June 20, 2018

FDA’s Plan to Allow Ionizing Radiation in Crustaceans Criticized

The FDA is amending food additive regulations to allow the “safe use of ionizing radiation on crustaceans” to control foodborne pathogens and extend shelf life. The petition to allow this method of controlling pathogens was submitted by the National Fisheries Institute.

Seafood Shrimp LabelingThe government agency says the decision is based on potential toxicity, the effect of irradiation on nutrients and potential microbiological risk that may result from treating the fish. Crustaceans include crab, shrimp, lobster, crayfish, and prawns. Ionizing radiation is used to treat cancer patients and in X-rays and CT scans.

At the maximum dose of 6.0 kiloGray, the treatment will “reduce, but not entirely eliminate” the number of pathogenic microorganisms on crustaceans. The update does state that “irradiation is not a substitute for proper food-handling practices; therefore crustaceans treated with ionizing radiation must be stored, handled, and cooked in the same way as non-irradiated foods.” The foods will bear the international symbol for irradiation, the radura, and have the statement “treated with radiation” or “treated by irradiation” on the food label.

Food & Water Watch is criticizing this step as a way for the government to mask weak import inspections. The statement by Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of the Agency says, “irradiation continues to be used as a crutch by FDA as a substitute for hiring more inspection personnel and investing in a robust laboratory system that would prevent unsafe seafood from entering the marketplace.

“We import over 80% of our seafood, and much of that comes from countries in Asia, such as the People’s Republic of China, that raise their seafood in squalid conditions. We also view today’s announcement as one being tied to the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement where we will see a further expansion of imported seafood from Asia and a weakening of our food safety requirements for imported food products.”

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