Surebeam, the leading US food irradiation provider, has lambasted allegations made by Public Citizen that its directors have received excessive pay-outs.
In a news in brief article published on FoodProductionDaily.com on Friday 22 November, the US advocacy group claimed that payments to the tune of $16.3 million (€16.4m) had been made in what the group termed "insider trading" deals. The group did also point out that the deals were entirely legal.
In response to the criticisms, Surebeam spokesman Mark Stephenson has made its standpoint on the issue clear:"Public Citizen's allegation that this activity is insider trading is sensationalism at its worse," Stephenson said. "More importantly, it is wrong. Insider trading is illegal. It is the act of possessing proprietary information not disclosed to the public and trading on it for personal financial gain. Our company activities are well known to the public and to Wall Street.
"Like many publicly held companies, SureBeam does offer stock options as part of its employment package to managers. In many of the cases cited by Public Citizen's press release, these people built the company from the ground up and developed the technology, specifically the process and system, that is unique to SureBeam. This is a process that greatly enhances food safety for all Americans and can save lives.
"It seems logical to assume that any rational person will exercise those options before they expire. The exercising of these options is properly disclosed and, as a result, is public information. To insinuate that SureBeam investors and managers are conducting insider trading is grossly irresponsible."
Surebeam and other food irradiation companies have been battling over the issue of food irradiation for some years now. On the one hand, advocacy groups such as Public Citizen claim that food irradiation has not been fully researched for its long-term effects. On the other, the food irradiation companies claim that extensive research has proved, quite categorically, that it is perfectly safe.
In recent months a number of large scale recalls due to airborne bacteria - including the biggest ever in US history at Pilgrim's Pride - have led to increasing approval of irradiation by food safety experts. They believe that irradiation is the safest and most effective way of rendering mass volume processed foods safe.
Undoubtedly the battle will go on, but it seems that despite the taunts from the advocacy groups the uptake of irradiation treatment is on the increase. In recent months Surebeam has announced a number of deals to supply irradiated meats to major supermarket chains across the US.
The European food irradiation industry, which is still restricted to a tiny number of foodstuffs, will undoubtedly be keenly watching the proceedings on the other side of the Atlantic. If the irradiation industry there wins the battle, there will undoubtedly be repurcussions for the industry here too.