USDA Pork Purchases Threaten Children’s Health, Warn Doctors
WASHINGTON— USDA farm bail-out plan to buy up to $30 million of pork products for school lunches and other government feeding programs jeopardizes children’s health, say nutrition experts with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
In a letter sent today to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, PCRM calls on the agency to stop dumping high-fat and cholesterol-laden pork products into schools in order to fatten farmers’ incomes. The USDA—five of whose top officials were recently exposed as having links to the meat industry—announced its latest plan to bail out pork producers last week.
“If farmers are having trouble finding markets for pork, the government should assist them in transitioning to healthier products, not continue to push meat on school children,” says PCRM president and nutrition researcher Neal D. Barnard, M.D. “With childhood obesity at an all-time high and so many children showing high cholesterol levels, we’ve got to get the pork out of the school lunch program.”
According to a USDA news release, the agency purchased 421 million pounds of beef, pork, lamb, eggs, chicken, and other animal products in fiscal year 2001. The total expenditure, including fruit and vegetable products, was worth over $1 billion. Purchases are donated to various government feeding programs through the Agricultural Marketing Service. News releases announcing upcoming purchases routinely explain how the purchases are meant to boost economic conditions. The USDA has come under much criticism lately for its conflicting mandate of protecting public health and promoting industry.
In PCRM’s letter to Secretary Veneman, staff dietitian Jennifer Keller, R.D., writes, “The food currently provided through the National School Lunch Program has not kept pace with what we know today to be truly healthy and nutritious food. Rather, the foods provided in the program under the guise of good nutrition—chili cheese dogs, pepperoni pizza, cheeseburgers, and pork chops—are there to prop up farm incomes, and are part of the problem that has created a generation of overweight children.” To reverse these trends, PCRM recommends the USDA encourage children to follow healthy, vegetarian eating habits.
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.