The Alliance For Natural Health

The FDA’s Push for Irradiated, Processed Food


The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) became law in 2010, and was problematic from the word “go.” One of the first rules the FDA created to implement this law concerned standards for “raw agricultural commodities.” The reasoning behind the exclusive focus on raw foods is that processed food is less likely to be contaminated—never mind how unhealthy processed food is so long as the food is not contaminated.

Irradiation is a poor solution

The FDA’s big idea seems to be irradiation. Irradiated foods are exempted because FDA believes sterile food is safer. The agency is apparently not concerned with what happens to the food’s nutritional value or whether the irradiation itself is safe.

There are many reasons irradiated food is bad for us:

  • There are no federal standards for safe levels of radiation in sterilized food, and research indicates a wide range of problems in animals that eat irradiated food, including chromosomal abnormalities, a rare form of cancer, and even premature death.
  • Irradiating food can kill bacteria from filthy CAFOs and processing plants, but it cannot address the other unhealthy conditions found there.
  • Irradiation may also dramatically change flavor, odor, and texture of food, in addition to nutritional value.

The FDA conveniently decided not to worry about contamination from chemical hazards either, instead focusing exclusively on microbiological contamination. Since chemical contamination includes pesticides, cleaning compounds, etc., this is a big omission. The FDA reasons that its current regulatory framework to monitor these contaminants is sufficient, and says “illnesses attributable to chemical hazards are rare.”

Illnesses from pesticides, cleaning compounds, and other chemical contaminants are rare? Well, that’s the FDA’s worldview, because if they acknowledged the problem they might have to do something about it.

Other FSMA rules problematic as well

The FDA originally proposed that farmers would have to wait nine months between applying manure and harvesting. This would have taken many organic fields out of production for an entire growing season, economically crippling small farmers—likely by design, since we know that the FDA has been hostile towards small producers, preferring to work with larger companies. Happily, the FDA listened to the outcry from farmers and consumers alike, and the FDA changed the rule: “At this time, the FDA does not object to farmers complying with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards, which call for a 120-day interval between the application of raw manure for crops in contact with the soil and 90 days for crops not in contact with the soil.”

ANH-USA—together with the natural health community—helped win the inclusion of an amendment to FSMA from Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC), which exempts producers making less than $500,000 a year in sales who also sold most of their food locally. This wasn’t easy. Big farms and processed food companies and their allies at the USDA and FDA did not like it—they feel threatened by competition from natural food producers.

In addition, the FDA announced it would no longer permit American cheese makers to age cheese on wooden boards or shelving for fear that wooden shelves or boards could not be adequately cleaned and sanitized. This claim has been thoroughly disproven by the American Cheese Society, and there are a number of effective ways that wooden boards can be safely cleaned.

The public backlash against the prohibition of wooden boards was swift and immediate, and the FDA backpedaled by denying it had established new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor was there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue!

Many provisions in FSMA, then, were not really about protecting the safety and integrity of our food supply, but about clearing the market of competition from small, organic farmers and producers who wouldn’t be able to comply with the burdensome and costly regulations. ANH-USA and other stakeholders were fortunately able to stave off some of the damage, but other troublesome rules remain.