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USDA Proposes to Reverse School Ground Beef Rules
Washington Post

MARC KAUFMAN

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 5, 2001

The Bush administration has proposed reversing a federal policy that required all ground beef used in government school lunch programs to be tested to ensure that it is free of salmonella, officials said yesterday.

The Agriculture Department is moving to change the Clinton administration policy after concluding that less costly alternatives for protecting meat safety could be as effective. Officials also said the "zero tolerance" standard for salmonella in school lunch meals was not scientifically justified.

The possible change was hailed by the meat industry, which opposed the standard when it was implemented last summer and lobbied the new Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to reverse it.

"For a variety of reasons, the new specifications had no basis in public health," said Sara Lilygren, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute. Zero tolerance for salmonella is unnecessary because the bacteria is killed in normal cooking, she said.

But the decision was criticized by consumer groups and some legislators, who noted that the tougher standard had resulted in the rejection of almost 5 million pounds of ground beef during this school year, almost 5 percent of the total purchased by the USDA.

"This program is working, so why not continue it?" said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America, who called the proposal "a very significant rollback. Do we really want to take chances with that much contaminated meat being served to our children at lunch?"

More than 26 million children participate in the school lunch program. The USDA has purchased 111 million pounds of ground beef for the program since last July, when the tougher new rules went into effect. Critics of the testing said that it raised the cost of ground beef and sometimes made approved meat unavailable to schools.

Salmonella poisoning in a variety of foods causes 1.4 million illnesses -- generally diarrhea and intestinal distress -- and 600 deaths a year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But contaminated beef is less likely to cause poisoning than chicken.

The rules governing what kind of testing is done on meat used in school lunch programs are written into contracts the Agriculture Department signs with suppliers.

Instead of requiring testing for salmonella, the Bush administration would require other methods of ensuring meat safety in the school lunch program, officials said. The alternatives would focus on improving control of all types of contamination during slaughtering and in processing plants rather than testing at the end of the process, said Kenneth Clayton, acting administrator of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. He also said that irradiation could be used more to kill bacteria.

While Clayton said that the salmonella testing wasn't necessary, the new proposal calls for continued monitoring for a particularly dangerous form of E. coli bacterium.

Clayton denied the decision was prompted by pressure from the meat industry.

"Everyone knew last year that these standards were interim, and the plan was always to review them," said Clayton, who said final standards would be needed by July. "We want input from people involved in the process."

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) attacked the decision as part of a pattern of Bush administration rollbacks in health and environmental regulation.

"First, it's arsenic in water. Now it's salmonella in school lunches. Where will this end?" he said.

Advocates for the tougher salmonella standards argued last summer that fast-food restaurants had higher standards to protect against the bacteria than the school lunch programs, and then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman agreed.

"Our principle was that kids in school lunch programs should be eating meat at least on a par with fast-food outlets," Glickman said yesterday. "We knew there were trade-offs and that it might raise the price, but I would say today that it was the right decision."

A March 21 letter to Veneman, signed by meat industry groups as well as the American School Food Service Association, complained that the new standards were counterproductive.

"The new specifications have created problems for each and every sector involved in supplying schools with safe, wholesome beef products, and caused a decline in ground meat purchases for the school lunch program," the letter said.

"We recommend that USDA work closely with industry in developing a rational, science-based set of guidelines, rather than the multiple standards that exist today."


Bush's Moves to Right Ignite Storm on Left
New York Times

RICHARD W. STEVENSON

April 8, 2001

President Bush and his wife, Laura, boarded Air Force One on Friday, bound for Milwaukee and the opening of the Brewers' Miller Park.

On issue after issue in his first few months in office, President Bush has heartened and reassured conservatives.

But in pleasing the right, Mr. Bush has infuriated many liberals. And in doing so, he has helped re-energize some of his most vocal political opponents and provided a rallying cry for those politically active Democrats who were already fuming over how the presidential campaign ended.

Environmental groups, labor unions, abortion rights organizations and other powerful Democratic constituencies said that in dealing them some harsh early setbacks, Mr. Bush had given them a chance to motivate their supporters at the grass-roots level, to raise money and to challenge any claim the new president had to being a moderate.

"What Bush has done since the election is affronted and slapped in the face every major activist constituency," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal advocacy group. "They've attacked labor. They've undermined regulations the environmentalists care about. They've outraged women. They've given each constituency a reason to say to its troops, let's change this equation."

Some of the ire among liberals stems from personnel choices made by Mr. Bush, particularly his selection of John Ashcroft, a strong opponent of abortion rights, as attorney general. And some stems from a flurry of policy decisions by Mr. Bush, including his moves to reverse or suspend regulatory actions and executive orders issued by former President Bill Clinton in the waning days of the last administration.

Unions have been upset by the new administration's decision to roll back workplace safety rules and end preferences granted to unionized companies in bidding for government-financed building programs.

Environmentalists have bitterly protested Mr. Bush's decision not to seek limits on carbon dioxide emissions or otherwise support an international agreement seeking to limit climate change, and to undo new limits on arsenic in drinking water.

Supporters of abortion rights were angered by Mr. Bush's decision to end federal financing for international family planning groups that support abortion.

"Not since Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court have I seen such a spontaneous and strong reaction from people at the grass roots," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "They hit the phones, the faxes and the e-mails even before we got ourselves focused on exactly what we would do."

White House officials say much of the criticism from liberal groups is unfair, asserting that Mr. Bush, for example, has supported some of the Clinton administration's environmental actions, like limiting diesel emissions. They say many of the groups are more focused on playing politics than on addressing issues.

"Their actions also are indications that the previous administration tilted the playing field toward groups that oppose the president," said Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman. "The president is restoring the balance and the middle ground."

Some Democrats said Mr. Bush had stepped into a trap left by Mr. Clinton, whose last-minute actions forced the new administration to grapple immediately with many charged issues it might otherwise have delayed, especially those involving labor and the environment.

Aides to Mr. Clinton said the regulations had been in the pipeline long before the election was resolved. But they said they knew as they left office that Mr. Bush would pay a political price if he reversed actions they believed had strong support.

"Bush has really lit a fire, especially on the environmental issues," said John D. Podesta, who was Mr. Clinton's chief of staff. "People are really angry about it, and incredulous that on decision after decision he has sided with the special interests."

The liberal advocacy groups say that Mr. Bush's actions have helped them raise money and recruit members, and that they have been able to flood the White House and the offices of lawmakers with messages from their supporters.

Still, it is unclear whether the liberal groups will be able to harness the strong feelings among their supporters to practical political effect.

Although they have taken heart from the difficulty Mr. Bush has had getting his budget through the evenly divided Senate, they have had little success in blocking or reversing any of Mr. Bush's other initiatives. And it is too early to say whether Mr. Bush will be able to maintain some claim to the political center as his term progresses, and what role the left- right clash might have in the midterm elections next year.

But it seems clear that whatever other effects it will have, Mr. Bush's move to the right and the reaction from the left will make it hard for him to "change the tone" of intense partisanship in Washington, as he frequently pledges to do.

Steve Cochran, director of strategic communications for Environmental Defense, said some environmental groups, including his, had been optimistic about working with Mr. Bush to find common ground and compromises. Now, he said, liberals were starting to have the same kind of visceral negative reaction to Mr. Bush that conservatives had to anything associated with Mr. Clinton.

"These decisions ?both the content and the style in which they were announced ?have further polarized the situation and made people dig in more rather than relax," Mr. Cochran said.

Steve Rosenthal, the political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said the labor federation's president, John J. Sweeney, had recently directed union officials to go to "war footing."

Mr. Rosenthal said organized labor was developing a campaign to shape public perceptions of Mr. Bush. He said the campaign would seek to pressure Republican lawmakers from states where Al Gore did well in the 2000 presidential race.

"We will begin to get out information on exactly who George W. Bush is and what so-called compassionate conservatism is in terms of wrecking workers' rights and workplace protections," Mr. Rosenthal said. "It's a great opportunity for us to define George W. Bush."


Bush and Bad Beef

Marc Kaufman

Washington Post Staff Writer

April 5, 2001

The Bush administration has proposed reversing a federal policy that required all ground beef used in government school lunch programs to be tested to ensure that it is free of salmonella, officials said yesterday.

The Agriculture Department is moving to change the Clinton administration policy after concluding that less costly alternatives for protecting meat safety could be as effective. Officials also said the "zero tolerance" standard for salmonella in school lunch meals was not scientifically justified.

The possible change was hailed by the meat industry, which opposed the standard when it was implemented last summer and lobbied the new Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to reverse it.

"For a variety of reasons, the new specifications had no basis in public health," said Sara Lilygren, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute. Zero tolerance for salmonella is unnecessary because the bacteria is killed in normal cooking, she said.

But the decision was criticized by consumer groups and some legislators, who noted that the tougher standard had resulted in the rejection of almost 5 million pounds of ground beef during this school year, almost 5 percent of the total purchased by the USDA.

"This program is working, so why not continue it?" said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America, who called the proposal "a very significant rollback. Do we really want to take chances with that much contaminated meat being served to our children at lunch?"

More than 26 million children participate in the school lunch program. The USDA has purchased 111 million pounds of ground beef for the program since last July, when the tougher new rules went into effect. Critics of the testing said that it raised the cost of ground beef and sometimes made approved meat unavailable to schools.

Salmonella poisoning in a variety of foods causes 1.4 million illnesses -- generally diarrhea and intestinal distress -- and 600 deaths a year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But contaminated beef is less likely to cause poisoning than chicken.

