(June 6, 2012) – The nation’s school districts are pulling the plug on “pink slime,” the beef product that was all over the news earlier this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that the vast majority of states that participate in its National School Lunch Program have opted to order ground beef that does not contain the product, known in the industry as ‘lean finely textured beef.’ Only three states – Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota — chose to order ground beef, which may contain the product.
The product has been used for many decades, and federal regulators claim that it is perfectly safe to eat. However, it has become the center of national attention after the nickname “pink slime” was quoted in a New York Times article regarding the safety of meat processing, especially since it is being served to our children in school lunches. The filler is made of fatty bits of beef that are heated to remove much of the fat, then treated with a puff of ammonia to kill any bacteria.
In response to the public’s outcry over it’s use, the USDA said in March that for the first time, it would offer schools the choice to purchase beef without filler for the 2012-2013 school year. The Department has continued to affirm that lean finely textured beef is a safe, affordable, and nutritious product, which reduces overall fat content.
As of May 18, 2012, the Agency says States ordered more than 20 million pounds of ground beef products, which do not contain finely textured beef. Orders for beef that may contain the filler came to approximately one million pounds.
Because schools were not given a choice last year, all states may have previously received beef with the product. The Agency is still accepting orders for the upcoming school year.
Beef Products, Inc., the South Dakota company that makes LFTB, has announced that it will close three of its four plants as a result of a drop in orders from fast-food chains, supermarkets, and schools. It has set up a website, beefisbeef.com, to combat what it says are myths about the product.
The USDA does not buy lean finely textured beef directly, but buys products from beef vendors who must meet the Agency’s specifications; ground beef can include no more than 15% of the product.
The USDA’s National School Lunch Program buys about 20% of the products that are served in schools across the country. The remainder of the beef purchased for schools is directly from private vendors.
The percentage of beef that schools get through the USDA tends to be higher, however, because beef is expensive, and schools have such tremendous budget cuts, they like to take advantage of favorable prices, which the government can negotiate.
Pink Slime & Ammonia: Two Main Ingredients in Some Ground Beef
Beef Products, Inc. of South Dakota (BPI) allegedly transforms trimmings into something they call “boneless lean beef.” In huge factories, the company liquefies the trimmings and uses a spinning centrifuge to separate the sinews and fats from the meat, leaving a mash that has been described as “pink slime,” which is then frozen into small squares and sold as a low-cost additive to hamburger.
BPI produces more than 7 million pounds of the mash per week, making it the world’s largest manufacturer of this frozen product. BPI explains that its product is mixed into most of the ground beef sold in the U.S. – at major fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, and school lunch programs. The problem is, when you turn garbage bits of animal carcasses into “pink slime” to be sold as a food product, is there is an issue with pathogens, such as E. coli. When samples of the pink slime were tested, the tests came back showing that the slime was rampant with harmful bacteria. So, BPI started disinfecting the slime with ammonia. What’s even more bizarre, they somehow convinced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow them to list the ammonia as a “processing ingredient” so that we wouldn’t know we were eating ammonia.
The term “pink slime” was coined by former USDA scientist Gerald Zirnstein and used in a 2009 interview by the NY Times on the safety of beef processing. In 2011, the product was featured on a segment of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.
The widespread use of LFTB really caught the public’s attention in March 2012, when food columnist and mother Bettina Siegel launched a petition to ban it from the National School Lunch Program. Within a few days, it received over 250,000 signatures. LFTB does not have to be labeled and it is estimated that it can be found in 70% of conventional ground beef (it has never been allowed in organic meat). Due to public outcry, the USDA agreed to let schools opt out and many supermarket and fast-food chains including McDonald’s and Taco Bell also discontinued selling meat with filler.
The meat industry has been hit hard by the rejection of “pink slime.” South Dakota based-Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) the largest producer of LFTB, has announced that it is closing three of its plants (located in Texas, Kansas and Iowa) at a loss of about 650 jobs. This week, the vast majority of school districts have been able to buy non-LFTB beef for their kids.
LFTB is a filler made of fatty bits of beef that are then heated and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria. The USDA maintains that the product is safe to eat and reduces the overall fat content of beef products.
Fast-food chains were the first to reject the LFTB in its hamburgers, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell all dropped it after initial medial reports. Wendy’s eventually took out ads in newspapers saying it never used “pink slime.” Later, grocery store chains, including Whole Foods, Publix, and Costco would tell ABC News they have never sold products containing LFTB. Grocery giant Safeway told ABC News in March they will no longer be carrying beef products containing LFTB. Others followed, and BPI has closed all but one of its factories! Under pressure from the public for better labeling practices, the USDA also announced in April that they will approve requests from ground beef producers to voluntarily label their product containing LFTB. Labels could read: “contains Lean Finely Textured Beef” or “contains Lean Beef Derived from Beef Trimmings.”
It is bad enough that these companies would try to sell bacteria-laden animal carcasses to the American public, but to serve it to our children in their school lunches? How can our government allow this to go on? They try to control how much sugar our children eat with their lunches, and teach them to eat a nutritious, healthy lunch and choose fruits instead of candy, but then they serve them bacteria soaked in ammonia for lunch?? Would you eat this for lunch? Would you be happy knowing your children were being served this type of lunch in school?