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USDA (Finally) Takes Steps To Make School Lunches Safer

USDA (Finally) Takes Steps To Make School Lunches Safer

Healthy school lunches are a tradition in American Public schools, but recent reports about questionable sources for milk and beef, and investigations that found over 20,000 schools lacked required food inspections, have left many people wondering whether the USDA is trying to kill our kids.

Thanks to the diligent parents who signed petitions and made phone calls to their congressional representatives, the USDA recently announced sweeping reforms to “assure the safety and quality of food” purchased for the National School Lunch Program.

According to USA Today, “the measures include tightening requirements on companies that supply ground beef to schools, testing the beef more often and more thoroughly, and improving communications within the USDA to ‘identify potential food safety issues’ before children get sick. The initiatives come in the wake of a USA TODAY investigation that revealed failures in government programs intended to protect students from food-borne illnesses.”

While millions of families struggle to purchase healthy foods with their limited income, and childhood obesity and diabetes are growing at an alarming rate, Congress has systematically reduced funding for school lunches, until today’s schools have only $1 per child to buy ingredients.

This lack of funding has forced many schools to take part in the USDA’s commodities program for costly items such as meat and cheese. The program markets surplus food produced by the farmers and ranchers.

While this might seem like a cost effective strategy, it has proved disastrous in many cases, not the least of which occured in January of 2008 when one of the biggest beef suppliers for the National School Lunch Program was caught forcing cows that were ill and couldn’t walk into its slaughterhouse (USA Today).

The newspaper also found that McDonald’s and other fast-food chains are far more rigorous than the government in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens in beef.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our Nation’s school children,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a February 4th press release. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our kids are being served safe, high quality foods at school. Today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to constantly improving the safety and quality of foods purchased by USDA.”

Read the full press release for a complete list of intiatives to be implemented.

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Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - woodleywonderworks

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5:11PM PST on Mar 12, 2010

Typical Congressional material - cut funding from those without lobbyists, eg. the poor. Disgusting.

4:53AM PST on Feb 25, 2010

It is absolutely disgusting that school lunches should not be healthy. It only needs determination from school principals. At my last appointment I dismissed three cooks in succession until I found a good one. Then the children started going home and complaining that the food there was not as good as they received at school. Parents were always asking the cook for her recipes until she produced a book that we sold in aid of school funds. Staff also ate the meals. There was no choice of the daily main course and dessert, but new pupils seeing the others heartily tucking in and asking for "seconds" soon stopped being faddy. Our age-range was four to eleven or thirteen.
Menus covered a wide range from a variety of fresh salads to Wiener Schnitzel, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Boeuf Bourgignon, Hungarian Goulash, Stew with Norfolk Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Pork, Paella, Chicken Curry, etc., etc.,and all on a tight budget. We had arrangements with a carefully chosen grocer, greengrocer, butcher, that only organic food would be supplied and because we were regular, promptly-paying, large customers we received good deals. Situated in a seaside town, we could always obtain fresh fish at reasonable prices.
Our pupils had no obesity problems; gymnastics, games, athletics were an integral part of the curriculum. Too they often stayed quite late after school or came at weekends to play in the grounds or the gym. Go to it!

12:02PM PST on Feb 19, 2010

It sounds like the USDA has a long way to go before we can call school lunches - healthy. Our local school distict used to serve kids pizza with a side of french fries for lunch. They were'nt looking out for our kids health.

6:39PM PST on Feb 18, 2010

time will tell

12:06PM PST on Feb 18, 2010

Unfortunately we have long way to go with ensuring healthier choices for our children. With people crying over tax increases they seem to forget what pays for the schools existence. TAXES. So yes higher taxes would probably also ensure better quality , pesticide free , disease free produce and meat for our children's hot and cold school lunches. That would mean us as responsible citizens of this country would have to know all the facts before we go bull rushing out to the soap box. Knowledge is power.

10:08AM PST on Feb 18, 2010

More of our ground beef should be checked. Let's use the leverage of government purchasing to push food processors to do it right.

6:59AM PST on Feb 18, 2010

If they use the surplus from REAL ranchers and farmers. The commercial farmers have recently been allowed by the USDA to sweep the slaughterhouse floor of byproducts, add a chemical to it, turn it into a paste and add it to the meat for school lunches. We need to put an end to factory farms. Theres a co-op consisting of 1404 farmers and ranchers called Organic Valley. They raise their livestock and produce without chemicals, pesticides, or antibiotics. The livestock are treated humanely and graze freely with more healthy Omega-3's in the meat. Anyone can order from them online if you want to feed your children food that is not harming them. Their dairy products are in major grocery chains. Support the real farmers and ranchers and put the commercial farmers out of business. They are poisoning us and our children, not to mention the abuse and torture to millions of helpless animals. WE ARE THEIR VOICE!

7:48PM PST on Feb 17, 2010

Pack them their own lunch !!

2:30PM PST on Feb 17, 2010

Q.WHEN, have US school lunches EVER, EVER been "healthy" within the last 40 yrs ??

A. NEVER

Back in MY day school lunches were ALWAYS healthy. They always consisted of freshly cooked MEAT..ie chicken, turkey, beef, pork etc. FRESH veggies, FRESH fruit, bread, MILK and a homecooked dessert. This is certainly NOTHING like the utter crap offered to my kids while they were growing up...processed foods, fast food, boxed "faux" juice drinks & sodas, candy, dead canned veggies and the like. I'm sure it hasn't gotten any better. They feed whatever surplus garbage they can get for the cheapest price. There is absolutely nothing 'healthy' or 'nutritious' about the US school lunch program.

11:05AM PST on Feb 17, 2010

Once again, the commentary from and questions raised by CARE2 members on a good article is just as if someone was kind enough to remember to add walnuts to the chocolate pudding. Thank you all. You're stimulating more useful thoughts to translate into useful actions. Cool.

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