Could Irradiation Eradicate E.Coli?

Probably not, but it could help prevent many E.Coli outbreaks and reduce foodborne illness in the United States. As the WSJ editorializes today:

The American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have all certified that a big reduction in disease could result from irradiating foods.

Says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota: "If even 50% of meat and poultry consumed in the United States were irradiated, the potential impact on foodborne disease would be a reduction in 900,000 cases, and 350 deaths." A 2005 CDC assessment agrees: "Food irradiation is a logical next step to reducing the burden of food borne diseases in the United States." . . .

The Centers for Disease Control concluded its investigation by noting: "An overwhelming body of scientific evidence demonstrates that irradiation does not harm the nutritional value of food, nor does it make the food unsafe to eat." According to Paisan Loaharanu, a former director at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "The safety of irradiated foods is well established through many toxicological studies. . . . No other food technology has gone through more safety tests than food irradiation."

If the use of food irradiation would help protect public health, why isn't it used? Anti-technology activists, including many self-appointed "consumer" groups, have given it a bad name (largely due to its tangential association to nuclear power), and spread anti-irradiation misinformation.

Irradiation would not eliminate all food borne illness, to be sure, but there's no reason not to encourage its use where appropriate.