LA School Board Ban - Press Release

Center for Food and Justice * Healthy School Food Coalition * Public Citizen

Concerned Parents and Consumer Groups Praise Decision, Hope it Sets Trend Across Nation

LOS ANGELES - In a unanimous 5-0 vote last night to ban irradiated food from the lunch trays of the more than 700,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the school board resolutely set a new trend for other school districts across the country. Calling it "ludicrous" for children to be used as a test group for eating irradiated food when the long-term health effects are unknown, the seven-member board passed a resolution that forbids the 677-school system to buy irradiated meat from the USDA commodities program which feeds 27 million children annually in the National School Lunch Program.

Parents, teachers, and public interest groups urged the LA school board to pass the resolution during tonight's meeting, noting that California is often considered a pioneer in healthy trends. Irradiation exposes food to a dose of ionizing radiation to kill bacteria; however, research has shown that it depletes essential nutrients and vitamins from the food and also produces chemicals that are known or suspected carcinogens. Last year, LAUSD passed a soda ban, effective beginning in January 2004, which called for the removal of sodas for sale on school property. There are 721,000 students in the LA school district, 72% of whom qualify for the federally subsidized meal program.

"I am pleased that the Board of Education has made the decision to not expose our children to the potential risks of consuming irradiated foods," said school board member Julie Korenstein, who introduced the resolution. "Today we sent an important message: the health of our children comes first. It has clearly been demonstrated that a child's health directly affects their ability to learn. Because there are real questions about the health impacts of consuming irradiated foods we will not compromise the mission of protecting and educating children by allowing them to eat irradiated meat."

Yesterday, representatives of the Healthy School Food Coalition and Public Citizen delivered children's vitamin bottles to each of the seven school board members, to emphasize that nutrients and vitamins would be depleted from food that had been treated with irradiation. Since the National School Lunch Program serves meals to the most vulnerable children, largely low-income, the two groups deride d the USDA for allowing the irradiation industry to profit on a questionable technology at the expense of a healthy diet for LA's schoolchildren.

"I'm not comfortable with the idea of my kids eating something that I don't know anything about, and that might not be safe for young children," said Arely Herrera, a parent and member of the Healthy School Food Coalition. "I don't want my kids to be at risk."

"Today's victory is shared by the many parents and teachers who are concerned about the health and safety of their children," said Francesca de la Rosa of the Healthy School Food Coalition. "Once again, California is saying no to corporations that seek to make money off our financially strapped schools and off our children. We don't want to buy what they're selling and I think today's vote makes that very clear."

The May decision to approve irradiated meat for the school lunch program was controversial because the USDA sided with industry over parental concerns. More than 400 comments from Californians were submitted during the open comment period earlier this year. Of the thousands of comments in total, 93% opposed the proposal to include irradiated meat in children's lunches.

"The USDA ignored us then, but they can't ignore us now," said Tracy Lerman, an organizer for the safe lunch campaign at Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Parents don't want to expose their children to a questionable technology that is unnecessary and only perpetuates the filthy conditions in meat plants that cause food poisoning in the first place."

Click here to read the text of the resolution