Nel's New Day

April 7, 2012

Meat and Poultry Suspect

Ham is the traditional entre for Easter Sunday—unless you’re vegetarian. That means missing the “pink slime” that has been a part of ground beef since 2001 when they moved it from dog food to people food. Don’t remember pink slime? It’s those ammonia-treated beef scraps and connective tissue that gained fame in an expose of  school lunches.

Famous conservatives such as Govs. Sam Brownback (KS), Terry Branstad (IA), and Rick Perry (TX) have enthusiastically defended the practice of adding this processed “meat” to ground beef although I’m guessing that they don’t eat it. Beef Products Inc. closed three of its four plants last week in Kansas, Iowa, and Texas; and AFA Foods (PA) is filing for bankruptcy. Branstead is asking for a congressional investigation into how the “smear campaign” against pink slime got started. “They are people who do not like meat,” he said.

Branstad has a vested interest in Beef Products: the company’s top executives and workers have given $820,750 to congressional and presidential candidates over the past decade, with all but $28,400 going to Republicans and Branstad receiving $150,000 over the past two years. (Stephen Colbert provides an excellent—and hilarious—account of “the beefstate governors” and pink slime.)

After the USDA told schools districts that the National School Lunch Program will be allowed to opt out of pink slime this coming fall, major grocery stores announced their meat will be pink-slime free: Krogers (the largest grocer with 2,435 supermarkets), Safeway, Supervalu, Shop ‘n Save, and Costco stated that they’ve stopped pink slime; Wal-Mart, which sells more food than any other retailer, said they will give people a choice, but of course they are not legally bound to label it. In the fast-food market, Wendy’s said it never has, and McDonalds said it won’t.

Problems with beef, however, go far beyond the pink slime problem. Because of the nation’s high demand for the product at a cheap price, cattle, whose stomachs are meant to digest grass, are fed only grain which exacerbates its problem with E. coli. An unbelievable quantity of cattle manure is deposited on the land of the factory farms and sometimes seeps into the water supply, leading to E. coli in vegetables. Combine that with the massive amounts of antibiotics regularly fed healthy cattle, and the result is drug-resistant strains of salmonella and other pathogens.

The Food and Drug Administration has a chance to solve this problem. After the Natural Resources Defense Council brought a lawsuit regarding the routine feeding of antibiotics, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Katz ruled that the FDA must determine whether this practice constitutes a threat to human health. The FDA has admitted the dangers of medicating healthy farm animals for over three decades which includes its own finding that this indiscriminate use of antibiotics can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people. These infections annually kill 70,000 people in hospitals.

So you think that after Easter you’ll switch to chicken? Or turkey? Think again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a rule that poultry plant employees can do food inspection and replace government inspectors. HIMP, that I call “Fox in the Hen House,” would supposedly save almost $100 million over the next three years while giving $520 million to poultry companies.

Food & Water Watch looked at over 5,000 USDA documents and found extremely high rates of missing defects under the trial version of “Fox” or HIMP. Often company employees miss defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea, and bile still on the carcass.” The average error rate for these types of defects in chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities. In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect that had been overlooked. The Government Accountability Office has already reported that the majority of HIMP plants had higher rates of salmonella contamination and higher rates of defects.

As for saving money, one of every six Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses each year, with 128,000 cases resulting in hospitalization and 3,000 ending in death. According to Georgetown University’s Product Safety Project, those illnesses come at a cost of $152 billion a year.

The problem, however, is more than pink slime, unnecessary antibiotics, and faulty inspections. It’s about not knowing what’s happening behind the scenes, and more and more states are passing laws to make sure that no one will ever find out. Iowa and Utah have enacted new laws, nicknamed ag-gag bills, that threaten jail time for anyone working undercover to take photos or videos of food-destined animals without permission. The laws are not new—North Dakota, Montana, and Kansas have had them for years—but they are becoming more punitive, increasing from 30 days jail time to two years. Similar bills were killed in Florida, Illinois, and Indiana while others are pending in Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

There is a solution, however. The following came from one of the blog’s readers: “We have a great head of the kitchen here at my school, and we are now using locally produced meat and lettuce in our school lunch program. It’s been great for the kids and great for the producers (the lettuce farm is a smaller hydroponic operation). We have salad and vegetables on every line now. It’s amazing what we’re doing here, so it can be done with some effort, instead of the ick that many programs serve.”

March 14, 2012

Pink Slime Stories Inundate Net

Nutrition is important for the brain and vital for children. So why is the government feeding school kids pink slime? This term describes a hamburger additive from first grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally used in dog food and then treating the substance with ammonia hydroxide to kill salmonella and E. coli. It’s not even good enough for McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Burger King.

The USDA permits beef products to contain up to 15 percent of “Lean Beef Trimmings” (think pink slime) since USDA undersecretary JoAnne Smith, a George H.W. Bush appointee and former president of the National Cattleman’s Association, pushed through the ruling. Nobody can know what meat contains the product because there are no labeling requirements for its inclusion.

In addition to pink slime having no nutritional value, it results in illness–three E. coli contaminations and four dozen salmonella contaminations between 2005 and 2009. Also ammonium hydroxide is not safe to ingest and can turn into ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in homemade explosives. It’s also used in household cleaners and fertilizers.

The school lunch program saves three cents per pound of hamburger for using pink slime.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing 7 million pounds of the “slime” for school lunches. “We originally called it soylent pink,” said microbiologist Carl Custer, who worked at the Food Safety Inspection Service for 35 years. “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].

This isn’t the first year that school kids eat pink slime. A USDA spokesperson said that 6.5 percent of last year’s purchases were LFTB (Lean Finely Textured Beef). Nice name for pink slime. He insisted that it’s a high-quality, safe product and claimed that it had showed no food-safety problems since the 2009 Times article. Nor, he added, does price play a role in the department’s decision to buy it. Oh yeah

Why would the Obama administration allow pink slime in school lunches? The question is especially appropriate because of new government guidelines for healthier options in school meals, more whole grains and produce as well as less sodium and fat.

School kids aren’t the only ones eating pink slime. Approximately 70 percent of ground beef at the grocery store contains this stuff. And don’t bother looking at the label. Remember? There are no labeling requirements for pink slime. The only solutions are to have the meat ground in front of you, buy organic ground meat—or just don’t buy it.

A rumor is circulating that the USDA will announce a change tomorrow so that schools can choose between 95 percent lean beef patties made with the product or less lean bulk ground beef without it. The new policy won’t go into effect until next fall because of current contracts. According to an anonymous source, USDA thinks that the ammonia treatment is safe but wanted to give schools choices. Meanwhile multiple sources are flooding the Internet with explanations of pink slime safety.

Want to keep fighting back? This site is for just one of the many petitions you can sign.

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