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USDA to Offer Schools a Choice in Ground Beef Products
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
March 16, 2012 -- "Pink slime" may soon be off the menu at many schools.
The USDA says it will offer school lunch program participants a choice between purchasing ground beef with or without the controversial product known as "lean finely textured beef" by the meat industry and "pink slime" by its opponents.
The product is a filler created by combining beef trimmings, heating them to remove most of the fat, and treating them with ammonia hydroxide gas to kill potentially dangerous bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.
Although the price has not yet been disclosed, the USDA's filler-free ground beef will likely cost schools more.
On average, schools in the National Lunch Program purchase about 20% of their food from the USDA and the other 80% comes from private vendors.
Online Pink Slime Campaign
The decision comes months after fast food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell publicly announced they would no longer use lean finely textured beef products in their restaurants.
The USDA says its decision to offer a choice in beef products was "in response to requests from school districts across the country."
But it also follows an aggressive online campaign calling for the agency to rid school lunches of the controversial filler.
An online petition started by blogger and former lawyer Bettina Siegel urging the USDA to get "pink slime" out of the school lunch program has generated more than 230,000 signatures.
"I oppose pink slime because it comes from a highly pathogenic source, it is a cheap filler which is not 'ground beef' as consumers commonly understand that term, because it is thought to be less nutritious than regular beef, and because it is widely used in our food supply without any disclosure to consumers," Siegel writes today on her blog, The Lunch Tray.
Siegel and other critics have argued that meat trimmings are more likely to harbor bacteria and that including them as filler in ground beef increases the risk of infection.
But the USDA says it "continues to affirm the safety of lean finely textured beef products" for all consumers.
The meat industry contends that lean finely textured beef is a nutritious product that meets federal safety standards.
"The fact remains that lean finely textured beef is a 100% beef product produced from beef trimmings that yields an additional 10-12 pounds of lean, nutritious beef from every beef animal," J.D. Alexander, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says in a news release. "The production of lean finely textured beef prevents lean, nutritious beef from being wasted."
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