FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Radioactive Mail

by Michael Colby

For fifty years the purveyors of irradiation have been looking for a purpose. It all began, of course, in the 1950s under President Eisenhower’s Atomic Energy Commission, specifically its “Atoms for Peace” program. The U.S. was awash in nuclear waste materials, particularly cesium-137, and it was quickly becoming the Achilles heel of the burgeoning nuclear establishment. Eisenhower, therefore, established the Atoms for Peace program with the specific directive to find peaceful uses for this nuclear waste material. But more than simply finding a use for nuclear garbage, the nuclear establishment wanted to eliminate the cloud of war that surrounded all things nuclear and, instead, demonstrate to U.S. citizens that there were peaceful civilian uses for these new “wonder isotopes.”

After scrapping ideas such as manufacturing nuclear replacement hearts for cardiac patients, the Atoms for Peace program set its long-term sights on exposing the food supply to radiation. And food irradiation was born.

The reasoning given at the time was “shelf-life.” Remember, fifty years ago E.coli, salmonella, and factory farming weren’t on the nation’s agenda. But we were thinking about how to make food last for long periods of time, especially amidst the Cold War mentality that, interestingly enough, had people building nuclear fall-out shelters. And the first thing on people’s minds when they thought of hunkering down in a hole for the duration of a nuclear winter was usually “what in the hell are we going to eat?”

Ta-da: nuclear food for nuclear winters. It was a match made in cesium heaven.

In fact, some of the first scientific promoters of food irradiation used to love to haul out their 30-plus year old cans of “irradiated chicken meat” to flaunt their technological prowess. I remember when Dr. Ed Josephson, a former Army scientist and one of the grandfathers of irradiation, brought his can of the old meat to a congressional hearing in the mid-1980s when the Reagan administration was about to issue its sweeping approvals for food irradiation.

After a mumbling testimony about how safe it was to expose foods to radiation doses equivalent to tens of millions of chest x-rays, the crusty and very unhealthy looking Josephson proudly declared that he’d been “eating it for years” and he was fine. Even the right-wingers sitting in the room could barely contain themselves, each seemingly making a mental note to tell Josephson that there must be a better way for him to testify.

And Josephson went one step further. Reaching into his briefcase he pulled out a can of the irradiated chicken meat, a can opener, a knife, a plate, and a stash of toothpicks. “This has been on my shelf for over 20 years,” declared Josephson as he popped the top of the can and began dicing the pale meat into bite sized squares. “And it’s still very good.”

But, other than Josephson and his colleagues within the irradiation industry, there were no takers. And I will always remember the look on Representative Henry Waxman’s face as the plate of pasty meat was thrust in front of him. He wasn’t about to partake in this impromptu experiment.

The Reagan administration did eventually grant the first widespread approvals for food irradiation in 1986, when fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, and flavorings were approved. And each subsequent administration has done its share to further the range of approvals, to the point now that practically everything we consume has been approved to be exposed to huge doses of radiation ? including meat, poultry and seafood.

But there’s always been one big problem with food irradiation: the public doesn’t want anything to do with it. And the irradiation corporations have had to change their purpose time and time again to try and find a niche for their unseemly nuclear wares. Gone were the days that irradiation was promoted as a peaceful use for nuclear waste material, or that it was a way to keep bad meat edible for decades. Now we were into the realm of “needing” irradiation to fix all the problems of a filthy meat industrial complex, particularly E.coli and salmonella.

The American public, however, seemed more willing to give up meat than be forced to eat meat that had been exposed to both fecal matter and 75 million chest x-rays. Yum, yum.

But as I’ve learned in more than 15 years of fighting all forms of irradiation, this industry always seems to pull yet another trick out of its bag no matter how close to death it gets.

Enter anthrax. CP

Michael Colby is the editor of the Food & Water Journal. His latest story for CounterPunch was Mailroom Manifesto.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail