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Bush Administration Favors Meat Industry Over Children; Irradiated Meat Thrust Into School Lunch Program

Oct. 28, 2002

Bush Administration Favors Meat Industry Over Children; Irradiated Meat Thrust Into School Lunch Program

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program

In permitting school districts to purchase irradiated meat for the National School Lunch Program, the Bush administration is bowing to the interests of the meat industry. We have seen repeatedly this administration serving its corporate contributors, not the public, and this is yet another example.

Until now, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) expressly prohibited the purchase of irradiated foods for the program. On Oct. 24, though, the American Meat Institute sent the USDA a letter urging the department to drop its prohibition on irradiated meat for the lunch program. The next day – last Friday – the USDA announced that it would drop its prohibition by year’s end. If only the administration would act that quickly on consumer demands for clean and safe meat.

The announcement was not surprising given the clout the meat industry has with this administration. The Bush campaign received more than $2.6 million in contributions from agricultural corporations, which includes the meat industry.

In numerous scientific studies, irradiated foods have been shown to produce harmful chemicals. In some experiments with laboratory animals, these chemicals have produced cancerous tumors and genetic defects. There is also a dearth of research on the effects on children whose diets include irradiated food. Dr. William Au, a toxicologist at the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, has argued that “the scientific community and regulatory agencies have very little knowledge regarding how children respond to insult from toxic chemicals. These concerns also apply to toxicological risk with respect to eating irradiated food.”

Is the Bush administration going to experiment on school children just to aid the food irradiation industry, which has had a difficult time making it on its own in the marketplace? How much longer is this administration going to let the meat industry get away with producing food that is contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7, listeria or salmonella without a proper inspection and testing regime? Irradiation is not an acceptable way to deal with filth on meat. This administration is willing to put our children’s health at risk in exchange for this industry’s transgressions.