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Irradiation In Our Schools: Part 2

by Eryn Moris

Every day, 63,000 kids in the Milwaukee Public School system sit down to lunches provided to them through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Registered dieticians such as Mary Kelly, Administrator for the Division of School Nutrition Services for MPS, adhere to strict guidelines to ensure these lunches are nutritionally balanced and contribute to the development of healthy eating habits. The Milwaukee School Board even has policies against soda and snack food vending machines in school cafeterias. In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, despite opposition from parents, teachers, community members, and public interest groups, approved the use of irradiated ground beef for donation to the National School Lunch Program. This fall, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which heads the Division of School Nutrition Services, joined dozens of other states in declining to purchase irradiated beef for lunch programs in the upcoming school year. “Every decision that we make in this department is with the health and safety of the children in mind,” says Kelly. According to a USDA news release, “before irradiated beef is made available for order by schools in January 2004, USDA will provide balanced consumer education materials to all school districts to use.” The information provided to decision-making school officials was developed, tested, and evaluated in three Minnesota school districts through a pilot program funded by the USDA. The “educational campaign materials” derived from that pilot project were then distributed to schools throughout the country. Initial documentation of the pilot project states: “…we do not endorse or encourage local schools and districts to use any specific product or technique.” According to non-profit watchdog group Public Citizen, however, the materials distributed by the USDA were nothing more than “a propaganda campaign for the food irradiation industry.” An October 16 article on the group’s website says that one of the three Minnesota school districts slated to participate in the pilot project “dropped out because officials there felt they would be promoting irradiation instead of educating parents and students about it.” The article goes on to dispute much of the research cited by the USDA regarding the safety of irradiated foods. “I would prefer that they didn’t [use irradiated beef in Riverwest schools],” says Tanya Kitts-Lewinski, citing Public Citizen research on vitamin loss due to irradiation. Her son is in second grade at Escuela Fratney. “But I would prefer that they made a lot of other changes to the school lunch program,” she adds. So what does Mary Kelly think? “I really don’t have a personal stance,” she says. “My staff dieticians and I have talked about it. We’re all registered dieticians here, we all go off the American Dietetic Association, so that’s one of the resources we access when something like this comes down the pipe.” And what does the ADA say about irradiated food? Their position statement — adopted in 1995, reaffirmed in 1998, but which expires at the end of this year — states: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that food irradiation enhances the safety and quality of the food supply and helps protect consumers from foodborne illness. The ADA encourages the government, food manufacturers, food commodity groups, and qualified food and nutrition professionals to work together to educate consumers about this additional food safety tool and to make this choice available in the marketplace.” For parents, students, teachers and community members concerned about their schools serving irradiated beef, you can rest easy until next year. As for consumers, however, the choice is theirs. Irradiated beef is currently available for purchase at Rainbow Foods, Piggly Wiggly, Dick’s Supermarkets, Copps Food Markets and select Pick ‘n Saves. Just look for the radura symbol. And if you’re eating or have eaten recently at Champps, Embers America, or any of the many restaurants in the Milwaukee area serviced by Sysco Food Distribution Centers, chances are your burger was irradiated. At least now you know what irradiated means. For a brief summary of the information provided by the USDA, Public Citizen, and the ADA, please see the Irradiation Fact Sheet. For more information on the USDA FNS position on irradiation, go to: www.fns.usda.gov. For more information on Public Citizen’s position on irradiation, go to: www.citizen.org. The entire abstract on the ADA’s position on irradiation can be found at: www.eatright.org. This was the only information available with references to specific scientific research conducted on the effects of irradiation on animals, humans, and the environment.
by Eryn Moris