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, 2003. By offering schools the option of purchasing irradiated meat for school lunches, which feed 27 million children each year, the USDA could become the largest distributor of irradiated food in the world.
However, all is not lost! Here are several positive indications that can influence this process:
1) Over 91% of the thousands of comments submitted to the USDA on this issue were opposed to the agency’s proposal to purchase irradiated food for school lunches.
2) Schools will have a choice between irradiated and non-irradiated meat. Therefore, it is essential that you request from your school board and food services director to choose NOT to serve irradiated meat.
3) The availability of irradiated meat for school lunches will not begin until January 2004. This is a far cry from original plans to begin serving irradiated meat this year.
4) The boxes of irradiated meat arriving at schools will be labeled. However, labeling in the cafeteria or parental notification is NOT required. The USDA will “encourage” schools using irradiated meat to let parents know. Please urge your schools to properly label irradiated meat and send home notification if they will be serving it.
5) The USDA estimates that irradiated ground beef will cost 13 to 20 cents more per pound. This is a financial disincentive for cash-strapped schools to spend extra money on an unnecessary and potentially harmful food item.
6) Even before the announcement, USDA has been funding a pilot “education” program in Minnesota to develop pro-irradiation materials for parents and teachers. The materials developed in Minnesota will be available for schools all over the country to use in the fall. However, this program has been less successful than USDA planned. One of the three participating school districts recently pulled out of the program because they did not feel comfortable distributing these “education” materials to their parents and teachers!
Your Action Is More Important Than Ever!
USDA’s announcement still leaves a way for us 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 WE WORK AT THE LOCAL LEVEL TO PREVENT THIS IN OUR 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. You can download an organizing kit from this site at http://www.citizen.org/documents/schoollunchactivistpacket2.pdf. The organizing kit is very comprehensive and useful. This kit was created by Public Citizen – Ralph Nader’s political action organization.
In addition, Public Citizen has issued two very comprehensive reports of food irradiation. I highly recommend that you read these reports (They are in PDF format, so you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download Acrobat Reader for free, go to the following web site: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html).
The two reports are:
“Questioning Food Irradiation: A History of Research Into the Safety of Irradiated Foods” – http://www.citizen.org/documents/questioningirradiation.pdf
“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
Legislators Can Be Sensitive To This Issue!
Senator Leahy of Vermont wrote to the USDA this week about the uncertain health effects of serving irradiated meat to children. To see the full text of his letter go to:
Contact your representative and senators today to urge them not to support irradiated food in school lunches, and to correct the damage done by last year’s Farm Bill (which opened the door for USDA to buy irradiated food for school lunches.) For the address of your two Senators and Representative, please go to the following web sites:
for House Members: http://www.house.gov/writerep/
Dear Senator or Representative :
I am writing to urge you to oppose the purchase of irradiated food for the National School Lunch Program. As you know, a provision in the 2002 farm bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture not to prohibit the purchase of commodities that have been treated with irradiation for the various nutrition programs the USDA administers. This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a ruling permitting such purchases.
This is a very controversial issue, and yet no congressional hearing was ever held in order to change USDA policy on permitting irradiated food into child nutrition programs. In fact, no congressional debate ever took place on this issue. Furthermore, in recent articles, spokespersons for the USDA have taken the stance that Congress mandated the use of irradiated foods for the National School Lunch Program. However, just because a technology is approved for the programs does not mean it is required for the programs.
This provision sets a dangerous precedent. Irradiation destroys vitamins and other nutrients, forms chemicals suspected to cause cancer and birth defects, and masks unhygienic food production practices. By allowing irradiated foods into national nutrition programs, we condone our children’s consumption of low quality, unsafe, and nutritionally deficient food.
Most worrisome for parents is the fact that irradiated food does not have to be labeled when served in school cafeterias. Current regulations do not require either student or parental notification when irradiated foods are served. Parents and children deserve the right-to-know what is being served in the nutrition programs offered in school.
The use of irradiation is a way for the meat industry to cover up dirty meat, and will lead to the reduction of microbial testing programs that are designed to make sure that meat is safe to eat without the use of interventions such as irradiation. This is already ringing true. Some in industry, including the American School Food Service Association, are attempting to end testing of meat destined for the child nutrition programs. A comment they wrote to the USDA stated, “The Department should take care to implement this provision to ensure that the full
benefit of new food safety technologies can be realized while also eliminating unnecessary costs in the procurement system. The Department should go to great lengths to ensure that [microbial] testing requirements are maintained in a manner that does not create a financial disincentive that precludes vendors from providing an additional level of safety.” In other words: they want irradiation to replace testing of feces-laden meat. I don’t want my child eating feces in their meat, even if it has been ‘sterilized.’
Currently, there is an irradiation “education” pilot program being conducted in Minnesota and funded by the Food and Nutrition Service of USDA. However, it was designed and is completely dominated by irradiation proponents and industry. There is no balance of information in the presentations or the material being used in that education program. This is a scandalous abuse of citizens’ trust in their government. In fact, one of the participating schools recently pulled out of the program.
The bottom line is this: taxpayer money should not be used to prop up this questionable technology at the expense of the safety of American children and their parents’ right-to-know what they are eating!