Pink Slime: The Sequel

Just when you thought your hamburger was safe, Pink Slime is back for round two. This reminds us of horror movies franchises that produce sequels year after year; only in this case the nightmare has turned into reality.

For those of you scratching your head, here’s some background: when a cow is slaughtered and butchered there are multiple types of meat produced. The highest quality filet mignon is accompanied by tougher cuts of meat, and the scraps that traditionally have not been used because they were very filthy and full of fat.

Thanks to a company called Beef Products International (BPI), these scraps have been  transformed into Lean Finely Textured Beef – basically ground up meat that can be used to make hamburgers. The product is cheaper than regular ground beef and so it became very popular in school lunch programs funded by the USDA.

The problem is that the processing of the beef scraps includes the use of ammonia. Why would you add ammonia to beef? Simply because these filthy scraps are a wonderful breeding ground for potential pathogens and the ammonia treatment kills them off. The only problem is that BPI could not get the process to work well all the time, and customers sometimes complained of a strong ammonia smell in their meat. In other cases, not enough ammonia was used which means the meat may still be infested with dangerous pathogens.

Because of these issues, the product has been dubbed Pink Slime, a name that BPI could not shake and ultimately led the firm to the brink of bankruptcy last year. An online petition to stop schools from selling Pink Slime burgers to kids went viral, was picked up by mainstream media, and virtually overnight halted all orders from BPI. That’s where we left off last year.

But it turns out BPI did not shut its factory gates. It held on to several loyal clients: the state lunch program of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. And, this fall, four additional states are coming back: Texas, Virginia, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Why would they do that? Money, of course. If funding was not an issue, schools would be serving higher quality meat. But schools are barely managing with the meager funding provided by the USDA for lunch programs, so even a few cents off per pound can mean big savings to a school system with hundreds of thousands of mouths to feed every day.

If you are a parent in one of these states, make your voice heard. For mainstream media, and most of online media, this story is not interesting anymore.


  • JKern

    According to Margo Wootan at CSPI, who has rather strcit standards, and is probably the source for your post, the food is safe. It is also a lot leaner than most ground beef. I’ll be the first to agree that it is creepy food and can’t be as good for you as lots of other (more expensive) foods, but the safety issue (which you raise in the very beginning) seems not to actually be a factor — any greater than with other ground beef.
    Creepy food. Not so good for you? Yes. Unsafe? Maybe not.

    • Fooducate

      re: the safety issue, we’ll quote Marion Nestle: Why don’t we have a food safety system in place that requires beef to be safe in the first place—so it doesn’t have to be treated with ammonia?

  • Ciaran Saoirse

    ” If funding was not an issue, schools would be serving higher quality meat.”

    Brings to mind that old saying, “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

    Remember, folks, it’s much more important that we Americans shovel our tax dollars into the greedy maw of foreign countries rather than fund our own schools, provide universal health care, and fix our infrastructure. Just for example: The United States will give Israel $3.4 billion [$9.3 million per day] in defense aid for the fiscal year 2014. Source: If Americans Knew.

    Yeah yeah, I can hear naysayers now: it’s apples and oranges, military funding isn’t the same as educational funding. But the money still comes from us plebes and working stiffs. Imagine what we could do to help our own, with such largesse at our disposal instead of lining the pockets of the already-obscenely-wealthy MIC (military industrial complex).

  • Dirk Wethington

    This is why my daughter takes her own vegetarian/vegan lunch to school.

  • Mike Luque

    As nasty as pink slime is, I think the real issue here is the horribly skewed priorities of our elected officials. Have you ever heard of “crop insurance”? Well you pay for it. Taxpayers subsidized insurance payments for farms to the tune of $15.8 BILLION dollars in 2012! When disaster strikes a farm, insurance companies don’t pay them, you do. Cut that by half and there would be plenty of money for healthy food in every school in America.

    And the three states that never gave up pink slime: Iowa receives the 2nd highest amount of subsidies, Nebraska 5th and South Dakota 8th.

    All information is from the Environmental Working Group: