Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Viva the Zap

The Voloch Conspiracy is quoting the WSJ’s editorial on food irradiation. This is Very Interesting stuff.

The Centers for Disease Control concluded its investigation by noting: "An overwhelming body of scientific evidence demonstrates that irradiation does not harm the nutritional value of food, nor does it make the food unsafe to eat." According to Paisan Loaharanu, a former director at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "The safety of irradiated foods is well established through many toxicological studies. . . . No other food technology has gone through more safety tests than food irradiation."

Jonathan Adler of Voloch says:

If the use of food irradiation would help protect public health, why isn't it used? Anti-technology activists, including many self-appointed "consumer" groups, have given it a bad name (largely due to its tangential association to nuclear power), and spread anti-irradiation misinformation.

Irradiation would not eliminate all food borne illness, to be sure, but there's no reason not to encourage its use where appropriate.

Some cherry-picked comments follow. Apparently people have strong feelings about the subject.

Maybe some mystical nutrients could be killed. The ones that are known and measurable aren't affected significantly.

I delight in pointing out to my colleagues at our biotech company that they are better off licking the toilet seats in the men's or women's room, than touching the handles of the microwaves in the lunch room. That's where the real crap is....this because most of you disgusting, nose-picking, eye-rubbing, mouth-wiping, toilet non-washing, body-fluid smearing slobs don't wash your hands. Buying overpriced "sanitizers" is a very poor substitute for personal cleanliness. As for avoiding food born illness, you can beat a lot of the food issues by preparing food for yourselves, not coping out to cheap fast food (although the fast food joints are a lot better at clean living than most of you). Just remember to eat only foods that will spoil but eat them before they do.

Still, you can get nailed by the diseased, unexamined people flooding into the US, whoamong other things, shit in the irrigation water flooding the fields of sunny Kalifornia. Their "deposits" show up in your bags of pre-cut salads. Bank on it.

Speaking of unsanitary, my brother-in-law is a preacher. After every service, he goes through the usual routine of greeting the congregation as they leave the church. Then he goes and thoroughly washes his hands. Hand shaking is very unsanitary.

Irradiation is simply uncouth. Food should be more expensive. Cheap food just lets more poor people live, and live badly if you know what I mean. So fat and such bad taste.

They should get a few hundred grams of organic food a day. And wash my car.

I have some misgivings. My own feeling is that the food market is distorted by exceedingly low transportation costs in the US. I suspect we would have a lot fewer food-borne ailments if food were obtained locally. So, once again, I argue for a substantial carbon tax.

On the other hand, there would be substantial energy savings due to unrefrigerated transport and storage. We keep a gallon of Parmalat skim milk on hand, which is steam-processed. We can’t afford the culinary tragedy of running out of milk for morning cereal. We store it on the pantry shelf and it keeps well. We have found that it does separate and settle after a couple of months, but it still tastes fine. I wouldn’t keep it past the shelf date, though.

I also worry that the radiation process would get the food processors off the hook. They would become more lax than they are today. I don’t think we should be relying on a single methodology. One thing we should expect from our government is to inspect and assure the quality of our food.

Third, I worry that it would let our bodies off the hook, as well. Think about what happens when Americans go to third world countries. They invariably come down with Montezuma’s revenge no matter how careful they are. If you’re not fit, this can kill you. It’s usually the old and infirm or very young who die from contaminated food. Perhaps we need more exposure to nasty germs, not less, to activate our natural immunities. (I’ve often thought that there would be market for third world water, so that you could develop resistance before going to the country, suffering only in the comfort of your own bathroom.)

I had another issue, which was laid to rest by one of the commenters – smart group over there. What about the security issue of loose radioactive materials? Companies could not be trusted to keep track of this stuff. It turns out, however, that the food is radiated by mechanical rather than nuclear means. Electrons are magnetically accelerated to bombard the food within a closed chamber and there is no actual radioactive material.

On the whole, my assessment is that it is a good idea. We should be doing it under the control of rigorous government inspection and evaluation, just as we should be fostering GM foods that can help address world-wide hunger and health issues. We have the capacity, if we put our minds to it, to handle these things responsibly. Let’s prove it by policing the food industry a little better in general.




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At Friday, December 22, 2006 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

When I was a little kid the Atoms for Peace exhibit came to Guatemala, and my Mom took me to see it. I never forgot that piece of irradiated fried chicken that would keep at room temperature and be perfectly delicious and nutritious when opened years later.

The future seemed bright back then.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 1:09:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

LOL. You must have been hungry. I was looking at the flying cars and boat/cars and personal submarines and jetpacks when I was a kid. Popular Science was my favorite magazine. One of my favorite ideas was building a second canal across some part of North America using nuclear explosives. I thought that would be cool.

As you learn more, shiny things become less attractive and you can see problems coming from a greater distance. On the other hand, magical things have happened that we didn't really expect. Instead of jet packs we got ultra-lights. Instead of boat-cars we got jet-skis. Instead of transporter devices we got home commuting. Oh, and the food! I never saw a bagel until I was 16. I never saw a taco or burrito until I was an adult. I remember cooking a roast in my new micro-wave oven to celebrate my first job. My father was dumbfounded.

I'm fully expecting food technology to surprise us some more. And I'm still holding out hope for the return of the hydrogen zeppelin, rail-gun space launchers and desalination from fusion power. The electric car would be nice too.


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