Information about food irradiation that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun offering to school districts across the country is inaccurate and misleading, according to the consumer group Public Citizen. The agency’s new information program follows its decision in May to permit irradiated beef in the National School Lunch Program.
The USDA last week posted its materials on its website . It is urging all state food service directors to use them. The materials were developed by the Minnesota Department of Education as part of an ” education” campaign to promote irradiation in three Minnesota school districts. The USDA is now planning to expand the campaign nationwide. The campaign has come under fire since it was revealed that the food irradiation industry exerted undue influence over the direction of the program, to the exclusion of consumer groups.
The food irradiation industry has not gotten much traction in the marketplace, so its next scheme is to get the federal government to bail it out by serving irradiated ground beef to unsuspecting schoolchildren.
The “education” project was such a failure in Minnesota that one school district –Sauk Rapids–dropped out because officials there felt they would be promoting irradiation instead of educating parents and students about it. The other two districts–Spring Lake Park and Willmar–decided against ordering irradiated ground beef for the 2003-2004 school year. In addition, a number of California school districts–in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Ukiah and Point Arena–have banned irradiated foods. Other school districts that have said they will not serve irradiated foods include Boston, Cleveland, New York City and San Diego.
The USDA’s materials contain a “Public Relations Tool Kit,” describing how to promote irradiation at the school district level. Misleading statements in the material include:
“Irradiation produces no unique chemicals.”
Reality: Researchers have known for more than 30 years that irradiation causes the formation of chemical byproducts, including a class of chemicals called 2-ACBs, which recently were shown to promote the cancer-development process in rats.
“The best scientific studies, conducted over many years, show no adverse health effects from consuming irradiated food.”
Reality: Animals fed irradiated foods in experiments dating back 50 years have suffered dozens of health problems, including premature death, mutations, reproductive problems, immune system disorders, tumors, organ damage and stunted growth. Further, there is a lack of research on the potential health effects of feeding irradiated foods to children, who are more susceptible than adults to adverse effects of consuming toxic substances.
“Vitamin losses from irradiation are insignificant and are lower than those from canning or freezing.”
Reality: Studies have shown that some foods can lose up to 95 percent of their vitamin content when irradiated.
“There is no link between food irradiation and nuclear power or nuclear weapons.”
Reality: Radioactive cobalt-60, produced by a nuclear reaction, is used to irradiate food. Cesium-137, a waste product of nuclear bomb production, can legally be used for irradiation, though it is not now being used. All forms of ionizing radiation – whether generated by an electronic beam or a radioactive isotope – cause the same adverse effects in food.
“Irradiation results in little if any change to the appearance, taste and nutritional value of food.”
Reality: Numerous studies indicate that irradiation can corrupt the flavor, odor, appearance and texture of food. Beef can smell like a wet dog, pork can turn red, fruit and vegetables can become mushy, and eggs can become runny. A Consumer Reports study on irradiated foods published in August 2003 found that irradiated ground beef had a “singed hair” taste.
“NASA has been irradiating food for its astronauts since the 1970s…and experience with NASA astronauts indicates compounds formed during food irradiation pose no unique risk to human beings.”
Reality: According to NASA, less than 2 percent of the food consumed by astronauts on space missions is irradiated, and eating it is optional. The astronauts are not required to eat irradiated food after their missions have been completed, so this is not a valid example for the USDA to use.
ACTION TO TAKE:
Call your school board president and urge him or her to pass a ban on irradiated food in your district! To contact your school board president, check on your school district website or call the general number for your school and ask to be connected to the board president.
***SAMPLE PHONE RAP***
Hi, I am a parent/teacher/community member who is concerned about the healthiness, wholesomeness and safety of what children eat in my school district. I am calling to urge you to pass a ban on irradiated food in this school district because irradiated food is neither healthy, wholesome, nor safe.
There has not been enough research on the safety of irradiated foods, and I am firmly opposed to using our children as guinea pigs for a questionable technology. I am also concerned that irradiation perpetuates unsanitary and filthy conditions in meatpacking facilities. Lastly, irradiated meat does not have to be labeled when served in schools! This is a blatant violation of parental right-to-know.
Please keep me informed of your decision on this matter.
In May 2003 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved irradiated beef for the National School Lunch Program, which provides more than 25 million low-income children with free or subsidized lunches. The USDA made their decision despite the overwhelming opposition to this proposal from parents and concerned citizens.
Irradiation exposes food to doses of ionizing radiation equivalent to millions of chest x-rays, in order to kill bacteria. This process destroys essential nutrients and hastens their depletion during storage and cooking. Irradiation also creates known toxins and carcinogens in food, such as benzene and toluene, and a new class of chemicals, called ” unique radiolytic products” some of which the FDA has never tested for safety.
Food irradiation perpetuates the disgusting environment found in many feedlots and slaughterhouses, where animals wallow in their own filth and are slaughtered at overly fast lines speeds. These conditions make it impossible to keep meat clean from excrement and other carriers of deadly pathogens like E. coli 0157:H7.
The Weston A. Price Foundation supports the passage of the Right to Know School Nutrition Act (H.R. 3120), introduced in September by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The bill would guarantee that balanced information on food irradiation would be provided to parents and children and also requires that irradiated food served in schools be labeled.
Right to Know School Nutrition Act (Introduced in House) HR 3120
To provide for the dissemination of information on irradiated foods used in the school lunch programs and to ensure that school districts, parents, and students retain the option of traditional, non-irradiated foods through such programs.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
September 17, 2003
Ms. LEE introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce
To provide for the dissemination of information on irradiated foods used in the school lunch programs and to ensure that school districts, parents, and students retain the option of traditional, non-irradiated foods through such programs. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Right to Know School Nutrition Act’.
SEC. 2. IRRADIATED FOODS IN THE SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS.
(a) IN GENERAL- The Secretary of Agriculture shall, by rule, require any institutions that serve irradiated foods as part of the school lunch program under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.) or the school breakfast program established under section 4 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1773) to–
(1) provide to the students served by such programs, and to the parents or guardians of such students, prior to serving irradiated foods, balanced information regarding irradiated foods, including–
(A) the purpose of radiation used on foods;
(B) the effects of radiation on the nutritional value of foods; and
(C) any potential adverse health consequences of irradiated foods;
(2) provide students served by such programs (and their parents or guardians with respect to such students) the option of traditional, non-irradiated foods at every meal provided under such programs;
(3) ensure that menu items containing irradiated foods are clearly labeled with the phrase `treated with irradiation’, or `treated by irradiation’;
(4) ensure that irradiated and non-irradiated foods are not commingled; and
(5) ensure the prominent display of signs in school cafeterias indicating that irradiated food is being served.
(b) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS–There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary such sums as may be necessary for carrying out this Act.