“Pink slime” just went from a simmer to a boil.
In less than a week this month, the stomach-turning epithet for ammonia-treated ground beef filler suddenly became a potent rallying cry by activists fighting to ban the product from supermarket shelves and school lunch trays. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to announce Thursday it will offer schools choice in ground beef purchases in response to requests from districts…
“It sounds disgusting,” said food policy expert Marion Nestle, who notes that the unappetizing nickname made it easier for the food movement to flex its muscles over this cause.
“A lot of people have been writing about it. Therefore, more people know about it, therefore more people are queasy about it, particularly when you start thinking about how this stuff turns up in school lunches,” said Nestle, a professor at New York University…
The controversy centers on “lean finely textured beef,” a low-cost ingredient in ground beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 F and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product, made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., also is exposed to “a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas” to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
There are no precise numbers on how prevalent the product is, and it does not have to be labeled as an ingredient. Past estimates have ranged as high as 70 percent; one industry officials estimates it is in at least half of the ground meat and burgers in the United States.
It has been on the market for years, and federal regulators say it meets standards for food safety. But advocates for wholesome food have denounced the process as a potentially unsafe and unappetizing example of industrialized food production…
“Pink slime” outrage appeared to reach new heights last week amid reports by The Daily and ABC News. The Daily piece dealt with the USDA’s purchase of meat that included “pink slime” for school lunches.
The story touched a nerve with Houston resident Bettina Siegel, whose blog “The Lunch Tray” focuses on kids’ food. On March 6, she started an online petition…asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to “put an immediate end to the use of ‘pink slime’ in our children’s school food”…Supporters signed on fast. By Wednesday afternoon, the electronic petition had more than 220,000 signatures…
…”This idea that children are passively sitting in a lunch room eating what the government sees fit to feed them and McDonald’s has chosen not to use it, but the government is still feeding it to them,” she said. “That really got my ire.”
The USDA – which did not directly address Siegel’s petition – buys about a fifth of the food served in schools nationwide. The agency this year is contracted to buy 111.5 million pounds of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program. About 7 million pounds of that is from Beef Products Inc., though the pink product in question never accounts for more than 15 percent of a single serving of ground beef.
Under the change to be announced today, schools will be able to choose between 95 percent lean beef patties made with the product or less lean bulk ground beef without it. The new policy won’t affect ground beef at schools until this fall because of existing contracts, according to a USDA official with knowledge of the decision…
Proponents of the process stress that it is both federally regulated and safe. Though Nestle said the focus on safety misses the larger point.
“I’m not arguing that that stuff is unsafe,” she said, “I’m arguing that it’s the lowest common denominator.”
Do you want to eat the cheapest meat crap you can eat — knowing it’s recommended because it probably won’t kill you? Do you want your kids eating it?
Lowest common denominator solutions are what beancounters make for the American public all the time. It’s a less common, nowadays. Otherwise we’d still get to choose Ford Pintos and GMC slabside exploding pickup trucks for transportation. Or stuff children with breakfast cereals that have more sugar than grain.