Understanding the Pink Slime Controversy

January 19, 2014

The recent ABC News report that exposed the use of ‘pink slime’ which is a buzzword created to describe scrap and waste meat that is used as filler in many ground beef products, has caused quite a stir in recent weeks. The consumer outrage surrounding the use of pink slime has been fueled in large part by postings on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and started due to concerns about its use in food used to make school lunches.

Perhaps one of the most alarming things about pink slime is that it is treated with ammonium hydroxide prior to consumption, although it is also important to point out that there have been no reported cases of illness or disease traced to the trimmings. Regardless, the food industry has experienced a widespread removal of the product from use since the news story first made headlines, after concerned parents and outraged consumers made their revulsion clear online.

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Although ammonium hydroxide has been used in commercial ground beef products since the 1990s, it was the knowledge that the USDA planned to purchase upwards of 7 million pounds of pink slime to be used in schools throughout the country that initially caused the greatest sense of alarm. Regardless, since the story broke several major grocery chains, including Safeway, Remke bigg’s, Kroger and Supervalue, along with restaurants like McDonald’s and other hamburger chains, have announced that they will stop using the product, while a growing number of schools have announced that they will not include it as part of their lunch program.

The overall consensus seems to be that people want to know what is in their food, and pink slime, which is known by the industry as “lean, finely textured beef,” seems to be an unwanted addition for most. It is made from fatty bits of leftover meat that are first heated up, and then spun to remove fat before being compressed into blocks and blasted with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. Incredibly, this processed meat product reportedly makes up a whopping 70 percent of all ground beef that is consumed in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the backlash against the use of pink slime has caused hard times for Beef Products, Inc. and the company’s employees, which makes the product and has already closed three of its four plants due to loss of business. The negative attention is also expected to cause an increase in hamburger prices, as well as hard times for the cattle industry, which has already experienced hardship since February of 2010 due to low cattle supplies in the U.S.

Kevin Concannon, who is former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services and now serves as undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the USDA, has told U.S. schools that they can opt to stop using beef that contains the additive. Most of them did just that, joining the majority of supermarkets and restaurants in discontinuing use of the product.

If eating so-called pink slime is a concern for you, the best way to make sure you are not consuming the additive is to buy ground beef that is stamped with the USDA organic label, which contains only pure meat and no filler.

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