California, April 27, 2004: In a unanimous
vote last night, the seven members of the San Francisco
Board of Education followed five other California school
districts by passing a resolution that forbids the 116-school
system from purchasing irradiated food for any of its
meal programs for five years. This resolution follows
a USDA decision to include irradiated ground beef in
the National School Lunch Program, which provides free
or reduced price school lunches to 27 million children
annually; 61% of SFUSD's students qualify for the federally
subsidized meal program.
California is leading the country with a new trend
of banning irradiated food from their school cafeterias
in order to safeguard students who would otherwise have
no way to protect themselves from eating meat that has
been treated with the controversial irradiation technology.
Federal law states that while irradiated meat must be
labeled in grocery stores, it does not have to be labeled
when served in cafeterias, restaurants, or hospitals.
"The USDA clearly ignored the will of the public
when it approved irradiated foods for the National School
Lunch Program," said Mark Sanchez, school board
commissioner and co author of the resolution. "San
Francisco's ban will send the USDA a message that they
can't use our children as guinea pigs for this questionable
In May 2003, the USDA decision to approve irradiated
meat for the school lunch program was controversial
because the federal agency sided with industry over
parental concerns. More than 400 comments from Californians
were submitted during the open comment period. Of the
thousands of comments in total, 93% opposed the proposal
to include irradiated meat in children's lunches. In
March, the Parent Advisory Council to SFUSD voted 14-1
in favor of banning irradiated meat from San Francisco
schools. The Student Advisory Council and the United
Educators of San Francisco, the union representing San
Francisco public school teachers, also support the ban.
"The growing number of school districts banning
irradiated foods is evidence of an increasing demand
for wholesome, healthy, and nutritious food in schools,"
said Tracy Lerman, an organizer for Public Citizen's
safe lunch campaign based in Oakland, Calif. "I
applaud the San Francisco school board for prioritizing
the health of their students by banning this nutritionally
Irradiation exposes food to a dose of ionizing radiation
to kill bacteria; however, research has shown that it
depletes essential nutrients and vitamins from the food
and also produces chemicals that are known or suspected
carcinogens. Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School
District passed a similar ban on irradiated meat, calling
it "ludicrous" to use children as a test group
for eating irradiated food when the long-term health
effects are unknown.
To date, no school district has purchased irradiated
meat through the USDA for the 2004-2005 school year.