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Press Release: School Lunches


Cancer Prevention Coalition
Government Accountability Project
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program
U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Groups Blast Bush Administration for Plan to Buy
Irradiated Meat for Schools

Government Would Not Have to Tell Students or Parents
About Irradiated Meat Purchases

April 5, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumer and food safety advocates today criticized Bushadministration officials for planning to purchase irradiated ground beef for school lunchprograms without informing students and parents.

The administration on Thursday backed away from a plan to scale back salmonella testingof ground beef destined for schools, but said the government likely still would purchaseirradiated meat for schools. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials saidirradiation could be used to kill disease-causing bacteria in meat. However, questionsremain regarding the health effects of eating irradiated food.

Following news reports on Thursday of the administration’s reversal, the USDA toldPublic Citizen that its draft plan for procuring school lunch meat includes buyingirradiated meat. And according to news reports, Ken Clayton, acting administrator of theUSDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which buys food for federal nutrition programs,said that if the USDA purchased irradiated meat for schools, it would be up to schools todisclose that fact to students and parents.

“The meat industry wants to irradiate filth rather than using clean meatprocessing practices,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s CriticalMass Energy and Environment Program. “American children deserve better than to be fedinferior meat treated with high levels of radiation.”

Dr. Samuel Epstein, chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and professor ofenvironmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois MedicalCenter-Chicago, added, “Irradiated meat is a very different product than naturalmeat. In sharp contrast to FDA claims of safety, based on grossly inadequate testing andrebutted by its own expert committees, there is well-documented scientific evidence thateating irradiated meat poses grave risks of cancer and genetic damage. Such evidence hasbeen endorsed by a wide range of national and international independent public healthexperts. Furthermore, irradiated meat is highly susceptible to cross-contamination withfood poisoning bacteria.”

Felicia Nestor, food safety director for the Government Accountability Project stated,”The USDA has reduced the authority of meat inspectors and allowed slaughter lines tomove at unbelievable speeds. Now, it wants to use irradiation to clean up the problemsthis causes. The Bush administration shouldn’t make American children guinea pigs forirradiation. Instead, it should insure that the meat industry produces a clean and safeproduct.”

Richard Caplan, U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s environmental advocate,reemphasized the need for parental right to know. “Parents have a right to know whatkind of food their children are eating at school, but the USDA is not even required totell them.”

Jackie Hunt Christensen, food safety project director at the Institute for Agricultureand Trade Policy in Minneapolis: “This gives new meaning to the term ‘mysterymeat,’ because unique products are created when you irradiate meat.”