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.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - woodleywonderworks