Tag Archives: USDA

PINK SLIME: state governors promote the nutritional value of ammonia-washed processed beef filling

State budgetary crises seem to be a remnant of the past and local governments are apparently no longer associated with inefficiencies and waste.  Obviously, our political heroes have already determined the best means of developing local communities, successfully created jobs and reduced unemployment, significantly improved local schools, addressed childhood obesity and crafted an intricate plan to pay for the rising costs of health care.  They’ve served their constituents, overcome the challenges and are now bravely seeking a new campaign.

So, no longer content to merely revel in their success, local government leaders are now promoting the consumption of lean finely textured beef, thereby touting the benefits of “pink slime” and discouraging further public outcry against the widespread use of the filler.

As we’ve already learned – in no small part because this story just won’t die – lean finely textured beef, commonly known as pink slime, consists of fatty beef scraps and connective tissue that originate from those parts of cows that are highly susceptible to contamination due to their exposure to considerable amounts of feces.  Producers wash the scraps with ammonia hydroxide to remove Salmonella and E. coli and other pathogens.  After treatment, the parts are spun in a centrifuge, thereby transforming the product into a pink gelatinous mass that is used as a filler in commercial and retail meat products.

Information relating to the use of the pink slime has been shrouded in secrecy for years, in no small part because the United States Food and Drug Administration authorized producers to simply label the ingredient as meat.  The public therefore had no meaningful way of knowing that they were consuming the product until recent reports revealed that around 70 percent of meat bought at grocery stores and other retailers contained the ammonia-washed ingredient.

The outrage was considerable, and it resulted in dwindling demand for meat containing lean finely textured beef.  As a result, last week, Beef Products Inc., the largest manufacturer of the ingredient, announced that it would suspend operations at several facilities, including its plants in Garden City, Kansas, Amarillo, Texas and Waterloo, Iowa.  The closure of these plants will likely reduce the production by a whopping 900,000 pounds per day while resulting in the temporary layoff of around 650 employees in affected states.

The company isn’t going down without a fight, though, and it has since announced that it would embark on a massive public relations campaign designed to restore confidence in the product.  Lacking for substantive challenges and no longer concerned about the appropriate use of taxpayer monies, governors from affected states have joined the public relations campaign to crusade against the lack of demand for the product.

On Thursday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Texas Governor Rick Perry banded together to tour Beef Products Inc.’s facility in South Sioux City, Nebraska.  They were seemingly impressed by their foray – which lasted a full thirty minutes –  and they want you to know all about it.  The governors issued a joint statement that assured the world that “[o]ur states proudly produce food for the country and the world – and we do so with the highest commitment toward product safety.  Lean finely textured beef is a safe, nutritious product…”  Individually, they echoed the sentiment:

  • Governor Perry focused on the damning effects of the reduction in demand.  He was concerned that the decreased consumption of the filler will deprive the public of a “safe” product that “is very much needed in this country…

Ironically, the most vocal response to the politician’s campaign did not originate with a consumer advocacy group or an organization of concerned citizens.  Instead, the fast food industry has assured the public that it disavows the use of lean finely textured beef filler regardless of the governors’ claims about its safety and nutritional value.  That’s right – even the industry that has historically peddled highly processed pseudo-beef and the most unhealthy foods has drawn a proverbial line in the sand.

On Friday – the day after the governors attempted to rally public support for the use of lean finely textured beef – Wendy ran an advertisement in eight major newspapers, including the New York Times and USA Today.  It plays upon the old catchphrase of “Where’s The Beef” and appears as follows:

The advertisement isn’t the first statement that the fast food industry has made about the use of pink slime.  Earlier, McDonald’s claimed that it no longer used lean finely textured beef in its products.   Taco Bell and Burger King have also assured the public that they have ceased using meat containing the filler.

What does that mean?  It means that politicians want you to eat a product that they claim is healthy and safe even when the freakin’ fast food industry won’t serve to the public. Tune in next time, when state governors campaign against the use of seat belts and promote the benefits of illegal drug use.

