Pink slime in the context of history

I haven't written much about pink slime—that creamy mixture of meat and animal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of industrial meat processing.

Most of what's being written about this lately comes from a place of outrage. And I'm really not sure I can get outraged about pink slime. Why not? After all, we're talking about a finely ground goo made up of trimmings, tallow, connective tissue, intestinal linings, and other gross-sounding stuff. They make this goo out of leftover cow parts and then, sneakily, they mix it into regular old ground beef. Plus, it's treated with ammonia first, to kill off any bacteria. Clearly, all of this is bad.

Or, maybe not.

There are some legit critiques here. I need to learn a little more about the specific ammonia treatment process before I can really comment on that. And because pink slime comes from industrially raised cattle and ends up in hamburgers, it's a part of some systems that aren't functioning very well or very sustainably.

That said, the actual existence of pink slime—in and of itself—is not something I find offensive. In fact, I think it's a good thing. If I talked about humans who use every part of the animals they kill, you'd probably assume I was talking about some 19th-century plains tribe of Native Americans, or an off-the-grid farm family. But that virtue is something that's true of industrial meat processing, as well. Given the massive amounts of energy it takes to raise a cow, I'd rather have us use all the cow, rather than waste the gross parts. And, when it comes down to it, I'm not convinced that pink slime is any more gross than, say, what goes on in 3/4 of French Provencal cooking. Or authentic Chinese cuisine. Or, really, any cooking tradition that hasn't bought into the uniquely American belief that only the nicest parts of the muscle are edible and everything else is gross and unsanitary.

Historian Maureen Ogle has a similar perspective. At her blog, she talks about the history of meat consumption and why pink slime made its way into our food supply to begin with.

In the BEEF industry, its use dates back to the mid-1970s, although poultry and fish processors were already using the technique. Beef packers began using in the in mid-seventies because, at the time, all meat prices, but especially beef, were in the stratosphere. A host of factors pushed those prices up (you can read all about this in Chapter Five of my forthcoming --- 2013 --- book Meat: An American History), including a global food famine, inflation, rising fuel costs, unemployment, etc.

Meatpackers were having a tough time turning out meat products at a price consumers would pay. Consumers were outraged; they organized boycotts; the White House imposed price controls. Etc. (Five years of research for this new book taught me one thing: American consumers demand cheap food, and especially cheap meat, and when they don’t get it, there’s hell to pay.)

So pushed by consumers on one side, and soaring costs on the other, meatpackers asked for, and got, permission from the USDA to use a “mechanical deboning” process that allowed them scrape meat off carcasses so that what had been waste could be eaten.

...Only someone who has never wanted for food would equate "pink slime" with dog food. Only in the extraordinarily affluent U.S. would people attack an industry for trying to make use of rather than waste food.

Read Maureen Ogle on the history of pink slime in our food supply.

Read Maureen Ogle on gross food, and decontamination of food.

UPDATE: The picture that was on this story wasn't actually pink slime. My apologies for grabbing a photo that I should have known didn't make sense. I've replaced it now with a photo from Reuters of the real pink slime.

IMAGE: The beef product known as pink slime or lean finely textured beef is frozen on large drums as part of the manufacturing process at the Beef Products Inc. plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska March 29, 2012. The governors of Iowa, Texas and Kansas and lieutenant governors of Nebraska and South Dakota toured the plant to show their support for the company and the several thousand jobs it creates in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas. REUTERS/Nati Harnik/Pool


  1. It is my understanding that the photo is NOT the “lean, finely textured beef” that is in question here.  That is the mechanically separated chicken that we lost our shit over last year.

    A TinEye search seems to confirm this.

    Edit: Picture updated, tyvm Maggie.

    1. That is the most frustrating part about coverage of this issue: when we – by error or malice – misrepresent details this issue, it only gives the meat industry ammunition.

      I’m not saying that is what’s going on here, but that photo’s in-applicability to this issue has certainly increased the sound-to-noise ratio.

      1. I can find a whole bunch of clearly sourced  photos and videos of mechanically deboned meats, but nobody has offered an origin for the photo up top, even the folks who first used it in 2009, NOR has anyone provided photographic evidence of something that merely looks similar. This is what mechanically deboned chicken looks like: There are plenty of videos on YouTube of various types of animal flesh being deboned, many made by manufacturers. of the deboning machines.  None of the processes I seen result in a product that looks like strawberry softserve ice cream. Deboned chicken looks looser and redder. Deboned fish is paler and again looser than what ever the stuff in the cardboard box is. And the box is another problem. USDA wouldn’t allow that unless it is a single use container even if it was waxed, as it cannot be sterilized once used. Everything that comes into contact with the meat is single use plastic wrap, heavy duty polyethylene plastic, or stainless steel.

        If you were using a cardboard box as a single use container, you’d be generating a huge waste stream just in cardboard with the associated disposal costs and dumspsters full of bloody, meat slurry tinged oxes would draw huge numbers of flies, and boxes are more expensive than most people realize. I worked summer jobs in the 80s in college, one year at a country ham company, and another at a Georgia-Pacific cardboard box plant (its actually corrugated paper board, cardboard is what cereal boxes are made of), so i know a bit about USDA sanitation standards and boxes. In 1985 for example, GP was selling the little cardboard trays that go under a 24 can flat of beer cans for about $.25 each (in enormous quantities), a waxed meat packaging box the size of the one in the picture (and it doesn’t look waxed to me or constructed the way a waxed box would be with tabs and slots as you can’t glue waxed cardboard) would have been at least a dollar. Factor in 27 years inflation… Corrugated boxes are used in meat plants for final shipping packaging only.

    2. The problem is – it isn’t even chicken “slurry”, but most likely some foam that has nothing to do with either beef or chicken.
      For one, no matter how much you may despise the food industry, they would *never* dump a meat product right into an unlined cardboard box.
      And secondly, any meat slurry would be much too heavy too keep this kind of shape. Also, if you look at the larger box in the upper right corner of the picture, it too is filled with this foam, and it’s still keeping its shape, even at the top. This just doesn’t happen with processed meat.
      Yes, lots of sites label this picture as either beef or chicken slurry, but that doesn’t make it true. Nobody seems to know exactly what it is, but even on BB itself there were lots of qualified voices doubting the validity of this image, and on a page dedicated to debunking it there’s even a USDA safety inspector confirming that this is NOT mechanically separated chicken.
      When will we stop repeating nonsense, just because it fits into our agenda?!

      1. “When will we stop repeating nonsense, just because it fits into our agenda?!”
        What are you… some kinda pinko commie? This is ‘merika! Critical thinking is unpatriotic!

  2. I feel like about once a month I declare my love for Maggie. While I would prefer that, at minimum, consumers were able to get information about what is in their food and make their own decisions, this is the first article I’ve seen that was really skeptical of the “pink slime in evil” point of view.

    1. Agreed whole-heartedly. 

      But I still don’t like pink slime on my burgers. It just isn’t appetizing and the texture especially is disagreeable. I’ve noticed it for years (since grade school really). I think if it were used in less noticeable ways (not in burgers but maybe tacos) nobody would notice or care.

      And if I remember from NPR a week or two ago when this started getting big, I think part of the reason behind the outrage is the way it’s used in school lunches, where the cheapest ingredients possible are used. Whether or not it’s bad for you (it surely isn’t), it certainly illustrates that the food that makes it to school lunch programs is not top-notch, and especially for kids it’s an issue because unappetizing stuff doesn’t get eaten.

  3. Assuming we aren’t ingesting harmful chemicals from the process – I really don’t see the problem. Meat still tasty and we are using more of the cow? What is the down side?

    1. Erm….I guess that’s not my review of McDonald’s hamburgers.  But I am happy someone is using it.

      1.  Aw, they are like candy. Good for once-in-awhile. But McDonalds is hardly the only ones who use it (assuming they do at all, they aren’t mentioned in the articles.)

          1. I believe that pink goo from the picture turns into what we know as chicken mcnuggets. 
            This is an educated guess, because in a former life I helped make video advertisement for Baader, the international food processor company that makes the machines that makes the slime and many other food-alikes.  
            So yes, I think they still have the mcnuggets, mcribs, mcwhatever made by their Baader machines on their menu. 

            McD has quit using ammonium hydroxide, the stuff from the Easter bunnies, they say.

    2. the downside is that it’s undisclosed consumption and it’s super un-healthy.  super high fat, over processed.  and it’s been forced into our childrens’ school food due to the vast money in the industry lobby against the outcries of parents

      1.  Wouldn’t the fact it is cheaper, thus more affordable for cash strapped schools be the more likely reason for its use?

    3. What is the down side?

      Pathogens which used to be on the outside, now permeate the whole mess.

      1. For me it’s not that they use ammonia, it’s that they *have to* treat it with ammonia because its been on the floor of the slaughterhouse with all the scraps of hide and feces.  Bon appetit!

    4.  Welcome to the world of decreasing expectations and “just barely good enough”. 

      Hopefully we won’t have another episode of mad cow disease because they were grinding up the nervous tissue of sick cattle.  Anything to save a buck.

    1. What picture? The one above? I would guess that one has nothing to do with this current issue… it surfaced during the last one about chickens, but it most probably had nothing to do with that one, either.

  4. Not to derail the discussion… but has anyone ever been able to find a verified source for that photograph, with information about the photographer, context, setting, or anything of that nature?

    I say this because I went hunting for that information about 2 years ago when a vegan blog attached that same photo to a story (entirely unattributed) about the nature of “mcnuggets”.

    I am still quite doubtful that the substance being shown is a meat product of any kind. For one, processed meat usually has such a high fat content that it does not display the degree of structural elasticity/rigidity shown: it’s far too slippery. Second, the pebbled surface is strongly indicative of “whip”, or air deliberately introduced into a product for various reasons… usually in ice cream or candy.

    1. Agreed. I was pretty much under the impression that this pink stuff in this image isn’t food at all. Mechanically separated chicken (and beef) is more of a wet slurry than this, and won’t hold it’s shape like the stuff in this picture does.

      Also, it’s going into an unlined cardboard box… which, in my mind, raises a serious doubt that this is any sort of consumable food. (especially one with a high water content, like meat)

      I’m pretty certain that this is a screencap from an old how-it’s-made-style show ( maybe a Mr Rogers factory visit? )…

      My buck says that it’s rubber going into racquetballs (which, btw, would be awesome if true).

  5. Only in the extraordinarily affluent U.S. would people attack an industry for trying to make use of rather than waste food

    Just a lil’ bit disingenuous methinks.  I would guess the “outrage” (more like ‘wtf?’) stems from consumers thinking they were buying “regular” ground beef (or chicken, or whatever) and finding out that this stuff was sneakily mixed in with it, in their hamburgers, children’s school lunches, etc.  So Pink Slime is a ‘foodstuff’ that’s not going to harm you?  That’s fine, but clearly label everything it’s in, and don’t gloss it over with vague nomenclature to describe what it actually is (see: hot dogs) people are getting.  Then we can “let the market sort it out”.  Something tells me that “industry” will not be too pleased with that kind of transparency though….

    Oh, and eat your chicken beaks because kids are starving in Africa right?  That is about as honest as the old “Impoverished Americans are actually wealthy compared to poor people in Africa” argument for justifying slumping standards of living.

    1. A very small part of the outrage has anything to do with the mislabeling.  People are freaked out because someone, somewhere invented the term pink slime and then totally distorted facts about the process. 

      1. What labeling?  People are seeing what this is and many of them don’t want it, on top of that there’s some anger that they thought they were buying ground beef made from regular cuts of beef/chicken and that it wasn’t injected with a mix of everything left on the cutting room floor.

        The “industry” does not like an informed consumer.  People always say “you should know how you’re food gets to you” but I doubt these giant food corps would really like that, if that were the actual case.

    2. As I understand it, the “stuff” is muscle tissue.  It’s not “sneakily mixed in.”  If I were in their shoes it would never have seemed worth mentioning because the whole package is, in fact, ground beef.  The outrage completely baffles me.

      1. Well, let’s be honest though. When people *think* of ground beef they picture mid-muscle beef going into a grinder and coming out ground. They do not imagine (how could they have?) the result of mechanical de-boning. Even if technically is it ground beef, part of the issue is expectations.

        1.  Thank you. 

          And why bother even labeling meat cuts etc. if it’s all just “beef” or “chicken”?

        2.  No, let’s be honest. When people think of ground beef, they picture a package of ground beef in a Styrofoam plate, covered in shrink wrap at the supermarket. They do not imagine that they should maybe do a quick Internet search to find whence their food comes.

          When it comes to expectations, while I do think that packaging information should be factual and honest, I don’t think there’s any obligation on their part to describe things in the worst possible terms. That seems silly to me.

          1. You might associate ground beef with a nondescript red cube in Styrofoam, but other people define it differently.

        1. You label it if you add anything that’s not actually beef.  Beef being bovine muscle tissue.  (And maybe a small amount of connective tissue, which is present even in the locally-raised grass-fed steaks I get at my neighborhood market.  Probably in far greater amounts.) You label it if you use a treatment that–and this is the key part–leaves a residue.  Then you label it, the way wine bottles say “contains sulfates.”

          Again, as I understand it, the ammonium hydroxide treatment leaves no residue, just like the cleansers and sanitizers used by every single food handler from farm to table that aren’t listed on labels.  Should my butcher shop list bleach as an ingredient because they clean work surfaces with it?

          1. Then you label it, the way wine bottles say “contains sulfates.”

            So you’re saying that they should disclose when they contain allergens? I agree, but I’m really unsure what they has to do with beef.

  6. And, when it comes down to it, I’m not convinced that pink slime is any more gross than, say, what goes on in 3/4 of French Provencal cooking. Or authentic Chinese cuisine.

    You don’t say.  And speaking of ammonia…

  7. It used to be said that you could – and would – use “… every part of the pig, except the squeal.”

    Minimizing waste from animals that you slaughter seems only ethical (I’ve often wondered if environmentalism and recycling could be made more palatable to Americans by painting it in terms of core American virtues of frugality and efficiency – but appeal to our imagined rugged pioneer past always gets trumped by more attractive messages put out by the buy-more/spend-more industrial complex). That said, our experience with mad cow disease suggests that having the industry grind every last proteinaceous bit of the critter into something we can eat isn’t always a good idea.

    Soylent Pink is … what exactly?

    1. It’s worth pointing out too that when they say “use” every part of the animal, they’re not suggesting you “eat” every part of the animal. 

  8. Hey Mag,   Dr. Joe tackled this issue last month and explained the whole ammonia thing too.  Bedsides being a voice of reason in Montréal he’s also the director of McGill University’s office for Science and Society ( he knows his science!).

    1. The freakout over “ammonia” is indeed quite tiresome and well-discussed therein. 

      Every one of us has hydrochloric acid churning in our guts at this very moment.  Let’s ban dihydrogen monoxide while we’re at it.

      1. I was looking for the appropriate place to insert this piece of things I’ve learned along the way, and your comment seems to fit very well:

        I was working for a rather large company doing some low level industrial work for the R&D department.  They sent us down instructions and orders for the day and we created whatever they needed.  Well the chemistry department decided to try working on a new “flavoring agent” as they called it.  Seemed simple enough.  Some part ammonium hydroxide (saturated solution) and some part HFCS.  So wearing the appropriate safety gear we mixed up what was ordered and placed it into an open reactor vessel to basically cook over night.  The next day the chemistry team that placed the request came down to see how things were going.  We opened up the vessel and found (what they expected) something that looked like molasses (and smelled pleasant compared to the eye/lung burning of the ammonia).  So we emptied it into a container and one of the female chemists was so over joyed by everything she stuck her pinkie into it and ate it.

        At this point all of us non chemistry PhD’s just raised an eyebrow as she exclaimed it was exactly what they were looking for….

        I realized that day just because what goes in is something that will burn the inside of your lungs doesn’t mean that what comes out isn’t something that you might put on your breakfast plate…

        1.  ” she stuck her pink into it and ate it.”  I really think you meant she stuck her pinkie into it.

        2.  but….but….eating chemicals………..kills you!!!!

          That’s what too many people think, anyway. I guess that’s why the whole dihydrogen monoxide joke arose.

      2. Where the does this impression come from that a person who doesn’t want to eat something is freaking out?  People want to know what’s in their food.  That’s hardly unreasonable.

  9. I would prefer the beef I purchase to be as far as possible from nerve bundles and other related tissues as they are where BSE (mad cow disease) is communicated from cows to humans when eaten. Naturally the people who produce this low-cost food made of the scrap meat that could not be sold in any other product would be extraordinarily careful and make sure such tissues never get near the separation process to be present for the later de-fatting and reconstitution process. 

    It’s a good thing the free market works so good, especially when hiding information from the consumers, because we could be in serious peril if not! Lean finely textured beef is the corn sugar of the future! 

