Pink Slime, GMOs And Food Safety

This week the quality and "realness" of food is coming under close scrutiny. Consumer anger against "pink slime" in school foods has forced the USDAs hand, the Just Label It campaign against GMOs is still going strong with a new infographic, and the CDC released a harrowing report on the rise of outbreaks linked to imported foods.

The Pink Slime Controversy

So called "pink slime" is not a new product, nor is it new to media criticism, but this week the war against pink slime picked up speed and caused the USDA to announce a change in its school lunch policy. But before we get ahead of ourselves, what is it? Technically, pink slime — manufactured by Beef Products Inc. (BPI) — is a mixture of left over beef trimmings and scraps treated with ammonia to kill pathogens like E. Coli. It is then injected as filler into ground meat products like hamburgers. BPI refers to the product as the less catchy "lean finely textured beef."

Thanks to the documentary Food Inc. and celebrity chef/activist Jamie Oliver, the word about lean, finely textured beef got out. The meat industry tried to defend the product with a website entitled Pink Slime is A Myth, to little avail. The moniker "pink slime" (coined by a former USDA official) caused sales of the product to drop, and after a storm of negative media attention, major fast food chains like McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King stopped using lean finely textured beef in their meat products. But schools in the National School Lunch program did not — until now.

The USDA announced yesterday that it would allow schools in the National School Lunch Program to choose beef with or without pink slime. But not everyone thinks the USDA went far enough, including Congresswoman Chellie Pingree who has urged Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to ban the product altogether. Ultimately, as Food Safety News points out, pink slime is not unsafe, it's just severely unappetizing.

The "Just Label It" Campaign

Judging by consumer response to ammonia-treated beef, it's no wonder that the Just Label It campaign — which advocates for identifying genetically engineered foods — is gaining massive support. To date, over 900,000 consumers have sent the FDA comments as part of the campaign. Just Label It released a new infographic this week illustrating facts like "92% of Americans want genetically engineered foods labeled" and "40 plus countries have mandatory labeling of GMOS." The campaign slogan is "Right To Know" as in, the right to know what's in your food, and if pink slime is any indicator, consumers do not like being deceived.

CDC Report On Imported Food

While the Just Label It campaign focuses on labeling our national food supply, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reminded us Thursday that our food safety problems aren't only homegrown. In its report, the CDC demonstrated an increase in the link between outbreaks and imported foods — specifically fish and spices. The report noted that almost 45 percent of the imported foods that caused outbreaks were from Asia. Fish were the culprit in 17 outbreaks and spices were behind six out of the 39 total. This is particularly bad news in relation to fish since an earlier Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) report observed that almost 85 percent of seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported. As far as spices go, five of the six outbreaks were linked to fresh or dried peppers.