The pink slime controversy
The pink slime we're actually talking about didn't pass our breakfast test. Or lunch test. Credit: Rich Anderson
The pink slime controversy

"Pink slime" was making the news as long ago as 2009, when it was featured in the New York Times. The article exposed the beef industry’s questionable—at best—practice of injecting ammonia into fatty beef trimmings that in the past would have been relegated to pet food. Why anyone would think of injecting ammonia, a hazardous chemical, into food? Apparently these trimmings are highly susceptible to contamination, and injecting ammonia kills bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. The resulting “pink slime” is then mixed into up to 70 percent of ground beef sold in supermarkets nationwide. The USDA does not require meat containing this substance to be labeled and claims that it is safe. Food safety experts have challenged this claim and tests have found E. coli and salmonella in samples of ground beef containing pink slime. Based on the public outcry after pink slime made the news recently, Americans don’t want to eat this substance.

 

For those who have missed the pink slime controversy that’s exploded in the past few weeks, the USDA recently announced plans to buy 7 million pounds of pink slime for the nation’s school lunch program. Perhaps there is a surplus, now that the biggest fast food producers, including McDonalds, Burger King and Taco Bell, have agreed to stop using meat containing pink slime at their “restaurants.” This shouldn’t be surprising, since the school lunch system traditionally has been—and continues to be—a dumping ground for surplus commodities, rather than a place where children can access healthy food.

 

Pink slime is disgusting. It represents all that is wrong with the food system, and in particular, the industrial meat system in the United States. If our system is producing meat that is so dirty that we need to inject it with ammonia before we eat it, what does that say about the conditions in which the food is produced and the animals are raised?

As much as we need to hold industry and government officials accountable, we should remind ourselves that the majority of Americans continue to demand large quantities of cheap meat, usually with little to no concern about the social, environmental and health risks associated with its production. If Americans want to continue eating meat on a daily basis, pink slime might be something they have to learn to accept (not to mention an elevated risk of heart disease and cancer).

 

The bottom line is that it shouldn’t just be a question of getting “pink slime” out of our hamburgers—the goal should be to create an entirely different food system, one in which we think about growing clean, healthy, sustainable food from beginning to end.

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Liz Simmons is a writer and editor living in Colorado.

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