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FDA is proposing allowing irradiated food be labeled as "pasteurized" or with other euphemisms, according to a guidance document published Wednesday (April 4). A consumer advocate group argues FDA's proposed rule finesses the law instead of implementing it and the proposal contradicts FDA's position on meat treated with carbon monoxide.

The FDA guidelines implement two provisions in a 2002 Farm Bill. One of the farm bill's provisions requires FDA to redefine the term irradiation. FDA law requires that food treated with irradiation be labeled as such, but industry wants to use other euphemisms such as "cold pasteurized" or "electronic pasteurization" because it believes the reference to radiation needlessly scares consumers.

The second provision allows food firms to petition FDA to use the term pasteurization instead of irradiation.

"FDA is proposing that only those irradiated foods in which the irradiation causes a material change in the food, or a material change in the consequences that may result from the use of the food, bear the radura logo and the term 'irradiated,' or a derivative thereof, in conjunction with explicit language describing the change in the food or its conditions of use," according to an advanced publication of a Federal Register notice.

"FDA is also proposing to allow a firm to petition FDA for use of an alternate term to 'irradiation' (other than 'pasteurized'). In addition, FDA is proposing to permit a firm to use the term 'pasteurized' in lieu of 'irradiated,' provided it notifies the agency that the irradiation process being used meets the criteria specified for use of the term 'pasteurized' in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the act) and the agency does not object to the notification."

Irradiation is used to kill pathogens on food. It also can change food, such as when bananas are irradiated to stay yellow longer, the proposal states.

FDA is proposing that food changed by irradiation must disclose on the label how irradiation has changed it or its condition of use, such as "irradiated to inhibit sprouting."

The agency is requesting comment on the effect of irradiation on shelf life and the relationship between pathogen control and extension of shelf life.

FDA also seeks comments on whether labeling is necessary when irradiation changes food in an "uncharacteristic" way, and it wants to know what non-material changes irradiation can cause.

FDA says irradiation is voluntary and manufacturers may adjust levels to get the desired effect. FDA says it is interested in looking at research, such as taste tests or functional studies, that evaluate whether to irradiate and at what dose.

Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch argues FDA is not following the letter of the law.

The Farm Bill states the term pasteurization could be used for other technologies if FDA is "reasonably certain" a technology would "achieve destruction of elimination" of pathogens. Irradiation dosage levels approved for food reduces pathogens, Corbo says, but they do not sterilize. He adds that food astronauts eat is irradiated at levels that comes close to sterilization, but he also notes astronauts are allowed to opt out of eating such highly irradiated food when in space.

Corbo contends FDA's position on irradiation labels contradicts its position on meat treated with carbon monoxide.

Meat is sometimes treated with CO to make it look red longer, just like bananas are treated with irradiation to stay yellow longer. FDA does not require companies to disclose that meat is treated with CO, yet bananas must be labeled as treated with irradiation.

Another gripe is that the petitions that companies submit FDA to change irradiation labels to other euphemisms are not open to the public unless they are requested under the Freedom of Information Act. FDA potentially could have a lot of work on its hands reviewing petitions and the FOIA requests at a time when FDA's resources are stretched thin.FDA Week

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