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7 Million Pounds of “Pink Slime” Beef Headed for School Cafeterias

The so called ‘pink slime’ beef that made headlines in charges against Taco Bell is turning up everywhere, from restaurants to home dinner tables. Leading fast-food chains have promised to stop using the chemically treated meat though evidence points to the contrary.

At least 70 per cent of supermarket hamburger contains the substance. And now, the federal government plans to buy 7 million pounds of the meat to serve in U.S. schools.

Pink slime, otherwise known in the meat industry as ‘lean beef trimmings’, consists of the remnants of a cow carcass once all the muscular cuts of meat have been removed. Because the meat comes from areas of the body more likely to be infected, it is sprayed with ammonium hydroxide to kill microbes which cause food poisoning.

In a segment of his ABC television show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Oliver said, “Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs, and after this process, we can give it to humans.”

A 2009 New York Times story raised questions about the safety of the ammonium hydroxide product, citing government and industry records of E. coli and salmonella contamination of meat sold for school lunches

Major restaurant chains such as Burger King, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell have agreed they will no longer put pink slime in their burgers and mince. But according to Gerald Zirnstein, a former scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture, two thirds of ground beef sold in supermarkets still contain at least some pink slime. He described the practice as “economic fraud”, telling ABC News; “It’s not fresh ground beef… it’s a cheap substitute being added in.”

The USDA does not require labeling for the presence of pink slime because it is not considered a separate ingredient, but rather a process. The decision by the USDA to define trimmings as exactly the same substance as muscle meat came against the advice of its own department scientists and was made by an official who went on to work in the beef industry.

According to the London Daily, the USDA—which is responsible for school lunches—has agreed to buy 7million pounds of pink slime from food giant Beef Products Inc. over the next few months.

The USDA claims its beef supplies “meet the highest standard for food safety”, but officials admit there is no way to tell which products are made with beef trimmings.

The under secretary of agriculture who made the call, Joann Smith, was responsible for a decision that led to hundreds of millions of dollars for Beef Products Inc., the makers of pink slime. According to an ABC report, when Smith stepped down from the USDA in 1993, BPI’s principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors—where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.

Retired microbiologist Carl Custer has spoken out against the use of pink slime, which he claims is ‘not nutritionally equivalent’ to traditional cuts of meat. “My objection with having it in the schools is that it’s not meat,” he said.

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