Forget cows over fed junk corn, antibiotics and hormone laced beef, even the presence of metals, or saturated fat, heart disease, the possible carcinogen factor and now the latest, a link between it and early death; yes we’ve all heard the warnings associated with eating too much red meat. However most assume, from the health warnings, that said meat is simply bad for us because of our bodies’ reaction to it, similar to salt raises blood pressure, sugar and high fructose corn syrup increase the risk of diabetes, because of the amount of sugar, how our body processes such things, even based on the idea the human body is built for a more vegetarian diet. But hold on, now there could be a new reason; what’s really in the ground beef we buy, what’s actually in the meat products present in our grocers’ meat sections? According to a former USDA scientist turned whistle blower, lean finely textured beef often referred to as pink slime is regularly placed in ground beef as filler and certainly isn’t beef as we know it. The process to create so called pink slime reads more like science than basic butcher meat processing, which involves taking fat and other trimmings, formerly only used in dog food, simmering at low heat, placing it in a centrifuge to remove all fat, spraying with ammonia to remove bacteria, then freezing for packaging to meat processing plants to be placed in the final product we receive. Sound like the 100% ground beef you pay top dollar for; neither did it sound so to the not, one but two, people at the USDA speaking out against it.
The ABC News investigation into the claims of the whistle blower sparked a firestorm among health conscious consumers, parents who immediately wanted to know who was and wasn’t using this product in the red meat they buy, reportedly present in a whopping 70% of America’s beef, up to 25% of the average American hamburger patty; unfortunately when the ABC News team attempted to answer public concerns, they received limited responses from major grocery chains, some saying they do not use it at all, others stating they do and it meets USDA standards for safety. Worse, there is no requirement for putting “pink slime” on the label, as a filler, preservative or even an allergy warning; many personnel in meat sections of major supermarkets, suddenly inundated with questions, didn’t know how to answer them, some even refusing to address the inquiries of customers. Adding to the furry is the all too often discovered link between those approving products as safe and the makers whatever product is in question; relating to finely textured beef, AKA pink slime, the undersecretary of agriculture, at the time, went over the head of two scientists saying it’s “a salvage product,” then the former goes on to serve on the board of directors for the major manufacturer of pink slime, something under current ethics rules that would not happen today. When confronted about the obvious conflict of interest, the appearance that something is being hidden from consumers, one meat industry spokesperson saying it is beef, it is on the label. However the whistleblower calls the practice of using, at least this particular filler, economic fraud due to the simple fact it is not 100% fresh ground beef, phrasing that appears on the bulk of packaged meat labels. Note we’re referring to packaged meat, not processed meat like deli slices, rather ground beef; the red, actual uncooked meat presumed fresh you make hamburgers out of, place in hamburger helpers, use in homemade tacos and a host of recipes
Looming next is the question of safety; chemicals in food have done more than raise eyebrows in recent years, everything from pesticides in fruits and vegetables increasing ADHD risk to certain food dyes doing the same; recently arsenic in apple juice had many panicked parents racing to remove an item thought kid friendly from their diet. Mercury in fish has prompted new guidelines for consumption among vulnerable populations, pregnant women, children, given us lists of safer fish to consume, those types containing less mercury. Beef is not without its past either, turned away in other countries for fear of diseases like mad cow, so prevalent in the 90’s into the early 2000’s; rejection similarly came because of levels of antibiotics used to keep cows super healthy and bacteria free, metals discovered in beef sent overseas. Here at home fast food burger joints like Jack n’ the Box have had to recover from E- coli outbreaks tied to tainted meat. Yet this goes deeper; studies are now beginning to call red meat a carcinogen; could pink slime be why, owing to the ammonia used to treat the meat for harmful pathogens, or the heating process and centrifuge used to separate fat from other tissue? Going back to studies, one recent examination indicated burger patties turned more often in a pan, on a grill, once per minute vs. every 2-3, provided less of a cancer risk; why seems to center on how heating changes the meat. Assuming the mentioned study has any truth to it, how much more of a cancer risk are we adding by heating trimmings before making them in to the filler? Are we getting excess ammonia levels from the filler; is there a reaction taking place within the meat caused by the ammonia present that could prove harmful? All questions no one has yet to answer. Secondly, does the presence of chemicals interfere with the body’s ability to absorb, process the good things in red meat; what if any other fillers are used in beef that we don’t know about? Could pink slime or something else be the root cause for the link between red meat and heart disease, red meat and cancer, red meat and a shorter lifespan? Pink slime’s origins may hold the key to other secrets about the unhealthy factor surrounding other foods, cooking oil for example is another place you find those beef trimmings many consider scraps, waste in meat processing; almost redundantly it leads to the question is that why non-vegetable cooking oils are so bad for you?