    1. Oh shucks I just realized I could do my own research!

      The term “pink slime” was coined in 2002 by Food Safety and Inspection Service microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein.[2] It usually refers to low-grade beef trimmings from connective tissue, spinal, rectal, and other intestinal material.[3] It is described by its manufacturer Beef Products Inc. – which until March 2012 produced around 900,000 pounds of the material every day[1] – as “boneless lean beef trimmings” (BLBT) or “lean, finely textured beef” (LFTB).

      It’s a good thing they are using spines which have nothing to do with nerve tissue or the nervous system or making me nervous as fuck about eating it. 

        1. Maggie appears to be focusing on people being repulsed by the idea of eating lips and assholes then insisting it’s a good thing because it helps the enviornment. Never mind the pathogen distribution vectors! 

  10. i think it’s odd that you gloss over the actual problems associated with this product, namely the industrialization of beef, confined feeding operations, and animals fed soy and corn that are supposed to eat grass. To say that this product is a good thing because it uses all the animal misses the health and environmental concerns of the beef that this product comes from. yes, americans whine about meat being too expensive. raise your own cow and tell me you want to see it for 2 bucks a pound. what a joke.  too much discussion of this particular product, insufficient discussion of the context that creates this product. 

    1. Right. Because she was discussing a different topic than you are. The topic you are discussing is worthwhile and important. It just isn’t this one.

      1. I so love when people bring up a completely different argument that just happens to be dealing with the same set of things as the original one…

        I’m pretty sure I can tack on reading comprehension to the things I will have to teach my child.

    2. Your problem (and mine) is not with the adulteration of meat products, but with the industrial production of meat. I think the issues are slightly separate, although I think what people are reacting to here is the bursting of the illusion that their meat, basically, was cut off a cow by a butcher, more or less, rather than being the product of an elaborate technology-driven “meat process”.

      I’d rather point out that, say, livestock is responsible for 18% of GHG emissions, and feedstocks for livestock take up 30% of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet. But people love eating meat at every meal, so I guess the issue is making sure that what they eat doesn’t gross them out.

      1. Grossing people out is the least of our worries. Killing them might get their attention better. Industrial cattle processing is very dirty, very prone to disease, very cruel to the animals, and very much covered up from any kind of public scrutiny. Pink slime was made to take the most contaminated leftovers of the carcasses, try to make them not kill you, and then put them into your food. For a while, they were even claiming their ammonia process helped control contamination in the meat it was added to, until that fib was disproven.

    3. i think it’s odd that you gloss over the actual problems associated with this product, namely the industrialization of beef, confined feeding operations, and animals fed soy and corn that are supposed to eat grass.

      I don’t think she glossed over it — in fact she alluded to it with her comment “it’s a part of some systems that aren’t functioning very well or very sustainably.”

      But she didn’t emphasize it, because the post was about something else.

      1.  my critique was that the post was about the wrong thing. all this fuss over pink slime, all this media attention and articles, and it’s totally missing the underlying causes that create a process and a market that turns an environmental and social disaster into food.  the dialogue around pink slime shouldn’t be “is it toxic/right/wrong?” but should be “is it good for us?”

          1.  too limiting. just because it has no immediate effects on an individual, i.e. non-toxic, doesn’t mean it’s not bundled with a suite of other problems; systemic, long-term, accumulative.  relationships not objects. etc.

        1. “is it good for us”
          i agree with you, though i would change your question to: 

          is this the way we want to go? 

          does this represent how we want to produce food?  …how we want to eat? …what we want to eat?  if the answer is yes for some people, go for it.  this way of producing food  does not, however, suit me and many of the people i know.  and i believe that IF we had really solid/reliable information about what our food consists of (labels/unbiased research [another industry in real trouble–topic for another day]) we could actually impact the market with our dollars, but as it stands right now, we can’t even validate the veracity of a picture of what we think is in our food.

  11. My take on it is that it’s a fusion of two concepts: soup stock and particle board.

    I think the “What’s the problem?” folks see it more like soup stock, and the “ZOMG, gross!” camp sees it more like particle board, i.e. something fake and substandard.

  12. ‘Only in the extraordinarily affluent U.S. would people attack an industry for trying to make use of rather than waste food.’
    lol a historian said this? someone should’ve told upton sinclair.

  13. I’ve eaten bologna and hot dogs on occasion, which are also “finely textured beef,” but with spicy additives.
    But the ground beef I eat comes from the butcher shop, who grinds it in the shop.

    1. well done!  more should do this.  people (with few exceptions) need to accept the fact that food is and should be expensive. 
      “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  — Michael Pollan

        1. i think you are joking.  but just in case: just because it came from a plant, doesn’t mean it still is.  just because it came from an animal doesn’t mean it still is (edible).
          and don’t get me started on corn, let alone HFCS

  14. This reminds me a little of when Jamie Oliver tried to teach little American kids about the food industry.  He took a whole chicken, separated all the nice cuts of meat, leaving a carcass with little niblits of meat left clinging to the bones.  He put the carcass into a food processor and blended the ever loving crap out of it and than forced the gunk through a strainer to remove the flecks of bone and connective tissue.

    He breaded it, fried it and asked the kids if they still wanted chicken McNuggets.  EVERY kids raised their hand and ate enthusiastically!

    1.  For years now I’ve been making my own dog food by putting chicken necks through a meat grinder to make a paste. When the infamous “this is what McNuggets are made from” picture came out I shrugged and said, “Drop by my house once a month and you’ll see the same thing.”

      And while I’ve never eaten the dog food I make I believe that if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me.

      1. the issue is that the industrial process is FAR FAR removed from yours and Mr. Oliver’s.  Chef was just trying to make a point.  in the American show he ended up making a different point about Americans

        1. Actually he made a point about group psychology and what pains in the ass young kids can be. Anyone who regularly deals with kids would have known that a few kids were going to control the reaction of the group.

