If you haven’t heard about pink slime in the news this week, you’ll hear about it now. It’s been all over the news on tv, radio, social media, and that old-fashioned form of news – word of mouth. Even though we’ve been consuming this stuff for decades, a lot of eyes are opening up. It seems people are slowly taking more and more responsibility for their own health, and we want to be able to make informed choices. It’s a bad day for the meat industry when consumers caught wind of the use of pink slime.
In an ingenious twist of marketing and an attempt to safe face, the beef industry claims pink slime is a way for them to become more sustainable. The beef trimmings rejected by the butcher and normally sent to make dog food, cosmetics, or cooking oil is now being made suitable for human consumption. The reason the trimmings were not used in the past is because they come from cow parts that are near the hide and therefore more susceptible to contamination by E. coli and other bacteria. That’s easy enough to fix – just wash it. In something strong. Like ammonia. That’s right, the beef trimmings are processed to remove some of the fat, and then they’re gased with ammonia to kill the bacteria. Ammonia is not an antibiotic but it does change the pH of the beef enough that E. coli go the way of the cattle.
The result is ‘lean beef trimmings’, aka pink slime. The additive is considered a filler because it’s mixed in with ground beef to bulk up the original product. This is done not only because it’s cheaper but because it is artificially so lean that adding it to fatty cuts of beef can make it leaner. Leaner is more marketable to the growing population of health conscious consumers, so this allows more of the cattle parts to be sold at higher prices. And it’s costing them less. Really, you have to give some credit to the brilliant business minds that came up with this idea. It’s just too bad they didn’t have any care or concern regarding the consumer.
So where does this slimed beef go? Pretty much everywhere. Reports estimate about 70% of the ground beef found in supermarkets, restaurants, and school lunches contain pink slime. So if you eat any ground beef at all, you’re likely eating pink slime 70% of the time. And if you eat lean cuts, it’s probably more than 70%.
How do you know if you’re eating it? You don’t. As with so many things unbecoming of government, the USDA has cleared this product as safe, and they consider the ammonia treatment just that – a treatment, not an ingredient. So it doesn’t need to be on the label. Pink slime is otherwise made of 100% beef (it all came from the cow, remember?), so the label is accurately listing only beef as the ingredient. There is no way to know. Starting in the fall of 2012, school districts will be able to choose to purchase beef with or without pink slime since they purchase directly from the government. Unfortunately, there’s no pending change to labeling requirements for anyone else.
You can ask your grocer what their policy is, and you can ask the restaurants what they’re serving. But you’ll just have to trust their answer.
McDonald’s claims they no longer purchase beef with pink slime. But they also promised to stop buying eggs from producers using battery cages. They’ve found a clever way to avoid public outcry, but the reality is that the battery cages as well as the gestation crates for pigs are the industry standard. My fear is that they may just keep switching producers and stick with them until some undercover video footage gets leaked and they find out unsuspectingly that their producers weren’t doing what they thought they were doing after all.
But you never know… there is certainly a huge public outcry from consumers demanding to know where their food comes from. Public outcry is a catalyst for change. The Humane Society of the United States used a genius tactic in a recent success on banning gestation crates – make McDonald’s change their standards, and the producers will be forced to change. I’ve heard it said there are two kinds of food producers – those who HAVE contracts with McDonald’s, and those who WANT contracts with McDonald’s. Who knows – maybe there’s enough media attention to force corporations like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s to change their ways. Fast food may one day be credited with changing the entire factory farming industry!
There is one super simple way to be sure that you are not consuming contaminated meat that I feel obligated to divulge. There are other options – like portobellas, eggplant, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, pumpkin, butternut squash, tomatoes, carrots, celery, avocado, turnip, bok choy, mango, and spinach. For every type of meat you can name, I can name a dozen vegetables that are safer and that will pack on powerful protective nutrients instead of pounds. Just a thought….