Both the Congress and the USDA have been busy with food and nutrition issues during the past quarter. The Congress has begun reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act, which subsidizes school lunch and breakfast meals for over 28 million students daily and provides food support for 7 million low-income mothers and infants through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. In addition, on May 8 the House Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness of the Government Reform Committee conducted hearings on mercury amalgam fillings used in dentistry. Congress heard testimony urging consumer choice and full disclosure of amalgam dangers. Finally, on May 29 the USDA issued a ruling permitting the purchase of irradiated meats for the School Lunch Program against the wishes of thousands of parents, teachers and students.
Child Nutrition Act
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee held hearings on the Child Nutrition Act on March 4 and April 3, 2003. The Weston A. Price Foundation submitted testimony for the record to the Committee. The Foundation offered the following recommendations:
- Encourage the USDA to increase its promotion of breastfeeding
- Encourage the USDA to further upgrade the WIC enhanced food package for breastfeeding mothers to include butter as well as additional milk, cheese, eggs and meat
- Suggest that USDA encourage the development of meat-based infant formulas for the small numbers of infants who are truly allergic to milk-based formula
- Urge the Congress to restrict the availability of soy infant formula in the WIC Program. Soy infant formula should be available to WIC mothers only through a doctor’s prescription
- Processed foods based on soy should carry a warning to consumers about possible endocrine disruption and thyroid problems
- Recommend that the Food Pyramid concept should be abandoned. The USDA should return to a plan that stresses high quality foods from four basic groups. The use of processed and highly sugared foods should be strongly discouraged, especially those foods that contain high fructose corn syrup
- USDA should discontinue the unscientific opposition to animal fats
- Encourage procurement of local farm products for school meal programs
- USDA should not reimburse schools that decide to offer soy milk as well as cow’s milk
- Encourage the Congress to call for a ban on the sale of soft drinks and snack foods in school vending machines (Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation on May 6 to curtail the use of vending machines in schools; see http://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/200305/050603.html for press release.)
- Encourage the Congress to repeal section 4201(b)(3) of the 2002 Farm Bill so that the USDA may prohibit irradiated meat for use in School Lunch Program (Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) submitted a letter to USDA’s Secretary Veneman protesting the Agency’s approval of irradiated meats for the school lunch program; see http://www.leahy.senate.gov/issues/Agriculture/foodirradiationletter.pdf.)
Our biggest lobbying efforts are for the provision that would restrict availability of soy infant formula to those who had a doctor’s prescription. The enhancement of the WIC food package with more milk, cheese, eggs and meat might seem to be a given, but we have been amazed at the intense lobbying efforts aimed at restricting this already meager package. There are even moves afoot to make the provision of whole milk voluntary, a step that would eventually result in the completele disappearance of whole milk from school lunches.
The Senate Agriculture Committee plans to introduce draft Child Nutrition Act legislation in mid June. The Education and Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over this Act in the House of Representatives, has yet to set a schedule for hearings.
Hearing on Mercury Amalgams
Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), chairman of the House Human Rights and Wellness Subcommittee, held a hearing on mercury amalgams on May 8. Testimony focussed on new information relating to possible health implications of mercury in the human body, and upon disclosing adequate information to patients to enable them to make informed choices about the type of dental restorative material that is used in their treatment. According to the Chairman, mercury is one of the most toxic elements found in nature, second only to radioactive materials. Dental amalgams consist of a mixture of powdered alloys and liquid mercury, with mercury constituting 50 percent or slightly more of the amalgam by weight. During the past 30 years, scientists have come to realize that small amounts of mercury continuously leach from amalgams, and that the leaching may go on for many years. The human body does not have an effective filter or elimination system for mercury. The most common sources of human mercury toxicity are through vaccinations, dental amalgams, and fish consumption. Unfortunately, most of the federal government’s attention has focused on the hazards of fish consumption, rather than on vaccinations and dental amalgams. Mercury toxicity has been linked to tremors, ADD, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular problems, fertility problems, impairment of kidney function, impairment of immune system, impairment of fetal development, modest declines in IQ, and death.
Dr. Maths Berlin, Ph.D. of the Swedish Dental Material Commission and former chair of the World Health Organization International Project on Chemical Safety, recently released a review of 700 credible scientific papers on mercury in dental-filling material, “Mercury in Dental-Filling Material–An Updated Risk Analysis in Environmental Medical Terms.” Dr. Berlin found that “with reference to the fact that mercury is a multipotent toxin with effects on several levels of the biochemical dynamics of the cell, amalgam must be considered to be an unsuitable material for dental restoration. This is especially true since fully adequate and less toxic alternatives are available.” In addition, the report states, ” with reference to the risk of inhibiting influence on the growing brain, it is not compatible with science and tested experience to use amalgam fillings in children and fertile women.”
Chairman Burton and Ranking Minority Member, Diane Watson (D-CA), have introduced the “Mercury in Dental Fillings Disclosure and Prohibition Act of 2003.” The Burton-Watson bill seeks to amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by prohibiting the introduction of mercury that is intended for use in a dental filling into interstate commerce after 2008. In addition to the 2008 phase-out deadline, the Burton-Watson bill also establishes a deadline for all mercury-containing devices intended for use in a dental filling to bear a warning label effective December 31, 2004. For a full report from The Dental Meterial Commission chaired by Maths Berlin, see http://www.dentalmaterial.gov.se/Mercury.pdf.
Irradiated Meat for the School Meal Programs
Despite thousands of comments to the federal government from parents, teachers and children nationwide opposing irradiated meat in the National School Lunch Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ignored the will of its constituents and approved the use of irradiation for the federal nutrition program on May 29. By offering schools the option of purchasing irradiated meat for school lunches, which feed 28 million children each year, the USDA could become the largest distributor of irradiated food in the world. USDA’s press release on irradiated foods in the school lunch program can be found at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cga/PressReleases/2003/PR-0172.03.htm.
Because federal law does not require labeling of irradiated food served in schools, restaurants, hospitals and similar venues, irradiated meat served in school cafeterias need not be labeled. This makes it impossible for parents to know what school cafeterias are feeding their children and is a blatant violation of parents’ right to know.
Irradiation is not an acceptable antidote for food safety problems. From strengthening government meat inspection to addressing the appalling disrepair in many school cafeterias, there is much that should be done to improve the safety of food served to our nation’s children at school. But using the purchasing power of the federal government to bail out a struggling industry and serving this questionable product to children has no place in a sensible food safety plan.
USDA’s announcement still leaves a way for you to protect school children. The choice is up to local school boards and district food service directors whether or not to purchase irradiated meat, or choose the non-irradiated option. IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU WORK AT THE LOCAL LEVEL TO PREVENT THIS IN YOUR OWN SCHOOL DISTRICTS! Please use the following website to obtain more information on how to work with your school district to stop the purchase of irradiated foods: www.safelunch.org. In addition, Public Citizen has issued two comprehensive reviews of the health hazards of irradiated foods: “Questioning Food Irradiation: A History of Research Into the Safety of Irradiated Foods” (http://www.citizen.org/documents/questioningirradiation.pdf) and “A Broken Record: How the FDA Legalized–and Continues to Legalize–Food Irradiation without Testing for its Safety” (http://www.citizen.org/documents/brokenrecordfinal.pdf).
CONTACT INFO: For further information, please contact the foundation at info (at) westonaprice.org.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2003.