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The slimy business at the USDA The slimy business at the USDA
When whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein came out to tell the world just how much of our ground beef contains LFTB (lean finely textured beef), now... The slimy business at the USDA

by Jeff Clemetson, Editor

When whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein came out to tell the world just how much of our ground beef contains LFTB (lean finely textured beef), now more commonly known as pink slime, he shed light on not only the problems of our meat industry, but also on just how far industry has taken over our government regulatory bodies.

picture of pinkslime

Pink slime is made from cattle waste trimmings and washed with ammonium hydroxide.

Zirnstein, an ex-USDA scientist, pointed out that 70 percent of our ground beef contains the pink slime, which recently became known to most of us when McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell were exposed for using it and then subsequently banned it from their products. Pink slime, as it turns out, has been around for a long time. Former undersecretary of agriculture Joanne Smith first green-lighted the use of pink slime in edible ground beef in the early 90s. Previously, it was only deemed safe for dog food products. Smith also determined that beef products containing pink slime wouldn’t need labeling.

Like many government regulators that are supposed to safeguard us from the injustices of business in the name of profit, Smith left the agriculture department in 1993 for a cushy job on the board of directors for Beef Products Incorporated (BPI) – the very company that makes pink slime. Smith has also worked for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and the Florida Cattleman’s Association. Smith has profited generously from the very industries she was supposed to regulate to insure public safety.

Public outcry after Zirnstein’s revelations about the widespread use of pink slime has been loud, immediate and overwhelming. On March 8, food writer Bettina Siegel started a petition on her Website to try and force the USDA to ban pink slime from the school lunch program. After only five days, the petition had over 175,000 signatures.

The USDA and BPI are resisting the public outcry with public statements about pink slime’s safety and, most telling, how it saves money. In an interview with The Daily, BPI spokesman Rich Jochum said that pink slime in the National School Lunch Program “accomplishes three important goals on behalf of 32 million kids. It one, improves the nutritional profile, two increases the safety of the products and three meets the budget parameters that allow the school lunch program to feed kids nationwide every day.”

Unless you buy the bologna that a product that is made from scraps and is so foul it has to be washed with ammonia “improves the nutritional profile” of our children’s food, then the only statement of fact in Jochum’s statement is the one about meeting “budget parameters.” It is estimated that BPI saves three cents for every pound of beef that it adds pink slime to. For a national program that purchases hundreds of millions of pounds per year to feed our kids at school, BPI is making a fortune off of pink slime.

Which brings us back to Joanne Smith, the undersecretary of agriculture who green-lighted pink slime for BPI to sell to our fast food restaurants, grocery stores and school lunch programs, the woman who reportedly told USDA scientists like Zirnstein, “it’s pink, therefore it’s meat.” We should all wonder what Smith is being paid today by BPI for making outrageous statements like that when she worked for the government agency in charge of protecting us against products as gross as pink slime.