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WASHINGTON - Despite opposition from thousands of parents, the USDA on Thursday approved irradiated hamburgers, chili, and meat loaf to be served in school cafeterias.
The final decision of whether to buy the beef products treated with low doses of bacteria-destroying radiation will be left to the school districts, however.
"This allows ample time for schools to educate parents and the community so that informed decisions can be made," said Eric Bost, USDA undersecretary for nutrition and consumer services.
Some 27 million school children receive free or low-cost meals daily under the USDA's national school lunch program. The USDA, which promotes U.S. agricultural products, is the major supplier of meat to schools.
It is unclear how many American school districts want to buy irradiated beef, the USDA said, noting that the products will cost schools an extra 13 to 20 cents per pound. It will also be up to each school whether to tell students if they are eating irradiated beef.