What's in a word?

Plenty, according to consumer groups Public Citizen and Center for Food Safety (CFS), which are jointly calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to initi-ate a thorough investigation into companies that advertise food irradiation as "pasteurization" and irradiated food products as "pasteurized."

The two groups are asking FTC to order the companies to stop the advertising and penalize them for false advertising. To bolster their case, they cited an in-dustry "Q&A" on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's web site in which USDA said that calling irradiated food products pasteurized is misleading.

However, a spokesman for one of the companies named in the complaint has countered that both USDA and the Food and Drug Administration recognize that the term pasteurization means something more than thermal pasteurization.

Public Citizen and CFS assume that consumers would be less inclined to buy a product if they knew it had undergone irradiation. However, virtually every major health and governmental agency in the U.S. has endorsed irradiation as a safe and effective means of destroying foodborne microbes.