The “Mystery Meat” served in school cafeterias all over the world has always been the subject of jokes. But with recent developments, this should no longer be a laughing matter. The USDA, aiming to reduce its budget for the school lunch program, has ordered seven million pounds of Lean Beef Trimmings or “pink slime” from Beef Products Incorporated (BPI).
Lean Beef Trimmings is a concoction of beef scraps and connective tissues of cows that has been treated with ammonium hydroxide. For years now, the US government has been buying this pink slime, which is also used as filler in various processed meat products today.
“Even putting the ‘yuck factor’ aside, there are some very valid reasons to question why anyone, let alone children, should eat this product,” says Dr. Joseph Mercola.
The Hazards of Pink Slime
A report from ABC News details how pink slime is created:
“The ‘pink slime’ is made by gathering waste trimmings, simmering them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.” (link)
According to Microbiologists Carl Custer and Gerald Zernstein (who came up with the term “pink slime”), Lean Beef Trimmings is a dangerous product because it is obtained from cow parts that are potentially contaminated with E. coli and other harmful bacteria. This is the reason why it needs to be treated with ammonia – all the pathogens need to be killed.
Unfortunately, Lean Beef Trimmings is exempt from testing for contamination because the USDA believes that the ammonia treatment is very “effective.” This is another reason why pink slime is potentially dangerous.
The “meat” used for Beef Trimmings is also not nutritionally adequate, especially for children. In a report in The Daily, Custer says:
“’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.” (link)
The ammonia used for treatment also poses problems because it is a toxin that can transform into ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in cleaning products and fertilizer. Because it is not an ingredient but a processing agent, ammonia is not indicated in the label of a particular BPI meat product.
Pink slime has been previously used by fast food companies, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell. But after it was revealed to the public that these food chains use this dubious food item, they decided to stopped adding it to their burgers and other meat products.
“It is a sad state of affairs that ammonia-treated beef scraps and connective tissues have been dropped by fast-food makers but not by the U.S. government who is supposed to make sure that your child’s school lunches are nutritious… or for the producers of the majority of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets,” says Dr. Mercola.
Beware: Your Supermarket Ground Beef May Also Contain Pink Slime
According to Zernstein, who is also a former USDA scientist, at least 70 percent of the ground beef in supermarkets also contain pink slime. It is used as a cheap filler for hamburger patties and inexpensive ground beef.
“Again, you cannot tell if the ground beef you buy contains the substance because it is not listed on the label. This is thanks to USDA officials, including one in particular who allowed the product to be labeled as ‘meat’ — and later went on to earn millions while serving on BPI’s board of directors!” says Dr. Mercola.
Consume Only Fresh, Pasture-Raised Organic Meat
The best way to avoid pink slime is to make sure you purchase meat and poultry from a trustworthy local farmer who follows high-quality farming practices.
“I realize that not everyone has access to small farmers, but food from local sources is increasing in popularity and is becoming much easier to come by. There are a number of grass-fed beef ranchers in the United States that offer safe, high-quality meats,” says Dr. Mercola.
You should also support online petitions that urge the USDA to stop purchasing Lean Beef Trimmings for school lunches. Dr. Mercola also urges you to join Chef Ann Cooper’s National School Food Challenge, and pledge to provide only fresh and locally-grown foods for your children at home and school (link).
“On an individual level, do your children a favor and send them to school with a healthy, home-packed meal,” he advises.