Have we already forgotten about ‘pink slime’?
The 2012 scandal was a real stunner even for veterans of the food safety wars.
We were outraged to learn that the vast majority of the nation’s ground beef contained a squishy, beef-like substance made by heating and centrifuging fatty trimmings and connective tissue to extract every last little bit of edible muscle. It’s then treated with ammonia to halt the growth of bacteria, since these lower-grade cuts of beef are more likely to have had contact with E. coli-carrying feces.
Pink slime, known more flatteringly as lean finely textured beef, has been responsible for widespread contaminations, illness, and death. After enough high profile recalls and lawsuits, and a chorus of consumer protests, it’s been banished from every major fast food chain and retail grocer. But it’s still making the stomach-churning journey from slaughterhouses to school lunch rooms.
In the aftermath of last year’s media uproar, thousands of schools across the U.S. voluntarily eliminated the ammonia-treated processed beef product from their cafeterias. While school budgets are tight all over, their lunch programs are under new financial pressures from the recently revised national nutrition standards that hit the ground in 2012. The new requirements demand greater quantities of costly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while the federal government increased its contribution by just six cents more per lunch.
When pink slime first came to public attention, schools in all but three states— Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota; all big beef producers—purged it from their menus. Four more states—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas— have since put aside concerns and resumed buying the controversial product for the 2013-2014 school year.
If not for school lunch programs, those same slaughterhouse trimmings would be processed into pet food or dumped as compost.
It’s not just about quelling the queasiness of parents and school officials. This is a substance that falls below the quality and safety standards of fast food restaurants and most commercial food processors. It’s nutritionally inferior to slime-free beef and inherently riskier, yet we’re feeding it to our most vulnerable population.
Don’t our nation’s schoolchildren deserve better?