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Public Citizen Applauds Congress for Restricting School Lunch Use of Irradiated Food

June 24, 2004

Public Citizen Applauds Congress for Restricting School Lunch Use of Irradiated Food

Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Food Program

It is encouraging to see that Congress is protecting the most vulnerable population within its constituency. Following Wednesday’s U.S. Senate vote, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Child Nutrition Act, which states that irradiated food may be made available to school children only at the request of state and local school systems and that its use in school lunches cannot be mandated by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); that irradiated food cannot be subsidized by the federal government; and that state and school food authorities are to be provided with factual information about irradiation, including notice that irradiation is not a substitute for safe food handling. The bill also requires irradiated foods that are distributed to federal meal programs for children to be labeled as irradiated.

The USDA’s May 2003 decision to approve irradiated meat for the national school lunch program was controversial because the federal agency chose industry over parental concerns. Of the more than 5,000 comments the government received, 93 percent were in opposition to the proposal to include irradiated meat in children’s lunches. In response, 10 school districts across the country, including in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., banned irradiated meat from school lunches. 

Given that the National School Lunch Program feeds 27 million children, it is vital that meals served at school are healthy, nutritious and safe. Research shows that a class of chemicals created during irradiation may be harmful. Further, there is a lack of research on the potential health effects of feeding irradiated foods to children, who are more susceptible than adults to adverse effects of consuming toxic substances. School children shouldn’t be guinea pigs for a questionable technology, the long-term effects of which are unknown.