          Or, you know, some blather about 300 million people and what six kids prove about them.


      I kept watching it and knew it would happen…I mean those look (and probably taste) just like the nuggets I had in school growing up.

  15. that creamy mixture of meat and animal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of industrial meat processing

    I see what you did there… spamtorum!?

  16. I haven’t written much about pink slime—that creamy mixture of meat and animal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of industrial meat processing.

    Pink Slime: the food service equivalent of “Santorum“.

    I am of two minds about this. It seemed to me like the whole concept of “waste not, want not” was being ignored because of how gross “pink slime” sounds. On the other hand, I’d like to be told if this stuff was in my hamburger, and I probably wouldn’t buy it if it was.

  17. Ammonia?-I put that stuff on everything (last weeks irradiated farmed spot prawns, dumpster chicken) quite the stretch from First Nations sufficiency to food waste toxicity,
    Then I build a giant concrete dam on every little fish stream and call that ‘eco’

    better living through science

  18. mostly agree with Maggie here.  except it doesn’t have to be forced into our childrens’ food!  there are lots of historical uses for this product.  dogfood.  glue.  etc

    we need better labeling and the fast food joints need to be forced to be more transparent about what’s in our food that is poisoning our citizens and increasing healthcare costs.

    the industry will still find a use for this stuff.  but if we produce less industrialized (or even free range, organic) feed cattle, i’m all for it

  19. My understanding of why the pink slime is bad is that it’s made from generally bacteria-contaminated trimmings, and if you use enough ammonia to kill the bacteria, the meat tastes terrible and is pretty much inedible. So the packing companies submit a sample of super-ammoniated beef to the regulators to show it’s germ-free, then decrease the ammonia content in the actual product that they sell. So you end up with a product that will, if not cooked to death, maybe kill you.

  20. Oh, hey, a lot of people who have no involvement beyond buying things at the supermarket don’t actually know that a lot of food prep is actually kind of disgusting when you’re not used to seeing it. I can’t begin to express an appropriate level of surprise. Because it’s hard to really express “None.”

    1. people are ignorant and need more education. no doubt.  but even if/when they are less ignorant, it doesn’t mean we can/should force this type of stuff on the most vulnerable in society (school children, elderly in homes, anyone fed from a bottom bracket food counter).  we pay for their healthcare and lost productivity

      1. Nobody’s forcing it on anyone, or at least, no producers, nor the big scary government. It WAS in Mcdonalds, but nobody forces you to buy maccas. It IS in most likely half a dozen types of fast food and various Tv dinners or other frozen food. Nobody is forcing you to buy them.

        Let’s face it, mate. People are outraged now because they’re grossed out,  but the reality is that it’s a perfectly safe and harmless process, that allows for not only less wasted food, but cheaper food. And you can’t tell me that if they stopped this, and a few months down the line, the price of cheap food went up, that Americans wouldn’t be practically rioting in the streets.

        Forcing it on the most vulnerable in society, Gimmie a fuckin’ break, don’t pull that weasely buzzword BS. I’m a journalist, I don’t have heartstrings to tug on. You want to convince me, show me evidence, not nonsense.

        First, by removing cheap food that causes no harm to them, wouldn’t you be harming those in these groups, rather than helping them?
        And in the case of School Childeren, I can only assume you mean the ones who are being fed from the cafeteria – Well, you could always be a good parent, pay attention to what your child eats, and if you find it unacceptable what they eat from the cafeteria, then go make them lunch. Or even better, teach them to make their own lunch. I didn’t take delicious bentos to high school all the time because my ma or da made them for me.

        Second, yeah, you do pay for their healthcare, and in some cases, lost productivity – I assume you mean welfare for the third group, since school kids are not terribly productive, nor are the elderly in homes. But what part of that is related to this beef? Prove harm, before you try to imply you’re paying for it.

          1.  Convincing you isn’t going to happen. You’re already convinced it’s some evil, horrible thing they’re doing that’s making everybody less healthy and harming the public to make a few extra bucks – Do pardon for putting words in your mouth, that’s just kind of a mish-mash of what many people who are against it seem to believe. Cross out what doesn’t apply.

            Being convinced relies entirely on you – I have nothing much to do with it. If you refuse to be convinced, then it’s not like I can change your mind by force, nor by clever words, nor by evidence.

            But, I suppose I do have some begrudging faith in you, thus why this post doesn’t simply end here.

            Evidence, however, that I can give you. The lack on your side is already noted.

            First, we look at the production process. They take certain cuts of beef not usually used in many beef products – namely, the muscle that surrounds the spine and throat, and the skirts – simmer it to liquify the fat, and then spin the meat in a centrifuge to spin off the fat, leaving behind only the muscle tissue.
            Then, they take that, and treat it with a weak ammonium chloride gas to kill bacteria(Mostly only e-coli at this point) which sounds scary, but it frankly isn’t – besides the fact that ammonia is naturally present in beef to begin with, the rates used in the gassing are very low. You’d probably intake more ammonia cleaning your bathroom once than you would from the extra ammonia present from the treatment, even if you were doing nothing but eating Pink Slime for a week straight.

            Now, the first half of the process is pretty much 100% safe – It’s just simmering beef, and spinning it around rather fast. It doesn’t really do anything to the meat that you can’t do in your kitchen, not that I’d advise it, as then you’d have hot beef fat EVERYWHERE.

            The second half has been subject to study over and over again. The FDA and USDA both have determined the process safe, and indeed, Ammonium chloride isn’t a terribly worrisome substance – If you hunt down a popular style of European liquorice called “Salty liquorice” in English, also known as salmiakki or salmiak, is coated in crystals of the stuff like sand on a desert. People eat it by the truckload.
            Can’t say I ever got the taste for it myself, though, but that aside, as a food additive, in low levels, quite safe. And if you’re thinking about saying “But what about in high levels”, don’t, because the answer is that in high enough doses, EVERYTHING kills you.

