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Pink Slime in America and Mechanically Separated Meat in Europe: Gross

Pink Slime in America

Can we enjoy eating these burgers after we know what is added?

The pink slime controversy has made world news. This beef filler, labeled pink slime because that is what it looks like, has ended up on our children’s school lunch trays.  This was brought to highlight by The Lunch Tray blog who started a successful petition to stop this “food” from being on the school lunch menus. How pink slime ended up in the first place in the school lunch program doesn’t surprise me very much. A year ago, here on BrightonYourHealth, we looked at 30 school lunches comparing to what is being served on the menus between America to France. It really opened my eyes on how much American school lunches needed improvement. You can read here the summary article on the findings.

The French news articles on the glu rose (pink slime) controversy have not painted a pretty picture on how the American government is feeding our children. But pink slime is not just on your children’s school lunch trays. It is estimated that 70% of ground beef available for purchase in American grocery stores use pink slime as a ground beef filler. I find this gross. Are you like me? I try to be a demanding and educated food consumer.I would like to know what is in the meats I buy.  And as a parent, I want to know what is in the food that is served to my kids at school.

After the pink slime news hit France my head was spinning. I am sure that these meat production malpractices don’t just happen in the good ole USA. Something like this must happen in Europe too. Is pink slime also served on my kid’s school lunch trays or hidden in the ground beef steak hache I buy here in France?

Mechanically Separated Meat In Europe

It wasn’t easy for a lay person like me to find out exactly what is in our European meats. Even research in French language brought up more confusion and not a definite answer. But, it seems pretty clear that pink slime is only an American problem. Pink slime is banned in Europe. All this research was not in vain.  Another queasy meat subject came to light. This is the meat filler process producing mechanically separated meat. A production method whereby meat and poultry on bones gets put through a high pressure system to remove all possible sources of meat from the carcass. There exists a low pressure system which keeps the meat that comes off the bone looking and tasting more like meat. But most European countries use the high pressure system.

This mechanically separated meat production process is used by both countries, in the EU and USA.  (Now I understand why biting into a chicken nugget in both countries doesn’t taste like biting into chicken meat.) And these chicken nuggets are often served on both country’s school lunch menus. Gross.

Let me clarify. The use of mechanically separated meats from ruminants; cows, goats and sheep has been prohibited in the EU since 2001. Pigs and poultry are okay. In the USA, the ban on mechanically separated meats from cows has been in effect since 2004. Again in USA, pigs and poultry are okay. The process to produce pink slime never began in the EU probably because of the strict guidelines on the use of bovine carcasses for meat fillers. Guidelines on beef products is strict in Europe because of what happened with mad cow disease in the 1990’s-early 2000’s.

Why pink slime started? My theory

As a brief synopsis: mechanical separated beef, sheep and goats are not allowed as meat fillers in Europe since 2001. In America the ban started 3 years later in 2004. This prohibition is due to the risk of ruminants carrying mad cow disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in their spinal cords or heads and these being passed on through mechanically separated meats and onto humans. So, how to get this bovine meat off the bone and used legally in America? Voila. The production of boneless lean beef trimmings, otherwise known as pink slime. The reason for the ammonia hydroxide addition at the end of the process? Food safety. Beef head, spinal cord and other parts of the carcass carry risks of passing along different bad bacteria such as E-coli in the food chain. Thus, ammonia hydroxide does this cleaning of the lean beef trimmings.

Closed My Eyes Over the Years

I have closed my eyes a bit over the years. Haven’t many of us? As parents we are trying to feed our kids as best possible given our economic, time issues and social means. Sometimes this means that my kids eat fast food. They eat in the school lunch program. They eat at restaurants. I have to trust and hope that the meat they eat won’t harm them. Sometimes the meat they eat outside home won’t bring them much nutritional benefit, but that is okay too. For what I put on the table at home, my philosophy is to try to buy the best quality meat and poultry products with the food budget we have. But I know that even for the food I serve at home I occasionally close my eyes. Some of the food  is not 100% real meat. Hotdogs. Sausages. Cold cuts like bologna and ham. These are processed foods and when I think about the process used to make them (adding mechanically separated meats as fillers), I get this feeling that I shouldn’t buy any of it.

What is the real problem behind pink slime and mechanically separated meats?

We as consumers want easy to cook, tasty and not expensive meats and poultry. The real problem is that the meat industry is meeting our demands. They are providing what we want. Chicken nuggets, hot dogs, cold cuts such as bologna, just to name a few; these are foods that are cheaper than regular cuts of meat. Supply meets demand. Basic economics.

Here is your call to action. Let’s make demand less than the supply for these processed meats and poultry. Eat meat and poultry less often. When you do buy meats, buy whole pieces of meat and cook them. If you can, buy organic meats.

Pink slime happened because the meat industry needed an alternative to mechanically separated beef which had been banned since 2004. Take your call to action. Let your school know that you do not want pink slime in your beef. Tell your supermarket the same thing. And let us all eat less processed fake meats and more good quality meats and poultry. Meat and poultry industry will listen if enough consumers take action. It already has.

Here are some articles on the subject for your reading pleasure.

Mechanically Separated Meats: It Still May Be A Jungle Out There

USDA Food Labeling on Meats and Poultry

Mechanically Separated Meats in EU

Please let me know your thoughts on pink slime and mechanically separated meats. Did you know the extent these meat fillers are used in your foods? Have you decided to make any changes in food purchases after knowing about pink slime? As Julia Child would often say, “Bon Appetit.”

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5 Responses to Pink Slime in America and Mechanically Separated Meat in Europe: Gross

  1. wp200 March 27, 2012 at 15:46 #

    Thank you for your research. One minor quibble: BSE is not caused by a virus, but by a protein, or prion. I did a short Pubmed search, but it is unclear to me if ammonia hydroxide actually denaturates any prions if BSE is present.

    As long as the pink slime is only fed to humans and not to cattle the risk of an epidemic is negligible, but still: what’s the point of banning mechanically separated meat production if you are going to allow an alternative that might be just as bad?

    • mbrighton March 27, 2012 at 16:09 #

      Hi wp200, thank you very much for your informative comment. I will be honest, I should have checked my instincts with classifying BSE as a virus (which is isn’t). Thank you for letting me know.
      When I worked in the UK as a dietitian (2000-2002) we had BSE patients. We “labeled” incorrectly BSE as a virus that inflicted these patients (one of mine was a 14 year old boy, so difficult to see this lad in his ending state).
      I would assume that the main way to denature a protein is by continuous high heat, you break down the proteins this way. But this may be erroneous.
      Where we live now in France, we always cook our meats AT LEAST to medium and I check that all the meats are cooked to above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps to kill the potential possibility of E-coli and other bacterias/viruses that might be present. We try to buy good meat. I see the French around me, they love their meat “saignent” or blue (this means bloody, raw ). The whole process of meat production, even getting “good organic” meats to the table is a mind boggling experience (never mind expensive to buy good cuts of meat).
      I completely agree about why allow an alternative certain meat productions if it could be just as bad? I think it all comes down to money. (like many things).
      Thanks so much for your comment. Appreciate your feedback.


  1. Douglas Gayeton - April 15, 2012

    Pink slime in France? @FranceExpat @laurelzuckerman Good question. Here is answer from one blogger living in France:

  2. Karen Le Billon - April 15, 2012

    Pink slime in France? @FranceExpat @laurelzuckerman Good question. Here is answer from one blogger living in France:

  3. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - March 25, 2012

    RT @mbrighton66 Pink Slime in America and Mechanically Separated Meat in Europe: Gross: Does pink slime exist in…

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