Ban Plastic From School Lunchrooms and Protect Children's Health

USDA Food and Nutrition Service

To Stacey Dean (Deputy Under Secretary) and Cindy Long (Administrator) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):

We, the undersigned, are writing to protest the use of plastic materials in the National School Lunch Program. As parents, we believe that our children's health should be a top priority, and we are deeply concerned about the health impact of plastic on children at school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy, "Food Additives and Child Health," explains that a rising number of studies show that certain chemicals in plastic are now known to be harmful to human health - interfering with hormones, growth and neurodevelopment, reproduction and are even found to be carcinogenic. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of these toxins, given that they have more exposure than adults due to their size and dietary intake. So a small dose of a toxicant to an adult may be a large dose with far-reaching effects for a child. Foodware found in school cafeterias such as trays, cups, utensils and bowls as well as food packaging are often made from plastic containing phthalates and bisphenols. These two toxic ingredients are of particular concern, as research increasingly suggests that these chemicals mimic or suppress hormones (e.g., estrogen and testosterone) and disrupt normal development and growth during crucial phases of childhood.

Studies show that plastic in the food system can lead to leaching of harmful chemicals into the food our children eat. These toxic plastic chemicals are linked to a variety of health problems listed below:

Phthalates: These chemicals are commonly found in plastics and can disrupt normal hormone function in the body. Exposure to phthalates has been linked to a variety of health problems in children, including obesity, asthma, and behavioral problems.

Bisphenols, including bisphenol A (BPA): These chemicals can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and have been linked to developmental problems, including early puberty and behavioral problems.

Perchlorate: Interferes with thyroid hormone, affecting early life brain development and growth

Polycarbonate and styrene. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to a variety of health problems in children, including cancer, respiratory problems, and developmental delays.

Today, there are more than 10,000 additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to serve, preserve, package, or modify the taste, look, texture, or nutrients in foods. However, a recent review of nearly 4,000 food additives showed that 64% of them had had no research showing they were safe for people to eat or drink. This is due to a loophole in a decades-old law that allows many chemicals to be "generally recognized as safe" — or GRAS. But now modern science reveals that some of these plastic chemicals are known to cause harm to human health, and large medical organizations like The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Endocrine Society and The World Health Organization have now made formal policy recommendations on this topic.

In Europe, phthalates and bisphenols have been classified as harmful substances—and in February 2022, the European Food Safety Authority proposed a 100,000-fold cut in daily exposure to BPA. In addition, in January 2023, the UK announced a nationwide ban on single-use plastic cutlery, plates and other foodware, which will go into effect in October 2023.

However, here in the United States, the majority of schools in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and After School Snack Program continue to use plastic materials in the cafeteria, including single-use and reusable plastic utensils, trays, foodware and packaging. This is a significant concern for parents, as our children are exposed to these materials on a daily basis. Some of our children eat multiple meals a day at school.

We urge the USDA to update its Food and Nutrition Services Programs to include recommendations on the materials used in school cafeterias — not just the food served. Specifically, we recommend that the program prioritize the use of safe, sustainable non-plastic materials in the cafeteria, such as glass or stainless steel, as recommended by the scientific and medical community.

We understand that making this change will require additional resources and funding, but we believe that the long-term benefits to our children's health are well worth the investment. By reducing our children's exposure to plastic materials, we can help prevent a range of medical problems and ensure that our children grow up healthy. We urge the USDA to consider this lasting impact for our children and update their policies urgently.

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To: USDA Food and Nutrition Service
From: [Your Name]

Plastic in school cafeterias is leaching into our children's food and harming their health. We urge the USDA to update its Food and Nutrition Services Programs to include recommendations on the materials used in school cafeterias from the American Academy of Pediatrics.