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Petitioning to remove “pink slime” from the national school lunch program

I’m not necessarily sure that electronic petitions ever amount to much, given the anonymity associated with online activities and the perceived lack of procedural controls in accurately polling users.  If you’re interested, however, change.org is asking users to “sign” an online petition directed to Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.  The petition requests that the government stop purchasing meat processed with “pink slime” in the school lunch program.

You can read about “pink slime,” which consists of fatty beef scraps and connective tissue that are treated with ammonia hydroxide, at this link.  You can also read about the government’s decision to purchase 7 million pounds of ammonia-treated beef for the school lunch program at this link.   Finally, anyone that is interested in participating in the petition can access it at this link.  It reads in part:

Government and industry records obtained by The New York Times in 2009 showed that “in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.”

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.

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PINK SLIME, THE SEQUEL: beef scraps and connective tissue, ammonia hydroxide and the national school lunch program

The media provided fairly extensive coverage of the fast food industry’s use of “pink slime.”  The obnoxious substance consists of fatty beef scraps and connective tissue that are treated with ammonia hydroxide to remove pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli.  The concoction is put in a centrifuge to isolate those parts that contain protein, which transforms the scraps into a gelatinous substance that bears a striking resemblance to a certain anti-diarrhea medication.

Once the process is complete, it is used as a filler for commercial ground beef used by fast food restaurants and sold by grocery stores.  Gerald Zirnstein, formerly employed as a scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture, claims that around 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets contains the pink slime.

Let the outrage commence.  The media reports, coupled with significant grassroots efforts, served only to fuel a public outcry against the use of fatty beef fillers treated with ammonia hydroxide. Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver led the charge, using his television show as a soapbox and declaring:

[b]asically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs and after this process we can give it to humans.

McDonald’s decided to stop relying upon the substance.  Taco Bell and Burger King discontinued its use.  H-E-B, Whole Foods, Publix and Kroger won’t touch the filler.  Craig Wilson, the Vice President of Quality Assurance of Costco, explained that

[a]nything we sell at Costco, we want to explain it’s origins, and I personally don’t know how to explain trim treated with ammonia in our ground beef… I just don’t know how to explain that.

For whatever its worth, Safeway has yet to commit to removing the ingredient and is instead “reviewing the matter at this time.”

Safeway may be late to the party, but its commitment to review the matter at least suggests that the company is well ahead of the federal government.

Earlier this week, the media reported that the USDA now plans to use approximately 7 million pounds of meat containing ammonia-treated scraps for the national school lunch program.  Around 6.5% of ground beef consumed by children in the school lunch program will therefore be treated with ammonia hydroxide.

Loosely translated, the federal government wants our children to consume a substance that has been flatly rejected by the fast food industry.  You really can’t make this stuff up.

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LEGISLATORS, LOBBYISTS AND SCHOOL LUNCHES: heroic efforts to save our children, one frozen pizza at a time

Scientists are constantly identifying new species.  These plants and animals are often discovered in remote parts of the world, such as uncivilized and unexplored rainforests or deep within uncharted oceans.  For example, we recently welcomed the aquatic Rogue Mushroom (Psathyrella aquatica), Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) Attenborough’s Pitcher (Nepenthes attenboroughii) and the edible Udderly Weird Yam (Dioscorea orangeana).

These new species haven’t received nearly as much mainstream attention as the latest discovery: an edible vegetable commonly known as a frozen pizza.  This vegetable is hardy and versatile; it can be found thriving in a wide range of harsh environments, including school lunchrooms and the coldest parts of grocery stores.

Alright, this isn’t necessarily a new discovery.  Federal regulations have historically classified frozen pizzas as vegetables so long as they contain at least 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce.  The reasoning for the classification is probably pretty darn simple: frozen pizzas are made with tomato sauce, and tomatoes are vegetables, and therefore frozen pizzas must be vegetables.  It’s a straightforward and nutritious application of the transitive property of mathematics.

The reasoning and the application are also arguably erroneous.  Tomatoes are generally not classified as vegetables; they are generally considered to be fruits.

