Examining the Evidence
Though some foods such as cucumbers, grapes, and some tomatoes turn mushy when radiation breaks cell walls and release enzymes that digest the food and speed up rotting, many others including strawberries, apples, onions, mushrooms, pork, poultry, red meat, and seafood emerge from irradiation intact and edible. But while these foods can legally be irradiated, virtually none of them are.
The problem isn’t necessarily radiation itself, because people don’t seem to mind that it is used to sterilize half of all sutures, syringes, intravenous lines, and other medical supplies, as well as billions of dollars worth of consumer goods ranging from plastic wrap and milk cartons to tampons and contact lenses. What poses concerns is the juxtaposition of food and irradiation. “Food is a very emotional thing,” says Tillotson of Tufts. “We don’t want scientists or anyone else mucking around with it, especially not with something that most people link with the atomic bomb.”
The activists at Food and Water of Walden, Vt., effectively manipulate this potential reaction. This grassroots group, founded in 1984 to fight hunger, now spends its time fighting food irradiation, genetic engineering, and other technologies used to grow and process food, while advocating a smaller-is-better, back-to-the-land approach.