Monday, August 10, 2009

Irradiated food

I have been wondering why there is such a difference in the perception of genetically modified and irradiated foods between European countries and the United States.
On the one hand, most of the people of the US have few concerns about genetically modified foods. Yet they react very strongly against Irradiated foods. Just the opposite is true in Europe.
From the standpoint of the consumers, I have to side with the Europeans. Irradition is actually a very simple technology, which has been thoroughly tested, and really can't offer a lot of surprises. There can't be any residual radiation or others toxins in the food as a result of the radiation. I have read that if fresh strawberries are packed in Mylar and irradiated, they can last for 6 months on the shelf without refrigeration. Less spoilage and no refrigeration costs translates to more food getting to the people who need it. The only concern I have about irradiation is for the safety of the employees at the food processing end.
Genetic modification, on the other hand, especially if done at the DNA level, provides an almost infinite number of possible recombinations. The odds of accidentally producing something detrimental to humans are extremely high. Right now we are taking an Alchemist approach to the science of Genetics. We just dice and splice, and see what happens. Even if we learned enough to be able to accurately computer model the results before we splice, the science can never be perfect.
What do you think?


Bourgeois_Rage said...

I think one reason that irradiation has not caught on in the US is the history of hysteria around anything that appears remotely related to radiation. Look at the irrationality and fear any time nuclear energy is mentioned, while in Europe, nuclear energy is much less maligned. Though I, myself, can't understand that entirely. The docudrama Threads was much more stark than anything that was shown in the US regarding the possibility of nuclear war.

As for GM crops, humans have been doing very basic levels of this since agriculture first appeared by selecting for the plants that yielded the most fruit of the greatest quality. We may be moving into the more advanced aspects more quickly than we should be, but we need to be doing some testing if this is going to be a viable technology. I actually just read an article the other day that implied that the seed companies won't allow independent testing. I can't find it now. That's not going to win them any fans from the skeptical and scientific community.

Bernard Droege said...

Good point, Clint.
Especially about the Europeans not having as much of a problem with nuclear energy or radiation in general.

raa said...

Yes, we have an irrational fear of radioactivity. Just look at how they dropped the nuclear from Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging, to be MRI for the public.
In general, I have not seen anything wrong with GM crops except for how we are going about it:
- The companies developing the crops seem to be acting ruthlessly against the small farmer and seed cleaner. See for instance the actions of Monsanto as portrayed in the movie Food, Inc..
- The government should have a strong hand in regulating their approval and use, especially given the newness of this approach. This is the exact opposite of how our government has acted in the last eight years.

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