for food irradiation, fails to acknowledge the dangers of this technology, its intricate connections to the nuclear industry, and the long history of fraud on the part of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prove it is safe. A recent letter1expressing concern to the Minister of Health, Annette King, provoked the response that its approval is based on “sound science.” But is it?

When researched, virtually all the references given by the minister show up as industry or World Health Organisation (WHO) papers. They are not peer reviewed publications and there are few on the toxicology of the danerous chemicals which this process generates in food.

Back in 1986, the FDA gave the green light to expose nearly the whole of the American food supply to nuclear irradiation. It is consumer opposition, not government regulation, that remains the crucial component in keeping irradiated food out of their supermarkets. From the dangers inherent in the process, to the FDA's own admission that the safety studies are flawed, the risks involved with food irradiation far outweigh the presumed “benefits.”

What does irradiation do?

Food is irradiated using radioactive gamma sources, or a high energy electron beam. This energy can break up the molecular structure of food, forming positively and negatively charged particles known as free radicals. These are very reactive by-products. The free radicals then react with food to create new, strange chemical substances. Those chemicals are known as “unique radiolytic products” or URPs.

Here are some examples. Products - such as formaldehyde, benzene, formic acid and quinones - are formed during irradiation. These are known to be harmful to our health. Benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer producing). In one US experiment, seven times more benzene was found in cooked, irradiated beef than in normally cooked beef which had not been irradiated. The really frightening thing is that many URPs are completely new chemicals which have not even been identified, let alone tested for their toxicity.

In addition, irradiation is known to destroy essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, thiamine, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, C, E, and K. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are also affected. It is not uncommon for a 20 to 80 percent loss of any of these to occur.

Studies were seriously flawed

The FDA originally reviewed 441 toxicity studies to determine the safety of irradiated foods. The scientist in charge, Dr Marcia van Gemert, and the chairperson of the committee responsible for the studies, testified that all 441 studies were flawed. But with the shonky assurance of just five studies, the FDA approved irradiation for the American food supply.

Studies of rats fed irradiated food showed kidney and testicular damage and a statistically significant increase in testicular cancer. One pioneering study in India found four out of five children fed irradiated wheat developed polyploidy, a chromosomal abnormality that is a salutary warning of developing future cancers.2

In other studies, animals eating irradiated food experienced weight loss and miscarriage, this being almost certainly due to vitamin E deficiency caused by the irradiation. Irradiated food has caused innumerable health problems in laboratory animals and also people in a few studies. These include chromosomal damage, immune and reproductive problems, kidney damage, tumours, internal bleeding, low birth weight, and nutritional muscular dystrophy.

ANZFA and the industry - such as Turners and Growers are currently doing - claim that decades of research demonstrate the safety of food irradiation, but the studies they use to prove it are very dubious. One early study was carried out by Industry Bio-Test (IBT). In 1983, IBT were convicted of conducting fraudulent research for the US government and industry. Even so, some of this discredited work is still being used as a part of the “sound science” basis for safety assurances for irradiation of food.

The assumption that the New Zealand population will be force-fed these products simply because government are cow-towing to vested interests is reprehensible. There is no better way of undermining the trust of consumers than showing such incomprehensible disregard for human safety.

An article in the NZ Heraldsays it all. A study by HortResearch found the public had little knowledge of the technology and “did not trust one-sided material” such as that from the AMA and FDA. Can we blame them? Michael Dayish of Surebeam, a supplier of food irradiation equipment, said a public education programme would be needed. Indeed. But have we not heard that from Monsanto and other pro genetic engineering and other “innovative” technologies?


Robert Anderson BSc(Hons) PhD - 4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008

For more than a decade, Robert gave literally hundreds of public talks throughout New Zealand. While his main focus was genetic engineering, he spoke of a number of other scientific, societal and social justice issues. All were given in recognition of the public’s right to be independently informed. He also authored 11 books and wrote articles for numerous periodicals.

Enquiries about books written by Robert Anderson should be addressed to naturesstar@xtra.co.nz



1. Personal correspondence.

2. See “Exploding the Myth of Irradiated Food” - Enquiries should be addressed to naturesstar@xtra.co.nz