Minnesotans voiced concern after USDA said it plans to buy beef treated with ammonium hydroxide.
Updated: March 8, 2012 - 11:09 PM
WASHINGTON - When McDonald's and other fast-food chains announced last month that "pink slime" was no longer being used in their burgers, some thought that the product -- beef trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide -- had disappeared from the nation's food supply. But a new report in the Daily tablet newspaper suggests that the slime will appear in school lunches this spring -- 7 million pounds of it.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, schools and school districts plan to buy the treated meat from Beef Products Inc. for the national school-lunch program in coming months. The USDA said that all of its ground-beef purchases "meet the highest standard for food safety" and that ammonium hydroxide is "generally recognized as safe." It also said it strengthened ground-beef safety standards in recent years.
In Minnesota, the state's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, said parents need not worry about pink slime showing up in their kids' lunches. "We buy four beef products from two manufacturers and they have assured us they don't use this product," spokesman Brett Johnson said.
'I feel deceived'
In St. Paul, nutrition director Jean Ronnei said the district has received the balance of ground beef for this school year and hasn't placed an order for next year.
But Hopkins schools spokeswoman Jolene Goldade said it's difficult to guarantee families because 70 percent of the nation's ground beef is treated with the additive. "The only way to really assure that it's not in beef is if you buy it right from the farmer, and the USDA doesn't allow schools to do that," she said.
Minnesotans, meanwhile, joined the wave of angry parents across the country, voicing concern about pink slime -- a term coined by Gerald Zirnstein, a former microbiologist at the Food Safety Inspection Service.
"I feel deceived by the government -- we're counting on them to send us stuff fit for human consumption," said Sandy Meyer of Rogers, a lunch lady at the Buffalo school district. "To think we're giving something like this to kids just doesn't seem morally right."
'It is simply wrong'
Her friend, Cindy Zitzloff of Howard Lake, signed the petition after reading Meyers' post. "This is horrible ... get this slime out of our children's lunch programs," said Zitzloff, whose 8-year-old daughter attends a private school. "This sounds like another money-saving tactic."
The petition was launched by Houston-based blogger Bettina Siegel, who said that "it is simply wrong to feed our children connective tissues and beef scraps that were, in the past, destined for use in pet food and rendering and were not considered fit for human consumption."
Last April, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver reported that 70 percent of the U.S. ground beef is made with Beef Product's ammonia-treated product -- a figure that holds, the company said. The process was initially touted as capable of killing E. coli and salmonella in meat. But a 2009 New York Times report said the process didn't seem to be working.
Zirnstein, who coined the term "pink slime" in 2002 after touring a Beef Products facility during an investigation of salmonella contamination, said: "I have a 2-year-old son. And you better believe I don't want him eating pink slime."
Staff writer Curt Brown contributed to this report.
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