            Basically, to the best of our knowledge and the best of our ability to find out, this is absolutely no less safe than eating regular beef. Unless you want to argue that Regular beef is somehow super-harmful and dangerous to people – I’m not thinking you will, but I don’t put it past some people – then you can’t really argue that Pink Slime is Harmful, unless you count the production process being disgusting to watch as “Harmful.”

            In fact, to flip the script a little, one could argue that regular cuts of beef are MORE potentially harmful than Pink Slime, simply because intact cuts of beef are not required to go through a sanitizing “Kill step” to remove pathogens, but Pink Slime is. However, that’s kinda pedantic, and I’m not going to seriously argue the point, as it’s not quite what we’re talking about.

            Oh, and Naturally, don’t think beef being “Organic” will stop anyone from using this process – in fact, you’re perfectly allowed to label products containing pink slime as Organic, providing the source beef is Organic.

            And, here’s the sources. Check my work.

            Iowa State University study on the saftey of Ammonium compounds in food processing –

            Some Q&A about processing aids –

            About the Sanitisation of beef trimmings:

            Q&A about ammonium Hydroxide in food production:

            James Dickenson of Iowa State university weighs in:

            The Chicago Tribune weighs in:

            The USDA labeling guidelines –

            Statement: Nancy Donelly, founder of STOP foodborne illness:

            Just to see if you’re even reading any of these, a reward, a video of mayor Timothy Shadbolt on 7 days, stoned out of his gourd:

            Startement by Dr James Masden, Regent’s Distinguished Professor of Food Safety and Security at Kansas State University:

            Commentary by Gary R. Acuff, Professor and Director, Center for Food
            Safety, Texas A&M University and H. Russell Cross, Professor and
            Head, Department of Animal Science, Texas A&M University:

            Dave Dreesen interviews Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary :

             Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

            And I’ve got more if you want it.

            Oh, and if this many links in a comment doesn’t set Antinous’ Moderator control panel in his secret underground lair just blazing with light, I’ll be stunned. Sorry to give you more to do, mate.

    2. Butchering vs.  spinning parts into a slurry in a centrifuge…..

      I think people know that slaughtering animals isn’t pretty.  I’ve killed a snake myself and eaten it, at least I knew exactly what I was eating.

      1. That’s why I said Food Preperation, and not just “Killing and Buchering”. Most people have the concept that death is unpleasant,  Most people don’t find out about food prep, and frankly, if they were educated about it, wouldn’t be bothered – it’s just that it LOOKS disgusting.

        Hell, I turned a (Now ex) girlfriend vegetarian, because the process of butchering a cow up on a mate’s farm disgusted her that much. She knew about it beforehand, but after actually seeing the process for herself, she just couldn’t deal.

        I’m yet to find a single person educated or working in the relevant fields who is disgusted or bothered by this. Please, feel free to explain to me exactly how this is harmful to you, beyond being a bit “icky”? Or explain to me how you don’t know what you’re eating, when it says beef, and it’s still beef muscle, and from the same areas as the muscle tissue you already eat? I mean, it’s not like they’re selling you sirloins and giving you shlong, here.

  21. My dad was raised on a farm and my parents made most of our food from scratch. They liked to pickle and make their own yogurt and cheese and make their own sauerkraut and make bread from yeast or starter. I think it people saw how food was really made, they’d understand that the production of many foods, whether animal or vegetable, is kind of gross.

    1. gross is not the issue.  it’s just the easiest reaction to get out of the “ignorant mob”

  22. Also, they could have prevented this entirely if they’d made the product out of old napkins.

    Nobody ever gets sick from SPACE MEAT.

  23. I have similarly conflicted feelings about most of the discussion of food and agriculture amongst my peers and in the media- that there are borderline nonsensical aesthetic objections being raised just to the right or left of legitimate scientific and economic considerations.

    The authentic problem with pink slime is that it wasn’t on the label, (and was probably an ingredient in things that would give you a tummyache for a half-dozen other reasons,) and that lack of transparency is one more cog in the aquifer-draining, topsoil-stripping, carbon-emitting, watershed-deoxygenating monoculture juggernaut that has steadily evolved into an engine for turning an acre of Kansas and a barrel of diesel into flavorless but compulsively eatable variations on Fat, Sugar, And Salt in a Frozen Bag ™ that are slowly killing the sweatpants-stretching inhabitants of your local Costco and the ecosystem they inhabit, and while I deeply admire the ingenuity and productivity of that juggernaut, I’d like it to evolve to include some longer-term considerations too, because the time is nigh.

    The objection that most consumers are suddenly having to pink slime is that it has an unpleasant name (which I just find amusing) and that they were eating something closer to blood-and-guts than barely-meat-at-all boneless chicken breasts- a fact which I, as an enthusiastic consumer of all things offal, for reasons both gastronomical and eco-economical, can only count as a positive. If mechanically deboned carcass meal is as tasty as all the other bits of animals that white Americans won’t eat (like anything in a proper bowl of pho,) sign me up.

    I have a similar just-off-the-mark feeling about organic produce. Pesticides are problematic, to be sure. Long-term environmental toxicity is a relatively fresh science, and the evolution of resistance is consistently underrated. Fertilizer too- as a planet, we seem to be fixing more nitrogen than our watersheds can dispose of, and that’s a pretty freakin’ bad thing. 90% of what seems to make organic produce taste better for consumers, however, is the plant breeds in question are often optimized for taste rather than tolerance to industry, and are picked ripe, not because the nitrogen in their proteins passed through cow guts instead of a Haber reactor, and said reactors, for all of their overuse which must be dealt with, are still feeding half the planet.

