Nearly one year ago last April, Jamie Oliver used his TV show, “Food Revolution,” to expose the practice of treating beef by-products with ammonium hydroxide to make the final product: “pink slime“.
Pink slime is made by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally used for dog food and rendering, which is then treated with ammonia hydroxide. The resulting pinkish substance is then blended into ground beef and hamburger patties.
Last week, ABC News credited Gerald Zirnstein, a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist and, now, whistleblower, with revealing that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains “pink slime.”
ABC News claims it was Zirnstein who, in a USDA memo, first coined the term “pink slime” and is now coming forward to say he personally won’t buy it, and insists on grinding his own hamburger.
Zirnstein coined the term “pink slime” after touring a Beef Products Inc. production facility in 2002 as part of an investigation into salmonella contamination in packaged ground beef.
In an email to his colleagues shortly after the visit, Zirnstein said he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef.”
That was 10 years ago.
“I have a 2-year-old son,” Zirnstein told The Daily. “And you better believe I don’t want him eating pink slime when he starts going to school. It’s economic fraud. It’s not fresh ground beef. It’s a cheap substitute being added in.”
Zirnstein and his fellow USDA scientist, Carl Custer, both warned against using what the industry calls “lean finely textured beef,” widely known now as “pink slime,” but their government bosses overruled them.
“We originally called it soylent pink,” said Custer, a retired microbiologist and 35-year veteran of the Food Safety Inspection Service.
“We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”
Custer said he first encountered pink slime in the late 1990s. Despite voicing his concerns to other officials, the USDA ruled that Lean Beef Trimmings were safe.
“The word in the office was that undersecretary JoAnn Smith pushed it through, and that was that,” Custer said.
According to Custer, the product is not really beef, but “a salvage product — fat that had been heated at a low temperature and the excess fat spun out.”
Custer explains that the waste trimmings to make pink slime are simmered at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle.
The trimmings are spun using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria.
The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.
Pink Slime Not Labeled
The pink slime does not have to appear on the label because, as ABC News notes, over objections of its own scientists, USDA officials with links to the beef industry labeled it meat. “The under secretary said, ‘it’s pink, therefore it’s meat,’” Custer told ABC News.
“It’s more like Jell-O than hamburger, plus it’s treated with ammonia, an additive that is not declared anywhere,” Custer said.
“They’ve taken a processed product, without labeling it, and added it to raw ground beef,” Zirnstein said. “Science is the truth, and pink slime at this point in time is a fraudulent lie.”
USDA Official Bought Off
ABC News claims the woman who made the decision to OK the mix is a former undersecretary of agriculture, Joann Smith. Her decision led to hundred of millions of dollars for Beef Products Inc., the makers of pink slime.
When Smith stepped down from the USDA in 1993, BPI’s principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors, where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.
Ammonium Hydroxide Used in Fertilizers
M. Alex Johnson with MSNBC reports that besides being used as a household cleaner and in fertilizers, the compound ammonium hydroxide releases flammable vapors, and with the addition of certain acids, it can be turned into ammonium nitrate, a common component in homemade bombs.
Pink Slime Dropped By Fast-Food Giants
As a result of Jamie Oliver’s exposure of pink slime, McDonald’s announced plans to discontinue the use of ammonia-treated beef in their hamburgers. Pink slime has also been dropped by fast-food giants Burger King and Taco Bell.
But that hasn’t stopped the USDA from buying 7 million pounds of the pink slime for public school cafeterias.