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'Pink Slime' Is Back in School Lunches

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Remember the backlash last year over ammonia-treated lean finely textured beef, or LFTB, in school lunches? Well, the so-called pink slime is back in four more states.

Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota were the only states that continued to purchase the meat product made by Beef Products, Inc. following the uproar by parents. School districts in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas will soon re-join them.

“With the successful use of LFTB by [USDA’s National School Lunch Program] over the last 15 years, we are confident that these states and school districts will enjoy both quality and cost improvements,” Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food safety and quality assurance, told Politico. “This will ultimately enable them to provide more nutritious lean beef to their children.”

LFTB consists of meat by-products that have been heated in a centrifuge and treated with ammonia to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. It is then mixed into traditional ground beef as a filler, resulting in a cheaper end product.

Approximately two million pounds of beef containing LFTB has been ordered from those seven states so far this school year, less than one-third of the amount ordered nationwide in 2012.

Last year, BPI sold seven million pounds of LFTB to the National School Lunch Program. “Pink slime” was also in roughly 70 percent of all supermarket ground beef.

After customer complaints, McDonald’s, as well as several other fast food chains and supermarkets stopped using the product. Instead of banning the LFTB-laced meat from school lunches, the USDA amended its policy to allow individual school districts to opt out of purchasing ground beef containing the filler.

Bettina Siegel, the Houston food blogger and mother of two whose petition to get LFTB out of school lunches helped the story go viral, says the decision boils down to money.

“I felt disappointed but not terribly surprised,” Siegel told the Daily News. “Schools initially purchased ground beef with LFTB to cut costs — reportedly, a few pennies per pound. So once the media spotlight on LFTB was removed, I suppose it was predictable that some districts would choose to resume serving it to their students.”

Opposition to LFTB remains high, despite the cost savings.

“As the furor last spring made pretty clear, most consumers simply don’t want LFTB in their ground beef,” Siegel said. “ But unlike regular consumers, schoolkids have no market power or voice. They’re economically dependent on the school meal and basically have no choice but to eat what’s served to them.”

The Houston food blogger has no plans to start a second petition, but she does offer a word of advice to others who are thinking about it.

“At this point, I think it would make more sense for concerned parents in LFTB-purchasing districts to express their concerns directly with their food service managers.”

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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