- March 7 - Public Citizen today filed a false advertising complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Minnesota-based Huisken Meats Inc., whose Web site tells consumers that its ground beef products have been "electronically pasteurized" instead of irradiated.
Deceptive advertising is illegal under the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Act and is punishable through criminal and civil penalties, including fines, injunctions and corrective advertising. The law applies to advertising that appears on the Internet.
"The right of consumers to know what they are eating is a right that we will vigorously defend," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Huisken has a responsibility to be honest about the food it is selling to the American people. This responsibility is not merely a legal one, but a moral one as well."
Based in Chandler, Minn., Huisken is one of the nation's largest producers of irradiated food. The company's pre-packaged hamburger patties are reportedly on sale in more than 1,000 stores in 14 states, including California, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Huisken's beef products are irradiated at a facility in Sioux City, Iowa, owned by the Titan Corporation, a San Diego-based defense contractor that uses linear accelerators originally designed for the "Star Wars" program to irradiate food.
Huisken complies with federal law by placing the phrase "Treated by Irradiation" on its ground beef packages. The company's Web site, however, states that its ground beef is "electronically pasteurized." Pasteurization is a completely different process in which food, primarily dairy products, is rapidly heated and cooled. At one point in time, Huisken's Web site said that its ground beef was "irradiated," but the language was recently changed.
In a letter, Public Citizen has asked Huisken president Rod Huisken to change the Web site to comply with federal law.
The labeling of irradiated food has become a controversial issue as more irradiated products have reached the market in recent months. Federal law requires irradiated food to be labeled "Treated by Irradiation," but the law is under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The National Food Processors Association and other food industry groups are lobbying the FDA and Congress to allow irradiated food to be labeled "electronically pasteurized" or "cold pasteurized" - a euphemism that does not accurately describe what is done to the food.
When beef is irradiated, it is exposed to the equivalent of 150 million to 233 million chest X-rays. In the process, vitamins, essential fatty acids and amino acids are destroyed. And, irradiation results in the formation of new chemicals that have never been studied for their potential toxicity.