Our View: ‘Slime’ leaves a bad taste
People across the country have reacted strongly to news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture sends schools ground meat containing an additive that critics quickly labeled "pink slime."
Is it safe? People generally don't know, but their reaction suggests they don't trust their government to ensure that it is.
The stuff officially is called "lean finely textured beef." It's made of leftover cuts from the butchering process that are heated to render out the fat and then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. The product then is mixed in with other ground meat, as a filler.
Because it's made from beef, just like the ground meat with which it's mixed, it doesn't require any special labeling; producers don't have to disclose that their products have it.
News about the issue exploded this month after it was revealed that one of the government's meat sources is Beef Products Inc. of South Dakota, which uses the filler. But the product has been around for years, and is so widely used that much of the ground meat in school lunches — and our grocery shelves — might have it.
In response to the news, parent groups across the country started petition drives to get the "slime" out of their children's food. Several school districts also expressed concerns about the food they were receiving from the government.
The USDA acquiesced March 15, announcing that, starting with the next school year, schools will be able to request meat that doesn't have the filler.
Chances are that many Americans have been "slimed" at one time or another, especially if they had eaten at major fast-food restaurants before 2011. McDonald's and other major chains announced last year that they no longer would use ammonia-treated beef, which would disqualify anything containing the pink stuff.
The use of filler in ground meat is not unusual. Many families maximize their limited resources by adding breadcrumbs, crackers or oatmeal to hamburger meat. "Lean finely textured beef" is probably benign, since its origins are the same as the steaks and roasts from which it was trimmed.
The use of such fillers seems a valid way for schools and other government entities to stretch taxpayers' dollars — as long as safety and quality aren't compromised, and the government abides by the same standards it requires of commercial restaurants, which must fully disclose the contents and nutritional information on everything they serve.
What may have unnerved most people was the sudden disclosure of the product that their children might have been eating for years, and that they might have served in their homes without knowing it.
The severe reaction, however, is interesting; it suggests that many Americans — some certainly who defend government programs, including funding school meals — don't automatically assume that those meals are healthy and safe.
Such doubts should make more people stop and think: If we don't trust the government to give our children healthy meals, why would we want those meals in the first place? If we don't have confidence in costly government programs, why are we so eager to have them, and even expand them?
It might be best to scale back such programs, and let taxpayers keep more of their money so that they can provide their own children food that they know will make them healthy and strong.