    Maybe I’m splitting hairs, trying to make room for my own aesthetic where the lab is in one hand and the great outdoors is in the other. I hope, though, that it’s just about following the facts where they actually lead.

        1. Neither.  The writing style gives it away.  And…

          We watch entirely too much Travel Channel.

  24. maybe someone pointed this out already?:

    there is a world of difference between USING the whole animal and EATING the whole animal.

  25. I’m totally with everyone saying this is why they love Maggie’s posts. Also, regardless of whether or not that photo actually shows “lean, finely textured beef” or some other industrial meat product, I can’t look at it without thinking of steak ice-cream.

  26. Is there anyone who doesn’t know that hot dogs, ground beef, chicken McNuggets, etc. are made from lips, a-holes, etc?  Is there anyone who thinks that giant corporations, regulatory capture, lobbyists, etc. haven’t helped get sketchy things to market before?  Is there anyone who doesn’t realize that if the gov’t says it’s perfectly legal to sell something with such known health risks as cigarettes that they may also allow for other things with health risks to be sold?

    I don’t know enough to say whether or not “pink slime” poses some sort of health risks (potentially sketchy nerve tissue or E. Coli contamination sound like reasonable concerns to me).  But, I do think I have enough common sense to realize that I can’t expect everything to be sold to be 100% risk free. 

    People died from e.coli from Jack in the Box.  Taco Bell got in trouble for using non-meat filler (is that better or worse than pink slime?).  Fast food is not good for you.  The fat, sugar, and salt contents of fast food probably pose more risk than “pink slime” but that really isn’t the point. 

    Point being, I think the world has given us plenty of evidence to be worried and skeptical about what is served up to us.  At some point, and I hate to say this, you have to be a bit of an idiot to assume that things like this DON’T happen.

    Does that mean I’m happy things like this happen/exist?  No.  Do I wish I live in a world where these things didn’t exist?  Of course!  Do I think I actually live in such a world?  Not by a long shot.

    1. Does that mean I’m happy things like this happen/exist? No. Do I wish I live in a world where these things didn’t exist? Of course! Do I think I actually live in such a world? Not by a long shot.

      So you’re just making excuses for it.

  27. As a school committee member who has some responsibility for what we’re feeding 14,000 kids every day, it was the news that the ammonium nitrate doesn’t always work in killing pathogens that sent me over the edge on this. Nose to tail is fine. E coli is not.

    1.  Ammonium nitrate probably could kill most pathogens. 
      It explodes quite violently. 
      It killed 581 people in the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history. 
      Texas City disaster. 
      Timothy James McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik used that stuff. 

      Ammonium hydroxide is used for chocolate bunnies and meat-like-product. 

    2. Contact an expert on food safety, your state government most likely has microbiologists who work in their food safety departments who would be happy to help you out, there. Normally, I’m all for educating yourself on these matters, but considering that the responsibility of your committee(well, part of it) is feeding fourteen thousand children every day, I can only advise contacting an expert for advice. It’s really the right thing to do, considering the responsibility you and your fellow committee members are charged with.

  28. Separate out the exact same components using hours in boiling water and we have nummy broth and stew, use a centrifuge and it’s gross. Of course there’s the ammonia thing, but you could scare people off bagels if you concentrated on the lye water they’re boiled in. But I do think labeling should be required, people deserve to make the choice on their own.

    I suggest using the differentiator of “cow” vs. “beef”. I doubt anyone would look at a pile of connective tissue and call it beef. So products using pink slime could only be marketed as “ground cow”, not ground beef.

        1.  Oh yea, you have a point. 
          Getting squeezed through holes under pressure is exactly that. 

          Somehow the conveyor belt and rotary drum felt different than the screw conveyor and fixed hole plate. 

  29.  Waste nothing is a great philosophy if you are a 19th century farmer and you knew what that animal ate from birth to slaughter, probably free ranging pasture land and some hay grown without pesticides on your back 40. American skepticism about the food (especially meat) supply probably started with “The Jungle” and hasn’t let up since, whether it’s E. coli, mad cow disease, excess antibiotics and growth hormones, or GMO crops. All of these brought up valid concerns that had to be addressed by the food industry one way or the other, but not before years of stonewalling and denying that there was a problem.  If we had honest, transparent answers as to how food was produced people would be a lot more accepting of using every bit of the animal.     

    1. You do have a choice. You can get high-quality meat from a farmer you know cut up by an actual butcher. But you (as in the general public) want cheap meat every day and bacon for breakfast so “the food industry” delivers. They are hardly the only ones to blame.

      1. “They are hardly the only ones to blame”
        i’m all for personal responsibility, but a degree in psychology and a little reading about marketing will show that responsibility for the food we “want” is not completely in our hands.

  30. Maggie, before you write an article questioning the criticism of the practices of the American commercial meat industry, perhaps you should take the time to actually learn about what you are trying to defend. 
    I am very intimately involved in the traditional manufacture of charcuterie products. Curing and smoking hams, and making finely ground mixtures of meat, spices and cream, which might resemble pink slime. I use sugar and nitrates in the curing of meat occasionally.
    These techniques evolved from centuries of peasants learning how to use every part of the animal before the technology of refrigeration existed. For example, pigs feet are boiled with spices…the liquid becomes gelatinous. The feet are preserved in a cool place in the  solidified jelly liquid and in sterilized jars. The feet then are usually reheated, most usually covered in breadcrumbs, baked in a little casserole with the sauce made from the gelatinous liquid….
    I’ve slaughtered pigs and made blood sausages with apples, or chestnuts….we don’t waste anything…but, I would take offense if you really tried to make a case of comparing this tradition with the American industrial product referred to as Pink Slime.
    As I stated, I’ve made quite a few different meat/milk product mixtures that would resemble pink slime…but that’s as far as the resemblance goes. Read the recipe for a real Saucisse de Strasbourg, or a classic frankfurter. You make something that looks like pink slime and fill sausage casings…but please, excuse me…it has nothing at all to do with the finely ground paste of indiscriminate chemically treated meat waste that you refer to as pink slime.

