A product made by grinding up connective tissue from cows and beef scraps that used to be made into dog food is too disgusting to serve at McDonald’s, Burger King or Taco Bell, which have all dropped it due to public pressure, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) thinks it’s fine to serve in school lunches. The USDA plans to buy seven million pounds of the “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB) from Beef Products Inc. (BPI) and serve it to school children this spring.

BPI, a private corporation based in South Dakota, grinds more than seven million pounds of animal parts a week. It was featured in the documentary Food Inc., in which a company representative says that its products are in 70 percent of hamburgers in the United States (at 3:40 in the embedded clip below). Because its LFTB is made from the parts of cows more likely to be contaminated with pathogens like salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7, it is treated with ammonium hydroxide.

Carl Custer, a retired microbiologist who spent 35 years in the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, toured a BPI factory in 2002 while investigating salmonella in ground beef. “We originally called it soylent pink,” Custer told The Daily. “We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Custer’s former colleague Gerald Zirnstein coined the term “pink slime,” which was then popularized by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (2:05 in the linked video).

According to Custer, the USDA ruled that “pink slime” was safe, despite concerns, because a George H.W. Bush appointee who had been president of both the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — undersecretary JoAnn Smith — pushed it through. Smith now serves on the board of directors of Tyson Foods, the largest chicken, beef and pork processing company in the world.

“It’s more like Jell-O than hamburger, plus it’s treated with ammonia, an additive that is not declared anywhere,” Custer said.

A Change.org petition has been launched, asking USDA secretary Tom Vilsack (who also has ties to agribusiness) to stop the use of ground beef containing “pink slime” in the National School Lunch Program. As of today, it has over 205,000 signatures of citizens opposed to pink sludge in kids’ school lunches.


About the Author: Rebekah Wilce has a degree in writing from the University of Arizona. She is the lead writer for the Center for Media and Democracy’s Food Rights Network, with expertise in food and agriculture issues.