Bill Would Give Pizza Retailers Larger Slice of School-Lunch

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WASHINGTON--A measure making its way through the Congress would enable pizza retailers to gobble up a larger slice of the lucrative school-lunch market.

The bill, which was approved by the full House this summer, would allow the Department of Agriculture, which administers the national school-lunch program, to exempt freshly made, meat-topped pizzas from certain federal meat-inspection rules.

Should the department decide to grant the exemption, it would be a boon to such pizza giants as Pizza Hut and Domino's, which have provided freshly made cheese and vegetarian pizzas to school cafeterias for about 18 months.

Pizza Hut currently serves pizza in about 1,500 schools nationwide, and would be able to expand to more sites if allowed to include pepperoni and sausage on the slices, said Larry Whitt, a company spokesman.

Industry officials said that schools each year serve more than $400 million worth of frozen pizzas, which are exempt from the rule. Although similar data about the freshly made pizza market are unavailable, dairy industry officials estimate that, if the rule is waived, sales of mozzarella cheese would climb by about $140 million annually.

Final Inspection at Issue

At issue is a rule that requires fresh foods made by outside vendors that contain more than 2 percent meat by weight to be inspected by health officials before they can be served in school meals. Industry officials contend that this requirement makes the cost of providing meat-topped pizzas to schools too expensive.

They also argue that this final inspection is unnecessary, since the meat is already inspected twice--first at the slaughter house, and again at the processing plant--before it is placed on the pizza.

"This is a very outdated law," Mr. Whitt said. "There is absolutely no issue of food safety."

He noted that other freshly made products containing meat, such as sandwiches, are exempted from this rule.

But Rodney Leonard, the executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group, said freshly made products need this final inspection to ensure they meet health standards.

"It's not how many times you inspect the meat," he said. "It's whether you inspect the product."

"The question is, 'Are you producing a product that is wholesome and not a threat to children at school?'" he said.

The measure was proposed by Representative Dan Glickman, Democrat of Kansas, whose district includes the corporate headquarters of Pizza Hut. The Senate is expected to act on a similar measure when it returns from its summer break.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 40

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Bill Would Give Pizza Retailers Larger Slice of School-Lunch
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