NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 19, 2006

The recent E. coli outbreaks are being blamed on too little regulation. But in reality, special interests have blocked approval of a technology that could sanitize fruits and vegetables and reduce food poisoning in America, says the Wall Street Journal.

The technology is known as food "irradiation," a process that propels gamma rays into meat, poultry and produce in order to kill most insects and bacteria.  According to scientists:

  • If even 50 percent of meat and poultry consumed in the United States were irradiated, the potential impact on foodborne disease would be a reduction in 900,000 cases, and 350 deaths
  • Most of the fresh-cut (minimally processed) fruits and vegetables can tolerate a radiation of 1.0 kGy, a dose that potentially inactivates 99.999 percent of E. coli.

But irradiation has not been widespread, mainly through a combination of political pressure, media scare tactics and bureaucratic and industry timidity.  Organic food groups and left-wing pressure groups have engaged in a fright campaign to persuade Americans that irradiation causes cancer and other diseases, even though the Centers for Disease Control has concluded that irradiation does not harm nutritional value of food or make food unsafe to eat.

  • Unfortunately, 325,000 Americans are still hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from contaminated food. 
  • Only about 1 percent of U.S. meat and produce is irradiated, though the technology was invented here.
  • Such nations as India, Mexico and Thailand are starting to irradiate most of the food they export to the United States, which means that produce from abroad could be safer than that grown here.

Source: Editorial, "E. Coli's Enablers," Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2006.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues