ABC News has the learned that tomorrow the U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce that starting this fall, schools will be able to choose whether or not they buy hamburger that contains lean finely textured beef known as “pink slime.”
The announcement comes one week after ABC News reported on the beef filler commonly known as “pink slime,” which is found in 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets.
“It kind of looks like play dough,” said Kit Foshee, who, until 2001, was a corporate quality assurance manager at Beef Products Inc., the company that makes “pink slime.” “It’s pink and frozen, it’s not what the typical person would consider meat.”
Foshee said that he was fired by BPI after complaining about the process used to make the filler, and the company’s claims about it. Since then, he has spoken out against the product.
J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, defended the practice as a way to safely use what otherwise would be wasted.
“BLBT (Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings) is a sustainable product because it recovers lean meat that would otherwise be wasted,” he said in a statement.
However, the substance, critics said, is more like gelatin than meat, and before BPI found a way to use it by disinfecting the trimmings with ammonia, it was sold only to dog food or cooking oil suppliers.
But Boyle said, “The beef trimmings that are used to make BLBT are absolutely edible” and Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs for AMI, said there was no reason to label beef that contains “pink slime.”
“What are you asking me to put on the label, its beef, it’s on the label, it’s a beef product, it’s says beef so we are declaring … it’s beef,” she said.
The low-grade trimmings come from the parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination, often close to the hide, which is highly exposed to fecal matter. But because the treatment of the trimmings — simmering them in low heat, separating fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs — the United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to eat.
ABC News traveled across the country to the meat section of grocery stores to see if it’s in the ground beef they sell. At most stores it was impossible to tell for sure whether the beef contained the filler. At one store there was no way to tell from the labels, and the butchers did not know the answer.
There is only one way to know for certain that “pink slime” is not in your beef: If your meat is stamped USDA Organic, it’s pure meat with no filler.
Otherwise, you can’t know from the packaging because “pink slime” does not have to appear on the label. And the USDA is giving no indication it will force meat packers to lift the veil of secrecy any time soon.