Beef Products Inc. (BPI) has shot down claims by two former USDA scientists, turned whistle-blowers, that ‘pink slime’ was approved for consumption for political reasons despite safety concerns.
More than 170,000 people have since signed a petition to ban the product in US schools following claims by Gerald Zirnstein and Colin Custer that they were overruled by USDA bosses after warning about the use of ‘pink slime’ – a term Zirnstein coined.
‘Pink slime’ which is referred in the meat processing industry as either lean beef trimming or finely textured beef, is made by processing beef trimmings from larger cut of meat until the lean meat is separated from the fat.
The low-fat, high protein result is then used as a filler in many products in the US including ground (minced) beef, burgers and sausages.
“It’s 100% false. People think it makes for a good story,” BPI director of food safety and quality assurance Craig Letch told FoodQualityNews.com.
“Long-story short, the whole situation has been a gross-misunderstanding of the product and the processing measures involved with the product. It has directly stemmed from media-outlets trying to sensationalise and build up hype around the product.”
“It is specifically to do with prior measures which could not ensure the safety of the product. It is nothing to do with the raw material; it is to do with the measures to remove the lean from the fat.”
‘Pink slime’ content in meat products can range from between 10% and 30% - yet producers are not obligated to inform consumers.
Letch added that consumers do not need to be informed that the product is included in another meat product as it is “meat, 100% lean meat.”
In 1991, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) developed a policy for the product. The FSIS determined that because the product was compositionally similar to beef, it may be declared as beef in the ingredients statement of any product where it is used as an ingredient.
‘Pink slime’ petition
The Tell USDA to STOP Using Pink Slime in School Fund petition,which currently has more than 170,000 signatures, cited the scientists' claims as an argument for its ban in school.
A letter attached to the petition questions the products’ suitability considering it was formerly “destined for use in pet food and rendering and were not considered fit for human consumption.”
It also cited McDonald’s and Burger King’s discontinued use of ‘pink slime’.
Despite the negative press surrounding the product, figures from across the meat processing, food safety and regulatory sectors have joined forces to support the use of ‘pink slime’ in beef products.
“There have been a lot of people who have seen what’s happening in the processing plants. We have nothing but support from them once they actually see what we do. They are vocal about it and they support us,” Letch concluded.