Dem presses USDA to ban 'pink slime' in school lunches

A Maine Democrat is pressing the Obama administration to ban "pink slime" in school cafeterias.

Rep. Chellie Pingree said the product – a blend of beef scraps treated with ammonia and used as a ground-beef filler – is "gross" and unfit for consumption by schoolchildren.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, Pingree is urging the agency to abandon its plan to continue buying hamburgers and other meats containing the product—historically used in animal feeds—for the nation's schools.

"It is wrong to feed children a slurry that was formerly only used for dog food," Pingree wrote to Vilsack on Wednesday. "I hope you will do everything in your power to eliminate it from school lunch programs around the country."

Manufactured by Beef Products, Inc. and Cargill Meat Solutions, "pink slime" is the unflattering term attached to "lean finely textured beef," a mash of beef scraps that are treated with ammonia hydroxide, which kills certain bacteria and is used as an inexpensive way to bulk up ground beef.

Pingree and other critics of the product note that it's made up largely of connective tissue, so it shouldn't be packaged as meat. Additionally, they're questioning the effectiveness of the ammonia treatments in killing E. Coli, Salmonella and other meat-born pathogens.

The issue has churned headlines in recent months largely due to blogs, an internet petition and a celebrity chef all questioning the safety and appropriateness of adding the product to ground beef.

Both the meat industry and the Department of Agriculture say the product is safe for human consumption, including in the nation's schools. But the negative attention led a number of fast-food chains, including McDonald's and Burger King, to stop buying the product last year.

Pingree asked Vilsack, "If these fast food chains won't serve pink slime, why should school cafeterias?"

The Maine Democrat said she's been talking to the meat industry about the product, but those discussions haven't convinced her the additive is safe.

“The beef industry sent my office an email the other day describing pink slime as ‘wholesome and nutritious’ and said the process for manufacturing it is ‘similar to separating milk from cream,’ Pingree said in a statement accompanying her letter to Vilsack.

"I don’t think a highly processed slurry of meat scraps mixed with ammonia is what most families would think of as ‘wholesome and nutritious.’”