'Pink Slime' Ground Beef Product Returns To School Lunches In 4 States: Report

09/10/2013 02:25pm ET
FILE - This March 29, 2012, file photo, shows the beef product known as lean finely textured beef, or "pink slime," during a plant tour of Beef Products Inc. in South Sioux City, Neb., where the product is made. The nation?s school districts are turning up their noses at ?pink slime,? the beef product that caused a public uproar earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the vast majority of states participating in its National School Lunch Program have opted to order ground beef that doesn?t contain the product known as lean finely textured beef. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

School officials in four states have decided to allow Beef Products Inc.'s lean finely textured beef -- the ammonia-treated mash of meat trimmings more commonly known as "pink slime" -- back into their school lunch programs for the coming year, Politico's Bill Tomson and Helena Bottemiller Evich report.

Government data uncovered by Tomson and Evich show that schools in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas ordered ground beef that "may contain the controversial product" for use in school lunches over the next nine months. They join schools in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, which didn't stop serving "pink slime" after a national outcry over the product erupted in spring 2012.

Public schools in these seven states, which together account for more than a fifth of the country's total enrollment, ordered about 2 million pounds of the questionable ground beef for the 2013-2014 school year. Schools across the country ordered about 7 million pounds of "pink slime" for use in ground beef in the 2011-2012 school year.

The safety of "pink slime" remains an unsettled question. Though some food safety advocates, and many in the meat industry, insist that lean finely textured beef is just as safe as other ground beef, a Pulitzer Prize-winning report in The New York Times showed that numerous government reports have connected the product with elevated levels of disease-causing E. coli bacteria. A blitz of bad press that started with an ABC News report by Diane Sawyer convinced much of the American public that the product was at least gross, and possibly dangerous, prompting most restaurant chains, supermarkets and public schools to ditch the product about a year and a half ago.

Schools are likely embracing the mushy meat-stuff again now for three reasons: Outrage about "pink slime" seems to have subsided, beef prices are hovering around all-time highs and school lunch budgets have been tight for years.

According to Politico, adding lean finely textured beef to ground beef reduces its cost by about 3 percent.

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