Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Meat and Poultry Used In School Lunches

The following article from USA Today, while good enough in its own right, leads to some serious and important questions. First, though, let's excerpt from the story:

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products."

That isn't always the case. McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders— KFC won't buy them — and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations"...

USDA-purchased meat is donated to almost every school district in the country and served to 31 million students a day, 62% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals. President Obama noted earlier this year that, for many children, school lunches are "their most nutritious meal — sometimes their only meal — of the day."

This story is focused on the appalling fact that food that wouldn't pass inspection in a fast-food joint is routinely fed to schoolchildren, compliments of the US government (insert snarky comment about the potential for government-run health care here!).

But I have a more fundamental question: why is the US government buying food and providing it to local school districts? How did anyone determine this was a good idea? I give state governments a lot of latitude to do stupid things in our republic, as state constitutions are limited only by the people of the state and the people can grant whatever powers they want to the state governments. But the US Constitution is limited by enumerated powers granted by the states, and those powers not granted under the Constitution are supposed to be reserved to the states and to the people. That we have gotten so far from that structure that Congress now dictates how many gallons of water your toilet can flush, that the USDA can buy and distribute meat and poultry to local school districts, that Congress can consider whether or not a college football game can be called a "championship game" or not, I'm forced to repeat my statement from this post: maybe it's time to refresh Jefferson's tree of liberty.


DADvocate said...

Back in 1970, in Knoxville, TN, my girlfriend went to a different high school. One day she told me about a big argument one of the assistant football coaches and the cafeteria head had gotten into. The coach claimed the hamburgers were made of horse meat. He had eaten horse meat before and knew what it tasted like. Of course, the cafeteria head begged to differ.

A couple of days later the local newspaper reported that the students had indeed been served horse meat.

Ellen K said...

The free lunch program and lunch subsidies are just another government rat hole you don't want to investigate too closely. First there's the issue of contracting for food, which may or may not involved government subsidies for less than zealous adherents to the USDA. Then there's the requirements for preparation. Then there's the limitations for each student. What may fill up a freshman girl will not fill up a fullback on the football team. Nevertheless, they can only get one lunch which consists of a "meat" or "protein" source, a starch-which is usually a tasteless roll or some instant potatoes and a green salad or other vegetable which ends up in the trash. I know kids who make money bringing candy, sodas and energy drinks to school and selling them on the side. Of course, in accordance with state laws all candy and soda machines are locked up during the school day. Yet the trashcans are full of soda cans. Go figure.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I'm thinking that this shows that the free market is working. Here the fast-food places are able to check the meats with more rigorous standards and serve many people relatively inexpensively.

Though I don't understand why we provide "free lunches" at school AND food stamps? I'm not saying food stamps cover everything, but it seems like it's a subtle form of coersion to get poor parents to send their children to public school instead of keeping them at home and teaching them themselves.

In other news, some federal legislation I AGREE with will prevent states from allowing disabled children to be strapped down, locked up and otherwise abused in schools, just as there are procedures in place in hospitals and other institutions. Info here:

It also allows for teacher training.