Texas food columnist Bettina Siegel, author of “The Lunch Tray” about school lunches, is now taking on ammoniated beef — the product dubbed “pink slime” made by the food safety leader Beef Products Inc.

Siegel, who writes for the Houston Chronicle and the online Huffington Post, has decided to get involved in the ammoniated beef debate after The Daily, the iPad friendly newspaper, churned up the issue.  She is sponsoring an Internet petition to persuade USDA to drop BPI’s product from school lunches.

USDA is still buying the product for the National School Lunch Program, according to the Daily, even though fast food outlets like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell reportedly have dropped it.

BPI makes the product from grinding connective tissue and meat scraps that at one time might have gone for dog food or been discarded. Because such trimmings are at risk for E. coli or Salmonella contamination, the company uses a mixture of ammonia and water (ammonia hydroxide) to kill any pathogens. Typically it is then mixed with other ground beef.

But former USDA microbiologists labeled it “pink slime,” and one now says it is “not meat.”  Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver also used part of his recently cancelled television show to campaign against it.

BPI, headquartered in Dakota Dunes, SD, has plants in Texas, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.  It says Oliver, using household ammonia to make “pink slime” on television, grossly misrepresented their process, which is not unlike others safely using ammonia. Ammonia hydroxide is only one of many processing aids or “safe and sustainable ingredients” approved by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to reduce harmful bacteria in raw meat products.

BPI has also been a leader in “test and hold” for E. coli O157:H7 and in testing for non-O157 E. coli strains. BPI Boneless Lean Beef is permitted as ground beef served in school lunches.

Siegel is more than half way to her goal of getting 5,000 signatures against the BPI product.That’s the level that the White House has set for giving issues a promised review.