You may have heard that "going organic" is a healthy choice for farmers, the environment, and your own health. But do you really understand why it's such a positive choice? This article series explores the benefits of choosing organic.

Irradiation
A recent article in Organic NZ magazine highlights another reason to question procedures that are part of conventional food production. Alison White, convenor of the Safe Food Campaign in New Zealand, outlines the potential dangers of food irradiation, a process that herbs, spices, herbal teas, tomatoes, capsicums and a range of tropical fruit that comes into her country are allowed to go through.

She explains that food, which is irradiated gets exposed to gamma rays, or a high energy electron beam, or x-rays. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. To disrupt the development of any insects that may be concealed within fresh produce.
  2. As an effective and cost-efficient alternative to commonly used toxic insecticides.
  3. To extend shelf life by delaying ripening and to help lower the incidence of foodborne illnesses.

The above reasons all sound like great ones, but are the potential harmful consequences again being downplayed? The scientific community is still asking questions around nutrient loss, free radical production and changes to antioxidant properties. The Food Irradiation Watch website addresses the reasons that consumers should be concerned—ranging from links to cancer and immune system disorders to reproductive problems and nutritional deficiencies, and it also covers safe alternatives to irradiation.

Will this be yet another case of "innocent until proven guilty," which happens all too often in the world of conventional farming? DDT, a commonly used pesticide of the past with strong links to the polio virus was removed AFTER the risks were realized, and in today's world we are questioning the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide, Roundup.

Whether it is proven to be safe or not, consumers should have a right to know whether their food has been irradiated so those who wish to tread with caution, can. There are a few things you can do to avoid irradiated food:
  1. Purchase certified organic food. Organic standards do not allow food irradiation.
  2. Ask your favorite brands whether they have an irradiation free policy. Even if the spices and teas you are using were made in your own country, they could be using imported ingredients that have been irradiated.
  3. New Zealand does not have any irradiation plants so if you live in New Zealand you can buy locally grown fruit and vegetables and know they haven't been irradiated. If you live outside New Zealand, find out if your country has any irradiation plants, and if so, stick with points one and two!

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