Meat in School Lunches: Good Enough for Government Purposes
USA Today looks at meat in the National School Lunch Program and finds that it doesn’t compare favorably to the meat in fast food restaurants. The USDA accepts blemished meat that the restaurant chains would reject, and the private companies conduct better tests for bacteria, too.
A professor of medicine explains why the USDA’s lax standards matter:
Morris, who used to run the USDA office that investigates food-borne illnesses, says the department’s purchases of meat that doesn’t satisfy higher-end commercial standards are especially worrisome because the meat goes to schools. It’s not just that children are more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses because of their fledgling immune systems; it’s also because there’s less assurance that school cafeteria workers will cook the meat well enough to kill any pathogens that might slip through the USDA’s less stringent safety checks.
There are two lessons to be learned here. First, advocates who focus on the supposed benefits of local vegetables (like the Farm to School supporters in Columbia) have misplaced priorities. It would be better for schools to serve imported produce with safer meat than local produce with lower-quality meat. Schools need to obtain safe food and not allow themselves to be distracted by geographic preferences.
Second, private businesses often hold themselves to stricter standards than the government would like to impose. It follows that a state-licensed day care provider or interior decorator won’t necessarily do a better job than someone without the license.