WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2004 (ENS):
District of Columbia students will not be eating irradiated
hamburgers any time soon. The District of Columbia Board
of Education voted eight to one on Wednesday night in
favor of a resolution that forbids the 167 schools in
the DC system from purchasing irradiated food for any
of its meal programs for five years.
Although the school system does not now serve irradiated
food, it could choose to do so. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) last year approved the use of
irradiated ground beef in the National School Lunch
Program. The program provides free or reduced price
school lunches to 27 million children annually. Sixty
percent of the more than 65,000 students in the DC school
system qualify for the federally subsidized meal program.
The school officials’ decision was welcomed by
nonprofit organizations Public Citizen and the Youth
Education Alliance, who had lobbied the Board of Education
to ban irradiated food.
“We’re happy that the school board banned
irradiated meat because we didn’t want students
to be worried about what was on their lunch trays,”
said Mayonna Bangura, youth organizer for the Youth
Education Alliance and a 10th grade student at Calvin
Coolidge Senior High School. “It’s a first
step in the right direction towards healthy, safe and
better tasting lunches.”
The groups said banning irradiated food from school
cafeterias is one way to safeguard students who would
otherwise have no way to protect themselves from eating
meat that has been treated with the controversial irradiation
technology. Irradiation exposes food to a dose of ionizing
radiation to kill bacteria.
Federal law states that while irradiated meat must
be labeled in grocery stores, it does not have to be
labeled when served in school cafeterias, restaurants
While the USDA says irradiated foods are safe, critics
of the process say it produces chemicals that are known
or suspected carcinogens. Research presented to the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2001 has
shown that one class of these chemicals, cyclobutanones,
promotes cancer development as well as causes genetic
damage to human cells.
Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety asked
the FDA in November 2001 to refrain from legalizing
irradiation for any additional types of food until cyclobutanones
are tested for safety.
The students also called on the board to improve the
quality, safety and wholesomeness of food served in
A recent WJLA (Channel 7) report revealed that 143
of 155 District schools needed “immediate action”
to clean up their cafeterias. "Contributing to
the filthy state of the cafeterias were rodent feces,
spiders and dead insects, along with insulation materials
that had fallen into the food preparation area because
of aging building conditions," the TV program was
quoted as saying.
Irradiation does not help prevent food contamination
in any of these situations. The procedure cannot prevent
cross-contamination once packages are opened nor can
it kill the abnormal protein that causes mad cow disease.
“Instead of spending more money on irradiated
meat – which will not solve the most common contamination
problems in DC’s cafeterias – we can now
focus on bringing fresher and healthier ingredients
to improve students’ lunches,” said Monique
Mikhail, organizer for Public Citizen’s Safe Lunch
Irradiated meat is not popular with schools. To date,
no school district has purchased irradiated meat through
the USDA for the 2004-2005 school year.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights