'Radiation in food processing safe'

THRISSUR, DEC. 27. The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Dr. Anil Kakodkar, said the country had the best capability in the nuclear field in this region and that there was no need for fear in this regard. Talking to newspersons at the Kerala Agricultural University campus here today, Dr. Kakodkar said the country was fully secure. ``I can assure you that we have the best capability in this area. There need not be any scare.''

On the use of radiation in food processing, he said about 25 countries across the world, including the U.S., China, most of the European countries and even Vietnam, was using the technology. ``But there are misconceptions among the people on the radiation process. Here, unlike other techniques involved in food processing, the radiation process is used upon foods after they are packed and not before. In fact, to identify whether the food product has undergone the radiation process, a highly sensitive machine has to be used, making it clear that radiation in it is quite negligible. A sticker is pasted on these products to distinguish them.'' He said the AEC had set up two plants for radiation process on an experimental basis. The one at Vashi in New Bombay was a high dose plant meant for enhancing the shell life of agro- products which are perishable and another at Nasik, under construction, was a low dose plant.

``People are welcome to run campaigns by processing their own products in these plants. We will be very happy to contribute in a technological manner. Specific type of research will have to be conducted depending on the product that is to be processed.''

Explaining the technology behind the radiation process, he said the source of radioactive substances was kept in a pit under water and above the pit there was a chilled room. A conveyer belt runs through the chilled area and the packed product was placed on the conveyer belt. It would be subjected to various degrees of radiation when it passes through the belt. Dr. Kakodkar said there were some quality control measures and one required licences to run the radiation process. The licences had to be obtained from the Atomic Energy Agency and from a competent authority in the food processing industry. The licencees had to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

Asked whether such a process would be cost effective when compared to the existing processes, Dr. Kakodkar said the radiation process would ensure hygiene and enhancement of shell life. ``The price of crops falls down in spite of higher output because of lack of opportunities for enhancement of shell life. Hence, this process also contributes to the price stability and larger production. We can also get into the value addition activities. The advantage lies in the fact that there is no residue in this process. There is chance of better packing and there is no contamination due to this process as the process is applied after packing.''

On the decision of the Kerala Government to allow private participation in the mining of Illuminite and Monozite in the State, Dr. Kakodkar said that ``as part of the liberalisation process, we are contemplating inviting private firms to participate in it. The participation of foreign firms was contemplated and we would certainly insist on value addition. But we would allow this only on a case by case basis.''

``First of all, the State Government should inform the Centre about the participation. The Centre will intimate the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) about this proposal and the Centre will finally decide on the matter after considering the inputs from the State Government. But we will certainly put the country's interests before and the sanction for private or foreign firms is not automatic,'' he said.