Food Safety Advocates Use Social Media and Petitions to Force Change in the U.S. Because the FDA Won't Do It!
"Pink Slime" --- Just Say NO!
Remember the 2011-2014 Pink Slime Controversy? News Reports in August 2014 Say PINK SLIME is back!
(Warning: You may not want to read this just before or right after a meal!)
By now, everyone not living in a cave knows about the ground meat additive "Pink Slime" and the resulting controversy. The ammonia-treated beef filler was found in many fast food burgers and tacos, sold in 70% of U.S. supermarkets and, indeed, approved for the country's public school lunch program until a David-and-Goliath battle between food safety advocates and Beef Products, Inc. BFI was the chief producer of the additive the industry calls "lean, finely-textured beef", or LFTB.
The bright light of media attention was shown on this so-called food product in 2011 by celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, when he invited moms and kids to eat meat with ammonia and water poured over it, a video that played repeatedly on YouTube. (One clip alone from the Food Revolution show featuring Pink Slime was viewed 21,451 times at the time of this writing.) In early 2012, a series of reports by ABC News increased attention on the dubious meat filler, and articles in The New York Times heightened consumer awareness.
Pink Slime was in the news, but the additive wasn't new. In fact, it had been around since the '90s, at first limited to pet food and cooking oil, but approved in 2004 for human consumption and introduced into the food supply. For decades, kids made jokes about school cafeteria "mystery meat", but by 2012 the mystery was solved and the truth highly publicized.
The New York Times' investigative report uncovered a nasty secret that was covered up for years. Claims made by BPI and the USDA that treating "pink slimed" ground meat with ammonia kills pathogens simply was not true. Actual government and industry records obtained by the Times verified that both E. coli and salmonella pathogens were found in numerous tests of BPI products for the school lunch program. In fact, in August, 2009, two 27,000-pound batches of "treated" meat were found to be contaminated. And this stuff had been fed to American kids! When this information became public, the you-know-what hit the fan!
While First Lady Michelle Obama was focusing attention on feeding children healthily and preventing childhood obesity, public school lunch programs were putting ammonia-treated meat with probable dangerous bacteria on their lunch trays. In addition, fast food restaurants were churning out Pink Slime burgers and tacos for consumption by the American public. Who wanted their families eating nasty, unsafe food--not to mention the "yuck" factor? That's right--no one! The Pink Slime Scandal went viral almost overnight.
The bad publicity caused McDonald's to hurriedly announce they didn't sell it (although they did until the bad publicity), and other fast food restaurants were quick to publicize they would "just say no" to Pink Slime for their products. Let's hope they meant what they told the public, as a product with this additive isn't required to be labeled in the U.S., so there's no way for consumers to actually know. Maybe you trust retail establishments such as restaurants and grocery stores, but we all know the bottom line talks louder than anything else to managers of those establishments. Pink Slimed meat, as with any cheap product, was easy to sell to cash-strapped people in a struggling economy looking for bargains.
A study performed by microbiologists and former USDA scientists Carl Custer and Gerald Zernstein (who coined the term "pink slime") determined that pink-slimed meat is a high-risk product. No surprise there when you learn more about the stuff. Custer maintains he first encountered the product in the late 1990s and was vocal about his concerns to other officials at the food inspection service.
The USDA, an agency that is supposed to look out for the safety and well-being of American consumers and those from other countries that import U.S. food products, instead appears to safeguard the interests of big agribusiness companies. The USDA ignored the warnings of their own scientists and ruled that the additive--termed "Lean Beef Trimmings"---was safe. Custer says word got around the office that "...undersecretary JoAnn Smith pushed it through, and that was that."
Smith was appointed Undersecretary of Agriculture by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. She had close links with the beef industry and served as president of not only the Florida Cattlemen's Association, but the National Cattlemen's Association as well. Over the objections of USDA scientists, she said, "It's pink; therefore, it's meat", according to Custer. When she stepped down from her government job in 1993, she was appointed to the board of directors for BPI's major supplier, where she proceeded to rake in more than a million dollars during the next 17 years. Does the term "conflict of interest" come to mind in this story?
So, what exactly IS Pink Slime? Well, former undersecretary Smith may have called it "meat", but it's really a cheap filler made of waste beef trimmings, the parts of the animal most likely to be exposed to E. coli and salmonella pathogens. These waste trimmings, once a mainstay in many commercial dog foods (though many people now avoid feeding their pets meat byproducts), are simmered at low heat to separate fat from muscle. The de-fatted connective tissue that's left is sprayed with ammonia gas, which is supposed to kill bacteria...only we've learned that sometimes it doesn't. Then the mixture is frozen and sold to retailers and meat packers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows up to 15% of ground beef to be Pink Slime (though they don't call it that.)
Pure ground meat for hamburger products is routinely tested by the USDA for contamination, but the agency considered the ammonia treatment of meat-with-filler from Beef Products, Inc. so safe that it was exempted from testing! Ammonia, a toxin that can turn into ammonium nitrate (used in cleaning products and fertilizer), isn't technically an ingredient, but a processing agent, so it isn't even required to be listed on a food label. The plot thickens!
That shrink-wrapped package of brightly-colored ground beef lying in your local supermarket's meat cooler probably included pink slime between 2004 and Spring, 2012, but there was no way you could know for certain. (It still may, if retailers aren't being honest with consumers.) The ammonia treatment fixes the pink color so it looks like pure ground beef. If you want to ensure you're getting a pure beef product with no imitation meat, gross waste trimmings or toxic ammonia--not to mention the possibility of E. coli or salmonella contamination--you'll stop rewarding your local supermarket for trying to poison you and change to safer sources you know you can trust.
There are better sources for meat products
As long as people buy cheap unsafe meat, the industry will provide it
If you're lucky, you'll search out a local farmer whose farming practices you can trust. Maybe you already know a farmer in your area who raises beef cattle humanely and will sell a side of beef to individuals for their freezers. The Local Harvest website can lead you to local farmers markets and sources of safe, sustainably grown foods, including grass-fed meats, eggs from pasture-raised hens and dairy products from humanely raised milk cows.
If you need to range farther afield (pun intended), there are still quite a few ranchers in the U.S. who produce grass-fed, humanely raised animals for meat and take pride in their practices and products. Many are as close as your Internet search engine, and they will ship products to you packed with dry ice. You may decide it's better to pay more for safe meat products and eat less of it, perhaps serving vegetarian meals two or three nights per week, for the safety and health of your family.
Social networking assists food safety advocacy on a grassroots level
The Pink Slime controversy showed food safety advocates and regular consumers they had a powerful weapon against Big Agribusiness: social networking. Twitter became an activist platform, and consumers threatened to boycott retailers who sold Pink Slime. Bettina Siegel, a Houston blogger, posted an online petition demanding that the USDA remove the additive from the federal public school lunch program. It quickly gathered 250,000 signatures and the agency felt the pressure. An announcement was made that schools would be allowed to choose for the upcoming school year whether or not to use ground beef containing L.F.T.B.It didn't take long before sales for Pink Slime were drying up (pun intended), and BPI was closing plants that processed the additive.
Still, with a troubled U.S. economy and under-funded school districts across the country, there was a worry that some schools might not be able to pay extra for the better quality meat, which could turn the public school lunch system into one of "haves" and "have nots."
While the furor raised by parents and other citizens against Pink Slime in public school lunches prompted most states to pay the higher price (3% more) for "non-slimed" meat, three states--Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota--chose to continue buying beef containing Pink Slime for their schools for the 2012-2013 school year (as reported by the Associated Press in June, 2012). It's interesting to note that BPI is based in South Dakota and previously had facilities in Iowa, facts which may have affected priorities in those two states. It would be very sad to learn that politics had anything to do with school boards' decisions in the three states that purchased Pink Slime to feed children.
Chef Ann Cooper launched the National School Food Challenge to increase salad and fruit bars in schools across the U.S. so children have better choices. She supports the Farm to School program that involves local farms in serving healthy nutritious meals in school cafeterias for the good of both students and farmers.
It's long been said that it takes a village to raise a child. If that's true, then we all need to become part of that village and make sure every child gets healthy food to eat, not PINK SLIME!
Pink Slime was only the tip of the iceberg relative to food safety issues in the U.S. Now that ordinary consumers recognize the power that social networking, petitions and boycott threats give them, perhaps more improvements will begin at the grassroots level.
Consumer Outrage Sparked Campaign to Discontinue Pink Slime in School Lunches
And don't forget veggies!
UPDATE, August, 2014: Pink Slime is Being Added to Meat Again!
Two years after consumer anger and activism forced meat processors, grocery stores and restaurants to stop using “pink slime” (slaughterhouse remnants treated with ammonia and added to some ground beef), the increase in beef prices has caused the 'yucky' by-product to be added to beef again as a cost-cutting measure by suppliers. And labeling of pink slime (known in the industry by the more sedate term of 'lean, finely-textured meat', or LFTB), is still not required by the USDA.
If you don't want to worry about what you're eating and feeding your family in those grilled burgers, feel free to take to Twitter, Facebook or numerous blogs and forums to voice your displeasure. It's always possible this news tidbit will launch a new grassroots action big enough to get pink slime out of supermarket coolers and fast-food burgers/tacos. It worked two years ago. It could be successful again! Social networking gives consumers more visibility and power!
In the interim, if you buy local, grass-fed beef from a producer you trust, you won't have to worry about pink slime, and you also won't have to worry about the plethora of hormones, antibiotics and additional veterinary drugs, GMO feed, and other unsafe substances that traditionally-produced (read: by Big Ag on factory farms) beef contains.
Down with pink slime!
How do You Feel about Pink Slime?
Do you think labeling of Pink Slime (LFTB) should be required by the USDA?
WAIT! There's more! The number of toxic additives in the U.S. food supply is staggering!
UPDATE, March, 2015: Although 90% of the American public made the White House, Congress, and the FDA aware of their (our) wish for GMO labeling (which is required in some other countries, while GMOs are outright banned in others), the FDA still ignores independent studies that provide evidence of short-term harm from consuming GMOs. Worse, there are no long-term studies, so who knows what harm the plethora of GMO foods contained in nearly all processed foods and other non-organic whole foods will eventually cause to consumers' health as well as the environment?
There's a growing grassroots effort by fed-up Americans to force change with or without the government's help. We can vote with our wallets, buy organic whole foods that don't contain pesticide residue or GMOs, and avoid processed foods that are packed with unsafe--and in some cases, downright deadly--additives. We can boycott food manufacturers, grocery store chains, and fast food joints that continue to produce and sell this swill to the American public.
There are numerous books written by prominent food safety activists, but the one I'm going to recommend to every American consumer is now available from Amazon, easy to read (unless you have a weak stomach, in which case don't read it before a meal), and written by a food safety activist who has taken on some big fast food chains, food manufacturers and grocery chains with positive results. She just doesn't accept the word, "no."
Her name is Vani Hari, but if you've read her blog as I have for a long time, you may recognize her as the Food Babe--a name that was coined by her husband to get attention (and it worked). She's been named one of the 30 most influential people on the Internet in 2015 by Time magazine (and in my opinion, she's one of the few on the list who deserves the recognition). An entire "army" of her blog followers have become food safety activists in their own right and support her on social media, by signing petitions, boycotting unsafe foods, and--most importantly--keeping her focused on what is important when she is attacked by paid shills of those companies she has in the cross-hairs of her activism.
Now she's written a book that explains how she became interested in food safety in order to improve her own health, control her weight and skin (you only have to look at her photo to see that it worked) through reading food labels, avoiding additives, eating whole safe foods, and drinking purified water. She was a successful business consultant who started a blog to share what she'd learned and, once she realized that she'd touched a chord in a huge group of Americans "tired and sick of being tired and sick", decided that food safety activism is her mission in life. At that point, she quit her job and became a full-time activist.
The book lists some really gross and scary additives to foods you may eat every day--particularly if you eat out a lot or frequent fast food joints. Bites of yoga mat, anyone? "Natural" flavorings made from the anal glands of beetles and other insects? Chemicals with long names you can't pronounce, but which have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders, to name only a few? You owe it to yourself to read Vani Hari's book, "THE FOOD BABE WAY: Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food and Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 days!" It's available at Amazon (link below).
My advice (as well as Vani's) is to not just read the book, but make it an interactive workbook. Underline, highlight, and re-read portions every day until you know how to decipher misleading food labels. There are appendices chock full of recommended reading and resources. I encourage you to check them out. They will introduce you to other important food safety advocates and activists whose messages are equally important and will add to your personal knowledge of what's wrong with the U.S. food supply. Vani even includes a shopping list to help keep you on the straight and narrow when you purchase food.
The expose´ in this book of dangerous additives in the food you may have been eating for years (and even worse, feeding your developing children) will open your eyes to two things: (1) the need for Americans to ensure our own safe food supply by our buying habits, and (2) that we can force change to the safety of the U.S. food supply by working together. That's quite a deal for the $12.99 Kindle edition, $16.20 for the hardcover edition (my fave because you can write in the margins, underline important info, and highlight sections in it). There are also audible audio and audio CD formats available. See the link below.
If you buy the book, read it, and get as fired up as most people (including me) do when you see how the food industry is hoodwinking us into eating so-called "food" full of cheap, unhealthy toxins, I feel confident you will take to social media and share this message with your friends. Since most of us are not going to move to the EU or other countries where the governments care enough to protect their citizens from unsafe food additives, we must join together to protect ourselves and our families. WE CAN DO THIS!
Vani Hari's Book--THE FOOD BABE WAY--will Open Your Eyes to Dangers in the U.S. Food Supply!
Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. wrote the foreward for this book, which includes: "Read this book and you will never think about food, your health, or the world in the same way again. And we will all be better off for it."
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Read Mary's hub about her devastating experience with "doctored" meat!
- Have You Ever Eaten Glued Meat Or Pink Slime? You Probably Have!
Consumers are at the mercy of the food industry, and what is legally allowed to be added to our food. Glued Meat has been approved by the USDA to add this process to alter the meat we eat.
A co-op of farm families with good farming practices
- Organic Prairie - Organic Meats - Beef, Pork, Chicken and Turkey - Quality Organic Meats from Family
Organic Prairie Organic Meats - Healthful, Wholesome & Humanely Raised Organic beef, pork, chicken & turkey.
Websites with Food Safety News and Updates
- CSPI's Food Safety ~ General Information
Food safety is a key area of focus for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The mission of CSPI's Food Safety Program is to ensure that government regulators, policy makers, and industry work harder to protect American consumers from
- Food Safety News - Global Food Safety News & Information - Home
© 2012 Jaye Denman