Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Nearly Every State Opts Out of ‘Pink Slime’ for School Lunch

Under a new policy that gave school districts the choice, only three states opted to buy ground beef containing the controversial Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA decided in March to let schools decide whether to serve the ground beef component, which is now widely known as pink slime, after parents across the country flooded school districts with concerns about LFTB. Reporting from The Daily, ABC World News, and an online petition that received a quarter of a million signatures all fueled weeks of consumer concern and social media outrage, which ultimately led most major retailers to drop the product.

The National School Lunch Program used to be a big buyer of ground beef with LFTB, but the only takers for next school year are Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota — all states that are home to LFTB-maker Beef Products, Inc. plants. The company has shuttered three of it’s four plants, including one in Texas, in response to a precipitous drop in demand. Only the South Dakota headquarters remains in operation.

The product is made from fatty beef trimmings that are slightly heated and then centrifuged to spin the fat off and recover the meat. The lean, “finely textured” beef bits are treated with ammonia gas to kill harmful pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli and then flash frozen. Processors and retailers then thaw and mix up to 20 percent of ammoniated beef into ground beef products.

Though USDA has continued to state that LFTB is safe, affordable, and nutritious, and informed schools of this as they were making their purchases, the vast majority of districts aren’t buying it.

Every state (except Kansas, which is unable to place orders due to state budget issues) has ordered ground beef for next year. As of May 18, states requested over 20 million pounds of ground beef products that do not contain LFTB and around 1 million pounds of beef products that may contain the product. The department estimates that beef that does not contain LFTB will cost school districts around 3 percent more next school year.

But these numbers do not mean LFTB won’t end up on school lunch trays. According to USDA, around 40 percent of ground beef served by schools is not purchased through USDA, but through other commercial channels.

Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food safety and quality, said the company was not surprised by the lack of orders from school districts.

“Based upon the misrepresentations that have been pervasive in the media to this point, it comes as no surprise that the majority of states have currently elected to purchase ground beef that does not contain lean finely textured beef,” said Letch in an emailed statement. “Understand, in no way is this a reflection of the quality and safety of the lean beef we produce, but an example of how a fictional media story can damage a product that has been used safely in the AMS program for over 14 years.”

“LFTB is 100%, all natural, USDA inspected pure lean beef  -  no additives, no fillers,” added Letch. “We will continue our efforts to provide accurate, factual information about our quality, lean beef and look forward to supporting these and other school districts in their purchasing decisions.”

Bettina Siegel, the Houston mom who launched the petition from her school lunch blog The Lunch Tray, said she was pleased schools were exercising the choice her petition helped fight for.

“When I first heard about USDA’s policy change back in March, I wasn’t sure if our petition’s ‘victory’ was a hollow one in that schools might not be able to afford non-LFTB beef in practice,” Siegel told Food Safety News. “But with today’s news, I feel we really did achieve something significant.  Now there’s transparency and choice, and that’s a clear win for the millions of kids who participate in the school lunch program.”

_____

See recent Food Safety News coverage of the LFTB scandal here:

Slimegate: Should USDA Require Labeling for LFTB?

BPI and ‘Pink Slime’ A Timeline

Governors Help Wash Ammoniated Beef of ‘Pink Slime’ Image

What’s Wrong With Pink Slime?

Iowa Leaders Seek Congressional Hearing on Pink Slime Critics

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    I am not surprised Bettina Seigel is pleased school districts are doing things the way Bettina wants things done around here.
    Never mind that school lunches are not improved one iota by it. Never mind that schools with tight budgets will pay 3% more for beef (or, more likely, offer 3% less beef to nourish children). Never mind the plight of several hundred people put out of work by Bettina Seigel forcing her personal food preferences, leaving those families without a paycheck and less able to indulge the food preferences of their own children.
    Just never mind. Never mind the insidious encroachment of foodie activists into our lives. Never mind the food police as they morph into the food taliban. Just you never mind. Eat your strained broccoli and shut up. And praise the sacred sharia law of the food taliban! Celebrate their recent progress!!

