Pink Slime – The Story So Far

Pink Slime – The Story So Far

Fri 16 Mar 2012

Story by The Food Revolution Team

USDA Announces Additional Choices for Beef Products in the Upcoming
School Year

In response to requests from school districts, and the uproar from parents and activists across the country, the USDA announced yesterday that it will offer more choices to schools in the National School Lunch Program when it comes to purchases of ground beef products.

Starting from the next school year the USDA will be making adjustments so that schools can have additional options in buying ground beef products. The USDA will provide schools with a choice to order products either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef, also known as ‘Pink Slime’.

Pink Slime – The Story So Far


Gerald Zirnsterin, a former USDA scientist, first coined the term ‘Pink Slime’ in 2002 after touring a Beef Products Inc (BPI) production facility as part of an investigation into a salmonella contamination in packaged ground beef. Based on what he saw take place during this visit he considered it not to actually be ‘ground beef’.

‘Pink Slime’ has been objected to because it is not believed, by microbiologist Gerald Zirnsterin and another USDA scientist Carl Custer, to actually be ‘meat’. It contains connective tissues instead of muscles and the product is not nutritionally equivalent to ground beef, it is instead highly processed ‘meat’ rather than actual real food for kids.

Despite concerns voiced by these microbiologists, who saw exactly what the process to make this product was and classified these trimmings as a ‘high risk product’, the USDA ruled these ‘Lean Beef Trimmings’ as safe.

Because this boneless lean beef does not need to be labelled, in line with federal labelling requirements, it is not a raw material that is uniquely labelled (it is classed as beef and the ammonia hydroxide as a processing agent) there is no way to tell whether a package of ground beef contains ‘Pink Slime’.


In 2011, the USDA claimed that 6.5% of the beef purchased for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) came from BPI.

During season 2 of the ABC show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Jamie brought ‘Pink Slime’ to the attention of many when he demonstrated how this product is produced and the treatment it goes through in order to make it safe for human consumption before it is added as a filler to traditional ground beef.

Since then many people have been questioning the content of the meat they are buying and eating, and many companies’ questioning the quality of the meat used in their food products. We have the right to know what is in the food we eat and where it comes from.


Earlier in the year, well known fast food giants McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King made big news when they announced that they would no longer be using this product within their food.

Yet this month it was announced that the USDA planned to purchase a further 7 million pounds of ‘Pink Slime’ for school lunches. Additionally, it has been reported that 70% of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains ‘Pink Slime’, as told by ABC news.

On the back of this news, JOFR blog of the month winner Bettina Siegal, of The Lunch Tray, started a petition to ‘Tell The USDA to STOP Using Pink Slime In School Food’, which has since gained over 229,000 signatures and is supported by our website.

Just over a week after this petition went live, the USDA made the above announcement that schools will from next school year have a choice in whether the ground beef they buy contains ‘Lean Finely Textured Beef’. Read the full USDA press release here.

“My team and I are thrilled to launch the website which showcases all the great work across the country that’s been done to raise the issue of pink slime. Since it was brought to the American public’s attention in the Food Revolution series, there has been huge support from Senators, food activists, social media communities, teachers, parents and of course Bettina and her inspiring petition. This is now much bigger than just one British chef. It’s a national movement which cannot be ignored." Jamie Oliver

What Next?

While the USDA’s announcement means that schools will at least have a choice in whether they serve ground beef containing ‘Pink Slime’ it is just one of many components which are apparently added to our beef.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and calls for more food transparency around what we are eating, everyone should have the right to know where there food came from, what it contains and what processing treatment it has undergone before it ends up on our plates. As leading food safety lawyer Bill Marler says ‘Transparency is a good thing’.

Additionally a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health has reported on the impact of red meat consumption on life span, especially when considered an increased consumption of processed meats.

What do you think? Let us know by posting on our Food Revolution Community page.

Remember to check out the website and sign the petition!

The Food Revolution Team

Images: Taken from the following websites in order from top to bottom: Headline and image from ABC News, The Daily, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.


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