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."
Extracting beef remnants from fat and trimmings, where pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella are found in markedly higher concentrations, is a cost effective way to increase overall yields -- shaving an estimated three cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef.
Critics, though, contend South Dakota-based BPI has made millions off "pink slime" over the past decade, and that its safety and nutritional claims about the treated beef are dubious at best.
"Not only is this product a potential source of killer pathogens if the ammonia levels are not controlled properly, but that the overall protein quality of the beef hamburger is compromised by the inclusion of LFTB," former US Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein said.
Zirnstein, who worked in the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service, coined the term "pink slime" after touring a BPI production plant.
The former director of food safety for BPI, Kit Foshee, maintains that the company's CEO routinely told fast-food companies that the inclusion of treated beef would help kill pathogens when mixed with other ground beef.
"BPI is marketing themselves as a pinnacle of safety," Foshee said. "It's all lies. It's all marketing."
In less than a week, Houston food columnist and mother Bettina Siegel collected 200,000 petition signatures, mostly of parents, who object to the meat mixture being served to children. She plans to present the petition to the USDA.