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.

  • curtis jones

    Excellent article. The food industries approach “production quality” is as bad as all the other American Industries. Kick the costs, risks, and negative effects down the road – and redistributed them to someone else. The business model for Beef Production in America has evolved in such a warped manner that it is no longer finanically competitive with the traditional methods it replaced and with many more negative consequences. With all the healthcare coverage debate; where is the focus on the primary drivers to poor health in our country? Our food supply has undertaken such a dramatic change for the worse and is only perpetuated by the secrecy it maintains. As a shareholder in these companies, you are a few expose’s away from seeing the brand and equity destroyed. There is no reasonable business logic for perpetuating this system. It is doomed to collapse and leave behind a wake as damaging as the financial crisis – for the consumer, tax payer, and shareholder.

  • Tanisha Woodson-Shelby

    This is really scary considering it’s part of the National School Lunch Program and are children are being fed dangerous chemicals. Excellent article and thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  • Yuck, indeed! So in addition to the environmental impact of factory farmed beef, here’s another reason for folks to eliminate or limit the amount of beef in their diet.

  • richard smith

    this is the reaason that my family and alot of or farmers eat our own meat we know whats in it and thats messed up that thats what there feeding our young thats wrong if the school would not be so cheap they could buy grade A meat for the young its just wrong

  • I just learned of Ammoniated Beef for the first time while at Food Safety Net Services Labs in San Antonio, TX. Its a great medium to test with but the smell could gag the toughest cook.
    To think that they are mixing this with real beef to save a few pennies. If the general public only knew the facts and then actually took some sort of action I wouldnt feel like I live in the land of sheep.