Reporters gave Burnstein and Colby's dubious claims so much credulous press coverage that politicians in Maine quickly banned food irradiation. New York and New Jersey followed suit. That spread fear to other states. I went to Mulberry, Florida, to report on a protest against Vindicator, a plant that proposed using radiation to kill germs on strawberries. When I got there, demonstrators were marching with picket signs, chanting, "Don't nuke our food! Don't nuke our food!" Their campaign persuaded the state of Florida to put a moratorium on Vindicator's opening.
DR. BURNSTEIN Vindicator will go out of business, and not only Vindicator. That'll be the end of the entire irradiation industry ... When we go to talk to people, we don't have to break their arms to convince them not to eat irradiated food. We just say, "Irradiated food," and people go, "What? Who wants the food irradiated?"
The fact that Dr. Burnstein was not a research scientist, but rather an osteopath with a family practice in New Jersey, didn't diminish the respect he got from the media. His protests drew headlines and TV coverage. Reporters knew radiation was bad for humans, and therefore bad for food.
One woman stood outside the Vindicator plant shouting angrily, "How much pollution are we going to put into our mouths?!"
"None," is the answer. People think food irradiation makes food radioactive, but it doesn't; the radiation just kills the bacteria, and passes right out of the food. That's why the FDA and USDA approved the process a long time ago. Spices have been irradiated for more than twenty years. Irradiation is good for us. If it were more common, all of us would suffer fewer instances of food poisoning and we could have fruits and vegetables that stay fresh weeks longer. But scaremongering has kept it from catching on.
Food & Water told people that the AMA and the World Health Organization did not approve of irradiation, but that was a lie. Both organizations did approve. WHO told us irradiation is as important as pasteurization.
Pasteurization also met public skepticism when it was introduced. Louis Pasteur discovered that heating milk would kill bacteria, but critics charged that pasteurization was "meddling with nature," and that it might change the properties of the food-or contaminate it. The U.S. dairy industry actually promoted raw milk as more acceptable than pasteurized milk. Only the persistence of scientists and medical experts allowed pasteurization to become standard practice. Irradiation might save as many lives, if the scaremongers would just get out of the way. After three years of delays, the Vindicator plant finally was allowed to open. But fear of radiation has kept this good idea from spreading across America. Only a tiny fraction of American meat is irradiated today.
If 50 percent were irradiated, the CDC says nearly a million cases of bacterial infections could be avoided and 350 lives could be saved every year. 350 lives! Why isn't the press screaming about that? Because reporters and legislators look for danger in the wrong places.
Many reporters believe the activists because "something must be causing the cancer epidemic." Mysterious and unnatural additions to our environment are an easy suspect. After all, during the past fifty years, Americans have been exposed to chemicals and forms of pollution and radiation that humans have never experienced before. "No wonder there's so much more cancer!" say reporters. Get the shovel.