As a human (yes, lawyers are), I was appalled by the treatment of the “downer” cows caught on film. The outpouring of emotional comments on my blog over the last week should make government and the beef industry to take a hard look at what they are doing to ensure both a safe and humane beef supply.

Although there are no reported illnesses from E. coli or Salmonella, and the risk of developing "Mad Cow" is thirty years away (and an extremely low risk at that), what has happened is a mess – a very large one.  Learning today according to the AP, that “more than a third of the 143 million pounds of California beef recalled last week went to school lunch programs, with at least… 20 million pounds… eaten, 15 million pounds… on hold at storage facilities and 15 million pounds… still being traced,” should be concerning to everyone. Perhaps this is a good time to look at a little bit of history of problems with school lunches.

Congress created the NSLP over 50 years ago, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well being of the Nation’s children. It was a direct response to the fact that many of the young men responding to the draft call in WWII were rejected due to conditions arising from serious nutritional deficiencies. The 1946 National School Lunch Act was enacted to provide the opportunity for children across the United States to receive at least one healthy meal every school day. It is presently an $8 billion program.

The NSLP provides per meal cash reimbursements as entitlements to schools to provide nutritious meals to children. The NSLP provides school children with one-third or more of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for key nutrients. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research indicates that children who participate in school lunch have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who do not.

The NSLP provided meals to 26.1 million children in 1998. More than 15 million low-income children receive free or reduced-price school lunches daily. Over 93,000 schools currently participate in the NSLP. About 95 percent of all elementary and secondary school students are enrolled in participating schools.

The USDA spends over $200 million annually buying over 200 million pounds of meat through its commodities program to supply, in part, the NSLP and to support food prices when the market has gone soft. An arm of USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), has the responsibility of inspecting plants that supply meat to the NSLP and the public at large.

In most States, the meat is distributed by the USDA to the Superintendent of Public Education (SPI) through the Child Nutrition Program (CNP), at no cost to school districts throughout the state.

Overview of Media Attention to Illnesses Related to School Lunches through 2004