APRIL 6, 2001



National Meat Association supports USDA’s decision that it needs to complete a fuller review before publishing proposed changes in its school lunch purchasing specifications for ground meat products, but is nonetheless disappointed that the proposed changes posted on USDA's web site earlier this week have been withdrawn.


The Department has restored, for the time being, end product microbiological testing requirements for school lunch ground products, which were announced last summer without notice or any opportunity for discussion.  Those requirements for end product Salmonella testing significantly raised the cost of USDA's ground beef acquisitions and prevented any acquisitions of ground poultry or ground pork, without providing any significant improvement in food safety.  School food service officials agree with meat and poultry industry suppliers on the need for an open process to develop better specifications.  An open process should have been followed, but was not, when these requirements were first imposed last summer.


The draft specifications withdrawn by USDA were a proposal, open for comment by interested parties.  They more closely paralleled the specifications used by commercial buyers of ground meats and were based on testing and control of microorganisms at every step of the production process, rather than by taking a single sample at the end of the production line.


National Meat Association agrees with Secretary Veneman that the safety of our food supply, particularly the food that is served in school lunches, is extremely important. We look forward to working with USDA and all other interested parties, to develop contract specifications that will maximize food safety without either excluding important products such as ground poultry or pork or substantially raising the cost of other products such as ground beef.