We live in complicated times. Especially for those of us living in urban areas we have little knowledge of where our food is coming from. We buy it in supermarkets, a combination of "fresh" food and the many variety of packaged foods.

The development of technology like freezing, which we now take for granted, has transformed our ability to preserve food and allows us to transport it great distances. We are lucky that we now can enjoy vegetables and fruits grown around the world, defying the local seasonal variations that previously limited what we could eat. In the past, huge quantities of fresh food would rot before reaching the market or shops.

Now vegetables are literally transported throughout the world. In the USA huge amounts of Californian fruit and vegetables are shipped all over the country. It takes a huge network of transportation systems to do this, all of which are included in the price of the product on the market. As the commercial implications of agriculture have grown, we have continually looked for ways to maximize the yield of crops grown and to preserve as much produce as possible so that distant markets can be supplied with this food. On the surface it all seems to make sense but a closer look at the processes involved brings up important questions. For example, we are now suffering from the environmental consequences of widespread use of fertilizers and insecticides. Water tables have been contaminated, soils are depleted and the quality of produce has declined. Just taste the difference between an organic tomato and a basic commercial variety. The more recent advent of genetic engineering of food has caused great concern, with countries in Europe banning the sale of food modified in this way. Monsanto, one of the major companies in this field have spent great sums of money trying to convince a the public that there is no harm in this food. People generally remain skeptical, especially when bio-technology companies are trying to establish patents on products used for hundreds of years by indigenous people and when they try to create a monopoly in the sale of seeds essential for agriculture.

Another great cause for concern is the irradiation of food. Yes, radiating your food. The food industry is in favor of allowing food to be irradiated to help preserve it. The last fifty years has seen science continually lower the standard of what is "acceptable" levels of radiation.

From the early days of atmospheric nuclear tests when indigenous people in australia, the Pacific Islands, the USA and elsewhere were exposed to high levels of radiation; when to find the correct shoe size you could stick your feet into an xray machine; when radiation was used to treat skin conditions quite routinely; we now know that the long term effects of radiation as well as immediate short term effects can be deadly. The industry's response is that radiation is found naturally in many areas and the amount of radiation exposed to the food is minimal. How many times have we heard this before? Not only would the food be irradiated but the side effects of this creates chemical by-products in food like formaldehyde, formic acid and benzene. These products are not very good for you!

The days when we bought food from the local market, from the farmer who lived and worked in our community may be largely over. Yet we should not allow our food to be contaminated by an industry that puts profit over the quality and safety of food. Try and buy organic food, support farmers who grow this produce, join local organic coops. To find out more about irradiated food, write to Food and Water, Walden, VT 05873.