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Few States Choose Beef With 'Pink Slime' For School Lunches

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave schools the option of buying beef that doesn't contain so-called "pink slime." Overwhelmingly, states are choosing to buy slightly pricier beef that doesn't contain the product, formally known as "lean, finely textured beef."

Only three states—Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota—chose to continue buying beef that may contain lean finely textured beef for their schools, the Associated Press reported earlier today. Everyone else said they would pay 3 percent more for beef served in school meals that doesn't contain the ingredient. The company that makes beef containing pink slime, Beef Products Inc., is based in South Dakota and has had, until recently, facilities in Iowa. The company still operates in Nebraska.

Lean finely textured beef is derived from beef-fat trimmings that are treated with ammonia hydroxide to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. The product, can be more susceptible to these pathogens than regular cuts of meat because it often comes from the outermost part of cows—where it's more likely to be in contact with fecal matter on a cow's hide. A 2009 New York Times story reported that from 2005-2009 ground beef with lean, finely textured beef was far more likely to have salmonella than ground beef made without it.

The USDA maintains that lean, finely textured beef is safe. It has been under fire before, but a petition by food blogger Bettina Siegel earlier this year calling for its removal from school meals generated thousands of signatures, and soon after, the USDA gave schools the choice to buy beef made without it.

As of May 18, states had requested over 20 million pounds of ground beef products that do not contain lean, finely textured beef for the 2012-13 school year, and about 1 million pounds of beef products that may contain the product, the USDA said. According to the USDA's latest school food purchase study, about 60 percent of the ground beef acquired by schools was from USDA. The rest may come from local or national vendors. States order school food items on behalf of their districts, often based on district preferences.

In a poll earlier this year, Americans said they want better nutrition standards for the food and drinks sold in schools.

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