Menendez: "Pink Slime" Has No Place In Our Children's School Lunches

Menendez: "Pink Slime" Has No Place In Our Children's School Lunches

Washington - In response to public reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is planning to purchase 7 million pounds of beef byproducts for use in the nation's federally funded school lunch program, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today urged the Secretary of the USDA to end any transfer of so-called "pink slime" containing products to public schools, re-evaluate its process for approving its use and require the labeling of products that contain it so consumers can make informed choices.

"At a time when we are encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, it seems to me that a product dubbed 'pink slime' has no place in our children's school lunches," said Menendez.

In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Menendez wrote about his concerns over the safety of the product: "The leftover scraps are treated with ammonia because they come from parts of the cow, often the hide, with high exposure to fecal matter. Despite the addition of ammonia, there have been dozens of cases of pathogens infecting the treated mixture. These troubling reports cast doubt on the USDA's assertion that this process is perfectly safe. In addition, there is little question that American consumers are being misled when they purchase what they believe is 100 percent ground beef. That's because the filler contains mostly connective tissue and other non-muscle products which are less nutritious than pure beef."

A full text of the letter is below:

March 14, 2012

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I am writing to express my concern that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has purchased 7 million pounds of ground beef containing non-muscle filler treated with ammonia for the school lunch program. There is significant debate regarding both the safety and nutritional value of meat that contains this so-called "pink slime" and I urge you to thoroughly review USDA's process for approving this mixture. In addition, I urge you to require the labeling of such products and to cease USDA transfers of pink slim-containing products to public schools.

In the past two decades, beef processors have started adding low-quality scraps to their ground beef products to maximize profits. Since these low-grade trimmings come from the parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination, they must be treated with ammonia to reduce the chance of food-borne pathogens. This process raises a number of concerns.

The largest concern is clearly the safety of the product itself. The leftover scraps are treated with ammonia because they come from parts of the cow with high exposure to fecal matter. Despite the addition of ammonia, there have been dozens of cases of pathogens infecting the treated mixture. These troubling reports cast doubt on the USDA's assertion that this process is perfectly safe. In addition, there is little question that American consumers are being misled when they purchase what they believe is 100 percent ground beef. That's because the filler contains mostly connective tissue and other non-muscle products which are less nutritious than pure beef.

Taken together, these issues warrant a thorough review of the entire inspection and transparency procedures currently in place. I urge the USDA to reevaluate the inclusion of non-muscle filler to ground beef to determine if this process increases the risk of food-borne pathogens.

I also urge the USDA to require the labeling of products that contain this filler so consumers are armed with the information they need to make informed decisions. Finally, I call on the USDA to end the purchase of these products for our public schools. Students enrolled in the school lunch program have little to no choice over what they eat and should not be forced to consume questionable meat.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of these issues. My office will continue working with your staff to ensure these issues are addressed.

Sincerely,

ROBERT MENENDEZ

United States Senator

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