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Irradiated Meat for Schools OKd

Agriculture department to allow schoolchildren to be served the treated food by year's end.

October 26, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agriculture Department said Friday it plans to allow irradiated meat to be served to millions of children in U.S. schools by the end of the year.

Irradiation, which has been endorsed by the World Health Organization, exposes food to low doses of electrons or gamma rays to destroy deadly microorganisms, such as E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella.

Under the U.S. farm subsidy law enacted in May, the USDA must allow government-approved food safety technology, such as irradiation, to be used in commodities donated to the federal school lunch program. About 27 million schoolchildren receive free or low-cost meals daily in the program.

USDA spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said the school lunch program prohibits buying irradiated meat.

"This is one we are looking at to see if our regulations need to be changed to comply with the farm bill," Harrison said. "We hope to have something by the end of the year."

American food makers have been slow to adopt irradiation treatment for raw meat and poultry because of the cost of the equipment and worries about consumer acceptance.

Currently, foods treated with irradiation must carry labels saying either "treated with irradiation" or "treated by radiation."

The U.S. school food service and meat industries have urged the USDA to implement a pilot program to gradually introduce irradiated meat to cafeterias.

"It's time for USDA to acknowledge the food safety benefits of this technology and begin purchasing irradiated ground beef products for the nation's schoolchildren," said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, an industry group.

Barry Sackin, vice president for the American School Food Service Assn., said the industry supports irradiation but calls for an education program to teach communities about it.

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