In response to requests from school districts across the country, the USDA announced it will offer more choices to schools in the National School Lunch Program when it comes to purchases of ground beef products.
USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable – including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products. USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.
USDA continues to affirm the safety of Lean Finely Textured Beef product for all consumers and urges customers to consult science based information on the safety and quality of this product. Lean Finely Textured Beef is a meat product derived from a process which separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content.
By law, USDA has two primary responsibilities as part of its mandate to provide safe and nutritious food to the American people. Through the Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA ensures that safety of the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and processed egg products. Through the Food and Nutrition Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA provides food and nutrition assistance through several domestic programs, including the National School Lunch Program.
While USDA sets national nutritional guidelines for school meals, school districts make local decisions on what food to feed kids to meet these guidelines. On average, schools in the National School Lunch Program purchase approximately 20 percent of their food through USDA, and approximately 80 percent of food served is purchased directly by schools or school districts through private vendors. Schools purchase food from the department through the USDA Foods Program, which provides more than 180 nutritious food items that are fresh, frozen, packaged, canned, dried, or in bulk. USDA procures these products based on the demand from schools to help meet the menu planning needs, student taste preferences, school nutrition goals, and local wellness initiatives.
USDA ensures all food purchased for the National School Lunch Program meet stringent food safety standards, which includes rigorous pathogen testing. Purchase specifications are continually reviewed, microbial test results are evaluated, new food safety technologies are considered, and food safety experts are consulted to determine the adequacy of our food safety requirements.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President J.D. Alexander issued the following statement in response to the USDA announcement.
"Cattlemen and women nationwide firmly agree with USDA’s commitment to ensuring the health and safety of the food served to more than 31 million schoolchildren every day. The fact remains that lean finely textured beef is a 100 percent beef product produced from beef trimmings that yields an additional 10-12 pounds of lean, nutritious beef from every beef animal. The production of lean finely textured beef prevents lean, nutritious beef from being wasted. This lean beef product, like all beef, is naturally rich in nutrients like zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins. It can be added to other cuts of beef to produce ground beef. Lean finely textured beef offers affordable nutrition for kids, which is critical given shrinking school budgets, rising food costs and the fact that for many kids, school lunch is the best chance at getting a well-balanced meal during the day. Hands down, lean finely textured beef is a safe, nutritious product that school districts can choose to include in their school lunch plans.
"When I go to work every morning, my top priority is to raise healthy cattle because healthy cattle are the foundation of a safe, wholesome and nutritious beef supply. Like all beef producers, I take pride knowing the safe, wholesome and nutritious beef from my operation in Nebraska is served on dinner tables, in school cafeterias and in restaurants nationwide and around the globe. It is truly unfortunate and a severe disservice to our nation’s beef producers and all consumers that media outlets have resorted to misleading the American public and sensationalizing this safe, lean beef product. As school districts and parents work to make decisions about the food they serve their children, they should feel confident, regardless of the type of beef they choose, that they are serving the safest, most wholesome beef product in the world."