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Where’s the beef?

Not to beat a dead horse (and certainly not downed cattle), but I wanted to revisit the issue of the massive meat recall, this time with respect to the meat’s destination. It seems that a large portion of the recalled beef, close to 37 million pounds, was distributed to school districts across the country for their school lunch programs. It also seems that most of this meat has already been consumed.

The National School Lunch Program provides free or low cost meals to millions of low income students nationwide. School food service officials have little to no role in determining the source of food commodities that are used for their school lunch program meals. A portion of the food served is comprised of USDA surplus commodities that are distributed to the schools. The rest is purchased by districts out of the limited funds that are allocated to the program. Given the limited funds provided to districts to cover the costs of the subsidized lunches, most purchase their supplies from the lowest bidders. This quote from a Los Angeles times report is particularly telling,

“Schools are really held hostage,” said Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District, which spent five years weaning itself from the subsidized-food system that daily serves free or reduced-price lunches to 30 million low-income children. “They offer you pennies per child, . . and you are forced to spend those pennies on frozen products that subsidize the farmers, the meatpackers and meat producers.”

While some districts, like Berkeley, CA, are able to subsidize their school lunch funding from local budgets and gain more control over their purchasing decisions, many districts with a higher share of eligible students and a lower tax base lack this option.
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