"Today we are withdrawing proposed changes in contract procedures for meat and poultry related to the School Lunch Program," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said. She said the proposed changes were released "prior to receiving appropriate review."
The changes would have rolled back last year's zero-tolerance standard for salmonella and E. coli contamination imposed by the Clinton administration – seven years after it took office.
Veneman said the government would address science concerns about salmonella testing before any new proposals are announced regarding school lunch contracting. Salmonella poisoning causes about 1.4 million illnesses and 600 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"These types of policies should be based on common sense, sound science, and include the participation of all aspects of the food chain," Veneman said. The Agriculture Department had proposed tighter standards for meat processing that relied on increased testing for bacteria at slaughterhouses and processing plants to protect the meat supply.
"The safety of our food supply, particularly school lunches for our children, is an extremely important issue and USDA will continue to take appropriate steps to ensure the safest possible food supply is available for all consumers," Veneman said in a statement.
Consumer groups had warned the draft standards proposed last week would have allowed the USDA to buy contaminated meat for school lunch programs for more than 26.5 million children nationwide.
The government approved irradiation of beef last year to kill bacteria such as E. coli.
"First, it's arsenic in water. Then it was salmonella in school lunches. Where will this end?" asked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
Food Chemical News said the USDA rejected about 9 million pounds of ground beef between July 2000 and March 23, 2001. More than half of it was contaminated with salmonella.
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