Pink Slime Battle Gaining Steam as Plants Suspend Operations

A few weeks ago, GreenAnswers reported on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s plans to ship 7 million pounds of pink slime to school cafeterias across the country. Since then, things have changed drastically. Recently, the USDA announced that school districts would have the choice of whether or not to use pink slime, and some cities, such as Boston, have banned it in their cafeterias entirely.

Now, the anti-slime bandwagon is on a true roll. Back in January, fast food titans McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell opted to go slime-free, and now, supermarkets are getting in on the fun. Stop & Shop has declared it will no longer use products with pink slime, while fellow food giants Whole Foods, Costco, A&P, and Costco have attested to never selling goods containing the goop.

With demand dwindling down, pink slime producer Beef Products Inc. has been forced to suspend operations at three of its four plants. Closed plant locations include: Garden City, Kansas; Waterloo, Iowa; and Amarillo, Texas. Officials say a plant at the company’s headquarters in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota will continue to run, while head honchos struggle to improve pink slime’s PR.

Those of you not familiar with pink slime, prepare to lose your appetite. Pink slime consists of meat scraps swept 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.

In the past, the slime has enjoyed widespread use. It’s been used in ground beef, low-fat hotdogs, lunch meats, meatballs, pepperoni, frozen entrees, canned goods, and even as a leavener in baked goods for nearly two decades. Even worse for grossed-out consumers, a report from MSNBC indicated that 70% of the ground beef consumed in America is processed with pink slime.

However, some health officials have said that despite pink slime’s so-called “yuk factor,” the goop does not pose a risk to consumers. The USDA labels pink slime as “generally recognized as safe,” and spokesman Michael Jarvis has stated that ground beef containing the slime has passed “stringent pathogen testing and [complies] with all applicable food safety regulations.”

Despite the USDA’s confidence in the product, and despite the storm of good news surrounding its removal from the public food sphere, some consumers remain apprehensive.

“It’s definitely reassuring that the slime is starting to disappear,” says a 23-year-old college student who did not wish to be named. “It’s good news, but this isn’t over. You still have to be careful and even then, you wonder what’s in your food. I mean, when the pink slime goes away, what’s going to replace it?”

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Ground_beef_USDA.jpg

Parents Outraged over ‘Pink Slime’ in School Lunches

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

Oklahoma Senator Suggests a Ban on Food Containing…Aborted Fetuses?

Oklahoma senator Ralph Shortey is a man on a sacred mission.

Steel-bent on protecting the health of American citizens, the Republican has proposed a new bill that would ban the use of “aborted fetuses in food” and drink, ensuring that no member of this great land will ever have to worry about consuming fetuses again.

You know, because whenever I’m grocery shopping, I always make sure to check that what I buy is fetus-free.

If you weren’t worried enough about the collective state of sanity in Senate, Shortey is completely serious. The Oklahoma senator admitted that he’s not aware of any companies that…err…actually use fetuses (minor detail, really), but said that “Internet research” tipped him off to the possibility.

One can find all sorts of sketchy evidence on the Internet, so unless Shortey fesses up, there’s no way to pinpoint precisely what “Internet research” he’s referring to. Sources suggest, however, that the senator may be getting his information from a multi-month-old campaign against PepsiCo, led by pro-life activist group Children of God for Life. What has drawn the activists’ ire? According to Care2’s Robin Marty, “[PepsiCo] works with a research and development company that uses a line of embryonic kidney stem cells created in the 1970s to test ‘flavor enhancers.’”

Because that’s totally the same thing as putting aborted fetuses in people’s drinks.

But as Steven D. Foster Jr. aptly notes in a column, we shouldn’t let the ridiculousness of Shortey’s claim distract us. In fact, Shortey might just be a little more rational, and a lot more intelligent, than we’ve been assuming.

Quoth Foster: “Obviously I completely support making it illegal to make or sell food that contains human fetuses if such a thing even exists (it doesn’t). But if you read the bill and think about it for a minute, it also covertly outlaws stem cell research and stem cell products used for medicinal purposes that could one day cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease among many other ailments. Depending on the source, stem cell treatments could fall under a ‘product that contains aborted human fetuses.’ You “consume” medicine in the same sense that you “consume” food; it enters the body and is processed in some fashion. Whether it is used for energy or to heal a damaged brain is irrelevant to this law. The Republicans in Oklahoma are attempting to outlaw stem cell research and treatments under the guise of forbidding the use of fetuses in food.”

Well said, sir.

But stem cell research proponents need not worry; Shortey’s bills have a history of being stopped cold in their tracks. His last few, a nice set of works aimed to seize property from illegal immigrants, deny citizenship to children of non-citizen parents, and, a true classic, demand President Obama’s birth certificate, died before making it to a vote.

So, fetus-food-lovers rejoice. Your right to eat and drink aborted fetuses lives on.

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Human_embryonic_stem_cell_colony_phase.jpg

Tainted Juice Taints the FDA’s Reputation

Responding to recent reports of orange juice from Brazil testing positive for a fungicide, the US Food and Drug Administration is conducting tests on imported juice and holding orange juice imports to the country. The episode has caused orange juice stock values to decline, and has left critics questioning the agency’s ability to keep American food safe.

The tainted juice claims surfaced back in December when drink-giant Coca-Cola found low levels of the fungicide, carbendazim, in its Brazilian orange juice imports. After finding similar results in juice from its competitors, the company took its data to the FDA, acting as “a good corporate citizen,” according to FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey.

Since January 4, the FDA has been busy testing imports for carbendazim. So far, the agency has received the results of three preliminary tests, all of which have been negative.

Yet while US consumers don’t appear to be in danger, the reports have led to some raised eyebrows for the FDA. As Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food safety at New York University, puts it, Coca-Cola “deserves a big round of applause” for its testing honesty, “but as a matter of national public health policy, this country badly needs an independent regulatory agency — as the FDA is supposed to be — to keep companies honest. [The FDA] is completely overwhelmed by imported foods. Is FDA routinely testing foods from China? Don’t we wish.”

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, concurs: with foreign food flooding US borders, “How will [the] FDA assure that products coming in actually meet U.S. safety standards?”

This time, the US may have lucked out. While national standards do not allow carbendazim to be present in US food imports, animal studies show that at the levels consumed, the fungicide doesn’t seem to be harmful to human health. Not only that, but carbendazim is approved in Brazil and several other countries, where it’s used to prevent black spot disease in fruit.

And another slice of fortune for US food safety: Mary Reardon of the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports that of the orange juice consumed in the US, 77% comes from domestically grown oranges, while 11%, 8%, and 2% come from Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica, respectively.

As of yet, the FDA hasn’t pulled any orange juice from the shelves. Following standards set by a preliminary risk assessment performed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the organization says that traces of the fungicide below 80 parts per billion (ppb) pose no threat to human health. The highest estimates from Coca-Cola have not surpassed 35 ppb.

But while any fears of an OJ crisis have been allayed, American consumers and critics alike are keeping an eye on the FDA, hoping that all food on US shelves will be certified safe.

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Orange_juice_1_edit1.jpg