The beef additive known as “pink slime” has slowly made its way back onto supermarket shelves more than two years after numerous food manufacturers vowed to stop using it. Soaring beef prices have compelled some companies — including the country’s largest beef producer, Beef Products, Inc. — to turn back to the “lean, finely textured beef” as a means of lowering production costs.
Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved pink slime’s use in 2001, food manufacturers have created the additive through a process where centrifuges separate the fat from meat in beef trimmings before producers expose the final product to ammonia and critic acid. While USDA officials consider pink slime harmless, many critics point to a series of ABC News investigative pieces in 2012 that described it as a product that at one point could only be found in dog food and cooking oil.
Research has also highlighted the effects of pink slime’s ammonia — often found in cleaning products — once it comes into contact with water. Exposure to the compound can cause long term damage to parts of the human digestive system, blood vessels, liver, and kidneys. Plus, studies in recent years, including one conducted by the Center for Science in Public Interest in 2013, found that leftover pathogens in processed meat and poultry accounted for a third of hospitalizations from foodborne-illnesses, like listeria, salmonella, and E.coli.
These revelations, however, didn’t stop school officials in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas from allowing pink slime back into cafeterias in 2013. According to the Huffington Post, school systems in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota also didn’t shy away from using the controversial meat additive in the midst of the national uproar in 2012.
The same remained true for many food processors, including Cargill Inc. The Minnesota-based food processing company continues to ship beef products containing pink slime to nearly 400 retail, food service, and food-processing customers. Even though it closed three of its four plants, Beef Products, Inc. showed little sign of backing down after news broke about its use of pink slime. Shortly after ABC aired its series of investigative pieces, Beef Product executives filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit against the news outlet.
Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA have been slow to act against the use of ammonia and other chemicals in food production. In July, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in favor of the regulatory agency, saying that it’s not required to hold hearings about the safety of feeding antibiotics to livestock. As far as pink slime’s concerned, the USDA still doesn’t require food manufacturers to indicate their products contain the additive, a course of action that stems from a believe that pink slime’s a legitimate meat product.