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:© Food Safety News