The National School Lunch Program has an important responsibility: providing safe and nutritious foods to our nation’s schoolchildren. Today’s announcement by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service that it will begin purchasing irradiated ground beef for the School Lunch Program reflects a high degree of responsibility and commitment to the agency’s charge.
We believe strongly that all approved food safety technologies should be permitted for use on foods purchased through government feeding programs. Irradiation is one of the most studied food safety technologies in history, has been embraced by more than 40 nations worldwide and is endorsed by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the Institute of Food Technologists and other leading health and science organizations. Given the decades of exhaustive research that not only detail irradiation’s safety, but also its food safety benefits, AMS is making a prudent and important decision today.
The fact is, irradiation is an important food safety technology that destroys pathogenic bacteria that remain in products after they have undergone a host of other food safety processes. This technology is especially beneficial for people who are at greater risk of foodborne illness, like the very old, those who are immuno-compromised and children, many of whom participate in the School Lunch Program. Irradiation is not a substitute for all the other food safety practices. Rather, it is another food safety technology that is used as a supplement after meat plants have met all their regulatory obligations and after the products have been inspected and passed by federal inspectors.
USDA’s emphasis on communication and education with schools and parents is wise. Studies have shown that the more consumers know about irradiation’s safety and benefits, the more they are willing to embrace the technology.
No doubt, AMS and the media will hear from misinformed and alarmist groups who would sooner have parents fear than embrace this technology. Consumers with concerns need only make a list of irradiation’s proponents and of the solid, credible scientific research that supports it use. Compare that list to the very short list of groups and individuals who seek to challenge its use and the answer will be clear: irradiation is a safe and proven technology and irradiated meat products should be offered through the School Lunch Program.