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Consumer Groups Challenge Government-Funded Promotion of Irradiated Food for Schools

Clean Water Action Alliance * Government Accountability Project * Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy * Organic Consumers Association * Public Citizen

March 18, 2003

Consumer Groups Challenge Government-Funded Promotion of Irradiated Food for Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Five public interest organizations today sent a letter to Eric Bost, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), urging him to halt an irradiation promotion program that his department has funded in Minnesota. The “education” program is intended to increase public acceptance of irradiated foods in school lunch programs.

Materials developed as part of the “education” program in Minnesota are to be used in other school districts across the country. The USDA is considering lifting its ban on the use of irradiation for ground beef purchased for the National School Lunch Program.

Program documents are quite clear about the intent to promote irradiated food. Minnesota’s grant proposal states that “a successful outcome of the ‘educational’ campaign will be the acceptance and introduction of irradiated ground beef by select school districts.” (Click here to view the proposal.)

“This program is being presented to the public as an ‘education’ program. Instead, it is designed to be one-sided and dominated by the irradiation industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Parents, students, teachers and food service personnel deserve to hear the entire story on irradiation – not just what its promoters want them to hear.”

The groups noted that officials at the USDA and in Minnesota who have played critical roles in the program all have ties to the SureBeam Corporation – an irradiation company based in San Diego, Calif. – a conflict of interest. SureBeam is listed as one of the Pilot Partners in the project proposal funded by USDA.

“This is unconscionable. Not only is the government funding a program that is promoting a specific technology, it already has picked the company and is paying for its advertising. This has to stop – it is an improper use of taxpayer money,” said Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Click here to view the group letter.