Regardless, the classification is important for several reasons. First, applying this transitive property of nutrition, I can sprinkle trace amounts of a green, leafy substance on dozens of chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries and feel as if I’ve consumed a healthy and nutritious meal. That’s one heck of a breakthrough, and I already feel noticeably thinner and far more athletic.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the classification impacts the administrative of federal cash subsidies.  Under the current law, schools qualify for federally subsidized lunches only when they serve food to students that meets certain nutritional guidelines.  Schools that serve frozen pizzas that qualify as vegetables are more readily able to satisfy these nutritional guidelines and therefore qualify for federal subsidized lunches.

Simple, right?  Maybe.  The United States Department of Agriculture is much better at explaining this:

[p]ublic or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.

Well, the USDA recently attempted to raise the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  Frozen pizzas would therefore require more tomato sauce to qualify as vegetables, at least in the eyes of the law.

If the proposed regulations were officially enacted, schools would have a financial disincentive to sell traditional frozen pizzas to students.  They would likely only sell frozen pizzas that met the heightened threshold, because otherwise the schools would have greater difficulty in meeting the nutritional requirements for cash subsidized.

Manufacturers of frozen pizzas were that concerned using 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to prepare frozen pizzas would increase the costs associated with production.  They’re probably right, and they were angry.  Some responded by hiring lobbyists.  This made the lobbyists happy.

The happy lobbyists complained to Congress on behalf of the angry manufacturers.  Congress acted upon their demands by including a provision within H.R. 2112, a recent minibus funding bill, that prevented the USDA from raising the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  On November 17, 2011, Congress passed the minibus funding bill and the President signed it the very next day.

The new law ensures that schools likely will continue to sell frozen pizzas containing only 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to students.  These frozen pizzas will also continue to be classified as vegetables, and students will therefore continue to consume the frozen pizzas at school.  Adolescents rejoiced.

Manufacturers no longer needed to worry about the potential for increased costs of producing the frozen pizza.  They were no longer angry.  They rejoiced.

The American Frozen Food Institute was the primary trade organization that lobbied Congress to maintain the traditional standards for classification of frozen pizzas as vegetables.  It may have represented frozen pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc. and Schwan Food Co., but it was really working for the best interests of children.  Don’t believe me?  Consider that the trade organization:

  • stressed that children would benefit from this “important victory,” because any other action would “force companies… to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students,”
  • noted that “we believe we can improve child nutrition by ensuring that schools are able to provide vegetables in any form… It’s a little bizarre for us that in trying to improve nutrition, you take items from school cafeterias that do provide vital sources of vitamins and nutrients.”

I’m not necessarily sure that I’m buying the trade association’s claim the frozen pizzas truly provide vitals sources of nutrients for students.  The nutritional values may vary from school to school and from pizza to pizza, but several fairly reliable sources indicate that frozen pizzas sold to children are the equivalent of intestinal garbage.  According to LIVESTRONG, for example, generic school pizzas contain around 530 calories per slice.  Each slice also reportedly contains 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat, 81 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1333 milligrams of sodium.

Holy freakin’ bloated bellies, Batman!

Whatever.  I’ve ranted about childhood obesity in previous entries, so I’m not going to jump on the soapbox this morning.  Suffice it to say, though, we really shouldn’t be surprised that incidents of type 2 diabetes among children have been occurring with increasing frequency and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past thirty years.  These are disturbing trends, and it appears that the trends are going to get worse before they get better.

I also don’t think that I’m over-exaggerating the severity of the issue by claiming that this act is indicative of the manner in which federal government caters to the interests of corporate America above the health of the nation’s children.  This isn’t necessarily shocking, simply because I’m not really surprised by any action taken by the federal government.  Heck, I wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if the federal government attempted to classify hot dogs and sausages as vegetables so long as they contain a modicum of ketchup.  That’s pretty unrealistic, but even far-out and far-fetched ideas are becoming more and more commonplace.

Wait.  What?  A previous administration already attempted to classify ketchup as a vegetable?

Oh brother.  I feel another rant coming on.  It’s probably best to just grab a pinch of a green leafy substance and get back to my hordes of healthy and nutritious chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries.  I need to work on my figure, anyways.

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