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By Lisa Browdy
When cattle is butchered, the fancy parts (like sirloin) can go for big bucks, but the fatty scraps that are left over are nearly worthless. Those "bits no one wants," according to chef and food activist Jamie Oliver (see video) used to be sold for dog food. According to USA Today, "pink slime" can contain cow intestines, connective tissue, and other parts that are usually referred to as beef by-products.
With advances in food technology, some meat processors have used centrifugal force to spin the fat away from the lean, and treated the lot with ammonium hydroxide to remove deadly E.Coli, salmonella, and other pathogens. Why do the beef packers go to all this trouble? Because it enables them to sell their product at a greater profit, of course.
After it is ground, the treated by-products are indistinguishable from "regular" ground beef. Food activists call it "pink slime," but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) calls it safe for human consumption. ABC News says that up to 70 percent of ground beef found in supermarkets and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) contains some of it.
So is this being fed to our kids in Districts 97 and 200? According to Micheline Piekarski, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for both districts, the answer is no.
The major processor using the "pink slime" is Beef Products International, and our school districts use beef from a different vendor, JTM Food Group. According to a letter from Dave Hackman of JTM, no supplier participating in the NSLP uses ammonia in its beef products.
Since it has been used since the 1990s, I can't imagine that this by-product is any more or less safe than "regular" ground beef (which, frankly, isn't all that good for you or the environment). But many activists want it out of our food system, or at least have it labeled as such. Since the USDA considers the ammonia a processing agent and not an ingredient, it has never been listed.
If you like ground beef and want to avoid having ammonia-treated by-products in your burger, the best course of action is to purchase a hunk of meat and ask the butcher to grind it for you. Most supermarkets will do this, though of course it takes more time. Another option is to purchase your meat at the farmer's market, where you can ask the vendor about how the animal was raised, slaughtered and processed.
Humanely raised meat might cost more, but if you spend a little more on meat and eat a lot less of it, it will benefit your health and your wallet!