English Newsletter

Food Safety Citizens' Watch
English Newsletter

Issue # 10, Food Irradiation Opposition December 2006
Food Safety Citizens' Watch was established in April 2003 as a network of experts to monitor developments and make proposals to the government regarding food safety issues from the citizen's point of view.
November 20, 2006
Food Irradiation Opposition

Japan's Atomic Energy Commission expands the list of foods that may be exposed to food irradiation: Food irradiation opposition campaign group stepping up activities

In October, 2005 the Atomic Energy Commission of Japan's Cabinet Office decided to promote food irradiation as part of the "General Principles for Atomic Energy Policy". Also, during 2005, the spice industry was requesting that 94 types of spices should be allowed to be treated with food irradiation. In December, 2005 the Atomic Energy Commission established a food irradiation expert committee to examine this issue. Their conclusions were announced in July, 2006. Based on that report, the Atomic Energy Commission decided to consult with the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour (MHWL), as well as the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in order to obtain formal acceptance for food irradiation. The Commission also decided to keep asking the above ministries for the "evaluation of certain cases of foods where food irradiation may be useful."
We would like to report the following problems related to the safety of food irradiation and our opposition movement concerning this issue.
Animal experiments indicate health risks arising from changes in food components
Irradiated food has been exposed to gamma radiation from cobalt 60 isotopes and other sources, as a sterilization process. The radioactive energy can kill bacteria, insects and stop the ripening and sprouting that occurs naturally in many foods, but there are no cases where the food itself becomes radioactive.

As radiation hits the food cells, electrons start leaping from the molecules of the food components. They become chemically unstable and what is called "radiolysis products" will be formed. It is verified that substances with components that are carcinogenic and genotoxic (capable of causing damage to the DNA) are among the radiolysis products formed. Irradiated foods which look un-cooked, have already been damaged much more than foods cooked or heated in an ordinary way.

In 1998, a study at the Federal Research Centre for Nutrition in Karlsruhe, Germany, revealed that when the chemicals that are produced in foods exposed to food irradiation are fed to mice, there was damage to their DNA. Also, in further studies, when mice ingested such chemicals together with cancer-inducing substances, the carcinogenic effect was stronger.

Also, food irradiation gives rise to a bad smell, called "food irradiation smell" that impairs the important flavours and fragrances of food. When NASA, the US Space Administration, noticed that astronauts lost their appetite, irradiation of their meals was discontinued. This problem is related to the change in food components after exposure to food irradiation.

Safety has not been established, and there is also the danger of misuse
In experiments, feeding animals with irradiated food has been reported to give rise to deformities, DNA damage, abnormalities in genital organs, fetus abnormalities, and an increase in mortality rates. Nevertheless, there is no way to determine if the food has been irradiated or not, and also there are no established methods to estimate or determine the irradiation dosages or the number of times it has been irradiated.

In 1978, there was a big scandal involving the Japanese baby food maker Wakodo Co. It became a big issue as the vegetable ingredients used for their baby food products had been irradiated illegally over a period of four years for the purpose of disinfection. In February, 2004, Maruha Inc. was involved in a scandal with Canadian shellfish that had been contaminated with E Coli bacteria. An inspection by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government revealed that the Chinese-made processed product had been disinfected using irradiation, and Maruha was ordered to recall the product. These are just two examples here in Japan of abuse and violations involving food irradiation.

In addition, food irradiation facilities are using radioactive substances of several hundreds of thousands curies. There are many reports of accidents taking place at such facilities, as workers and visitors have been exposed to high doses of radiation. Also, accidents have happened while the radioactive substances are being transported to the facilities. It is necessary to manage the used radioactive substances as radioactive waste. Food irradiation facilities have similar problems as nuclear power plants.

Who is promoting food irradiation?
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is promoting food irradiation around the world. This goes on in spite of doubts about the safety and difficulties to estimate the irradiation dosages, as well as problems with management and regulation. In 1980, IAEA recommended a dose of 10 kGy ignoring a number of studies, such as chronic toxicity tests, that had indicated health problems. However, such data are not included in IAEA's reports.

This limit was used by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization when they jointly established an international food safety standard for food irradiation in 1983. In 2003, without any scientific basis, they decided that doses above 10 kGy would also be acceptable. They have continued to advertise the benefits of food irradiation to the global food trade and as a means to avoid food poisoning.

As safety and management problems are ignored, it is meaningless to talk about merits such as reduced food poisoning risks and food trade. Japan has decided that foods produced in this country will not be irradiated, and has prohibited food irradiation in its food sanitation law, article 11. The only exception is the Shihoro Agricultural Cooperative in Hokkaido, which in 1972 got approval for the use of food irradiation for their potatoes (7000 tons/year).
Food irradiation opposition campaign group stepping up activities
Since the 1970s, there has been a widespread opposition to food irradiation among Japanese consumers and citizens. In June, 2006, anticipating that the Atomic Energy Commission would promote food irradiation, about 50 consumers and citizens organizations have formed a network to oppose food irradiation. Among the 50 groups are Consumers Union of Japan and women's groups in Tokyo (Secretariat: Food Irradiation Network).

Furthermore, a questionnaire was sent to food related producers, transport companies and trading companies. Replies from 46 companies showed that most of them were not sure how they will deal with the situation if irradiated foods would be approved. There were also replies from companies stating that due to reasons such as "there are safety problems" and "we do not need food irradiation" as well as "we are concerned about consumers' awareness", they will not deal with irradiated foods.

It is clear that that the food industry is not accepting the merits that the Atomic Energy Commission are promoting. Based on these results to the questionnaire, on September 30, 2006 the campaign group organized a meeting called "Are irradiated foods necessary? The results of a questionnaire". At the meeting, members once again confirmed their opposition to food irradiation. From now on, campaign activities will be stepped up. The aim is to make sure that Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour and related ministries, as well as the Food Safety Commission, should not approve food irradiation.

The campaign group is inviting you to join and support the activities.
Food Irradiation Opposition Campaign Group
Wada Masae (Shufuren)
Tomiyama Yoko (Consumers Union of Japan)
Hida Rieko (Tokyo League of Regional Women's Organizations)
Satomi Hiroshi (Food Irradiation Network)