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Beef off menu at two Aspen schools

Eben Harrell/Aspen Correspondent

Beef, it may be what’s for dinner, but for students at Aspen’s elementary and middle schools it won’t be what’s for lunch in the near future.

The schools’ caterer has decided to stop serving beef indefinitely because of fears of mad cow disease.

A spokesman for the Colorado Beef Council decried the decision as alarmist and premature.

The Lunchroom Co., an independant catering firm, provides food for approximately 750 Aspen elementary and middle school students daily. Its owner and director, Anne Owsley, said she made the decision to stop serving beef this week due to news of a cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, in Washington state.

Mad cow disease is of concern to public health officials because it can cause variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disorder, in humans.

Fred Lombardi, executive director of the Colorado Beef Council, said there is no indication the single mad-cow case in Washington is a sign of a larger contamination.

“Beef in general is safer today than it’s ever been,” he said. “When the secretary of agriculture says beef is safe, when the the president continues to eat beef, and when American consumers continue to eat beef, I think this is strong overreaction.”

Owsley, who has provided food for the Aspen School District for 11 years, said that because she works as an independant contractor, she can make the decision to stop serving beef without any input from district, state or federal officials.

“I serve by my own conscience,” she said. “I know the government says beef is safe, but I don’t believe the government has much credibility right now. It’s my hunch, but it’s also my perogative.”

All other schools in the valley will continue to serve beef. Officials from the Roaring Fork district, a federally funded school district that follows USDA guidelines, said beef will be served five times in January.

“I don’t want to see an epidemic of fear,” said Mila Jenson, food services director for the Roaring Fork School District. “I’m probably a little nervous, but I would hope the USDA would not serve contaminated beef.”

Aspen High Principal Kendall Evans said his school’s caterer will also keep beef on the menu.

“We don’t have any info that there’s any reason to discontinue serving beef,” he said. “Until we see something official, we have no reason to discontinue serving (it).”

Evans pointed out that the high school’s caterer, Jeff Spiroff, also caters for Aspen Valley Hospital.

“If there’s a danger, he’ll be the first to know,” Evans said.

Owsley said she has received strong support from district admininstrators and teachers. She said she will keep beef off the menu until she is personally confident there is no danger of contimination.

“I’m not going to serve beef until all the questions have been answered,” Owsley said. “I’m not going to serve something to Aspen’s school kids that I wouldn’t serve my own family.”


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