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Public Citizen Praises Representative Lee’s Right-to-Know Billon Irradiated Food in School Lunches

Sept. 17, 2003

Public Citizen Praises Representative Lee’s Right-to-Know Billon Irradiated Food in School Lunches

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


Today’s announcement by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that she will sponsor a right-to-know bill on irradiated food in the National School Lunch Program is a giant step forward for consumers in the emerging public debate about irradiation. The bill would mandate the distribution of balanced information about irradiated foods used in school lunch programs, require all irradiated food to be clearly labeled, and ensure that school districts, parents and students retain the option of choosing non-irradiated foods. Her efforts will greatly empower parents and children who rely on the federal nutrition program.

Current regulations state that irradiated food doesn’t need to be labeled if it’s served in schools, hospitals or restaurants. Therefore, children and their parents will not know if the food served on school lunch trays has been irradiated. Rep. Lee’s bill seeks to change that, and rightfully so. It is vital for parents to know what their children are eating. They deserve balanced information – not slick industry propaganda – about what irradiation does to food.

Moreover, the children most likely to eat food purchased through the school lunch program are from lower-income families that cannot afford to send their children to school with homemade lunches. These children depend on food provided by government nutrition programs. If irradiated meat ends up on their lunch trays at schools, they don’t have the option of saying no.

Studies show significant opposition to irradiated food and concern about the lack of labeling of it. One notable group that seems consistently to have serious reservations about food irradiation is women with school-age children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held six focus groups during the summer of 2001 in which consumers were asked their opinions of labeling for irradiated foods. In its report to Congress, the FDA stated that, “Everyone agreed that irradiated foods should be labeled honestly.”

As this bill moves through Congress, we urge government officials to respect parental choice and consumers’ right to information. Congress should keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved irradiated food in the school lunch program despite significant opposition from parents and teachers across the country. In fact, 93 percent of the thousands of comments submitted to the USDA opposed the proposal to permit irradiated foods in school cafeterias. Congress should listen to its constituents and pass this bill so parents can make informed choices about what their children are eating at school.