Outrage erupted this past week over the U.S. Drug Administration (USDA)'s plans to ship processed meat product collectively containing seven million pounds of "pink slime" to schools across the country, reported MSNBC News. Roughly 6.5 percent of this meat will contain ammonium-hydroxide.
“Pink slime” is a term coined to describe the low-grade trimmings or scraps of connective tissue and muscle gathered from slaughterhouse floors. While generally contaminated, the fragments—once only used in dog food and cooking oil, according the movie Food Inc.—are cured with a pink chemical and sprayed with ammonia-hydroxide gas to kill dangerous pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. Because of this treatment, the USDA recognizes the meet as generally safe to eat.
The resulting pinkish goo is then mixed in with traditional ground beef in hamburger patties and chuck.
But Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) microbiologists Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer say the USDA is pressured to purchase the product, which was recently dropped by fast-food chains McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell, reported The Daily.
“I have a 2-year-old son,” Zirnstein told The Daily. “And you better believe I don’t want him eating pink slime when he starts going to school.”
Zirnstein is responsible for labeling the pink-tainted substance “pink slime.” In 2002, he investigated Beef Products Inc. for salmonella contamination in packaged ground beef. Following his visit, Zirnstein emailed his colleagues that he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef.”
“We originally called it soylent pink,” Custer, now retired, a 35-year FSIS veteran, 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.”
According to ABC News, 70 percent of ground beef purchased in grocery stores contains pink slime. “There is no way to even know from labels or even from the butchers here whether it contains pink slime,” said ABC News producer Candace Smith in New York.
Even the ground beef containing pink slime that is being shipped to schools isn't identified as such. "We don't know which districts are receiving what meat, and this meat isn't labeled to show pink slime. They don't have to under federal law," said Bettina Siegal, author of the blog TheLunchTray.com.
Siegal started the petition "Tell USDA to STOP Using Pink Slime in School Food!" on change.org, which this morning had close to 171,000 signatures—nearing its goal of 200,000. "Even apart from safety concerns, it is simply wrong to feed our children connective tissues and beef scraps that were, in the past, destined for use in pet food and rendering and were not considered fit for human consumption," Siegal writes.