By: Justin Chan
Although news about a more eco-friendly American beef industry seems promising, some critics are uneasy about the ground beef that consumers are buying.
According to ABC News, 70 percent of ground beef sold at supermarkets is made up of “pink slime” or beef trimmings. Gerald Zirnstein, a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist who first coined the term, said that customers are being cheated out of their money and unknowingly buying artificial beef. “It’s economic fraud,” he said. “It’s not fresh ground beef. … It’s a cheap substitute being added in.”
The trimmings are simmered at a low heat in order to separate the fat from the muscle. They are then spun in a centrifuge, which completes the separation. The remaining mixture is sprayed with ammonia gas, which kills the bacteria, and later packaged into “meat.” The finished product is then sent to meat packers and grocery stores, where it is mixed in with ground beef. Once used in dog food and cooking oil, it has now become a popularly cheap filler added to most ground beef.
Although Zirnstein and his colleague Carl Custer have repeatedly warned about using the trimmings, they said that their supervisors and those with connections to the beef industry have ignored them. “The undersecretary said, ‘it’s pink, therefore it’s meat,'” Custer said, referring to Joann Smith, a former undersecretary of agriculture.
Smith’s decision to allow production of the mix to be added to the ground beef led to millions of dollars in profit for Beef Products Inc. After leaving the USDA in 1993, she was appointed to the company’s board of directors and reportedly earned approximately $1.2 million in a span of 17 years.
Several fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, have stopped adding the trimmings to their hamburgers, but schools across the nation are still serving the additive to children. MSNBC reported that many school cafeterias receive their ground beef from the USDA, which purchases close to 7 million pounds of the product. “We don’t know which districts are receiving what meat, and this meat isn’t labeled to show pink slime. They don’t have to under federal law,” said Bettina Siegal, who is currently working on a petition to ban the mix from school menus. “We should step back and say, ‘Why would we feed this to our kid?”
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