Ingesting ammonia could potentially be a bad thing.  Millions around the nation who consume beef products from fast food outlets consume small amounts of ammonia daily and the New York Times recently reported that ammonia-treated beef is being served to schoolchildren around the country.

Beef Products, Inc., or BPI, has created a process of using ammonia to treat fatty slaughterhouse trimmings that previously could be used only for pet food or for making cooking oil so the trimmings can be sold as ground beef.  

Through the BPI system of producing ground beef, bacteria-killing ammonia is used as a “processing agent” to make a mash that is allowed to be used in hamburger without public warnings.  Ammonia is rationed as part of beef processing and therefore doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient on labeling.  But the amount of ammonia it takes to kill E. coli reportedly makes the beef taste and smell dreadful. 

Ground beef provided through the National School Lunch Program is currently made up of ten to 15 percent ammonia-treated beef from BPI.  While BPI lowered the amount of ammonia used in processing, there is a disconnect between regulatory agency recommendations regarding the safety of consuming the ammonia-treated beef.  

BPI maintains that its beef is safe and ammonia use in production is safe and effective.  But is it really?

Beyond the obvious “yuck” factor, there is a compelling reason to restrict the use of ammonia in filler for ground beef production.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not provided scientific evidence that ammonia kills pathogens. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there is no scientific evidence that ammonia consumption causes cancer but eating habits and consumption affect the environment.

Worker safety is another important denominator.  On average, 25 percent of conventional factory farm workers suffer from job-related injuries or illnesses each year, making factory farming the industry with the highest number of job-related injuries of any job industry in the country.  Ammonia causes severe irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs and exposure to ammonia can be fatal.

The following clip from Food, Inc. shows the production of the filler product.  Note the outfit worn by the worker:

With all the hype over human consumption of ammonia-treated beef, worker safety–an important part of the equation–is left out.

With food safety information readily available to consumers, we have the ability to empower and make decisions that ultimately affect our health, safety, and environment.  Consumer health and worker safety are both important components to the conversation on ammonia-treated beef.