  • http://Fodsafetynews.com/2012/06 Jack

    Greg Letch and BPI are in denial of the danger. He said they have been producing the SLIM for 14 years like it was ok! They finally got exposed for their lies.

  • Mae Johns

    People have the right to know what they are eating, Ted. And they didn’t like how LFTB is produced. This was a victory for consumer rights. All corporations need to take note that if their production methods aren’t transparent, they will get into trouble in the market.

  • Jen

    People don’t know how 98% of the food they eat is made. If they saw what it looked like, they probably wouldn’t eat it. Does that mean it is unhealthy or unsafe? Absolutely not. The average consumer has just enough info to make them armed and dangerous, and otherwise completely ignorant of how food is processed. Processed does not necessarily equate to unhealthy or dangerous.
    If they saw how ANY meat products are processed, including whole cuts of meat, they would be horrified. If they saw how cheese was made, grossed out. Pudding, disgusting. NON LFTB ground beef, astounded. I wish people would knock it off already. Either do your homework, or buy whole foods and process them yourselves. No need to put people out of business who produce safe, inexpensive food to feed the people of the world and make a living at the same time.

  • federal microbiologist

    Hmmmm…despite a concerted, expensive, and logistically intense effort by the beef and meat industries, school lunch programs remain adamant that they don’t want Pink Slime (errr, LFTB).
    So all that agitprop from Charlie Arnot and his ‘Center for Food Integrity’….Dan Murphy and Chuck Jolley at Jolley and Asso. consulting…. the Iowa State University Block and Bridle Club and ISU animal science professsor / industry grant recipient Jim Dickson….corporate-sponsored ‘grass roots’ advocacy groups like ‘CommonGround’ ……and last but not least, Iowa governor Terry Branstead and Lt Gov Kim Reynolds, recipients of > $150,000 in campaign contributions from BPI founder Eldon Roth…..didn’t really make a difference.
    Things are only going to get worse for the beef industry:
    ZILMAX lurks just over the horizon as the next controversial ‘beef enhancement’ topic for the mommy bloggers and foodies….!
    After all, this is a product that requires users to wear protective gear when shoveling the stuff into your cattle feed !
    http://chronicle.com/article/As-Beef-Cattle-Become/131480/

  • http://www.simplesensibilities.com Angela

    For many kids in America, school lunch is their best meal of the day. I’m glad steps are being taken to provide with quality nutrition.
    http://simplesensibilities.com/2012/04/05/pink-slime-growth-hormones-and-sugar/

  • Tomc

    While I fully support the rights of all, whether it be grocers, restaurants, or schools, to choose what forms of ground beef they offer, I cannot help but believe these choices may be being made based on inaccurate information portrayed in the media.
    There have been countless food safety and food science experts coming forward in support of this product. I have yet to see a single expert come forward to say this product is anything but safe and nutritious.

  • husna aijaz

    Millions of children rely on eating healthy meals during school lunches, so let’s be fair to their needs. LFTB meat may be cheaper, however, it is treated with ammonia gas to kill pathogenic bacteria. That is the biggest red flag.
    Ammonia is a chemical, not without side affects, as I am sure some chemist will let us know. Secondly, even though the USDA inspected meat has no fillers or additives, it is made from fatty meat trimmings! That indicates that we are not only contributing more saturated fats to our children’s diets and exposing them to health hazards, but also are using meat that contains high amount of fat–fat offers a breeding protective ground for pathogens!
    Let the school districts make budget cuts elsewhere, and think about the primary reason they are operating- its for the kids! By getting meat from local producers that provide meats that are harmone, antibiotic and chemical free, districts across the nation can effectively safeguard the overall dietary needs of the school children. These meat producers also produce meat that are USDA inspected,so will meet Federal guidelines that the NSLP has in regards to how districts can use the commodity dollars.