Here’s My Beef: I noticed the August 11th, Morrison County Record a reminder for parents to apply for free and reduced lunch. It also reported the following (which I will revisit later):

“Besides being the food service director, Wheeler has also become the legislative chair for the Minnesota School Nutrition Association. The job makes her a liaison between the association and both the state and federal legislators.

I lobby for school meals in St. Paul and in Washington, D.C.,” said Wheeler. “I also lobby for additional funding and, more recently, against the high health inspection charges imposed on schools. That is money taken away from the program, and most importantly, the kids.”

There are a number of things parents should know about the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) that are rarely mentioned by newspapers, or any media for that matter. Since they were considerations for me during the intermittent periods my children qualified for the NSLP, I thought I would share them with you. For instance, the NSLP buys ground beef based on nothing more than the lowest price. While that may sound like a frugal no-brainer, factor this in; it doesn’t matter how many safety violations the facility has committed or the severity of the infraction, as long as the supplier offers the lowest price.

According to Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation (2002, p. 218): “Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the USDA chose meat suppliers for its NSLP on the basis of the lowest price, without imposing additional food safety requirements.” In a 1983 investigation NBC News reported Cattle King Packing Company, then the USDA’s largest supplier of ground beef for the NSLP, routinely mixed rotten meat into packages of hamburger meat. Their facility, infested with rats and cockroaches. The owner of the company, Rudy Stanko, was later tried and convicted for selling tainted meat to the federal government. Stanko had been convicted two year earlier on similar charges. The previous felony conviction didn’t inhibit his ability to supply the USDA with one-quarter of all ground beef served in the NSLP.

In 1998, the USDA withdrew inspectors from Bauer Meat’s and later declared Bauer’s meat products “unfit for human consumption,” detaining nearly 6 million pounds. Almost one-third of the meat had already been shipped to school districts. Shortly thereafter, a dozen children in Finely, Washington were sickened by E. coli 0157:H7 (Schlosser, 2002)

What is more unsettling is that even after the information had been made public no effort was made to raise the standards. Instead the U.S. Dept of Agriculture lifted its ban on irradiated beef and subsequently appoved the product for use school lunches. Irradiation is a questionable process that blasts meat with radiation to prevent unwanted food contaminants from making people sick. The source of the radiation can be from a linear accelerator which creates a mega blast of x-rays or from the nuclear reactor byproducts, Cobalt 60 & Cesium 137. Even more unsettling, schools don’t have to inform parents that the product is even being used. In the interest of space I will bypass writing an overview of all the issues raised by exposing food to spent nuclear waste, but feel free to Google the subject because it’s not only creepy but there have never been any long term health studies on adults let alone children.

Lets be sure we understand the implications : E. coli 0157 comes from cow poop. Irradiation kills the bacteria in the poop that can make you sick, but it doesn’t clean the poop out of your food…it is truly the surprise in the punch. In the fall of 2002, the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) of the USDA provided the Minnesota Department Education with a $151,000 grant to develop food irradiation education materials in three Minnesota school districts. In the Final Assessment and Evaluation Report school board members from the participating school districts issued a scathing review accusing the USDA of inundating communities with “pro-irradiation propaganda that lacked credibility.” While, none of the participating districts placed orders for irradiated beef, the USDA deemed the pilot project a success and distributed the irradiation campaign materials nationwide.

The NSLP feeds America’s most vulnerable children, maybe Tina Wheeler can use her influence as a state and national lobbyist & legislative chair for the Minnesota School Nutrition Association to work towards some commonsense standards. Here are my ideas on a good starting point:

A) No poop in school lunch even if it is rendered safe to eat.

B) If you’ve been convicted for selling tainted food to the federal government you can no longer supply food to the NSLP.

C) Children’s lunch money cannot be paid individuals with Neo-Nazi affiliations or to individual who go by Pontifex Maximus.

Maybe after we get those down, we can move on and discuss issues like trans-fat, sugary foods and candy as an incentive.

Bottoms Up,

Brooke Trout

Follow up article, February 1, 2008  Update- Free and Reduced Lunch: Getting What You Paid For