There's no mystery about the safety of Beef Products Inc.'s meat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal school lunch program, reaffirmed that on (March15), calling Dakota Dunes-based BPI's lean, finely textured beef patties "safe, nutritious and affordable." Yet, the USDA also bowed to unyielding, hyperbolic and irrational pressure from critics on social media, giving schools the option of avoiding BPI's low-fat ground beef.
That mixed message is puzzling and disappointing. It is clear to us that USDA's decision has nothing to do with any real health issues. Rather, they buckled to arm-chair, online activists pushing the latest cause of the week.
Let's review the situation:
The phrase "pink slime" was first coined by a federal microbiologist three years ago. It first appeared in national news outlets in a 2009 New York Times article that raised criticisms of the way the meat is produced. Then, a celebrity chef named Jamie Oliver began to rally supporters against the meat, contributing to a decision last year by McDonald's and other chain restaurants to discontinue using the beef.
Now, it's back in the media spotlight after Bettina Siegel, a mom and blogger, launched an online petition seeking the meat's ouster from schools. Some 250,000 people have signed the online petition.
What's the problem with BPI's meat? Well, that's a good question.
It's simply bits of lean beef separated from fatty trimmings that are left over when beef is cut into steaks or roasts. BPI's product, which is nutritious and virtually identical to 90 percent lean ground beef, is also exposed to "a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas" to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. That final treatment, which we should point out uses naturally occurring components, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA.
Those complaining about the meat appear to be most offended by the unfortunate "pink slime" terminology. The best they can do with their criticism is to say that the meat is "potentially" unsafe and unappetizing. The bigger issue appears to be a more general beef with industrialized food production.
The USDA's solution is to allow schools to choose a fattier ground beef patty. In an age where child obesity is a real problem (not one manufactured online), we find this decision bizarre. More troubling, it clearly has the potential to damage BPI's business and reputation.
We hope the USDA wises up and backs off. Until then, we urge readers to do their own research. Once they do, we're confident they'll find there's no mystery here at all.
- Sioux City Journal. March 12