The rules governing what kind of testing is done on meat used in school lunch programs are written into contracts the Agriculture Department signs with suppliers.

Instead of requiring testing for salmonella, the Bush administration would require other methods of ensuring meat safety in the school lunch program, officials said. The alternatives would focus on improving control of all types of contamination during slaughtering and in processing plants rather than testing at the end of the process, said Kenneth Clayton, acting administrator of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. He also said that irradiation could be used more to kill bacteria.

While Clayton said that the salmonella testing wasn't necessary, the new proposal calls for continued monitoring for a particularly dangerous form of E. coli bacterium.

Clayton denied the decision was prompted by pressure from the meat industry.

"Everyone knew last year that these standards were interim, and the plan was always to review them," said Clayton, who said final standards would be needed by July. "We want input from people involved in the process."

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) attacked the decision as part of a pattern of Bush administration rollbacks in health and environmental regulation.

"First, it's arsenic in water. Now it's salmonella in school lunches. Where will this end?" he said.

Advocates for the tougher salmonella standards argued last summer that fast-food restaurants had higher standards to protect against the bacteria than the school lunch programs, and then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman agreed.

"Our principle was that kids in school lunch programs should be eating meat at least on a par with fast-food outlets," Glickman said yesterday. "We knew there were trade-offs and that it might raise the price, but I would say today that it was the right decision."

A March 21 letter to Veneman, signed by meat industry groups as well as the American School Food Service Association, complained that the new standards were counterproductive.

"The new specifications have created problems for each and every sector involved in supplying schools with safe, wholesome beef products, and caused a decline in ground meat purchases for the school lunch program," the letter said. "We recommend that USDA work closely with industry in developing a rational, science-based set of guidelines, rather than the multiple standards that exist today."


Compassionate Environmentalists Warn Bush
Common Dreams

Test the Water at Your Ranch

April 9, 2001

The White House hasn't told Americans whether President Bush drinks the tap water on his Crawford, Texas ranch. Drinking water in his county contains 40% more arsenic than would be allowed by safeguards set by the EPA in January and recommended by the World Health Organization. If our President drinks arsenic, Americans would be concerned. In addition, the White House press corps and the President's staff may want to know what's in the water when they visit McLennan County.

Perhaps President Bush only drinks bottled water. Perhaps he's installed a filteration system that protects himself and his family. Perhaps White House physicians are monitoring his water. The big question: Does President Bush take precautions that he said other Americans don't deserve?

In McLennan County, home to Bush's ranch, at least five communities report concentrations of arsenic higher than those set by the EPA in January, and rejected by Bush in March : -- Moores Water System : Exceeds arsenic standard by 43 percent -- The City of Mart : Exceeds arsenic standard by 38 percent -- MS Water Supply Corporation : Exceeds arsenic standard by 6 percent -- E.O.L. Water Supply Corporation : Exceeds arsenic standard by 28 percent and -- Axtell Water Supply Corporation : Exceeds arsenic standard by 10 percent.

Last month, President Bush rejected scientific safeguards that would reduce arsenic levels in drinking water. In the wake of his decision, the Sierra Club warns him that the drinking water at his ranch may exceed the levels set by those scientific standards. For more on Bush's failure to protect our families from drinking arsenic,
please see : Sierra Club

Drinking water with even low levels of arsenic can cause skin, bladder, lung and prostate cancer.

For more information, please call Allen Mattison at 202-675-7903.

FACTS ABOUT ARSENIC :

-- According to the National Academy of Sciences, long-term exposure to low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water can lead to skin, bladder, lung and prostate cancer. Non-cancer effects of ingesting arssenic at low levels include cardiovascular disease diabetes, and anemia, as well as reproductive, developmental, immunological and neurological effects.

-- A 1999 National Academy of Science study stated that the current EPA standard for arsenic "could easily" result in a cancer risk of 1 in 100 --- about 10,000 times higher cancer risk than EPA would allow for carcinogens in food for example.

-- Reducing acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per billion will protect over 12 million Americans from increased cancer risk.

-- When U.S. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman served as New Jersey's Governor, the state's Department of Environmental Protection recommended that homeowners whose water supply contained arsenic at half the level set by the Clinton Administration take steps to reduce their exposure to the poison.

