If you need further evidence that the federal government should stay out of the school lunch business, it comes in a report from The Daily noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just contracted to buy 7 million pounds of “pink slime” for its school lunch program.
The term pink slime was coined by microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein. It refers to a ground-up blend of beef scraps, connective tissue, and other trimmings that has been treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill foodborne pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. The resulting product has a shocking pink appearance and a mouth feel described as more like Jell-O than hamburger. (For a more in-depth look at how pink slime is made, check out this segment from celebrity-chef-turned-buddinsky Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, though suffice it to say the stuff is so gross that McDonald’s and Burger King swore off using it in January.)
Marketed under the name “Lean Beef Trimmings” by its manufacturer, Beef Products Inc., pink slime has raised health concerns as well as aesthetic ones. Carl Custer, a microbiologist who worked for the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service for 35 years, is on record as saying:
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.
And that’s only the half of it. Custer warns that ingesting ammonium hydroxide, an ingredient in household cleaners and fertilizers, can be harmful. To make matters worse, the chemical doesn’t invariably do the job it’s intended to do. The New York Times reported in 2009 that since 2005, E. coli was found three times and salmonella 48 in industrial-size batches of the product.
Word of the USDA’s plan to purchase 7 million pounds (that’s 3,500 tons) of pink slime comes on the heels of the government’s release of its new guidelines for more healthful school lunches. First Lady Michelle Obama announced the new standards along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on January 29, proclaiming:
When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home.
She’s right. Pink slime is available only for institutional sale. Kids will not be eating it at home.
As for the purchase, maybe it exemplifies what the president means when he talks about “investing in our children’s future.”
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