China has a 50 years history of food irradiation. Irradiation, a new sterilization preservation technology, has been widely used in China to preserve grain, vegetables, fruit, meat, spices, and Chinese herbal medicine. According to research that the Chinese Society of Nuclear Agricultural Sciences did, by 2005, China’s irradiated food production reached 145,000 tons, accounting for 36 percent of the total irradiated food in the world. However, few Chinese knew that the food they ate might have been irradiated.
On June 7, 2009, an unexpected fire broke out in an irradiation center in Qi County, Kaifeng City, Henan Province. This irradiation center used cobalt 60 radiation to sterilize seasoning packets of instant noodles and chili power. On July 16, 2009, the Environmental Protection Department announced that the accident would not cause any environmental pollution. On July 17, 2009, farmers and residents escaped from their home village in fear of a potential explosion of the cobalt 60 stored in the irradiation center. Police arrested five “rumor” spreaders and then most people returned to their homes.
This accident brought the strange professional word “irradiation” to the public’s attention. Many Chinese were not aware that a small county factory regularly irradiates chili powder, garlic, instant noodle seasonings, peanuts, cotton, Chinese herbal medicine and many other products. Actually, China passed the food irradiation standard in 1998, including six solid food categories such as grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, meat products, dried fruit, and spices.
Although a U.S. researcher said that, according to some animal studies, irradiation sterilization of food may cause cancer, juvenile mortality, and being underweight, Xinhua published an article on November 18, 2015, saying: “Irradiated food is safe and there is no residual effect. You can let down your guard and eat it without any worries.”
People.com, August 3, 2009,
Xinhua, November 18, 2015,
Chinanews, August 5, 2009