Pink slime burger-meat debate oozes into Auburn

USDA moves to quell unrest in schools over filler product
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The “pink slime” debate has oozed into Auburn. Concerns about ground beef laced with ammonia-treated filler dubbed “pink slime” by critics has gone viral over the past week and resulted in a U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement Thursday that it would give school districts the option of choosing filler-free meat. The product, manufactured by Beef Products Inc. and given Department of Agriculture approval as 100 percent meat, is made from fatty meat scraps treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. Auburn private investigator Duane Purdue, a regular burger eater, said use of a filler additive to ground beef is tantamount to dishonesty. “If people were just honest about what they’re doing and what they’re selling, then others can make an educated decision on whether you want that product,” Purdue said. “It’s hard to make an intelligent decision if you’re being deceived.” Placer High student Chandler Skinner-Horn, 16, said he had heard about “pink slime” – which is officially labeled “lean finely textured beef” by the USDA – only Wednesday. But Skinner-Horn said that the knowledge would not dictate his choice in burgers. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that meat with pink slime is perfectly healthy and that schools could choose,” Skinner-Horn said. “For me, I’d choose whatever is cheapest.” McDonald’s and Taco Bell, two of the nation’s larger ground-beef users, had stopped using the filler product last year. When contracts are completed in the fall, the USDA is saying it will provide schools nationwide with the option of a non-filler product. The National Meat Association has also noted that ammonium hydroxide is used in baked goods, puddings and other processed foods, The Associated Press reported Thursday. The choice will be 95-percent lean beef patties made with the filler or less lean bulk ground beef without it, AP quoted USDA sources as saying. Placer Union High School District is making plans to opt for the non-filler burger, according to Assistant Superintendent Doug Marquand. "We don’t want it (“pink slime”),” Marquand said, citing efforts by the California School Nutrition Association to stop the USDA from using it. Because the USDA isn’t required to tell districts that it is including filler in its 100 percent beef, there is no way of knowing if the commodity they are receiving has the “pink slime” product, he said. Auburn Union School District Superintendent Michele Schuetz said that the district, which also buys for Placer Hills Union School District, doesn’t buy any supplies from the filler’s lone manufacturer and doesn’t buy the filler product. The Associated Press reported Thursday that, on average, districts in the National School Lunch Program buy about 20 percent of their food through USDA, with the remainder coming directly from private vendors. The AP report also said there are no precise numbers on how prevalent the filler product is, but one industry official estimates is in at least half of the ground meat and burgers in the U.S. For Auburn eateries like Ikeda’s in Bowman and Local Heroes in the Downtown, questions about burger filler sent them to their supplier Thursday for answers. Spokespersons for both businesses – which build a large share of their businesses around hamburgers – said that they’ve been assured no “pink slime” goes into the meat they buy. At Ikeda’s, co-owner Glenn Ikeda said that he would guess that frozen patties some other businesses may slap on the grill may contain the filler but the Foresthill exit prides itself on a carefully calculated mixture of ground chuck and round purchased for 25 years from the same supplier. Lisa Swisley of Local Heroes said that her restaurant – which serves 50 or 60 students from nearby Placer High each day, said that she’s been assured the burger she is buying is pure Angus beef. “We tried a lot of burger for flavor and you could tell the difference,” Swisley said. “We sampled six different products. But you definitely pay for the increase in quality.”