    1. Red sausages contain “chemicals,” as you would refer to them, that are actually, positively poisonous (nitrates). Disinfecting with ammonia gas seems pretty tame in comparison.

      If you eat sausages yet flip out when you see mechanically separated meat you’re pretty… inconsistent. Now I wouldn’t eat either myself (even if you use a fancy French word for it) but come on; how is one peddling waste and the other “tradition”? There’s no practical difference.

      Turn your rage to the absolutely criminal conditions livestock is raised in in the US instead (e.g. Smithfield, hope you’re enjoying your bacon).

      Also, Bismarck: “The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night.”

      Meat and meat products are gross; mechanically separated meat not more so than other things. Live with it or don’t eat it. Period.

  31. I agree that this is almost certainly not a picture of any foodstuff, for all the reasons already stated. Here is a link to a photo of pink slime that looks much more likely to be the real thing.

  32. Please…..

    1. When the label says pure ground round, a specific part of the cow and the package contains other parts how is this not fraud?

    2. Is the ammonia used actually pure ammonia, without impurities such as arsenic, mercury,  etc that all are present in mass produced, non-pharmaceutical grade chemicals??

    For a quick reality check, get a package of cheap burger and a package of quality beef cubes. Grind up the beef cubes, make a burger out of it. Cook the beef cube burger and a burger made from the cheap ground beef in two separate pans, at the same time. Note the odd smells coming off the cheap burger compared to the ground up beef cubes.

    1. If they could make a burger out of 100% pink slime they would.  I’m thinking the reason they don’t is because it would taste bad.

  33. This photo (that we have all seen a hundred times already), has got to be staged.  The pink slime has proven to be not so dangerous, but also not good at all.  In the photo, they are decanting it into thin cardboard boxes with no liner whatsoever.  What sense does that make?  None. Storage? No. Shipping? No. Stupid, except for a photo op.  I don’t want to see it used anymore because it makes for bloated burgers that don’t release grease very well while cooking.  That isn’t immediately dangerous, but it sure isn’t healthful over time. But I have got to say that this photo is obviously not what everyone seems to think it is. Look at it. Just look at it.

  34. What about moral health? The fact that pink goo even exist means that our society puts so much effort and resources into raising animals for the sole purpose of eating them that we can take the waste and make a ton of (unhealthy) food. I’m not your stereotypical esoteric vegan, I have a scientific (higher) education and I’m an atheist (so no ad hominem please). We are not omnivorous like badgers, rats or bears; the people living in the first world is dying from (animal) diet related disseases and animal farming is one of the main reasons for global warming. All that aside the fact that we include creatures capable of suffering in our diet just by the sake of it speaks volumes about the lack of moral development of our society. 

    1.  You’re turning the imperatives on their heads a bit. I’m not exactly rushing to the defense of American agricultural practices or table habits, but if we go with fewer cows raised= better for the environment, and fewer cows killed= better for the cows, and less expensive food= good for the consumer (barring the inevitable discussion about set points and gluttony,) and more revenue generating meat sold per cow= good for the farmer, then it’s best for all involved to get more protein out of a given carcass, and that means eating the weird bits, and that meant sausage for most of history and might mean pink slime today. It’s really just a meat grinder and a fancy filter and a pretty tame preservation process- I don’t see where it presents any more or less of a health/ecological/ethical concern than any other bit of meat- in fact, it seems to present fewer.

    2. While I recognise it must be frustrating for food advocates of various stripes, I do not know how many people really consider morality in their meat purchasing.  Based on the extent and seeming universality of the agricultural practices, I’d wager very few.  And yeah that is shame. No argument.  
      While noble, I don’t see humanity embracing a vegan lifestyle.  Ethical treatment of farmed animals I think is something that might be a more achievable goal with the ultimate end being a reduction in the consumption of meat overall. Baby steps as Rome burns, some would argue…

  35. I guess you’re free to eat what you want.  Yeah, you can get “cabezas,” (sheep heads) in the Concepcion Chile market, two for 1500 pesos (about $3).  But you’d better have a good old traditional recipe idea of what to do with them… Similarly, I think the objection of most parents to pink slime in school lunches is that it was secret.  The kids were supposed to be eating USDA Choice burger (whatever that is).  Isn’t there an underlying issue about institutions, trust, abdication of personal (family) responsibility for kids’ health and safety?

  36. I stopped having any interest in this whatever when I saw the first petition about it. “It uses amonnia! That’s used in HOMEMADE EXPLOSIVES!”

    I realised at that point that this was another Dihydrogen monoxide scare, and promptly ignored it.

  37. Wow, late to the party. 

    My objection to pink slime doen’t have anything to do with the “ewww, bits,” but the fact that’s it’s highly contaminated with pathogens (Seriously, guys, less poop in my meat, please) and nerve tissue (Ammonia ain’t gunna kill those prions.). The first is a by-product of horrible industrial farming practices, the latter is a by-product of their method of mechanical separation. 

  38. Unfortunately, people use their sense of disgust to decide what is healthy or not. In order to make intelligent decisions in today’s world, you have to suspend your knee-jerk reactions and try to figure out what is truly healthy. Pink slime (despite its name) is fine. Many clean-looking food products are killing us. As a matter of fact, processed food gives the impression of cleanliness. Its uniformity of taste makes our minds think it is safer because it seems less prone to the variations that contamination produce. See the articles below:

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