Pink Slime: All About the Green

Which is more important, corporate profits or the safety and health of our loved ones? Using "pink slime" as a springboard, let's make our answer very clear.
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When recently asked why they agreed to feed "pink slime" to our children, school lunch officials said it was to drop the price of ground beef -- by 3 cents per pound. This disturbing admission should come as no surprise, however, for anyone familiar with the meat industry's notorious willingness to cut costs at the expense of consumers' health.

In a study titled "Fast food hamburgers: what are we really eating?" pathologists at the Cleveland Clinic dissected burgers from eight different fast food chains to find out what was, or wasn't, inside. Published in the Annals of Diagnostic Pathology, the paper begins with "Most consumers presume that the hamburger they eat is composed primarily of meat." But what did they find?

Similar to a previous dissection they had performed on hot dogs, the researchers discovered waste and by-products including connective tissue, nerve tissue, cartilage, bone, and in a quarter of the samples, Sarcocystis parasites. But surely these "fillers" were the minority, right? Unfortunately not. After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that the amount of actual meat (muscle flesh) in the burgers ranged from 2.1 percent to 14.8 percent. Instead of fries, perhaps fast food cashiers should be asking, "Do you want meat with that?"

In addition to reducing quality, cutting corners also tends to reduce safety, which is why the pink slime in question is injected with ammonia hydroxide: to kill the Salmonella and E. coli (read: fecal matter) that it's often contaminated with. Instead of addressing the contamination issue itself, the meat industry employs a cheap "technofix" to turn what was once considered waste into slimy profits.

So what do the meat pushers do when cheap chemicals won't do the trick, and their products leave the processing plant contaminated with fecal bacteria? Do they shut down the plant? Order a recall? No. They shift responsibility onto the consumer. "Raw meats are not idiot-proof," a USDA poultry microbiologist said. "They can be mishandled and when they are, it's like handling a hand grenade. If you pull the pin, somebody's going to get hurt." In other words, if you get sick from contaminated meat, it's your fault.

But just how often is meat contaminated? This month the CDC released their latest national meat survey in response to this question. They tested more than 5,000 samples of retail meat products straight off the shelves in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. What they found could hardly have been more disturbing: 90 percent of pork chops, ground beef and ground turkey, and 95 percent of chicken breasts, were contaminated with fecal bacteria. No wonder an Alabama poultry science professor was quoted in a meat industry journal as saying, "it's too expensive not to sell salmonella-positive chicken."

Of course, not everyone agrees with the notion that the public should willingly assume these risks. Dr. Patricia Griffin, director of the foodborne diseases division at the CDC, responded by asking, "Is it reasonable that if a consumer undercooks a hamburger that their 3-year-old child dies?"

Which brings us back to the real question: Which is more important, corporate profits or the safety and health of our loved ones? Using "pink slime" as a springboard, let's make our answer very clear.

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