U.S. to Allow Irradiated Meat

In School Lunch Program

The Agriculture Department said yesterday 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. Some 27 million schoolchildren receive free or low-cost meals daily in the program.

USDA spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said the school lunch program currently 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."

The USDA buys large amounts of ground beef, vegetables and other foods from American farmers for the school lunch program.

Barry Sackin, vice president for the American School Food Service Association, said the industry supports irradiation but wants to first launch an extensive education program to teach communities about it.

"Our concerns are public relations," Sackin said. "We want to make sure communities don't lose confidence in the food being given to the school lunch program."

Some green groups and environmentalists fear using high-energy radiation in food products could have harmful side effects for consumers.

Public Citizen, a liberal Washington-based consumer advocacy group, said in a report released this week that animals fed irradiated food have suffered dozens of health problems, including internal bleeding and immune system disorders.

Other consumer advocacy groups say the use of irradiation will mean meat companies will not be as careful about removing fecal material because it will be sterilized during the procedure.

Treasury Blocks Assets

Of Drug Cartel Leaders

The Bush administration, trying to topple drug kingpins, moved to block the financial assets of two leaders of the violent North Valle drug cartel in Colombia that has smuggled tons of cocaine into the United States.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control added Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez and Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante to the U.S. government's list of specially designated narcotics traffickers.

The action means that any assets belonging to the two men found in the United States or within its jurisdiction would be frozen and that Americans are forbidden from doing business with them. In addition, Treasury added 21 individuals and 13 businesses in Colombia that it believes are acting as fronts for leaders of the North Valle drug cartel.

-- Compiled from reports by Reuters and the Associated Press