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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Knowing What You Eat

Air Date: Week of

The FDA recently reopened the issue of labeling irradiated foods. That renewed debate misses the point according to commentator Suzanne Elston. She says we should be trying to learn more about our foods, not distance ourselves from them.


KNOY: The Food and Drug Administration recently reopened the issue of labeling irradiated foods. The agency is considering whether it could forego identifying irradiated products with a special label and logo. Supporters of that option say irradiation is just another food process that can help make the food safe by killing potentially toxic bacteria. But others say irradiation robs food of nutritional value and should be labeled. The debate leaves commentator Suzanne Elston wondering how well we know our food.

ELSTON: There was a time not so long ago that if you didn't grow your own food, at least you knew the person who did. But over the last century, we've become so distanced from our food that we really don't know where it comes from any more.

A couple of years ago, my local municipality was looking at rezoning all the farm land around our home. My husband went to the town meeting and made an impassioned speech. He asked the council where they thought we would get our food if we paved all our farm land. Our local councilor stood up and told him not to worry. He said that it wasn't a problem. We could simply go to the grocery store and buy what we needed.

Unfortunately, the man was serious. We ought to know where our food comes from and what's being done to it along the way. I think we should label our food, just like they used to label old steamer trunks with stickers that would tell you where it had been. Imagine a tomato covered with stickers. One might say, "Grown in Farmer Brown's field." Another would read, "Sprayed with 10 different chemicals." A third sticker might tell us the tomato was "picked green and shipped 4 days via Joe's Trucking." Then, we would start to understand how our food ends up on our tables.

Every time we allow another process or another additive to come between us and our food, we distance ourselves from it and from its source. If we're going to continue along this road, then we should put up adequate road signs that at least let us know where the food's been, and where we're headed.

KNOY: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living on the north shore of Lake Ontario. She comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. For more information on irradiated foods, bacteria in oysters, and mercury in fish, turn to our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org.



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