What's in that Mystery Meat? School Lunch Standards Fall Short
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A recent study released by the American College of Cardiology found that students who ate lunch provided by the National School Lunch Program were more likely to be obese compared to students who brought lunch from home. In addition, kids who ate school-provided lunches were more likely to eat fatty meals, drink sugary beverages, and eat fewer fruits and vegetables than their counterparts.
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides more than 30.5 million students in over 101,000 schools with low-cost or free meals. The meals provided are said to be nutritionally balanced, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains the meat given for the National School Lunch Program meets all standards for commercial products.
However, a recent USA Today investigation found that the meat provided by the government for the National School Lunch Program has often been turned down by fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's and Burger King, for failing to meet their quality or safety standards.
New, higher standards for fast food restaurants may be part of the reason that schools are receiving their rejected meat. Fast food chains test their meat for bacteria and dangerous pathogens up to five to 10 times more a day than the USDA tests the meat used in the National School Lunch Program, and the standards for fast food meat have been found to be 10 times stricter.
The meat that is provided to schools does meet, and can even exceed, the minimum standard for meat sold to supermarkets, but it can still be unsettling to know where it is coming from. The USA Today investigation found that government rules regarding meat safety have fallen far behind the regulations set for fast food restaurants and retailers, and often times the USDA provides schools with thousands of tons of chicken meat from birds known as "spent hens" - birds past their egg-laying prime that would otherwise go into pet food or compost heaps. These same birds are turned down by both Kentucky Fried Chicken and Campbell Soup Company due to low quality.