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In our view / 'Pink slime' controversy

Unappetizing priorities

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The ongoing "pink slime" chronicles are another example of how the sheer size of our country works against producing food that is nutritious and appetizing.
No one can be opposed to the National School Lunch Program, which seeks to provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. It provided lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2010.
Given such numbers, it's understandable that cost is at the forefront of food purchasing. Schools serving low-income students do what they can with what they can afford, which is often what no one would choose if they had a choice.
The "pink slime," or lean finely textured ground beef filler, has been around for awhile, most notably in the lunch program. But now that lists are out naming grocery stores that sell it, people are taking notice.
Where was the outrage in 2009 when USA Today, in a series on the safety of the National School Lunch Program, reported that the government, in an effort to help egg producers, spent more than $145 million on spent-hen meat for schools from 2001 through the first half of 2009? This amounted to more than 77 million pounds of spent-hen meat served in chicken patties and salads.
During its investigation, the paper found that the government 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.
Spent-hen meat is the meat from hens killed after their egg-laying prime.
But non-students didn't have to worry about the spent-hen meat, since it doesn't meet the safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, USA reported. Campbell Soup stopped using it more than 10 years ago because of "quality considerations." It is otherwise used in pet food and compost.
While it's reassuring that Washington schools don't appear to be among those serving the "lean finely textured beef," it's not right that any state and/or school be forced to serve questionable choices just because it's what affordable.
The USDA doesn't exist to help egg producers or beef suppliers sell their goods, or defend their practices, yet it seems to do just that. Despite USA Today's findings, the USDA insisted the meat it buys for the lunch program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products."
In February, Herald reporter Sharon Salyer wrote about how local school districts are improving their lunch offerings by partnering with local farmers and other suppliers, which is extremely encouraging news.
Most problems are best solved on the local level -- including how to best purchase and serve nutritious food to students.

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