David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 4 (1):14-30 (1991)
Food irradiation is a physical method of processing food (e.g. freezing, canning). It has been thoroughly researched over the last four decades and is recognized as a safe and wholesome method. It has the potential both of disinfesting dried food to reduce storage losses and disinfesting fruits and vegetables to meet quarantine requirements for export trade. Low doses of irradiation inhibit spoilage losses due to sprouting of root and tuber crops. Food- borne diseases due to contamination by pathogenic microorganisms and parasites of meat, poultry, fish, fishery products and spices are on the increase. Irradiation of these solid foods can decontaminate them of pathogenic organisms and thus provide safe food to the consumer. Irradiation can successfully replace the fumigation treatment of cocoa beans and coffee beans and disinfest dried fish, dates, dried fruits, etc. One of the most important advantages of food irradiation processing is that it is a coldprocess which does not significantly alter physico-chemical characters of the treated product. It can be applied to food after its final packaging. Similar to other physical processes of food processing, (e.g. canning, freezing), irradiation is a capital intensive process. Thus, adequate product volume must be made available in order to maximize the use of the facility and minimize the unit cost of treatment. Lack of harmonization of regulations among the countries which have approved irradiated foods hampers the introduction of this technique for international trade. Action at the international level has to be taken in order to remedy this situation. One of the important limitations of food irradiation processing is its slow acceptance by consumers, due inter alia to a perceived association with radioactivity. The food industry tends to be reluctant to use the technology in view of uncertainties regarding consumer acceptance of treated foods. Several market testing and consumer acceptance studies have been carried out on food irradiation in recent years. These studies showed that, if the safety and the benefits of food irradiation were properly explained, the consumers were willing to accept irradiated foods. Considering its potential role in the reduction of post-harvest losses, providing safe supply of food and overcoming quarantine barriers, food irradiation has received wider government approvals during the last decade. There is also a trend towards increased commercialization of irradiated food. Currently, there are 47 irradiation facilities in some 23 countries being used for treating foods for commercial purposes.
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