National Consumers League

The undeserved reputation of "Pink Slime" is tested again

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Schools not only educate the next generation, they play an important role in the nutritional development of our children.  With concerns over obesity, we expect schools to provide meals that not only taste good, so students will eat the meals, but that are also healthy from both a nutritional and food safety perspective.  The schools are to do all this at a time of increasing fiscal constraints.  Not an easy task.

Unfortunately, there are public misconceptions on products that can help schools meet these competing demands.  Case in point, lean finely textured beef (LFTB), or as it has been pejoratively referred to as, “pink slime.”  This term is inflammatory and has nearly eliminated the possibility of constructive dialogue over the benefits of this lean beef supply for our school systems or other commercial uses.  The negative buzz led many states to reject its use in schools and caused retail outlets to limit its use.  When the dust settled last year after the “pink slime” controversy, only three states opted to purchase products with LFTB.  This school year, four additional states are providing schools with the option.  We applaud this action.

Not surprisingly, with the increase in the number of schools making the conscious decision to purchase products with LFTB, the negative buzz is starting again.  This is a good product. The product is as lean as meat can be, so its use cuts down on fat and calories.  As I noted in a blog last year, “NCL is in agreement with the Consumer Federation of America that manufacturers of hamburger patties may replace LFTB with something that has not been processed to assure the same level of safety. CFA also expressed concerns that NCL shares about the potential effect this recent controversy may have on companies who seek to apply innovative solutions and new technologies to enhance food safety.”

It’s also interesting to remember that Phillip Boffey of the New York Times cooked hamburger made with LFTB and attested to its good taste. Of more importance than taste, the product has an exemplary safety record of over 20 years; it is produced in a state-of-the-art facility, and it is tested repeatedly for safety. Al Almanza, Administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in the recent Politco piece on schools reintroducing LFTB into their menus, noted that the product is safe.  “Isn’t that what we want – a safe product to feed our families?” he said.

If consumers and school lunch administrators can get past the false information and the negative buzz, the fact is, LFTB can answer many of the competing demands of low fat, good taste, and product safety consistent with fiscal constraints.

We expect a lot from our schools.  We should not limit their choices in how to meet our expectations, especially not when the limitation is based on politics or publicity rather than facts and sound science.