‘Pink slime’ oozes back into school lunches in four states

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Don’t call it a comeback. So-called “pink slime” has been here for years. However, in 2012 the meat additive suffered a huge consumer backlash — perhaps in part because it was referred to as pink slime — and a number of states stopped using it in school lunches.

Now, four populous states — Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas — have once again ordered ground beef that could contain pink slime ammonia-treated lean finely textured beef, reports Politico.

After the 2012 dust-up, school districts in only three states — Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota — continued to purchase the product.

As of early September, those three states and the four additional states had contracted to buy about two million pounds of ground beef that could contain the controversial beef additive from a meat processing corporation with the alarmingly generic name Beef Products, Inc

“We are confident that these states and school districts will enjoy both quality and cost improvements. This will ultimately enable them to provide more nutritious lean beef to their children,” said Craig Letch, the director of food safety and quality assurance at Beef Products, Inc., according to the New York Daily News.

“Pink slime” is a beef filler made of meat byproducts after those byproducts have been spun in a centrifuge and exposed to ammonia to kill germs. (Other companies use the same basic process but treat the processed meat stuff with citric acid instead of ammonia.)

In 2012, Beef Products, Inc. sold seven million pounds of lean finely textured beef to the National School Lunch Program. The stuff was also present in over two-thirds of all ground beef in supermarkets.

After a March 2012 exposé by ABC News raised a glut of consumer concerns, several grocery store chains — and McDonald’s — dropped beef containing the product. The USDA began permitting school districts to choose to purchase pink slime-free ground beef only.

Beef Products, Inc. has sued ABC for $1.2 billion for defamation. Other defendants in the suit include the former USDA employee who came up with the term “pink slime” as well as someone who worked for the company as a quality assurance manager.

The Daily News caught up with Bettina Siegel, a food blogger (and mom) from Texas who crusaded against ground beef containing lean finely textured beef.

“Unlike regular consumers, school kids have no market power or voice,” Siegel told the broadsheet. “They’re economically dependent on the school meal and basically have no choice but to eat what’s served to them.”

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Eric Owens