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Biased Irradiation “Educational” Program in Minnesota Was Designed to Benefit Industry, Not Children

July 21, 2003

Biased Irradiation “Educational” Program in Minnesota Was Designed to Benefit Industry, Not Children


Partners in Government Program Had Industry Ties, Materials Were One-Sided; Results Could Affect 27 Million Children in School Lunch Program

RENO, Nev. – A Minnesota pilot program designed to develop educational materials about food irradiation for teachers, parents and students was seriously flawed, and the resulting materials, which are to be distributed nationwide, should be recalled, Public Citizen said today. The call came as the organization released a report about the program at the American School Food Service Association’s (ASFSA) annual conference in Reno, Nev.


The findings are important because school districts nationwide soon will decide whether they want to purchase irradiated meat for the 27 million children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently approved irradiated ground beef for the school lunch program beginning in January 2004, despite public controversy and an outpouring of negative feedback from parents who do not want their children to eat irradiated food (more than 90 percent of the thousands of comments received by the USDA were against the proposal).

The pilot program, run by the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning (CFL), involved the distribution of flyers about irradiated food and a subsequent survey to gauge reaction to the materials. However, the program was riddled with problems:

  • The flyers extolled the benefits of irradiated food and omitted any mention of negative information, such as the fact that studies indicate irradiating meat can create potentially carcinogenic chemicals;
  • None of the project’s partners represents consumer interests, and many have ties to the irradiation industry. Partners include SureBeam, a major food irradiation company; the Minnesota Beef Council, which is partially subsidized by SureBeam; the Dairy Queen Corporation, which irradiates meat; and the ASFSA, whose general counsel represents irradiation companies;
  • Two high-ranking USDA officials that approved the pilot program have ties to the irradiation industry. One, under secretary for food safety, worked in the 1990s at Iowa State University on a food irradiation research program. The other, her husband, worked with her there and later was appointed deputy administrator for special nutrition programs, including the school lunch program;
  • None of the pilot materials or surveys were available in Spanish, even though one of the three school districts selected for the program has a large number of students and parents who don’t speak English; and
  • One of the school districts selected for the program is in a city that serves as the headquarters of Huisken Meats, the first meat processor in the country to use the SureBeam irradiation process on hamburgers.

In fact, one school district pulled out of the project because its superintendent felt the district was being positioned to promote irradiated food, rather than educate people about it.

“This project is a complete sham, and the materials produced – which present a glowing endorsement of irradiation – ought to be tossed out,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Serious questions exist as to the long-term health effects of eating irradiated food, and parents are justifiably concerned. The government needs to stop pushing this food on the nation’s children immediately.”

The Food and Nutrition Service, part of the USDA, provided the Minnesota Department of CFL with a $151,000 grant to develop educational materials about food irradiation in three school districts. Billed as an informative project for school personnel, parents and students, it was actually designed to promote irradiation and persuade school districts to order irradiated meat for the Child Nutrition Act programs they run. This is clear from the project proposal, which states that “A successful outcome of the educational campaign will be the acceptance and introduction of irradiated ground beef in select school districts.”

“You can’t force the public to accept a controversial technology just by designing some slick marketing brochures,” Hauter said. “This project inappropriately turned several government agencies into ad agencies for irradiation. This project is a complete failure and the results should be scrapped.”

To read the report, click here.