Dr Fawzi Al Sultan, Chairman of the International Food Policy Research Institute, addresses the ministerial forum at the Sial 2010 exhibition. Image Credit: Alex Westcott/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Food which has been treated with radiation to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria is completely safe for consumption and people should be less wary of consuming these foods, a leading food security expert said in the capital yesterday.

Contrary to popular opinion, irradiated foods (products treated with any kind of radiation — including electron beams and X-rays) do not, in fact, contain any kind of radiation or foreign genetic material, said David Byron, head of the food and environmental protection section at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who is also working in conjunction with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"It is a shame that people still think irradiated food can be harmful, especially as they have been deemed safe by expert scientists at the FAO, IAEA and the UN," Byron told Gulf News.

He was speaking at the SIAL 2010 Irradiation Seminar yesterday, in which international radiation experts met with food security and nuclear safety officials to discuss the benefits and hazards of irradiated food.

Byron noted at the seminar that although irradiated food was slightly more expensive compared to food treated with pesticides, the radiation could be used to reduce insecticide use while also preventing crop damage by pests.

"The growth of agricultural productivity been falling steadily since the 1960s, and is projected to fall to 0.4 per cent by 2040. This is far too low to meet the growing population worldwide," he said.

Byron added that irradiation techniques could provide a much-needed remedy to reverse the fall in agricultural output.

"Most importantly, radiation is simply used to speed up natural gene mutation processes in plant products so that genes which improve the quality of the fruit form quicker. Since no foreign materials are injected into healthy fruit, there are no health risks at all," Byron explained.