Odd Ordinance Suggests Cleveland Suburb Should Review Its Laws

onions and potatoes
Vegetables and fruit are often irradiated to prevent spoiling

An obscure local ordinance banning the sale of foods treated with a common pasteurization technique in the Cuyahoga County city of Brook Park has local officials scratching their heads and legal experts wondering how such a proposal ever became law.

Section 761 of the code of ordinances for Brook Park makes it illegal “for any merchant, broker or processor to knowingly sell, offer for sale or expose for sale an irradiated food,” which is defined in as any food “treated with ionizing radiation from radioactive sources, x-rays or electron beams, and includes any food which contains an ingredient that has been irradiated.”

The law includes an exception for spices.

Violations of the ordinance, which Brook Park City Council adopted in 1990, are third-degree misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail.

“Like pasteurization, irradiation kills bacteria and other pathogens, that could otherwise result in spoilage or food poisoning,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains. An estimated 500,000 metric tons of food is treated with ionizing radiation each year.

The use of such technology to preserve food was discovered in 1904, and has been approved for human consumption in 50 countries as well as multiple federal and international regulatory bodies for decades.

Brook Park Law Director Neil Jamison explained during an interview with Media Trackers that even he was unsure why the city’s legislative body took the time to pass a law banning the practice.

“It was done back in 1990,” Jamison said. “I don’t know what the rationale was. Maybe there was a council person back then who was really, you know, passionate about this issue. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen any kind of attempt to enforce it.”

When asked by Media Trackers, city councilwoman Patti Astorino was similarly unable to offer an explanation for the ordinance’s existence.

Despite the well-established benefits and safety of pasteurization by irradiation, liberal groups such as Public Citizen — a far-left nonprofit founded by activist Ralph Nader in 1971 “to ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power” — remain opposed to the practice, claiming it causes asthma, cancer, genetic damage, and death.

The Ohio chapter of another leftist organization, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (Ohio PIRG), is listed as a signatory to Public Citizen’s opposition to food irradiation.

Hans von Spakovsky, a legal expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, was puzzled by the city’s attempt to criminalize a common pasteurization process.

Calling the ordinance an example of “making something a criminal penalty, as opposed to a civil fine, for things that really aren’t criminal,” von Spakovsky told Media Trackers that Section 761 was “an example of how local governments get into areas they have absolutely no business and no expertise in.”

“The safety of food is something that should be up to the state government, the Department of Agriculture,” he continued. “City governments, town governments — their chief concern and only concern should be local services like roads, sidewalks, city parks. To get into things like food is not an area they should be concerned about, and they don’t have the expertise to make and develop anything on that.”

Von Spakovsky added, “I think this is idiotic, and the city ought to get this off the books immediately.”