WASHINGTON – After a public uproar sparked by a Houston parent’s online petition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday backed off the federal school lunch program’s use of “pink slime” by letting school districts decide whether to accept the controversial beef product.
A groundswell developed over the “yuck factor” of the ground beef extended with filler that is made from beef renderings and treated with ammonia hydroxide. The USDA says the product is safe.
“USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable – including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef,” as pink slime is officially known, the department said in a statement.
“However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products,” the statement said. “USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.”
The USDA, roiled by more than 225,000 signatures on the online petition that was launched in early March as well as the ongoing publicity, made its decision in advance of the April purchase order for fall’s school lunch program.
Bettina Siegel, the Houston mother who writes The Lunch Tray blog, was “savoring” the win Wednesday and posted: “While my petition focused on the use of pink slime in school food, I feel strongly that the media firestorm we created and the overwhelming response to the petition was animated by another concern as well: Many Americans were learning for the first time about this substance and the fact that it’s in, reportedly, 70 percent of our ground beef without any sort of labeling for those who wish to avoid it.”