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'Fear factor' influences liability.

For years food industry professionals have read studies that irradiation of foods provided a way to deliver safer, more wholesome foods. Also for years, we've believed that the public wouldn't stand for having their food irradiated, and we've tended to blame the public's anxiety on misinformation spread by fear-mongering kooks.

Despite being "informed," however, those of us who remember the Cuban missile crisis could still sympathize to some degree with those alarmed by the word irradiation. I can remember when the word "atomic" was used to convey the image of the best in modern technology, but that all changed in the early '60s. Anything having to do with "radiation" assumed some very sinister connotations.

With the apparent public acceptance of the irradiated fruit shipped from Vindicator, Inc. in Plant City, FL, it appears that perhaps we have been worrying for nothing. Early indications are that food irradiation might finally become as commonplace and important as pasteurization.

For these reasons I was not prepared to learn that at least some individual insurance executives would approach irradiated foods, from the perspective of underwriting product liability coverage, with guarded caution. After all, these were informed, educated people. Yet the "fear factor" exists, even at the corporate level.

Upon reflection, though, it became apparent that theirs isn't uncontrolled, unreasoned fear. It is, for the insurance industry, prudent and appropriate caution intended to protect the fiscal wellbeing of their firm(s). They are taking the attitude that is considered simple common wisdom in Missouri--"Show me."

Hopefully, the early positive results seen by Vindicator will continue. Hopefully, fear mongering organizations such as Food and Water will continue to lose credibility as they did following the masterfully done report last winter on ABC's 20/20. Hopefully, the general public is ready to separate the rational truth about "irradiation" from the irrational fear of "radiation."

The insurance executives who expressed concerns were not antiirradition, they simply remained to be convinced--so let's "show 'em."

--James R. Eilers, Section Editor

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Title Annotation:Special Report: Food Safety
Author:Eilers, James R.
Publication:Food Processing
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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