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European Parliament's rejection of irradiation gets US buzzing


The European Parliament yesterday rejected a proposal to expand the list of foods that can be irradiated within the European Union, increasing pressure for greater caution in the US.

The move is seen as a victory by European consumer and environmental group, but is an obvious set-back to the key irradiation industry players there. The European Commission said that its reason for rejection further expansion of the list was due to insufficient evidence proving that it is safe to eat irradiated foods.

Currently the list of foods that can be irradiated throughout the European Union is confined to dried herbs and spices and vegetable stock.

US consumer rights group, Public Citizen, said that the European ruling proved more research should be carried out into the irradiation of foods.

The European Commission, which implements legislation for theEuropean Union, usually heavily weighs the EP's opinion before acting.

"I am glad to see that when Europe is faced with a contentious issue, it heeds the scientific advice on this questionable technology," saidAndrianna Natsoulas, an international food irradiation organiser withPublic Citizen. "While the United States is caving in to industrypressure by adding to the list of foods that can be irradiated, Europeholds the health and interests of its citizens above profits."

The winning amendment, which passed by a 214-182 vote, states that thecurrent list should continue to bethe only items approved for irradiation until adequate scientificresearch proving irradiation's safety is conducted. It was the mostrestrictive policy, passed even in the face of opposition by the irradiation industry.

The EP defeated an amendment that was more lenient on the foodindustry. That amendment called on the EC to yield to the World HealthOrganization in commissioning and disseminating information andresearch on the safety of irradiated foods.

Public Citizen claims that despite more than 40 years of research indicating that health hazards may be associated with the consumption of irradiated food, the WHO still endorses thetechnology.

Following a series of high profile, large-scale food poisoning outbreaks n the US, the take-up of food irradiation has been greatly increased in recent months. The EP ruling will undoubtedly serve to add further controversy to this move.

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