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Bush Team Proposes Reversal of School Lunch Meat Standards

April 05, 2001|From The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has proposed reversing a federal policy that required ground beef used in government school lunch programs to be tested to ensure it is free of salmonella, officials said Wednesday.

The Agriculture Department is moving to change the Clinton administration policy after concluding that less costly and more effective alternatives for protecting meat safety could be as effective. Officials also said that the current "zero tolerance" program for salmonella in school lunch meals was not scientifically justified.

The meat industry, which had opposed the standard when it was implemented last summer and lobbied the new Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to reverse it, hailed the news.

"For a variety of reasons, the new specifications had no basis in public health," said Sara Lilygren, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute. Zero tolerance for salmonella is unnecessary because the bacteria are killed in normal cooking, she said.

But the decision was criticized by consumer groups and some legislators, who noted that the tougher standard had resulted in the rejection of nearly 5 million pounds of ground beef during this school year, almost 5% of the total purchased by the USDA.

"This program is working, so why not continue it?" said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America.

About 26 million children take part in the school lunch program.

Salmonella poisoning causes 1.4 million illnesses and 600 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

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