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Schools will be able to order ground beef without “pink slime” following public pressure to remove the product made from beef trim from lunches.
Schools will have the choice of ground beef made without the pink slime, also known as lean finely textured beef, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The product is made of beef trim and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens.
“USDA continues to affirm the safety of lean finely textured beef product for all consumers and urges customers to consult science-based information on the safety and quality of this product,” the agency said today in a statement.
The decision was made in response to requests from districts across the country and takes effect next school year, according to the agency’s statement.
About 6 percent, or 7 million pounds, of the beef purchased this year by the USDA for the lunch program is the textured product, which is sold by Beef Products Inc., a Dakota Dunes, South Dakota-based manufacturer. More than 220,000 people signed an online petition calling on the agency to stop using pink slime in the federal school lunch program, which the agency administers.
While the agriculture department and the Food and Drug Administration say the product is safe, critics object because they say it is unappetizing, made of inferior parts and may harbor pathogens like E. coli.
The USDA’s decision is “awe inspiring,” Bettina Elias Siegel, of Houston, and the initiator of the petition, wrote on her blog The Lunch Tray.
Still, the substance is in much of the ground beef sold in the U.S. and should be labeled, she said.
There should be full disclosure of the beef trim product on labels so consumers can make informed decisions, Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said today in a statement prior to the department’s announcement. He sent a letter to the USDA requesting details on food-safety procedures for pink slime.
Several fast-food restaurant chains have stopped using the product, including McDonald’s Corp. (MCD), the world’s largest restaurant chain, Burger King Holdings Inc. and Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell. McDonald’s dropped the ingredient to be “consistent with our global beef supply chain,” according to a statement from the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company.
There is no concern about food safety related to the product, Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the USDA, said last week in an e-mail.
“All USDA ground beef purchases must meet the highest standards for food safety,” he said. “USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce that we have confidence are safe.”
The substance is made from trimmings, which are smaller pieces of fat that contain bits of beef, according to the American Meat Institute, a trade group representing meatpackers including Tyson Foods Inc. and JBS Swift & Co. The trimmings are heated and spun to separate out the meat, much like cream out of milk. Ammonia and water is used in processing to control harmful bacteria by raising PH levels, according to the group. Another variation uses citric acid and is made by Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., the second-largest manufacturer.
“As parents and consumers continue to make important decisions about the food they and their children eat, we hope that they listen to credible sources outside media sensationalists and take note of the overwhelming support from the government and scientific community” for the product, Eldon Roth, founder of Beef Products Inc., said in a statement.
The lean beef produced from trim is used in hamburger, sausage, ground beef and is treated with a process also used in other foods, such as cheeses and chocolates, according to a March 8 statement from the company.
“The rhetoric has now reached a near hysterical and fever pitch, even though we’re talking about something that is 100 percent beef, 90-95 percent lean, that has been produced and consumed for nearly 20 years without concern or consequences,” Michael Martin, a spokesman for Cargill, said in an e-mail.
The process used to make the product is USDA-approved and conducted at agency-inspected facilities, he said.
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