Well, it's happened. The meat industry has now been given permission to irradiate beef and other meat as a means of killing potentially deadly bacteria, insuring a safer product. There have been numerous incidences over the years of poisonings due to bad meat, some with fatal consequences.

Therefore, the irradiation of meat is supposedly an effective and relatively easy way of killing off bacteria and other harmful elements in food. Meat is not the only product to be irradiated. Certain fruit and vegetables are also irradiated. The type of irradiation used is a kind of electrical process, not with the use of plutonium as used in the nuclear industry.

However, a big question remains about the safety of irradiating food. Is it totally effective in killing dangerous bacteria? Will it encourage meat, fruit and vegetables to be kept longer, becoming less and less fresh before it reaches our stores. Is the motive to introduce this mainly about safety, or is it about economics?

The history of using radiation for energy is fraught with misconceptions about its danger, with apparent thresholds of safety constantly being redrawn when it becomes apparent that exposure even to low levels can be dangerous. The use of irradiated food may not be the same as exposure to radiation through other nuclear radiation but questions have to be there.

As mentioned, it also has to be questioned whether the motive for this policy is only safety or whether the economic benefits of a greatly increased shelf life of meat and produce are a major consideration. Especially with fruit and vegetables, a huge amount goes to waste because of rotting, and a lot of expense goes to the transportation of produce to markets in a rapid fashion. But is it good for us to eat produce that is not fresh? Will the natural vitamins and minerals remain intact over a longer period? Will the radiation also destroy some of the goodness in the food? These are important questions that deserve an answer.

Fortunately, meat has to be labeled that it is irradiated, so do look closely when you next go shopping. More than ever, we should we cautious what we eat and this new policy brings up serious issues for our food production and quality.