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Irradiation of food has been illegal in the UK since 1967, with exemptions to sterilise the food of patients susceptible to infection. Elsewhere, commercial application of irradiation has slowly expanded. Today, 36 countries approve the use of radiation processing for more than 40 different kinds of foods and food ingredients, under international guidelines set down by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1983.

Since some other European countries employ food irradiation, the EEC has proposed a Draft Directive preventing Member States from prohibiting the marketing of foods irradiated according to the Codex guidelines. The DHSS/MAFF Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods (ACINF) had already reported in 1986 that irradiation would be an 'efficacious food preservative treatment that would not lead to a significant change in the natural radioactivity of the food or prejudice its safety and wholesomeness'.

This briefing note describes the science and technology underpinning the irradiation of foods in order to assist Parliamentarians reach a view on this issue.

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