But is it healthy; a question that takes on new importance considering lean finely textured beef is a staple in the beef products provided for much, if not all, school lunches. After reading up to this point, most have their answer; most don’t need to be told something formerly only used in dog food is probably not the best thing for us to be eating. As another vocal naysayer, this time a former worker inside the company, stated it will fill you up but it has little nutritional value. Why, because, protein, the primary nutritional component, comes from connective tissue not muscle, where most other higher quality, traditional beef products come from. He continued describing the final product called in layman’s terms “pink slime” as something the consistency of play doe, not what anyone thinks of as meat. People should be outraged, incredulous, that we allow such low quality food to be fed to our kids, when we don’t even know about it. Further right now the only way to prevent consuming our pink beef filler is to avoid red meat entirely or buy beef labeled USDA organic; however, you don’t have to be a betting person to know it will likely cost more. And yes after nearly 2 weeks of investigation the USDA agreed to offer schools a choice between meats with pink slime and without; the caveat, only 5% of the meat used in schools is purchased through the USDA, the rest is obtained through grocers’, meatpackers or other sources. Again you don’t have to be a betting person to understand it will no doubt cost more to schools who are more cash strapped than many families, meaning schools will still not be completely pink slime free. The opening of the piece states forget the junk corn, the antibiotics, the saturated fat, heart disease risk; well now it’s time to broaden our scope to all we know. No wonder our kids are obese taking into account all the chemicals effecting their bodies just by what things that should be healthy whole, least processed things they put in their mouths, no wonder the current generation is set to have a shorter lifespan than the previous ones based on the potential carcinogens they are exposed to from unknown sources, never mind potential known environmental toxins, bad air in larger cities, preservatives in snacks.
The key knowing what’s in our food, something that just got harder with one more thing to worry about for our kids and ourselves; while schools get a choice consumers are left at the mercy of the supermarket and A- do they know what’s in the meat, B- are they going to tell the truth about it, C- do they have anything absent the dubious meat substitute? On top of that is the question of affordability; if the place you usually buy your groceries in doesn’t offer pink slime free beef, can you afford to drive somewhere that does and can you stomach the price once you do? Once again it appears the food system in America is determined to disenfranchise the poor not only in what they can financially feed themselves with, but the quality of lower cost, non-processed foods consumed by everyone from lower income families, individuals to those who are simply frugal people looking to save money, an especially crucial aspect taking into account ever escalating food prices for basic staples milk, bread and of course, meat. It would be one thing if the USDA didn’t understand what lean finely textured beef actually was, saw the news investigation and decided to look into the issue; it is however a whole other thing that they seemed to know every bit of what was going on and not only deemed it safe, but decided not to inform consumers by placing it on the label, unconscionable behavior for an agency essentially charged with oversight of a part of the food industry. Firstly they should know what processes are used, what the contents of preservatives and fillers are before approval, then they should make sure the label is appropriately accurate, lastly seeing the public demand for a more detailed label in this case, they should at least take it under advisement, be willing to look into whether or not it is a positive move for the agency, the public.
Still almost 2 weeks after the first investigative story broke, after numerous extensive follow up stories unveiling parts and pieces of this complicated problem, a title wave of public outcry multitudes of grocery chains have decided to stop using the product know as pink slime, stop stocking meats containing it, others have spent the time discovering what they sell, what they have and are prepared to answer customers, provide them with a list of beef brands not containing pink slime. And still the USDA has no plans to answer public concerns by ordering a revision of labels, changing guidelines, refuses to look into whether they should do so, whether the safety approval came from someone too close to the beet industry. Consumers are, for now, on their own in navigating what may and my not be healthy; some people may still be skeptical as to whether or not it poses any danger, any more danger to them than the host of other preservatives, fillers and chemicals already present in food. Well one final thought on that McDonald’s removed pink slime from its burgers after Food Revolution Chef Jamie Oliver exposed its use to people on one US community.