September 20, 2013. Pink slime is back. Removed from schools last year after a tidal wave of angry parents demanded it not be used in lunches, the new school year shows the stuff is coming back. Seven states have officially ordered millions of pounds of pink slime beef for their schools. And critics point out that most school cafeteria ground beef is purchased from other companies who may not be disclosing it.
Pink slime was found in 70% of US grocery store ground beef.
Last year, two women created a media firestorm over the use of ground beef containing ‘pink slime’ in school lunches. One was Diane Sawyer and ABC World News, which has since been sued by pink slime producers. The other was Bettina Siegel, a Houston mom who launched a national campaign to get pink slime out of school lunches. Almost immediately, her petition garnered over 250,000 signatures and kept the subject in the media spotlight. By the time they were done, almost every state school lunch program in the country stopped ordering it and four of the five major manufacturing facilities that produce it were shuttered for lack of business.
As detailed by Food Safety News, ‘The product is made from fatty beef trimmings that are slightly heated and then centrifuged to spin the fat off and recover the meat. The lean, “finely textured” beef bits are treated with ammonia gas to kill harmful pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli and then flash frozen. Processors and retailers then thaw and mix up to 20 percent of ammoniated beef into ground beef products.’
Don’t let that 20% number fool you. That’s just the percentage of pink slime in any random sample of ground beef containing it. As the New York Daily News reports, when supermarkets and grocery stores around the country were sampled, a full 70% of all ground beef tested contained pink slime. Last year, the largest producer of pink slime beef sold 7 million pounds to the National School Lunch Program. When school started earlier this month, only 2 million pounds were sold to the government program.
7 States order pink slime
For the 2013-2014 school year, schools in at least seven states will be serving pink slime to their students – Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
There are only two reasons government schools order pink slime ground beef. One is that the companies that produce it have manufacturing plants in their state and they don’t want to lose the jobs or tax revenue. Those states include Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Texas may be ordering the product in hopes that the company will re-open their Texas plant that was forced to close after last year’s uproar and mass boycott of pink slime.
The other reason is that cash-strapped states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia see pink slime as a way to shave a few dollars off the price they pay for school lunches. Manufacturers say it typically costs 3% less than ground beef without pink slime. Unfortunately for American consumers, pink slime isn’t labeled in grocery stores and falls under the category of 100% beef.
Forget pink slime, it’s the deadly micro-organisms
Apparently, the British think America’s obsession with pink slime is somewhat misguided. Because in a report published two days ago, The Guardian warned the US not to miss the just-released study by the CDC that points out a much greater danger in our meat products. According to the CDC’s first-ever estimate of the problem, the agency says roughly 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
What does that have to do with pink slime? The report cites the fact that 80% of all antibiotics administered in the US each day are given to farm animals, not people. But people end up eating the antibiotics anyway when those farm animals end up on our dinner plates. And the scariest part is, the industry is so unregulated that nobody knows what antibiotics, how many or how much, are being pumped into our bacon, chicken wings and that sizzling steak.
The reason antibiotics are necessary is even more disturbing. Anyone who’s ever seen the undercover videos of livestock farms, slaughterhouses and chicken coops shot and released by groups like PETA understands. To maximize their corporate profits, food manufacturers pack as many animals as they can into the smallest spaces possible to maximize production output. In conditions like that, diseases spread easily. If one animal gets sick, they all get sick. To combat that, meat producers administer massive amounts of antibiotics to all the animals.
But wait, it gets better. Corporate meat companies discovered something wonderful for them. They noticed that the large amounts of antibiotics weren’t just keeping the animals alive, they were fattening them up. At first, many simply thought, ‘healthy animals are bigger than sick animals.’ But follow-up studies proved that antibiotics have a surprise effect on animal stomachs. They not only kill the bad bacteria, they also slow the metabolism of carbohydrates. With additional carbohydrates came fatter cows, pigs and chickens, and more importantly, more money per animal for the corporations.
Smoking gun and the Super Bug
The authors of The Guardian report spoke to Johns Hopkins University’s Keeve Nachman, the director of the Center for a Livable Future. ‘We don't know exactly what antibiotics are being used in meat production, or how large the doses that are administered are,’ the article cited Nachman, ‘Even more critically, we don't know how much of these antibiotics remains in the meat that we eat. There is no requirement to routinely test for this. Eating meat, even with low doses of antibiotics, he warns, may lead to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.’
In a study published this week in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, Keeve Nachman highlights the results of his work that show that people who live near pig farms have a higher infection rate of the super-bug MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The Guardian and Nachman also point out other studies that show additional antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found concentrated in streams around livestock farms.
So, as bad as pink slime is, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are much worse. And it’s worth repeating that 80% of the antibiotics in the US are used on the animals we eat. And the majority of those aren’t used to keep the cows, pigs and chickens from getting sick. They’re being used as growth hormones, in addition to the growth hormones they’re already pumping them full of. But that’s a whole other story.
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