The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced its plans to allow irradiated meat to be used in US school meals by the end of the year.

Around 27 million children in the US currently receive free or low-cost school lunches via the federal school lunch programme. At the moment the programme does not allow irradiated meat to be served in school lunches.

Under the US farm subsidy law, however, the USDA is obligated to allow government-approved safety technology to be used in food that is donated to the programme.

Irradiation has been approved by the World Health Organisation because it is claimed that the treatment destroys harmful bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella, but consumer acceptance of the treatment has been slow.

Vice president of the American School Food Service Association, Barry Sackin, has said that he would like to teach communities about irradiation to prevent a loss of confidence.

"Our concerns are public relations," Sackin was reported as saying by Reuters. "We want to make sure communities don't lose confidence in the food being given to the school lunch programme."