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A letter to the Secretary of Agriculture

The Honorable Ms. Ann Veneman
Secretary, Dept of Agriculture
Room 200A Jamie L. Whitten Bldg.
14th & Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Ms. Veneman,

I am writing this letter pursuant to a motion advanced and passed by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union board of Directors, April 5, 2001.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) is deeply concerned over two issues concerning meat safety in America’s school lunch programs. We strongly oppose eliminating salmonella testing in meat and the institution of irradiation as a replacement procedure. RMFU is a grassroots, general farm organization representing over 22,000 producers and consumers in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

From our perspective, the safety of children and the food they eat is a non-partisan, non-political issue. Not only is it possible, but it should be absolutely imperative that the school lunch program provide safe meat for school children.

Ending testing for salmonella would represent an easing of the safety standards to which meat is held. Currently salmonella causes 1.4 million illnesses and 600 deaths per year. Clearly, testing for salmonella increases the cost of the product, but we feel that the expense is justified for the safety standards it ensures.

Allowing irradiation of meat in place of testing for salmonella is an admission that the meat processing industry cannot guarantee a product that is largely free of contaminants. Animals entering meat-processing facilities are healthy; there are contaminants in the intestines and on the hide, but these contaminants are absent from the meat. Consequently, inefficiencies in hide stripping, gutting, line routing, and other contamination problems that arise with large-scale meat factories can be avoided. Is it not better to process animals in a way that keeps contaminants away from the meat altogether rather than contaminating meat then irradiating it?

Selling irradiation of meat as the only way to prevent salmonella and e.coli contaminations is simultaneously an indication that the meat industry is exerting its clout over the political process (at the expense of our school children) and a sign that the system of meat processing needs to be altered to keep meat more contaminant-free.

In all our efforts over the last fifty years to create a cheap food system for our nation, we have focused on maintaining adequate levels of food safety. This debate over irradiation of meat in our schools is an indication that this model of a cheap, industrialized food system is beginning to clash with what is fundamentally important: safe food for our children.


Dave Carter

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