A REPORT by the Government Accountability Office gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture failing grades when it comes to protecting the lunches of millions of schoolchildren, and Martinez Rep. George Miller wants to know what's going on. So do we.

Miller, as chairman of the House and Labor Committee, has called for a deeper investigation by the GAO into the risk of deadly E. coli getting into school lunches. This comes on the heels of a recent outbreak that killed at least two people and sickened at least two dozen more in 11 states.

The outbreak was linked to ground beef produced in Ashville, N.Y. by Fairbank Farms.

In September, the GAO released startling news when it learned that the USDA didn't bother to alert schools about recalls of potentially tainted peanut products and canned vegetables. The fear, according to the GAO, is cafeterias had no idea about the potential danger and may have served tainted products to children. We were lucky to avoid a national disaster.

The GAO went on to say that the USDA fell asleep at the wheel and did not make prompt warnings to states and schools about recalled food that was distributed through the federal school lunch and breakfast programs that serve about 30 million students. This inexplicable lack of action is shocking. To put so many children in danger is grossly irresponsible and heads should roll at the USDA.


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So Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill to ensure that recalled food must be quickly removed from school lunches. We shouldn't need a bill for that, it's what the USDA should be doing in the first place.

Gillibrand plans to sponsor another bill that would require more testing in ground beef plants, and we fully support that.

E. coli is something a government agency should never be so lax about. It's a bacteria that can sicken or kill people, and it's found mainly in ground beef although there have been outbreaks in cookie dough and fresh spinach. While young children and the elderly are more prone to this, it can have severe effects at all ages.

This is serious and potentially life-threatening. The USDA must react quickly and issue warnings to schools and states when there's a danger of E. coli suspected in food products going to our schools.

Three words for the USDA: Do your job.