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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 836

(Question No. 1526)


Senator Jessop asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 14 November 1986:

(1) How long has the process of food irradiation been used as a means of food preservation.

(2) Are there any studies which have purported to have shown that eating food which has undergone the irradiation process has caused cancer in humans or animals; if so, have these studies been considered by various expert world bodies when setting out guidelines for the food irradiation process.

(3) Does the food irradiation process cause radioactive substances to be left behind in the food.

(4) Have aflatoxins been found in food which has undergone the irradiation process, but which has not been deliberately inoculated with aflatoxin-producing fungi.


Senator Tate —The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) In 1921 a US Patent was granted on the use of X-rays to kill the parasite Trichinella spiralis in meat. This was followed in 1930 by a French Patent for the preservation of foods by irradiation.

Commercial food irradiation was first approved in the USSR in 1958. The first Western nation to approve the process was Canada in 1960. The USA gave permission for the irradiation of certain foods in 1963. Presently irradiation of one or more food items for human consumption has been unconditionally cleared by Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, USSR, USA, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.

(2) Yes. These studies have been considered by various world bodies, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)/Inter- national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)/World Health Organisation's (WHO) Joint Expert Committee on the Wholesomeness of Irradiated Food (JECFI), the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods.

The claims that irradiated food could cause cancer were examined and the experimental data on which they were purported to be based critically re-evaluated. These bodies concluded that no evidence was found to support claims that cancer would arise from the consumption of food irradiated within the levels proposed.

(3) The production of radioactivity in irradiated food has been considered by the USA FDA and the UK Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods. In 1984 the USA FDA reported: ``the accumulated evidence shows that the use of ionizing radiation of appropriate source energy levels does not induce any detectable radioactivity in foods . . .''.

(Reference: Federal Register, Vol. 49, No. 31, February 14, 1984 page 5716)

Similarly the UK Advisory Committee has stated: ``We are satisfied that significant radioactivity cannot be induced in food irradiated within the limitations of dose and energy specified . . .''.

(Reference: ``Report on the Safety and Wholesomeness of Irradiated Foods'', Department of Health and Social Security, 1986, page 11)

(4) My Department is not aware of any studies into aflatoxins in irradiated food which had not been deliberately inoculated with aflatoxin producing fungi. The FDA reported on this issue that: ``The agency [i.e. the FDA] has no evidence which would lead it to conclude that food irradiated and stored under normal handling practices would show increased aflatoxin production.''

(Reference: Federal Register, Vol. 51, No. 75, April 18, 1986 page 13381).