The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that schools will soon have a choice as to whether or not their lunches contain the beef filler product that has triggered fears about what is referred to as “pink slime.”

The term “pink slime” was first used by whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein. The former USDA scientist took issue with the practice of adding ammonia treated beef trimmings to packaged ground beef, and even wrote a USDA memo raising his objections. It worked.

“In response to requests from school districts across the country, the USDA announced today that it will offer more choices to schools in the National School Lunch Program when it comes to purchases of ground beef products,” said the USDA in a statement March 15.

Zirnstein, along with another former USDA scientist, Carl Custer, told ABC News that the product is in 70% percent of all meat sold in the United States and has been linked to nausea among consumers. Custer says it is “a salvage product.”

Nationwide, schools enrolled in the National School Lunch Program receive roughly 20 percent of their school lunches from the USDA, with about 80 percent of the food coming from private companies, the agency said.

The option will not be available until the fall 2012 school semester when, the agency, said it “will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without lean finely textured beef.”

Consumers don’t know that the product is present in their ground beef because the USDA considers the product meat, therefore it is not required to be listed on nutrition labeling.

Zirnstein alleges that high up officials in the USDA with ties to the meat industry were instrumental in keeping the product hidden from the public. In fact, the former undersecretary of agriculture who approved the concoction as meat later took a top job with Beef Products Inc., the company that produces the filler.

The meat industry has taken offense to the hysteria fueled by the unsavory name and refers to the product as “boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT)” or “lean finely textured beef.”

To create finely textured beef, leftover bits of meat are collected after being carved from larger cuts of beef. These trimmings are then heated and centrifuged, causing the remaining fat to separate. The product is then sprayed with food-grade ammonia to control bacteria growth and shipped to meat packing companies and grocery stores nationwide to be added to beef.

“The beef trimmings that are used to make BLBT are absolutely edible. In fact, no process can somehow make an inedible meat edible; it’s impossible,” said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Association (AMA), defending the filler additive in a statement.

“Some recent media reports created a troubling and inaccurate picture, particularly in their use of the colloquial term ‘pink slime.’ The fact is, BLBT is beef,” said Boyle.

The president of the AMA went on to say the practice of using the beef trimmings is not only safe, but creates a “sustainable product because it recovers lean meat that would otherwise be wasted.” Prior to finding its way onto grocery store shelves and restaurant tables, the filler was used in dog food and cooking oil. Fast food chains such as Burger King and McDonalds have agreed to discontinue use of the product now that a sizable number of Americans are disgusted by the tactic.

To view statement from J Patrick Boyle click here 

For more information on school lunches and BLBT from the USDA, click here

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer