Lean, textured ground beef? Sounds tasty. Boneless lean beef trimmings? Not so sure. What about pink slime?
It's an exercise in public framing, and it appears to be working. On Monday, a leading US ground beef processor filed for bankruptcy, citing a public outcry over the less-than-appetising contents of its beef products. It turns out most people aren't eager to eat burgers made from ammonium hydroxide-treated cow scraps.
British chef Jamie Oliver first alerted many Americans to the contents of their national dish on his popular Food Revolution television show: scraps that would usually be reserved for pet food are washed in ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria, before being used as "filler" in meat products such as burgers. The unappetising news spread to major US media and activist groups – just as families were setting up their backyard grills for springtime barbecues.
AFA Food Inc was the first major casualty of the very public pink slime scandal. According to the CEO of the giant beef processor – co-owned by a private equity firm in California and US basketball legend Magic Johnson – media attention had led people to question the "wholesomeness" of its beef products. The company, which had supplied major outlets such as Burger King and Walmart, yesterday filed for bankruptcy.
Get pink slime out of our schools!
Despite public disgust, other major purveyors of pink slime have no plans to close meat-processing plants (even if there is a modest decrease in demand). And the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is charged with ensuring the safety of America's food, has not just judged the ground beef filler safe: it has said that, as long as a product isn't more than 15% pink slime, manufacturers don't even need to mention it on the label.
Politicians, including USDA head Tom Vilsack and failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, have defended the tastiness of the beef scraps. Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, took the prize: "Dude, it's beef!…It's good beef."
Shockingly, the USDA reportedly still has plans to buy more than 3,000 tonnes (7m pounds) of the stuff for school lunches. But they have offered one important concession: individual school districts can choose whether or not to serve the nasty filler in students' lunches this coming fall. Now it's up to US citizens to decide what goes in their children's food.
Take action: Avaaz has launched a new citizens' campaigning site which gives you the chance to express your feelings about issues that matter – so, for instance, you can demand that schools stop serving pink slime. (Here's an example of a campaign that's already won.) If you're in the US, join other concerned parents and start a petition for your child's district.