Last week, The Daily broke the news that the USDA planned to buy 7 million pounds of Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) – otherwise known as “pink slime” – for school lunches. Some reports state that 70% of prepackaged grind on retailers' shelves contain it. The resulting backlash has had more effect than anyone expected. Following a public outcry and hundreds of thousands of signatories to petitions to try to get the product out of schools, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the world’s leading producer of BLBT, has launched a new counteroffensive website “pink slime is a myth.” So where does the truth lie? Obviously, Boneless Lean Meat Trimmings sounds a lot more appetizing than “pink slime.” But whatever you call it, what is it? And how is it produced? The “pink slime is a myth” website says that BLBT is the meat and fat that is trimmed away when beef is cut. This is true as far as it goes. But BLBT isn’t quite the same as the bits of meat that you or your butcher might cut off the edge of a steak or other piece of meat. BLBT is the fatty trimmings that even BPI agrees couldn’t be separated with the knife. In the past, these trimmings were used for pet food or converted into oil rather than being served as hamburgers to people.
The USDA is moving forward with its efforts to revamp the animal identification policy after the public comment period for the National Animal Identification Service (NAIS) revealed that the majority of respondents were highly critical of the program. Only a fraction of the producers in the United States were willing to participate in NAIS. The USDA announced on February 5, 2010 it was going to revise efforts to track animal disease using input from producers, individual state agricultural policymakers, experts and Tribal Nations.
The USDA has now committed to forming a new animal disease traceability framework in partnership with the states and Tribal Nations. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has expressed hope that the new framework will allow producers, the states and the Tribal Nations to use their expertise to draft a traceability program that works best for them. The new framework will only apply to animals shipped interstate and will only focus on animal disease traceability. The program will be led and administered by each state and the Tribal Nations. The USDA will provide support to the programs; part of the new initiative will be developing identification systems that fit into the needs and budgets of participating groups that move animals interstate.
Secretary Vilsack is also reviving the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health, which will have representatives from all interested groups, including organic producers and small farmers. The committee will advise the USDA on issues surrounding the new traceability framework.
The USDA will be holding three meetings to discuss the new framework and solicit feedback. The meetings are: May 11 in Kansas City, Missouri; May 13 in Riverdale, Maryland; and May 17 in Denver, Colorado. The meetings are free and open to the public.