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Stringer Calls for Immediate Removal of 'Pink Slime' Products

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 01:06 PM

Under increasing pressure, the city's Education Department has promised to phase out ammonia-treated ground beef filler, known to its critics as pink slime. But on Wednesday, the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, pushed the matter a step further, demanding the city pull all food items containing the filler from school shelves.

Despite its nickname, which makes it sound like the substance that enveloped the art museum in "Ghostbusters II," the ammonia-treated filler is safe to eat, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It is also less expensive than less lean beef products.

After the ammonia treatment was introduced to destroy E. coli, a Department of Agriculture microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, sent colleagues an e-mail in 2002 saying, "I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling."

The Agriculture Department, facing a swell of criticism and online petitions against the filler, announced last week that it would begin providing alternatives in the fall to schools that no longer wanted to use it in student lunches. On Wednesday, New York City school officials provided a deadline, saying the filler would be gone from public schools by September.

"Although the federal government says this ingredient is safe and does not appear in most of our beef, we have been urging the USDA to allow districts to eliminate it, and we will no longer serve it in schools by September," Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said in a statement.

According to Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the department, the low-cost filler is in some of the meatballs and beef patties served in the city's public schools, but the department buys food from multiple companies, not all of which use it.

The Miami-Dade School District has already banned the filler, as have the public schools in Boston, where hamburgers, meatballs and tacos have been temporarily removed from school lunch menus.

Mr. Stringer called for the immediate removal of all products containing ammonia-treated beef.

"Pink slime with ammonia, with other scraps all pasted together and served to our kids, is something that should be about a bygone era," he said Wednesday at a news conference. "With all of the battles being waged now to make our kids healthy, to reduce obesity, to create healthy food options, to educate parents -- all of that goes out the window if the D.O.E. does not lead."

"Anyone who thinks for a second that kids should be eating food that looks like aliens eat it is simply not smart and not wise," he said.

He said as much in a letter to Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott.

"We commend D.O.E. for stating recently that it intends to phase out the use of pink slime," he wrote. "But a vague commitment to 'phase out' the use of this product does not go far enough to address concerns about its suitability for school cafeterias. As it is, parents are left with no clear information about the prevalence of pink slime in their children’s meals, or the department’s plans for phasing it out. D.O.E. must be more clear and transparent."

The Education Department did not immediately respond to Mr. Stringer's request.

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