Just a few months after fast-food giant McDonalds announced it was pulling ‘pink slime’ from its hamburger recipes, parents and health pundits around the nation have fresh concerns about the ammonia-based goo. This time, however, the food fight is back where it’s been for the past few years: the school cafeteria.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it would ship 7 million pounds of ground meat treated with the slime to schools nationwide. In a statement defending the USDA’s action, agency spokesman Michael Jarvis told MSNBC News that “All USDA ground beef purchases for the National School Lunch Program must meet the highest standards for food safety. This includes stringent pathogen testing and compliance with all applicable food safety regulations. USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce – and especially into schools — that we have confidence are safe.”
Indeed, in addition to the USDA, which categorizes pink slime as “generally recognized as safe,” some experts argue that the substance poses little to no health risk. Still, it’s not exactly appetizing. Pink slime consists of meat scraps swept up from slaughterhouse floors, ground up, and treated with an ammonium hydroxide solution, which is what gives the glop its characteristic pink color. While the ammonium hydroxide kills any pathogens that may be hiding in the meat, it also decomposes to water and ammonia, which is a common ingredient in household cleaners and fertilizers.
However, whether or not the slime is safe, parents and health experts alike argue that the American public has a right to know just what goes onto the lunch tray, particularly when the “secret ingredient” is, well, gross.
“We don’t know which districts are receiving what meat, and this meat isn’t labeled to show pink slime. They don’t have to under federal law,” said Bettina Siegal, of TheLunchTray.com earlier this week. “We should step back and say, ‘Why would we feed this to our kid?’”
MSNBC contributor and nutritionist Elisa Zied agreed: “People have a right to know what exactly is in their food, so they can make a judgment whether to eat it or not.”
She did add, however, that the public shouldn’t “panic” about the pink slime because of what MSNBC calls “the yuk factor.”
Panic, in this case, would come a bit too late anyways. Pink slime has been used in commercial ground beef since the 1990s, and is also commonly used as a leavener in baked goods. And—get this—MSNBC estimates that beef processed with pink slime makes up about 70 percent of ground beef consumed in America.
But for disgusted parents, there’s a silver lining on this pink cloud of confusion. An online petition aimed at banning pink slime from cafeterias is quickly gaining steam, already having amassed over 100,000 signatures. Anyone who would like to sign or view the petition may do so here: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-usda-to-stop-using-pink-slime-in-school-food
Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Flickr_-_cyclonebill_-_Cheeseburger.jpg