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NEWS RELEASE October 21, 2002

Recalled Meat in School Lunches Only Tip of the Iceberg, Say Doctors

Group Calls on USDA to Remove All Meat, Not Just Infected Meat, from School Lunch Program

WASHINGTON—The government’s weak response to the recent discovery that listeria-infected meat ended up in the school lunch program is indicative of its “reckless and blatant” disregard for children’s health, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine charges in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman today. PCRM spearheads a national campaign working to reform the National School Lunch Program by reducing its reliance on animal products, which increase the risk of foodborne illness and contribute to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

On October 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 1.8 million pounds of turkey meat sent to schools and other food program recipients were recalled for possible contamination with the deadly listeria bacteria. Rather than reduce or eliminate the use of meat—the largest source of the bacteria—in school lunches, the USDA has simply called for more testing in slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants.

“No scientist seriously believes that increased testing will eliminate the problem of foodborne illness,” says PCRM president and nutrition researcher Neal Barnard, M.D. “The USDA’s response suggests indifference to the risks caused by infected meat products and obliviousness to the longer-term risks of these products. Rather than simply recalling infected meat, we need to stop feeding any meat to our kids.”

PCRM criticizes the USDA’s school lunch program in a new ad campaign that likens school lunches to “weapons of mass destruction.” The ad, which is viewable at, blames the USDA for using the school lunch program as a dumping ground for surplus pork, cheese, and other high-fat, high-cholesterol products. The agency purchased more than 400 million pounds of pork and other animal products to prop up sluggish meat markets last year.

PCRM’s letter calls on the USDA to discontinue purchases of beef, pork, chicken, butter, cheese, processed meats, and other unhealthful foods, and to make school lunch offerings consistent with current scientific evidence showing that vegetarian foods promote good health and help children to maintain a healthy weight.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Media Contact:
Jeanne S. McVey

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