Pink slime

Food, Inc. A film by Robert Kenner
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Whether you get your news from NPR and The Huffington Post or Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, you probably caught wind of recent reporting about so called “pink slime.” It’s actually been covered by some in the media for years, including the 2008 film Food, Inc. (see below, starting at 1:38) and this lengthy article in The New York Times from December 30, 2009, one in a series of reports that earned Michael Moss and NYT colleagues a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting.

Despite this earlier work, pink slime — an ammonia-treated, heated and processed slurry of beef scraps used as a ground beef filler — didn’t become a high profile story until recently. In the last few weeks, social media helped publicize blogger Bettina Elias Siegel‘s online petition to demand that the USDA end the inclusion of pink-slime products in the federal school lunch program. As Huff Post Food describes, this followed other recent events. “After chef Jamie Oliver went on a televised tirade about the substance, also known as ‘finely textured lean beef [FTLB],’ McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King announced in January, 2012 that they would no longer use pink slime as filler in their ground beef. But this past week, to the horror of consumers, ABC News reported that the pink slime is even more ubiquitous than we think. 70 percent of supermarket ground beef contains the gelatinous additive, even though no mention of this filler is required on the label.”

On Thursday, the USDA announced that, while it believes FTLB is safe, schools will be able to opt out of products containing it if they choose come this fall. Alas, the practical implications of this announcement aren’t all that encouraging. Also, it only applies to USDA sourced beef; as USA Today reports, “On average, schools in the National School Lunch Program purchase 20% of their food through the USDA.” Since there are still no FTLB labeling requirements, it seems that schools, parents, and other consumers will still be largely in the dark.

Consumers who want to be sure their ground beef is pink-slime-free can buy organic, since (at least according to media reports above and elsewhere) USDA organic ground beef is legally prohibited from including fillers like FTLB. That’s a least some good news, not to mention the fact that one report suggests your organic burger will taste much better, too.

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