At the end of January, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King all publicly pledged to discontinue their usage of “pink slime,” or beef treated with ammonium hydroxide – a practice in the meat production industry that uses ammonia’s corrosive properties to wash away bacteria and tenderize otherwise inedible connective tissue for incorporation as filler into ground beef products. With fast food joints pulling out, one might assume that pink slime would fade into pastel obscurity. But that assumption would be wrong. According to a new report, pink slime sales are alive and well thanks to the agency that deemed it safe in the first place: the USDA.
The Daily reports that, in spite of recent controversy over the ingredient, the USDA has plans to buy 7 million pounds of “lean beef trimmings” (another term for the connective tissue that gets the ammonium hydroxide treatment) within the next few months for use in school lunches nationwide. According to the report, former employees of the Food Safety Inspection Service are perturbed by the news:
For retired microbiologist Carl Custer, a 35-year veteran of the Food Safety Inspection Service, the idea of mixing in BPI’s Lean Beef Trimmings into more nutritious, pure ground beef was itself problematic.
“We originally called it soylent pink,” Custer told The Daily. “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.”
Despite concerns within the agency, approval of Beef Products Inc.’s ammonium hydroxide-treated lean beef trimmings was pushed through – The Daily’s sources point to government pressure as a deciding factor. That approval remains to this day. Despite heavy criticism of the product, the USDA not only stands behind its approved ingredient list but makes a point about its role in the food production industry:
[The USDA] said in a statement that all of its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.” USDA officials also noted that the sole role of the food inspection service is to determine the overall safety of the nation’s food supply, not to make judgments on a product’s relative merits.
The last statement is one that merits consideration. As long as food is kept pathogen-free and not completely devoid of nutrition, is it out of bounds for the USDA to pass further judgment on the way companies do business? Or should that food be held to a higher standard when it involves the health of children, and especially when it’s the USDA itself that is doing the distribution? It’s certainly open for debate. But it seems that, at least for now, the minds of USDA officials are made up.
[SOURCE: The Daily]