Journal Star

April 6, 2001

A-2

Salmonella testing rules to remain

By DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Agriculture Department on Thursday withdrew a proposal to ease salmonella testing requirements for ground meat used in school lunches.

Responding to harsh criticism by consumer groups and lawmakers, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and White House officials moved quickly to distance themselves from the proposal reported in Thursday's papers.

''The safety of our food supply, particularly school lunches for our children, is an extremely important issue and USDA will continue to take appropriate steps to ensure the safest possible food supply is available for all consumers,'' Veneman said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer attributed the uproar to a premature release of a proposal by a ''mid-level official'' at USDA before Veneman had finished her review.

The proposal originated within the USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service, which buys food for federal nutrition programs. Veneman said the proposed changes were released ''prior to receiving appropriate review.''

But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said ''someone in that department has been caught with their hand in the hamburger,'' suggesting meat industry lobbyists had, temporarily at least, caught the ear of administration officials.

In light of other recent administration rollbacks on regulations affecting public health, Durbin said the proposal ''is a bad signal in terms of the priorities of this administration.''

The meat industry had lobbied Veneman to reverse the new zero-tolerance standard for salmonella put in place last June by then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said it is unnecessary because the bacteria are killed in cooking.