The National Meat Association (NMA) is pushing back against recent criticism over the safety of meat supplied to the National School Lunch Program.

Last week, USA Today featured a story questioning whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was adequately ensuring the safety of meat meant for school lunches, and last month, U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation in to the risk of E. coli getting into school lunches.

“In recent years it has become the popular pastime of journalists and industry critics to focus their investigations and criticism on the National School Lunch Program. But what they are attacking is a solid program with a proven track record of providing safe, high-quality products to school children for more than 70 years,” said the NMA in statement released Friday.

According to NMA, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which administers the purchasing program, ensures that meat produced for the school lunch program is both wholesome and safe. 

“From the beginning the program took children’s dietary needs into consideration,” said the NMA. “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans became the standard for the school lunch program in 1995. Soon after, the program introduced new, extremely rigid food safety specifications, modeled after standards used by leading fast food restaurants, best industry practices and available science that went far beyond the minimum requirements of safety.”

The NMA also highlighted pathogen testing programs and additional humane handling plans that are required for establishments that produce meat for the federal program, “All in all, the School Lunch Program is one of the most effective programs in the country for producing safe beef and something participants of which are rightly proud.”