Gerald Zirnstein, a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist, is alerting the public that 70% of ground beef sold at supermarkets contains ‘pink slime’. The whistle-blower states, “It’s economic fraud. It’s not fresh ground beef. It’s a cheap substitute being added in.” We first heard about this substance when several fast food restaurants announced they were discontinuing it’s use.
According to the Washington Post, the process involves taking USDA-approved beef trimmings, separating the fat and meat with centrifuges, then squeezing the lean beef through a tube the size of a pencil, during which time it is exposed to ammonia gas. The combination of the gas with water in the meat results in a reaction that increases the pH, lowering acidity and killing any pathogens such as E. coli.
The industry refers to pink slime as ‘lean finely textured beef’. This ‘beef’ is actually cheap filler that requires a blast of ammonia to kill bacteria. Pink slime had mainly been used in dog food, but this changed in the early 1990s when former undersecretary of agriculture Joann Smith declared the substance meat, against objections of USDA scientists, including Zirnstein. In 1993 she left government for a cushy job at Beef Products Inc., serving on their board of directors. No appearance of conflict of interest there.