By Sarah Seltzer
"PB&J is starting to sound all sorts of good right now," wrote a concerned mom over at Cafe Mom this week. Her point is sound. After all, although it may not be up to the stuffiest gourmet standards, good old fashioned peanut butter is so much better than "pink slime," the faux meat that is about to show up--to the tune of 7 million pounds--in school lunches.
A recent story in the Daily paints a gruesome picture about just what's going into kids' "meat"-based hot lunches. Though "Lean Beef Trimmings" from the Orwellian-titled "Beef Products, Inc," is made from animal flesh, experts maintain it wouldn't exactly qualify as meat. Instead, they have their own names for it: pink slime or soylent pink.
"Pink Slime" is made with a novel food-creating process that the New York Times reported about back in 2009 (highlights mine):
Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.
The company, Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.
As the Times noted, "Pink Slime" isn't just ammonia-injected--that's disgusting enough, considering that ammonia is a cleaning agent also used to make bombs.
No, "Pink Slime" is also made of parts of the beef that used to be considered too inferior for eating.
Biologists quoted in the article in The Daily don't think this product is good enough for eating, either. "I have a 2-year-old son,” Gerald Zirnstein, the microbiologist who coined the term "pink slime" told The Daily. “And you better believe I don’t want him eating pink slime when he starts going to school.”
Zirnstein, the story reports, saw the process used at Beef Products, Inc., back in 2002, when he was investigating salmonella contamination, and later told his colleagues he himself did not and would not classify this brand-new meat product as "ground beef.” And yet, Pink Slime remained available, thanks what appears to be protectionisms in the food processing, labeling, and regulating world.
Zirnstein is not alone. The other microbiologist who spoke to The Daily had an equally evocative name, referring to cultural touchstone Soylent Green: “We originally called it soylent pink. We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat,” Carl Custer told the paper.
Now the news comes that the USDA is okay with putting this stuff in school lunches. As the Huffington Post reports, this would seem to undermine an effort to push kids to eat healthier lunches at school.
News of the USDA's plan to bring 7 million pounds of "pink slime" to school cafeterias nationwide comes just weeks after the government announced new guidelines to ensure students are given healthier options for school meals. The new standards call for more whole grains and produce as well as less sodium and fat in school meals. While the measures mark a step forward from previous years, they still compromise amid push-back from Congress to keep pizza and french fries on the menu -- counting both the tomato paste on pizza and the potatoes that make fries as vegetables.
The children, they are our future.
The Daily's reporting indicates that perhaps it's not the best idea in the world that an inspection agency in charge of passing bare minimum standards and the agency that chooses foods for young children's consumption might wisely be separated:
The USDA, which plans to buy 7 million pounds of Lean Beef Trimmings from BPI in the coming months for the national school lunch program, said in a statement that all of its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.” USDA officials also noted that the sole role of the food inspection service is to determine the overall safety of the nation’s food supply, not to make judgments on a product’s relative merits.
But Zirnstein and Custer say that the USDA now finds itself in the odd position of purchasing a product that has recently been dropped by fast-food giants McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell.
And it may not even be that safe. FoodWhistleBlower.org explains that one of their clients--a former employee of the company--has some beef (pun intended) with his former employers' safety disclosure record:
"Kit Foshee, who worked at BPI for 10 years, said he was terminated for refusing to participate in his company's alleged knowing misrepresentation of microbial data to the USDA and alleged false claims made to customers about the product's safety. For more on his whistleblowing disclosures, visit Foshee's profile."