Irradiation plant endangers health

July 24, 2002


BRISBANE — In August 1999, the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority quietly lifted a 10-year ban on food irradiation. The impact of that decision is now being felt as a food irradiation facility is being constructed at Narangba, 60 kilometres north of Brisbane.

The proposed plant will use gamma radiation from cobalt-60, a toxic, radioactive heavy metal. Cobalt-60 will come over land and sea as waste from Canada's nuclear reactors, and will be used and stored on site for 25 years.

Irradiation is a process in which food is submitted to ionising radiation in order to kill bacteria. The process does not guarantee elimination of all micro-organisms (or the toxins they produce) and can change the food's molecular structure. This in turn can produce carcinogenic chemicals and other toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde.

The irradiation process also destroys 80-96 percent of vitamins A, B, C, E and K, leaving food with little nutritional value. Since the 1950s, lab studies have shown that rats fed irradiated food suffer from premature death, internal damage and rare forms of cancer. No research has been conducted into the long-term health affects of humans eating irradiated food.

There is little substance to the reasons given for the benefits of irradiating food. The top reason is that the food stays "fresh" for longer. But while a pumpkin treated with irradiation may take longer to spoil, it will not be as tasty or nutritious as an untreated pumpkin.

Another reason is hygiene — food will be rid of "germs", such as animal waste. But the "food-borne illnesses" that are supposedly dangerous to our health are caused by bad hygiene practices during food processing. It is cheaper to irradiate the food after processing than to improve processing methods.

Steritech, the US-based company behind the Narangba plant, has already purchased state land from the Queensland Labor government. This government has completely betrayed its residents by consistently supporting the Narangba facility. It has blatantly disregarded its own party platform, which states it will "prohibit nuclear irradiation Queensland".

Premier Peter Beattie has even publicly stated that he would not feed his children irradiated food. This statement further angered Narangba residents, who have protested the facility from the start, having concerns that it is too close to homes and schools. The Caboolture Shire Council has not even developed a "Disaster Recovery Plan" in the event of an accident, stating that "no significant risk has been identified". However, under the "State Disaster Counter Disaster Act of 1975", the council is required to have a counter disaster plan.

The Narangba nuclear irradiation facility was approved without an Environmental Impact Assessment. The potential hazards posed can only be imagined. The site is located in a "protected" paper bark wetland, which flows directly into Moreton Bay, a major commercial recreation ground for south-east Queensland.

Local residents, community groups and other opponents of the plant are maintaining a picket line against the plant.

From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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