PUBLIC interest groups eager to promote ``corporate responsibility'' are now taking an innovative approach here: They are seeking to limit or curtail certain production processes. Last month, the Quaker Oats Company announced at its annual meeting that it would no longer irradiate food products or buy irradiated food. That decision followed a campaign by public interest activists who had - among other steps - filed a shareholder's resolution with the Chicago-based food company seeking clarification of Quaker Oat's food preparation policies. Stockholders learned that the company's Golden Grain subsidiary, which makes pasta products, had once used irradiated mushrooms in its food preparation process.
Irradiation is a federally approved production process for vegetables, fruits, nuts, certain meats, flour and grains, that lengthens their shelf life. Some activists dislike the process because it requires that food be exposed to ionizing radiation from cobalt 60 and cesium 137, both radioactive sources.
``When the food is subjected to irradiation, molecules are hit so hard that they break apart; but when they come back together, new chemicals are formed. It is our contention that it is just impossible to determine the safety of these new chemicals at this time,'' says Christina Roessler, executive director for Food & Water Inc. The non-profit public interest group, based in Denville, N.J., is determined to curb the practice.