U.S. GOVERNMENT ARSENIC SAFETY TIMELINE :

1942 -- Public Health Service (PHS) conducts arsenic study. This is the science on which our current 50 parts per billion standard is based. 1962 -- PHS recommends lowering arsenic levels in drinking water to 10 ppb. 1974 -- In Safe Drinking Water Act, Congress requires EPA to propose new arsenic standards. Deadlines are missed. 1975 -- U.S. EPA sets 50 ppb standard as an "interim" measure", promising to revise the standard promptly based on modern science. 1986 -- In Safe Drinking Water Act, Congress requires EPA to propose new arsenic standards. Deadlines are missed. 1996 -- In Safe Drinking Water Act amendments, Congress requires EPA to propose a new arsenic standard by Jan. 2000 and finalize it by Jan. 2001. 1999 -- National Academy of Sciences recommends revising the standard downward "as promptly as possible." Jan. 2001 -- After decades of regulatory development, public comment, debate, millions of dollars in EPA research, and at least three missed statutory deadlines (in the 1974, 1986, and 1996 Safe Drinking Water Acts), the EPA finally issued the new 10 parts per billion standard, matching the level set previously by the World Health Organization and the level recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1962. March 2001 -- President Bush rejects the arsenic safety standards, saying more studies are needed.


Arsenic and bad beef
CNN

Where's the compassion that was supposed to go with Bush's conservatism?

Margaret Carlson

April 9, 2001

What is it with Republicans and school lunches? In 1981 Ronald Reagan looked both callous and politically ham-handed when he tried to save a few pennies on school lunches by classifying catsup as a vegetable. Last week the Bush Administration went beyond condiments, proposing to ax a Clinton Administration regulation that forces the meat industry to perform salmonella tests on hamburger served in school cafeterias. Given the heightened interest in the health of cattle right now, the move wasn't exactly well timed. The uproar forced Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to drop the proposal the same day it hit the papers. She said a "low level" official had announced the change without consulting his superiors.

That explanation would be easier to swallow if it weren't for the many decisions pouring out of the Bush Administration that favor American business at the expense of American people. In his first 76 days, Bush declared that CO2 should not be regulated as a pollutant, and followed that up by abandoning the Kyoto global environmental accord, on the grounds that it lets developing nations off the hook. Bush substituted nothing for a framework that, however imperfect, took years to construct. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has no legs left to be cut out from under her. Then he shelved a Clinton regulation that tightened standards for arsenic in drinking water, arguing that more research is needed. While some people might be fuzzy about greenhouse gases, everyone gets the danger from arsenic--it's Murder, She Wrote territory--especially those who don't serve Evian at home. The symbolism of the move was breathtaking--especially after Bush and the G.O.P. Congress had denied workplace relief for millions (mostly women) who perform repetitive tasks. Employers thought it would cost too much.

Even the slightly scaled-down tax cut that passed the Senate last week delivers outsize benefits to people at the top of the economic heap to the detriment of those at the bottom, who may see their safety net fray as a consequence. No one quite knew how bad the spending cuts would be because Bush withheld the nasty details until he got his vote on taxes.

What happened to the compassion that was supposed to go with Bush's conservatism?
The campaign prepared us for some of this--candidate Bush made plain his intention to drill in the Arctic wildlife refuge, not a bad political calculus given America's preference for suvs over caribou. But no one thought his team would choose slaughterhouses over schoolchildren, even if only for a day. What connects these decisions is a preference for folks he knows: his oil-field buddies (mirrors of himself), corporate executives and captains of industry, from the Halliburton honcho to the Terminix franchisee. Some of them contributed mightily to his campaign; all are "dynamic entrepreneurs," as he likes to say, who have made America great--despite laboring under a raft of pesky government regulations. They have his gratitude and his ear.

Bush's narrow focus didn't come through in the campaign. Last year he convinced people that compassion from a Republican was cleaner and better than the sloppy kind offered by Democrats. His genial nature made his vow to be a uniter, not a divider, credible despite flashes of poor sportsmanship (his tactics toward John McCain in South Carolina) and stubbornness (refusing to call McCain to concede Michigan). Since winning, he has reached socially across the aisle (Ted Kennedy for movies and popcorn, John Breaux to the ranch) and made fun of himself ("I hope one day I can clone another Dick Cheney. Then I won't have to do anything"). But the self-deprecation didn't quite mask his pleasure in making the presidency seem--for a while there--almost as easy as governing Texas. You can run the country 9 to 5, change policy off the cuff, turn the gritty work over to aides. But now, as it gets harder--with the Senate whittling his tax cut, the Chinese holding his spy plane--you can see him struggling to stick to a script written by others.

Salmonella showed that Bush knows there is a limit. You might get away with endangering the caribou, some fish going belly up, holes in the ozone layer and the safety net, even the prospect of no mail on Saturdays. But dangerous school lunches? In the end, Dubya knew better than to go there. He may also have second thoughts on arsenic. So many people are trying to climb aboard a bill to restore the arsenic restrictions that Representative Henry Waxman says he collected 165 co-sponsors in two days. Meanwhile, other industries are submitting their wish lists to Republicans. Lobbyists are asking for a relaxation of lead-contamination standards. You'd think we had put that issue to rest long ago. But Bush's Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, used to lobby Congress on behalf of lead-paint manufacturers.


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