March 15, 2012

Pink Slime

Let me get my biases out of the way up front in the spirit of full disclosure:

  • I don't eat meat. I haven't eaten meat for 10 years.
  • My vegetarianism wasn't a result of any particular objection to meat but, instead, a realization of the fact that I didn't actually enjoy eating meat.
  • Over the past five or six years, vegetarianism has evolved into something of a moral stance since I believe that the industry is rife with cruelty to animals and a general disregard for the humans who consume them.
  • I'm not an extremist. I buy animal products. I would never be accepted at a PETA meeting.
  • I don't care what you do. Vegetarianism is a personal choice. You like meat? Good for you. Grab a burger and eat it in front of me. I miss them sometimes. Oh, and bacon.

Have you heard about pink slime? If not, you should. Here's how the issue was encapsulated by an ABC News report:

Gerald Zirnstein grinds his own hamburger these days. Why? Because this former United States Department of Agriculture scientist and, now, whistleblower, knows that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something he calls “pink slime.”

Zirnstein and his fellow USDA scientist, Carl Custer, both warned against using what the industry calls “lean finely textured beef,” widely known now as “pink slime,” but their government bosses overruled them.

According to Custer, the product is not really beef, but “a salvage product … fat that had been heated at a low temperature and the excess fat spun out.”

The “pink slime” is made by gathering waste trimmings, simmering them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.

The “pink slime” does not have to appear on the label because, over objections of its own scientists, USDA officials with links to the beef industry labeled it meat.

“The under secretary said, ‘it’s pink, therefore it’s meat,’” Custer told ABC News.

Yeah, ew. It gets worse...

Carl Custer, a retired microbiologist who spent 35 years in the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, toured a BPI factory in 2002 while investigating salmonella in ground beef. "We originally called it soylent pink," Custer 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."

Custer's former colleague Gerald Zirnstein coined the term "pink slime," which was then popularized by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

According to Custer, the USDA ruled that "pink slime" was safe, despite concerns, because a George H.W. Bush appointee who had been president of both the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association -- undersecretary JoAnn Smith -- pushed it through. Smith now serves on the board of directors of Tyson Foods, the largest chicken, beef and pork processing company in the world.

"It’s more like Jell-O than hamburger, plus it’s treated with ammonia, an additive that is not declared anywhere," Custer said.

But wait, there's more...since the US government is buying seven million pounds of the stuff with quite a bit directed at school kids. According to Fox news:

The company that sells ground beef treated with ammonia proclaims their meat mixture is good for America's schoolchildren, even though parents across the country are seriously questioning the safety of what has been dubbed "pink slime."

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) made the declaration about its "lean finely textured beef" or LFTB over the weekend to The Daily, which broke the news that the federal government plans to buy ground beef that contains 7 million pounds of the product in the coming year. After the report, "pink slime" became the most searched topic on the internet.

"Including LFTB in the national school lunch program's beef products accomplishes three important goals on behalf of 32 million kids," BPI spokesman Rich Jochum said. "It 1) improves the nutritional profile, 2) increases the safety of the products and 3) meets the budget parameters that allow the school lunch program to feed kids nationwide every day."

To summarize, it's gross, laden with chemicals and might not actually be meat, but it's cheap! So by all means lets give it to our kids.

Please tell me that - despite and in acknowledgement of my biases - I'm not alone in seeing the horror in this. Please? I'm not alone. Right?

Posted by Chris at March 15, 2012 7:01 AM

You are not alone. I plan to ask at the grocery store where I buy meat if it is in their ground beef (which we rarely eat but we do occasionally have hamburgers). If it is I will grind my own beef from now on. And I don't think I will be able to order a hamburger out ever again. It sounds disgusting!

Posted by: beth anne at March 15, 2012 8:52 AM

You should see some of the crap they serve to our school children! I know you're an Obama fan, but to hear his wife strolling around the country preaching healthy eating and seeing our nation's school children eating nachos with canned cheese for lunch pisses me off. I'm not a vegetarian but I'd like to think that we purchase and prepare high quality foods. I can't imagine feeding half of what is at the grocery store to my family, much less anything named pink slime!

Posted by: Jenn at March 15, 2012 9:01 AM

OHGOD OHGOD OHGOD I just bought a tray of ground beef yesterday. That should be our last one. Then I have to do some research into companies that don't use that pink crap.

Posted by: bouncy at March 15, 2012 9:22 AM

Don't eat factory meat. Eat meat from farmers you can look in the eye and farms you can go to and visit. It tastes better and what's more, it's actually FOOD.

You aren't too far from this place, right?

It's well worth it, carnivore or not. Remarkable and humbling.

Posted by: Aaron at March 15, 2012 9:41 AM

It's awful! Another blogger, Bettina Siegel of, recently started an online petition to rid schools of pink slime. Anyone who wants to add their name to the quarter million who've already signed can at

Posted by: Kate M at March 15, 2012 10:29 AM

Wow. I've never been so glad before that I pack my kids lunches and that they've never been inclined to ask to buy the school lunches.

Do any of your readers know if the ground beef at Costco is filled with pink slime? (Shudder.)

Posted by: Donna at March 15, 2012 10:43 AM

You are absolutely not alone! I am outraged by this on so many levels. The suggestion to buy from local farmers is a great one and although it costs a little more you know you're getting real food and you're supporting a local farmer. Double win!

I agree with the criticism of needing more healthy food in schools. If I remember correctly Michele Obama was put through the wringer for her healthy food campaign because families didn't want to be told how to eat and feed their children.

Posted by: amyd at March 15, 2012 10:45 AM

I'm the lone veg in my house but the kids do not like and will not eat beef. Thanks to pink slime, my husband will be getting organic 100% beef at the grocery store on the rare occasion that I buy it to cook for him. Now- I can't guarantee what fast fooderies are calling beef but I know T*co Bell's ground beef is mostly soy, which is better than slime. The food industry in this country is out for profit, not nutrition. Anyone who can watch Food Inc and still enjoy a burger probably deserves pink slime. But kids? Never.

Posted by: rebecca at March 15, 2012 11:31 AM

No, you're not alone in being horrified. And because of reading this I bought my own meat-grinder for my kitchenaid mixer so that I could make my own. this process alone terrifies me, but it's better than the alternative here. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by: Jenn at March 15, 2012 12:06 PM

I mentioned to my wife this weekend that I wanted us to start making a weekly trip to the trendy expensive butcher shop in Fredericksburg, where I know exactly what is going into my ground beef.

Speaking of school lunches, check out this blog post I did recently about a private school in Fredericksburg that brings in fast food every single day for lunch. Also interesting was the sample school lunch menu left in the comments by somebody in Italy. I'll bet the schools in Italy are spending less on food while feeding the kids way better too.

Posted by: COD at March 15, 2012 12:11 PM

My husband and I have found local farmers to source all of our meat from - (and most of our veggies and cheeses too). What we can't pronounce, we don't eat - and we're feeling MUCH better for it.

Since we don't have children of our own, we're not as exposed to what goes on in the local school systems regarding lunches - but this news article came up a month or so ago - regarding 'monitoring' the lunches that kids bring to school

Personally, the more I see about how education is being steered by more conservative thinkers than myself, and what people choose to feed their children being overridden by 'rogue government inspectors' - I'd be more apt to homeschool my children - and that way I'd be able to control my child's education and nutrition the way I think it should be.

I honestly think that we're doing ourselves more good if we eat local - not only because we're supporting local economy, but because we're keeping things 'in our environment'.

Posted by: Kellie at March 15, 2012 1:01 PM

(I'm a vegetarian too.) We pack the kids a lunch every day. When my daughter tries to put a handful of pennies into her backpack "to buy lunch," we tell her she's not allowed to buy school lunches because they're not healthy food. Until the school starts offering meals I'd eat myself, I'll be packing lunches.

Posted by: Mommy's Minions at March 15, 2012 1:10 PM

yes, it is all horrifying. there are so many things wrong with the food industry and agri-business that i just wouldn't even know where to start. and the answers are definitely not easy to come by.

it kind of breaks my heart to read comments like the one from jenn above. Mrs. Obama has the best intentions and only so much true power to do the changing. my sister is a nutritionist who is passionate about policy change and spent five years in DC working tirelessly (and i mean that literally, there were many many all-day all-nighters for the cause) with congress to improve school lunches (and the food industry in general). the ENTIRE INDUSTRY will have to be changed (including subsidies, power of lobbyists, not to mention the will of the people to actually pass realistic school funding) before our children will be able to eat quality meals in school. my sister lost her job as soon as the republicans took over the majority in congress, so now there is one less advocate on the Hill for your childrens' nutrition.

instead of rudely criticizing the honest good intentions of the FLOTUS from your couch, let's try physically advocating for our local schools, demanding change from our republican congress, demanding our treasure be spent on our children's education/nutrition instead of war, demanding that lobbyists for agri-BUSINESS have less say in what your children are fed, and on and on. if only you could spend one day dealing with the bureaucracy that my sister battled, you would be even more disgusted with the broken system, but less rude to Mrs. Obama.

Posted by: kati at March 15, 2012 2:06 PM

I saw the headlines, but didn't know what it was about until my hubby filled me in. This isn't in organic burger or at least, the one that we eat. But, it is locally in our grocery stores.

It astonishes me that the FDA doesn't consider this a problem. I find this whole thing disgusting.

I am guessing that unless masses of people throw a fit or quit buying burger, this isn't going to change.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at March 15, 2012 2:23 PM

Here is a link of where pink slime is and isn't.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at March 15, 2012 8:26 PM

This is why we only buy organic, grass-fed beef, either from our local grocery or the even-more-local farm down the road.

But my sympathies go to the many people who simply don't have the time or income to make good food choices. There's been much in the news lately about "food deserts," places -- sometimes entire cities -- where no decent grocery stores exist. Just yesterday, Marketplace did a great piece on Wendell Pierce (of The Wire and Treme). He is opening a new chain of grocery stores in New Orleans to combat food deserts. What a guy!

Posted by: Laura Gato at March 16, 2012 11:13 AM

Shit. It's in ground beef too?! I thought it was just chicken. I think I'm going to end up being a vegetarian someday real soon. My favorite part is that McDonald's -- freaking McDonald's -- won't put this shit in Happy Meals, but schools are all, yes by all means let's feed this to our children.

Posted by: Fraulein N at March 19, 2012 8:21 AM