The wholesomeness of irradiated food

The definition of 'wholesomeness' (in the sense of being sound, healthy, clean and otherwise fit for human consumption) requires some elaboration as it does not occur in food laws and regulations. It was originally introduced in the 1950s in the US, expanded by the FDA and others and developed in food and inspection acts. At the same time the studies on the safety of irradiated food for consumption were begun on a large scale and in international cooperation. During the procedure the terminology of wholesomeness was unanimously accepted to mean 'safety for consumption' under any relevant aspect and comprises the following features: radiological safety, toxicological safety, microbiological safety, and nutritional adequacy.

The main contribution to the judgement of wholesomeness was made by the FAO/IAEA/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Irradiation (World Health Organization, 1965, 1970, 1977, 1981). At the time of the Committee's foundation in 1961 it was concluded that 'general authorization of the commercial use of radiation for the treatment of food is premature'. Based on the work of the International Project in the Field of Food Irradiation (IFIP, founded in 1970 and concluded in 1981) and on the international work coordinated through IFIP the World Health Organization concluded finally (1981) that:

. . . the irradiation of any food commodity up to an overall average dose of 10kGy presents no toxicological hazard; hence, toxicological testing of foods so treated is no longer required.

... the irradiation of food up to an overall average dose of 10kGy introduces no special nutritional or microbiological problems.

Several national advisory groups have endorsed those findings and many national governments that had previously banned food irradiation introduced permission legislation for irradiated food. In addition, the European Commission asked their Scientific Committee on Food for advice, the JECFI conclusions were expressedly endorsed and a list of foods for clearance was proposed. However, at the time of writing no resolution of this issue has been achieved.

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