Washington — The Bush administration Thursday dropped plans to eliminate salmonella testing of ground beef served to children in federal school lunch programs, reversing a controversial proposal announced by the Agriculture Department less than 24 hours earlier.
The White House and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said a "low-level" department employee, who was not named, had made the decision without getting proper approval from Veneman or any other high-ranking administration officials.
"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.
The decision disappointed meat industry lobbyists, who had urged the administration to stop requiring the salmonella tests instituted last summer by the Clinton administration, arguing they were costly and unnecessary. But the reversal pleased congressional Democrats and consumer advocates, who already were beginning to mount a campaign to try to reinstate the testing.
"Special interests have been making and eliminating rules right and left, and it seemed like nobody else was in charge," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "Hopefully, this got their attention."
"Today's announcement is very encouraging, and suggests that maybe Agriculture Department decisions won't just be made in back rooms with industry people," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.