San Francisco school board bans irradiated food from school lunch program
Concerned parents and consumer groups praise decision

SAN FRANCISCO, 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 technology."

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 bankrupt food."

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.

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