BREAKING: Our Petition Causes Change to USDA Pink Slime Policy – But Is It a Win?

by Bettina Elias Siegel on March 15, 2012

Well, how funny is this?  At the kind urging of Lunch Tray readers concerned about my mental state, I decided to enjoy a one and a half hour sanity break yesterday afternoon and took my son to the zoo. . .

. . .and thereby missed, after almost 24/7 monitoring, THE BIGGEST DEVELOPMENT in pink slime news!

Here it is from the Associated Press:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will offer schools choice in ground beef buys amid growing concern over an ammonia-treated filler critics call “pink slime.”   Under the change to be announced Thursday, schools will be able to choose between beef patties made with the filler or bulk ground beef without it. The policy will affect food at schools this fall because of existing contracts.

A USDA official with knowledge of the decision says the agency wanted to be transparent and school districts wanted choices. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement.

The USDA buys about a fifth of the food served in schools.

The controversy centers on a processed ingredient common in ground beef that is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria.

Before I say anything else, let’s all take one long moment and savor this news.  Because whatever this announcement means in the end, you and I — and almost a quarter million others — managed in just over ONE WEEK to get a federal agency to change course on an issue we care about.

I find that truly awe-inspiring, and I’m guessing you do, too.

OK, now for the true import of this change.  The short answer to that question is: I’m still digging.

As soon as I heard the AP announcement I emailed USDA, but have yet to receive a reply.  I also have calls in to my own school food sources to discuss the practical import of, for example, being able to get your pink-slime meat already shaped into patties whereas your slime-free meat can only be acquired in bulk.  We already knew the pink slime option was cheaper — that’s the whole point of pink slime — but now there might be an even greater cost differential for schools if they need to expend their own funds on labor to convert bulk beef to patties.  Does this create an even higher bar for districts wanting to avoid pink slime, or is this really no different than the situation before the change in policy?  These are just some of the questions I want to get to the bottom of.

And of course, there is still the much larger issue of disclosure.  While my petition focused on the use of pink slime in school food, I feel strongly that the media firestorm we created and the overwhelming response to the petition was animated by another concern as well:  many Americans were learning for the first time about this substance and the fact that it’s in, reportedly, 70% of our ground beef without any sort of labeling for those who wish to avoid it.  That’s deeply troubling to a lot of people.   So while my Change.org petition didn’t mention product labeling, I do feel that issue is now very much part of the discussion.

I’ll do my best to get answers to all of these questions in the coming days and will share what I learn here.

 

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

shira March 15, 2012 at 6:09 am

Wow Bettina – you should really be proud! I guess what remains to be seen is, if districts can actually afford the “better” meat. I’d hate to see a situation where it becomes the haves and the have nots with larger and lower income districts not changing over due to cost.

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Mary March 15, 2012 at 7:26 am

Bettina,
You have made this happen! The lessons your children are learning from you right now with just this one issue will be a great source of strength as they grow into adults. We, The People, feel as you do that this is a good start but not anywhere near the end. I for one want labeling of some kind so I can buy meat that has no pink slime in it. If the USDA changed thier stance that quickly with the schools, then I know we can get them to label meat in the grocery stores as well. Keep up the good work Bettina, God’s purpose for your voice is clear.

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EdT. March 15, 2012 at 9:50 am

Bettina – you and The Bloggess can now sit down over wine slushies and swap war stories. Congrats!

~EdT.

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Tracy March 15, 2012 at 10:11 am

It seems that the biggest part of the outrage over “pink slime” is the lack of information and everyone is now realizing that they’ve been consuming this stuff without even knowing it. In the interests of sharing information and freedom of choice I would like to toss out a bit of insider information for TLT readers: Another one of BPI’s customers is the maker of those convenient little microwaveable Hormel Chili Cups. Unless, that is, they,ve lately & suddenly decided to drop the additive like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc.

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Dave March 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Congratulations Bettina and thank you for a job well done in initiating this major change. We must all keep the pressure on the USDA to make sure they don’t make the pink slime-free alternate so cost prohibitive that no schools can afford it. Don’t let them pull a fast one once the media attention dies down. Given how the USDA and industry has been refusing to label genetically engineered foods (GMOs), which would allow consumers to make informed choices, I find it interesting that the USDA now says they are going to give schools a choice about pink slime or pink slime-free, in the interests of transparency. If they truly believe in transparency and giving consumers choices and information about what’s in their food in regards to pink slime, then they need to now apply that same reasoning of transparency and choice to GMOs, by allowing labeling that states that foods contain GMOs. How many people know that the USDA is currently fast tracking approval for a new type of GMO corn developed by DOW chemical that has a component of agent orange in it? And the Monsanto GMO corn has been shown to cause massive reductions in butterfly populations, in addition to allowing the spraying of larger quantities of pesticides. Practically all corn and soy grown in the US, except for certified organic, is GMO. That is being fed to our kids in school lunches in the form of so many different ingredients, including all the corn syrup in sodas and everything else. GMOs are the next thing to get out of school lunches. So what will the USDA do with that 7 million pounds of pink slime when schools opt out? I have a suggestion: they should serve it at the cafeterias at the USDA’s headquarters. If they like it so much, let them eat it.

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Rama Jo Hitchcock March 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm

My husband & I both would both sign this petition we only heard of today. We are raising our 3 grandchildren & immediately had a family conference on this pink slime garbage. They will not be eating any hamburgers at school until we hear differently. We feel this is scandalous on the part of the USDA, not being honest with the public. If it was a non-edible product somehow I feel they would scream to the heavens.

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maria March 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm

How about looking at why there is no free water in the cafeterias? Oh wait, they can purchase colored sugared water or they can go to the drinking fountain for some of the nastiest-tasking water on the planet….Dont’ pretent you care about what the kids eat and drink if they can’t even have free water with their meals!

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Bettina Elias Siegel March 16, 2012 at 7:24 am

Maria – I’ve written about this a lot on TLT – just search it. And another report coming. Big concern, you’re right.

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Mike March 16, 2012 at 5:05 am

An ABC News report reveals that the Under Secretary of Agriculture, Joann Smith, who approved the use of ammonia treated sludge in ground beef products as a substitute to counter skyrocketing costs of beef later received a high paying job in the beef industry.

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carrie welsh March 16, 2012 at 1:44 pm

WE WANT HEALTHY FOOD AND NO MILK/BOVIEN GROWTH/GOT PUS antibiotic milk.
Serve soy , almond, rice or coconut!

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Phyllis August 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I was just wondering, since when is it considered a “win” when ONLY 258,874 signatures (roughly 3% of the population of New York City) determine what is safe for the rest of the country (roughly 313 million? (258,874 is less than 1%) of our country’s population? hmmmmm….

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