ASHINGTON, Oct. 26 — Schools will be allowed to serve
children meat that has been sterilized through irradiation, the
Agriculture Department has decided.
Irradiation sterilizes food by using low levels of gamma rays or
electrons to kill bacteria and parasites, like E. coli and salmonella.
In 1999, the government approved the sale of irradiated meat to the
public, but irradiated meat was prohibited in the school lunch program.
The farm bill approved in May changed that, said Alisa Harrison,
spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department.
Under the new policy, announced on Friday, schools will be allowed to
buy irradiated meat by the end of the year, Ms. Harrison said, emphasizing
that doing so was optional.
The meat industry has been urging the agency to approve such a policy,
saying it will make products safer. Companies want the department to start
a pilot program for buying irradiated ground beef for school lunches.
"It's time for U.S.D.A. to acknowledge the food safety benefits of this
technology and begin purchasing irradiated ground beef products for the
nation's schoolchildren," J. Patrick Boyle, chief executive of the
American Meat Institute, said in a statement.
Some advocacy groups say irradiated food is unhealthy, though the World
Health Organization and the American Medical Association have said it is
safe. The consumer group Public Citizen has strongly opposed irradiation,
saying the process destroys vitamins and nutrients and can cause chemicals
linked to cancer and birth defects to develop.
Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America's
Food Policy Institute, said she accepted that irradiated food was safe to
eat but warned that it was "not a silver bullet" for food-borne
Food poisoning in American schools has been increasing 10 percent a
year, the General Accounting Office, the auditing agency of Congress,
reported this year. Fifty school-related outbreaks of food poisoning were
reported nationwide in 1999, with 2,900