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Public Universities Urged to Withdraw From Food Irradiation ?Consumer Education? Campaign

Oct. 22, 2001

Public Universities Urged to Withdraw From Food Irradiation ?Consumer Education? Campaign

$600,000 in Taxpayer Money Spent to Increase Sales and Acceptance of Unpopular Foods

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Public Citizen is calling on nine public universities to pull out of a taxpayer-funded “consumer education” campaign designed to increase the sales and consumer acceptance of irradiated food. Nearly $600,000 from the federal budget is being spent to improve the image of food that has been “treated” with high doses of radiation, which, according to numerous surveys, a vast majority of Americans do not want to eat.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the two-year campaign is being implemented by professors at the Universities of Arkansas, California-Davis, Florida, Minnesota and Nebraska; and Purdue (Indiana), Kansas State, Penn State and Texas A&M Universities. Leading the campaign is Christine Bruhn, a UC-Davis marketing professor who, for many years, has worked closely with corporations and industry groups to enhance the consumer acceptance of food products with tarnished public images. Public Citizen objected to the campaign in letters sent to deans at each of the schools.

“Institutions of higher learning should not be turned into advertising agencies working on behalf of private industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “These universities should stay out of the boardroom and stay in the classroom.”

The “consumer education” initiative has all the components of an advertising campaign   from selecting a product and testing it in specific markets, to monitoring sales and adapting advertising strategies based on consumer responses. “Objective 1” of the campaign is “increasing consumer knowledge and acceptance of foods processed by irradiation” by paying people to listen to pro-irradiation material and using any positive responses to convince grocery stores to sell irradiated foods, the campaign?s work plan says.

The food irradiation industry has suffered several setbacks recently. Test-marketing of irradiated ground beef in Wisconsin and Florida has failed. In May, a public outcry forced the federal government to scrap plans to feed irradiated meat to school children. And the Federal Trade Commission is conducting an inquiry into the advertising practices of the prominent irradiation company SureBeam of San Diego.

Click here for more information on food irradiation and participating universities.