In response to a recent USA Today expose, which found many fast food restaurants apply stricter safety standards than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does for federal school lunch program meat, many are calling for the USDA to improve its safety policies.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter yesterday to Secretary of Agricultre Tom Vilsack urging him to improve the testing program for ground beef meant for school lunches. 

“Our children deserve a testing program at least as good as the fast food chains,” wrote Gillibrand.

Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots organization made up of farmers and a variety of other food policy stakeholders, is organizing its members to sign a petition demanding that the USDA adopt standards and testing procedures that “meet or exceed those of industry-leader Jack in the Box.” Jack in the Box, once an example of food safety gone wrong after its 1993 E. coli outbreak that sickened hundreds and killed four children, has since become an industry leader in food safety standards.

“It’s a national embarrassment that America’s children can’t eat meat as safe in their school lunches as the meat served at McDonalds or Jack in the Box,” said Dave Muphy, founding director of Food Democracy Now!. “Congress and the USDA need to act immediately to guarantee that our nation’s children are being fed the safest, most nutritious meals in the country.”

“The era of our school’s being the dumping ground for unwanted commodities should come to an end in an Obama administration,” added Murphy, a sixth generation Iowan, who has become a relentless advocate for sustainable agriculture.

According to the group’s petition, McDonalds, KFC, and Jack in the Box test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more frequently than the USDA does for the National School Lunch Program. “These restaurants have for years refused to buy certain kinds of lower-quality meat and chicken, which the USDA continues to accept.”

USDA officials maintain that meat purchased for the federal school lunch program is safe and meets rigorous requirements, though Secretary Vilsack recently ordered a review of the program in response to political pressure fueled by the expose.