MILFORD, Pa. - An anti-irradiation rally brought hundreds of Natives and non-Natives together in a November demonstration against a facility that will expose meat to radioactive cobalt-60.
"Food irradiation crosses cultures," said Jim Beer, Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania spokesman. "We are all connected by food, air, water and earth. These are things that as human beings we can all come together on."
Irradiation kills pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria, and extends the shelf life of food. Irradiating meat, spices, wheat, flour, potatoes, fruits and vegetables has U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Two years ago the Bush administration proposed allowing irradiated beef and poultry into the federal school lunch program rather than testing for salmonella. The USFDA dropped the plan amid resistance, but the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow the food and continue salmonella testing. In 2002, USDA approved the use of irradiated meat to serve 28 million students in the national school lunch program beginning in January 2004.
The rally, spearheaded by the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania and Nocobalt-4-Food, (Nuclear Objecting Citizens Opposed to Bucks Acquiring Lethal Treatments for Food) with about 200 people, protested its safety, saying "irradiation facilities threaten workers and communities with radioactive leaks and accidents. Facilities are often pushed on unwilling communities, violating democratic principles and indigenous land rights."
The rally opened with drumming by the Red Hawk Singers, an intertribal group based in the Pocono mountain area and was followed by a traditional round dance. More than 200 people placed a stone in a prayer pile next to Unami Creek, about two miles from the CFC facility.
In November, CFC Logistics, a subsidiary of Clemens Family Corp. of Hatfield, added the irradiation service to an existing 150,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse near the Quakertown interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The design requires meat to be placed in airtight "bells" and lowered on pallets into an 18-foot-deep tank for 15 minutes of irradiation.
According to a recent Consumer Reports, irradiation destroys fewer bacteria than does cooking meat thoroughly. The protestors cited studies showing irradiation destroys nutrients and is linked to cancer, genetic damage, suppressed immune systems and stunted grow in lab animals.
There are three facilities in the United States that irradiate the 5 percent of the 9 million pounds of ground beef produced annually, according Monique Mikhail, organizer for Public Citizen. They are in Florida, Illinois and Milford, Pa.
Beer said if an accident occurred the effects would be devastating.
"All of the ground water, soil, creeks and streams, between Milford and the Delaware River would be in danger," he said. "There is no telling where it would go."
In an earlier interview, James Wood, senior vice president of business development for CFC, said, "If you're asking whether we're safe from accidents and terrorists, I'd ask if you're 100 percent safe when you get in your car. You could pose the question of safety to any business. Gas, chemicals, cobalt are used everywhere. They're transported every day down the highway. The bottom line is, we're operating a safe facility."
Wood said the facility is under severe security, has all the regulatory licenses and permits in place and the approval of every credible scientific, academic and regulatory body in the United States. The facility is regulated by the National Regulatory Commission.
This same regulatory commission licensed the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, said Richard H. McNutt, chairman of STAND, a Commonwealth registered monitoring group networked to distribute information to assist communities and governments.
"And this same nuclear regulatory commission that licensed a laundromat in Royersford to wash radioactive materials from the Three Mile Island nuke plant," he said. "They studied the plant and deemed it to be safe. A local group found radioactive materials stored in trucks in the parking lot. They didn't have license to be there. They were not marked. Children were playing in them. They found air filters on dryers and washers and vents not in place causing venting of radiation directly into the outside air. They found no filters on the radioactive water being dumped into the Schuylkill River. They found radiation monitors not operating anywhere."
McNutt said the community must get involved in monitoring the facility.
"If you don't, you'll never know what's going on," he said. "They will never tell you when things go wrong otherwise. Radiation is tasteless, odorless and colorless. You will never know when you're in it. You need to establish a community watch and inspect monitoring equipment. You need to establish emergency and evacuation plans. You need to establish a presence in this plant. If too many things go wrong over time, you need to shut it down. You owe it to all of the people downstream."
Other speakers included Public Citizen, Green Watch, Interfaith Peace Movement, Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern, Rodale Institute, PASA, Sierra Club, Green Party members, Republican Party members, Genesis Farm and the Weston Price Foundation.
"Just as the early settlers were rescued by the Lenape, my plea is to rescue us again from our arrogance," said Phil Stein, Nocobalt-4-food member.
A shared concern was how irradiation encourages the expansion of cash crops at the expense of a country's food security, biodiversity and the livelihood of small farmers.
"Because irradiation extends shelf life; multinational food corporations are looking at Global South to produce foods for irradiation where labor is cheap, farmers' rights are not protected, government officials are easily bought; and, environmental standards are too weak," they said. "Corporations can reap massive profits by producing cheaply."
Nocobalt-4-food will be outreaching to public schools to educate parents, teachers and students about nuclear foods in the hope that school boards will follow the example of Berkeley, Calif. where the board became one of the first to pass a resolution prohibiting the purchase of irradiated foods for its schools.